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Contents


Did the Revolution Have to Fail?

New Canadian publication on 1956

Canadian Première of Freedom's Fury

"New Lives" Portrait Exhibition

A Monument to Thank Canada and Canadians

Hungarian Exodus Exhibit

A new documentary on the 1956 Revolution

International Academic Conference "The 1956 Revolution 50 Years Later – Canadian and International Perspectives"

Canada Commemorates 1956 with Gala Evening in Budapest

Rise Up! The 1956 Project

CBC Honours the Hungarian 1956 Revolution with the film "The Fifty-sixers"

Celebrating Montreal's Hungarians - A Reflection of our Community

Bridging the Divide - Canadian and Hungarian Stories of the 1956 Revolution In Hungary

Revolution Revisited

MP Andrew Telegdi and 'How the 56'ers changed Canada





































 

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Did the Revolution Have to Fail?

The New York Review of Books, Volume LIV, Number 3 (March 1, 2007)

 

By Istvan Deak

 

Erich Lessing book cover
Revolution in Hungary: The 1956 Budapest Uprising by Erich Lessing
Twelve Days Cover
Twelve Days: The Story of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution by Victor Sebestyen Pantheon

Laszlo Eorsi book cover
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Myths and Realities by László Eörsi, translated from the Hungarian by Mario D. Fenyo

Failed Illusions book cover
Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt by Charles Gati

A good Comrade book cover
A Good Comrade: János Kádár, Communism and Hungary by Roger Gough I.B. Tauris,

During the thirteen days between October 23 and November 4, 1956, crowds of unarmed Hungarian demonstrators and a few thousand lightly armed revolutionaries forced a tyrannical one-party government to resign. They also caused the retreat from Budapest of the Soviet occupation forces, the dissolution of the hitherto all-powerful Communist Party, and the virtual disappearance of the political police on which one-party rule had been based. The Revolution freed all the political prisoners in the country and allowed for the appearance of a free press as well as of free radio stations.

 

On November 1, a newly installed democratic multiparty government under Imre Nagy announced that Hungary was withdrawing from the Soviet-led Warsaw military pact and adopting a position of neutrality, which it appealed to the United Nations to protect. Only the large-scale intervention of Soviet armored columns brought in from the East put an end to the democratic experiment on November 4; but civilian resistance continued for many weeks afterward.

 

One of the major dilemmas of an account of the Revolution is how far back one ought to go in history to trace the origin of events that enabled a small nation to defy the largest country in the world. That Hungarian was an isolated language and that Hungary had its own cultural tradition in a sea of Slavic speakers were certainly factors; the Magyars feared, rightly or wrongly, a great Slavic threat. Then, in 1849, we find that 300,000 Russian troops invaded the country in order to salvage Habsburg power from independence-minded Hungarians, led by Lajos Kossuth. In March 1919, when Béla Kun and his Communist companions seized power, they vainly hoped for—and Hungary's social and political elite unnecessarily feared—an invasion by Lenin and Trotsky's "Bolshevik hordes." In the same year, counterrevolutionary Whites established an authoritarian regime in which anti-Bolshevism, anti-liberalism, and anti-Semitism were articles of belief. But the crucial event leading to the Revolution of 1956 occurred in June 1941 when Hungary joined in the German military attack on the Soviet Union. Miserably equipped Hungarian troops sent to the Don River perished in the winter war. The inevitable next step was the country's invasion, in 1944, by the triumphant and vengeful Red Army.

The war, including the death of perhaps a million Hungarian citizens, half of them Jews whom the right-wing regime of Regent Miklós Horthy deported to Auschwitz, destroyed public morality and left the country in ruins. Consequently, in the early postwar years, Hungary's weak democratic forces were unable to resist the power of the Communists, who had the support of the Soviet occupation forces in establishing a Stalinist regime.

No less importantly, between 1938, which was the date of the first anti-Jewish law, and the 1960s, when Communist terror became less severe, the country experienced a series of social convulsions brought about by the extermination of nearly two thirds of its Jewish citizens; the expulsion of most members of the German minority after the war; and the flight, imprisonment, forced relocation, and expropriation of the landowning nobility, the functionaries of the Horthy regime, and much of the bourgeoisie. Their places in the higher echelons of society and government were taken by a new class made up of pre-war Communist activists, Jewish former forced laborers whose families had perished in Auschwitz; members of the old non-Jewish intelligentsia who were sufficiently flexible in their loyalties, and ambitious artisans, workers, and peasants.

