David Irving and the 1956 Revolution
[This is Extract 1]
[...] WHEN Irving embarked on his research, political interest in 1956 had already started to wane in the West. By 1966, one had the feeling that the Western media were willing to turn a blind eye on 1956 as a result of Kádár's successful efforts at consolidating his rule. However, by the time Irving's book was published in 1981, this momentary lapse of interest had passed. It was not just the anniversary that placed Irving's book in an entirely different context. Dramatic changes were fermenting inside the Soviet Empire and superpower relations, changes which all worked towards enhancing the significance of 1956. From a major tragic episode in the Cold War years, it was beginning to take on the status of the Soviet Empire's Stalingrad.
It is worth examining Irving's book in this context. I shall not bother pointing out the factual errors. From the historian's viewpoint there is much more to learn by studying what kind of picture Irving presents of 1956 in 1981 to a western audience that unanimously regarded the 1956 Revolution as a democratic popular movement.
The title Uprising! already indicates that, in defiance of the popular view, the author does not see 1956 as a revolution. In his Introduction he quotes Trotsky: "Historians and politicians usually give the name of spontaneous insurrection to a movement of the masses united by a common hostility against the old regime, but not having a clear aim, deliberated methods of struggle, or leadership, consciously showing the way to victory"; then he continues his argument by claiming the following: "What happened in Hungary in October 1956 was not a revolution but an insurrection. It was an uprising. When it began it was spontaneous and leaderless, and it was truly a movement of the masses bound by one common hatred of the old regime."
In his introduction Irving dissociated himself from the view that assigned to Imre Nagy and the group of intellectuals rallying around him -- whom he repeatedly calls "eggheads" -- a glorious role either in the uprising, or in the preparations leading to it. "Nor am I tempted to shed tears over the fate of Imre Nagy, who found himself cast willy-nilly in the role of rebel premier. I (...) find little that distinguishes him from the other faceless Communists who were carried into power from Moscow exile, and sustained there by the guns of Soviet tanks."
Irving takes an avid interest in the Jewish element among those who played a role in Hungarian history after the war and during 1956. The book's English edition begins with a biographical rundown of the main protagonists. Each entry, where it is at all possible, begins with the statement "Jewish" (Irving actually makes occasional mistakes), a statement which precedes information relating to occupation or position. In the rest of these potted biographies Irving fails to mention whether or not the person is "Magyar". He reveals nothing of the origins of Cardinal Mindszenty (originally Péhm), György Marosán or János Csermanek (Kádár's original surname), surnames that all suggest non-Magyar origins). Interestingly, this biographical list was not included in the German edition of the book. Irving explained to a reviewer of the German edition, Wilhelm Dietl, "this could have caused misunderstandings in Germany." Jewish origin is indicated even for individuals who had absolutely nothing to do with the events in Hungary, as with one French journalist: "Michel Gordey, Jewish reporter on France-Soir".
Irving makes no bones about his opinion that the Jewish question and anti-Semitism played a crucial role in the Hungarian events. The latent anti-Semitism of the ordinary population was aroused by the all-out terror unleashed by the Jewish clique both among the Muscovite Communists and in the ÁVH (State Security Bureau), still trying to avenge the mass-murder of Jews in 1944. While still in Moscow, through his dealings in the Comintern, Mátyás Rákosi seized leadership of the Hungarian Communist Party with "the tact of a kosher butcher"); upon his return to Hungary he used similar brutality in slicing up the non-Communist political parties. After all this it was small wonder if the "regime's high Jewish profile caused deep popular resentment..." On the basis of the interviews conducted with Hungarian refugees of 1956 as part of Columbia University's Oral History Project, he [Irving] states: "Paradoxically, the anti-Semitism generated by the Communist activities was so pervasive that many Jews were themselves infected by it." The second, 1986, edition of his book also had a subtitle, "One Nation's Nightmare".
This explains why Irving's account wasted no words on the political turn that the year 1953 (Imre Nagy's first premiership) had brought, just as it also ignored the Party's internal opposition gathering around Imre Nagy, the Petöfi Circle, the workers' councils, the local revolutionary committees, and the re-established political parties, all of which were considered important political factors in historical works devoted to 1956. In Irving's view, Imre Nagy drifted helplessly with the events. Initially he tried to preserve the Party's power. Irving takes Marosán's claim at face value, whereby Imre Nagy had consented to inviting the Soviet troops on the night of October 23. Later, Nagy was forced to accept the insurgents' demands under the pressure of the the street. "Bit by bit he was dragging himself like a mortally injured cowboy along the dusty track down which the rebel hordes had long galloped with their demands. He could never catch up."
THE mob besieged the Communist party headquarters on Budapest's Republic-square (Köztársaság Square); as the remaining defenders emerged, they were mercilessly shot down and subjected to ritual degradation -- a spoon, a cigarette stub, a coin; Communist party paybooks were tossed onto the corpses. (Original photos from the Irving collection)
Irving regards the insurgent street-fighters as the true protagonists of 1956. In that light it is all the more peculiar that, with a few exceptions, he habitually refers to them as "rebel/revolutionary mob" or "hordes". He has little sympathy for the secret police, the ÁVH, yet he hints that "As Münnich and his evil cronies must have foreseen, in the country's present mood the result of disbanding of the ÁVH was bound to be a pogrom." As, indeed, the events proved.
"The mob rage was primeval, primitive and brutal. It was the closest that the uprising came to an anti-Semitic pogrom, as the largely Jewish ÁVH officials were mercilessly winkled out of the boltholes where they fled," Irving writes on the lynchings.
Similarly to the "counter-revolutionary" accounts loyal to Kádár, Irving, too, presents the bloodbath in Köztársaság Square (above) as the crucial turning point, the moment when Imre Nagy and his government completely lost control of events. It was typical of the ensuing chaos, according to Irving, that on November 1 the Communist apparatchiks rallying around Nagy were already talking of a possible repetition of the White Terror that had followed the put-down of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919.
As the story goes, it was precisely these developments, the death of Party Secretary Imre Mezö and the threat of a civil war, which motivated Kádár to switch to the Russian side. The picture is a dramatic one: Kádár swears revenge at Imre Mezö's deathbed. Both he and Khrushchev had to hurry if they wanted to salvage something from the situation. "A historic decision confronts Khrushchev. He cannot risk a NATO presence in Hungary, nor can he delay his action too long: at any moment a final pogrom may liquidate the country's remaining funkies."