The Hungarian Revolution: 1956, UK
July 5 2007

The Hungarian Revolution: 1956

tags: Eastern Europe 1950s Hungary Hungary 1956 revolutions uprisings
USSR July 4th, 2007 by catch

This is an anonymous account (11,000 words) of the events of the near
revolution of 1956. For a short history, we recommend our article The
Hungarian Uprising, 1956 on

It contains some interesting details from Columbia University
Research Project interviews with participants which are a nice
complement to the information in our other Hungary ’56 articles.

Before October…
"It’s all a load of shit, that’s what it is!"[1]

This accurate description of Hungarian socialism in the early
‘fifties came from a worker in prison, overheard by a Communist
intellectual locked up during a purge. This rare contact with a
worker, and even rarer contact with what workers thought of the
‘workers’ state’ helped this particular intellectual to lose his
"faith in Marxism". As the saying went about prisons in Hungary, "We
are a three-class society – those who have been there, those who axe
there, and those who are heading there." The large number of workers
in prison, either for political offences or for theft, showed up the
system: even Imre Nagy, the watered-down Stalinist entrusted by
Moscow in 1953 to liberalise Hungary (that is, to hold the workers in
check) had to admit by December 1955 that "the most alarming fact is
that the majority of those convicted are industrial workers". [2]

Theft was a necessity for workers to compensate for socialist living
standards. These had dropped by 17-20% in the years 1949-53 as a
result of an idiotic ‘Five-Year Plan’ devoted to heavy industry and
steelworks in a largely agricultural country with no iron ore or
coking coal. 3 Similarly, the imposition of co-operatives on
unwilling peasants led to a fall in their meagre incomes, and 1952
saw the worst ever yields in Hungarian agriculture. Official
statistics revealed that while 15% of the population was above the
‘minimum’ standard of living, 30% were on it and 55% below. A day’s
pay for a state farm worker wouldn’t buy a kilo of bread; in 15% of
working-class families not everyone had a blanket; one in every five
workers had no winter coat.[4]

In these conditions, thieving from the state and ‘beating the system’
were the things to do to survive. No moral stigma attached to them at
all, rather, everyone was at it to relieve their poverty. Pilfering
and spontaneous sabotage went together with high labour turnover
(often as local managements got rid of ‘troublemakers’), waste in
factories, futile planning and falsified output figures to meet
ridiculous production targets. Workers had to do unpaid overtime to
‘celebrate’ anniversaries that the Party of Hungarian Workers (MDP)
designated as great occasions. Home businesses thrived on materials
taken from work; copper was stolen from shipyards; a buyer at a
Budapest hospital complained "Nowadays even nailing it down is no
guarantee against theft". In the state stores, staff would cheat
customers and sell short weight, except to relatives and friends.
Butter was rarely seen in shops as it was pre-packed and weighed, it
offered no scope for fiddling, and so wasn’t ordered much by shops.

Workers and peasants went beyond theft, absenteeism and what the MDP
leadership liked to call ‘laziness’ and ‘wage-swindling’. The third
banner in the official procession on May Day 1953 proclaimed "Glory
to the immortal Stalin, star which guides us towards freedom,
socialism and peace". Seven weeks later the workers of East Berlin
rioted for their vision of freedom and were quickly put down by
Russian tanks. 20,000 workers went on strike at the Rakosi iron and
steel works in Budapest’s Csepel district against low pay, production
norms and food shortages. There were wildcat strikes in Diosgyor, and
mass peasant demonstrations in the countryside. To avoid further
outbreaks, Russia ordered a change of leadership and a change of

Matyas Rakosi, who styled himself "Stalin’s Hungarian disciple" but
was more popularly referred to as ‘arsehole’ by Hungarian workers,
was required to make way for Imre Nagy, who had managed not to be
involved in the purges and generalised terror of the late ‘forties.
His ‘new course’ outlined in late June 1953 was designed to ease the
load on the workers and peasants, produce higher living standards,
end the internment camps and turn the economy away from heavy
industry. Because he was opposed by the hard-line Stalinists around
Rakosi and Brno Cero, Nagy is presented by some as popular and
liberal. In fact he was much like the rest. After Stalin’s death, he
talked of him as the "great leader of all humanity"; the whole
Stalinist era was a period of "trial and error". In late 1954 Nagy
felt able to say "We have created a new country and a happy and free
life for the people"; meanwhile Rakosi and Gero argued that workers’
living standards were too high.

Although Nagy may have felt that the removal of some of Stalinism’s
worst features constituted a ‘free life’, his ‘liberalism’ was met by
even more absenteeism, indiscipline and slacking by workers. A
typical Nagy speech from that period shows why. "The production
results of the third quarter show that, if the labour drive to mark
these elections is carried out with the same enthusiasm and vigour as
the revolutionary shift that was worked in honour of the Great
Socialist October Revolution, and if management and workers can get
the same improvement in worker discipline – in which there are still
grave deficiencies – as in production, then MAVAG will be able to
take its place amongst the ranks of the elite plants."[5] No amount
of apologetics can cover up the straightforward capitalist content of
such a speech.

Workers’ cynicism spread outside the workplace: in 1954 there were
three days of rioting after the World Cup final defeat by West
Germany in the belief that the game had been thrown for hard
currency. Games of any kind against Russia were rarely without
trouble. The MDP sent intellectuals and writers out into the country
at large during 1953 to explain Nagy’s ‘new course’: for most it was
a first sight of the miserable conditions of the peasants and
workers. They soon found out that the ‘toiling masses’ had little
time for the Literary Gazette or for ‘building socialism’. A young
Communist commented "The workers hated the regime to such an extent
that by 1953 they were ready to destroy it and everything that went
with it."

Workers expressed this themselves: "The workers did not believe in
anything the communists promised them, because the communists had
cheated their promises so often." A worker from the Red Star Tractor
factory: "Under Communism, we should have a share in governing
Hungary, but instead we’re the poorest people in the country. We’re
just regarded as factory fodder." Another worker: "The Communists
nationalised all the factories and similar enterprises, proclaiming
the slogan, ‘the factory is yours – you work for yourself.’ Exactly
the opposite of this was true."

Among the students the peasants’ and workers’ sons were most prepared
to speak their minds. They were more insolent than the middle-class
ones. They were also less likely to engage in abstract ideological
discussions but stuck to concrete issues – like food shortages.
Disillusion and anti-communism were widespread amongst Hungarian
youth. "We spoke less about political subjects, but if we did, we
were cursing the Russians, that was most of the time what it amounted
to." "We were the first generation that was not scared. After all we
had nothing to lose and we also had the feeling that we couldn’t bear
this for an entire life."

