Imre Nagy, a former Hungarian premier and symbol of the nation's 1956 uprising against Soviet rule, was hanged for treason by the country's state capitalist authorities on this day in 1958. This essay offers a contemporary Socialist perspective.
SINCE THE ANNOUNCEMENT on June 17th of the execution of Imre Nagy and his associates, various notables outside the Soviet bloc have hastened to express their opinions on these latest Communist murders. Lord Lansdowne in the House of Lords on the 19th June, speaking on behalf of the Conservative Government, welcomed "The opportunity to place on record the horror and indignation which this latest shameful act has aroused." Although these sentiments are, undoubtedly, true, they border on the hypocritical coming from the Tories after tbeir support of two World Wars and many smaller ones; and that the death of four men should induce a feeling of revulsion in tbe ex-general Eisenhower appears somewhat surprising. Nevertheless, tbeir one-sided wrath at the duplicity of the Communists has aroused members of the working class to demonstrate. Hungarian emigres and Nationals have attacked Soviet Embassies in Germany and Denmark, while Russians have retaliated, in Moscow, at this affront to their "national honour."
Imre Nagy, tbe central figure, is lamented in the West for bis actions during the Hungarian Revolt of 1956. For those workers who consider tbat his memory 'is worthy of demonstration or enshrining as a hero in the struggle for emancipation, let us take a closer look at his life and the aims of the 1956 Rebellion.
Bom in 1896, Nagy was an apprentice locksmith until his conscription into the Austro-Hungarian army during the First World War. He fought on the Italian and Russian fronts, where he was taken prisoner and sent to Siberia. When the 1917 Revolution began in Russia be fought for the Bolsheviks and took Soviet citizenship in 1918. Returning to Hungary the following year, he was given a minor post in the Bela Kun communist regime. When this was superseded by the Horthy Regency in 1921, Nagy fled to France. He was ordered back soon after and was subsequently arrested. On his release he went to Russia and studied agricultural reform. During the Second World War he was employed on the propaganda Kossuth Radio in Moscow, and when Hungary exchanged the joys of German Capitalism for the delights of the Soviet variety in 1944, Nagy was appointed Minister of Agriculture. "He took an important part in planning and enforcing Communist agrarian reform" (Times, 25/;8/56). This "reform" entailed the forcible collectivisation of farms and the elimination of any opposition in the usual callous Soviet method.
The year 1953 saw cracks appear in the colonial empire of Russia, culminating in the Berlin Uprising of June. In order to preserve their domination, the Communists began instituting "lenient" policies throughout Eastem Europe. Nagy, who enjoyed the mysterious reputation of a "moderate." became Premier in July to implement the policy in Hungary. This position he retained until April, 1955, when he was made a scapegoat for the failure of this policy to satisfy the demands of the Hungarian population and the Soviet war-machine, The ups and downs of Communist political manoeuvring led to his "rehabilitation" in August, 1956, and his formal re-acceptance into the Party on October 14th.
Ten days later, following the outbreak of the Rebellion, he was reinstated as Prime Minister on the demands of sources within the Party in an attempt to placate the insurgents. Nagy's conduct throughout the fighting altered from determined opposition to final support even to the extent of the dissolution of the one-party system, as he was out-manoeuvred by events. His first action on being confirmed in office was to speak over Budapest radio demanding the cessation of the revolt: "Many misguided workers have turned against the state. I am calling on all Hungarians to be firm against these provocateurs," quoted the Manchester Guardian of the 25th October, 1956. The report goes on: "Therefore we have decided that all who surrender their arms and stop fighting will not be affected by martial law." The next day this paper commented on a later speech: "The announcement by Mr. Nagy, that Soviet troops would withdraw from the fighting as soon as peace and order were restored, implies a determination to rely on the Russians to the very end."
By the 28th the rebels appeared to be winning and a cease-fire order was given to Government troops. It was also announced that Russian troops were withdrawing. The rebels demanded the following terms from the Nagy Government:-
(1) The establishment of a democracy of the Western type.
(2) The free formation of parties of all types.
(3) Free elections.
(4) An armistice for the insurgents and complete withdrawal of all Soviet forces.
Nagy, still hoping to retain some vestiges of the Communist dictatorship, side-stepped the first three demands and attempted to placate the Nationalist sentiment of the insurrectionists with his counter-proposals:-
(1) An armistice for all who took part in the fighting.
(2) The creation of a new police force based on the Army and workers' and youth groups.
(3) Dissolution of the Secret Police.
(4) The reinstatement of the Kossuth coat-of-arms in place of the Communist insignia.
(5) The restoration of the 15th March as a national holiday.
This date is the anniversary of the Kossuth rebellion of 1848, which was put down by the then Russian Czar.
Sudden developments once again forced Nagy to adopt a different stand, so that on the 30th October, he announced the abolition of the one party system and formed a Government, including Agrarians and Social Democrats. Nagy had thus appeared to have overcome a difficult situation while still retaining the Premiership.
On the 31st October, 1956, Britain and France attacked Suez, forfeiting their "holier than thou" advantage over the Russians. Regrouping its forces the Soviet Union recommenced the occupation of Hungary the following day. By the 4th November the revolt "bad been ruthlessly crushed and Russian domination was firmly reimposed. Nagy foolishly left the Yugoslav Embassy, where he had taken refuge, after promise of safe-conduct and was imprisoned until his recent execution. (From his long experience, he should have known better than to trust fellow Communists.)
Much speculation has been forthcoming on the identity of the person who requested Russian aid, as he gave them the scant "legality" they required to "justify" their intervention and consequently helped make certain the failure of the rebellion. This call was made on October 24th - the day of Nagy's investiture as Premier. Subsequently it was stated that they were not summoned by Nagy, but by Hegedus, the then Prime Minister, and Geroe, the Party Secretary. Victor Zorgan in the Manchester Guardian, of the 31st October, does not appear convinced of the truth of the statement and hints at another reason for its publication. "This, if the population believes it - as it is quite likely to - will greatly enhance Mr. Nagy's shaken prestige and will help him to remain at the head of the government." Whether Nagy enlisted Soviet help or not, as has been shown he was willing to condone its employment.
For workers the conclusion is obvious. Although winning the syrnpathy of the Western Powers, who will support anything against Soviet interests, Nagy is not worthy of working class commiseration. He was a lifelong Communist and was as thoroughly steeped in blood and misery as those who have invariably toed the Party line. While the 1956 Uprising in its widest form would have made no fundamental difference to the workers, its object being to leave the Hungarian capitalist class to exploit them unfettered by the demands of their Soviet counterparts. Their sole gain would have been the ability to cry their grievances unchallenged, but without Socialist knowledge this concession is useless. And the conditions which give rise to dictatorship would still remain.
THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, August, 1958