Tuesday 2 January 2024

The Popular Front in France 1936 - a talk by Lynn Walsh

 I have uploaded a talk by Lynn Walsh, a member of the 'Militant Editorial Board', given in 1981/2, on YouTube here:

Here is the transcript of the speech:

As the chairman said, the topic of France has now assumed an enormous relevance because of the election, first of Mitterand as the President and then the landslide victory of the Socialist Party, and the enormous majority of the Socialist Party and the Communist Party combined in France. And of course, the situation in France today, and the world situation, is in many respects different, the balance of forces is different, from that that existed in 1936.But, obviously as Marxists, we analyse the history of past struggles and past developments - such as the Popular Front in 1936 - in order to draw the necessary lessons and conclusions in relation to present day events, and the perspective for the next period.

And, while there are differences in the balance of forces, and in the composition of the parties, we can already see that, as far as the ideas are concerned, the idea of the Popular Front - it's  not being called a 'Popular Front' in France at the present time - but the political ideas and the strategy and tactics that were put forward under the name of the Popular Fronts are once again in many respects being revived in France by the leadership of the Communist Party and  Socialist Party. And they're using many of the arguments that were used in 1936 to justify such an alliance - and the particular program that was put forward in 1936 to justify the program that's being put forward at the moment.

The program at the moment, by the way, goes a lot further in many respects to the Popular Front program of 1936 - but nevertheless the idea that it's a halfway stage towards socialism, that it's not itself a socialist transformation of society but it's a step forward away from capitalism - according to their arguments - and a step on the road towards a complete transformation of society. And, obviously we have to go into that to understand exactly what it means, what the implications are as far as the working class are concerned. As far as we're concerned, disastrous implications because of the misconception and the false idea of 'Popular Frontism' which will again in the future lead to the defeat of the workers, unless the workers are able to push that leadership aside and have a genuine Marxist leadership with correct ideas and correct perspectives.

Now, probably up until the present time, there has being relatively little discussion in the Labour Movement generally, and even in our own tendency, on the events in France. They are overshadowed to some extent historically by the more momentous events in Germany of course, where Hitler came to power and the Labour Movement was smashed and defeated in 1933, and, on the other hand, by the Spanish Revolution which was also set in motion in 1936 by the election of the Popular Front in Spain, and where the three years of Civil War - and really Revolution and Civil War in Spain - tended to overshadow the events in France, or Britain for that matter, and some of the other countries. And for that reason, there's probably not so much general knowledge of France as there is of Spain and some of those other countries. And that's all the more reason to go into that now.

But, despite the relative overshadowing if you like, we can see that the events in France in 1936 were a real revolutionary movement of the working class. The theoreticians of the Communist Party now want to argue, well, of course it was a movement, it was a General Strike, but it wasn't a real revolutionary situation, it wasn't like Russia in 1917. They imply that only if you have a situation like Russia - where the Kerensky government was brought in on the wave of revolution in February 1917 and in the space of nine or ten months it led to an insurrection by the working class, and the seizure of power by the working class - unless the events take that highly concentrated and telescoped form which they did in Russia because of the conditions in Russia, the situation created by the war and so on, and also the presence of the Bolshevik Party, that's true, but unless they take that concentrated form it 'can't be a revolution!' 

But yet in France, we have the situation where in the General Strike that broke out with the election of the Popular Front, when there were really two General Strikes, the first one lasted a few days and it came to an end with the Whitsun Bank Holiday [at the end of May] because the workers weren't sure of the situation, they felt they'd made gains and then they went back. And then, after the Whitsun holiday, there was an even longer and more profound General Strike. And this General Strike, according to most history books, involved at least a million workers and this is what they capitalist press internationally said at the time. And more reliable estimates - and it's very difficult to say - but it was at least one and a half million, and we can say possibly even 2 million workers were involved in the strike action. Now, of course, the General Strike in itself doesn't make a revolution, but consider exactly what happened. 

The Trade Unions were very weak in France compared with say Britain or Germany. There was a tradition of spontaneity, there weren't powerful, consistent organisations that had been developed in France, a small percentage organised, but nevertheless there was an enormous mushrooming of the trade unions. Workers who had never before been involved in strike action were drawn into the battle. And, the strike began in one of the aircraft factories, one of the more modern industries in France, the big aircraft factory. It quickly spread to Renault, in Billancourt - where the May 1968 General Strike also began - which is the subject of a later session - and the strike quickly spread to all the engineering industry, the big industry where of course you'd expect the industrial workers to be involved - but it wasn't just that. If you read the accounts, and I won't have time to go into all the details, that I think that if you can find the books or even go to newspapers like the Guardian - that had very good reports at the time compared with other newspapers - you will find that the scale of activity was enormous and the strike action embraced the most exploited workers in the country. 

For instance, all the big stores - and France was the country par excellence of big stores which hardly existed in most other countries - and they were world famous, they were the luxury stores of the bourgeoisie and the middle classes - and the workers there were not unionised, were not politicised, and they went on strike. And they organised occupations - and that was another thing that the strike, it was a General Strike but it really developed a new form of strike action, which was the sit-in strike, or the occupation, where the workers took over the factories, that they quickly set up committees, they organised security, they organised rotas and so on for the pickets, and for food and supplies and all the rest of it. And there was a really incredible movement to the workers, it was a movement from below that took the leaders of the Communist Party and the Communist Party Trade Unions by surprise, as much as it took the bosses by surprise.

And, the extent of the strike was incredible. There was one strike that was covered quite a lot in Britain because it was a British firm, 'Huntley and Palmers', the biscuit firm, you know 'by appointment to the Royal Family' etc. And there were pictures in The Illustrated London News of the Huntley and Palmers' workers that were all wearing their uniforms. They had these old-fashioned aprons, they were mostly woman workers - but they were either in committee or they were organising dancing in the factory - and the worst thing of all, from the point of view of the bourgeois, that they actually locked the management into the offices during the course of the occupation. They agreed to feed them, they didn't ill-treat them or anything - probably made them eat their biscuits! But they obviously had a revolutionary attitude, that they weren't going to let the bosses out. And there was this feeling that there was an enormous overturning of society, that the workers for a period actually took power into their hands! Now, if that's not a revolutionary situation, or a situation where a party that had any serious intention of a transformation of society, that had any real understanding of how to change society, that would have been the beginning of a struggle for power. 

Because even though the outcome was economic improvement, even though the issues were, if you like, from the beginning were the economic conditions - particularly the working day - the 40-hour working week; of paid holidays - there were with no paid holidays at that time; and the removal of various arbitrary disciplinary things as well as an increase in the minimum wage. It began with economic demands, of course, but you can never limit the General Strike of that character to economic demands. Because the very fact that the workers were at the factories, that they expelled the bosses - or that they locked the bosses into their offices - means that, for a time, the workers had the power in their hands.

And, while it was going on, just as in May '68 - although that wasn't on such a big scale - it paralysed the forces of the state. The police were sympathetic, they couldn't be used. None of the reactionaries dared to demand even the expulsion of the workers from the factories. It was even raised in the Assembly and they said to Blum, "Look, you are presiding over illegal occupations" and so on. And he said, 'Well, I agree that they're illegal but is any member of the Assembly proposing that I send in the police to expel them?". And he kept saying, "Are you, are you? Do you want the police to go in?". And there was not one Deputy in the Assembly who dared to say they should send the police in. And he said '"No, of course not, even the bosses don't say 'Send the police or the army in,' because they know that that would mean civil war and a conflict. And even in saying that Blum, if you like, more than the CP leaders at the time, recognised the enormous power of the working-class.

Even the Fascist League, the so-called 'Croix de Feu' - the 'Cross of Fire' - which was put forward as a bogey - and it's still put forward by the CP historians as the bogey if you like - that these fascist leagues were very powerful, that they could have seized power, that ... to take the strike further would have triggered a counter-revolution ... But even they were not to be seen anywhere in Paris, or the main industrial cities, during the course of the strike. And there are accounts that I've read recently, by the Guardian correspondent, who points out that in the factories, that these members of the Fascist League, or people that supported them, disappeared completely. And there were a number of places where they were put on trial - the workers sent the pickets round and dragged them out and they put them on trial in the factory - which is partly a serious Court Martial but they were also subject, as you can imagine, to enormous ridicule and then they were just laughed out of the factory - that they chased them out of the factory saying, you know, never come back! And that's the way they were treated. But there were even some of them, who previously supported the Croix de Feu, and they renounced it and they joined in the strike, and they said 'we support it'. 