Discontent and workers’ opposition thus existed long before 1956.
However, the American assessment in December 1953 by an army attaché
was that "There are no organised resistance groups in Hungary; the
population does not now, nor will they in the future, have the
capacity to resist actively the present regime;". With a similar
attitude, the Russian leader Khrushchev thought that if he’d had ten
Hungarian writers shot at the right moment, nothing would have
happened. A week before the revolt a reader’s letter to the Literary
Gazette complained about the uselessness of the intellectuals’
debates: "The working class is, and will remain, politically passive
for good, and uninterested in such hair-splitting…and without them
what good can we do?"[6] However, a Yugoslavian political analyst was
more perceptive, commenting nine days before the uprising, "People
refuse to live in the old way, nor can the leadership govern in the
old way. Conditions have been created for an uprising." The AVH
(‘Allamvedelmi Hatosag’, State Security Force) sensed trouble toot
they and the Russian troops garrisoned in Hungary were put on alert
five days before October 23rd.

Much has been made of the dissatisfaction of Communist writers and
intellectuals and their supposed leading role in the revolution. The
intellectuals’ program was only a criticism of Stalinism. Their
‘Petofi Circle’ debating club wanted orderly reform and a change in
the leadership (because the Stalinists Rakosi and Gero had returned
to power replacing Nagy, now out of public life altogether). The
Petofi Circle did not encourage the revolt: it considered that
precipitate actions could lead to a catastrophe. They were seen by
workers as Communists and supporters of the regime. Nagy became a
focus for this kind of ‘opposition’, which favoured working through
MDP channels, and was certainly against demonstrations. Most of these
people came out against the uprising: two such journalists thought
that the crowds behaved "like idiots" on October 23rd. One writer
though, Gyula Hay, was honest enough to see who was stirring up that:
"I am perfectly willing to accept that it was not I who awoke the
spirit of freedom in youth: on the contrary, it was youth who pushed
me towards it." Workers started to take an interest in what the
writers were getting up to in mid-September 1956, when a meeting of
the Writers’ Union saw the Stalinists defeated in elections. A
Literary Gazette account of that meeting sold 70,000 copies in half
an hour. Such a rebuff to the authorities was bound to be of interest

The occasion of the reburial of a rehabilitated Communist, Laszlo
Rajk, a victim of an earlier purge, was used by workers to
demonstrate en masse. Some 200,000 attended in the rain on October
6th: an observer commented "perhaps if it had not rained, there would
have been a revolution that day," There had been no difference
between Rajk and Rakosi politically, personal rivalry resulting in
Rajk’s trial and execution as a ‘Titoist fascist’. The workers’
‘support’ for Rajk’s rehabilitation was purely symbolic: on the other
side of the coin, a top Communist said that "if Rajk could have seen
this mob he would have turned machine guns on to them." The same day
2-300 students inarched away after the burial using the slogan, "We
won’t stop halfway, Stalinism must be destroyed" Despite shouting
this, the students weren’t stopped by the police, who assumed that
any kind of demonstration must be an official one.

October 23rd
It was the students who were responsible for the event that sparked
off the inevitable. On October 16th students in Szeged had broken
away from the official organisation and set up a new association.
They sent delegates countrywide to encourage similar breaks. By the
22nd there were similar groups in most of the universities and large
schools. News had reached Budapest of events in Poland, where the
Soviet army had encircled Warsaw as the Polish Communist Party
changed its leadership under pressure from below. A meeting at the
Polytechnic in Budapest resolved to march on the 2Jrd in support of
sixteen demands. These included support for the Polish struggle for
freedom; the removal of Soviet troops; the election of MDP officials;
a new government under Imre Nagy; a general election; "the complete
reorganisation of Hungary’s economic life under the direction of
specialists"; the right to strike; the "complete revision of the
norms in effect in industry and an immediate and radical adjustment
of salaries in accordance with the just requirements of workers and
intellectuals"; and a free press and radio.[7]

This mixed bag of demands could not even have begun to be met by the
regime – therein lay its explosive potential. Yet underlying the
demands was the all-too-common illusion that what had been mismanaged
by ‘bad’ leaders could be rectified by ‘good’ leaders elected to
replace them. The element of naivety was compounded by the way the
students asked workers for support but not for them to strike; they
wanted a silent march only. The Interior Ministry banned the march,
which made more people resolve to go. The ban was lifted after the
march went ahead anyway. Although the march started silently as the
students wished, it became more militant as workers off the morning
shift joined in after 4 o’clock. The early slogans of support for the
Poles were overtaken by shouts for freedom and "Russians go home.’"
Someone cut the communist symbol out of a national flag and the flag
of the revolution made its first appearance – red, white and green
with a hole in the middle. More people left work to join a
demonstration that they weren’t forced to take part in; soldiers were
sympathetic and joined in too.

By dusk there were 200,000 people (about one-sixth of the whole
population of Budapest) in Parliament Square. The authorities turned
off the lights, whereupon newspapers and government leaflets were set
alight. The crowd demanded that Imre Nagy speak to them, but by the
time he turned up the mood had gone beyond listening calmly to
speeches. Appalled by the sight of so many people and by the flags
with holes, Nagy made the mistake of starting with the word
‘Comrades!’ This was greeted with boos and shouts of "We’re no longer
comrades!" The people had already rejected the whole HDP, not just
the Stalinists, and the ‘oppositionists’ were too moderate. The
disappointment with Nagy turned into positive talk of a strike, and a
crowd of youths marched to the Radio building.

At 8 o ‘clock there was an official broadcast by Erno Gero in which
he said: "We condemn those who seek to instil in our youth the poison
of chauvinism and to take advantage of the democratic liberties that
our state guarantees to the workers to organise a nationalist
demonstration."[8] This did nothing to calm the situation. The crowd
outside the Radio demanded access, with microphones in the street "so
that the people can express their opinions." A delegation was taken
in by the AVH to the Radio boss, Mrs Benke: she checked their ID
cards and found they were workers from the long machinery plant and
an arms factory. Similarly, Kopacsi, the Budapest police chief,
questioned some youths picked up on the demonstration and discovered
they were factory workers, some with Party cards.

When the delegation failed to reappear, the Radio building was
attacked and defended: at about 9 o’clock the first shots were fired
with many dead and wounded. The crowd had got weapons from
sympathetic police and soldiers before the AVH’s first shots, and as
the news spread, workers from the arsenals brought more. The
revolution had now started in earnest. An observer felt that "it was
at Stalin’s statue that the workers of Budapest appeared on the
scene." When the crowd had trouble getting it down, two workers
fetched oxy-acetylene gear to cut it down. The boots remained on the
plinth, with a road sign saying ‘Bead End’ stuck on them. Hungarian
troops were greeted as friends and allies by the crowds; workers were
arriving from Csepel in lorries with ammunition. Arms factories were
raided and the telephone exchange taken.

The authorities called on the sappers in a nearby barracks, and told
them that fascists had risen against the government. The sappers were
met by workers who told them the truth. More sappers arrived to
defend the HDF’s Central Committee HQ. When they saw, for the first
time, the luxury of the accommodation there, and realised that the
crowds were ordinary Hungarians, they went back to their barracks,
changed out of uniform and elected a revolutionary council. By
midnight ‘spectators’ were leaving the scene and the armed workers of
Csepel and Ujpest were taking their place. The battle for the Radio
building went on all night: it was finally taken at nine in the

The mass, revolutionary character of the Hungarian uprising "was
established within hours. "’The Hungarian uprising was the personal
experience of millions of men and women, and therefore of no one in
particular, just like the Paris Commune or other mass revolts."[9]
The casualty lists in the hospitals showed that it was young workers
in particular who did most of the fighting. A doctor commented:
"There was any number of youngsters amongst the fighters who knew
nothing about the Petofi Circle or who for that matter hadn’t even
heard of it, to whom Gomulka’s name was equally unknown, and who
replied to the question as to why they had risked their lives in the
fighting with such answers as, ‘Well, is it really worth living for
600 forints a month?" A student noticed the same thing: "It is
touching that it was the hooligans of Ferencvaros who created ethics
out of nothing during the revolution."

