The 1956 Hungarian Revolution

by Jennifer A. Gold

 

 

 


On
October 16, 1956 demonstrators went out to the streets of Budapest and called for reforms from the Stalinist regime and the return to power of the previous Prime Minister Imre Nagy. Months later the Soviet troops had crushed the revolution and arrested the new government leaders. The Prime Minister, Imre Nagy and few of his colleagues were able to find refuge in the Yugoslav embassy. The political and economic reforms since the consolidation of the Communist party in Hungary were the main causes of this revolution.

After the defeat of Nazi Germany Hungary was liberated by the Soviet army.

 In November 1945 general elections were held. Fifty-seven percent of the votes went to the Smallholder's Party while only 17 percent went to the Communist Party. A coalition government was formed from representatives of the four most important parties.  However, in 1948, leading members of the Smallholder's Party were forced out of the government and agricultural collectivization starts being implemented.   By 1949, one-party state was consolidated by the Communist Party and all important industries and establishments of the country were nationalized. That same year the government established the State security police as an independent force only responsible to the cabinet.

 

In 1952 the Stalinist General Secretary of the Communist Party, Matyas Rákosi became Prime Minister. Political stability prevailed until Stalin's death in 1953. In that year a summit was held in Moscow between Soviet leaders and Hungarian Communist Party leaders such as: Matyas Rákosi, Ernö Gerö and Imre Nagy. After a reorganization of the Hungarian Communist Party, Imre Nagy replaces Rákosi as Prime Minister in July of 1953. However, Rákosi still remained First Party Secretary. Nagy announced a new government program that would revert most of the Stalinist reforms implemented since the consolidation of the Communist Party in Hungary. (Lomax, 10-11)

 


The New Course, as the program was labeled, promised many reforms. The most important reforms were: to end forced industrialization and agricultural collectivization, amnesty for political prisoners and to increase consumer goods production. Nagy started implementing this program. However, many Stalinists in the Hungarian Communist Party and the bureaucracy resisted his reforms and impeded their implementation. This caused many economic problems for which members of the Communist Party blamed Nagy. Journalists of the newspaper Szabad Nep ("Free People") realized why the reforms were not taking place as intended and decided to support Nagy. They used their influence on a number of party officials and also published articles supporting the Prime Minister.
 

 

In 1955 the Hungarian Central Committee denounced the New Course reforms as a rightist divergence. Nagy was removed from all party positions in the Politburo and the Central Committee. Andras Hegedus was named the new Prime Minister. In that year the Warsaw Pact was established with Hungary as a founding member. By the end of the year Imre Nagy was ousted from the Communist Party. Nagy's government only lasted a little more than a year. However, it "served to create a climate of opinion within which the first signs of conscious opposition the Stalinist system were gradually to emerge, and in which eventually led to the uprising of October 16, 1956 were awakened." (Lomax, 19-20)

 

Nineteen fifty-six was the year of revolution. In February Khrushchev's "secret speech" denouncing Stalin ignited it. On October 16, 1956 a student meeting established a new organization named Mefesz. They called for support from other universities. On October 21, Wlasdislaw Gomulka was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party in spite of Soviet opposition. This served as an encouragement for more students to join Mefesz. On October 22, students proposed a 16-point resolution in which they asked for the return of Imre Nagy as Prime Minister, the withdrawal of Soviet troops and the democratization of

Hungarian political life. The next day, Gerö, the new Prime Minister spoke against the demonstrators and fighting broke out all throughout Budapest.   T o placate the demonstrators Nagy is appointed as Prime Minister the following day. However, fighting continued in Budapest and spread throughout Hungary as Soviet troops remained on Hungarian soil. (Lomax, 12-13)

 

On October 23 a new government was formed under Imre Nagy and a cease-fire was put into effect. Nagy promised the withdrawal of Soviet troops, who started leaving the next day. He also reinstituted the 1945 multi-party system and included non-communists in his cabinet. On November 1, Nagy announced Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and asked the United Nations to defend Hungary's neutrality. The Soviets could not allow this to happen. The next day Soviet tanks re-entered Hungary and two days later attacked Budapest. Nagy and his colleagues fled to the Yugoslav embassy where they were given political asylum. By the end of November, Nagy and his colleagues were seized by Soviet troops and deported to Rumania. Seven months later a official communiqué announced the sentencing and execution of the leaders of the revolution including Nagy.

 

Bibliography

Kecskemeti, Paul. The Unexpected Revolution. The Rand Corporation.Stanford, CA: 1961.

Lomax, Bill. Hungary 1956. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976

 

 

 

 

 

 

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