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Content of this page:
    Refugees
    The international effect of the revolution
    After the revolution
    The Western world, the Suez crisis and the UN
    The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc
    On 30th October Cardinal József
    The Revolution
    International background
    The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: The road to revolution

Refugees

in the months following the suppression of the revolution nearly 200,000 people left Hungary. The refugees, before settling down in different Western countries, spent a shorter or longer period of time in Austrian and Yugoslavian refugee camps. Even before 4th

November Western governments and civil organizations offered a considerable amount of food and medical aid to support the Hungarians, but only a part ever reached Hungary due to the second Soviet intervention.

In November the call of the UN general meeting was followed by a worldwide campaign to support Hungarian refugees and help them settle down in the West. The United States headed this action and as early as 2nd November it offered $20 million in aid to Hungary. It also took generous care of Hungarians settling down on its own territory and offered support to other nations taking in refugees. A major part of the maintenance costs of Austrian refugee camps was also covered by the United States. The majority of Hungarian refugees - about 80,000 people - found new homes in the United States, while 22,000 settled down in England, 16,000 in the German Federal Republic, 14,000 in Switzerland and 13,000 in France.

Csaba Békés - János Rainer M.
Associates of the 1956 Institute

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The international effect of the revolution

The Hungarian revolution disturbed the process of d�tente developing after 1953 for a short period of time but never stopped it, nor did it have any particular effect on its later course. The tension caused by Western condemnation of the Soviet intervention appeared mainly

in the field of propaganda and at UN forums, but the willingness to negotiate remained the same on the part of the Great Powers. Thus from the spring of 1957 we could witness a more active dialogue again, and from the end of the year preparations were underway for another East-West summit meeting.

The Soviet intervention in Hungary above all shook the faith of those who had nurtured illusions about the Soviet Union, and mainly "left-minded" people who had considered the Soviet Union the possible model of a socialistic society. For these people the Hungarian revolution was a test to see whether it was possible to realize an alternative socialism which would combine the practice of a Western-type political democracy with the principles of common property and social equality. So the brutal crushing of the Hungarian revolution had a negative effect not only on Western European communist parties but also on the leftwing of socialist and social democratic parties. It also contributed to the fact that new left-wing and later Eurocommunist tendencies developing in the sixties drew boundaries between themselves and the existing Soviet model in an attempt to find another form of socialist structure.

The suppression of the Hungarian revolution received considerable emphasis in the UN. A second special general meeting to discuss the Hungarian issue was called on November 4, 1956 on American initiative. This and the general meeting's 11th session in November and December passed several resolutions which called on the Soviet Union to withdraw its troops and the K�d�r government to receive the LIN Secretary General and other LIN observers, but the Hungarian government's negative attitude made an onthe-spot assessment of the situation impossible. So the UN created a special committee in January 1957 to draw up a report on the chronology and character of the Hungarian events based on the accounts of those who had participated in the revolution and who had subsequently fled to the West, and on other available sources. The report was finished in June 1957. The document described the uprising as a spontaneous manifestation of elementary force expressing the Hungarian people's wish for freedom. The special general meeting of September passed the report with a great majority but the resolutions

related to Hungary could never be enforced so the Hungarian issue was placed on the agenda of the UN general meeting every year until 1962.

The American leadership also drew the conclusion of the Hungarian revolution's suppression. The Western press frequently accused the United States of encouraging Hungarians to revolt, and then abandoning them when they did. An American answer was ready by the middle of November 1956: American politics had always been concerned about the fate of "imprisoned nations" but had never encouraged them to start armed revolt against their dictators as this would have been suicidal. This explanation convinced only few people.

Basically this was the beginning of the policy of "easing" employed until the end of the eighties and which aimed at "softening" Eastern European structures. That is, the West put political pressure on the leadership of a given state in the form of economic aid, favours, loans, cultural and interstate relationships etc. to make them follow a more liberal internal policy and an external policy more independent of the Soviet Union.

The American leadership applied this new, pragmatic policy in the LIN when dealing with the Hungarian issue. First, at general meetings the United States severely and repeatedly condemned over a period of some years the Soviet intervention - without result. Then in 1960, secret negotiations started between the United States and the K�d�r government. As a result the Hungarian issue was struck from the agenda of the UN general meeting in December 1962, while in Hungary the majority of those imprisoned for their participation in the 1956 revolution were given a general amnesty in 1963.