Many from poorer backgrounds within the new elite moved into the abandoned apartments, learned how to use other people's furniture and silver, and sent their sons and daughters to the universities from which "class enemies" were excluded; they put suspect members of the former elite, as well as, increasingly, one another, into prisons.

Between 1948 and 1953, Prime Minister Mátyás Rákosi and his former associates in Moscow exile, nearly all of them of Jewish origin, took over for the state whatever had not yet been expropriated; they also led a foolishly conceived drive for full-scale industrialization and rearmament. They forced masses of independent peasants into farmers' collectives, kept hundreds of thousands in prison and camps, and freely used torture and terror to suppress dissidents and force confessions. But when Stalin died in 1953, the new collective Soviet leadership appointed the less fanatical Communist Imre Nagy as prime minister of Hungary; Rákosi remained as first secretary of the Party. Nagy, selected as the new head of government in part because he was not of Jewish origin, relaxed the drive for industrialization; he tried to provide more consumer goods, allowed some peasants to leave the collective farms, and, most importantly for the coming events in 1956, freed a number of political prisoners, many of them Communists. Most of those who formed the revolutionary government toward the end of October 1956, including the Communist János Kádár, later the murderer of the revolutionaries, had been in prison during a part of the Stalinist era.

In view of the preceding years, reforms introduced in 1953 as well as the events of 1956 may be seen as attempts to slow down the pace of the cruel and often mindless social revolutions that had begun in Hungary in 1938. But no amount of goodwill could have quickly undone the harm done to the country's two most productive minorities—the Jews and the ethnic Germans—the fatal weakening of the old administrative and economic elites, and the destruction brought about by war, dictatorship, ignorance, and greed.

The years between 1953 and 1956 were marked by political seesawing between the forces of moderation represented by Imre Nagy and of Bolshevik fanaticism represented by Mátyás Rákosi. Yet once hopes for reform had been awakened, and the Soviet system itself was evolving under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev, no one could stop young Communist journalists, novelists, poets, and philosophers, many among them of Jewish origin, from demanding a more humane socialism. In April 1955, the Soviet leadership replaced Imre Nagy as prime minister with András Hegedüs, a nonentity. This meant that all political power had passed back to the Communist Party leadership. Nagy was eventually even expelled from the Party, which only increased his popularity.

The reform Communists now organized mass debates in the so-called Peto?fi Circle on the problems and the future of socialism, and these attracted thousands of non-Party members. Among the keenest participants were university students, most of whom belonged to the new elite, and who were dissatisfied with the regime's lies and the rigid discipline at their schools. Their own meetings became more and more agitated until, on October 16, students at the University of Szeged in southern Hungary created an organization free of Party control. This was an unheard-of move in a country where not even a local chess club could exist without official supervision. Amazingly, the bewildered authorities proved powerless to stop this and hundreds of subsequent independent moves.

 

On October 22, students at the Technical University in Budapest went even further by formulating their Sixteen Points, which demanded, among other things, free parliamentary elections, freedom of expression, a more patriotic economic policy, and the departure of the Soviet troops. There was, however, absolutely no demand for an end to socialism.[1] What was new was that unlike the reform Communists, the students were an unknown element in politics; they had set up a free organization and even put forward their views on foreign policy. Some of those who led the debates were functionaries of the Party's youth organization.

 

The student movement was powerfully reinforced in October 1956 by momentous political reforms in Poland by which Wladyslaw Gomulka, a Communist with some national support, came to power. On October 23, students in Budapest organized a march for reform that quickly turned into a bloody encounter with the security police after workers and some soldiers joined the demonstration.

No sooner did the demonstrators confront the authorities than organizations sprang up spontaneously to create some cohesion among the many groups. Workers' councils, revolutionary councils, and provincial committees were formed in factories, offices, schools, municipalities, and regional administrations, sometimes by outsiders, more often by daring workers. As all the recent historians clearly demonstrate, there is absolutely no evidence of any earlier planning for a revolution; nor of any machinations by the "imperialist West" to organize an uprising, as Communist writers later liked to claim.