The participants knew why they were fighting: "We wanted freedom and
not a good comfortable life. Even though we might lack bread and
other necessities of life, we wanted freedom. We, the young people,
were particularly hampered because we were brought up amidst lies. We
continually had to lie." The character of the uprising was
distinctive in that it had a clear direction without a ‘leadership’.
The United Nations Committee investigating it was told by a Hungarian
professor of philosophy, "It was unique in history that the Hungarian
revolution had no leaders. It was not organised; it was not centrally
directed. The will for freedom was the moving force in every action."
The same point is well made by two fighters: "There was no
organisation whatsoever, consequently there was no discipline either,
but there was astonishingly good teamwork." "Some people got
together, fought, went home, then others came and continued the

The first tasks of the rebels involved seizing the telephone
exchanges, requisitioning lorries, attacking garages, barracks and
arsenals, getting arms and ammunition above all else. Then barricades
and molotov cocktails were made to face the Soviet tanks that entered
Budapest shortly after four in the morning of the 24th. Russian
troops had moved into action before the Hungarian authorities, in
emergency meetings all night, called for their ‘fraternal’
assistance. Some ‘barricades were made of paving stones ripped up by
hand by women and children. The rebels took up positions in narrow
streets and passages. Those in the Corvin Passage made their stand by
a convenient petrol pump. As dawn broke, workers in Calvin Square
confronted five tanks without running away. Public support was
immediate, with armed rebels having no trouble getting food and
shelter. Soldiers, when not taking part in the fighting themselves,
handed arms over to the rebels.

Thirteen days in Budapest…
First reactions to events were starting to come out. The Stalinists
called the revolt "a fascist counter-revolutionary action." The
‘moderate’ Communists wanted Nagy, but both wanted order restored, by
Russian troops if necessary. The writers’ role was over already,
their demands surpassed. The students too were having second thoughts
about what they had sparked off. Very few people went to work on the
24th. At 4.30 am an official announcement banned all demonstrations
and referred to "fascist and reactionary elements". Just after 8
o’clock, Nagy was declared Prime Minister: fifteen hours earlier the
appointment might have had some effect but from now on the
authorities ‘ moves were way behind the developing events. Half an
hour later Nagy showed what ‘liberal’, ‘moderate’ Communism was
about: he declared martial law with the death penalty for carrying
arras, and his government called in the Soviet troops. After this,
his program was of little interest to the rebels.

The intervention by the Soviet troops now gave the revolt a national
character. The attitude of sympathetic neutrality that the Hungarian
army had taken in the first few hours was now replaced by and large
by one of active support for the rebellion. Soviet tanks were being
immobilised by the fighting youth, who, though poorly armed, were
using the partisan techniques drummed into them at school in praise
of the Soviet resistance to the German armies in World War Two. This
was a rare case of Hungarians eager to learn from Russian example.
Anti-tank tactics included loosening the cobblestones, then soaping
the road, or pouring oil over it. Liquid soap was used in Moricz
Zsiground Square. In Szena Square bales of silk taken from a Party
shop were spread out and covered with oil so the Soviet tanks
couldn’t move on this and became sitting targets for petrol bombs.
Youngsters would run up and smear jam over the driver’s window; some
rebels blew themselves up knowingly getting close enough to a tank to
destroy it.

A thirteen year old girl was seen taking on a 75 ton tank with three
bottle bombs. A Viennese reporter at the Kilian Barracks met another
13 year old who had defended a street crossing alone with a
machine-gun for three days and nights. "The Russians found themselves
faced by hordes of death-defying youngsters: students, apprentices
and even schoolchildren who did not care whether they lived or died."
A Swiss reporter, seeing children fighting and dying, wrote: "If ever
the time comes to commemorate the heroes in Hungary, they mustn’t
forget to raise a monument to the Unknown Hungarian Child." A
chemical engineer saw some children with empty bottles. He told them
to use nitro-glycerine rather than petrol, so they all went to their
school laboratory where he helped them to synthesise enough
nitro-glycerine to make a hundred bottle bombs. Then he went home and
left them to it. Twelve year olds learnt how to handle guns: older
men instructed rebels in the use of grenades and how to attack tanks.

An air force officer typed out copies of guerrilla tactics. Many of
the carefully selected and supposedly politically indoctrinated
officer corps went over to the rebels. Officers of the Petofi and
Zrinyi Military Academies, the future elite, fought the Russians.
After the rebellion the army was reorganised with many officers and
cadets got rid of. The police were generally sympathetic. Only the
AVH fought alongside the Russians. The AVH (referred to by workers as
‘the Blues’ or ‘the AVOs’, the name they had before 1949) had some
35,000 men and women, the latter being reputedly the worse torturers.
Their minimum pay was over three times that of a worker, plus
bonuses. They had their own subsidised stores and a holiday village
by Lake Balaton. Many Hungarians had experienced ‘esengofraz’, namely
‘bell-fever’, a midnight call by the AVH. Now it was the turn of the
AVOs to be hunted. "The security forces were capable of terrorisation
in times of peace, or of firing on an unarmed crowd, but impotent in
the face of a people’s uprising."[10]

The AVH was abolished on the afternoon of October 29th, to be
resurrected after the Russian invasion. Since the 21st, two days
before the uprising, the AVH had been destroying its files. Neither
of these things saved individual AVOs from lynchings: such killings
were generally carried out in a purposeful and sombre manner. Without
any doubt, the AVH killed many more people over the years than the
crowds managed to kill of them. Despite this and the AVH’s continued
brutality during the revolution, most insurgents condemned the
lynchings. In the work of creating a new society, such imitations of
the old were unwelcome. However, no one was sorry for the dead AVOs:
as a Hungarian told a Polish reporter "Believe me, we are not
sadists, but we cannot bring ourselves to regret those kind of
people."[11] In the streets bodies of AVOs lay or hung with the money
found in their pockets either stuffed in their mouths or pinned to
their chests. Even in poverty, no self-respecting Hungarian would
touch it. After the rebellion was crushed, the Hungarian authorities
themselves put the total number of security force members killed as
234 – a remarkably low figure in the circumstances.

