Hungarian Revolution of 1956

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A destroyed Soviet SU-85 in Budapest, 1956. Source:

"The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 or Hungarian Uprising of 1956[5] (Hungarian: 1956-os forradalom or felkelés) was a spontaneous nationwide revolt against the government of the Hungarian People's Republic and its Soviet-imposed policies, lasting from 23 October until 10 November 1956. It was the first major threat to Soviet control since the USSR's forces drove out the Nazis at the end of World War II and occupied Eastern Europe. Despite the failure of the uprising, it was highly influential, and came to play a role in the downfall of the Soviet Union decades later.[6]

The revolt began as a student demonstration, which attracted thousands as they marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building, calling out on the streets using a van with loudspeakers via Radio Free Europe. A student delegation entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students' demands, was detained. When the delegation's release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the State Security Police (ÁVH) from within the building. When the students were fired on, a student died and was wrapped in a flag and held above the crowd. This was the start of the revolution. As the news spread, disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolt spread quickly across Hungary and the government collapsed. Thousands organised into militias, battling the ÁVH and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists and ÁVH members were often executed or imprisoned and former prisoners were released and armed. Radical impromptu workers' councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People's Party and demanded political changes. A new government formally disbanded the ÁVH, declared its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost stopped and a sense of normality began to return.

After announcing a willingness to negotiate a withdrawal of Soviet forces, the Politburo changed its mind and moved to crush the revolution. On 4 November, a large Soviet force invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. The Hungarian resistance continued until 10 November. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions, while strengthening control over Eastern Europe, alienated many Western Marxists."[1]

From Colin Ward, Anarchy in Action [2]:

The economist Peter Wiles (who was in Poznan at the time of the bread riots and who went to Hungary in the period when the Austrian frontier was open) noted what he called an 'astonishing moral purity' and he explained:

Poland had less chance to show this than Hungary, where for weeks there was no authority. In a frenzy of anarchist self-discipline the people, including the criminals, stole nothing, beat no Jews, and never got drunk. They went so far as to lynch only security policemen (AVH) leaving other Communists untouched . . . The moral achievement is perhaps unparalleled in revolutionary history . . . It was indeed intellec­tuals of some sort that began both movements, with the industrial workers following them. The peasants had of course never ceased to resist since 1945, but from the nature of things, in a dispersed and passive manner. Peasants stop things, they don't start them. Their sole initiative was the astonishing

and deeply moving despatch of free food to Budapest after the first Soviet attack had been beaten.[3]

A Hungarian eyewitness of the same events declared:

May I tell you one thing about this common sense of the street, during these first days of the revolution? Just, for example, many hours standing in queues for bread and even under such circumstances not a single fight. One day we were standing in a queue and then a truck came with two young boys with machine guns and they were asking us to give them any money we could spare to buy bread for the fighters. All the queue was collecting half a truck-full of bread. It is just an example. Afterwards somebody beside me asked us to hold his place for him because he gave all his money and he had to go home to get some. In this case the whole queue gave him all the money he wanted. Another example: naturally all the shop windows broke in the first day, but not a single thing inside was touched by anybody. You could have seen broken-in shop windows and candy stores, and even the little children didn't touch anything in it. Not even camera shops, opticians or jewellers. Not a single thing was touched for two or three days. And in the streets on the third and fourth day, shop windows were empty, but it was written there that, 'The caretaker has taken it away', or 'Everything from here is in this or that fiat.' And in these first days it was a custom to put big boxes on street corners or on crossings where more streets met, and just a script over them This is for the wounded, for the casualties or

for the families of the dead,' and they were set out in the morning. and by noon they were full of money...[4]
  2. Anarchy in Action
  3. Encounter, January 1957.
  4. Tape-recording in the BBC Sound Archives.