The removal of Rakosi Rakosi was now increasingly alarmed at the prospect of losing control of events. He expelled critics from the Communist Party, and closed down the
Petofi Circle. In July 1956, Rakosi resigned as First Secretary, after a visit to Budapest by Mikoyan and Suslov, two senior members of the Soviet government.
Rakosi was replaced by another Stalinist, Ernoe Geroe, although more moderate communists, like Janos Kadar were now promoted.
The discontent grows These changes did little to stem the unrest. In early October 1956, a huge funeral procession was held in Budapest for Laszlo Rajk, the victim of Stalin’s purge, who had now been rehabilitated. Over 300,000 attended the procession, which was led by Imre Nagy.
Workers’ Councils were formed to demand political freedom: fair, democratic elections, freedom of the press, and freedom of expression.
The Petofi Circle called for the return of Imre Nagy and further reforms.
Finally, on 23 October, a huge student demonstration took place in Budapest. The police lost control: the Stalin monument was destroyed, the radio station occupied and Hungarian national flags displayed. Serious violence developed with widespread attacks on the secret police. The whole system of government was collapsing.
Geroe now made Nagy Prime Minister and, at the same time, asked for Soviet troops to restore order.
Tasks 1. Explain why unrest developed so rapidly in Hungary in 1956.
2. What forms did this unrest take?
Crisis By now, the Hungarian Communist Party had lost control of events: the Hungarian Army would no longer obey orders! On 24 October, a general strike took place in Budapest. Mikoyan and Suslov now returned to Budapest, assessed the situation, and removed Geroe. He was replaced as First Secretary by Janos Kadar, apparently more liberal in his views.
Meanwhile, the strike spread: towns were taken over by the new workers’ councils; members of the AVO, the hated secret police, were attacked and sometimes lynched. Serious fighting developed in Budapest, between the Hungarian people and Russian troops – there were many casualties and serious damage to buildings in the city centre.
Nagy’s government responded to the national uprising as best it could – the country, by now, was out of control. Nagy was being swept along by events.
He declared his support for the national uprising.
He promised a return to the old, multi-party system.
He promised free elections.
Nagy also secured a ceasefire, and sought the withdrawal of Soviet forces from Hungary (apparently promised by Mikoyan and Suslov on 30 October) – Soviet troops pulled out of the centre of Budapest but, ominously, remained on the outskirts
Finally, and most dramatically of all, on 1 November, Nagy declared that Hungary was leaving the Warsaw Pact. He appealed to the United Nations for support – Hungary would become a neutral country.
The Soviet Crackdown Events came rapidly to a head. In Moscow, the Soviet Presidium believed that the complete collapse of communism in Hungary was taking place. This was totally unacceptable. The commander of Soviet forces in Hungary, Marshall Koniev, was ordered to prepare to use force against the rebel Hungarians.
Janos Kadar, the Party leader, now fled to the USSR, where at the beginning of November he announced the formation of rival Hungarian government. As head of this government, Kadar appealed to the Russians to crush the rebellion, which was denounced as ‘reactionary’ and ‘counter-revolutionary’. Up to this point, Kadar had been a Nagy supporter, but now, clearly, the chance to rise to power with Russian support led him to abandon and betray his colleagues.
The following day, 4 November 1956, Soviet forces began to fight their way into Budapest. In the following week, Hungarian resistance was crushed. Desperate appeals to the West went unanswered. Against the massive power of the Red Army, the Hungarians had little chance. By 11 November, the rebellion was over. Over 3,000 Hungarians were killed in the fighting, 20,000 fled abroad as refugees, 2,000 others were later executed, including Imre Nagy, once Kadar had been restored to power in Hungary.
Tasks 1. What changes were introduced by Imre Nagy in order to meet the demands of the Hungarian people?
2. Imre Nagy made a number of appeals to the West for help and support, when the Russians began to suppress the Hungarian Revolution, but no help was given. Why did the West not help Hungary?
Hungary returned to its previous position as a loyal satellite state. Janos Kadar was confirmed in power by the USSR – all the trappings of the totalitarian system were restored.
The Communist Party was the only legal political party.
Strict control and censorship was restored.
The secret police were re-established.
There were widespread arrests of the revolutionary leaders – Nagy and others were executed.
The Soviet suppression of the Hungarian uprising was ruthless and extremely violent. Why did the Russians react in this way? In particular, why did Nikita Khrushchev, now established as effective leader of the USSR, order such action?