And, in fact, the leadership even, De La Rocque, had to say that he wasn't against the economic demands of the workers because, if you like, he had to bend a bit and draw on some of the opportunistic, demagogic,  anti-big business slogans of the fascists, which usually took an anti-semitic tone, and he said himself that he was against big business and he supported the demands. So, even the fascists were neutralised, paralysed, during the course of this action.

Of course, the question we have to ask, is why was it, when there was this enormous revolutionary movement of the workers, that it wasn't carried through into a change? And, within two years, the Popular Front government had collapsed in chaos, there was another general strike, a brief general strike, in 1938 because of the moves of the government to take back the gains of 1936 - and they did take back all the main gains, apart from the fact that the workers maintained paid holidays. I think that was the only thing that wasn't even sort of 'wiped out' by legislation - apart from inflation and the economic ways that it was clawed back. Why is it that in the space of two years, that all the gains disappeared? And, not just that, but after the General Strike of 1938, the Trade Unions were smashed, and their membership was reduced to a lower level than it had been since the early period of the 1920s. And that, of course, is the key question that we have to deal with.

Now, before we do that, we have to go back, if you like, to fill in some of the preceding events from the point of view of the tendencies within capitalism itself and also the development of the parties, particularly, of course, the Communist Party. [ ...] Communist Party in France, was part-and-parcel of the world, by that time, Stalinist CP, and that they were a party that were rigidly controlled at that time by the Communist International, the Comintern, from Moscow. They weren't a full, democratic body of the workers but they were really an agency of the Stalinist bureaucracy on the international arena and within France, and we have to take that into account. And as far as the tendencies within capitalism are concerned, which I will try to deal with briefly first, that has to be our starting point, because unlike the CP or the other so-called Marxists, we don't just say, "Well, 'revolution is a good thing', that we will seize any opportunity to carry through a socialist transformation of society". We understand, as Marxists, that the movement of the workers is primarily, even if you have a mass Communist Party or a mass Socialist Party - they can be decisive in a revolutionary situation - but revolutionary situations arise from profound economic and social movements. They're not just like the weather that comes about accidentally and in a completely unforeseen way. Therefore, we have to view - just as when we're discussing France in the present day, we analyse the economic situation, the balance of forces in society, the class relations and so on - we have to do that for that time.

What we see is, that 1936 wasn't just an event confined to France, as I mentioned, but it represented an acute crisis throughout the capitalist world. But it was a crisis that was primarily a political crisis, or a crisis in the class relations, that came about really on the basis of a slight recovery in the capitalist world economy, and particularly in a number of the key capitalist countries. Because, as you know, and I don't want to go back too far in this period, but, in 1929-31, that was at the end of one phase, if you like, when there was the Wall Street Crash and the world economic recession, where there was an acute economic and financial crisis throughout the capitalist world, that hit all the main capitalist countries. But because of the weakness of the workers, and the fact that they were largely defeated at the time of the 29-31 ... crisis, the capitalists managed to bring about a certain stabilisation on the basis of mass unemployment, a driving down of living standards, a reorganisation of industry to some extent. They began to give more investment to the modern industries. It's when the motor-car industry, aeroplanes, electrical industries, first began to develop. They were still a small part of the economy but when they first began to develop big factories and a sector of the economy devoted to those new industries. 

And, by 1935 -1936, there was a recovery, as far as the economy was concerned, in relative terms. Of course, they were still in a general situation of dire crisis that wasn't overcome until after the Second World War, but there was, relatively, a recovery. And the workers began to feel more confident. There was a turn in the situation, in that unemployment began to turn down slightly, that as production picked up, the bosses always have to make some concessions in order to get more production out of the workers, and they have to give incentives to at least a section of the working-class, and the workers began to feel their strength. And that's why in Britain, there was a swing towards the Labour Party, the Unions began to be more active in 1934-35 in Britain, with big unemployed struggles as well. Similarly, in Spain there was a new upsurge which brought the Popular Front there, and so on. 

And this affected France as well. The French workers began to feel more strength and there began to be a push, if you like, a demand for action. But, because of the limits of the labour movement, it didn't really make any tangible gains until the election of the Popular Front. They were completely frustrated on the economic plane, because their trade unions were weak, they weren't effective, and the economic grievances, the industrial grievances, accumulated and built up. And then suddenly, just really in the last period in France, they were given the opportunity in a general election to elect the Popular Front government - and that was given what, at that time, was a really sweeping victory ... in the polls.

Now, why was it that the Popular Front came about? Because in the period of the early 1930s up until about 1933 / the beginning of 1934, there was the situation of an acute division between the mass workers' parties because the Communist Party, up until that time, under Stalin's direction ultimately, had adopted the position that they would have no cooperation with the Socialist Party - with the Social Democratic parties - and they came out with the idea of so-called 'Social Fascism' - where they argued that, objectively speaking, the Socialist Party - the Social Democratic parties - were no better than fascism, that they were preparing the ground, if you like, for a capitalist reaction. They were aiding and abetting the fascists by the fact that they didn't stand for Socialist Revolution, and therefore the Communist Parties could have nothing whatsoever to do with them. That obviously was a completely false and mistaken tactic. It was dictated by, firstly, the failures of the CPs when they had tried to implement Lenin's genuine idea of the "United Front" after 1921. But that had failed, their opportunist tactics had failed and so they swung to extreme Ultra-Left tactics where they rejected any form of alliance or collaboration with the Socialist Parties. On the other hand, again we shouldn't have a simplistic view of this, we have to see the interaction of the needs of the Stalinist bureaucracy from the point of view of the foreign policy interests of the Russian bureaucracy - on the other hand, the situation in France, or the different countries themselves, where the CP leaders reacted to the moods and the objective situation in that country. 

And, there's also of course the position of the Socialist Party leaders themselves, because they too had contributed to the split within the Labour Movement by the fact that they, after the Russian Revolution, had developed an anti-Bolshevik position. It was originally anti-Bolshevik, later it became anti-Stalinist. Because of the pressure of the bourgeoisie and the petty-bourgeoisie on the Socialist Party, that mainly had a leadership drawn from the middle-class, or even the intellectual elements of the bourgeoisie itself, they tried to, if you like, keep their authority in the eyes of the capitalist class by refusing to have any alliance with the Communists and having any policies that appeared to favour or be for the Soviet Union. And therefore, they contributed to the split as well. It suited them very well to have the CP say that there would be no alliance. 

But this changed and brought about the Popular Front. We have to see that there are objective reasons for that, it's not just an arbitrary change on behalf of the leadership. And, of course, the main reason was the defeat of the working-class in Germany, the devastating smashing of the workers and the fact that Hitler seized power and began the atomisation, not just of the workers' organisations, but of the working-class itself, of establishing a fascist totalitarian dictatorship which of course meant that, not just the CP leaders who were sent to the concentration camps ... but also the Socialist leaders, and the leaders even of Radical or Leftist groupings of any kind were suppressed, even murdered, or later murdered by the fascist regime. So, the Socialist Party leaders themselves were forced to recognise that capitalist reaction didn't just mean that the CP would be wiped out, which they probably wouldn't have wept too many tears about, it meant that they would be wiped  out as well. Their own necks, if you like, were at stake. And therefore, they began to swing in the other direction of 'Popular Frontism'. 

