Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution - Aftermath

by DoDo Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 06:04:58 AM EST

1956 is an undead revolution, it played a role throughout the last 50 years.

16 June 1989: one of the central events of the Transition in Hungary, executed 1956 PM Imre Nagy's remains lie in repose at Hősök tere (=Heroes' Square) [from Hungarian Electronic Library]

This last diary in my series will span the time between the end of armed resistance to today: from the least-known part of 1956, when Workers' Councils took the lead and the new regime first tried appeasement but then switched to total repression, to a time when polls find that in choosing the most positive figure of the country's 20th-century history, the post-1956 dictator is unquestioned first. This implies something is not alright here.

This diary is the last in a five-part series, whose parts cover:

  1. Prelude (communism in Hungary and the forces behind the revolution)
  2. Outbreak (the turbulent events of 23 October)
  3. Turmoil (the hectic events in the next twelve days)
  4. Fighting (the final losing battle against the Soviet tanks and its background)
  5. Personal Memories (eyewitness accounts from my relatives)
  6. Aftermath (what happened to the country and the people, and what role did its memory play later)

The traitor

I'm no fan of the Great Man theory of history, but this man will play an all-important role in the unfolding events, so let's look a bit closely at this, as you'll see, tragic figure.

János Kádár was the out-of-wedlock child of a dirt-poor maid, a real proletarian who made his learned profession first his cover name, then adopted it as proper name (kádár = barrel-maker).

From the early thirties, he began his rise in the then illegal communist movement in Hungary (check his police photo during a 1933 arrest!), and stayed in the country during the firestorm of WWII. Always a believer in the cause, he even went on record against the total takeover by his party four years after the war. During Hungary's period of Stalinism, he was tainted by having been used to entrap one purged party member, but the Muscovites later engineered his own imprisonment on made-up charges (see first diary in series).

In 1956, he was a cautious reformist. During the first phase of the revolution, the Soviets saw him as compromise candidate for new Party boss (while swallowing Imre Nagy as PM), and he went along with Nagy's government until 1 November. On that day, he disappeared -- with another deserter from the government, he flew to Moscow.

Some say that Kádár was actually kidnapped, with that other guy playing the role of the lurer. But based on what he said before, after, and in his old age, I see a consistent theme emerging.

Kádár's dilemma was the following:

  1. he thought socialism can only be built on a domestic basis,
  2. hence, he argued, a foreign intervention will forever associate Socialism with military subjugation, thus making it impossible,
  3. thus, he thought, Hungary's only choices would be either fascist or Stalinist restoration,
  4. but he saw the Soviet intervention coming.

So Kádár saw only one solution: someone should provide a domestic element to the clampdown, and save what he could.

This idea directed Kádár's ensuing moves, and led him ever deeper into treason. When in Moscow, where his lack of Russian further weakened his negotiating position, Kádár first tried to ponder the possibility of a peaceful solution. When he saw that's not on the table, he insisted on a non-puppet-government to no avail, then accepted being a figurehead for what was mostly a Soviet administration. He could at least prevent the return of the Hungarian Stalinists.

Back home, he first tried to carry on much of the reforms of the revolution, to retain its institutions, to mould as much as he could to his forming new regime. This involved stuff like turning a revolutionary newspaper into the main daily (Népszabadság = people's freedom), and retaining the name under which Imre Nagy re-founded the Party during the second phase of the revolution ('Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party').

But what he achieved with this zeal was only to make people accomplices, fellow in treason, to taint and corrupt everything.

The 'Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government' vs. revolutionary workers and peasants

When returning in the tow of Red Army tanks, Kádár called his counter-government 'Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government'. He tried to gain popular legitimacy, and make his government less of a puppet of the Soviets, by promising a lot: amnesty for fighters, dissolution of the secret service, economic reforms, end of compulsory Russian instruction, adoption of national symbols, leaving newly formed parties intact, and legal acceptance of Workers' Councils.

Now the problem was that even while Red Army tanks ruled the streets, Workers' Councils mostly controlled the economy.

This was something truly novel. It has long been a part of Marxist ideology that as workers take ownership of the means of production, they shall establish a workplace-based (rather than residence-based) democracy, each workplace being a council that votes and elects delegates. But when Bolsheviks put this to practice, it was in large part an action orchestrated from above by party activists, and then the grass-roots processes were subverted by the 'revolutionary avantgarde' and the nomenclatura it gave birth to.