1. The unrest in Eastern Europe was weakening Khrushchev’s precarious grip on power. He was already under pressure from hard-line Soviet Stalinists for denouncing Stalin in the ‘Secret Speech’. His enemies pointed to events in East Germany, and Poland, and linked them to his internal policies. The Hungarians had pushed him too far – he had to take action to assert his authority, or face the possible challenges within the USSR.
2. The USSR regarded Eastern Europe as its own particular sphere of interest – it was the dominant power. Where a satellite state sought more control over its internal affairs, as Poland had done, then, concessions might be granted … so long as the position of the Communist Party was assured, and subservience to Moscow guaranteed.
However, the Hungarians had gone much further. The Communist Party’s power was crumbling – there were signs of a return to a multi-party system. Nagy had announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Other satellite states might decide to take a lead from Hungary.
This was quite unacceptable … so events took their bloody course.
Ideology? The Russians certainly claimed an ideological basis for their actions. They claimed that the socialist structure of Hungary, with power in the hands of the working class, through the Communist Party, was being challenged – by middle-class reactionary elements. The rebel movement in Hungary was, according to Soviet propaganda, a capitalist movement attempting to crush the Hungarian workers. Among the rebels were many extremists and fascists – who were being paid by the West, particularly the USA, to destroy socialism.
The USSR had a clear duty to intervene on behalf of the Hungarian working class. Indeed, to their credit, loyal Hungarian socialists had seen the terrible dangers they were facing: they had asked their Soviet ally for help – and the USSR had responded.
So, the Soviet line was clear: they did not ‘invade’ Hungary at all – they came to rescue Hungarian workers from the evil clutches of capitalism.
This was the case put by the USSR at the time, and since.
Reality? The Hungarian uprising of 1956 was a spontaneous national movement by the Hungarian people, from all classes, against the unpopular communist regime that had been imposed on them in 1947. The regime was disliked and hated. By 1956, its weaknesses were obvious – the Hungarians seized their chance when it came. They wanted their country back!
Soviet talk of intervention on behalf of Hungarian workers being threatened by capitalism was basically nonsense. Hungarians of all classes supported Nagy, and his reforms – thousands of Hungarian workers fought bravely
against the Red Army, and many of them died beneath Russian tanks. The Hungarians were fighting for their national freedom – and, for this, they were crushed.
The Soviet action had nothing to do with ideology, or the working class. The Hungarians had overstepped the mark: by challenging Communist Party dominance, and by attempting to leave the Soviet bloc.
Of course, there was a very definite ideological issue in Hungary in 1956 – the Hungarian people had demonstrated overwhelming support for the ideals of democracy. The USSR could not tolerate this, under any circumstances, so Hungary paid for its error – in full.
Tasks 1. Why was the USSR so determined to suppress the Hungarian Revolution?
2. In what ways did the USSR attempt to claim an ideological basis for its actions? In your opinion, how much justification did it have for this claim?
Source exercise: worked example These sources all date from the time of the Hungarian Uprising in 1956.
Study the sources carefully and answer the questions that follow.
From a list of demands compiled from students at Budapest Technological University, 23 October 1956
‘We demand the immediate evacuation of all Soviet troops, in conformity with the provisions of the Treaty of Peace.
We demand the election by secret ballot of all Party members from top to bottom, and new officials at all levels of the Hungarian Workers’ Party (Communist Party).
A new Government must be established under the direction of Comrade Imre Nagy. All the criminal leaders of the Stalin–Rakosi era must be immediately relieved of their duties.
We demand that general elections, by universal secret ballot, be held throughout the country to elect a new National Assembly, with all parties participating. We demand that the right of the workers to strike be recognised.
We demand complete recognition of freedom of expression, of freedom of the press and radio.’
How useful is Source 1 as evidence of the pressure for reform in Hungary at the time?
Once more, you have to look thoroughly and carefully at the question. You should also be thinking of the prompts given in source evaluation questions like this one – about the origin, possible purpose, and content of the source.
In this question, then, think about evidence of the pressure or drive for reforms in Hungary in 1956. Think about the following questions. What forces were pushing Hungary towards reform? Which groups or individuals were urging reform? What did they dislike about the situation inside Hungary at the time?
What points from the source can you find? Write them down in the space below.
Think about points of information from recall, not in the source, but which you think are relevant to the question. Write them down too.
Exchange pages with a colleague or partner. Check each other’s work – have you missed anything?
Finally, go to the reference section at the end of the booklet, and check what you have written against the points listed there.
From a radio broadcast by station Free Radio Csokonay, making an appeal to the United Nations, 4 November 1956
‘We speak to you in the name of the entire Hungarian people. Soviet troops are attacking our country for the second time in two weeks. They have turned our country into a battle-ground without regard for our people and our national values.
