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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 12. August 15, 1957

Some Books About

page 4

Some Books About

Bloody Budapest

  • • Hungarian Government "White Book on the Counter-Revolution and October Events in Hungary," Parts I and II. Dec.. '56-Feb., 57.
  • • "Hungarian Tragedy," by Peter Fryer, London, December, 1956.
  • • What Really Happened in Hungary," by Basil Davidson, London, December, 1956.
  • • Articles in "New Statesman." Tribune," "Monthly Review," "Labour Monthly." November, '56-April, '57.

The Hungarian revolt has swept in, broken, and been beaten back. And now, with the dust settled and the corpses buried, it is easier to assess accurately the causes and effects of Budapest's agony in the last months of 1956.

The U.S. State Departments version of what occurred has been made familiar enough for us to omit it. We here restrict our field to the statements of some eye-witnesses and compare these with the official version that is still being repeated by Moscow and her mouthpieces.

Peter Fryer and Basil Davidson are especially valuable witnesses, as neither could be said to have been prejudiced against the regimes of Eastern Europe. Fryer was a Communist, a "Daily Worker" correspondent for eight years, and had covered various Hungarian occasions as a reporter friendly to the Rakosi Government. Davidson had often visited post-war Hungary and reported favourably in the "New Statesman."

Their picture of last year's uprising puts a very different face on the Communist empire from the one they had described before.

Fryer was sent to Hungary in November to cover the fighting for the "Daily Worker," which was, presumably, expecting a version in conformity with the party line. His first impression of the fighting was the pile of corpses of the people of Magyarovar, who had been shot down by the A.V.H. (security police), and his first cable home carried all the emotional impact of this impression. The newspaper censored the story, and did the same, more or less completely, to all Fryer's reports until they ordered him home.

He saw the horrible evidence of the armed might of a government which he had believed to be the workers' government, representing the power of the workers against the motley of displaced landlords, capitalists, and militarists, turned against the workers in the worst traditions of landlord and militarist regimes.

Davidson's fortnight in Budapest in November made a similar impact. It became apparent to him that popular indignation against the brutal repressions of the Communist administration had burst in protest meetings and demonstrations late in October; that the Government had panicked and ordered the A.V.H. to fire; that the populace, exasperated, had taken to more violent action (of which an extreme right-wing lunatic fringe took advantage); and the Russians had weighed in with a puppet government and full-scale armed intervention.

Official Version

The official claim of the Soviet Government and its Hungarian protege is that the uprising was engineered by Western agents who aimed to install a Fascist regime as a bridgehead of aggression against the Communist East. In consequence, the Soviets had no alternative but to intervene to save the Hungarian working class from terror and themselves from war.

The Hungarian Government's "White Book" is impressively documented. Its central thesis is supported by attested accounts of unsavoury lynchings of Communist officials, and the arrival of Fascist agents from the West. There are excerpts from Mindszenty's single broadcast, the reactionary hysterics of Radio Free Europe, and even a 1951 speech of the late Senator McCarran—all to establish the reactionary and foreign-inspired nature of the revolt. There are also thumb-nail sketches of some of the shadier characters who took part (notably one Josef Dudas), and of some of the innocent victims of the lynch-gangs.

That seems to be the whole case—and a very weak and wobbly thing it is.

That the inspiration and main trend of the revolt was certainly not Fascist is evident from very other source. Fryer cites his observation of revolutionary councils at work—ordinary workers, peasants, and students, quite free from vindictive feelings towards Communists. Smallholders' leader Tildy (former Premier, and Vice-Premier under Nagy) told Davidson that "a strong majority of Hungarians had no wish to return to the past, and would certainly know how to defend the social gains made after 1945."

This harking back to the Fascism of pre-1945 is the strong card in the Soviet hand. It is true that Horthy's Government (1919-1945) was the first Fascist Government in Europe. It was brutal, repressive, anti-Semitic, and allied with Hitler. Ivor Montagu ("Labour Monthly." December, 1956) recalls that Belsen death-camp was guarded by Hungarian soldiers; and a U.S. Senator complained last February that one of the "Freedom Fighters" who had sought refuge in America was a notorious S.S. man.