And the same applies to the CP. The Stalinist policies of the German Communist Party - again dictated in an arbitrary and completely undemocratic way from Moscow - contributed to the victory of fascism in Germany. But they themselves were forced to switch by the victory of Hitler. They began to look in another direction and they came out, again from the top. There was an article in Pravda which changed the line very suddenly. It was only later that it was discussed by the Executive of the Communist International and by the different bodies of the Communist Party to say, well, we have to implement the new policy of the 'People's Front' or, as it soon became known, the 'Popular Front'. They put forward the idea of an alliance not just with other workers' parties, which was the original idea of the workers' front - or the 'United Front' - but with bourgeois parties also, and on a program not of socialism, not a socialist program, but a program of the "defence of democracy" against fascism.

And that was given particular impetus, if you like, in France in February 1934 by the fact that there was what seemed at the time - and could have led to - a seizure of power, or an attempted seizure of power, by the Fascist League in France. So, the bending of the leadership if you like came together with a genuine spontaneous movement from the workers for united class action. And, even before the leaders had worked out the form of the Popular Front, the workers had begun to combine together, in order to defeat the onslaught of the Croix de Feu and the other fascist elements in France. Because in 1934, there was the culmination of a scandal that was known as the 'Stavisky Scandal', the details of which are extremely involved, and scandalous and horrendous, and I  don't intend going into at the moment. But the details in a way are not that relevant, because they were taken to be, by the workers of the time, just symptomatic of the rottenness of French capitalism and the government. 

What it boiled down was this capitalist, who was Jewish, who was originally from Russia, or part of Russia, had brought up - or become the manager of - a porn shop, which may sound not very significant. But in France, for various reasons, there was a state monopoly of pawn shops and they had to be licensed and controlled in some way by the state. And it was found that this pawn shop appeared anyway to be making enormous amounts of money, that it issued bonds on the French Stock Exchange, that began to be bought up in enormous quantities by various investors and speculators. And it later came to the attention of the press that perhaps there wasn't much trading actually going on in this pawn shop, it was in some rural town in France where the population wouldn't have sustained a minor pawn shop, let alone an internationally financed pawn shop. It was found that there was obviously some cover-up going on. It was just a gigantic fraud and that there were Government Ministers involved in this, covering-up for Stavisky and the other speculators involved. 

Now, this is scandalous enough but the reason that it took on the significance that it did, it was not just that the workers were infuriated, but the CP leaders and the Socialist Party leaders did very little about it. It was like the case of the Freemasons' scandal in Italy now, where the Communist leaders and the Socialist leaders also want to brush it under the carpet because they're frightened that they may be implicated in any thorough investigation of bureaucratic and capitalistic skullduggery. You see, the fact that Stavisky was a financier, that he was involved in lots of murky deals, that he was Jewish, meant that the right-wing, particularly the papers of the Croix de Fer, took this up and they hammered and hammered away - in one way correctly, if you like, or justifiably, on the issue of the scandal - but of course, they tried to draw the conclusion that it was because France was controlled by a clique of international Jewish financiers that were in league with the Communist Party, and other international conspiracies. But they were all lumped together if you like - there's a 'menace to the French nation'. And, they began to conduct an agitation and obviously, particularly to the classes that they appealed to, to the ex-soldiers who had fought in the First World War. They were able to mobilise them - on the grounds that they had fought for France and now France was being ruined and taken over by Jewish financiers who were out to bleed them dry and ruin the country. 

And when it came to the Assembly eventually to be debated, that was on the 6th February in 1934, the Fascist League organised an assault on the Assembly. And it succeeded to the point that there was street fighting and it was only barely contained by the police and it seemed that this was the beginning of a real takeover by the fascists in France. And this is an indication, if you like, of a way in which an almost accidental feature, because this scandal in itself was nothing new - there had been lots of scandals in France, probably even worse in many ways - but it shows how an event like that can precipitate action. Well, it didn't lead to an immediate attempt at a coup, and it didn't lead to the immediate overthrow of the government - although there was a succession of governments up until the Popular Front election that couldn't control the situation. But it gave the impetus for the party leaders to form the Popular Front, as a defence against fascism.

There was another factor and that was, at first, the Communist Party - or the Communist Party leaders - were more interested in an alliance with the 'Radicals' than they were with the Socialists. And the reasons for this are clear if you understand what the main motivation of the CP leaders was under direction from Moscow. And that was because the Radical Party, which as Trotsky explained at the time, was really a capitalist party, but it was based on the small businessmen, the richer or more prosperous peasantry in France, some of the professional elements, particularly in rural France. It was in other words, based on the petty-bourgeoisie of France which was still a large social stratum at that time - but it was a capitalist party. The way in which the capitalists maintain their control. They were the 'parliamentary exploiters', Trotsky said, of the middle-class. Because they looked toward the stability of France, and that they feared, above all, the Nazi threat to France because of the danger of an invasion, as they'd seen him invade and take over Austria. They thought that he would attempt to do the same as far as France was concerned. So they were the fourth party in France to agitate for an alliance with the Soviet Union. They wanted a Franco-Soviet pact, a treaty if you like, that would align the two countries in the event of Germany declaring war or invading France. And, for that reason, the CP was mainly concerned with an alliance with the Radicals and they even raised the question initially of extending the alliance, not to the left, but to the right! And they argued that some of the parliamentary groups that weren't so right-wing as Laval's Conservative Party and the outright representatives of the bourgeoisie, that they should draw in the 'national democratic' capitalist elements if you like, that would be prepared to defend 'French democracy' against fascism within France and within Germany. And only really under the pressure of the workers from below, who had already begun to combine against the Fascist League, that they came forward with the idea of a Popular Front that was mainly based on the Communist Party and the Socialist Party. 

But, as I said, it was still limited to immediate demands. It had a number of economic demands which came up anyway in the General Strike: of the 40 Hour Week, of paid holidays, of reforms as regards insurance and health were concerned. It also called for the nationalisation or state control of the Bank of France which wasn't at that time completely under the control of the government, and also the nationalisation - the only elements of nationalisation - was really the nationalisation of the munitions industry which was partly on two grounds. One was that in France, like a lot of industries that the state had an interest in, it was a gigantic fiddle by the capitalists and the financiers involved. And also because there was the genuine feeling, if you like, from workers that if they were being asked to prepare for a 'defence of the country' and so on, that it should actually be the State that was responsible for this defence and not the capitalists who would obviously be just bleeding it for themselves. But apart from that, there was no explicitly socialist element in the program and it was explicitly, on the contrary, explicitly put forward by both Blum and Thorez, the CP leader, that this was not a program to implement socialism. And Thorez came out with all the arguments - that are now very familiar from CP leaders - that the situation wasn't right, that they weren't ready, that it wasn't the 'stage', if you like, of the Socialist Revolution, that it was only the stage of the 'Defence of Democracy' against fascism. And he even said - and it's quite amazing if you read these statements - they say, well it may fail but maybe we won't be able to defend democracy, but nevertheless we've got to try, and if we fail then we'll turn to something else. But it would be adventurist and not opportune to attempt to fight for a socialist program now.

Well, when the government, the Popular Front, was elected, the result obviously showed the mood of the workers. I won't read out all the actual voting figures - I could give them - but in terms of percentages, the vote of the Communist Party went up from 8%, in the 1932 election, to 15% in 1936. The Socialist Party, which was a bigger party, in 1932 had 21% of the vote, but that remained the same, a 1% fall actually, although it managed to increase its seats, because of the peculiarities of the election. It went up from 129 seats to 149 seats. The CP got 72 seats as opposed to 12 seats in 1932. But the various Left groups that were previous splinters from either the CP or the Communist [Socialist?] Party actually got quite a big increase. Their vote went up from 1% to 10% - that's from 11 seats to 56 seats. You can see that the peculiarity of the constituencies mean that the percentages are not exactly the same as the outcome and the number of the seats.

And the 'Radical Socialists', who were supposed to be the key to the Popular Front, and it was vital to sustain the alliance and vital to appease these Radical Socialists - who were more 'radical' than 'socialist' of course, but that was an historic label that had been tacked on to them - but they weren't in any way that we would accept as 'socialist'. But their percentage vote fell from 19% in 1932 to 14% in 1936. And their seats went down from 157 to 109 seats. So, those results show a clear swing to the Left parties, and a swing away from the Radicals - and that obviously gave an enormous reinforcement to the leftward mood of the workers.