The crowds got on with removing symbols of the old regime: red stars
were torn down. At the offices of Szabad Nep, the MDP newspaper,
journalists threw down leaflets of support for the revolt out of the
windows: people tore them up and burnt them without reading them
-after all their years of lying, no one was going to believe them
now. The Party bookshop and the Soviet ‘Horizont’ bookshop were
ransacked and the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin piled up
and set alight. A general strike spread over the country, a move
which left the MDP embarrassed. So often it had praised the strikes
of Western workers, now Hungarian workers were doing the same – but
this time against them. Fighting was fierce in Parliament Square and
at the Party HQ after AVH units fired on largely unarmed crowds.
Black flags made their first appearances to mourn fallen rebels.
Radio Budapest, still in the hands of the authorities, threatened:
"If the destructions and assassinations continue, the football match
between Hungary and Sweden, scheduled for Sunday, will have to be
cancelled."[12] This radio station was now only listened to for
laughs, as its statements bore no relation to observable reality. The
fighting groups continued to form throughout the city. The armed
group holding Szena Square held open democratic meetings to discuss
strategy and tactics.

On the 25th the Government urged a return to work in its radio
broadcasts. This call was ignored, but as it implied an end to the
curfew (which had also been widely ignored anyway) many thousands
more took to the streets to find out what was going on and to discuss
events: going to work was the last thing on most people’s minds,
Nagy’s reshuffles of his ministers, his ‘concessions’ and
announcements were increasingly irrelevant and always too slow and
too late to satisfy the rebels. The people in the streets didn’t give
a damn that Georgy Lukacs, a darling of leftist academics, was now in
the cabinet. On the 26th Lukacs said in a radio broadcast that "what
we want is a socialist culture worthy of the Hungarian people’s great
and ancient achievements", while all around people were dismantling
all the ‘socialist culture’ they could find.

The writers were giving up quickly. Gabor Tanesos said no progress
(whatever it was he had in mind) could be made "while the guns are
roaring." As early as the 25th, Gyula Hay stated "We must immediately
revert to peaceful methods; fighting must stop immediately. Even
peaceful demonstrations should not now be undertaken."[13] While the
intellectuals were way behind the workers, lacking their basic
intransigence, not all were so craven. On the 29th some told Nagy to
arm the workers. He shrank back from such a suggestion, replying that
"At present that is quite impossible. A lot of the workers are
unreliable." At times it seemed that Nagy had lost touch with the
reality of what was happening’s in a speech he referred to the
"historic, durable, and ineffaceable" results of twelve years of
Communist rule! The KDP’s plight now was of no consequence – the
rebels had rejected it. On the basis of their own direct experience,
Bulgarians were exposing the sham of the ‘socialist states’.

The call for the Russians to leave was an expression of this. The
fighting between the rebels and the Russians did not however have the
bitterness that the clashes with the AVH had. No Soviet soldiers were
lynched, none of their corpses were mutilated, and on the other side
there was no vindictiveness shown towards the rebels by the Russians.
The Red Army soldiers were not keen to be shot at, nor were they
eager to shoot at a population they had been peaceably stationed
amongst for some time. There were some desertions, particularly among
members of the Soviet Union’s national minorities. One example was an
Armenian major who went over to the rebels on the 24th and
distributed leaflets to Soviet troops urging them not to fire. Some
rebels too disliked fighting the Russians. One fighter commented "I
found myself shooting at bewildered Ukrainian peasant boys who had as
much reason to hate what we fought as we had… It was an embittering
shock to find that one can’t confront the real enemy even in a
revolution. "

While the rebels struggled to confront and defeat the real enemy,
victims of the old regime were being set free. On the 26th the police
building in Csepel was stormed and its prisoners released. Thousands
were let out of forced labour camps and some 17,000 from the
country’s prisons. The most common crime was petty theft. Police
chief Kopacsi allowed all political prisoners and those fighters held
from the first day or so’s fighting out of the City Police HQ in
Budapest. This act was to cost him a life sentence in 1958. As the
fighting continued, with most damage occurring in the working-class
suburbs of Budapest and the industrial towns, the country’s farmers
worked to provide food for the rebels, and lorries with bread, flour
and vegetables streamed into the towns. Bakers worked throughout the
rebellion and strike to ensure that rebels and strikers were fed.

Despite hunger and poverty there was an absence of looting in the
city. Shops with broken windows had their goods left intact. After
the radio and the Soviet press talked of looting, signs were put up
on such shops saying, "This is how we loot." Another popular slogan
dated back to the Korean War when the Federation of Working Youth
collected metal for the North Korean war effort: "Scrap Metals Ensure
Peace!" now made a more appropriate reappearance on burnt-out Soviet
tanks. Some North Korean students (and some Polish ones) returned the
favour by joining the rebels.

The collapse of the MDP and the unity of industrial workers, peasants
and white-collar workers left the Government powerless by the 27th.
Real power was moving towards the revolutionary workers’ councils. It
was these councils that called the strike, and the workers obeyed
this call because it came in effect from themselves. Similarly, the
call for a return to work was accepted when the councils made it. The
Communists had said that workers were the ruling class, now, through
the councils, the workers were putting it into practice. As the
workers’ councils spread from factory to factory and district to
district the National Trade Union Council, realising that it was
being made redundant, tried to pre-empt developments by advocating
workers’ councils, but with its own old hacks on the platform.
Workers still turned up to such meetings, but elected from among
themselves, rejecting the trade union officials. MDP members were
then urged to infiltrate the genuine councils. A paper called
‘Igazsag’ (‘Truth’) was started, which kept in touch with the
councils. Delegations from the councils besieged Nagy’s government
with endless demands. Two recurrent demands were for Hungarian
neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.

Among Hungary’s Warsaw Pact allies, the Czech, East German and
Romanian Communist Parties were particularly virulent in their
condemnations of the ‘counter-revolution’. This was motivated by the
fear that their own working classes might choose to settle accounts
with them. Russia itself, while getting more troops into Hungary
ready for the second assault on the workers, chose to make an
official declaration on relations between socialist states. Its
high-sounding phrases were of course meaningless, but it also
contained an ‘analysis’ of events in order to justify the
approaching’ repression. Russia’s view was that "the workers of
Hungary have, after achieving great progress on the basis of the
people’s democratic order, justifiably raised the questions of the
need for eliminating the serious inadequacies of the economic system,
of the need for further improving the material well-being of the
people, and of the need for furthering the battle against
bureaucratic excesses in the state apparatus. However, the forces of
reaction and of counter-revolution have quickly joined in this just
and progressive movement of the workers, with the aim of using the
discontent of the workers to undermine the foundations of the
people’s democratic system in Hungary and to restore to power the
landlords and the capitalists."[14] For sheer drivel this was hard to
beat: the workers and peasants were fighting to eliminate the
economic system itself and destroy the state apparatus; the only
‘counter-revolutionary force’ involved was the Soviet Union itself
and its Hungarian supporters in the MDP.

