1956 Hungarian Revolution

From Academic Kids

Hungarians investigate a disabled Soviet tank in
Hungarians investigate a disabled Soviet tank in Budapest

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution, also known as the Hungarian Uprising or simply the Hungarian Revolt, was a revolt in Hungary. The revolt was suppressed by Soviet troops, and to a miniscule degree the Hungarian 罺H temporarily reorganised as a "workers militia". About 25-50,000 Hungarian insurgents and 7,000 Soviet troops were killed, thousands more were wounded, and nearly a quarter of a million left the country as refugees. The revolution was a watershed event for Communists in Western countries; some who had formerly supported the Soviet Union now criticized it.



On 23 October 1956 hundreds of thousands of Hungarians rose up against their government. Within days millions of Hungarians had participated in or supported the revolt. The revolt achieved control over a large number of social institutions and a large amount of territory. The participants began to implement their own policies. One policy on which Hungarians were divided was the status of known 罺H informants; the workers councils and student councils sent armed bands out to arrest 罺H operatives in preparation for criminal trials; whereas the ultra-nationalist right-wing groups like J髗sef Dud醩' infamously executed members of the 罺H. The Hungarian Communist Party made Imre Nagy Prime Minister. After negotiating a ceasefire with Soviet forces in Hungary, Nagy declared his intention to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact.

Soviet troops were invited into Hungary on two occasions, both in attempts to firm up pro-Warsaw pact governments (the Gerő government that collapsed on the 23rd of October, and the K醖醨 government formed on the 3rd of November). On the night of 23 October and subsequent days the 罺H shot protestors. In comparison, Soviet troops generally attempted to keep order. Armed resistance by insurgents, and the collapse of the Hungarian Communist party, caused a ceasefire between Soviet troops and insurgents by 1 November 1956. On the night of 4 November 1956 the Soviet army intervened, launching an artillery and airstrike assisted multi-divisional offensive against Budapest. To a minuscule extent this Soviet intervention was assisted by the 罺H, reorganised by the K醖醨 government as a militia. By January 1957 K醖醨 had brought the instability to an end. Due to the rapid change in government and social policies, the role of left-wing ideology in motivating some of the population, and the use of armed force to achieve political goals, this uprising is often considered a revolution.

Historical debate

The historical and political significance of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 is still actively debated. The main views on the nature of the revolution are:

Due to the variety of conflicting and irreconcilable historiographical positions on the Hungarian revolution of 1956, it is difficult to produce a summary account of revolutionary events. Similarly, because the revolution was short lived, it is nearly impossible to speculate on what its effects might have been, had it succeeded.

Why it happened

Economic collapse and low standards of living provoked working class discontent, which was visible during soccer riots. Peasants were unhappy with land policies. The Communist Party was unable to unite its reformist and Stalinist wings. Journalists and authors were upset with their working conditions, and took control of their trade union. Students were upset with academic conditions and University entrance criteria and established independent student unions. Nikita Khrushchev's Secret Speech caused much debate within the elite of the Hungarian communist party. As the Hungarian communist party was blinded by leadership debates, the population took action. There was political instability inside the Hungarian communist party as well.

What happened

23 October to 3 November

On 23 October 1956 the students of Budapest University of Technology and Economics marched in the streets of Budapest, later attracting a number of workers and other Hungarians; their numbers peaked at about 100,000. Hungarian soldiers on duty in the city supported the protesters, tearing the Soviet stars off their hats and throwing them into the crowds.

The demands of the demonstrators were at first relatively mild. The turning point was when Hungarian Security Police (罺H) opened fire on the crowds and killed hundreds. Pretenses of moderation were dropped, police cars were flipped over and set on fire, and guns were distributed among the masses by arms factory workers.

Soon after, the popular communist politician Imre Nagy was installed as Prime Minister by the Hungarian communist party. Many of his previous supporters now denounced him as a traitor, mistakenly thinking that he, not the hardline Party Secretary Ernő Gerő and the former Prime Minister Andr醩 Hegedűs, had declared a state of emergency and ordered Soviet troops into action. Nagy may have made the call for Soviet assistance, but on the night of the 23rd when he was installed as Prime Minister he was under Party arrest and under duress from a Gerő-line cabinet.


Soviet troops had been stationed in Hungary since 1944, firstly as an invading army, then as part of the Allied occupation forces, subsequently, following a brief period without legal justification, at the invitation of the Hungarian government, and finally as part of their responsibilities as a Warsaw Pact signatory.

