NEWS & LETTERS, October-November 2006

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

On the 50th anniversary of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution

Spontaneity of Action and Organization of Thought


Editor's Note

This November marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important revolutions in history—the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. In revolting against the Russian forces that had occupied the country since 1945, the Hungarian revolutionaries organized themselves in decentralized workers' councils, taking control of factories throughout the country. In opposing state-capitalism that called itself "Communism" as well as Western capitalism, the revolutionaries of 1956 opened a new epoch in indicating a pathway to transcend value production.

Because the memory of this historic accomplishment has been buried and distorted by today's rulers—who try to propagate the lie that it was a mere effort to replace state-capitalism with "free market" capitalism—we reprint here Dunayevskaya's Political Letter of Sept. 17, 1961, in which she commemorated the event. Footnotes by Dunayevskaya are indicated by "RD"; all other footnotes are the editors.


"Don’t talk to me about space ships, a
trip to the moon or Marx, about life in
the atomic age….

"We live like this. In darkness, in mud,
far away….

"Don’t tell me it is worse in Africa. I
live in Europe, my skin is white. Who
will embrace me to make me feel that I
am human?"

—Karoly Jobbagy, Budapest, April 1956

On Oct. 23, 1956 the Russian puppet regime in Hungary fired on a student youth demonstration in Budapest. Far from dispersing the young students, these were soon joined by the workers from the factories in the outlying suburbs. The Revolution had begun in earnest.

During the following 13 days, ever broader layers of the population revolted. From the very young to the very old, workers and intellectuals, women and children, even the police and the armed forces—truly the population to a man—turned against the top Communist bureaucracy and the hated, sadistic AVO (secret police).

The Communist Party, with more than 800,000 members and the trade unions allegedly representing the working population, just evaporated. In its place arose Workers’ Councils, Revolutionary Committees of every sort—intellectuals, youth, the army—all moving away from the Single Party State.

Overnight there sprang up 45 newspapers and 40 different parties, but the decisive force of the revolution remained the Workers’ Councils.

When 13 days of armed resistance was bloodily crushed by the might of Russian totalitarianism, the new form of workers’ organization—factory councils—called a general strike. It was the first time in history a general strike followed the collapse of the revolution. It held the foreign imperialist as well as the "new" government at bay for five long weeks.

Even a Janos Kadar(1) had to pretend he was listening to the demands of the Workers’ Councils for control over production and even the possible abrogation of the single party rule.

As late as November 21, 1956, the Appeal of the Central Workers Council of Great Budapest stated: "We protest against the attitude of the newly formed ‘Free Trade Unions’ which are ready to accept the workers’ councils merely as economic organs. We declare that in Hungary today the Workers’ Councils represent the real interests of the working class, that there is no stronger political power in the country today than the powers of the Workers’ Councils."(2)

And on Nov. 30 the Bulletin of the Central Workers Council reported a meeting with Kadar at which they demanded a daily press organ: "Our position is that the Workers’ Councils are in absolute need of a press organ so that the workers may receive uniform and true information…We also raised the question of the multiparty system." (3)

It was the attempt to publish the WORKERS' JOURNAL without state permission that made Kadar realize that "the government was simply ignored. Everyone who had a problem to settle came to us (Central Workers’ Council),"(4) that made the Kadar Government, with the help of the Russian Army, move in and dissolve the Councils, on Dec. 9, long after armed resistance had been crushed and the exodus of refugees had reached 200,000, or a full 2% of the total population.

Although the Revolution had been sparked by the intellectuals, not only had the workers borne the main brunt of the fighting, but it was they who had shown the greatest creativity and given the Revolution its historic direction.

Even their support of [Premier] Imre Nagy(5) was dependent on his acceptance of the workers’ control over production, a multi-party system of government, and a new type of socialism. Central to it was, an independent Hungary, but this demand for self-determination had nothing in common with narrow bourgeois nationalism. As Imre Nagy himself recognized—it was this fact that brought him to the leadership of a revolution he did not desire—"They want a People’s Democracy where the working people are masters of the country and of their own fate, where human beings are respected, and where social and political life is conducted in the spirit of humanism…An atmosphere of suspicion and revenge is banishing the fundamental feature of socialist morality, humanism." (6)

This Marxist humanism was in the air since 1955. Because the Communist intellectual caught this in the air, he was assured of leadership of a revolution against Communism.