 

Even the actions of the armed revolutionaries were spontaneous and improvised. Those who picked up arms were mostly individual soldiers, high school and university students, factory workers, unskilled laborers, and former convicts, nearly all of whom had been trained in the use of weapons by the militaristic Stalinist regime. The fighters assembled locally around self-appointed commanders, some of them Communist Party members. One of the more famous among the commanders was a survivor of Auschwitz who was hanged after the Revolution.

The authors of the books under review, as well as the political leaders of today's otherwise profoundly divided Hungary, generally agree on the background of the Revolution I have sketched here. Hungarians of various leanings are also united in condemning the policies of the Soviet, American, British, French, Yugoslav, East European, Indian, and Chinese governments toward the Revolution. Moreover, all denounce the CIA, Radio Free Europe, and the American propaganda machinery in general for holding out prospects of liberation that they could not make good on. Regarding the foreign governments, one must generally agree with the critics, even though, in my opinion, the US and Soviet leaders behaved with some caution during the Hungarian crisis. They understood that a major mistake on their part could destroy the world.

 

Disagreements arise when details of the thirteen days in 1956 are being discussed and, even more, when it comes to assigning blame for the Revolution's tragic end. Following an early group of often excellent books on the Revolution,[2] a large number of studies of it appeared in 2006, the anniversary year. The best among them are based on often revealing materials the authors have uncovered in newly opened archives in Moscow, Washington, Budapest, and elsewhere.

 

Erich Lessing's Revolution in Hungary is a large and elegant photographic album, which also contains some very fine essays. Its magnificent photographs show not only the Revolution and its immediate aftermath but also many scenes in pre-1956 Hungary, a poor country, forcibly isolated from even its socialist neighbors but also hard at work. Life was not without satisfactions for those who were content with simple pleasures and who believed in the Party's promises, as undoubtedly many did. Then after Stalin's death, when both Khrushchev and Imre Nagy came to power, Lessing's photographs depict the two men as endearing grandfathers. Here readers should keep in mind that in the late 1930s Khrushchev was in charge of the terrible purges of Party members in Ukraine while Nagy, when young and in the Soviet Union, was a paid NKVD informer, and later a protégé of the abominable Lavrenty Beria.[3]

 

The second half of Lessing's book contains pictures of the Revolution, which the Austrian-born photographer took with a fine sense of the Central European scene. Here idealistic students demonstrate for freedom and pretty young girls hug submachine guns, but there are also plenty of armed thugs who a few years earlier may well have worn the insignia of the fascist Arrow Cross movement. The bodies of young Hungarian soldiers whom the lynch mob mistook for political policemen litter the streets and so do the bodies of young Soviet soldiers. Photographs of revolutionary writers, poets, and philosophers mix with pictures of the poor searching for food in garbage heaps.

 

In the text, Lessing tells of his experiences in Budapest during the Revolution; François Fejtö, a leading Hungarian public intellectual, who is nearly one hundred, discusses the political and historical origins of the Revolution; the famous dissident writer György Konrád recalls his adventures during the Revolution when, almost uniquely among the intellectuals, he actually carried a gun, although he never used it; the historian Nicolas Bauquet analyzes the effect the Revolution had on world opinion and politics, particularly its confirmation that the US would not try to "roll back" the Soviet occupation of Eastern Europe. Who remembers today that an enraged mob, sympathetic to the Revolution, set on fire the Communist Party headquarters in Paris and that two Communist militants were killed?

The other books under review are valuable histories. Those who look for a dramatic, largely accurate account (except for a few factual errors) will find it in the British-Hungarian journalist Victor Sebestyen's Twelve Days, which describes the history of Hungary between 1944 and the 1960s, beginning in October 1944, when Churchill proposed to Stalin in Moscow the famous percentage agreement allotting respective British and Soviet spheres of influence in Central and Southeast Europe. The informal negotiations lasted two days at the end of which the British recognized Soviet preponderance in Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria, in exchange for British preponderance in Greece as well as a fifty-fifty situation in Yugoslavia.

