From the November-December 2016 issue of News & Letters
Editor’s note: This November marks the 60th anniversary of one of the most important revolutions in history. In 1956 Hungarian revolutionaries organized themselves in decentralized workers’ councils, taking control of factories throughout the country. Opposing state-capitalism that called itself “Communism” as well as Western capitalism, the revolutionaries indicated a pathway to transcend value production. This letter’s concept of the relationship of spontaneity and party, and its inseparability from organization of thought, speaks to the dialectics of organization and philosophy. Therefore we reprint Dunayevskaya’s Weekly Political Letter of Sept. 17, 1961. Footnotes by Dunayevskaya are indicated by “RD”; all other footnotes are the editors’.
by Raya Dunayevskaya
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, woman and child—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 Kadar1János Kádár (1912-1989) was selected by the Russians to lead the Communist regime in Hungary from 1956 to 1988. 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 Nov. 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.”2The Review (published by the Imre Nagy Institute, Brussels), No. 4, 1960.—RD
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.”3The Review. East Europe (New York) of April 1959 also carries an “Eyewitness Report of How the Workers Councils Fought Kadar.”—RD
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“My Experiences in the Central Workers’ Council of Greater Budapest” by Miklos Sebestyen, The Review, Vol. III, #2, 1961.—RD 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 Nagy5Imre 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. 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.”6Imre Nagy on Communism: In Defense of ‘the New Course’, pp. 49, 56.—RD
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,7Mastyas 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. had first begun and he called these intellectuals “outsiders,” Tardos 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.”8Behind 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 … Continue reading
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.”9From a report by Peter Schmid quoted in The Hungarian Revolution, edited by Melvin J. Lasky.—RD
Today, when the world stands on the brink of nuclear holocaust, sparked by Russian state-capitalism calling itself “Communism” and U.S. 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 Russian 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.
Learn our revolutionary history
The Hungarian Revolution, 1956, as it happened and as comprehended philosophically.
Marxism and Freedom, from 1776 until Today (1958)
by Raya Dunayevskaya
The Hungarian Revolution—the beginning of the end of Russian totalitarianism:
“When all said that everything was over, the Hungarian Workers’ Councils sprang up. Production remained the key, and the whole brunt of the struggle against Russian tyranny was borne by the workers. They began to fight in the factories, which they were using as their places of refuge. The leaders of the Workers’ Councils were arrested only after they left the factory and walked to the Parliament building to negotiate. The workers evolved new ways of fighting, both on the job and when they walked out on strike. For example, the miners refused to mine coal while the Russian Army remained in Hungary. Nor did they let anyone else mine the coal ‘for the workers.’ When Russian might finally asserted itself through overwhelming force the workers blew up the mines.”
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|↑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.|
|↑6||Imre Nagy on Communism: In Defense of ‘the New Course’, pp. 49, 56.—RD|
|↑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|