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After the revolution

Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership supposed that Imre Nagy would resign after the armed intervention and support K�d�r. But Nagy refused any deal. J�nos K�d�r returned to Budapest on 7th November after the heaviest fighting had finished, but all the support he had came from Moscow. There were almost no Hungarian forces behind him. Another wave of general strikes started. The revolutionary organizations and the workers' councils led by the Great Budapest Central Workers' Council, intellectual organizations (Writers' Association, illegal movements) all restarted their revolutionary demands. During the first weeks K�d�r tried to negotiate with almost every possible political force: parties, workers' councils, individuals, even Imre Nagy personally, but he failed. His partners - those who were willing to speak to him at all demanded a democratic division of power and guaranteed independence. The new leadership did not and could not accede to this as it would have provoked Soviet disapproval. After a period of some weeks the "old guard" became the new regime's power base: the R�kosi era's power elite, party officials, police and military officers and leaders, all those who had been biding their time at first but became more willing later on.

K�d�r managed to ensure that the top leaders - even R�kosi himself remained in exile in Moscow and were expelled from politics, and he finalized a pact with the Soviets in the spring of 1957. This solution proved to be vital for him; he no longer had to fear attacks from "the left" on his special K�d�r "compromise" attempt.

In December 1956 the leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party passed a resolution qualifying the October events a counter-revolution, responsibility for which lay both in the policy followed by the R�kosi leadership and Imre Nagy's "betrayal". This resolution formed the ideological base of the political structure which lasted until the end of the eighties, and at the same time it mapped out the political direction for the coming years.

K�d�r probably knew at the moment he broke with the revolution that only violent means could crush resistance. From December 1956 all political and social organizations created during the revolution were liquidated, and the retaliation started. To start the moves were aimed at crushing resistance, later at deterring any repetition. Between 1958-60 the K�d�r retaliation was characterized by mass revenge.

Retaliation was also influenced by international factors. The process of cautious reforms in the Soviet Union had stopped. Events in Poland, the reform movements within the communist party and later the Hungarian revolution threatened the Soviet leadership. Among them the Stalinists, who still wielded considerable influence, gained ground again. One thing is certain, that these factors did nothing to diminish the responsibility of Hungarian party and state leaders and J�nos K�d�r himself. All the less as Hungarian reprisals continued even after the failure of the orthodox Stalinist group led by Molotov in Moscow.

More than a hundred thousand people were affected by the repression in Hungary. Tens of thousands were placed in internment and 35,000 people were put on trial. Of them 25-26,000 were imprisoned and nearly 230 executed. The height of the bloody revenge was the execution of Imre Nagy and his colleagues on June 16, 1958. The planned trial of the prime minister, who had been coaxed into leaving the asylum of the Yugoslav embassy, was the last big Stalinist-style political trial in Eastern Europe. The trial was designed to sanctify the communist "explanation" of the 1956 revolution and freedom fight, defining the revolution as successful intrigues and an attempted putsch by a small group of conspirators aiming at the restoration of capitalism.

The process of retaliation demonstrates both the character of the K�d�r system of restoration and those features which differed from R�kosi's Stalinism. Though the retaliation was cruel, it did not lead to a state of war. The circle of crimes and criminals was limited and, having learnt the lesson of the revolution, the power of the secret police - an organization transferred from the previous system - was also restricted.

In June 1957, the national meeting of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party confirmed the K�d�r leadership and its politics. Party bodies consisted of K�d�r's personal supporters, many of them without any political character of their own.

K�d�r stated the essence of the political direction thus: people ("working masses") are not interested in politics, their opinion about the system is not formed by political questions. They form their opinion by "solving correctly economic and cultural questions influencing their everyday life". So if the communist leadership can guarantee growth in the standard of living, people will not get involved in politics.

K�d�r considered party and political decision-making unity based on the unquestioned prestige of the one-man leader the second basic device for depoliticizing society. His prestige was not generated by external signs (personality cult) but by his continuous central position within the leadership ("two-front fight"), his tactical balancing abilities and his consideration of and conformance to the Soviet leadership's viewpoints. Differences of political opinion could not escape the narrow circle of party leaders to be aired publicly, as had happened several times between 1953 and 1956.

The early days of the K�d�r system obviously showed similarities to a partial Stalinist restoration. At the end of 1956 some reform committees were still working on a criticism of the old regime and on new plans. Their ideas were quickly put aside and the planned economy system was restored. Between 1958 and 1961 practically all of agriculture was collectivized. In cultural life one campaign followed the other, denouncing "revisionism" (Imre Nagy's trend), "bourgeois nationalism" (the idea of national independence) and popular writers. In 1957 there was also a short campaign against "dogmatism" (R�kosi's Stalinism). Apart from the retaliation of 1956, however, it was not combined with a wave of violence. From 1959, repression and relaxation continued side by side for a while: there were still some trials going on, but the first (limited) general amnesty was also announced.

In Moscow, in 1961-1962 there was a temporary restart of de-Stalinization. Soviet party leader Khrushchev was thinking about large-scale reform plans and it had a positive effect on the Hungarian political leadership, as well. By that time society had already drawn the conclusions of 1956 and experienced the first slight advantages of living together with the system.