Hungary, lacking any but violently reactionary and revolutionary traditions, was likely to throw up something equally horrible from the extreme right to replace the distorted caricature of Socialism it was throwing off.

But those who leap (honestly or otherwise) to this point as a justification of Soviet intervention overlook completely the beginning of the uprising in the demonstrations of October. These (so Communist sources admit) voiced the demands of the workers and intellectuals of Budapest. And, led by the Nagy Government, with all the weaknesses of inexperience, these same people had fairly effective control of the uprising until the final debacle—and even after (hat they carried on the fight in strikes and demonstrations, and won important concessions from the Kadar Government.

G. D. H. Cole says that if there had been a real danger of a recrudescence of Fascism, he would consider the Soviet intervention justified—but he has seen no evidence of such a danger.

Anna Kethly, the Socialist leader sent by the Nagy Government to represent it at U.N., stated: "Among the revolutionaries there are right-wing Fascist extremists who would dearly love to capture our national revolution, and so impose another kind of dictatorship."

But, as the Hungarian Communist Paloczi-Horvath (who fled to England in November) has asked. "Do you think that some elderly Horthy-officers, retired bankers, and a sprinkling of cardinals and duchesses could ever have beaten us when it was not so easy for twenty Soviet divisions?"

Many of the facts attested in the "White Book" are true—as far as they go. Dudas, who led a lynch-gang round Budapest, was a fascist—but he was arrested by the Nagy government. And many of the victims of these lynchgangs were innocent and honest officials—and the taint of antisemitism is difficult to get rid of where so many of the old guard Stalinists (Rakosi, Gero, Hegedus) happened to be Jewish. Incidentally, Rev. Prof. George Knight of Otago wrote less than ten years ago (in his pamphlet "Jews and New Zealand") that during a visit to Budapest he gained the impression that "if the Russians were to leave Hungary there would be the biggest pogrom in history."

Reports from Budapest correspondents in American and French papers early in November reported some nasty anti-Jewish incidents.

Davidson states as a fact that "arms and mischief-makers" were crossing in over the Austrian border.

Seen against the background of Hungarian history and the world situation, these dirty edges to last year's uprising look almost inevitable. But they do not alter the essential nature of the uprising as a determined protest by the ordinary people against the barbarity and intolerance of the Comunist regime.

Among Paloczi-Horvath's most effective writing on the uprising have been his quotations from the pioneers of Marxism to point up the guilt of the Russian leaders. He quotes Marx: "The times of that superstition which attributed resolutions to the ill-will of of a few agitators have long passed away. Everyone knows nowadays that wherever there is a revolutionary convulsion, there must be some social want in the background which is prevented by outworn institutions from satisfying itself."

Krushchov did not pause to apply the Marxism he so often talks about—he called in his tanks.

And what was the West's reaction? A bluster of accusation as mealy-mouthed as Moscow's over Suez. Even the "Dominion" commented (editorial 29.10.56) "The decision of the United Kingdom, France, and the United States to move for an emergency meeting of the Security Council to discuss events in Hungary is a strategic move to rebuke Soviet Russia in the eyes of the world."

What was needed was something much more than "strategic moves". I certainly do not suggest that armed intervention from the West was the answer. That would certainly have provoked a cataclysm. And this brings out what appears to be the basic motivation for the Russian intervention—fear that by slipping out of the Warsaw alliance. Hungary would weaken the Soviet military structure viv-a-vis the (equally abominable) military structure of N.A.T.O. and the "West."

Davidson's pamphlet ends, as many of the most thoughtful contributions on the subject in the Western press have ended, with the unanswerable argument that the only practical way to help the Hungarian people was to change our foreign policy to meet the Russians half-way, topple their phobias about N.A.T.O. (set up before their Warsaw Pact, remember) and German militarism (which has laid Russia waste twice in a generation) by agreeing to a reunited unarmed neutral (and almost certainly Social Democratic) Germany, and a gradually extending zone of neutral social democracy down through Europe—with such unwilling pawns of both sides as the Hungarians, the Italians, and the Cypriots gradually joining it.

For let us not forget that just what the Russians have been doing to Hungary, we have been doing to Cyprus. And for the same reasons.