The rebels were quite emphatically not for the restoration of
capitalism, nor were the political parties, which were re-emerging.
The Smallholders Party leader Bela Kovacs was clear: "No one, I
believe, wants to re-establish the world of the aristocrats, .the
bankers and the capitalists. That world is definitely gone." Likewise
National Peasants Party leader Ferenc Farkas: "We shall retain the
gains and conquests of socialism…" Even Catholic Party leader Endre
Varga saw no point in trying to turn back the clock – "We demand-the
maintenance of the social victories which have been realised since
1945…"[15] People were worried that the reappearance of these old
parties would undermine the unity of the revolution, but the hatred
of the one-party system was such as to tolerate them: demands for
parties to be allowed was not though an expression of any great
enthusiasm for them. Despite the MDP’s record in power, no worker
wanted private capitalists back: they wanted their supposed
collective property to become theirs in fact. No peasant wanted the
private landlords back – but they wanted the co-operatives to be
voluntary rather than forced. As the Party collapsed, members burnt
their cards. One member stuck his to a wall with a message next to it
– "A testimony to my stupidity. Let this be a lesson to you." The MDP
reorganised itself as the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSzMP).

Of the twenty or more new papers that appeared within days of the
uprising none were right wing. One that tried to publish found the
compositors refusing to touch it. The papers were usually four pages
or a single sheet, either printed or stenciled. ‘Igazsag’ proved the
most popular, as it was closest to the workers’ councils. Walls were
covered with copies of the papers and other notices. Accounts of MDP
leaders’ lifestyles made popular reading. There was very little
nationalism, and no anti-Semitism. Soviet armoured cars distributed
the Party paper, but people tore the bundles to bits without any
regard for the contents. As the Russian troops dug in round Budapest,
boxes were left in the streets to collect for widows and orphans. No
one needed to guard these boxes full of money. A notice next to one
said "The purity of our revolution permits us to use this method of
collection." The mayor of the capital, Jozsef Kovago, said the city
was "pervaded with such sacred feelings that even the thieves
abandoned their trade." On the wreck of a Russian tank someone
scrawled the words ‘Soviet culture’. A girl fighter in the Corvin
Passage spoke for thousands: "Now I’m making history instead of
studying it."

….and in the country
Hungarians were not just making history in Budapest. In the country
districts and industrial towns, workers and peasants were quick to
follow up the events in the capital. On the 23rd October itself in
Debrecen, red stars were already being taken off buildings and local
trams. In Szeged, crowds tore down Soviet emblems. In Miskolc, some
Russians were attacked and an army staff car thrown in the river. The
police were disarmed in Cegled when some 5,000 joined the uprising.
The removal of Soviet troops from Hungarian soil was demanded by oil
workers in Lovasz, miners from Balinka and auto repair workers in
Szombathely. Everywhere workers were finding their voices and taking

In Gyor on the 24th a small demonstration of factory workers ripped
red stars off the factories and destroyed a Soviet war memorial. They
broke down the prison gates and released political prisoners. They
found a list of the prisoners’ occupations – drivers, workers,
waiters and mechanics. The AVH turned up and fired at the crowds,
killing four and wounding more. The next day the local police and
army garrison joined the revolution, forcing the surrender, of the
AVH. The local Soviet commander withdrew his troops saying that the
rising "against the oppressive leaders is justified". On the 26th a
general strike got under way, and by the next day a Workers’ Council
and a ‘National Revolutionary Council’ had ‘been set up (‘National’
referring to the local county, not the whole of Hungary), composed in
the main of workers with some MDP members. These councils were in
constant session. They were both insurrectionary and self-governing.
The local radio was in rebel hands, and on the 28th it called for an
end to the Warsaw Pact and demanded that Imre Nagy negotiate with the
Budapest workers. Thirty thousand miners struck for these demands. A
network of local workers’ councils developed, linking the railway
works with the miners of Tatabanya and Balinka. Personnel chiefs were
dismissed and new plant managers elected by workforces. The national
Revolutionary Council successfully repulsed efforts by a handful of
reactionaries to exploit the situation.

In nearby Magyarovar, everybody was talking politics as the news came
through from Budapest. A peaceful unarmed demonstration was fired on
by the local AVH. Between 60 and 90 were shot in the massacre. Upon
this, the local police joined the rebels and the Revolutionary
Council in Gyor sent an army detachment. The AVH surrendered, and
their officers were lynched in revenge by a large crowd. Here as
elsewhere essential services were kept ticking over; miners produced
just enough coal to keep the power going. Peasants joined the
rebellion as the MDP crumbled and the AVH retreated in the face of
popular opposition. Farmers worked to feed the rebels. In town after
town, radio stations were taken over, Party buildings burnt down,
AVOs sought out and killed, informers attacked.

The Borsod district was the largest industrial area in Hungary, and
its main town, Miskolc, the largest industrial town outside Budapest.
On October 24th a workers’ council met at the Dimavag iron foundry.
The next day the foundry workers marched into town with a list of
demands, removing red stars and the like wherever they were seen.
They were joined by other workers and a mass meeting created a
workers’ council for all the factories of Greater Miskolc. A general
strike was declared. On the 26th a crowd besieged the local police Hi
trying to get the release of political prisoners. The AVH fired at
the crowd. Some police gave their weapons to the workers, and miners
turned up with dynamite to get their revenge. Six or seven AVOs were
lynched in the ensuing battle. The Workers’ Council said "Stalinist
provocateurs have felt the just punishment of the people." The next
evening the Council calmly announced that it had "taken power in all
the Borsod region".

In Salgotarjan in Nograd county all work stopped on 25th October. On
the 27th steelworkers marched through the town, taking down red
stars, releasing political prisoners and destroying the Soviet war
memorial. A ‘National Council’ was set up for the district. In Pecs,
even the AVH at the uranium mines sided with the revolution. The
Workers’ Council there farmed a military council which immediately
made plans to face another Soviet attack, which was not long in

The Workers’ Councils
The first workers’ council to be set up in Budapest was at the United
Lamp factory. This council representing ten thousand workers got
going on October 24th, within hours of the revolution starting. It
appealed to workers to "show that we can manage things better than
our former blind and domineering bosses." 16 Within a day, workers’
councils were set up in the towns of Miskolc, Gyor, Debrecen and
Sztalinvaros: incredibly, the Dimavag Workers’ Council mentioned
above was actually set up on the 22ndi In Budapest, councils appeared
at the Beloiannis electrical equipment factory, the Gamma optical
works, the Canz electric, wagon and machine works, the Lang and
Danuvia machine-tool factories, the Matyas Rakosi iron and steel
works and elsewhere. On the 26th the KDP graciously announced that it
"approved" the new workers’ councils, but it was hoping to keep them
isolated as separate ‘factory councils’. However the councils were
already assuming a united political and economic role. The general
strike was a political act in support of the armed uprising. The
councils kept their power at the local level, yet exerted a
collective pressure on the government. For the next few days there
were constant delegations from the councils to government ministers.

The Miskolc Workers’ Council wrote to Nagyj "Bear President, the
Workers’ Council yesterday assumed power in all the domain of the
Borsod department." The councils in the districts unhesitatingly
seized power straightaway; in Budapest, only as the armed rebels
appeared to win. The councils in Miskolc, Gyor, Pecs and Skolnok had
control of radio stations which allowed them to co-ordinate with each
other and with Budapest. As the fighting eased off, the workers’
councils began to group themselves into district workers’ councils.
On the 29th delegates from the Ujpest councils met at the United Lamp
factory; similar meetings occurred in the 9th district of Budapest
and Angyalfold. On the 30th October, nineteen factories in Csepel set
up the Central Workers’ Council of Csepel. Only one day later, these
moves to centralise and strengthen the movement resulted in a
Parliament of Workers’ Councils for the whole of Budapest.

