A REGIME OF TYRANNY
With the defeat of the world’s strongest anarchist movement, the authoritarian state — democratic, communist, fascist — was now triumphant everywhere and the stage cleared for the ultimate expression of its triumph — war. Within months of the fall of Barcelona the world was engulfed in destruction and death.
The scale of the Second World War’s suffering, chaos and waste defies understanding; numbers lose any meaning. As in the First World War, yet on an even greater scale, politicians, bureaucrats, industrialists and generals ran riot in their worship of death. Whole societies were mobilised for war. Entire populations were uprooted and scattered. Complete cities, with centuries of history, were obliterated in a single night. Immense armies fought futile battles in deserts and snow. The world’s material wealth was concentrated upon destruction. Scientists focussed their minds upon creating terrible weapons to kill yet more people more quickly. After six years, the monstrous orgy culminated in a final, split-second of agony over the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In all, at least forty-five million people died, nearly half of them Russian.
When the flames and smoke died away, further horror was revealed in a list of names that now symbolise the capacity of the modern state to order and plan mass extermination: Oranienburg, Ravensbruck, Buchenwald, Treblinka, Dachau, Birkenau, Belsen and Auschwitz. An immense state organisation had been created with the single task of eradicating human beings as economically as possible. Bureaucrats and clerks arranged all the detailed procedures of annihilation: they organised transport and delivery timetables from all areas of Europe to unloading points at concentration camps and administered death to nine million people. The discovery of this modern barbarism could only produce the deepest pessimism. As George Orwell wrote: ‘If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever.’
Stalin died on March 6th, 1953. Within months a workers’ revolt in Czechoslovakia was quickly crushed. Shortly afterwards, a rebellion sparked off by Berlin building workers spread throughout East Germany and was subdued by Russian tanks after days of bitter street-fighting. In June 1956, Polish workers struck in Poznan for workers’ control, higher pay and lower prices. As the strike spread, thousands took to the streets and a full-scale uprising seized the city. Cries of ‘Freedom and Bread’ and ‘Out with the Russians’ were only silenced by the use of tanks.
In Hungary, in 1956, the Writers’ Union Congress denounced ‘the regime of tyranny’. The poet Konya asked:
‘In the name of what morality do the Communists consider themselves justified in committing arbitrary acts against their former allies, staging witch-trials, persecuting innocent people, treating genuine revolutionaries as if they were traitors, gaoling and killing them? In the name of what morality?’
On October 23rd, 1956, in Budapest, 155,000 demonstrated ‘in solidarity with our Polish brothers and sisters’. Marching on the radio station, they paused to tear down a huge statue of Stalin but its jackboots held fast. The radio station was ringed by the AVO, the hated security police. Without warning they machine-gunned the peaceful crowd.
The Hungarian revolution had begun. The night shift at an arms factory rushed truck loads of weapons to the city centre, where thousands of workers had gathered. Police and soldiers handed their arms over to the people. By early the following morning the main streets were in the hands of the workers and students, a Revolutionary Council was formed in Budapest and a General Strike soon spread to all of Hungary.
Russian tanks, entering Budapest to aid the threatened Government, met furious resistance. Armed only with light weapons and molotov cocktails, thousands fought back. After three days thirty tanks were destroyed and Russian tank crews began siding with the rebels.
Workers' councils were formed in factories, steel mills, power stations, coal mines and railway depots throughout Hungary. Peasants , spontaneously formed their own councils, redistributed land, and supplied the towns with food.
From the first day liberated radio stations broadcast the news across the country.
With the General Strike complete, the councils began to federate and within a week established a Council Republic. Government ceased to exist. The workers’ councils then issued an ultimatum — the strike would continue until all Russian troops quit the country. On October 30th, the Red Army tanks pulled out of Hungary. It seemed as if the people had won.
But on November 4th the tanks returned. Having regrouped beyond the borders, fifteen Russian divisions, now with six thousand tanks, fell upon the Hungarian people. All major cities were pounded by artillery fire. In Budapest, the workers’ districts bore the brunt of the assault. The people fought back as best they could, but the entire city was shelled continuously for four days and soon lay in ruins. After ten days of terrible fighting, with thousands dead and injured, the people finally gave in.
Guerrilla bands fought on throughout 1957 but the last workers’ councils were abolished on November l7th. Strikes and demonstrations continued until 1959.