Hungary's Revolt Against Communism

1956 Cover of Time Magazine. Although the USA's containment policy against Communism did not

justify their aid to Hungary, people in the US were aware of and affected by the crisis.

October 1956: The Bloody Revolt


 General History Of Hungary

End of World War Two through 1956

The Revolt



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General History of Hungary:

Hungary is a country in Eastern Europe bordered by Slovakia, Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Austria. Hungary is approximately 36,000 square miles. It has an arid climate with cool winters and hot summers. Most of the people in Hungary belong to the ethnic group known as Magyars. Magyars originated in the 800's A.D. from members of Turkish tribes mixing with Slavic Tribes. Budapest is Hungary's capital and largest city. It is divided into two parts: Buda and Pest. People in Hungary are mainly Roman Catholic.

End of World War II through 1956:

Nearing the end of WWII, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill met at Yalta on the Crimean Peninsula on February 3, 1945. Germany's defeat was imminent and the leaders gathered to discuss how to contain Germany after the war. Through compromise, the three leaders decided to temporarily divide Germany into occupation zones where Allied military forces would control the area. FDR encouraged Churchill to agree to the occupation zones because Roosevelt wanted the USSR's aid in the war against Japan and also he did not want to jeopardize his vision of the United Nations, an international peacekeeping group, by upsetting a powerful leader.

When Germany was defeated, the Soviet army began forcing the Nazis out of Eastern Europe in an attempt to create Stalin's vision of a "buffer zone" and also to convert millions of people to the Communist belief system. The USSR took control of Albania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. These countries were known as Soviet "satellites," because although not part of the USSR, their politics and policies were strongly influenced by the Soviet Union.

After the war ended, the USSR demanded to keep the satellite countries as a buffer zone from Germany, which destroyed many of the Soviet Union's cities during World War II. Joseph Stalin, the leader of the Soviet Union during and at the end of World War II, believed that having Eastern Europe between the USSR and Germany would keep the USSR safe and intact.

After the buffer zone concessions, the USSR and United States became the two world superpowers and were in direct competition. The US did not act out against the USSR when they took Eastern Europe because Congress voted on a Policy of Containment. The United States planned on "containing" Communism where it already was by not allowing it to spread, however they would not act on the existing communist nations.

In 1953, Joseph Stalin died. Since there were no elections or line of succession in the communist USSR, there was an intense power struggle. Finally emerging was Nikita Khrushchev, an unlikely candidate based on his inadequate education. Khrushchev was a more moderate leader; he allowed the satellite countries to have more freedoms and power. The power, however, only increased Hungary's desire for complete freedom.

In 1953, due to Stalin's death, there was a wave of protests and strikes, originating in Eastern Germany and going through to Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Poland. Hungary took its protests to the next level within the next couple of years.

Also following Stalin's death, a man named Imre Nagy was appointed as the Hungarian premier. Nagy was a more moderate leader than the former premiers of Hungary and moved towards reform. The people liked Nagy's rule, but the slightest reform irritated Khrushchev and Nagy was thrown out of office.

The world superpower competition along with the discovery of nuclear weapons started the Cold War. Because of the threat of nuclear war, the western powers formed a treaty known as NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) that threatened the USSR. In response, the Soviet Union made the Warsaw Pact with its satellite countries. The treaty dragged Hungary even further into the USSR with the other eastern European countries when they all joined the pact for mutual defense.

A picture of Imre Nagy


The Revolt:

On October 23, 1956, students and workers gathered around the statue of General Bem in front of the Polish Embassy. The protestors boycotted work and demanded "A Socialist Hungary, truly independent; Imre Nagy reinstated in his former office; the State established on a new economic basis; new leaders for the Party and government; those responsible for mistakes held accountable at a public trial…" (Radio Budapest). Premier Hegedus could not control the revolt. At first, he sent the Secret Police, know as AVO, to stop the rebels. Tear gas was sent into the crowd and many of the students were taken into AVO's custody. When the crowd attempted to free the captive insurgents, the secret police opened fire on men, women, and children as well as the student protestors. The Hungarian Police arrived shortly after that and gave up their weapons to the protesters after hearing of the AVO shooting. The now armed students outnumbered the secret police. Finally, Hegedus called for Soviet assistance and declared Martial Law.

The Soviet armies could not stop the revolt either. Some soldiers were defeated, but many joined the resistance. The soldiers were hopeful of a new system in place of Communism. They draped the new Hungarian flag over their tanks and fought with the people of Hungary.