This historic meeting drew up a statement of the duties and rights of
the workers’ councils with nine points, here in full:

1. The factory belongs to the workers. The latter should pay to the
state a levy calculated on the basis of the output and a portion of
the profits.
2. The supreme controlling body of the factory is the Workers’
Council democratically elected by the workers.
3. . The Workers ‘ Council elects its own executive committee
composed of 3-9 members, which acts as the executive body of the
Workers’ Council, carrying out the decisions and tasks laid down by
4. The director is employed "by the factory. The director and the
highest employees axe to be elected ‘by the Workers’ Council. This
election will take place after a public general meeting called "by
the executive committee.
5. The director is responsible to the Workers’ Council in every
matter which concerns the factory.
6. The Workers’ Council itself reserves all rights to:
a. approve and ratify all projects concerning the enterprise;
b. decide basic wage levels and the methods by which these are to be
c. decide on all matters concerning foreign contracts;
d. decide on the conduct of all operations involving credit.
7. In the same way, the Workers’ Council resolves any conflicts
concerning the hiring and firing of all workers employed in the
8. The Workers’ Council has the right to examine the balance sheets
and to decide on the use to which the profits are to be put.
9. The Workers’ Council handles all social questions in the

This statement was an attempt by a workers’ movement within days of
an uprising, before the success of the revolution was in any way
assured, to take power away from the bureaucrats. It was an attempt
to establish workers’ control, and to an extent, workers’ management,
in the workplace. It wasn’t concerned with abstractions but with a
day-to-day reality; it represented a starting-point for the workers’
councils As the workers had generally taken their factories and
workplaces over already, the meeting’s resolution that the factories
etc belonged to the workers recognised a fait accompli.

All the councils were both anti-capitalist and anti-Stalinist. Borsod
District Workers’ Council said that it "resolutely condemns the
organisation of political parties."[18] The tendency to unify
continued into early November. The workers’ councils in Miskolc set
up a municipal one for the town, then a departmental one for the
whole district. On November 2nd, the president of the Miskolc
councils, Jozseff Kiss, called for a ‘National Revolutionary Council’
based on the workers’ councils. The developing implicit trend was
towards the idea of "all power to the councils", and its realisation,
but this was not clearly stated: the second Russian attack cut short
such developments, Imre Nagy and his ministers saw nothing of
significance in the councils; similarly, the various political
parties that had sprung up looked to their own activity as a solution
to Hungary’s problems. Workers’ self-management was a notion beyond

On November 3rd the Csepel and Ujpest district councils called for
the strike to end, with a disciplined return to work on the 5th. This
was intended to strengthen the Nagy government’s negotiating hand
with the Russians. On November 1st there had been a declaration of
neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact – this accession to
one of the major demands of the revolution gave Nagy a temporary
popularity. However, withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact was unlikely to
be tolerated by the Russians. On November 3rd Pravda reported in
Moscow that "militant communists had been massacred and murdered"; on
the day of the invasion it referred to "bestial atrocities" committed
by the rebels, and the Chinese Communist Party paper urged – "Bar the
road to reaction in Hungary" (by which they meant – "stop this
example to Chinese workers").

The Military Defeat of the Revolution
The Russian attack began on November 4ths 150,000 men and over 2,000
tanks were used. The political parties as well as all the various
‘leaders’ disappeared in the face of it. The working class stood firm
and took the lead. An immediate spontaneous general strike started,
and the fiercest resistance to the Soviet troops came in
working-class areas. Janos Kadar was the new Hungarian puppet the
Russians used to ‘invite’ them in. His ‘Revolutionary Worker-Peasant
Government1 composed of a handful of Communists rested simply on
Russian armed might. Soviet troops and tanks made straight for the
industrial centers and working-class districts to crush the
revolution, Throughout Hungary, peasants and workers tried to explain
the truth to the invaders. Pecs radio broadcast messages to Russian
troops, many of whom had no idea where they were, that "the Hungarian
people have only taken the power into their own hands". As even the
Communist Radio Rajk proclaimed "The place of every Hungarian
communist today is on the barricades", Kadar’s first move was to set
up a new secret police force. The workers’ councils rejected Kadar
and his fake government without hesitation. When Dunapentele was
surrounded by Soviet troops on the 7th, the Workers’ Council there
met the surrender ultimatum with the statement: "Dunapentele is the
foremost socialist town in Hungary. Its inhabitants are workers, and
power is in their hands. The houses have all been built by the
workers themselves. The workers will defend the town from ‘fascist
excesses’ but also from Soviet troops!"

In Budapest the heaviest concentration of Soviet amour was in Csepel
and Kobanya. In the centre of the city fitting went on till the 6th,
when the rebels’ ammunition ran out. Some suburbs held out until the
8th; Ujpest and Kobanya till the 9th and 10th, leaving Red Csepel to
fall on the 11th when the Russians could move all their troops to
attack it. These last districts saw by far the fiercest fighting.
Some 80-90% of the Hungarian wounded were young workers. Kadar’s own
reports confirmed that most damage occurred in the working-class
areas. On the 7th, rebels raised the red flag to commemorate the
Russian Revolution, while the heirs of that revolution killed
Hungarian workers. The AVOs re-emerged, looking for revenge for their
recent humiliations. Government proclamations started to appear on
walls. Passers-by defaced them, or pasted over them, or just ripped
them down. In Csepel the workers joked grimly "The 40,000 aristocrats
and fascists of Csepel are on strike." Trenches were dug in front of
the workers’ flats. Csepel workers for those seven days slept eight
hours, fought for eight hours and spent the other eight hours working
in the factories producing arms and ammunition. The Csepel armored
car made its appearance – a three-wheel mechanised wheelbarrow with a
machine-gun in the bucket propped up with sandbags. Against this, the
Red Army used heavy artillery and bombers. Le Figaro, a French paper,
commented, "The Red Array now occupies Budapest. It is red with the
blood of the workers."

Outside the capital, Dunapentele lasted till the 9th led by its
Workers’ Council. In Pecs, the Workers’ Council decided not to defend
the town. Instead a plan was carried out for guerrilla warfare in the
nearby hills: this went on in a major way for ten days, and some
miners and soldiers carried on fighting the Russians for several
weeks, in Miskolc there was a brief resistance to the Soviet attack,
followed by a declaration of a general strike of all non-essential
workers. The Borsod Workers’ Council offered to take 20,000 armed
workers to Budapest so that Nagy (now sheltering in the Yugoslav
embassy) could prove to the Russians that their fears of a
‘capitalist restoration’ were groundless. Later on, when the Budapest
police chief, Kopacsi, who came from the Miskolc area, was tried and
sentenced to death, the Borsod Workers’ Council repeated this offer
to Kadar, who promptly reprieved Kopacsi. In Salgotarjan in Nograd
county, workers supported their local ‘Rational Workers’ Council’
after the Soviet invasion. Until the 16th the workers held the town
hall, the local press and radio, and local army units were on the
revolution’s side. On that day the Russian troops took over, setting
up a ‘Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Committee’ in opposition to the
Workers’ Council. On December 1st, the Russians arrested the leaders
of the National Workers’ Council, but real power still lay in the
hands of the workers: they marched to the police HQ and secured the
release of their fellow-workers. There followed a solid two-day
strike in the area. A few days later when further arrests of district
Workers’ Council members took place, thousands of demonstrators were
confronted by tanks, and the AVH fired on unarmed crowds.