Now, the election of the Popular Front, as you know, precipitated the General Strike. Now that hasn't happened in France this time because, we tried to explain in the paper, the situation is slightly different. But the main reason that the strike was precipitated in '36 is because the workers themselves, from the very beginning, were quite rightly very suspicious and very distrustful of the intentions of the Popular Front leaders, particularly Blum, the Prime Minister and leader of the Popular Front, to implement the program fully of the Popular Front. This was reinforced by the fact that Blum immediately began to make reassuring statements to the big businessmen and to the banks that he wouldn't devalue the Franc, that they would repay the war loans to the United States, and various other things, just as Mitterand has done although Mitterand has been very cautious about that. He tried to do it behind the scenes and not allow it to become a sort of prominent part of his campaign before the second round of the Assembly Elections. But, the other thing is that, because of the Constitutional position in France, that there was a fortnight's delay between the election and the formation or the announcement of Blum's government, which included all the representatives of the parties, apart from the Communist Party which I'll come to in a minute, that there was a fortnight's delay. And of course, the workers were impatient for action, they weren't prepared to wait two weeks, in which God knows what might happen as far as Parliament, or as far as the bosses, were concerned - so they took immediate action. 

That hasn't happened this time because Mitterand was very careful, and he undoubtedly learned a few lessons from '36, that he was careful to announce immediately, using the Presidential powers, various reforms in the Minimum Wage, Social Security benefits, and other things that weren't revolutionary in themselves. But it at least showed a determination in the eyes of the electorate to actually begin to implement measures, that showed that he - or at least gave the impression - that he was prepared to take radical measures that actually implement the program on which he'd been elected and which the Socialist Party was fighting the election. So therefore, the workers in 1936 didn't have this reassurance and they immediately began to take this action.

Now, the other difference, of course, is that in 1936 the CP hadn't degenerated to quite the level of reformism that it has degenerated to at the present time. Make no mistake about this, it was controlled by the Comintern and, ultimately, by Stalin - and when I say 'control', I mean that the officials of the leadership were appointed by Stalin, nominally through the Comintern,  but usually without consulting them, and they were left in no doubt that if they stepped out of line, then Stalin could take measures to remove them. For instance, in the case of the German Communist Party, and no doubt the French leaders knew this very well, that when a lot of them went into exile in Russia after the seizure of power ... a lot of them disappeared, they were put in jail, they were executed. There were even assassinations or disappearances of CP leaders or functionaries in the western countries and therefore there's absolutely no doubt that they were completely controlled and directed by Moscow. 

But, nevertheless, they still hadn't reached the stage where they could openly advocate policies that, if you like, were so contrary to the ideas and the principles and the history of Leninism, that they could say 'well, we should enter a government with the bourgeois parties'. And they didn't say that. They said that we've got to support a government that includes bourgeois parties, but we won't enter that government. Unlike the present government in France, there were no CP ministers in it. And they even went to the extent of appointing a number of 'ex' government ministers, if you like - I mean 'outside' government ministers. And they announced the formation of the so-called 'Ministry of the Masses', which was going to be the leaders of the Communist Party who would, if you like, create a new 'ministry', which wouldn't have any constitutional or parliamentary status, it would be the Ministry to look after the affairs of the working-class and the toiling people of France. Well, as a propaganda move, if you like, there's nothing wrong with it, it even has a certain flair if you like. And I should mention, by the way, that although now when we're analysing it, it seems absolutely incredible, the policy that they carried out, it wasn't so crude as you might imagine. 

And you can understand, if you read the history of the period, and what happened, why many workers had enormous illusions in the CP. Because they organised enormous rallies, spectacular demonstrations and rallies, where they produced a new flag that was a Red flag with a little French tricolour in the corner, and it said 'RF' for the French Republic and a hammer-and-sickle in bright white, between the RF on the flag. And they had massive demonstrations, where they gave the impression of being, as they were, a strongly organised force, that they were serious about the change, that they were going to actually support the work of making enormous gains within the framework of the Popular Front. But, as I  said, they were actually surprised by the General Strike - they didn't initiate it, they controlled  it. The CP, through the CGT, largely controlled the General Strike and then they used all their influence, and all their political powers of persuasion, and all their organisational weight to bring the strike to an end as soon as possible. And that's why Trotsky said, quite rightly, with absolute justification, that the Popular Front was really a "strike-breaking conspiracy".

There was an agreement, the Matignon agreement, where the leaders of the workers met in a hotel with the bosses, and they agreed on the reforms as far as wages and conditions, and the other things that I mentioned, are concerned. But, even that didn't satisfy the workers. The strike in most of the big industrial areas, and even as far as some of the shops and some of the less proletarian sections of the workers if you like, went on for at least another week. And the workers weren't prepared to go back on the basis of a written agreement. They feared, with good reason, that the bosses wouldn't actually implement these agreements and they wanted personal meetings with the bosses themselves. For instance, in Renault, they insisted on meeting Monsieur Renault himself, to get him to say to the workers in a mass meeting that he accepted all these deals - but he refused for several days, he obviously didn't really intend to implement everything. He sent the management to sign agreements and so on and they were, even at that stage, [trying to] wheedle their way out of it. But, anyway they clawed these agreements from the bosses individually, and, in most cases, they were immediately implemented with the resumption of production.

[The role] played by the CP was to gradually dissipate and defuse the energy of the workers. As we said before, and this will be raised again in the discussion on France in 1968, a General Strike can't be sustained indefinitely. General Strikes are exceptional events. They arise from an enormous upsurge of the movement, in the energy of the working-class. It takes enormous events to precipitate a General Strike. It is a result of really years of accumulated frustration and grievances and so on. And, once they've begun, they have got to go in one direction or the other. Either they're taken as a movement towards power - that the fact that the workers have seized power, and taken over, and displaced the bosses and the state apparatus, at least temporarily, has got to be carried through to a conclusion. And that means the workers have got to take over production, organise a plan of production, to break down the old state apparatus, which would of course mean disbanding the Army and the Police, and the state bureaucracy, and forming a new state apparatus that would be based on Soviet-type organisations - or workers' committees or whatever they would be called - to involve the mass of the workers in the running of the economy, of the state, and society generally. And, of course the aim of the workers' leaders, particularly the CP, was not that! And they didn't they didn't even claim it was that. They argued that they couldn't go forward to a Socialist Revolution and that they were afraid in reality of this movement as much as the bourgeois itself. And therefore, they used all their influence and their pressure to diffuse and dissipate and, if you like, let off the steam that had accumulated to get the workers back to the work. And gradually, of course, that's what happened.

There was no alternative leadership. There was a left-wing in the Socialist Party, that was  critical of the Popular Front and the policy of Blum and the CP, but it was a very amorphous and confused left-wing. It tended towards pacifism - and that's a warning for now if you like - it was preoccupied with the question of rearmament - or some of them were, some of the others were preoccupied with getting rid of all arms and they posed the main danger before the workers as an invasion, or whatever, by Germany. And they didn't carry ... they didn't draw from that ... any socialist conclusions. They didn't draw the conclusion that therefore the workers must take control of society. They had no clear policy at all as far as the workers' struggles were concerned. And the Trotskyist organisations at the time were, unfortunately, divided between at least three different groups. They were very small and ineffective and Trotsky spent most of his time in that period writing material like the articles in "Whither France", the book which is essential reading, not just on France but on the question of 'Popular Frontism'. And they were in disagreement with Trotsky, his views didn't prevail. They were unable to implement a genuine Marxist policy as far as France was concerned. And, therefore, the weight of the Communist and Socialist leaders prevailed and they managed to defuse, to derail, a revolutionary situation in France.

There was a gain for the workers but of course, in the context of a crisis-ridden economy, they simply couldn't be sustained. Blum's government fell at the end of 1937 but the Popular Front continued under the leadership of first Chautemps, and then of Blum again. But they were really governments that were completely paralysed. The Senate, the second body of the French Parliament, kept rejecting his financial bills. They refused to give him exceptional powers to take various economic measures. The Franc was devalued, in spite of what Blum had promised at the beginning, inevitably devalued, which of course opened the way to more rapid inflation. 