In the 1956 Hungarian revolution however, in all the 'collectives' of newly centralised production, there was true grass-roots organisation, which established itself while central government was disintegrating. It wasn't ideological but spontaneous, even if taking ideas from communist propaganda. Many workers' councils already helped in the arming of the revolutionaries or established themselves as armed groups. But after the guns went silent, they unleashed a second weapon: strike.

This must have been one of the maddest and cruelest strikes: as it involved almost the entire production and transport, we could say the population began to starve itself to starve the new regime.

With his initial policy of appeasement, Kádár got himself into an impossible position: for whatever he promised, the Soviets conducted arrests on their own (for example, the leaders of the Workers' Council in Miskolc already on 5 November), which eliminated his credibility and fuelled protests and resistance; and however much he accepted from the Workers' Councils, that didn't lead to workers' acceptance of his new regime but their self-empowerment.

The Workers' Councils (and the rural National Councils) didn't just control the production, but began to exert wide-ranging parallel power -- they did emergency services, created ad-hoc administration, distributed homes, exerted influence on police, even established their own armed guards. They could even pressure the regime to ask the Soviets to release arrested people (thus in Miskolc, pro-revolution ex-Party-boss Rudolf Földvári [see second, third diary] and his co-councillors were back).

What's more, the Workers' Councils (and, in the villages, the National Councils) also aimed to establish their own higher-level organisation, which would have been a parallel state limiting any authority Kádár's government would have wanted to gain. Kádár had to consent to the formation of a Great-Budapest Central Workers' Council (Hungarian acronym: KMT) on 14 November, which became the main power centre. Countryside Workers' Councils and various other resistance organisations (most notably the Writers' Association) networked through the KMT. The KMT elected one Sándor Rácz as leader, a simple tool-manufacturing worker of peasant ancestry.

For the scale of the resistance, consider that while there were 14,000 active armed revolutionaries in the revolutions' two weeks, the various resistance organisations had some 40,000 councilmen.

When the KMT even seemed to align with Imre Nagy's government then trapped at the Yugoslav Embassy, Kádár had to see that he can't be just half of a traitor. He could mostly rely only on the onetime Stalinist foot-soldiers in rebuilding his Party. It was time to get tough.

Kádár, with the help of the Red Army (and under the threat of a complete military administration taking over from him), fought with every means to prevent the constitution of a nationwide Workers' Council on 21 November: playing for time, threats, keeping people from travelling or entering buildings.

Meanwhile, there were protests. The two most notable were the emptying of streets on the one-month anniversary, 23 November; and on 4 December, a rally by black-clad women, which was not attacked by government forces because the ambassador of India was present.

The women's march on 4 December 1956

Then in some rural towns (notably Békéscsaba, and Miskolc again), protesters and grass-roots revolutionary organisations again took over government and Party buildings. To quell the resistance, the methods of Kádár-loyal forces turned ever more brutal. From early December, the Revolution was declared a Counter-Revolution, there were a series of shootings at protesters, and then on 12 December, martial law was declared.

The previous day, when Sándor Rácz and other members of a KMT delegation visited Kádár for another round of talks, he got them arrested. Revolutionary organisations were successively banned. After the arrest of Workers'-Council leaders, companies got Government Commissionaries as leaders, artist circles too. But there were strikes that were quelled even in January. One day after a clash between government forces and workers in the Iron Works of Csepel, on 12 January, factories with more than 100 workers were also put under martial law.


A central element of Kádár's project to provide a domestic element to the clampdown was to organise a paramilitary.

A paramilitary because as I wrote in the earlier diaries, large parts of the military, police and the Party itself joined the revolution. (In November, Kádár could only gather 40,000 Party members -- the old pre-Revolution Party had 1 million.) It was recruited from former ÁVH henchmen, the faithful of the old regime, and ordinary workers. Motivations to join were varied; for example Gyula Horn, who much later was foreign minister and PM, joined because his brother was one of those lynched at Köztársaság tér (see third diary). The paramilitaries were called pufajkások, after the name of the Russian-style stuffed jackets they got issued instead of proper uniforms.

A unit of the pro-Kádár paramilitary in the characteristic jackets that gave them their nickname (pufajkások), November 1956

The pufajkások did the dirty work alongside the Red Army from early on. They helped hunting down anyone connected to the revolution still in the country, especially after martial law was declared. In the first months, they also did actions just to browbeat the people, say occupying a village or a migrant workers' hostel and beating everyone up. Later on, they were consolidated into the new army and the much-hated 'Worker-Guards' (taking the name of an institution of he Workers' Councils), though by the eighties they lost their teeth and kind of turned into an old-man's-fraternity.

