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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 freedom fighters”?

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 Africa.

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 tremendous cost.

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 seats.

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 infrastructure—remained poor.

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 weak.

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 Street.

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 lynched.

Hungarian workers were told they could keep their socialized factories and other achievements after they “overthrew communism.”

“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 counter-revolution.

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 liberation struggles.