 

Charles Gati's outstanding book, to be discussed in detail below, is based in part on his own research as well as on interviews he conducted, and in part on archival work done by Hungarian historians, several of whom belong to the Budapest Institute of the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Its founder, the late historian György Litván, was once a dedicated Communist but early in 1956, he publicly challenged the power of Mátyás Rákosi, and after the Revolution, he was sent to jail for nearly four years.[4]

 

László Eörsi in his The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 wants to distinguish the reality of specific events from the myths that have grown up around them. A member of the 1956 Institute, he discusses mainly the lives and doings of legendary heroes of the Revolution, all of whom were later hanged. He shows that several of the cases that get the most attention today were more complicated than patriotic lore would have it. The former skilled plumber József Dudás, for example, had been an ardent Communist in Romanian-ruled Transylvania, but after the war, he joined a moderate non-Communist party in Hungary, and later spent several years at Recsk, a horrible Communist concentration camp. During the Revolution, Dudás made himself the head of a shadowy countergovernment opposing the revolutionary regime of Prime Minister Imre Nagy. On grounds that Nagy was not sufficiently radical and decisive, he and his colleagues stormed some government buildings; in so doing, he contributed greatly to the general chaos. It is not true, however, Eörsi argues, that Dudás was emerging as some kind of a nationalist, right-wing politician; instead, he remained loyal to his Marxist beliefs to the end.

 

Soon after the Revolution, much international attention was given to the trial in Budapest of Dr. Ilona Tóth, a young, beautiful, and highly intelligent medical intern. She was accused of having administered a fatal injection into the heart of a fellow member of her revolutionary group who was suspected of being a Communist police agent. Eörsi demonstrates that, the claims of her admirers to the contrary, Tóth did administer the injection following the second Soviet military intervention on November 4 when the group expected to be arrested any minute. No one has established whether or not her victim was indeed a police spy. The Communist court sentenced her to death for murder as it did everyone who could be shown to have killed a Soviet soldier or a Hungarian official. She was hanged in Budapest on June 27, 1957. The post-Communist courts in Hungary were at first reluctant to rehabilitate Tóth even though they tended to rehabilitate all the victims of communism at the request of their families. Finally, in 2000, a court declared the sentence "null and void" with the argument that the killing was "an act related to the revolution and its combats." Whether acts like hers can be morally and legally justified is the dilemma of every armed resistance movement.

Charles Gati's Failed Illusions gives a comprehensive account of the Revolution in succinct and elegant prose along with his own analysis and some speculation. Now a professor at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., he was, as he tells us in a charming introduction, only twenty-one and already a reporter at a major Budapest newspaper when the Revolution broke out on October 23, 1956. A few months later, he was a refugee in the US where he was immediately given the opportunity to study.

 

Gati states four main themes of his book at the outset: that "relatively few Hungarians actually fought against Soviet rule, and their ultimate goal was to reform the system, not to abolish it"; that "the revolution lacked effective leadership"; that "the Soviet leadership in Moscow was not trigger-happy"; and finally that "the United States was both uninformed and misinformed about the prospects for change —even as its propaganda was very provocative." He puts forward admirably clear arguments in support of these theses as well suggestions of how the tragedy of defeat could have been avoided.

 

Crucial to the outbreak of the Revolution was the rehabilitation and, on October 6, 1956, the solemn reburial of László Rajk, the Communist leader who was executed in 1949 for allegedly being a "Titoist" agent. That Rajk, widely seen as a martyr, was solemnly rehabilitated and that Poland was gaining more national independence helped create the atmosphere in which students in Budapest organized their demonstration against the government on October 23. They were, as we have seen, immediately joined by thousands of others. Confused and frightened, the authorities alternately prohibited and permitted the demonstration. From the statue of the Polish General Bem in a square on the Buda side of the city, the crowd marched across the bridge over the Danube to the Parliament building demanding to see Imre Nagy. He began his impromptu speech with the word "Comrades," which was received with boos, and he appealed to the demonstrators to go home. Instead, some went to the statue of Stalin nearby and pulled it down; others demanded that the Budapest radio station broadcast the sixteen points of the students' manifesto.