Altogether some 40,000 people were arrested. This campaign was long and focused: the aim wasn't just to get former revolutionaries, but to disrupt any organisation or initiative, to get any potential leader. There was special focus on workers, who got the worst treatment. As for students, there were 'pre-emtive' arrests before the commemoration days of Hungarian revolutions (I wrote of one prominent case, a later Oscar-awarded director, here and here.)

Slightly more than half of the arrested were put to prison (the rest was interned, except 860 the Red Army took to the Soviet Union for forced labour). In prison, physical torture was now 'out' (though still applied to some extent, more to common workers than prominent or educated captives). But psychological was 'in' -- stuff you know from Iraq: playing music, light into people's faces and having them stand for long times during interrogations; switching lights on and off, not letting people sleep, denying access to various stuff, lying about events outside prison or about people in other cells.

The worst according to former inmates was mock executions: the inmate would be taken down the prison yard, get his head covered, hear the guns unlocked, sentence read, then the officer would read on and say he got a clemency. The goal seemed more to break people than to get anything useful out of them. In the same vein, those who didn't die, when about to be set free, were all 'asked' to be informants for the secret service.

A death sentence was carried out on 229 in the prisons (but on 36 of them for lynching). Those shot on the spot or beaten to death add a dozen more. (The sometimes touted higher figures include common criminals executed during this time or those on whom a death sentence wasn't carried out.) The most prominent victims were of course members of Imre Nagy's government.

I last mentioned Nagy et al seeking diplomatic immunity at the Yugoslav embassy on 4 November, the day the military attack started. The Nagy government refused to step down, further undermining Kádár's aim for legitimacy. But with the cooperation of the Yugoslavs, they were tricked to leave the building on 22 November, given a false promise of immunity, flown to Romania, and then put under house arrest in a house in the mountains. After Kádár solidified his power, in April 1957, they were flown back home to stand trial.

Some could be broken, but Nagy himself not. The intent was to sentence Nagy et al in a show trial, thus the trial was filmed -- but Nagy and others refused to play their assigned role. Thus the tape was held secret and not aired until the transition, and the next day, Nagy, Maléter and a third government member were executed without publicity (a fourth died under unexplained circumstances when he was force-fed during a hunger strike).

This frail thin man is the same Imre Nagy you saw as a jovial fat man in previous diaries. He reads his last word when secretly sentenced to death on 15 June 1958. He was executed and buried under the fresh concrete of the prison yard the next day. Photo from 168 Óra

Meanwhile, a "counter-revolution" propaganda was constructed. Since they could barely find true-blue right-wing revolutionaries to cobble together a coherent story, they also tried to make conservative Cardinal József Mindszenty (see third diary) the central figure (he found shelter at the US Embassy, where he'd remain until 1971).


We commonly think of the Iron Curtain as a sharp line separating Europe. However, at this time, lines weren't as sharp around Hungary, due to two non-aligned countries. To the South, there was Yugoslavia: Tito's less rigid communist dictatorship was on one hand thought of as friendly by Hungary's reformed communists, on the other hand mended differences with the Soviet Union after Khrushchev replaced Stalin. To the West, there was Austria: there Stalin failed to engineer takeover by the local communists, and occupying troops were withdrawn just recently, and the country was yet only hovering between the West and the East Bloc. Border-closing installations were removed at both borders earlier in 1956.

People started to emigrate across both borders already during the Revolution. This ramped up in November, and again when retribution started. The fleeing on one hand included a bulk of the leading and/or armed rebels (thus further weakening the remaining resistance), on the other hand, many left for economic reasons and for sheer lack of perspectives.

Beyond the removal of mines and barbed wire at the border, it was the general chaos of armed forces and their domestic focus that made walking across open-field borders easy. People also fled by buying two-way tickets for trains, paying border guards and a thousand little tricks. Though Yugoslavia was secretly colluding with the Soviets and Austria was anxious enough about any involvement to hold back prominent exiles from entering Hungary during the revolution, they didn't try to hold back the refugee stream.

Hungarian refugees cross the Austrian border, November 1956 [from the Hungarian Electronic Library]

Altogether some 180,000 people (out of 10 million) left, including some of my distant relatives (see one in previous diary). The fleeing first got into large refugee camps, both in Yugoslavia and Austria. They had to stay there for months, until international agreements divided them up among host countries.

There was also a smaller group of exiles who happened to be abroad and decided not to return home. This included prominent sportsmen, like recently deceased football god Ferenc Puskás, or members of the water polo team at the Olympics in Australia (whose famed brutal semi-final match against the Soviet team was portrayed in the recent documentary Freedom's Fury.)