By 1960 exceptional measures (like internment) had stopped. In 1962, after a revision of planned trials, the political police was cleansed of ex-members of the State Security Authority. In 1963 a general amnesty was announced. Retaliation was over.

The K�d�r system at no time aimed to crush entire social groups. In fact just the opposite; in exchange for depoliticization, it tried to integrate (ex) middle peasants, old intellectuals and the middle classes with different gestures. There were no more direct and cruel limitations in the field of higher education, no prohibition on travelling to the West, and cultural life also became freer. There was no need to demonstrate agreement with the system, either, as used to be the case in the R�kosi era. Those not making hostile gestures were permitted to live in relative financial security. Until the middle of the sixties the centralization -investment concept was continually promoted in the economy, and the standard of living although only gradually - kept growing. Products and consumer habits appeared that had been unthinkable some years before. The stability of the system became the direct interest of ever wider social groups. After the social capitulation at the end of the fifties, the conditions for social agreement although never declared openly - were born by the beginning of the sixties.

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The Western world, the Suez crisis and the UN

News about the Polish and even more so the Hungarian events in October 1956 met with a favourable reception in Western public opinion right from the beginning. There were manifestations and demonstrations of support for the Hungarian uprising in Europe, North America and many other countries of the world - except from those belonging to the Soviet bloc. Based on the reports of Western correspondents and crews working in Budapest, for the first time ever the press, radio stations, newsreels and television stations broadcast local reports about an armed rebellion in a country of the Soviet empire. The West could watch with admiration and fear as the rebels fought with small arms and Molotov cocktails against the numerical superiority of the Soviet army.

It is remarkable that the West's evaluation of the activities of the Imre Nagy government was negative until late on 28th October. There was an atmosphere of general hope in the West following the agreement between the government and the rebels and the apparent acceptance on the Soviets' part. At that time many people thought something possible which had been impossible before, namely that a satellite state could free itself without any external help.

However, Western governments unlike public opinion - were very much aware of the extremely narrow political zone limited by the status quo, which formed the base for East-West relations. That is why they reacted very cautiously to Hungarian events. The assumption that motivated this behaviour was that in the given international political situation any Western military intervention would risk an armed conflict with the Soviet Union and a thermonuclear world war.

Even in this crisis situation the American leadership did not abandon the double objective of its politics: on the one hand it did its best not to stir up the relationship with Moscow with rhetoric condemning the Soviet intervention; on the other hand it sought to convince the public that America was not indifferent to an Eastern European country's fight for freedom. This contradictory political policy resulted in a series of improvised steps on the part of the Eisenhower administration. The most spectacular was bringing the "Hungarian issue" in front of the UN Security Council on 28th October. The real decisions, however, were not made at the Security Council's meetings tuned for international consumption but behind the scenes during secret meetings of American, English and French representatives. But the real obstacle to an agreement was the Western Powers' damaged relationship undermined by the Suez crisis, which resulted in armed conflict at the end of October. From this aspect Great Britain, France and the United States tried to use the Hungarian events for their own interests.

In spite of this, early in the morning of 4th November American diplomacy switched into high gear and in the UN and every other forum they heavily condemned the Soviet intervention in Hungary. President Eisenhower sent a personal message to Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin in which he protested against Moscow's move.

The Hungarian crisis forced the American leadership to take a historical step and show its true colours. President Eisenhower commissioned Secretary of State Dulles to formulate a message to the Soviet Union in a speech for his presidential campaign. According to the message, Eastern European countries which regained their freedom would not pose a threat to the Soviet Union's security interests as the United States would not consider these countries its potential military allies.

This statement was passed to the Soviets through diplomatic channels. Beforehand the Eisenhower administration's every public statement related to Eastern Europe had suggested that, in case these countries became independent one day, it would mean their joining the Western world i.e. NATO. In the latest declaration Washington gave up its previous point of view by not considering these countries as potential military allies. could free itself without any external help.

However, Western governments unlike public opinion - were very much aware of the extremely narrow political zone limited by the status quo, which formed the base for East-West relations. That is why they reacted very cautiously to Hungarian events. The assumption that motivated this behaviour was that in the given international political situation any Western military intervention would risk an armed conflict with the Soviet Union and a thermonuclear world war.

Even in this crisis situation the American leadership did not abandon the double objective of its politics: on the one hand it did its best not to stir up the relationship with Moscow with rhetoric condemning the Soviet intervention; on the other hand it sought to convince the public that America was not indifferent to an Eastern European country's fight for freedom. This contradictory political policy resulted in a series of improvised steps on the part of the Eisenhower administration. The most spectacular was bringing the "Hungarian issue" in front of the UN Security Council on 28th October. The real decisions, however, were not made at the Security Council's meetings tuned for international consumption but behind the scenes during secret meetings of American, English and French representatives. But the real obstacle to an agreement was the Western Powers' damaged relationship undermined by the Suez crisis, which resulted in armed conflict at the end of October. From this aspect Great Britain, France and the United States tried to use the Hungarian events for their own interests.

