Michael Harrington Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Michael Harrington

Quarterly Notes

A Chronicle of Revolution

(Fall 1956)

From The New International, Vol. XXII No. 3, Fall 1956, pp. 182–187.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Hungarian Revolution broke out on October 23, 1956. The chronology of these world-shaking events is clear enough. During the revolution, radio stations in Hungary were taken over by the revolutionaries and broadcast to the outside world. Correspondents of every political point of view filed eye-witness accounts. And from these reports, it is possible to develop a fairly clear picture of what was going on during these amazing days.

October 21st. The students of the Polytechnique University assembled and voted a political program. They announced that they would demonstrate if their demands were not met. The student resolution, distributed in the streets of Budapest, called for: withdrawal of Russian troops; revision of economic treaties with Russia to grant real independence to Hungary; publication of trade and reparations agreements between Russia and Hungary; full information on Hungarian uranium resources and the concessions granted to the Russians; the election of a new leadership in the Communist Party; the installation of Imre Nagy as Premier; a public trial for Mihaly Farkas, organizer of the terror under Rakosi; secret, general elections with more than one party on the ballot; a reorganization of the entire economic plan; revision of workers’ norms; the right to strike; revision of the system of compulsory collective farm collections; equal rights for individual farmers and members of cooperatives; restoration of the Hungarian national flag; restoration of the Hungarian Army uniform; destruction of the statue of Stalin in Budapest; solidarity with the national movement in Poland.

At Gyor, the writer Gyula Hay demanded an end to Russian bases in Hungary. A crowd of two thousand applauded his declaration.

The Petofi Circle announced that they would issue a manifesto of solidarity with the Polish national movement on the following day.

The paper of the Young Communists, Irodalmi Ujzag, quoted Paul Laszlo, a Csepel worker, “Up ’til now, we have not said a word ... But do not be disturbed. For we shall speak up too.”

October 22nd. Meetings in Budapest continued. The students of Lorand University adopted a statement expressing “fraternal sympathy for our Polish comrades who are now struggling for sovereignty and liberalization.” The students and professors of the Military Academy, Miklos Zrinyi, announced that they adhered to the political program of the Polytechnic University.

October 23rd. Demonstrations began in the streets of Budapest. Workers, students and army men were in the march. At first, the Ministry of the Interior forbade the demonstrations, but this was changed almost immediately, and an authorization was granted.

The marchers carried huge portraits of Lenin. They sang the Marseillaise, and shouted slogans of “Out with the Russians,” “Nagy to power,” “Put Rakosi on trial.” After about three hours, the crowd began to disperse, and it appeared that the manifestation had taken place without violence. The people gathered again before the Budapest radio station, shouting “Down with Gero.” A delegation of three youths was selected to go in and speak with government authorities. They were immediately arrested by the Secret Police. The crowd attempted to force the door of the building, and the police fired, killing three people.

The revolution had begun.

The workers of Csepel went on the offensive. They went into army barracks and were given guns by the soldiers. With these, they attacked the arsenal and barracks at Hadick. Soldiers in Budapest began to join the workers and students. Two officers who offered to mediate the riot at the radio station were executed by the Secret Police.

On the night of the 23rd, Erno Gero broadcast a statement on the events of the day. He accused the demonstrators of seeking to establish a “bourgeois” regime, and announced:

“Our decision is definitely to abide by Socialist democracy. We must defend it. We are against those who want to misuse Hungarian youth for manifestations against socialism.”

That night he called for Russian tanks.

October 24th. The government was radically altered. Nagy was installed as Premier, but Gero retained his seat in the Politburo. Kadar was named Secretary of the Communist Party.

As soon as he was named Premier, Nagy announced his support of the plan to crush the revolution. “Our first task,” he broadcast, “is to restore discipline and peace.” He also made an offer of amnesty: “All those who give up the struggle by 2 P.M. in the interest of stopping bloodshed and surrender their arms will not be tried.” His political program called for the consumer-orientation which he had attempted to introduce in 1953. At the same time, Kadar accused the demonstrators of “trying to bring back capitalism.”

By the 24th, fighting had broken out in the industrial centers outside of Budapest. The first workers’ councils were established. At Miskolcz, in the industrial region of Borsod, The Workers Council of Borsod called for a new government “in the spirit of Bela Kun and Laszlo Rajk.”

October 25. Erno Gero was dismissed from his position of leadership in the Communist Party.