Most of the refugees then assimilated quickly. The political exiles formed exile revolutionary organisations, but those faltered and dispersed once Kádár's regime consolidated itself at home. After 1989, some 1956 refugees returned home, but most stayed where they integrated.

It is an unfortunate fact that most emigrated Hungarians who still speak the language and especially existing exile organisations are markedly right-wing. This happened because successive waves of political emigrees had a marked right-wing element: after WWII, arrowcrossers, gendarmes and other assorted fascists and hard-right people aligned with the prior regime; during the stalinist takeover, rural and nationalist clerical-conservatives; in 1956, of course those who were really bent on a restoration. These people took over exile organisations (those disagreeing just left for private life), which often became more far-right than right.

Kádár's compromise

I mentioned in the intro that in recent polls, Kádár was picked by more Hungarian citizens as the best Hungarian politician of the 20th century than anyone else. I should qualify this with a point that this doesn't mean he is the ' most popular', as the latter term would be some weighted average. Indeed more people have a positive opinion about Imre Nagy (78% vs. 65% in this poll), but as it happens, most admirers of Nagy pick someone else as best.

Still, the big traitor of 1956 is popular -- and the reason lies in what followed the retribution.

It was the system variously called as "Kádárism", "goulash communism", or in prison lamp allusion, "the happiest block".

From the early sixties, Kádár began a series of reforms. There was an amnesty for most 1956 inmates, though many got job limitations. The secret service mostly limited itself to harassing active oppositionaries. The occupying Red Army went out of sight, mostly staying inside closed barracks (whose location was clearly marked by silly don't-photograph-here tables...).

In the media the new policy of "the three T-s" was introduced: tiltjuk, tűrjük, támogatjuk = ban it, tolerate it, support it. Artists started to compete in how much they can get past the censor and stay in the second bin. (I once wrote about one film that was first banned then tolerated.) What you may find strangest was that humorists could joke about the leaders, about the false rhetoric, and about the problems in the country.

A new economic policy allowed small-business (something 1956 reformed communists also wanted): one-person, one-family private enterprises, a lot of people started boutiques, ice cream stands, drive their car as taxi, the like. Meanwhile, state companies began to produce variety in the same product, even in limited competition. They began to ape elements of Western consumerism: logos, commercials, supermarket chains, jeans, fast-food chains got local copies.

While the government also pressed on with infrastructure (roads, concrete, roads, concrete...) and housing projects (those ugly slab concrete apartment blocks, in English sometimes named with the German word Plattenbau) from (Western) credit, from the early seventies, people could build private homes on their own from cheap homebuilders' credit. The latter led to a great wave of private construction -- meaning people bought all the materials and made the mortar and concrete etc. themselves, with construction taking years. (My parents too: they bought a half-finished one, we moved in three years later, but it wasn't fully finished until after eight more years.)

New boutiques for private small-business next to new plattenbau apartment blocks

What made all this possible was an unspoken compromise between the leadership and the people, Kádár's Compromise, also called the big wink. It could be put to words like this:

"You saw what happens if you resist the Soviets in 1956: you can't resist their tanks. But if you don't challenge our regime and bear listening to our empty rhetoric (we know and you know it's false, <wink> <wink>), we will grant you limited personal freedoms and ensure your welfare."

So 'goulash communism' was based on 1956, on the denial of 1956. A compromise that made people kind of accomplices. No wonder people seemed to have amnesia over what happened in 1956 even in private (as I mentioned in the previous diary).

But Kádár's personality also helped. He gained the image of the good king. He would preside over things always with a reassuring smile. He was and remained modest and simple: the sport of the top cadre, hunting, was his only luxury, but he lived in a modest home, liked to eat simple food and such, and wasn't an embezzler like his foreign colleagues and so many of his underlings.

An anecdote from the time: the party boss of one of the 19 provinces used his position to build a wonderful new home for free, and then was so proud he invited Kádár for the opening. Kádár went there, sat through the celebration, then was asked to tell something. He just said: "Nice house, very nice, very expensive. How much have you paid the workers?" ...and fired the guy.

But this is where the personal and the general collide: such micro-management had no impact on the big picture of cadres out to serve their own good, out of (Kádár's) control. Corruption is intrinsic to top-down systems without democratic check from below. The top-down nature of the state companies (no workers' councils, no real owning of the means of production) also meant grey bureaucrat bosses and de-motivated workers despite the economic reforms; while those reforms made socialism an obvious pretense.

That technocrat cadres were sent to study economics in the West also reflected the hollowing-out of the system. Worse, the need for Western credits to finance the new projects and the welfare state meant the system was not sustainable.