In spite of this, early in the morning of 4th November American diplomacy switched into high gear and in the UN and every other forum they heavily condemned the Soviet intervention in Hungary. President Eisenhower sent a personal message to Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin in which he protested against Moscow's move.

The Hungarian crisis forced the American leadership to take a historical step and show its true colours. President Eisenhower commissioned Secretary of State Dulles to formulate a message to the Soviet Union in a speech for his presidential campaign. According to the message, Eastern European countries which regained their freedom would not pose a threat to the Soviet Union's security interests as the United States would not consider these countries its potential military allies.

This statement was passed to the Soviets through diplomatic channels. Beforehand the Eisenhower administration's every public statement related to Eastern Europe had suggested that, in case these countries became independent one day, it would mean their joining the Western world i.e. NATO. In the latest declaration Washington gave up its previous point of view by not considering these countries as potential military allies.

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The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc

The Soviet leadership was busy solving the Polish political crisis which had broken out on October 19, 1956. In contrast with previous theories, they were definitely reluctant to use Soviet troops stationed in Hungary against the demonstrators on 23rd October as Ern� Gero had requested. In the evening Gero repeated his request and ambassador Yuri Andropov, who considered the situation extremely serious, urged them to react. Thus the Soviet leadership finally decided to intervene. In order to solve the conflict on 24th October Moscow sent four representatives to the Hungarian capital: Anastas Mikoian and Mikhail Suslov, members of the Soviet Communist Party's Political Committee, Ivan Serov, head of the KGB, and Mikhail Malinin, the Soviet army's deputy chief of staff.

Despite the armed uprising Khrushchev and the Soviet leadership still hoped that the conflict could be solved peacefully, as it had been in Poland. They realized that the only person they could expect consolidation from was Imre Nagy, the prime minister elected on 24th October. However, in talks with the Hungarian leadership on 26th October Mikoian and Suslov clearly defined the limits of compromise acceptable for the Soviets. They did not oppose the enlargement of the government with some politicians who had previously belonged to other parties. They also promised to return Soviet troops to their bases after peace was restored. But they warned the Hungarian leadership that further compromises would lead to the fall of communism in Hungary, and made clear that the Soviet Union would take steps to oppose this outcome.

The Soviets considered the following four basic institutions as conditions to ensure their long-term interests i.e. to maintain the communist system in the Eastern European satellite countries: 1. a unified and able communist party leadership 2. firm state security forces ready to fight 3. a loyal and disciplined military leadership and army 4. mass communication led by the party. Should any one of these four conditions be threatened, it would provoke an immediate alarm in the Soviet decisionmaking mechanism. In order to solve the crisis apparent in all four conditions at the same time they could think of only one solution: armed intervention.

On the other hand the Soviet Union's shortterm interests cautioned against this radical move until there was no further hope of solving the conflict peacefully. There were plenty of factors weighing against an armed intervention in the given situation, such as maintaining the unity of the communist bloc, the SovietYugoslav reconciliation process, propaganda in the developing countries about the peaceloving Soviet Union, the situation of Western communist parties, and last but not least the peaceful resolution of the Polish crisis.

For the sake of a solution the Soviets were forced to make certain tactical compromises: on 28th October they agreed to declare a cease-fire and pull back Soviet units from Budapest. The Soviet government statement of 30th October even promised to investigate the possibility of withdrawing troops from Hungary.

There were debates in the Soviet leadership about Hungarian events right from the very beginning. The Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party's Political Committee had meetings almost every day between 23rd October and 4th November, another sign indicating the importance of the Hungarian crisis. The main questions were the measures and the types of compromise they could reach with the Nagy government so that the Hungarian leadership would be able to consolidate the situation in a way which left the country's social system and its place in the Soviet federal system unchanged. Even on 30th October they were still weighing the

option of withdrawing Soviet troops from Hungary in order to ensure a peaceful solution if the Hungarian government could fulfill Soviet expectations. There was full agreement on one issue: under no circumstances would Hungary be permitted to leave the socialist camp.

Events between 28th and 30th October finally convinced the Soviet leadership that Leninist-Stalinist communism was under imminent threat in Hungary. In their opinion Imre Nagy whom they considered opportunistic and unstable - was not able, and furthermore not even willing to control the processes which represented a serious danger to the Soviet system.

The Soviet leadership saw no further chance of resolving the conflict peacefully. The presidium of the Soviet Communist Party's Political Committee held meetings on 30th and 31st October, and on the second day they reached the political decision about an armed intervention and the preparation of military operation "Whirlwind".