On October 24th, Nagy was named premier of Hungary in place of Hegedus. Nagy immediately took the students and workers side. On October 27th, Nagy announced that he was forming a new government. Nagy said that he would be the head of the new government and there would be three non-communists in the cabinet. On October 30th, the new government is put into play. Nagy abolished the one-party system, so the new government was a coalition government called The National Peasant Party. It was later renamed The Petofi Party. Nagy also announced that there would be economic reforms and free elections, demanded that the USSR take back their troops, and he withdrew from the Warsaw Pact, making Hungary a neutral nation.

At first, the Soviets seemed to accept the demands of the protesters and took their tanks out of Budapest. The USSR, although withdrawing their troops, did not go all the way back to the Soviet Union like they had promised. On November 3rd, reinforcements arrived on the border to Hungary.

On November 4th, 1956, the Soviet army returned, this time crushing the revolt. Imre Nagy announced the attack over the radio in his famous, and last speech to the Hungarian people: "Soviet troops attacked our capital with the obvious purpose to overthrow the legitimate Hungarian democratic government. Our troops are fighting. The government is in its place."

In addition to Nagy's address, radio signals were broadcasted all over pleading with the Western Powers to "HELP HUNGARY!" Unfortunately, the United States' Containment Policy precluded aiding revolts against communism because Hungary was already communist when the policy was created; The US did not intervene in the Hungarian Revolt.

Many of the soldiers in the second invasion did not even know where they were. Some though that they were in East Germany, and others thought that they were in the Suez Canal Zone. They had no idea that they were crushing a revolt against communism until they came in contact with their forced enemies. To keep the army's intensity up, Generals would execute people that were not carrying out orders. For instance, a tank driver that took a detour to avoid driving over women and children blocking the street was murdered on the spot.

The Soviets took control of the airports and other major buildings. Within a few days, they had put a new government in place, but the revolt was still going strong. The second invasion had actually made the insurgents more determined to beat out Communism. Everyone fought from women to children to the elderly fought the Communist soldiers. They were determined to keep their homeland free.

Eventually, the great numbers of soldiers along with their weapons took control of the entire country. The Revolt was over, but the resistance wouldn't end until Communism was out of Eastern Europe forever.


The People of Hungary cut the Communist Sickle and Hammer out of their flag when they revolted. They waved their new flags throughout the streets in protest of Communist oppression.



More than 20,000 Hungarian protestors lay dead. At least 200,000 living rebels fled west, hoping to escape from the Communist system. Others who stayed were arrested and then executed.

Nagy fled to the Yugoslav embassy where he was offered protection from the November 4th invasion. Nagy was on a Yugoslav bus that was taken over by Soviets. This time, Janos Kadar, Nagy's party secretary, replaced Nagy as premier. Moscow offered money and aid to Hungary even though Nagy's statements were taken back. No free elections or economic reforms were made. On June 16, 1958, after being in jail for almost two years, Imre Nagy was secretly tried and executed.

The USSR was still scared of what had happened in Hungary. They sent natural resources into the country to keep the people happy and prevent another revolt. Khrushchev said, "We shall shut their mouths with goulash."

Although many saw the Hungarian Revolt as a loss, it was in truth a victory. The revolution had succeeded until the USSR returned to stomp out the fire of revolt on November 4th. In addition, the "Bloody" Revolt proved to the rest of the satellite countries of the USSR that there was another way to live: free of Communism.


Click the flag to visit the website of the Institute for the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.




CNN Knowledge Bank Profiles. Imre Nagy: Hungarian Premier. (10 Nov. 2001).


Lettis, Richard. The Hungarian Revolt of 1956. (8 Nov. 2001).
This is a primary source because it has broadcasts from Radio Free Hungary which give insight to what was going on in Hungary right when the revolt was occurring.


Halsall, Paul. Statement of the Soviet Government. (30 Oct. 1956). (8 Nov. 2001).
This is a primary source because it is a statement from the USSR during the Revolt.


History of Hungary: Revolution of 1956. (6 Nov. 2001).


Hungarian Freedom Fighter: Freedom's Choice. (17 Dec. 2001).


In Defense of Marxism. Hungary 1956 and the Political Revolution. (1986). (15 Nov. 2001).


Kiss, Sador. 1956 Uprising Flag. (3 Sep. 1998). (4 Dec. 2001).


The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. 1956. 5 Nov. 2001. (6 Nov. 2001).


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