Regime change or transition

East Germany had the fall of the Wall, Romania had a revolution, but Hungary's route out of dictatorship was a comparatively smooth, negotiated process from 1987 to 1990. A road through agreements between competing forces within the party and opposition groups. Later on, people of all political stripes debated over whether to call it regime change or just a transition.

The initial forces for change were, loosely:

  1. the younger generation of top cadre, mostly the new grey technocrats, who bent to some opposition demands in the competition to take over from the old guard;
  2. a forming reform wing of lower-ranked cadre and Party members, who were open to more reforms but were interested in security for themselves;
  3. the populist-nationalist wing of the Party, which acted as inner opposition and sought kind of a national unity government like Imre Nagy's last;
  4. the "folk writers", rural-conservative but economically socialistic opposition figures ("third wayists" in a pre-Bliar sense of the phrase);
  5. the urban liberal pro-Western dissidents, who in the seventies-eighties ran an illegal press, distributed pamphlets and held illegal protests.

The most important player and big loser of the transition was Imre Pozsgay, a stalwart of the third group. Pozsgay was 'parked' in the Patriotic People's Front, an organisation originally founded by Imre Nagy as a forum for non-Party-members to influence public affairs (see first diary) but later fully under Party control. He apparently saw himself as an heir to Nagy (as did many Hungarians, but I didn't). He sought a comeback by supporting and seeking the support of the folk writers, and assorted conservatives emerging from political inactivity around them. On 27 September 1987, these constituted a new Party-independent movement that would later turn into the first main right-wing party (with the Party nationalist wing connection later retouched from their history).

As opposition groups increased their public presence, they also brought up 1956. They demanded that it be called revolution rather than counter-revolution, something the regime couldn't accept. But then on 28 January 1989, Pozsgay declared 1956 a "popular uprising" on the radio -- and what was meant as compromise term opened the floodgates. Democratic reforms were sought on the back of the accelerating reinterpretation of 1956.

By then, the groups for change within the Party already removed the ageing Kádár.

"Before me my successor!"
Outgoing Party leader János Kádár (standing) and successor Károly Grósz on 22 May 1988. Only 18 months later, Grósz will find himself in a minority of non-reformed-communists when his Party split, and withdrew from politics a few months later

Kádár's health was deteriorating rapidly. And 1956 weighed on him. Kádár's last speech as politician was at a closed meeting of the leadership on 12 April 1989, where he interrupted the agenda and started to talk about his own responsibility for 1956. It was taped and made public later; it was sad and blushing to listen to it, the incoherent rambling by the guilty conscience of a disintegrating mind.

Early 1989: in field lot 301 of Budapest's giant New Public Cemetery, the remains of executed revolutionaries are exhumed from unmarked graves

Then came one of the three-four mass events of the Hungarian transition: the reburial of Imre Nagy and his fellow martyrs. On 16 June 1989, the 31st anniversary of their execution, Nagy & co lied in repose (see picture in the intro). Various people held speeches -- bland speeches, not challenging the powers-that-be. Except one young man who made his name with an outspoken address.

This is young Viktor Orbán, leader of Fidesz (Young Democrats), a then liberal opposition party formed by a group of young law school hotshots, students of a special college led by political scientists aligned with the Party's liberal wing named for philosopher István Bibó (another 1956 link: he was the last minister of Nagy to stay in place, see fourth diary). Orbán would later decide that power is worth more than any ideals, and cruise to power after a right-wing makeover in 1998, and currently leads the opposition.

Back in 1989, the reburial was followed by Nagy & company's rehabilitation, via a High Court decision to annul the sentences on 6 July 1989, at 9am. Fate wanted it that Kádár died in hospital the same hour.

On the day of the revolution, 23 October 1989, Hungary turned from People's Republic to Republic, with another nationalist-wing Party leader made short-time (figurehead) President.


After further, no more 1956-connected changes, the March/April 1990 elections closed off the transition. But the process made many former revolutionaries and political prisoners feel left out, feel irrelevant.

First, there was no radical break with the past, nothing revolutionary as they had and wished for now. Second, the main players, the new parties left them on the sidelines. Third, probably common people also didn't show the level of reverence they expected or wished. For example, across the street from where we lived then, lived a fine old man who sat in prison for having been a soldier siding with the revolution in 1956. He wanted to be a candidate for Parliament with a 1956 veterans' organisation, but couldn't collect the necessary minimum number of endorsing signatures, which depressed him very much.

Unfortunately, it was only the far-right who cared about them. Thus a lot of veterans and virtually all veteran organisations drifted off to the far right, even including some former Workers' Council leaders, including Sándor Rácz. (To the neverending glee of diehard Kádárists who believe the revolution was fascist.)