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On 30th October Cardinal József

Mindszenty escaped from captivity Many people gathered around him intending to form a Christian-oriented government. In his statements the cardinal refrained from urging the dismantling of national unity, but he drew a line between Imre Nagy's trend and himself of all the factors, though, the Soviet leadership's behaviour had the greatest influence on the situation. On 31st October and 1st November there were increasing signs of a change in Moscow's attitude which forewarned another armed intervention. Imre Nagy was placed in a tragic situation. People demanded that Soviet troops be pulled out of Hungary, calling for neutrality and a multi-party system. Imre Nagy wanted the same, but he thought it should happen gradually over several years. The Soviets, on the other hand, wanted Imre Nagy to consolidate the Hungarian situation according to their point of view.

The prime minister faced a historic decision... and chose to accept what the people wanted. His decision about leaving the Warsaw Pact and declaring neutrality were practical answers to Soviet intervention. And thus with this move Imre Nagy turned against the interests and dogmas of his own communist party and of the international communist movement led by the Soviets. He had clearly identified himself with the claims of the nation.

In the last days of the revolution his declaration of neutrality and withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact obviously contributed to domestic peace. Workers' councils in Budapest called for an end to strikes and the strongest provincial centres assured the Nagy government of their support. Public order was virtually restored and a beginning was made to clean up the ruins. The composition of the cabinet changed, too. Social Democrats were represented by Anna Kéthly, Gyula Kelemen and József Fischer, and the Petöfi (National Peasant) Party by István Bibó and Ferenc B. Farkas. Pál Maléter was appointed Minister of Defence.

In the meantime the revolution's leadership was split: on 1st November János Kádár went to the Soviet embassy before leaving for Moscow where, after long discussions, he agreed to form a counter-government. The Kádár government rose to power opposing the revolution and backed by Soviet bayonets on 4th November.

On 3rd November Soviet army generals opened negotiations about withdrawing their troops, but the talks were a ruse to mislead the other party. The Hungarian delegation led by Pál Maléter, was trapped and arrested in the Soviet military headquarters in Tököl.

Early in the morning of 4th November the Soviet Army started a ferocious attack on Budapest and within a few days destroyed the resistance of rebels who had defended themselves heroically. Imre Nagy announced the attack in a short radio statement before seeking asylum at the Yugoslav embassy. The political strike and sporadic rear-guard actions went on until the beginning of 1957, but they could not change the fact: the Hungarian revolution had failed.

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The Revolution

On October 6, 1956 the most famous communist victim of the Rákosi era Laszlo Rajk, who had been executed in 1949, received a ceremonial reburial The hundreds of thousands of people at the ceremony considered the event as an overture for the burial of Stalinism On October 16 a meeting of university students from Szeged passed a decision to form the Unified Organization o Hungarian University and College Students, a political student organization independent of the unified communist youth organization, the Democratic Youth Association. That was already the wind of revolution. It was a crack in the monolithic political institutional system and the erosion continued irresistibly over the following days. And students did not stop at criticizing the present order; they actually declared definite aims and took radical action. They printed and distributed the list of their demands and prepared for a demonstration.

On 22nd October news reached Budapest about changes in the Polish communist party leadership. Wladislaw Gomulka - who represented a trend similar to Imre Nagy's in his party - had won the fight against the Stalinist leadership in Warsaw. Khrushchev flew to Warsaw and Soviet troops were mobilized, but the unified action of the Polish leadership - and Gomulka's determination to stay within the federal system of the Warsaw Pact - averted the danger of a clash. Having received the news from Poland the students of the Budapest Technical University put together a 16-point list of demands. Besides the party opposition objectives, like calling a party congress and reappointing Imre Nagy as prime minister, it also contained democratic and national slogans, such as the withdrawal of Soviet troops, a multi-party system, free elections, economic independence and the reestablishment of traditional national symbols and holidays. The students called for a peaceful demonstration on 23rd October to show their solidarity with the Polish people and to fulfill their demands.

On October 23, 1956 the party leadership first forbade, and later permitted the demonstration. The march started anyway, paying no regard to the leadership's hesitation. Some hours later not only the students but the entire population of the capital came out to march in the demonstration. In the crowd the slogans of the party opposition were replaced by calls demanding national independence and democracy, without any adjectives substituted for socialist democracy. The thousands of people arriving from different directions first gathered at the statue of Joseph Bern, the hero of Polish origin during the 1848-49 Hungarian revolution and war of independence. The marchers then split into several, still huge, crowds. Almost two hundred thousand people waited in front of Parliament for Imre Nagy to give a speech, while others demolished Stalin's statue on the march-past square, and a third group in front of the National Radio Station urged the immediate broadcasting of their demands.

Imre Nagy had spent the previous day, 22nd October, in the country, then he returned to Budapest. On 23rd October he met several leading figures of the party opposition in Géza Losonczy's apartment, including Miklos Gimes, Sandor Haraszti, Ferenc Jánosi and Miklos Vasarhelyi At that time they still believed that changes could be reached through reforms.