The French capitalists, right from the beginning of the Popular Front, had been sending cart loads - or trainloads even - of gold and currency reserves out of the country. [Another lesson that was learned this time - that the trade unions immediately issued instructions to the customs officers in France to search cars for money, and there was no doubt a lot of money was taken out of France in the last few weeks, but probably not as much as in 1936]. And the economy began to go into an even worse crisis. Inflation rose and the bosses, as they felt their strength, began to push and push and push to take them back. And they actually provoked the General Strike in 1938, when a new Conservative government was returned under Daladier, and they provoked the workers into a General Strike. Obviously, the workers felt the need to take action but it was quite like the 1926 General Strike in Britain, which came at the end really of a series of defeats. It was a last ditch, defensive struggle and without a program, without a clear conception of how the struggle could be taken forward, there was really no hope of success and the strike was defeated.  

As I said, the Trade Union organisation fell. The enormous gain in membership was wiped out, and it fell back to the level of the early 1920s, and that there were actually laws introduced or Presidential Orders that annulled virtually every single concession that had been gained in 1936. The first one was the 40-hour week, which was abolished and, as I said, the only thing that was really maintained was the idea of paid holidays but even that wasn't of course necessarily honoured, depending on the situation in the various enterprises. And of course, France slipped into more and more of a crisis, that became bound up with the international crisis, and in 1939 of course there was the outbreak of war between fascist Germany and France - and it wasn't just a war between two nation states, but the majority of the French bourgeoisie immediately capitulated. Through Pétain, they obviously created a stooge regime. These regimes are usually called Quisling regimes, after the bourgeois stooge in Norway, but Pétain was just as much a Quisling himself, and they ruled part of France anyway - they weren't directly occupied - on behalf of the German fascist state, on behalf of German big business. And therefore, the end result of the Popular Front was that fascism really - indirectly - not in such an acute form, but fascist occupation of most of Northern France, and the industrial areas of France, and a stooge regime, that was virtually as bad as the fascists, in Vichy France where of course the same conditions by and large applied: The annulment of Trade Union rights, there was the arrest of political activists, the deportation of French activists and workers and of course the Jewish population of France, to concentration camps in Germany or Poland. And so, in other words, the workers suffered. There were consequences of the victory of fascism in Germany and on a European scale - and that was the outcome of Popular Frontism.

Now, we have to draw the conclusion which would seem obvious to anyone who has studied the ideas of Marxism, whether it's Marx himself or Lenin or Trotsky, but even we'll say for the benefit of the CPers, even of Lenin's ideas, that this wasn't just an accidental defeat, that it wasn't just that this strategy 'could have worked but it didn't work under the circumstances' - what they say in relation to Chile of course: 'Well, there was nothing necessarily wrong with the strategy but you can't guarantee that it's always going to work'. There is some grain of truth in that argument generally. Even if you adopted a correct policy, you can't guarantee that a revolution will be carried through, that it will be successful - of course not - but what you can say, is that if you start out with the policy of Popular Frontism, that it's guaranteed in advance that - unless the workers can overcome that, and throw aside the leaders who are actually implementing that policy - it's unfortunately predetermined that the working-class will be led to defeat and suffer a devastating reaction, in a relatively short time. And that was undoubtedly the consequence at that time - that they had taken the idea of the United Front put forward by Lenin, and Trotsky, in the Communist International in 1921, where they argued of course, that if the Communists were in a minority or the Communist Trade Unions and the Communist Party was in a minority, they had to form an alliance with other parties - but that was workers' parties. And the alliance had to be formed, not just from above, as an agreement to the convenience of the leaders, but from below. In other words, there should be action committees or, in other words, 'Soviet' type of organisations that bound the workers together in actions to actually fight fascism, not just say they were 'defending democracy against fascism' but to actually clear the fascists from the street, to sustain and develop the power of the workers and, above all, that the different workers' parties, and of course the Marxist Party involved in this United Front, would preserve its own parties and its own ideas. Those parties would have to make an independent class policy of the mobilisation of the workers for a program of the socialist transformation of society with the aim of the seizure of power by the working-class. And, of course, the Popular Front conception contradicted that, and was a barrier against that, right from the very beginning. And we have to draw the lessons. 

I would just say to end, that obviously we wouldn't argue that the situation is exactly the same in France today, that the workers are much stronger, that even if there's defeat, because of the policy of Mitterand and the French CP leadership, with the French CP now in the government. It would be wrong to assume that it will be like Chile, that within three years that there will be a bloody and devastating counter-revolution, the workers are much more powerful in France, and the question of the effect on the other European working-class, but nevertheless we can say with certainty that it can't lead to success as far as the work that could have been done. Even the reforms that will be implemented - maybe the capitalist class will take a step backwards in order to prepare for a reaction later as the economy moves into [?] and the workers begin to be disillusioned with the Socialist and the Communist leaders - but, nevertheless, it is a recipe for defeat for exactly the same reasons that the Popular Front government was a recipe, or 'Popular Frontism' was a recipe for defeat in 1936. And we have to draw the lessons, we have to study it thoroughly, the comrades will be discussing it now, but we have to thoroughly discuss and assimilate those lessons in order to apply them to the tasks that face, not just the workers in France at the present time, but the workers in Britain and in other countries where there will also be moves towards 'Popular Frontism' in the future.

The Hungarian Revolution - a talk by Pat Wall

I have uploaded a talk by Pat Wall, Marxist Labour MP for Bradford North from 1987 to 1990, given at a ‘Militant’ Summer Camp in 1981, on YouTube here:

Here is the transcript of the speech:

Comrades, at 3 a.m. on November the 4th 1956, 15 Russian armoured divisions massed at key points in Hungary for the second assault on a largely defenceless people. The first assault had been inconclusive. Moscow claimed - or denied - that it had been consulted on the use of its soldiers in the first assault. The Hungarians had not been expected to resist with bare hands, and small arms, the attack of Russian tanks. Russian soldiers had not been expected to go over to the side and to fraternise with the Hungarian people on the scale which they did. But on this occasion, there was no mistake and at 4:00 a.m. Russian tanks again entered Budapest in 4 days of bitter and bloody fighting which cost the lives of somewhere between 25 and 35,000 Hungarians and probably two and a half to 3,000 Russians. The Hungarian Revolution was crushed in blood.

And that this glorious workers’ revolution should be drowned in blood by those who claim to be the heirs and defenders and the standard bearers of the traditions of the 1917 October Revolution is a bitter irony. Stalinism arose from the impasse of the Russian Revolution. Isolated and backward Russia on the one hand and the failure of the workers revolution throughout Europe and Asia on the other. And it was that that opened the way for the development and the consolidation of Stalinism. The conditions which gave rise to Stalinism have long since disappeared in Russia with the development of industry, technique, education and culture but that doesn't mean that peacefully and gradually that Stalinism will disappear from the scene. Indeed, it's the existence of this deformed worker state, of a bureaucratic totalitarian one party state, that has been the cause of the deformed development of the revolution in a whole series of states in the post-war period: in Hungary, in Czechoslovakia, throughout Eastern Europe, in China, in Burma, in Cuba, in Mozambique, in Angola and in the Horn of Africa. And that in itself has raised for the workers' movement throughout the world, not only in those states, a whole series of new problems. It's not the only factor, but the weakness, or relative weakness, of imperialism and the nonexistence on a mass basis of a Marxist tendency inside the world labour movement has also reinforced that particular development.

And what that means, is that it means for the workers in those states the need again to make a revolution, the need to make a political revolution - not a social revolution - a political revolution, to establish on the basis of the public ownership of the means of production and distribution in that society, a workers' socialist democracy. It means that that has to be done in extremely difficult conditions and it also means that the tool for achieving this aim - that is a revolutionary Marxist party - has to be created in an extremely short space of time and under the most difficult conditions. And nowhere was that process been shown to date more clearly than the events in Hungary in 1956.