In Budapest, the people continued to fight against the Russian tanks. Russian troops went over to the side of the revolution. According to Noel Barber of the English Daily Mail, some Russian tank crews had torn the hammer and sickle from their flags and joined the rebels under a red banner.

Nagy announced a new amnesty.

“We promise clemency to all young people, civilians and servicemen who will give up the struggle immediately. The full weight of the law will strike only those who go on attacking.”

At the same time, he admitted that all of the political points contained in the program for the 23rd (substantially those drawn up on the 21st) were “justified.”

At Debreczen, Szeged, Pecs, Gyor, Sopron, Szolnok and Magyarovar, the general strike began. Kadar once again charged that the revolution aimed at capitalist restoration. Reports that the revolution controlled huge areas outside of Budapest began to come from Austria. Radio broadcasts from various revolutionary stations were heard.

October 26th. Workers Councils appeared in almost every industrial city in Hungary. At Magyarovar, the “Municipal Council” had 26 members, elected in the factories and at the National School of Agriculture. Members included Social Democrats, National Peasants, Small Holders and Communists. The President of the Council was Lugosy Gora, a worker and member of the Communist Party. The Council rejected emigrée leadership and called for free elections under the supervision of the UN. At Gyor, the Revolutionary Committee was composed of 20 members, elected by secret ballot in the factories. The Committee declared:

“We are categorically opposed to demagogic speeches about the possibility of a counter-revolutionary government emerging and thus giving a juridical basis for foreign intervention, transforming our country into a second Korea.”

The Council at Miskolc put forth a program calling for free elections, the right to strike, the retention of the Council movement in the political structure of the nation, and demanded a government of “Communists devoted to the principles of proletarian internationalism.”

In Budapest, fighting continued, and the Nagy Government went on with its efforts to halt the demonstrations.

October 27th. The Council of Miskolc proposed the unification of all Councils on the basis of a common political program: the creation of a free, independent, sovereign, democratic and socialist Hungary; free elections and universal suffrage; the immediate removal of Russian troops; a new Constitution; suppression of the Secret Police; total amnesty for all revolutionaries, and trials for Gero and his accomplices; free elections to be held in two months.

Russian troops in Budapest began to move out of the city. A ceasefire was proclaimed which was held in the capital, but did not effect the developments throughout the country.

October 28th. Nagy granted all of the demands of the revolutionaries. He proposed: a general amnesty; the withdrawal of Russian troops from Budapest; early negotiations with the Russians for removal of all of their troops from Hungary; higher pensions; consumer orientation in the economy as a whole; increased food production; a more liberal agricultural policy; workers councils on the Yugoslavian model; more housing. The Budapest radio broadcast:

“You have won. We must realize that a huge democratic movement has developed which includes the whole Hungarian nation. Please, please stop. You have won. Your demands will be fulfilled. Just stop the killing.”

Nagy also announced that members of political parties other than the Communist would be part of his new government. In the industrial towns, Workers Councils were jailing leaders of the Communist Party. Throughout the country, members of the Secret Police were being jailed or shot.

October 29th. Nagy recognized the Councils throughout the nation as organs of government. Szabad Nep, the official organ of the Communist Party, hailed the insurrection.

The Revolutionary Committee of Hungarian Intellectuals saluted the “complete victory” of the revolution, and thanked the Russian soldiers who “refused to fire upon our revolutionaries.” They published their political program: immediate removal of Russian troops; immediate cancellation of all commercial treaties unfavorable to Hungary; publication of all Hungarian-Russian treaties; free, secret elections; all mines and factories to be the property of the workers; revision of production norms and salaries; free unions; free agricultural organizations; direction of agricultural cooperatives by members, not by functionaries; compensation to farmers for past injustices; the proclamation of the 23rd of October as a National Holiday.

October 30th. Nagy formed a new government with the Communists in the minority. The Revolutionary Council of the Army sent its delegates to Budapest. Free elections were announced.

On the 30th, the Russians announced that they would withdraw their troops “as soon as this is recognized by the Hungarian Government to be necessary.” They also made a general statement, admitting past errors, offering to reconsider the whole question of Russian troops in Eastern Europe, and calling for a “commonwealth” of “socialist” nations.

Nagy then called upon the Russians to remove their troops from Budapest. The collective farm system was abolished. The participation of Smallholders, Peasant Party, Social Democrats and Communists in the new government was announced.

October 31st. The Russians announced that orders had been given to their troops to leave Hungary. The nation celebrated the victory of the Revolution.