Following the request of the Hungarian Workers' Party's Political Committee, at 9 p.m. on 23rd October Imre Nagy spoke to the crowd gathering in front of Parliament warning them to stay calm and to return to the reforms of 1953. His speech was not a great success. The people of Budapest felt that the time to act had arrived and they were no longer to be satisfied with the uncertain promise of gradual changes within the party.

Early in the evening of 23rd October, Ernő Gero turned to the Soviet embassy for military assistance. Local representatives of the Soviet Union were ready to answer this call as Soviet troops based in Hungary were already on alert.

Tension reached a climax when units of the State Security Authority - without higher command - fired into the crowd preparing to occupy the radio station and broadcast their claims. It was the evening of 23rd October. The armed uprising had begun.

At a meeting late in the evening the party leadership decided to take up arms to suppress the "anti-revolution revolt", but at the same time it accepted Imre Nagy among the leadership. Nagy, the leading figure in the party opposition, became confused by the crowd's actions. He hoped to be able to prevent confrontation and accepted the call of his party rivals. On 24th he took over the post of prime minister.

The leadership in Moscow was just as confused, and in the beginning it was reluctant to use military intervention. Later, after the decision that put the Red Army into action, they tried to keep Soviet military action within limits.

Young Budapesters did not retreat when seeing the columns of tanks entering the capital on 24th October, but they decided to rise up in armed revolt. Many centers of rebellion and spontaneous "formations" developed in the 8th and 9th districts on the Pest side, on Széna square on the Buda side, and on the outskirts of the city. The majority of armed rebels were quite young workers, apprentices and secondary school students in their teens or early twenties who came from the poorest industrial parts of Budapest, from company hostels or dormitories.

Mainly the younger generations felt restricted and angered by the Stalinist system's humiliating rule and ritual discipline. In the fifties the majority of young people, just like lots of other people in society, felt with good reason that they had been devalued. An armed revolt appeared a romantic and heroic way out of this situation.

Relatively few people from the older generations or intellectuals participated in the uprising. However, the leaders of occasional troops usually belonged to these groups as they were the ones with at least elementary military and political experience. The most daring rebels also rose among the leaders. They headed attacks against Soviet and State Security troops. Some outstanding figures included Laszlo Iván-Kovács and the Pongrácz brothers in Corvin passage; lstvan Angyal and János Barany in Ferencvaros and the 9th district; and János Szabo on Szena square. There were a larger number of real Budapest "tough guys" among the rebels, some of them even with police records from earlier years. During the revolt, however, they too were caught up by the naive faith and pure heroism of the majority.

This behaviour was characteristic of the people of Budapest in those days. During the battles almost no 'traditional' crimes were committed, nobody looted goods from the broken shop-windows, and troop leaders paid even for fighters' food. The rebels' firmness proved to be a crucial factor: they continued fighting even in the most critical days - between 24th and 28th October - against an enemy with a great superiority in numbers.

In the days after 23rd October the Stalinist party state collapsed except for some State Security units. Within a few days spontaneous self-organization had formed the revolution's own institutional system. Following demonstrations in rural towns, revolutionary committees were set up all over the country and workers' councils were elected at firms. A general political strike began.

The "scenarios" for revolutionary events were almost identical everywhere. During general mass demonstrations initiated by students people took possession of the squares which had previously been the domain of the hated repressive organizations of power. The removal from these squares of the symbols of power such as red stars and Soviet war memorials represented symbolic acts of cleansing. Throwing down the idol was the expression of spiritual freedom from dictatorship.

Events continued with the formulation of demands, the election of representatives to hold talks with local power centres, and developing buds of self-organization. This process was crowned by open armed confrontation with the forces of the Stalinist Rákosist system.

The widespread participation on the part of workers, youngsters and local officers characterized the self-organization of provincial towns. The revolutionary leaders in villages were individual farmers who had always been opposed to the political suppression and collectivization of the Rákosi era. Several still respected leaders of the post-1945 coalition parties were obvious choices to lead revolutionary committees both in Budapest and in the countryside.

Village national committees or company workers' councils formulated mainly local or class-specific claims which were actual action plans going beyond the allencompassing social and national objectives. Every organization and political power in the capital and in the countryside agreed with the revolution's triple objective: national independence, a civil democratic political structure, and the protection of social benefits.

The revolutionary self-organizations in the countryside put tangible political pressure on the state and party leadership, namely on Imre Nagy. From this point of view they were just as important as the armed rebels battling in the capital. Without their political pressure the Nagy government probably would have stopped half-way between the party opposition programme and the revolution's true objectives.

