Hungarian Revolt (1956)

The Hungarian Revolt was an uprising of the Hungarian people against the communist government of the People’s Republic of Hungary and its Soviet policies. It took place from October 23 to November 10, 1956, during the Cold War.

Background to the Hungarian Revolt

After World War II, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania came under the control of the Soviet Union, thus becoming satellite communist nations. As a result, there was a radical nationalization of the economy based on the Soviet model which had slowly led to economic stagnation, and therefore lower standards of living and a deep malaise. Yugoslavia also had a communist regime, but, under Premier Josip Broz Tito, it frequently followed an independent line and consequently secured economic aid from the Western powers.

By July 1956 students, writers and journalists began to be more active and critical in politics. Students and journalists started a series of intellectual forums examining the problems facing Hungary. On October 6, 1956, László Rajk, who had been executed by the communist dictator Matyas Rákosi, was reburied in a moving ceremony which strengthened the party opposition as later that month as the reformer Imre Nagy was rehabilitated to full membership in the Hungarian Working People’s Party.

On October 22, 1956, students of the Technical University compiled a list of sixteen points containing several national policy demands. After the students heard that the Hungarian Writers’ Union planned on the following day to express solidarity with pro-reform movements in Poland by laying a wreath at the statue of Polish-born General Bem, a hero of the Hungarian Revolution of 1848 (1848–49), the students decided to organize a parallel demonstration of sympathy.

The Revolt

On October 23, 1956, the Hungarian Revolt started as a student demonstration which attracted thousands as it marched through central Budapest to the Parliament building. A student delegation entering the radio building in an attempt to broadcast its demands was detained. When the demonstrators outside demanded the release of the student delegation, they were fired upon by the State Security Police from within the building. The news spread quickly and disorder and violence erupted throughout the capital.

The revolution spread quickly across Hungary, and the government fell. Thousands of students and workers got organized into militias as they battled the State Security Police and Soviet troops. Pro-Soviet communists were often executed or imprisoned, as former political prisoners were released and armed. Impromptu councils wrested municipal control from the ruling Hungarian Working People’s Party and demanded political changes. The new government formally disbanded the State Security Police, declaring its intention to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and pledging to re-establish free elections. By the end of October, fighting had almost ceased as a sense of normality began to return.

At first the Soviet government had announced its willingness to negotiate, but then it changed its mind and moved to quell the revolution. On November 4, Soviet Army invaded Budapest and other regions of the country. Fierce fighting for freedom continued in Hungary until November 10, 1956. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops had been killed in the revolt, as 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months thereafter. By January 1957, the new Soviet-installed government had suppressed all public opposition. These Soviet actions alienated many Western Marxists, yet strengthened Soviet control over Central Europe.

Hungarian Revolt Documentary

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