Workers’ Councils lead the Resistance
The military defeat of the Hungarian workers and peasants thus took
just over a week. The struggle now moved into a. new phase. The
workers may have been beaten by an overwhelming armed force from
outside, but they still had control over productions as long as they
could keep that, "workers’ power" was a reality and Kadar’s
government would rest on repression alone. The workers’ councils
reorganised in the wake of the invasion, setting up district workers’
councils with an overtly political role. The Csepel Workers’ Council
sent delegations to Kadar and the Soviet army commander. The common
demand of the councils was that the workers were to run the
factories, ensuring that power stayed with them. On November 12th
moves were made towards establishing a Central Workers’ Council for
the whole of Greater Budapest, and on the 14th the founding meeting
was held at the United Lamp factory. A young Hungarian intellectual,
Miklos Erasso, has claimed the credit for the idea of a Central
Workers’ Council (CWC1), but he himself relates how he was put in his
place at the meeting: "The elderly social democratic chairman asked:
‘What factory are you from?’ ‘None’, I said. ‘What right have you to
be here?’ I said that I had actually organised the meeting. The
chairman replied: ‘This is untrue. This meeting is an historical
inevitability!"[19] The CWCl was indeed the inevitable result of the
councils’ attempts to unite. Krasso’s ‘idea’ coincided with the
direction of the workers’ movement.

The delegates who came together were in the main toolmakers, turners,
steelworkers and engineers. The following day a more widely based
meeting was held. Some of the delegates wanted to create a National
Workers’ Council for the whole of Hungary then and there; while many
agreed, it was pointed out that they only had a mandate to form a
CWC1 for Greater Budapest. The workers’ councils were determined to
be truly democratic. "For the Hungarian workers and their delegates
the most important thing about the councils was precisely their
democratic nature. There was a very close relationship between the
delegates and the entire working-class: the delegates were elected
for the sole purpose of carrying out the workers’ wishes, and it is
noteworthy that workers often recalled delegates who diverged from
their mandate. They didn’t like delegates who were too
‘independent’."[20] At the meeting, Sandor Racz, elected president,
stated "We have no need of the government! We are and shall remain
the leaders here in Hungary!" Unfortunately, the majority were
inclined to compromise in the face of armed might, and to negotiate
with Kadar’s fake government. A return to work, backed also by the
Csepel Workers’ Council, was planned in order to show that the strike
was conscious and organised. Many workers were very angry at this,
and accusations of sell-outs abounded.

As real power lay with the councils, Kadar’s government had to
destroy them and reinstall authoritarian relationships in the
factories. For two months the struggle continued, Points 9 and 11 of
Kadar’s ‘Workers and Peasants Revolutionary Program’ were for
"workers’ management of the factories" and "democratic election of
the workers’ councils". Kadar’s counter-revolution had to hide behind
fine phrases. But there was no way Kadar could agree to the workers’
demands: "collective ownership of the factories, which were to be in
the hands of the workers’ councils, which were to act as the only
directors of the enterprises; a widening of the councils’ powers in
the economic, social and cultural fields; the organisation of a
militia-type police force, subject to the councils; and on the
political plane, a multi-socialist-party system."[21] The CWC1
negotiated directly with the Soviet army commander, Grebennik, giving
him a list of missing workers’ council members every day, whereupon
the Russians released them from prison. The Soviets for their part
showed that they knew power lay with the councils, not Kadar. At
first, Grebennik treated workers’ council delegations as fascists and
imperialist agents; in due course though a Soviet colonel and
interpreter were made permanent representatives to the CWC1. It was
the councils, not Kadar’s government, that was arranging’ all food
and medical supplies.

On November 18th, a plan was developed for a truly national council,
a ‘parliament of Workers’ Councils’. This was to have 156 members,
delegates from district workers’ councils in Budapest and the
counties, and from the largest factories. This body would elect a
thirty-strong presidium, which would co-opt up to 20 representatives
from other groups such as the army, intellectuals, political parties,
and the police. An appeal went out for delegates to attend a.
conference on the 21st to discuss this. "The principal task of this
national conference was to create a power under the direction of the
workers, and in opposition to the government." On the 19th work
restarted as a sign of discipline and support by the workers for the
CWC1. Delegates to the conference came from Budapest, Gyor, Pecs,
Tatabanya, and Ozd and there were others from peasant organisations.
A vital link had been established between the CWC1 and the provincial
councils. The various miners’ delegates were very much against the
return to work: "You can work if you want, but we shall provide
neither coal nor electricity, we shall flood all the mines!" But
those in favour pointed out that the strike was hitting everybody
indiscriminately, and a return to work would keep the workers united
in their workplaces.

A rumour spread through Budapest that the CWC1 had been arrested: the
workers immediately resumed their strike. Although the workers in
Csepel joined in, the Csepel Workers’ Council condemned the new
strike. Before a commission from the CWC1 could investigate this
difference, the Csepel workers had promptly elected a brand new
council that was in line with their wishes and actions, supporting
the strike and the CWC1. Workers were arguing through the different
options facing them now: active resistance, passive resistance or
flight. The first could not be maintained, although in fact there was
never a Hungarian surrender, and a quarter of a million Hungarians
chose the latter and fled the country to the west. Thousands were
deported to Russia, particularly younger workers, in an act of
indiscriminate terror. Railway workers did what they could to prevent
these, for instance by removing railway track. Some ambushes were
carried out against trains and deportees released. Most deportees
were allowed back during 1957.

As passive resistance became the course followed by most Hungarians,
a sullen hatred developed towards the Russians and their puppet
government. When, later on, the Russian leader Khrushchev came to
Hungary, supposed mass meetings of support on the radio had to be
boosted by canned applause. A succession of sarcastic posters
appeared on walls: "Take care! Ten million counter-revolutionaries
are roaming the country. Hundreds of thousands of landowners,
capitalists, generals and bishops are at large, from the aristocratic
quarters to the factory areas of Csepel and Kispest. Because of this
gang’s murderous activities only six workers are left in the entire
country. These latter have set up a government in Skolnok." "Lost:
the confidence of the people. Honest finder is asked to return it to
Janos Kadar, prime minister of Hungary, address: 10,000 Soviet Tanks
Street." "Wanted! Premier for Hungary. Qualifications – no sincere
convictions; no backbone; ability to read and write not essential,
but must be able to sign documents drawn up by others." "Proletarians
of the World Unite: but not in groups of three or more." A popular
joke did the rounds: "D’you know where we went wrong in October? We
interfered in our own internal affairs."

