Irving David - Uprising ! One Nation's Nightmare Hungary 1956

Author : Irving David
Title : Uprising ! One Nation's Nightmare Hungary 1956
Year : 1981

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IN The History of the Russian Revolution, Leon Trotsky wrote a chapter on the art of insurrection. In it he defined: “Historians and politicians usually give the name of spontaneous insurrection to a movement of the masses united by a common hostility against the old regime, but not having a clear aim, deliberated methods of struggle, or a leadership consciously showing the way to victory.” What happened in Hungary in October 1956 was not a revolution but an insurrection. It was an uprising. When it began it was spontaneous and leaderless, and it was truly a movement of the masses bound by one common hatred of the old regime. Yet it was an anti-Communist uprising like no other. Many of the rebels held Party membership cards. Most were workers or peasants. The uncanny feature was that it resembled the classic Marxist revolution, it was fed by conditions which Karl Marx had always predicted would result in revolution, and it was led by the workers, the very stratum which he had expected would take the revolutionary lead. The parallels with what happened in Poland in the late summer of 1980 are striking; the exception is that this summer the workers were subdued by blandishments and promises of reform, while in past decades the Marxist governments have invariably turned their machine guns on the workers from whom they villainously claim to draw their mandate. The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was crushed by a man who became instantly one of the most reviled men in his country. That same man is today one of Hungary’s most genuinely popular citizens, János Kádár. His life has sprung many contradictions, which cannot only be explained by his subservience to Moscow’s fickle whim. Initially, he identified himself with the uprising, served in its government, and referred to its origins even one month later, in a broadcast on November 26th, as a “mass movement”; but by February 2nd he had shifted to harder ground, and declaimed to Party activists at Salgótarján, “A counter-revolution began in Hungary on October 23rd, 1956, in exactly the same way as it did on August 2nd, 1919. ” He put the country through a period of savage repression, which culminated in the execution of the (other) “accomplices of Imre Nagy” in 1959. By that time, in fact, such a barbarity was quite superfluous, because the storm’s force was long spent: his subjects had finally accepted that there was to be no escape from the Soviet empire, that the Western powers had written them off and that they must make the best life they could for themselves under Marxist bureaucratic rule. Kádár played his part in this, declaring as his aim in the early 1960s, “We must win over every section of our people for the reconstruction of our country.” The Party’s monopoly on high office was abolished. Once, he told workers at the Ikarus omnibus plant in Budapest, “The West attacks us because of our one-party system. They are right. We Communists must work as though there was a twenty-party system, with a secret general election every day. That’s the only way to win popular support.” He made a clean sweep of a quarter of the Party funkcionáriusok – the “funkies” – for incompetence, and in 1962 he dismissed twenty-five former Party hardliners from the membership and began the rehabilitation of 190 victims of the Rákosi years. That year the Party published a declaration squaring up to the blame for the uprising. (Dr. Peter Rényi, editor of the Party newspaper, Népszabadság, and a close friend of Kádár, warned me: “But you will never, ever get to see the document on which it was based”.) The Central Committee ordered, “The criterium of a person’s social origin was a necessary tool in this last epoch. But today expert knowledge and competence are the only basis for assessing any person’s qualifications for offices and functions.” More important, Kádár’s party adopted a policy of ideological laissez-faire: “Anybody who is not against us, must be for us,” he said. In 1963 the last street-level participants in the uprising were amnestied. In 1970, the ministry of the interior gave notice that the police were no longer to act as “ideological watchdogs”, and nowadays most Hungarians are freely able to obtain passports and visas to travel to the West. In short, but for János Kádár as leader Communist Hungary’s lot could have been worse. True, but for Communism the country’s lot would have been much better. But the Marxist leaders are the first to deny this; there are none so blind as those who won’t see. A few months ago I recorded a long interview with the widow of Dr. Francis Münnich, Kádár’s chief executive in crushing the uprising, and subsequently, Hungary’s prime minister for many years. After two hours the widow pointed baffled at my midget recorder and asked if I should not long ago have changed the tapes or batteries. (She was only familiar with the Soviet bloc products.) She, and all the people like her, have been so thoroughly duped by the Marxist swindle that they are incapable of grasping that other systems – and in particular the capitalist system, with its handy profit-motive – work far better. Even after sixty years of full-scale experiment with entire nations, Marxism has never once succeeded, yet the swindle is still perpetrated in country after country. More and more gullible and unwary folk fall prey to its allures, like the citizens who innocently believe the crafty inventor who claims to have perfected a motor engine that runs on water. All human experience is against it. Scientists unanimously predict that it will not work. In country after country, the Marxist water engine fails to fire, but the inventor and his mechanics are growing richer and so the fraud continues. Each time the miserable passengers protest, their tormentors adopt knowing grins, and dismiss a prominent funky or even two: in effect, they have just changed the offside front wheel, to camouflage the fact that their whole scientific premise is unsound. Meanwhile they continue to sing its praises, because they know the fate of those who “deviate”. There is no justice in socialist legality. As Budapest’s own police chief during the uprising, Alexander Kopácsi, told me: “Which man is prosecutor, and which man stands in the dock, is purely a matter of casting.” Or, as his fellow Hungarians used to have it: “We are a three-class society: those who have been there, those who are there, and those who are heading there.” By “there”, they meant prison. This sense of public grievance, of impotence at the hands of the funkies, powered the initial phases of the uprising. It was obvious to me that the industrial workers, with their sense of deprivation and their unrequited yearning for better living standards and free trade union activity, had powered the uprising, just as in Poland in 1980 they have caused their overlords the biggest headaches. To delve into their minds at this distance in time would not have been easy were it not for the access I was granted to two revealing and broad-based series of scientifically conducted interrogations of street-level refugees. The Oral History project of Columbia University, New York, to which Professor István Deák granted me full access, consists of thousands of pages of such interviews; I am grateful both to him and to Professor Richard M. Stephenson, of Rutgers University, for access to the similar series of interviews expertly conducted by sociologists and psychiatrists on behalf of the CIA. These reports, compiled only weeks after the failed uprising, leave no doubt as to why these men and women, mostly in their twenties and thirties, conspired, organised, fought and indulged in other revolutionary activities, and finally fled their native country: the workers felt cheated, betrayed, deprived and persecuted by the funkies imposed on them by Moscow, by the speed-ups, wage frauds, unsafe and insanitary working conditions, and arbitrary penalties, by the burrowing of spies and informers and exhausting work methods. The University and Polytechnic students whose youthful eloquence and zest started the mass movement into the streets, did so out of a sense of justice, but also because of disgust at the degradation inflicted on their country behind a façade of cultural pretensions, and at the indigestible alien patterns of life being imported from across the Soviet frontier. The writers and other intellectuals joined the clamour later, belatedly making audible the long-suppressed rage of the workers and students. ...

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