The Hungarian and Polish revolutions of 1956 mark a new period not only in the straggle for socialist freedom against Stalinism, but also in the fight against war and the danger of war.
Its impact is not only on the underpinnings of the Russian empire but also on the bases of the Western capitalist war alliance.
Yesterday, supporters of the Western camp and its structure of military alliances with some of the most reactionary forces in the world, like Franco and Chiang Kai-shek could scoff at the socialist alternative: the "visionary" idea of a democratic foreign policy which was aimed at blowing up the Russian empire from within – a socialist and revolutionary foreign policy, fundamentally incompatible with capitalism.
Yesterday, they could feel "realistic" and "practical" in supporting the line of an imperialist military alliance against the Stalinist threat, as the only thing that could save the "free world" from totalitarian conquest and enslavement.
But the revolution that was "unrealistic" yesterday now stands astride East Europe as big as life.
It is the world's most massive buffer against war.
And at the same time the NATO war alliance is seen to play the role of a reactionary barrier to the spread of this revolution which is the hope of the world.
It was the bogy of NATO and its rearmament of Germany, and virtually only this argument,' which was trotted out in Poland in order to turn back the onrush of the revolution. Gomulka's speeches pointed to the West's war bases as the justification of and reason for the maintenance of Russian troops in Poland, as against the revolutionists' demands. It was an argument that worked.
Even in Hungary, where no Stalinist argument had any chance of working, the main propagandists weapon resorted to was to try to smear the revolution with a tie-up to the West, with capitalist "restorationism," with pro-Western reactionaries like Cardinal Mindszenty.
The West's stock of H-bombs is no friend of the revolution against Stalinism. It is its enemy.
IN SPITE OF NATO
Right after the Hungarian Revolution, even American party-liners could see what was now the greatest deterrent to war. "U.S. SEES REVOLTS ENDING WAR THREAT," was the headline over a N. Y. Herald Tribune think-piece by Marguerite Higgins. The. Scripps-Howard foreign editor cabled from Berlin that the "best-informed diplomats" said "The biggest effect of the Polish-Hungarian revolts on the world situation will be to restrain Russian aggression in Europe," and the East Europe empire is no longer "a defensive fortress for Russia and a base for attack on the West" but rather a death trap for Russian armies" - all because of the revolution.
Very true. But that which he says is no longer true happens to be the only reason used to justify the existence of NATO and the whole military alliance policy of the U. S. and the Western capitalist world.
In this new era of the same social revolution for socialist freedom against Stalinism, the danger of the third world war, whose shadow has been hanging over the world, now recedes. This is so not because of NATO but in spite of it; not because of the United States' stock of H-bombs but in spite of it; not because of Western threats of "massive retaliation" but in spite of them; not because the Stalinist camp is overawed or intimidated by a rearmed and remilitarized Germany in the heart of Europe, but in spite of the reactionary effects of this move.
Russia's greatest assist in its brutal massacre of the Hungarian people came from those mainstays of NATO, America's two leading allies England and France, when (together with Israel) they stole the show from Budapest by falling on Egypt in order to restore their imperialist power in the Middle East and North Africa. There has never been any more spectacular demonstration of how the two rapacious imperialisms, east and west, feed on each other's crimes.
What liberal can now find a reason for justifying the "realistic" policy of bolstering up Franco, and thus repressing the Spanish revolution, in the name of "defending the free world" against Stalinist armies pictured as sweeping over Europe? What inspires the revolution against Stalinism – American aid and friendship to this fascist ex-ally of Hitler, or a democratic and anti-imperialist policy of friendship with the revolutionary forces against this tyranny?
In Stalinist China, just as Gomulka points his finger at German militarization under the American aegis, so Mao Tse-tung points to the fact that the only American-sponsored alternative to his own totalitarian rule is the return of that butcher of the Chinese people, Chiang Kai-shek. Which is a bigger blow against the war treat - the installation of atomic guided missiles in Chiang's Formosa, as has now been clone, or a break with this Chiang as part of a genuinely democratic foreign policy?
Which builds that "death trap" for Stalinism? And which on the other hand permits the Russians to extricate themselves from the consequences of the crushing hatred felt by the satellite peoples?
Which inspires the peoples of East Europe to put sharp teeth in the "death trap" - U. S. backing of a monarchist dictatorship in Jordan based on everything reactionary, backward and primitive in that country, bought for dollars, or rather a United States that would line itself up in sympathy with progressive, anti-imperialist Arab aspirations?
The policy and very existence of the Western capitalist war camp is an impediment to the revolution against Stalinism. But the revolution against Stalinism is the greatest obstacle to war. This is the big lesson of the East European revolution to the West.
TO HELP HUNGARY
All this is bound up with the main reasons why the Western powers could not aid the Hungarian revolution. We mean aid politically, not militarily, since no socialist can advocate that the U. S. precipitate the third world war for this or any other fair-seeming pretext.
Here too, under the direct impact of the revolutionary situation, even American party-liners got a glimmering.
• A New Leader editorial last November came out for steps, toward a withdrawal of "all foreign troops from the Continent," in order to bring about "entirely new political possibilities [which] would emerge if Soviet troops went home."
• The London Observer reported that even Eisenhower himself was toying with the idea. There were people in Washington who were. The N. Y. Herald Tribune's Marguerite Higgins came out with a column that started like a manifesto: "There is a way of helping Hungary. . . This involves a dynamic move by the U.S. ... to offer boldly to withdraw American forces west of the Rhine in Europe on condition that Russia withdraw forthwith from Eastern Europe and give Germany its freedom..."