On 23 October, the Soviet Union activated contingency plans which had existed since early October 1956 for a police action intervention into Hungary's internal situation. The Presidium of the Soviet Party had been concerned with the internal situation in Hungary from April, when they heard of R醟osi's plans to eliminate a large number of intellectuals. Their concerns grew over autumn, as Gerő lost control of his party. The Presidium of the Soviet Party believed that the Hungarian Party's request for invitation indicated that Nagy held the confidence of the Party, and that the Hungarian Party still held the confidence of the Hungarian public.

The intervention of 23 October began using forces stationed in Hungary since 1945. Soviet soldiers had become accustomed to a Hungarian way of life. The Soviet soldiers saw their primary mission as defending the Hungarian people from a NATO invasion. The intervention was politically confused: when a column of tanks intersected a protest march on the parliament, the tanks accompanied protestors.

While Soviet troops fought in Budapest, the rest of the country was largely quiet. Soviet commanders often negotiated local cease-fires with the revolutionaries. In some regions, the Soviet forces managed to halt revolutionary activity. In Budapest, the Soviet troops were eventually fought to a stand-still.

Government: in the hands of Nagy or the councils?

During the following fortnight, many workers councils and national councils were formed. The workers councils were much like the independent Russian soviets of 1905 or 1917. The national councils were like the workers councils, but governing a geographic area. Political parties from before 1945 or 1949 crackdowns were reformed, but the majority of the population only supported parties which proposed to keep socialism.

Many political prisoners were released including major Church figures.

Popular sentiment and reports of threatening Soviet troop movements forced the government of Imre Nagy to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. Although widely believed that this action caused the renewed Soviet military intervention, minutes of the meetings of the Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party indicate a different series of events.

While the Presidium had debated, and decided, not to intervene prior to the withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, a hardline faction around Molotov were pushing for intervention. While Khrushchev and Zhukov were pushing against intervention, the withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact cemented the Presidium's hardline position.

The key tendencies which alarmed the Presidium of the Soviet Party were the simultaneous movements towards a multiparty parliamentary democracy on the part of the Nagy government, and a movement towards a democratic and revolutionary national council of workers on the part of the council movement. Both of these tendencies threatened the dominance of the Soviet Party in the satellite states and in the Soviet Union itself.

While Britain and France were intervening in the Suez crisis, the United States declared its position through John Foster Dulles in late October: "The United States does not consider Hungary an ally."

With this combination of political and foreign policy considerations, the Presidium decided to break the cease-fire and eliminate the Hungarian revolution.

4 November onwards

On 4 November, plans which had been in motion for a number of days reached their fruition. New Soviet troops, who shared no sympathy for the Hungarians invaded. While the Soviet Union justified its second intervention on the basis of responsibility to a Warsaw Pact ally, in the form of the K醖醨 government formed on 3 November, the Soviet forces allocated came from national reserves, and other Warsaw Pact countries did not supply troops.

This intervention, unlike the intervention of 23 October, did not rely on unsupported tank columns penetrating dense urban areas. The 4 November intervention was built around a combined arms strategy of air strikes, artillery bombardments, and coordinated tank-infantry actions (Soviets brought some 6000 tanks) in penetrating urban core areas. While the Hungarian Army put up an uncoordinated resistance, it was working class Hungarians, organised by their councils, who played the key role in fighting the Soviet troops. Due to the strength of working class resistance, it was the industrial and proletarian areas of Budapest which were primarily targeted by Soviet artillery and airstrikes. These actions continued in an improvised manner until the workers' councils, students and intellectuals called for a cease-fire on 10 November.

Between 10 November and 19 December the workers' councils negotiated directly with the Soviet occupation force. While they achieved some releases of political prisoners, they did not achieve their aims of a Soviet withdrawal.

J醤os K醖醨 formed a new communist government, with the support of the Soviet Union, and after December 1956 steadily increased his control over Hungary.

Sporadic armed resistance and strikes continued until midway through 1957.

Imre Nagy and many others were tried and executed by K醖醨's government. The CIA's estimates published in the 1960s approximate 1200 executions.

By 1963 most political prisoners from the Hungarian revolution of 1956 had been released by J醤os K醖醨.

What the revolutionaries wanted

  • Peasants wanted the right to own and farm individual plots of land.

External links

eo:Hungara revolucio de 1956 he:היסטוריה של הונגריה: השלטון הסובייטי, המרד ב-1956 ודיכויו nl:Hongaarse Opstand ja:ハンガリー動乱 fi:Unkarin kansannousu sv:Ungernrevolten zh:匈牙利十月事件


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