The first time, they interfered in our domestic affairs at the request of a government hated by the people. The Hungarian people energetically repulsed this attempt, with arms in their hands. By fighting, we made it possible for Imre Nagy to become Prime Minister. He proclaimed the supreme wish of the Hungarian people for neutrality and independence. The entire Hungarian people joined Imre Nagy and they are still behind him … Our government has cancelled the Warsaw Pact and has ordered negotiations for the withdrawal of Soviet troops.
We accuse the Soviet Union of armed aggression against Hungary. Our country is falling under the cruel fire of Soviet tanks and bombers.’
From an order issued by Marshall Koniev, Commander in Chief, Soviet United Armed Forces, 4 November 1956
‘At the end of October, an uprising was started by counter-revolutionary forces in Hungary in order to destroy the people’s democratic system … and restore the old capitalist system … Events showed that fascist elements were participating in this military adventure, and were a direct threat to our country and the whole socialist camp.
At the request of the Hungarian People’s Republic, and on the basis of the Warsaw Pact established between members of the socialist camp … the Soviet troops have started carrying out their allied obligations … The duty of the Soviet troops is to extend fraternal aid to the Hungarian people in preserving their socialist achievements.’
How fully does Source 3 explain the reasons for the Soviet action in Hungary?
Compare the views expressed in Sources 2 and 3 on the situation in Hungary at the time.
Here, we have the two other types of source questions, which you will meet in Paper II. Let’s look at the first question, which asks you to look at Source 3.
In this type of question, you are being asked to answer the question in such a way that you place the source in its context. You need to think about the background to the events in Hungary, and the action by the USSR.
First of all, look at the source. Marshall Koniev is giving the Soviet justification for the action. Underline those parts of the source that you think will help you to answer the question, and then write them down in the space below.
Think about recalled knowledge – things not mentioned in the source, but which you think help to explain why the Soviet Union took action in Hungary. Write them down too, in the space below.
Check your answers with a partner or colleague. Now turn to the reference sheets at the end of the booklet, and check your answers.
3. Compare the views expressed in Sources 2 and 3 on the situation in Hungary at the time.
This is a source comparison question, the third and final type of question which you will meet in the exam. You do not need to use any recalled knowledge in this type of question – just use the information in the sources.
Key point: For this type of question you must make a point-by-point comparison. As you identify a point being made in one source, try to find a point in the other source to compare it with.
Remember: The sources will have been selected for the specific purpose of a comparison question – there will be points to compare!
Stage 1: It is a good idea to make an overall comparison of the sources before moving on to look at their details. For example, you may decide that the sources disagree pretty strongly, or take widely differing views. If you are able to make an overall comparison, then write it in the space below.
Stage 2: Now look at the sources in more detail, and what they say about the situation in Hungary at the time. Go through each source carefully, and underline the points that you think will help you to answer the question – the points which explain the situation in Hungary at the time.
As you identify each point from Source 2, try to find a point from Source 3 to compare it with – write the points from the sources in the space below. This is your detailed comparison: you should pick up good marks here.
Check your answer with a partner. Now turn to the reference sheets at the end of the booklet and check your answer against the answer given there.
Section 7: The Berlin Crisis, 1961 In 1961, the attention of the world became concentrated on the city of Berlin, with the construction of what became the most famous and most notorious symbol of the divisions which configured the Cold War – the Berlin Wall.
The background: the two Germanys
Following the Airlift crisis of 1948, it became obvious that there was virtually no chance of reuniting Germany in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, in March 1949, the Western allies agreed to unite their occupation zones and create the Federal Republic of Germany, often known as West Germany. In October 1949, the USSR created a separate state from its occupation zone – the German Democratic Republic, or East Germany.
In the 1950s, the two German states developed on very different lines.
East Germany East Germany became a typical Soviet satellite state. It was strictly communist – with party and government leaders selected and approved by Moscow. There was strict censorship and control of the media – democratic freedoms did not exist. There was a powerful secret police force to enforce obedience and loyalty to the state. The East German economy was run on Soviet lines, with state controls of industry, and collectivisation of farming. The main economic emphasis was on heavy industry. Housing and consumer goods were usually of poor quality, and wage levels were low.
West Germany West Germany rapidly developed as a successful and thriving democracy. In the 1950s, the country speedily recovered from the ravages of the war, and a major economic boom developed. Standards of living rose, as did wages. There was continuing expansion and economic growth in heavy industry, consumer goods and housing. West Germany gained a reputation for quality products, for example through car firms such as Mercedes Benz and BMW.