• In the New Republic about the same time, Richard Lowenthal discussed "Hungary—Were We Helpless?" He too offers a version of this idea. "It was the only chance," he says, of influencing the Russians' action, and "this chance was missed."
Yesterday, when socialists proposed withdrawal of troops we were told that U. S. soldiers were the only defence against the Stalinist hordes. We replied that the real defence was the awakening of the revolution against Moscow. It was worth a smirk, a blank stare, or remarks about dogmatists who haven't learned anything. Now Republican journalists and State Department hangers-on were talking nostalgically about what should have been done and the chances that were missed.
To be sure, this mood did not and could not last long with these elements: their idea had cropped up under the impress of dramatic struggles, not of a consistent idea; and they were able to forget it as soon as the headlines ceased screaming. It fitted in with none of their other ideas; it dropped out.
The whole bold conception can be an integral part only of a revolutionary approach to the problem of the war danger. The perspective of awakening revolution against Moscow requires that the revolutionary spirit first be awakened on this side.
But this flare-up of political thinking illuminated the potentiality. Try to imagine a Western world which has given up its military-base and H-bomb encirclement of Russia in order to permit the revolution to encircle Russia; which has aligned itself in practice with the colonial peoples of Asia and Africa in order to spotlight the colonialism of Moscow; which has ceased to be the ally and prop of every outlived despot and reactionary in the non-Stalinist world; in other words, a Western world which is following a consistently democratic and anti-imperialist foreign policy:
What a tremendous impulsion would be given to the volcanic revolutionary forces which are battering at the inner vitals of the Russian empire!
THEY WERE AFRAID
This is not the only way in which political (not military) help could have come from the West. We are not only talking about demonstrations of solidarity - though even on this elementary ground the American labor movement was a disgrace. (It collected tens of thousands of dollars for relief purposes for refugees, etc., but its only manifestation of solidarity was, alas, in supporting a Madison Square Rally in New York which was dominated by a largely reactionary audience and which made news by booing Anna Kethly.)
Rainer Hildebrandt, German author of The Explosion, the book on the East German uprising of June 1953, has described how in West Berlin and West Germany workers' demonstrations and workers' leaders demanded that an appeal be made to the East German workers to come to the support of the Hungarian and Polish fighters. The chairman of the West Berlin trade unions, Ernst Scharnowski, had proposed that an appeal be broadcast to the East German working class for a "peaceful general strike" of solidarity. But the authorities made sure nothing was done. As in June 1953 for that matter, they were scared most of all by the very idea of revolutionary struggle, even if directed against the Stalinists, since it is contagious.
"I personally believe," wrote Hildebrandt, who is only a good liberal and not even a socialist, "that if at the end of October there had been sit-down strikes in Germany, the Soviets would not have been able to launch their bloodbath in Hungary. The Soviet military forces are not homogeneous. Soviet soldiers joined the Hungarian freedom-fighters in the first days of revolt, and many Russians in uniform snowed sympathy for the Hungarians. It would have been a great risk to proceed with such an army against several oppressed peoples simultaneously.
"Once before, the West passed up such a magnificent opportunity: On June 1953, when the construction workers in East Berlin called for a general strike, Western government quarters knowingly suppressed the words 'general strikes'. The radio stations [of West Berlin] were not allowed to broadcast this slogan. Today we know that if the forces which on the following day created 'June 17' had assumed the form not of an explosion but of a strike lasting several days, the strike would have spread to the major plants of these satellites and the forced-labor camps of the Soviet Union."
But the truth is that the Western leaders were almost as much afraid of the spread of revolution as the Stalinist rulers themselves! Their failure to act was not due to stupidity or timidity alone but to their political nature.
This startling fact has been put down in black and white by prominent spokesmen and commentators themselves. Last
October and November the N. Y. Times and other papers were full of categorical reports from Washington as to the fears of the State Department that the East European revolution would get out of hand. To cite one: on October 28 Thomas J. Hamilton of the Times Washington bureau wrote of the "Hungarian patriots" that "Their successes thus far, paradoxically enough, cause some forebodings in Washington." The Times' Drew Middleton cabled from London that opinion there looked on the Hungarian Revolution as weakening "democratic forces," and complained that "events have moved beyond the capacity of the West to guide or advise."
HOPE AND A PORTENT
The "West" was getting as uneasy as Moscow that things were out of its control.
Foreign Minister Pineau of France publicly warned in a speech against any Western attempt to "exploit" the Polish and Hungarian revolts. It might give Moscow a pretext to go back on "de-Stalinization," he explained, like many others - as if Moscow's "de-Stalinization" was more than a demagogic illusion if it was just looking for an excuse to go back on it!
Walter Lippman, most bluntly, soberly indicated warnings against helping the spread of the East European revoution on the ground that revolution, afer all, was contagious. "If such a rebelion were to spread to Eastern Germany, as it might well do, it would almost certainly mean that in some way or other Western Germany would be sucked into the conflict."
And after Western Germany – what?
A portentous revolutionary perspective opens up. The Western ideologists draw back in fright. They cannot hold-on to any revolutionary weapons to break up the Stalinist empire. Their only conception of a deal for "peace" is a deal to divide the world into spheres of power between the two empires – with Russia 'containing' itself within its own bailiwick. They can think only of an imperialist road to 'peace' which sacrifices the subject peoples to the masters on both sides.
The revolution in East Europe is a mortal danger to both war camps. It is therefore also the hope of socialism and peace on both sides of the world.