But if we're to understand what happened in 1956, it's necessary briefly to look at the prehistory of that particular period in order to see where the Hungarian workers gained their traditions. Hungary in fact was never even an independent nation until 1918, and Hungary as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire fought on the German side in the 1914-18 war and was defeated. From that defeat, the Allies - Britain and France - imposed on Hungary draconic conditions in a treaty. They gave large parts of what had formerly been Hungary to Czechoslovakia and other states, where one Hungarian statesman said an attempt to cripple the already crippled. And that reinforced the movement which was developing in Hungary at that particular time. And the soldiers who returned from fighting in Russia brought with them stories of the Revolution which was developing with inside Russia, of a new state that was arising - a workers' state where land was given to the peasants and the workers would own industry. And in Hungary, quite in isolation from the Red Army who had more than enough to do with the problems which they had fighting the armies of intervention, Soviets were set up, Soviets of workers, of peasants, of intellectuals throughout the length and breadth of Hungary. The Allies forced out of power, on the basis of the treaty they imposed on the Hungarians, the government of that particular time and constitutionally the government of Bela Kun came to power, a government composed mainly of Communists but containing within it a number of Social Democrats. And that government in 1919 proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic. That government lasted only 4 months. That Republic was drowned in blood and tens of thousands of Hungarian Communists, Socialists, Trade Unionists, and thousands of innocent people who would have nothing to do with the revolution or the workers' movements, were murdered by the agents of the White Terror of Admiral Horthy who had been backed by the Allies and supported by the Romanian Army which crushed the Hungarian revolution in blood.

We have to examine why that Revolution was defeated and I would suggest that there were two basic reasons for that defeat. Firstly, the existence within the government, and acting as a brake, a number of Social Democrats who in any event were largely discredited as far as the masses of the Hungarian people were concerned, and secondly the failure to immediately carry out land reform and to distribute the land to the peasants. I think that Kun thought he should bring in eventually some form of collectivization of agriculture. Well, had they proclaimed immediately the revolution ... the Soviet Republic was declared, the land to the peasants, that would not only ensure that the largely peasant population had a real stake in the preservation of the Revolution but it also would have other enormous propaganda effect as far as the Romanian Army which were the major invaders were concerned. In all events, the Revolution was crushed. A regime of decades of Terror was instituted in Hungary and Bela Kun fled to Moscow. Just as an aside, Kun opposed Stalin during the purges of the mid-30s and was executed as a 'Trotskyist' during the purges of the mid 1930s. 

And the Horthy regime existed right up to the outbreak of the Second World War and it entered the Second World War on the side of Hitler. But seeing the way the things were going towards the end of the war, as the Russian army started to advance following the victory at Stalingrad, the Hungarian government attempted to sue for a separate peace or at least to ease its way out of its participation in the war on behalf of the Germans. And the answer of the Nazi regime was to occupy Hungary. 400,000 Hungarian Jews were shipped to the concentration camps. Hundreds - thousands - more of activists within the opponents of the Horthy regime were imprisoned, tortured and murdered. 

And that was the situation when in 1944 the Red Army started to advance into Hungary. And as far as the mass of the Hungarian people were concerned, they shared the traditions of 1917, the Russian Revolution, and 1919, the Hungarian Revolution. They shared the traditions of the Soviets as the organisation for the carrying through of that Revolution. They had a hatred of the Horthy regime and of the Nazi regime, of the Nazi occupation, and the Russians were very largely welcomed by the Hungarian people as their armies began to push the Germans out of Hungary. The peasants began to seize the land. There were first indications of the workers moving in their tradition to form Workers' Councils or Soviets in Hungary. And having given an impulse to the Socialist Revolution in that sense, the Red Army then proceeded to strangle it from the top. On the guise of keeping order, a Hungarian government was formed under General Béla Miklós, who in fact was the holder of Hitler's highest military honour, the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. The government contained two of the leading military gentlemen who cooperated with the Hitler regime. It also included Imre Nagy who was later to play such a prominent role in the events of 1956 as Minister of Agriculture. It contained other Communists, Social Democrats and members of the Smallholders' party. That government still considered and declared that Admiral Horthy was still the leader of Hungary and in his first statement issued to the Hungarian people, on the Red Army's occupied radio, General Vörös, one of the other militarists in the government said, "Long live a free and democratic Hungary under the leadership of Admiral Horthy!". It would be hard to find a statement ... in such a few words which was so contradictory as that. The government declared in its first declaration the sanctity of private property and that private property would continue.

And we have to raise the question, why did the Russians form such a government? And the reason is, that in Hungary a vacuum existed. The Horthy regime had been universally hated - except by the aristocrats and the church, the landowning class in Hungary. That during the Nazi occupation, the aristocrats, the landowners and the capitalists had cooperated with the Nazi regime. Those that hadn't had been shot. They fled when the Red Army occupied Hungary. So, you had a situation where the capitalist class didn't in reality exist, where the old reaction didn't in reality exist. 

I've been listening to a very learned scientific discussion about time and motion and space - which is a little bit above my head - just before I came into this tent, but I know a little bit about science, and I know that nature abhors a vacuum. And the situation in Hungary was, without the intervention of the sort of Governments which the Russians set up, the only force capable of filling that vacuum would have been Councils of Workers and Peasants within Hungary. And therefore, the Russians moved to prevent such a development, which would have posed enormous dangers for the bureaucracy in Moscow and imposed this particular weird Coalition Government onto the backs of the Hungarian people.

Now by 1948 the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe have been consolidated. I think it's important to make the point that the Hungarian Stalinist regime started where the Russian Stalinist regime finished. That in Russia we'd had a situation of a genuine workers' Revolution - for the facts as that Ted [Grant] explained, and I mentioned briefly in opening my contribution, which was became a deformed workers' state, became a totalitarian one party state. In Hungary, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and China and the other Stalinist States, because of the existence of the Russian deformed workers' state, of the one party totalitarian regime in Russia, Hungary started from that basis and never went through the process of a healthy workers' Revolution along the classical lines sketched by the great teachers of Marxism. As a young comrade said in one of the debates either this morning or yesterday what in fact the Stalinists did was to make initially a coalition with the shadow of the capitalist class because in reality it had no substance because they fled with the retreating Nazi armies. And then balancing first on the capitalist class then on the workers' class - the shadow of the capitalist class, then on the workers' class - the Stalinists began to consolidate their regime. Rákosi, the leader - the first Secretary - of the Hungarian Communist Party explained how the revolution - in 'inverted commas' - was made from the top using the Ministry of Interior. The opposition was sliced away slice by slice, as one would slice a salami sausage, and there really is the origin of the famous phrase the 'salami tactic' by which the Stalinists established their control of the state within inside the the countries of Eastern Europe. In every satellite the Communist Party controlled the police, the army and the security forces. In Hungary, the Smallholders' Party, controlling the means of repression - the 'armed bodies of men' with inside society, were soon exposed using the Secret Police in order to find information on them. The Social Democrats, which were part of the governments, were absorbed or most of them were in a forced coalition with the Communist Party. And I'd like to quote - because I think it clearly shows the tactics of the Stalinists at that particular time - the words of Rákosi on this particular subject. And he says that "there was one position control of which was claimed by our Party from the first minute. One position where the party was not inclined to consider any distribution of the post according to the strength of the Parties in the Coalition. This was the State Security Authority. We kept this organization in our hands from the first day of its establishment". And I think that clearly shows the methods which the Stalinists used to establish their regimes in Eastern Europe and the reason that they were able to establish control so firmly, so easily, and so relatively quickly. The ÁVO, the State Security Police in Hungary, became a privileged elite within that society. When the average wage was 1,000 forints in Hungary, an ordinary policeman in the ÁVO received three times that salary, an officer from 9,000 to 12,000 forints, in order to separate the secret police from the mass of the ordinary people.

