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1956 Hungarian Revolution

The 1956 Hungarian Revolution was a popular revolt against Soviet influence and control in Hungary. The revolt was brutally suppressed by Soviet troops, thousands were killed, many more wounded and nearly a quarter million left the country as refugees.

Table of contents
1 Overview
2 Historical debate
3 Why it happened
4 What happened
5 What the revolutionaries wanted


On 23 October 1956 Hungary's population rose up against their government. The population achieved control over a large number of social institutions and territory. The Hungarians began to implement their own policies. The Soviet Union's army intervened on two occastions to stop this process, once on the night of October 23, resulting in a ceasefire by 1 November 1956. On the night of 4 November 1956 the Soviet army again acted to halt this process of popular reform. By January 1957 the Soviet Union had installed a new Hungarian government and halted the reforms demanded by the people. Due to the rapid change in government and social policies; the role of left-wing ideology in uniting 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 signifigance 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 impossible to speculate on what would have arisen from the revolution.

Why it happened

Economic collapse and low standards of living provoked working class discontent, which was visable 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. Krushchev'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.

What happened

23 October to 3 November

On 23 October 1956 students marched in the streets of Budapest and many workers joined in. Fighting broke out later at night between protesters and the secret police. The popular communist politician Imre Nagy was installed by the Hungarian communist party as Prime Minister.

While Soviet troops fought in Budapest, the rest of the country was largely quiet. Often Soviet commanders negotiated a cease-fire 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.

During the following fourtnight 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 forced the government of Imre Nagy to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. This action caused the Soviet Union to intervene again.

4 November onwards

New Soviet troops invaded. Often soldiers were illiterate or non-Russian speakers from central Asia. Many Soviet soldiers believed they were in Berlin to crush a new Nazi revolt. Others believed they were in Egypt fighting British and French forces in the 1956 Suez War.

Working class Hungarians played a significant role in fighting the Soviet troops, 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.

Janos Kadar 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 executed by Kadar'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 Janos Kadar.

What the revolutionaries wanted

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