The movement to the West
During the 1950s, it was obvious to everyone that, in all respects, West Germany was increasingly more prosperous than its communist counterpart. Wages were far higher – there was a huge range of consumer goods, such as radios, televisions and cars. Good quality housing was widely available.
West Germans enjoyed democratic freedoms: all adults had the right to vote for a range of parties; there was freedom of speech and expression.
East Germans looked westwards and wondered why should they stay in the East – for loyalty to communism? Why not simply move to West Germany? Conditions in the West were far better, and it was not as if they would be foreigners. There would be no language problem if they moved there – they would be made welcome! (West Germany was starting to face shortages of workers, particularly skilled workers.)
The East German land frontier with the west was almost impassable: barbed wire, electrified fences, guard towers, etc. Crossing the border would be very difficult and downright dangerous.
However, in the city of Berlin, the border was open, and crossing was relatively easy. In fact, many East Berliners had jobs in West Berlin. If an East German man or woman wanted to move to West Germany, the simplest was to go to East Berlin. There, they caught the bus, train, or U-bahn (the underground railway) and travelled to West Berlin.
Once there, they could fly out to West Germany and a new life.
Between 1950 and 1961, over 3 million East Germans moved to the west, through West Berlin.
For the communist government of East Germany, and for the USSR, this was a disaster – people simply preferred capitalism to communism and, as was pointed out by Willi Brandt, the mayor of West Berlin, they were ‘voting with their feet’.
Even worse, large numbers of these people were younger, skilled workers, which East Germany could not afford to lose: engineers, teachers, construction workers, scientists, etc.
There was a growing risk that East Germany would simply collapse, as its best workers decided to leave.
It became increasingly clear that this situation could not be allowed to continue. In 1960, top level discussions began between Ulbricht, the East German communist leader, and Nikita Khrushchev. In the USA, President Kennedy became alarmed at what the USSR might do. Khrushchev had already talked about signing a new treaty with East Germany, which would have the effect of letting the East German government control all the access points to West Berlin. The USA had never recognised East Germany, and this action would trigger a crisis.
Even more serious was the threat of possible hostile action by the USSR. Clearly, Khrushchev could not allow this situation to continue, with the possible collapse of East Germany. Kennedy’s fear was that the Russians might try to solve the problem by invading West Berlin. This would amount to an act of aggression against West Germany, a NATO member. This meant that there was a real risk of war between the Superpowers over Berlin.
Tasks 1. Make up a table comparing life in West Germany and East Germany. Use the following headings for your table.
2. ‘Voting with their feet.’ Explain why the population movement from East to West Germany was such a serious problem for East Germany.
The Berlin Wall, 13 August 1961
With no warning, the government of East Germany took action to close the frontier in Berlin. In the early hours of the morning, soldiers and police sealed the border with barbed wire. Crowds of furious West Berliners gathered at some of the main crossing points to protest and demonstrate at the action, but there was nothing that could be done. The barriers were being erected on the East German side – and there the East German government was in charge.
A few days later, on 17 August, a more substantial wall of concrete blocks began to be built, reinforced by guard towers with armed police and troops. In a short time, Berlin became a completely divided city, with the Wall cutting straight across it. Streets were closed – tram lines came to an abrupt halt where the Wall had been built. Any person trying to escape across it risked being shot.
Reactions West Germany
Not surprisingly, the government and people of the Federal Government were furious. The Berlin Wall was a brutal reminder of their situation as a divided country. It was also a reminder of the fact that, in face of Soviet power, they were powerless. There were angry speeches in the Bundestag, the West German Parliament, and huge demonstrations by West Berliners on their side of the Wall. However, apart from that, there was very little that could actually be done.
The United States
Although the American government was appalled at the construction of the Wall, there was also a sense of relief – nothing worse had happened, such as a Soviet invasion of West Berlin. President Kennedy recognised that the USSR and East Germany had solved the problem of the population loss. Their actions were certainly crude and brutal, but they had refrained from action against West Berlin, and the Americans accepted this with relief. The USA sent letters of protest to Moscow, and ordered military reinforcements to be sent to West Berlin – Kennedy also sent his vice-president, Lyndon Johnson, to show solidarity with the West Berliners, but that was as far as American actions went.
In 1963, Kennedy visited West Berlin and, in his famous ‘Ich bin ein Berliner’ speech, declared his pride in standing alongside the people of the city.
For the German Democratic Republic, the Berlin Wall solved the problem of its population loss. The drain of skilled workers came to an end and, to an extent, the standards of living in East Germany began to rise.