Chris Birch is one of the few surviving eye-witnesses to the heroic 1956 anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary. That fact alone makes anything he has to say on the subject, of immense value. He was at the time a member of the British Communist Party and still regards himself as a small-‘c’ communist. He has a letter in today’s Morning Star:
I AGREE with Andrew Northall (M Star July 26) on the important role of democracy in the building of a socialist society and believe that the lack of democracy in Hungary was a big factor in the 1956 uprising.
Charlie Coutts and I had been living and working in Budapest for some time and after the fighting, when we got back to London, we saw Johnny Gollan, then general secretary of the Communist Party, and gave him a 19-page document with our views.
It dealt with the lack of democracy in the Hungarian Working People’s Party, which “had been reduced almost to political impotence.”
The document went on: “A group of comrades brought the state apparatus into the party. By threats, pressures, expulsions … and the use of the security police, they introduced well-night complete personal control … political differences were more likely to be settled by the use of the security police than by argument.
“Whenever we criticised some feature of the situation, the invariable reply from party members was that nothing could be changed.”
And with regard to democracy in society as a whole, we said : “Questions of outstanding importance were concealed from the people. The Krushchov report was never published in Hungary. Daily Worker opinions of [purged former minister Laszlo] Rajik were deliberately suppressed. Whereas in Poland one could buy papers of the capitalist press, this was impossible in Hungary.
“Perhaps the most important aspect … is the question of industrial democracy and the whole problem of drawing the masses into forms of self-government. Special study needs to be given to workers’ councils.”
It is hardly surprising that there was an uprising.
CHRIS BIRCH London SW6
NB: back at the Old Place, we marked the 60th anniversary of the uprising with another letter from Chris Birch and other material. Take a look here.