The occupation by the Red Army was followed by a series of monstrous acts which resulted, not only in Hungary but in Poland and throughout Eastern Europe, the development of a real nationalist feeling against Russian occupation, and against the Russian domination of the countries of Eastern Europe. It's estimated that in the early years of the Rákosi regime, that between 30 and 35% of the national income of Hungary was spent on reparations to Russia and on payments for the garrison of Russian troops within that country. By 1949, because of the appalling living conditions of the Hungarian people, and because signs of unrest were seen, that figure in fact was cut by half. Not only that, but during the whole of that period, the Russians exploited the countries of Eastern Europe in relation to the terms of trade, where Hungary and the other Eastern Europe European satellites were forced to sell their products at under the world market price, and forced to buy Russian products at well over the world market price. And that was the situation which continued until 1949.

But in 1949 and I haven't any time whatsoever to go into it, but along National Stalinist lines, Tito and Yugoslavia broke with Stalin, not on the basis of a movement of workers' democracy but on the basis of the national interest of the bureaucratic clique in Yugoslavia as opposed to the domination of the bureaucratic clique inside the Kremlin. And, arising from that situation and the enormous wave of propaganda by the Russians, against the Tito regime and by the very real fear that the Bulgarians, Hungarians, Romanians and others would follow along the Tito path, a whole series of purges were instituted by Stalin and by the Kremlin throughout Russia and the whole of Eastern Europe. Between 1948 and 1950 nearly half a million members were expelled from the Hungarian Communist Party. Massive purges took place and the haunting of 'Titoists' became a favourite pastime among the bureaucrats. Thousands were arrested and imprisoned and thousands of 'honest Stalinists' if you can use that expression - genuine supporters of the Stalinist movement - were also arrested and imprisoned on trumped up charges. And that didn't stop at the lower ranks, that continued even among the leading figures inside the Communist parties in Eastern Europe. Slánský and Clementis in Czechoslovakia, Koçi Xoxe in Albania, Kostov in Bulgaria, Rajk in Hungary. Kostov was charged with being a friend of Bela Kun who it had been 'proved' was a "Trotskyite-Fascist", and Rajk - I can't pronounce his name: R-A-J-K, I've no idea how he pronounced that - was given a ... was forced to make a confession which is really one of the most disgusting episodes following along the lines of the purges, the two series of show trials in Moscow in the 1930s, was forced, was held in prison from April to when he was tried in September and refused - it's understood - to consistently to sign a confession to say that he was a traitor, an agent of the fascists and that he'd committed crimes against the Hungarian people. And it's believed that he only finally signed on the basis of he was promised that if he did sign his life would be spared. It wasn't, he was executed immediately after the end of the trial. 

And in March, on March the 6th 1953, the Kremlin announced Stalin's death. And that event, the death of the dreaded figure of Stalin, gave an impetus to the developing revolt inside Eastern Europe. In June, mass protests were held in Plzeň in Czechoslovakia around the giant Škoda works, arms factory, which was only quelled by the use of troops. On June the 17th 1953, building workers - construction workers - working in Stalinallee, now I think named Karl-Marx-Allee, in East Berlin walked off the job and staged a demonstration in relation to working conditions and in relation to - later - to political demands that they made along the lines - and I'll explain that more when we deal with Hungary itself - along the lines of the 'Four Points' enumerated by Lenin which Ted [Grant] explained during the course of his lecture on Russia. And that demonstration of East German workers became a massive demonstration of workers throughout East Berlin - joined by students, by workers, by housewives, by intellectuals - and spread rapidly throughout the whole of East Germany, and was only finally defeated - certainly the workers of East Berlin - in two days of fighting against Russian tanks. And in reaction to the events in Germany in June of 1953, from the top, the leaders of the Kremlin attempted to head off the movement from below, by giving concessions from the top. 

And in Hungary, Malenkov advised Rákosi to retire into the background. Imre Nagy became prime minister and certain concessions were made as far as the Hungarian regime was concerned. More emphasis ... the five-year plan was revised and less emphasis was placed on heavy industry and more on light industry in order to make available more consumer goods as far as the masses were concerned. Certain rights were given in relation to an overwhelming vote in relation to the dissolving of collective farms. The hasted ÁVO secret security police were given a less prominent role and told to keep more in the background. 

But, as the bureaucracy throughout its whole history has moved from repression to concessions, to repression and back to concessions, never to get off the backs of the working class but in order to establish its own rule, by 1955 when Khrushchev had replaced Malenkov in some form of panic and doubt about the developments which were taking place in Hungary, and the growing disturbance among the writers and intellectuals in Hungary, Imre Nagy was removed as prime minister, replaced again by Rákosi. Nagy was in fact expelled from the Communist Party though not put in prison at that particular time for being an 'irreconcilable right-wing deviationist'. Yet very shortly the situation was reversed again because in February of 1956 Khrushchev, in the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party,  Khrushchev made his famous speech / revelations outlining the role of Stalin during his years of rule - of the purges, of the false accusations, of the false arrests, of the mass deportations, of the slave labour camps, and all the things which the Stalinists for generations had denied, and were said were 'Trotskyist lies' and were the work of fascists, all those were revealed to a startled world - and an even more startled communist movement throughout the world. Revelations which caused enormous upheavals in the British, French, Italian and many other Communist Parties. The revelations which were made, not by accident and not by mistake as far as Khrushchev was concerned. Revelations which were made because following the death of Stalin, following the unstable situation which existed particularly in Russia itself, that the failure to expose Stalin and to promise reforms, and to promise liberalisation, would have led to a revolt from below, not only in Poland and Hungary but within Russia itself and in order to buy time - and it's what some 20 years now 25 years - in order to buy time Khrushchev made those revelations, at the same time enormously damaging the position of the Communist Parties in the rest of the world.

And as far as Poland and Hungary were concerned, those revelations gave an impetus to the growing movement of revolt which was taking place in both those countries. On June the 28th of 1956, the workers at the ZISPO locomotive works in Poznań in Poland went on strike, and as the news spread, they walked out of the factory, a mass movement developed not only in Poznań but in many other areas of Poland. The slogans that the workers carried were 'Peace' and 'Bread', 'Out with the Russians', 'End to piecework' and slogans of that particular character. And Russian tanks surrounded Poznań, but eventually after 2 days it was in fact Polish tanks which were sent in and again crushed the revolt, the strike of the Polish workers, in blood. And that created an enormous panic as far as the Stalinist regime in Poland was concerned. Gomułka, who had been excommunicated from the Communist Party in 1951, and who'd been under house arrest since 1954, was suddenly given a new party card and in a very short period of time was brought back into the leadership of the Polish Communist Party and became First Secretary. And on that basis, and on the basis of opposition to the demands that Khrushchev and his agents and his representatives made, on the basis of national Stalinist lines, Gomułka was able to head off the revolt of the Polish workers for a temporary period. But how narrow the base of that regime! Because since Gomułka, we've had Gomułka removed by another movement of the Polish workers, we've had his successor Gierek removed by another movement of the Polish workers, and the events of 1980 and 1981, I can't remember, I think have removed two or is it three further leaders of the Polish Communist Party as the Polish workers move into action.

And similar events to those in Poland in 1956 were taking place in Hungary. The 'Petőfi Circle' - which was a group of writers and intellectuals under the new liberalisation, the slight relaxation which had taken place in Eastern Europe - began more and more to openly voice criticisms of the Stalinist regime, to demand the right of writers to write the truth, to demand the end of censorship as far as Hungarian literature and newspapers were concerned. And that was followed, at a meeting of the Hungarian Writers' Union, at the removal from office of all the supporters of the Rákosi regime and the putting into office of the liberal opposition elements ... among the Petőfi Circle and among the Writers' Union. And meetings of a few hundred or a few dozens, became meetings of thousands as workers - mainly the intellectuals at that particular stage - discussed the possibility of a 'Hungarian road to Socialism', of an end to Russian occupation, of a liberalisation, of changes to the regime, of the right to access to the media, of the right to print uncensored their material. And more and more the criticism and discussion moved away from discussion of literature and the rights of writers, to the very organisation of society itself.