Some who didn't did achieve political prominence, though. Above all Árpád Göncz. He was in the post-WWII Smallholders' Party, in 1956 he worked for a heir organisation and then was active in the post-Soviet-invasion opposition alongside István Bibó (for example he was the one who brought the ambassador of India to the women's protest). Arrested along with the latter, they got life imprisonment (avoiding death sentence only at the intervention of Indian PM Nehru), but got free with the 1963 amnesty. Off politics, he then took on the mammoth job to translate The Lord Of The Rings to Hungarian. When the changes came, he joined the party of the liberal opposition, the Free Democrats. Then after an agreement between the latter and the new right-wing government, he was made President, which he remained for ten years, during which time he led all the popularity polls.

However, when said right-wing government, which expected but didn't get respect before authority from the media, tried to limit press freedom by law and get public media under control, Göncz used his minimal powers to stall these attempts. E.g., he would not sign laws but send them for review.

The upset government staged a rather ugly incident in revenge. At the central 1956 commemorating ceremony on 23 October 1992, a bunch of skinheads and far-righters and (as later exposed) a squad of policemen in civilian clothes interrupted Göncz's speech by booing and shouting abuse.

Former 1956 imprisoned and then President of the Republic Árpád Göncz stands frozen as his 23 October 1956 speech is interrupted by booing far-righters

The far-right continued in the same manner. This got worse from 1994, when an improbable coalition of the post-reformed-communist Socialists and the post-liberal-dissident Free Democrats came to power, with former Iron-Curtain-opening foreign minister Gyula Horn as new PM -- the same man I mentioned for having been a pufajkás. Yet, the fury of the far-right was mainly focused at the liberals.

It became almost traditional that each year on 23 October, when the liberals went to the burial place of the 1956 executed, far-right 1956 veterans and other far-righters would 'attend' by booing and calling the liberal 1956 veterans traitors (if not shouting anti-semitic abuse). Conservatives. At a memorial service. In a cemetery. On a national day. (I witnessed one of these myself a few years ago.) This was along the road towards this years' protests and riots.

Protesters interrupting the 1956 celebration of liberal party SzDSz at the grave of the executed, 23 October 2002

On a more general note, I'd say each main political group has severe problems with the memory of 1956.

The Socialists and their voters are very schizophrenic about it: they both want to claim the socialistic elements of the revolution their own, and not deny the Kádár system they grew out from. What gets lost in this is the grass-roots organisation, it's more about Nagy vs. Kádár for them.

The liberals are in deep denial about both the nationalistic and socialistic elements of the revolution. Listening to them, you would think it was mainly about establishing a liberal parliamentary democracy, and not hear much about the economic outlook. (In a recent article, Ferenc Kőszeg -- a leading eighties dissident and present leader of a human rights NGO -- wrote about how they were surprised when they talked to Sándor Rácz and heard his view about a socialist revolution/resistance for the first time, and also wrote that his fellow liberals don't recognise that it was their own economic views that shifted from third-wayism to unconditional acceptance of capitalism. But he still thinks the 'new Left' overemphasizes the socialistic strand.)

The Right is in a different kind of schizophrenia, a more complicated one. On one hand, they have to mould the picture of 1956 to fit their anti-communist rhetoric. They, too, mainly focus on Nagy and his government rather than the grass-roots. There are attempts to paint their role as either insignificant (which, as shown in the third diary, is not without justification at least for the first week) or a series of stupid decisions. But as overall Nagy remains a widely popular historical figure, it's more typical for them to just ignore that certain revolutionaries were communists.

Meanwhile, the right-wingers are also the children of Kádárism. Most leaders of the first big right-wing party were mostly politically inactive under Kádár, and then came into politics in collusion with a wing of the Party, unlike their liberal opponents. Many of the leading cabal of the current big right-wing party came from the safe background of families that could rise high during Kádár (the family of the inner cabal member with the most violent rhetoric were local Party leaders). And, perhaps this part is more difficult to contemplate for those used to conservatives like US Republicans, their voter base wants the Kádárist state welfare status quo back, violently ignoring questions of finance.

To conclude: the memory of 1956 is a contentious one, it both reflects and is a cause of the main problems of the present society in Hungary.

Request for input

One main theme I didn't felt able to cover is the effect of 1956 in other countries. Can you write about that -- or, if you already did in the comments of the prior diaries, add details?