When the fight against the Stalinist, Rakosi(7), had first begun and he called these intellectuals "outsiders," Tador had replied that the ruling circle "is not the party. The party is ourselves, those who belong to the other current, who fight for the ideas and principles of humanism, and whose aims reflect in ever-increasing measure those of the people and of the country." (8)

But though the intellectuals had caught the humanism in the air and set off the revolution, they did not reveal themselves as leaders and organizers at the moment of crisis. The best, the young however, did recognize that the spontaneity which produced the revolution will see that it does not die.

"As a true Marxist I believe in the inevitability of the historic processes. We know perfectly well that a wave of terror and Stalinist repression will be let loose on us….You know how the revolution broke out—spontaneously, without any kind of preparation. When the police fired on our students, leadership and organization sprung up overnight. Well, we’ll scatter now just as spontaneously as we came together….The revolution can’t die; it will play dead and await its moment to rise again." (9)

Today, when the world stands on the brink of nuclear holocaust, sparked by Russian state-capitalism calling itself "Communism" and American private capitalism calling itself "Democracy," the page of freedom opened by the Hungarian Revolution shows the only way out of the crisis-wracked capitalist order.

When the 1917 Russian Revolution put an end to the first betrayal of established Marxism, Lenin never wearied of reminding us that without "the dress rehearsal" of 1905, there could have been no successful 1917. Because of the maturity of our age, marked, on the one hand, by the African Revolutions which broke from Western capitalism, and, on the other hand, by the East European Revolutions against Russain totalitarianism, the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 is more than a dress rehearsal for a new European Revolution. It is the dress rehearsal for a world revolution that is out to reconstruct society on new, truly human beginnings and in that way finally bring to an end that which Marx called the pre-history of mankind.


1. János Kádár (1912-1989) was selected by the Russians to lead the communist regime in Hungary from 1956 to 1988.

2. THE REVIEW (published by the Imre Nagy Institute, Brussels), No. 4, 1960.—RD

3. THE REVIEW. East Europe (New York) of April 1959 also carries an "Eyewitness Report of How the Workers Councils Fought Kadar."—RD

4. "My Experiences in the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest" by Miklos Sebestyen, THE REVIEW, Vol. III, #2, 1961.—RD

5. Imre Nagy (1896-1958) was a reformist leader of Hungary who served as Prime Minister again during the revolution in 1956. He was executed by the Russians following the crushing of the revolution.


7. Mastyas Rakosi (1892-1971) was a Stalinist leader of Hungary in the late 1940s and 1950s. He was in the USSR at the time of the revolution.

8. BEHIND THE RAPE OF HUNGARY, by F. Fejto. See also my MARXISM AND FREEDOM, pp. 62, 255–56 on the Russian debates on Marx’s Humanist Essays, and my NATIONALISM, COMMUNISM, MARXIST HUMANISM AND THE AFRO-ASIAN REVLUTIONS on the Polish debates.—RD

9. From a report by Peter Schmid quoted in THE HUNGARIAN REVOLUTION, edited by Melvin J. Lasky.—RD


The Hungarian Revolution, 1956 ... as it happened and as comprehended philosophically.

Two works by Raya Dunayevskaya

Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today (1958)

"In Hungary, the form of revolt was concretized not only as an opposition to Stalinism, but as a form of  workers’ rule, workers’ councils sprang up in Hungary in place of the established trade unions. This decentralized form of controlling their conditions of labor at the point of production became a new universal. Councils of intellectuals, councils of revolutionary youth, all sorts of nonstatist forms of social relations emerged in every field, from newspapers and parties–a proliferation of both appeared overnight to underlying philosophies of freedom and totally new human relationships."

From Chapter 15, “The Beginning of the End of Russian Totalitarianism”

Philosophy and Revolution: From Hegel to Sartre, and from Marx to Mao (1973)

"The two features which characterize great periods of upheaval are, one, that a new subject is born to respond to the objective pull of history by making freedom and reason the reality of the day. And, two, a new relationship between theory and practice is forged. This is true for the past-Levellers in 17th century England; the sans culottes in the French Revolution of 1789.1793; the runaway slaves impelling the United States to the Civil War of 1861-1865; the St. Petersburg proletariat in the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions. This is true for the present-in the Hungarian Revolution against Russian totalitarianism, no less than in the African Revolutions against Western imperialism. This does not mean that each of these historic periods has given birth to a totally new philosophy. An original philosophy is a rare creation, born after much travail only when called forth by a new stage in world consciousness of freedom."

From Chapter 8, “State Capitalism and the East European Revolts”

To order, see Literature.

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