 

Shooting broke out between the demonstrators and the political police unit that was charged with defending the station. As is true of nearly all revolutions, no one knows who fired the first shot, but it is clear that the ordinary soldiers, who had been driven in to reinforce the defenders of the station, were unwilling to fire on the people. Instead, some handed over their rifles to anyone who would take them; other weapons were brought in by young workers from the weapons factories.

The first hours of the Revolution set the later course of events: the Communist leaders called in the Soviet forces stationed in Hungary who were already on their way for what seemed to be a police action. Also, to defuse the crisis, the Party bosses appointed Nagy prime minister, replacing András Hegedüs. Nagy then issued ultimatums demanding the surrender of "the fascists and reactionaries," who, instead, destroyed a number of Soviet tanks that had tried to penetrate the city. The fighters' main weapons were homemade so-called Molotov cocktails. None of their groups included more than a thousand men and women and the different groups barely communicated with one another. Their makeup as well as their location often changed.

 

On October 25, two days later, the second great dramatic event of the Revolution took place when perhaps ten thousand unarmed civilians demonstrated in front of the Parliament and nearly one hundred were killed when they were caught in a mistaken exchange of fire between what may have been political policemen hiding on a roof and Soviet tank crews who thought they were being attacked.

 

The massacre at the Parliament radicalized the revolution; the armed revolutionaries gained the upper hand, and the agitation spread to the countryside.[5] Nagy now made concession after concession to the public and, on October 28, he announced the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from the capital, along with the Soviet promise to start negotiations for their complete removal from all of Hungary. Nagy also announced that the political police would be disbanded. Since the Hungarian army was mostly neutral, there were no armed forces ready to oppose the triumph of the Revolution in the capital.

The Hungarian uprising surprised both the Soviet Union and the United States. By 1956, the relations between the two superpowers had begun to mellow, a development neither side wanted to stop. Not surprisingly, therefore, on October 29, US Ambassador Charles Bohlen in Moscow informed the Soviet leaders that the United States did not see the new Hungary as a potential ally. Thus reassured, the Soviet leaders, who could have issued an order to wipe out the Hungarian resistance, announced instead, on October 30, that in the spirit of reconciliation they would consider withdrawing their troops from Hungary and were ready to reconsider their relations with all the socialist countries. It is well to remember that, by then, the Soviets had evacuated the part of Austria they had occupied, and that only recently, Khrushchev had abandoned the idea of armed intervention in Poland. On the same October 30, Nagy announced that he planned to form a multiparty government—a dramatic announcement in a country where all parties except the Communist Party had long been powerless.

 

Two more things happened on October 30: one was the British-French-Israeli attack on Egypt, and the second, the storming of the Budapest Communist Party headquarters on Republic Square by revolutionary detachments from the neighborhood. The latter were responding to the rumor that political prisoners were being kept in secret underground prisons. After a brief siege, twenty-four of those in the building were pulled out and killed in Republic Square, including a pro-Nagy Party secretary and some members of the political police who, as it later turned out, had been conscripted into service. Several of the victims were lynched in plain sight of Western film crews and photographers. The catastrophe was made worse by the fact that tanks sent by the government were involved in the killings. Nor were any political prisoners found.

 

Charles Gati argues convincingly that the news of the killings of the Communist officials and political police in Republic Square was decisive in causing Khrushchev to change his mind during what he said was a sleepless night on October 30. Others attach no less importance to the Allied attack on Egypt, which incidentally made an indignant President Eisenhower a temporary ally of the Soviets against his British, French, and Israeli allies. What is certain is that on October 31, Khrushchev announced at the Politburo meeting that the Soviet Union could not afford the loss of both Egypt and Hungary; he also said that it was intolerable for Communist comrades to be massacred in Hungary.

 

On October 31, Khrushchev ordered a large-scale military invasion of Hungary; members of the Politburo who had been unanimously in favor of his peaceful manifesto now supported military action, although Anastas Mikoyan persisted in arguing that the attack would lead to a damaging loss of Soviet prestige. Khrushchev was himself aware of the risk they were taking; but he feared it less than the domino effect of the Hungarian uprising in the rest of Europe. All this amply proves Gati's theses that the Revolution was improvised and leaderless while the Soviet leadership was not trigger-happy.

