The following article was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 78 (Fall 2006).
Fifty years ago this autumn, the Hungarian working class rose up against the USSR’s occupying army and the Hungarian Stalinist pseudo-socialist puppet regime. Together with the rural population and the bulk of the Hungarian army, the workers chased the Soviet army out and routed the murderous secret police.
For several weeks, workers’ councils, elected in every workplace effectively ruled the country, ran production and distribution and organized mass armed resistance to the Stalinists. To advance the revolution the councils needed to complete their seizure of state power and spread the revolution internationally. But they failed to break with the short-lived nationalist government of the reform-Stalinist Imre Nagy.
A re-invasion by the USSR imposed a new Stalinist regime and crushed the revolution brutally. The U.S., British, French and other “democratic” imperialists denounced the invasion and repression but discreetly assured the USSR’s rulers that they would not interfere.
Most of the remnants of the Trotskyist Fourth International supported the revolution, but this was undermined by their theory that the Stalinist countries were already workers’ states. Many regarded the Nagy government as an instrument of "socialist democracy" rather than a barrier to workers’ power.
The Communist Parties internationally were devastated by the Hungarian revolution and the “secret speech” by Soviet chieftain Nikita Khrushchev that revealed many of Stalin’s counterrevolutionary crimes. Mao Zedong shattered many illusions in his proletarian and revolutionary credentials by condemning Khrushchev for not crushing the Hungarians with sufficient brutality.
The Hungarian revolution remains an inspiration to authentic communists and class-conscious workers everywhere. In October, the New York LRP held a forum to commemorate the revolution and draw the necessary lessons.
Hungary in 1956 showed the revolutionary capacity of the working class, despite state repression and brainwashing. It showed that workers can rule society. It clearly revealed that Stalinism in power is anti-working class, and that the Stalinist Soviet Union was imperialist and a key component of world imperialism. And it showed the crying need for a proletarian revolutionary party to fight against nationalist and populist illusions, and to make the proletariat conscious of the need to seize political power as a class in order to build a genuine socialist society.