50 years ago
What really happened in Hungary
Published Nov 9, 2006 7:46 PM
Why did George W. Bush just send New York Gov. George Pataki to
Budapest to praise the 1956 uprising of the “Hungarian
It’s also the 30th anniversary of the heroic Soweto
rebellion, in which hundreds of African youth were killed
fighting apartheid. But Pataki didn’t go to South
No capitalist politician commemorates the 1919 Hungarian Soviet
Republic, which was the second socialist revolution following the
victory of the Bolsheviks in Russia.
The Hungarian Soviet Republic lasted 133 days. Allen Dulles, at
that time a young U.S. diplomat, played a role in coordinating
the invasion that drowned it in blood. In the 1950s, after he
became CIA director, Dulles overthrew progressive governments in
Guatemala and Iran.
Admiral Miklós Horthy, a leading player in the overthrow of
that early soviet republic, later became Hungary’s fascist
dictator and allied himself to Hitler. Under fascist rule, over
400,000 Hungarian Jews were murdered.
During World War II, many Hungarian soldiers who had been
press-ganged to fight against the Soviet Union died during the
failed Nazi attempt to seize the city of Stalingrad.
The Soviet Red Army finally liberated Hungary from fascism at
Unlike in Yugoslavia and Albania, the main agent of change in
Hungary was the Soviet Army, not revolutionary forces inside the
country. The country had been devastated. Few communists had
survived the decades of death camps and torture.
Nevertheless, workers took over the factories. Two-thirds of the
land had been owned by 40 families while 3 million peasants
didn’t have any. “Hungary remained one of the last
strongholds of feudal or semi-feudal forms of tenure in Europe up
until 1945,” wrote scholar Alexander Eckstein in August
1949. Peasants chased the landlords off their huge feudal
estates, which were divided up.
Schools were opened to the poor. College enrollment rose 400
percent by 1955. The number of women students increased five
times. Workers and peasants were guaranteed 60 percent of college
Health care was made free. A campaign against
tuberculosis—called the “Hungarian
disease”—saved thousands of lives.
Socialist economic planning made these advances possible.
Industrial production increased by 14 percent per year in the
early 1950s, but from a very low base.
Meantime the “cold war” was intensifying. Pentagon
brass were preparing for a nuclear war against the Soviet Union.
They launched a massive invasion of Korea in 1950.
Despite the Hungarian Communists’ attempts to bring about
greater equality, they were under tremendous pressure.
By the mid 1950s, with an infusion of U.S. capital through the
Marshall Plan, Western Europe was becoming prosperous again. But
Eastern Europe—where the fascist offensive had claimed
millions of lives and destroyed most of the
Many collective farms had been established in Hungary, but too
hastily, alienating the peasants, who didn’t have enough
tractors to work large spreads because the industrial base was
Mass discontent in Hungary was fanned by the formerly privileged
classes who had been expropriated. Struggles within the Communist
Party made things worse.
In the background was the extremely influential Catholic Church.
This wasn’t the church of El Salvador’s martyred
Archbishop Romero. Hungarian Cardinal Mindszenty was
ideologically far to the right; he wrote that Darwin should have
been burned at the stake.
A “secret speech” by Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th
Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956 denounced
Stalin—but from the right, seeking an accommodation with
the imperialists. It gave a green light to pro-capitalist
elements throughout Eastern Europe.
In October Imre Nagy became Hungary’s premier and opened
the door to reaction—in the same way that Mikhail Gorbachev
later did in the USSR.
Workers had grievances in Hungary. But their discontent was
misused in a bloody struggle that was welcomed by Wall
Book burnings of Marxist literature were carried out, just as the
Nazis had done. Red stars were removed from buildings. Socialist
symbols were cut out of the Hungarian flag. And Communists were
Hungarian workers were told they could keep their socialized
factories and other achievements after they “overthrew
“Workers’ councils” allowed pro-capitalist
parties like the Smallholders to be brought into the government.
Fascist Mindszenty was released from prison. Hungarian
“freedom fighters” called for U.N. intervention,
which, as in Korea, really meant U.S. intervention.
The Soviet Union was compelled to send in troops to stop this
The reaction was thrown back. The first job of new Communist
leader János Kádár, who himself had been
imprisoned under a previous Communist regime, was winning back
the workers. A workers’ militia was formed.
After 1956 socialist Hungary advanced economically, but
Washington spent trillions of U.S. workers’ taxes to defeat
the socialist bloc, initiating a terribly costly arms race. They
were finally victorious in 1989-91 throughout Eastern Europe and
the Soviet Union.
This was a real tragedy for the world working class and nations
fighting neocolonialism. Cuba and People’s Korea suffered
terribly, losing most of their foreign trade.
While the new ruling class now flaunts its wealth, the workers
gained nothing from these counter-revolutions. Hungary’s
unemployment rate skyrocketed from 1.7 percent in 1990 to 11
percent in 1996. Fifty thousand Hungarians were made homeless by
capitalist “freedom.” Tuberculosis cases increased 18
percent between 1990 and 1999.
Now current Hungarian Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsany is under
attack from even more right-wing forces.
All this shows why it was important to defend the Hungarian
workers’ state in 1956 and stop the right wing. The
counter-revolutionaries had masqueraded as friends of the
workers, just as Hitler had disguised his reactionary program as
“national socialism.” But in fact they were totally
allied with world imperialism and, as partners of global monopoly
capital, were ready to exploit the workers doubly.
Today Bush may boast about the defeat of the socialist bloc in
Europe. But the rising resistance to U.S. imperialism all over
the globe demonstrates more clearly than any words that the tide
is once again turning in favor of the workers and the national
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