The only remaining question was how long it would take before Hungarian freedom was suppressed. It no longer made any difference that Nagy proclaimed the withdrawal of his country from the Warsaw Pact. On November 4, the Soviets attacked but, Nagy's announcement to the contrary, Hungarian troops did not engage in combat with the Soviets; nor did the government stay in place. Rather, nearly every member of the cabinet, including Nagy, fled to the Yugoslav legation with their families, from where they were kidnapped by Soviet troops a few weeks later.

 

On November 2, the Soviets flew János Kádár, a member of Imre Nagy's revolutionary democratic government and head of the reorganized Communist Party, to Moscow where he was easily persuaded to form a satellite regime. This met with the approval of every government in the world, including the regime of Tito, who was afraid that the Hungarian example would spread to his multinational state. Nor did the British, the French, and the Americans wish to see a change in the European status quo. The Western allies considered that control over Eastern Europe was a concession that had been made to the Soviets, who claimed the region was necessary for their security; and for all Stalin's support of Communist parties in Western European countries, he did not try to turn those countries into Soviet satellites.

 

Gati demonstrates persuasively that the American intelligence agencies were entirely unprepared for the Hungarian events, and that US propaganda, especially the broadcasts of Radio Free Europe encouraging the Revolution, contradicted US foreign policy. There can be no doubt of the hypocrisy of the American government, which talked about "rollback" and "liberation" both for home and foreign consumption but was not prepared to live up to its words. It is difficult, however, to see what the United States could have offered to the Soviets that might have caused Khrushchev to stop the invasion of Hungary.

 

Gati writes: "What if during the Hungarian crisis the United States had proposed a mutual reduction of forces from Central Europe?" But Gati does not specify which Central European country he has in mind: Austria and Switzerland being neutral, the only Central European country available to the Americans would have been West Germany. Reducing forces in that country, which was of supreme strategic significance, does not sound like a great bargain for the United States. At least some of the American troops would have had to move back to the US whereas the Soviet army would have remained in Central Europe.

 

Gati is right in saying both that the United States was not interested in a national Communist regime under Imre Nagy, and that such a solution might have been a blessing for Hungary. He admits, however, that for such a national Communist transformation, it would have been necessary for the revolutionaries to be more modest in their goals, for Imre Nagy and his friends to be more decisive and skillful, for the Soviets to be less worried about their security, and for the United States to be more active in its diplomacy as well as less incendiary in its radio propaganda. Gati calls chapter six of his book "The Revolt That Did Not Have to Fail." Unfortunately, it did have to fail. Counterfactual history is always controversial but by raising questions about what might have happened, Charles Gati shows how such a method can improve the understanding of specific events.

 

After November 4, resistance continued, mainly through a general strike proclaimed by a hastily created Greater Budapest Central Workers' Council. The strike became nation-wide within a day or two—apparently the only successful general strike in history. However, the economic collapse caused the heads of the Central Council, themselves all workers, to call off the action on November 17. Local strikes, some of them in Hungary's major industries, continued into January. The strike of the poets and writers lasted even longer. János Kádár was now free to set up a regime based on terror which cost the lives of about three hundred revolutionaries, among them Prime Minister Imre Nagy. The latter adamantly refused to recant when in court. Having lived a life of concessions and hesitation, he now died a hero and a martyr. The official film made of his and his co-defendants' trial shows Nagy lecturing the judges on the proper interpretation of Marxist-Leninist doctrine.

 

Thousands of others went to jail, sometimes for over a decade, and nearly 200,000 Hungarians fled the country. Altogether the 1956 Revolution cost 2,652 Hungarian and 669 Soviet lives.

Despite the partial destruction of Budapest and the loss of lives, the Revolution had not been in vain because not even János Kádár intended to return to Stalinist oppression, and he put an end to judicial terror in a few years. As Roger Gough explains in his superb Good Comrade, a biography of Kádár, this lifelong Communist, enabled by the Party to emerge from a youth of hopelessness and poverty, was a political genius as well as a coward, a ruthless operator, and a great opportunist. He had betrayed some of his closest colleagues to the police of the old regime and had helped to destroy his close friend László Rajk in Stalinist times. Then he himself went to jail in 1951 and although he was never tortured, as gory legend would have it, he suffered enough to become even more careful following his release in 1954.