As part of the policy of passive resistance, a silent demonstration
took place on November 23rd: from 2 o’clock till J in the afternoon,
no one went out on the streets of Budapest. This sort of action
showed what Hungarians thought of Kadar, and was impossible for his
new security force to suppress. He appealed to the workers’ councils
to help establish order and get production restarted. As if in reply,
the CWC1 stated on November 27th "We reaffirm that we have received
our mission from the working class… and we shall work with all our
might for the strengthening of the workers’ power." The only press
that the councils had was a duplicated ‘Information Bulletin’ which
was passed from hand to hand or read out loud at meetings. The
councils allowed no party organisations in the factories: MSzMP and
pro-government trade union officials were banned and physically
prevented from entering.

December saw Kadar’s government slowly wrest power away from the
workers’ councils in the battle for the factories. From below came a
relentless pressure for anti-Kadar action. On December 4th there was
the ‘March of Mothers’, a silent procession of 30,000 women in black
with national and black flags. In support, all houses had lighted
candles in their windows at midnight, despite the government taking
all the candles it could out of the shops. The next day a decree
dissolved the Revolutionary Committees that had sprung up alongside
the workers’ councils in the districts, for instance in Gyor, and 200
workers’ council members were arrested. The offensive continued on
the 6th with the arrest of the Workers’ Councils in the Ganz and
MAVAG factories. At the same time the CWC1 was discussing plans for a
National Workers’ Council and a provisional workers’ parliament with
representatives from all the workers’ councils. On the 8th, 80 miners
were killed in Salgotarjan by Soviet troops. The next day Kadar
dissolved the CWC1, arresting most of its members. The others carried
on and declared a 48-hour strike in response to the dissolution and
the shooting of the miners. One delegate declared "Let the lights go
out, let there be no gas, let there be nothing!"

So it was for a 100% solid two-day strike. Two of the CWC1 leaders
who escaped arrest, Sandor Racz and Sander Bali, were protected for
two days by workers at the Beloiannis factory, who refused to hand
them over despite the fact that Soviet tanks were ringing the
factory. On the 11th, Kadar ‘invited’ them to negotiations: as soon
as they left the factory they were arrested. The strike continued.
Even the party paper ‘Nepszabadsag’ was forced to say of it that "the
like of which has never before been seen in the history of the
Hungarian workers’ movement." On the 13th as the strike finished, the
Csepel iron and steel workers sat in demanding the release of Racz
and Bali; other factories followed suit. Soviet troops were then
moved into the major factories to force the workers to work at

The Revolution Defeated
The strike was the workers’ last card. Zadar’s "Revolutionary
Workers’ and Peasants’ Government" had defeated the workers and
peasants. Internment was introduced, and the death penalty set for
striking or inciting to strike. A few days after this announcement,
the Csepel Iron and Steel Workers Council resigned with- the words
"we are returning our mandate into the hands of the workers". As
other councils did the same, Kadar complained of "provocative
self-dissolutions"! The CWC1’s final message was that "sabotage and
passive resistance are the order of the day". Kadar, backed by a new
AVE and the Soviet army, had seized the means of production back from
the workers and attacked every workers’ organisation. Naturally, he
had a theoretical justification for this. In Kay 1957 he told the
National Assembly: "In the recent past, we have encountered the
phenomenon that certain categories of workers acted against their own
interests and, in this case, the duty of the leaders is to represent
the interests of the masses and not to implement mechanically their
incorrect ideas. If the wish of the masses does not coincide with
progress, then one must lead the masses in another direction."

Two thousand Hungarians were executed for what the ruling classes
everywhere will always call ‘incorrect ideas’. Continuing resistance
to Kadar’s government can be gauged from the scale of the repression:
the curfew was not lifted until Kay 1957; summary justice was not
brought to an end till November 1957} during 1957 and 1958,
executions occurred virtually every day; two years after the
revolution, there were some 40,000 political prisoners; in 1959, nine
members of the Ujpest Workers’ Council were executed. It was not till
January 19^0 that death sentences were officially ended for
‘offences’ during the revolution (although one insurgent, Laszlo
Hickelburg, was executed in 1961). The last internment camps were
closed in June 1960, but several hundred rebels were not released
from prison till the late ‘sixties and early ‘seventies.

The workers of Hungary proved once again that freedom comes from
below, not from any leadership (‘revolutionary’ or otherwise) above
acting on their behalf. To destroy the communist bureaucracy they
adopted forma of organisation that were democratic, anti-bureaucratic
and included the whole working-class these councils were also
constructive. The workers were able to destroy the old and start
building the new within days if not hours. They rejected the official
concepts of socialism and created their own, workers’ self-management
and direct democracy, a logical development from previous workers’
struggles for a new society.

The Workers’ Councils were never in any way separate from the
working-class. They never betrayed it, and dissolved themselves
rather than be recuperated by the authorities they returned to the
class from whence they came. The Hungarian working-class and their
councils reorganised society, ran production, kept their order and
united the rest of the population behind them. They were only
defeated by a massive military force and the passivity of the
international working-class. Given the chance to develop freely along
the lines they started out on, the potential of the councils was the
creation of a free human society at last. The program of the
Hungarian Revolution still remains for the working-class to carry

This article was taken from

More information
Bill Lomax: Hungary 1956, Allison & Busby 1976.
Tibor Meray: Thirteen Days that shook the Kremlin, Thames &, Hudson
Miklos Molnar: Budapest 1956, George Allen & Unwin 1971.
Bill Lomax (ed)i Eyewitness in Hungary, Spokesman 1980.
Andy Anderson: Hungary ’56, Solidarity (London) 19^4.
Books on Hungary 1956 are under code 943.905 in public libraries.

1. Bill Lomax: The Working Class in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
in ‘Critique’ No 12, Autumn 1979/WInter 1980, Pp 27-54 (referred to
as Critique from now on). The quote is taken from one of the
interviews of the Columbia University Research Project on Hungary.
The interviews are widely used in many of the books on the
revolution: all unattributed quotes from now on come from them. To
list them all would be tedious and take too much space’
2. quoted in Critique p33.
3. Molnar, pp19-29.
4. Critique, p33.
5. Imre Nagy in a speech to MAVAG locomotive plant workers printed
November 14th, 1954. p3 Szabad Nep [Hungarian Communists’ main daily
"Production results of the third quarter show that, if the labour
drive to mark these elections is carried out with the enthusiasm and
vigour as the revolutionary shift that was worked in honour of the
Great Socialist October Revolution, and if management and workers can
get the same improvement in worker discipline – in which there are
still grave deficiencies – then MAVAG will be able to take its place
amongst the ranks of the elite plants."
6. quoted in Perenc Feher & Agnes Heller: Hungary 1956 Revisited,
George Allen & Unwin 1983.
7. Molnar, pp108-9, Meray pp6,7-8.
8. Meray, p85.
9. Molnar, p127.
10. Molnar, p144.
11. Eyewitness, p125.
12. Meray, p102.
13. Lomax, p138.
14. Meray, P147.
15. Meray, p173-5.
16. quoted in Critique, p36.
17. quoted in Lomax, p140.
18. Molnar, p179.
19. Eyewitness, p163.
20. Eyewitness, p176.
21. Eyewitness, p169-70.