Acknowledgements of sorts

This diary series was prompted by a request from Migeru. Once I figured out what I should cover, I decided it's too much for one diary and broke it into five. Then I collected sources and did the reading, so that by August I knew what I wanted to write about, and worked out the basic structure. "Only" writing remained, but that was a pain... As a consequence, I can no longer reconstruct what I took from where and how much, so I will name only one main source: the site of The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Most of the not specifically accredited photos are from the same source, others from the Hungarian Electronic Library

At last finished...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 06:09:47 PM EST
I note I added a sentence I somehow omitted in the Retribution chapter:


A paramilitary because as I wrote in the earlier diaries, large parts of the military, police and the Party itself joined the revolution. (In November, Kádár could only gather 40,000 Party members -- the old pre-Revolution Party had 1 million.)...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 11:17:36 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know what to comment - this series has been truely excellent, I learnt a lot.
by Fran on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 02:40:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Truly brilliant, DoDo.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 03:19:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Workers' Councils ... could even pressure the regime to ask the Soviets to release arrested people (thus in Miskolc, pro-revolution ex-Party-boss Rudolf Földváry [see second, third diary] and his co-councillors were back).

Heh. Only learnt this this morning: for a few months after the Workers' Councils were crushed, and then again after released from prison, until his retirement, Rudolf Földváry worked as a simple locksmith in the tractor factory near my grandparents' home, the one I mentioned in the Personal Memories diary as a first target of Red Army tanks on 4 November. Maybe I even met him in my early childhood.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 05:48:46 AM EST
You've truly outdone yourself by this series; it practically could be a thesis in itself.

I'm only a student of life, and not one of history (while the latter should be part of the former), so this is an overwhelming cornucopia of information that's practically all new to me. Names, and events alike. I grew up on the soundbite that the Hungarian revolution was a courageous, people-driven attempt to topple the Russian dominance and failed when Russians tanks violently crushed it. You just've filled in the colours to a black and white sketch.

I have one question after reading this: You've already described the role of the West in your previous "Fighting" diary and your thoughts on the backstabbing theories. In this diary, you show how the 1956 event still reveberates through the current political parties. Is the perceived western/USA backstabbing still an influence in the outlook of political parties to cooperating with the USA, or even with nations in Europe?

by Nomad (Bjinse) on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 08:36:51 AM EST
Among the parties, it is an influence only on the far-right. I showed this photo from the September riots/protests (showing skinheads 'camouflaged' for the Western press as ordinary people with civilian clothes):

...though, as main right-wing party Fidesz has assimilated part of the far-right, it is not alien to lower-ranked in that party, either. Regarding the far-right in Fidesz, there just has been a scandal of the photo of a Budapest district's deputy party secretary in SS uniform:

(The guy was excluded from Fidesz the very next day, though.)

Now this is the parties. However, among common people, the backstabbing theory is much more widespread.

There is however another way 1956 international relationships come up. There is a view that 1956 failed because of seeking non-alignment, that is, a small country is better off as the vassal of one or another superpower, even if superpowers are treasonous assholes. There are adherents of this 'theory' both Left and Right, and currently, they argue for a US alignment.

Final anecdote, moving back to common people: a (conservative) uncle who died a few years ago used to argue from the middle of the nineties that Hungary again picks the wrong superpower; he claimed the USA is dead and we should look toward China.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 11:33:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
from the September riots/protests

Sorry, this photo was from 23 October.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 12:00:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
.. it woudl be useful to you for soemthing else..
I do nto think that the comments will match the diary in itself in any case.

I particularly liked the transformation of kadar iint he public mind..well transfroamtion.. stablishment of the figure. Well. I guess youcould have already guessed.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 08:48:40 AM EST
This really needs to be saved on the Wiki as a single, coherent, article.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 11:20:28 AM EST
Nomad said it above,
I'm only a student of life, and not one of history (while the latter should be part of the former), so this is an overwhelming cornucopia of information that's practically all new to me. Names, and events alike. I grew up on the soundbite that the Hungarian revolution was a courageous, people-driven attempt to topple the Russian dominance and failed when Russians tanks violently crushed it. You just've filled in the colours to a black and white sketch.
and I'll have to return for a more thorough reading but it gives me a sense also of how protected I was an American when I heard the news of Europe.  Even today, only after 911, did we as Americans ever have a sense that these newsreel tragedies had any thing to do with us other than our entertainment.  My my how things have changed.

by Keone Michaels on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 12:12:02 PM EST
of ProgressiveHistorians, a community site dedicated to the intersection of history and politics, I would be honored if you would cross-post this excellent diary there.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...
by Nonpartisan on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 12:49:33 PM EST
Thank you for the invitation!