While revolutionary organizations and Budapest rebels were clinging to the demands of 23rd October, a bitter political fight was developing between the hardliners and Imre Nagy and his followers. In the beginning Imre Nagy tried to fulfill people's expectations while calming the Soviet leadership's worries about the unity and cohesion of the socialist bloc. However, later he was forced to make a choice. He was aware of Gerö's catastrophic policies and always kept in mind the fact that he, Nagy, was no longer the right leader in the Soviets' eyes. Nagy himself had no doubt about being held responsible, no matter how things ended. Under such conditions he tried to influence the situation in a positive way and continued his fight in the party leadership. His Hungarian rivals and the Soviet delegates, Anastas Mikoian and Mikhail Suslov, who had arrived in Budapest by that time, eyed him with suspicion. However, they knew that without Nagy's help only Soviet bayonets could save the communist system, and even the Soviets initially wanted to avoid this radical solution fearing the unpredictable international reaction and consequences of a possible massacre.

It appeared that on 25-26th October the hardliners and military units under their command could still control developments. On 25th they shot into unarmed demonstrators standing in front of Parliament causing a real massacre. In many towns around the country volleys killed hundreds.

Another critical event on 25th October was - following Soviet pressure - Ernő Gerö's resignation as party leader. He was succeeded by János Kádár.

On 27th a new government was formed with the participation of two leading figures from the re-activated Smallholders' Party: Zoltán Tildy, expresident of the republic, and Béla Kovács, who had just returned from Soviet captivity.

On the night of 27th October after a three-day debate Imre Nagy and the supporters of development made a change in the Political Committee with the support of Soviet leaders. They qualified the events as a national democratic movement instead of a "counterrevolution", and immediately halted all armed operations against rebels. Imre Nagy ordered a cease-fire on 28th October. Over the next two days the party leadership and the new government accepted the majority of the revolutionary demands. Soviet troops retreated from Budapest, and on 30th October Imre Nagy declared a multiparty system i.e. he accepted the proportions of the 1945 coalition government and recognized local self-organizations and company workers' councils. Within the government a small political conciliation body, the cabinet, was formed including Zoltán Tildy, Béla Kovács, Géza Losonczy, János Kádár and Ferenc Erdei. One place was reserved for the Social Democrats. Imre Nagy announced his government's negotiations about the complete withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. Rebels were included in the newly developing armed forces which were led by military and police officers who had supported the revolution, like Pál Maléter, Béla Király and Sándor Kopácsi. On 30th October the government dissolved the State Security Authority.

Over the next few days both stabilizing and destabilizing factors existed side by side. The cease-fire and the government's decisions brought some calm to the streets. Armed forces were formed and different democratic parties organized. At the same time the hatred against the old system - hidden for long years - came to the surface and in some cases it was expressed in people's verdicts on the streets. Lynchings followed an attack against the party headquarters in Budapest's Köztársaság square where a dozen people fell victim to the rage.

The more radical revolutionary organizations and a part of the rebelling groups had not trusted the government from the very start. They pressed the government to take definite steps to ensure national independence. They wanted and urged a clean sweep of the government of the old, "Rákosist" ministers. Workers' councils maintained their strikes.

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International background

The fate of and opportunities open to the Eastern-Central European region were determined by the system of spheres of interest based on the 1945 European status quo. This lasted until the collapse of communist regimes in 1989-1990. After World War 11 a bi-polar world system was formed and led by two superpowers: the United States and the Soviet Union. The inviolability of the borders of spheres of interest was recognized, acknowledged and considered a turning point in the EastWest relationship by both countries. As a result, "letting the satellite countries go" never occurred to the Soviet side against the expectations of the Eastern European peoples, although the international climate was relatively mild between 1953-56. At the same time neither the United States, nor other Western countries had any intention of freeing the countries of the region even if their propaganda spread just the opposite message.

The uprising in Hungary was not in the interest of the Great Western Powers; on the contrary, it was positively unpleasant for them as the events in Budapest disturbed and set back the thaw in relations.

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The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: The road to revolution

Budapest, 1956
Budapest, 1956

When Stalin died on March 5, 1953 the leaders of the Soviet Union and its satellite states were already aware of the serious internal crisis threatening the communist system should they continue to maintain their policies. Following the decision about succession and the relative rationalization of the Soviet empire's internal situation, solving the crisis on the peripheries became an urgent issue in Moscow. Dissatisfaction showed in the form of strikes and - in Eastern Berlin - even in open revolt.

In the middle of June 1953 the Soviet party leadership summoned the Hungarian Workers' Party delegation to Moscow and gave orders to party general secretary Mátyás Rákosi and his colleagues to change their political direction. According to the Soviet leaders' "advice" Rákosi had to stop forced industrialization and the campaign to organize co-operatives, he had to raise the standard of living and put an end to the terror striking society. The Kremlin considered it quite unacceptable to concentrate power in Hungary in one person's hands. Thus they ordered general secretary Mátyás Rákosi, who had been the head of government since 1952, to hand over the post of prime minister to Imre Nagy.