Cardinal Mindszenty was freed and restored to his Palace in Budapest. He was guarded by forces from the Hungarian Army.

November 1st. Nagy announced that Hungary would break with the Warsaw Pact. He proclaimed Hungary a neutral nation. Negotiations were begun with the Russians to get them to take their troops back home.

The Councils recognized the Nagy Government. They called upon the workers to end the general strike. The Hungarian unions announced that they were quitting the World Federation of Trade Unions.

November 2nd. Russian troop movements are reported.

Nagy, Kadar, and Lukacsz leave the Communist Party and form a new party. The youth of Hungary proclaim that the aims of the revolution are socialist.

In this period, Bela Kovacs, a leader of the peasants, announced that “No one wants to go backward, to return to the world of the nobility, the bankers and the capitalists.”

November 3rd. Zoltan Tildy, head of the Smallholders Party, announced that Russian-Hungarian conversations on the removal of troops were continuing. He protested against the movement of Russian forces into Hungary. Tildy also told newspapermen that the government was united in its conviction that capitalism must not be restored in Hungary.

The composition of the new government was announced. It included Anna Kethly, Gyula Kelemen and Josef Fischer for the Social Democrats; Istvan Szabo for the Smallholders, and General Pal Maleter, a revolutionary commander, as a representative of the revolutionary forces.

Speculation that Cardinal Mindszenty would take a leading part in the new government continued in the bourgeois and Stalinist press outside of Hungary. There was no word from Budapest as to his political role, although even he had disavowed any intention of reintroducing the old regime.

November 4th. The Hungarian news agency, M.T.I., sent an urgent teletype message to Vienna: “Russian gangsters have betrayed us, they are opening fire on all of Budapest. The Russian troops suddenly attacked Budapest and the whole country. They opened fire on everybody in Hungary. It is a general attack. Janos Kadar, Gyoergy Marosan and Sandor Ronai formed a new government ... They are on the Russian’s side.”

On the night of the 3rd, the Russians had tricked Maleter, the revolutionary commander, into a rendezvous and arrested him. Then the attack began.

Nagy begged for outside help.

And the following declaration came from the revolutionaries:

“We do not have enough arms ... We have no heavy artillery. Our people throw grenades at the tanks. The Hungarians do not fear death ... Some attack the tanks with bare hands ...”

BY THE MIDDLE of the week of November 5th, the brutal Russian attack against the revolution had begun systematically to crush all centers of resistance. On the anniversary of the October Revolution, Radio Rakoczy broadcast to the troops who were drowning Hungary in blood:

“Soldiers. Your state has been created at the cost of bloody fighting in order that you shall have freedom. Today is the thirty-ninth anniversary of that revolution. Why do you want to crush our liberty? You can see that it is not the factory proprietors, not the landowners, not the bourgeoisie which has taken arms against you, but the Hungarian people fighting desperately for the same rights for which you fought in 1917.”

And still the revolution went on, though now the struggle became more of an act of massive resistance on the part of the Hungarian people, less of an armed struggle. By November 10th, Kadar’s puppet government was faced with a general strike. On the 11th, Kadar negotiated with Nagy in the Yugoslavian Embassy, but within a matter of days the leader of the first revolutionary government was arrested. By the 14th of November, all pretense of the government basing itself on a popular mandate was abandoned: word came that Hungarian youth were being deported to Russia. But, incredibly, the workers continued to fight back. They formed themselves into a network of Councils, and Kadar was forced to negotiate with their leaders.

According to the correspondent of the Austrian Arbeiter-Zeitung, organ of the Social Democracy in Vienna, there were two tendencies in the workers movement during this period. One group argued that the resistance could best be organized by returning to work, and thus gathering the forces into one place. The other demanded an immediate general strike. During November, this division was apparent in much of the activity in the Budapest Workers’ Councils, and yet the solid front of working-class opposition to the Russian troops and the Kadar Government was maintained. The Arbeiter-Zeitung reported that Kadar was even fearful of calling a meeting of the puppet Communist Party, for then, he was quoted as saying to a friend, “We will have to fight against the Russians.”

During November and December, reports on the struggle in Hungary became fragmentary. A “government” of Russian tanks attempted to destroy every vestige of independence in the nation. And yet, even the bits of information that came out of Hungary added up to one huge fact: that the massive, unanimous revolutionary opposition of the Hungarian people to Kadar and to the Russians continued, above all, that the Hungarian working class was still fighting for freedom. The Hungarian Revolution was far from over.

Michael Harrington Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 24 October 2019