I must ask first: do you mean this single diary, or all six in the series?

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 03:29:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I didn't realize it was a whole series.  That's actually five (six?) times better!

What I'd recommend is that you post the series as one post a day, starting today.  You CAN post them all at once, but you're not likely to get too much readership from that.  Or if you're too strapped for time, you can post just this one, or just your favorite one.

In any case, this is magnificent work, and we'd love to have as much of it as you can spare the time to post.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

by Nonpartisan on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 03:49:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
So, will you guys be cross-posting diaries over here?

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 03:59:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We already link to EuroTrib in our blogroll.  I'll post a shout-out to your site when DoDo cross-posts this work.  And I'm planning a front-page story with its basis in one of Jerome's recent posts.

Unfortunately, that's the best I can do.  I'm an American historian, so most of my stuff wouldn't be relevant here.  But we'll see if some of the non-Americanists at ProgressiveHistorians are interested in participating here.  You certainly have one heck of a site!

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...

by Nonpartisan on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 04:34:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
OK, I will post the whole series one at a day, but as I now checked back just before sleep (past midnight here and my brain melts), I only start tomorrow.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 06:23:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A great finale to a colossal and fascinating series, DoDo.

Re your request for input: I can't tell you how Hungary '56 influenced British politics, for example (though I think you know it played a part in Eisenhower's decision to rein back Britain and France in the Suez invasion).

But, for me personally, Budapest '56 was the first international event that penetrated my consciousness. I'd heard plenty of talk about The War, of course, but I knew that was in the past. I can't say I learned a lot about Hungarian events, just about the Soviet tanks crushing the revolt and killing people. (My sources were the radio, the local newspaper, and above all my parents' conversation). I later learned to situate it better in the course of history. But even in outline, Budapest '56 remained with me as a kind of base on which I built an intuitive opposition to Soviet Communism (Prague '68 was therefore "only" a repeat performance, a reminder).

Baby boomers in general did not support Stalinism. It was impossible, even for those who thought of themselves as revolutionaries, to develop a romantic attachment to the Sovs (as the nineteen-thirties generation had). You might be Trot, or Maoist, or anarchist, autonomous, instant-karma people's-justice barrel-of-a-gunner, whatever -- but no one thought the Russian revolution was a positive model. The sufferings of the Hungarian people were (though not the only influence) probably the turning-point in left-wing attitudes to the Soviets.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 03:57:59 AM EST
Just out of curiosity, and I know it's about a different time in a different country, but have you seen or heard about Tom Stoppard's latest play, Rock 'n' Roll?

Your comment about left-wing attitudes toward the Soviets reminded me of it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 04:15:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No, I hadn't heard of it. But it sounds fascinating. If I were in London, I'd make a bee-line for the Royal Court. (But it's finished, duh...)
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Thu Nov 30th, 2006 at 03:45:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
No, it just moved to a different theater, can't remember which one.  I saw it in September, and it was fantastic.  I keep meaning to diary it but haven't had the time.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 11:23:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From the article, it sounds like it must be a great play.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 11:45:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the praise and the interesting comments.

The latter make me post something that is not debating what you wrote, but something I left off this diary because it was long enough already.

Sometimes 1956 is lauded as such, I don't think one could say in general that 1956 was 'the end of communism', or 'the end of belief in communism', or 'the end of Western symphaty for the Bolshevik experiment', or some other variant.

  • For some people, already the infighting in the last decades of the 19th century did it.
  • For others, the emergence of the Bolsheviks in opposition in Russia.
  • For still others, the way they took power.
  • For more, how they conducted the civil war (Red Terror and all).
  • For some idealists, the New Economic Policy of the twentiers.
  • For many, Stalinism.
  • For a lot of Central Europeans, the conduct of occupation and the Soviet-inspired takeovers.
  • For some, the crushing of the 1953 East German protests.
  • For many, Hungary 1956 [as you afew write, this was the event for your generation of Western new leftists].
  • For many, Chinese excesses from Great Leap Forward to Cultural Revolution.
  • For many, Prague 1968.
  • For some, it took until Poland 1980/81.
  • For others, it even took until Tienanmen, and the Velvet Revolutions.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 11:56:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There is also the case of being disillusioned by any one of those events, and asking "where did it all go wrong", and going back and reappraising, and so on.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 11:58:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, and your comment reminds me, the Soviet games played around the Spanish Civil War as also "did it" for many people (two literary examples: Orwell's Farewell to Catalonia, Koestler's Darkness at Noon).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Fri Dec 1st, 2006 at 02:38:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]