Although Nagy was one of the group of ex-Muscovite immigrants within the Hungarian communist party, he had criticized the quick and merciless way the communists had taken over power several times between 1947-49. The Imre Nagy government started its work in July 1953. The prime minister called his programme "the new stage in building socialism". In this his programme differed from Rákosi's policy on several points, to its advantage. In accordance with the Soviet plan it ended the forced development of heavy industry, reduced massive investments which swallowed

enormous amounts of money, eased smallholders' tax- and quota burdens allowing them to leave co-operatives while there was a stop put on the development of new ones. A matter of even greater importance was that the government put an end to internment and the forced relocation of people, freed the humiliated and granted an amnesty. The relief in the atmosphere of terror and fear was tangible. In 1954 a process started to review political trials against communists.

Society felt a great sense of relief, believing that the new prime minister wanted a more bearable, more human socialism than his predecessors. The reaction of the elite in power, however, was contradictory. The party's intellectuals and officials were happy to join the new trend en masse as it promised them freedom from fear. Revealing the facts behind the terror - especially the trials against communists - shook the faith of many party members and pushed them into a deep moral crisis. On the other hand the great majority of party and internal affairs apparatus were hostile towards the changes, fearing the loss of their privileges and the people's anger. Mátyás Rákosi mistrusted the new moves from the very beginning, and did his best to return to old-style politics. However, Moscow gave its support to Imre Nagy on several occasions between 1953-54 in opposing Rákosi.

Imre Nagy felt the troubles of transformation and strove to make these corrections real reforms. There was a move to revise the Stalinist economic mechanism, and steps to partly "democratize" the monolithic political structure. Imre Nagy attempted to transform the Popular Front, a device designed to atrophy democratic parties, into a living political institution supporting the objectives of the new era as an organization outside parties. He also made an effort to strengthen the Popular Front's function in protecting interests, above all those of individual peasants loyal to his political stance. He aimed to restrain his political rivals in the party by declaring and emphasizing "democracy within the party" and the freedom of criticism. The issue of a multi-party system also occurred to him, and he did not oppose the idea of a communist-led coalition government. These ideas went far beyond the Soviets' idea of correction.

At the end of 1954 the easing after Stalin's death was followed by a temporary cooling. This atmosphere favoured the orthodox Stalinists - the group around Viatcheslav Molotov and Lazar Kaganovitch - within the Soviet leadership, who went on fighting with stubborn persistence. Aided by this clique and with the support of the Hungarian apparatus not removed by Imre Nagy, Rákosi overthrew the prime minister in March 1955. At the same time Nagy also lost all his positions.

But the reform party intellectuals of the new era did not give up their views. After a temporary hesitation, even Imre Nagy personally refused self-criticism as dictated by Bolshevik rites. He enlarged his reform programme and, having considered the negative effects of Soviet influence, he set the objective of national independence in the form of "active neutrality". A party opposition gathering writers, journalists, university lecturers and some party officials formed around Imre Nagy in the summer of 1955 and urged the continuation and development of the 1953 reforms. The party opposition insisted on changes in personnel, first of all the dismissal of Rákosi and his followers. The voice of dissatisfaction became louder and louder in the press in 1955-56, and the Rákosi leadership approached the stage of collapse.

In February 1956 the Soviet fight for power reached a turning point. Nikita Khrushchev's "secret speech" against Stalin at the 20th party congress raised hopes in the communist world movement, and many people discerned the signs of democratization in it. In the fight for democracy the Hungarian party opposition was undoubtedly in the vanguard. They continued criticizing the Rákosi system not only in the press but also at mass debates and within the Petöfi circle, a forum for Budapest intellectuals that became increasingly active in politics. The influence of the opposition grew stronger and stronger. Even people with no respect for any form of socialism considered the return of Imre Nagy a precondition for change. At that time the formation of a political opinion was possible only within the party, so the party opposition came to represent the opposition of all society.

Rákosi proved unable to solve the conflict, a fact recognized by the Soviet leadership. A workers' revolt broke out in Poznan, Poland in June 1956 where the system was going through a crisis similar to Hungary's. This only accelerated Rákosi's dismissal. Ernő Gerö, number two man in the Muscovite group of the leadership, was appointed the new general secretary of the Hungarian Workers' Party. Gero managed to reach an agreement with the group of moderate Stalinists led by János Kádár but the old-new leadership formed in this way continued the tradition of its predecessors. By that time a democratic mass movement was forming with demands that exceeded the party opposition's programme. By the autumn of 1956 the press was practically free. The system was sharply criticized at debates and at universities, and its sins were clearly defined. Dissatisfaction increased and political debates simmered in provincial towns.

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