 

When Imre Nagy seemed triumphant, Kádár went along with him; when he understood that the Soviet leaders would no longer tolerate Hungarian dissent, he joined the Soviet victors. But his vision was that of a workers' paradise in which all Hungarians would be able to own a little house and peacefully play chess and cards in it, as he himself liked to do. Therefore, when things were calming down, he instituted what Western journalists liked to call "goulash communism," in which, as he once said, "those who are not against us are with us." Thus it came about that while Hungary today honors Nagy as a great martyr, his murderer is remembered by Hungarians as one of the most successful statesmen in their country's history.

 

Did the sight of Soviet tanks mowing down workers and students cause the decline and ultimate collapse of the world Communist movement? Patriotic Hungarians strongly feel that it did, and they can point to a huge exodus from the Communist parties in the free world, especially by intellectuals, and especially in France and Italy. But it also remains true that the Soviet Union and Khrushchev personally reached the highest point of their power in the years following the Hungarian Revolution, particularly with the success of their space program. Indeed, it was in the late 1950s and early 1960s that the world took very seriously Khrushchev's prophesy "We'll bury you." Moreover, the decline of Soviet power can also be linked closely with the Prague Spring of 1968 and with the rise of the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s. One can argue that the Soviet Bloc imploded around 1990 because of its accumulating failures in Russia and in one country after another.

 

In Hungary, where the events of 1956 were virtually ignored until a few decades ago, a widespread and justified respect for the heroes of those years has finally emerged. Many, however, also feel that the transition from communism to democracy was much too smooth, and that it has been a mistake not to punish at least some of those who in 1956 or later committed crimes in the name of the Kádár regime. A rising nationalist cult of the freedom fighters aims at excluding from political life both those who were not in the right camp in 1956 and their successors who are not in the right camp today. So the battle over the memory and heritage of the Hungarian Revolution continues.

 

Notes

1.The Sixteen Points are reprinted in Victor Sebestyen's Twelve Days and in The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents, edited by Csaba Békés, Malcolm Byrne, and János M. Rainer (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2002), pp. 188–190.

 

2.See, for instance, Tibor Méray, Thirteen Days That Shook the Kremlin, translated by Howard L. Katzander (Praeger, 1959); Tamás Aczél and Tibor Méray, The Revolt of the Mind: A Case History of Intellectual Resistance Behind the Iron Curtain (London: Thames and Hudson, 1960); Ferenc A. Váli, Rift and Revolt in Hungary: Nationalism versus Communism (Harvard University Press, 1961); and Paul E. Zinner, Revolution in Hungary (Columbia University Press, 1962).

 

3.[The Austro-Hungarian author Paul Lendvai states in his book on 1956, Der Ungarnaufstand 1956: Die Revolution und ihre Folgen (Munich: Bertelsmann, 2006), p. 51, that Imre Nagy's often lethal role as an NKVD informer in the Soviet Union, at least between 1936 and 1940, has been personally confirmed to him by the former KGB chief, General Vladimir Kryuchkov, and that the former Russian ambassador to Budapest, Valeri Musatov, does not doubt that role either. The English version of Lendvai's book, translated by Ann Major, will be published by Princeton University Press.

 

4.György Litván's younger colleagues are doing outstanding work. The present institute director János Rainer's two-volume biography of Imre Nagy will soon appear, in a more succinct form, in English. László Borhi's Hungary in the Cold War, 1945–1956: Between the United States and the Soviet Union (Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004), which is an original English-language publication, is a spirited indictment of both the Soviet Union and the United States for their callous disregard of the interests of small nations. Among Csaba Békés's several publications in English is The 1956 Hungarian Revolution and World Politics, Cold War International History Project Working Paper 16 (Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, 1996) and the documentary collection The 1956 Hungarian Revolution: A History in Documents.

 

5.Charles Gati estimates the total number of armed fighters at 15,000; other estimates are even lower.

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