Julia Rajk, the widow of the Rajk who had been purged as explained, and murdered in a show trial, spoke at a meeting organised by the Petőfi Circle in which she demanded not only the rehabilitation of her husband - which had been done by the regime, in passing, a few months earlier - but the trial and the bringing to punishment of those guilty for his murder. And under the temper of events, Rákosi was again removed by the Russians but replaced on this occasion by his first lieutenant Gerő. By the end of September of 1956, as foment grew, the working class began to make demands for a right to independent trade unions, for the right for some say - and they were modest demands which the workers first made - in the running of the factories and the organisation of production in Hungarian society. As I say the movement and the impetus of the revolt of the Hungarian workers began to mature and began to develop. And at that particular time, the trial took place in Poland of the workers arrested and accused of creating an uprising in Poznań that I spoke about a few minutes ago. And it was decided to hold a mass demonstration, mainly again of intellectuals, students and the middle class, in Budapest in solidarity with the Polish people. And that particular demonstration, the government wasn't quite sure whether or not that it should be allowed to go ahead, go but in the event this particular demonstration did go ahead. Before that the government attempted to head off the movement by having a state funeral as far as Rajk was concerned. It was very interesting in relation to that there was an old ... a Hungarian joke at that particular time which said 'What is the difference between a Christian and a Communist?' and the answer was that 'a Christian believes in the hereafter, a Communist believes in rehabilitation hereafter!'. And 200,000 people attended the funeral - the reburial of Rajk.

But the mass demonstration of solidarity with the Poles began with a march to the statue of a Polish General Bem, a Pole who had fought in the Hungarian Revolution against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. And tens of thousands of people took part - probably hundreds of thousands of people in this particular demonstration. They went to the square, one speech making very modest demands was made, and then it was decided to march to the Parliament building. Gerő at that time was in Moscow discussing the situation with the Kremlin. As the people marched to the Parliament Square and stood in front of the Parliament Square in silence, from the loud speakers outside the Parliament building a speech of Gerő was broadcast to the assembled demonstration, [in] which Gerő said that the student demonstrations were a provocation, that the party would protect the regime, would deal firmly with any opposition, that the pact with Russia was indissoluble and nobody could move to change that particular situation. And the mood of the crowd changed from what had been a peaceful and entirely silent demonstration and they marched instinctively to the state radio station and marched on that, joined on this occasion by thousands of workers who were leaving their factories and places of work in order to go home. When they arrived at the state radio station, they found it cordoned by two rings of armed ÁVO men with machine guns. The demonstration was still peaceful and they spoke to the policeman and they said 'we only want the right to send the small delegation in to speak to the ... to put the point of view of the Hungarian people as opposed to the lies that Gerő has put on the radio', and eventually a small delegation was allowed in. The workers stood, and the students laughed and joked outside. For half an hour the delegation didn't appear, three-quarters of an hour the delegation hadn't reappeared and the crowd became angry. It pushed through the first cordon of ÁVO men but when it came to the second cordon, with a police mentality - and entirely lunatic in the particular situation, they fired with their machine guns and shot to death and wounded many people in the crowd. But such was the enormity of the crowd, that they were swept aside. Their machine guns were captured and the demonstrators started to fire on the windows of the state radio station and attempt to capture it. In that sense the first Hungarian insurrection had begun.

At the news of the events in Sándor Street, at the radio station, thousands of workers poured onto the streets, into the main squares, into the working-class districts in Budapest. Workers from the arms factories went and took the arms from the factory, soldiers and policemen joined and fraternised with the people and handed over their guns to the demonstrations, and this enormous movement of the workers, this insurrection of the working people with inside Budapest, spread from Budapest throughout the length and breadth of Hungary. The workers immediately declared a general strike, and throughout Hungary immediately, in the traditions of 1919, the workers moved to construct Workers Councils' or Soviets, and very rapidly to link these Workers Councils' on a regional and eventually on a national basis. 

Nagy was made overnight prime minister, resurrected yet again. Within a few days Rákosi was removed and Kádár, who had himself been a prisoner of the regime and whose missing fingernails and burns testified to the torture he received from the ÁVO, became first Secretary of the Communist Party. But it's certainly almost certain that it was Nagy who asked for the intervention of Russian troops at that particular stage and Russian tanks entered Budapest and were met with the resistance of the working people using Molotov cocktails, using one captured artillery piece, using any methods they could they for days - four to five days - fought Russian troops and fought them virtually to a standstill. The two main areas they defended, they defended right through until Russian tanks were eventually removed. And many of the Russian soldiers who took part in that intervention were absolutely horrified of what they saw. When they spoke to the Hungarian workers and heard of the demands that the Hungarian workers were making they fraternised, went over, refused to fire on the Hungarians. There's stories of a Russian tank actually taking people to a demonstration outside the Parliament building, saying to the workers 'climb aboard' and we'll take you there. On the basis of that, and the confusion of the leadership of both the Hungarian Communist Party and of the Kremlin, Russian tanks would eventually be withdrawn Budapest - but to ring the city, a few miles outside the city, and not to be removed from Hungary itself.

An immense, confused situation then developed, as the workers made increasing demands as far as the regime was concerned. No end to the general strike, until the Russian troops were removed, demands which were entirely in line, as I said before, with the demands which the workers made in East Germany and with the 'Four Conditions' that Lenin laid down. And recognising that a system really of dual power existed within Hungary the Nagy-Kádár government was forced to make concessions as far as the workers were concerned. In words, they promised to recognise the Workers' Councils. In words, they promised to democratise and reform all aspects of Hungarian life, including the government and the Hungarian Communist Party. But, while giving those words, the Kremlin decided that it had to intervene to finally crush the Hungarian Revolution. Kádár, who had been considered a liberal, and three other members of his government went to negotiate with the Russians and declared a 'Provisional Government' in Hungary, denounced the government of Nagy and called for the intervention of the Russian army to cross the "fascist uprising" as they called it, the "counter-revolution" within Hungary. At 4:00 on that November morning, thousands of Russian tanks entered Budapest. Budapest was ringed by guns and bombarded. Nevertheless, knowing they would be defeated, the Hungarian workers fought back. And it took four days to crush the workers in Budapest, and a further week to crush the workers throughout Hungary. Children of 13 and 14 fought tanks with Molotov cocktails. There were 30 or 40 Russian tanks were destroyed, and, as I say, anything from 25 to 35,000 people - Hungarian people - died in that particular thing. And when armed resistance was finally crushed, the workers remained on strike and the power of the Workers' Councils and the support for the Workers' Councils actually increased as far as Hungary was concerned. 

And a period of negotiation took place as the regime - the Stalinist regime, on the basis of Russian tanks, began to consolidate itself. And it's worth remembering that the Russian troops who'd been brought for the second attack were fresh troops. They'd been brought from Soviet Asia because they wouldn't speak the language of the Hungarian workers and they wouldn't live in the same sort of social conditions as the Hungarian workers were concerned. And you have to ask the question, 'Why did they send tanks into Budapest, when infantry would have much more effectively done the job?'. It's because those tanks separated the Russian soldiers from the Hungarian workers, and nevertheless thousands of Russian troops had to be removed from Hungary and sent home in sealed vans. Many of those troops came to Hungary believing they were fighting fascists in East Berlin and didn't really realise that they had been sent to Budapest. Such was the effect of the heroism, and the courage, and the appeal of the Hungarian workers at that particular time.

Finally, Imre Nagy was abducted from the Yugoslav Embassy and I think killed in Romania - was murdered, executed in Romania - and finally the regime moved to crush the Workers' Councils. The ÁVO, which had been atomised in the uprising of the Hungarian people, was reformed on the initials of the ÁVH. The vermin crawled out from behind the stones and launched a terrible purge against the flower of the Hungarian working class. Tens of thousands were arrested. Many were summarily shot or hanged, and finally the Hungarian Revolution was broken, and the Stalinist regime was re-established with inside Hungary. 

The 'Daily Worker' and the Communist movement throughout the world, claimed that Hungary was a 'Fascist Uprising', was a fascist counter-revolution - and I don't think it's necessary to go into any detail in answering that appalling slander. What 'Fascist Revolution' was ever led by councils of workers? At no time at all did the workers in Hungary ever put forward any position which called for the restoration of capitalism, but on numerous occasions they said that they defended the state ownership of production. What they wanted was workers' control over that production, and workers' control over the state!