___II. The Revolution and World Politics___Vissza

The Revolution and World Politics

For the historian now it is clear that the Revolution’s fate was decided by international politics, above all, by the decisions of the Soviet leadership, acting in the context of overall world politics. In order to understand these moves, it is necessary to survey the international implications of all that happened in Hungary after 23 October. If the events of the preceding years were connected to changes in world politics, after the outbreak of the armed uprising and the Soviet intervention, Hungary’s fate came to be almost entirely dependent on the reactions of the great powers and other members of the world community.

Hopes and illusions in Hungary

Although the claim has been interminably reiterated by Communist propagada, the West was not directly responsible for instigating the Hungarian revolution. However, the previously mentioned double faced foreign policy of the United States toward Eastern Europe undoubtedly contributed indirectly to the fact that social unrest in Hungary eventually manifested itself in the form of an armed uprising. Those young workers and students who risked their lives in taking up arms against the overwhelmingly superior forces of the Soviet military and the ÁVH were, for the most part, thoroughly convinced by all the misleading liberation propaganda that the West, particularly the United States, would make good on the promises to provide armed assistance to the Hungarian people if it rose up against Soviet domination, or at the very least that it would employ all the political weapons at its disposal in order to force the Soviet Union to acquiesce in the Hungarian desire for independence.(23)

The principal foreign political demands of Hungarian society at the time of the Revolution were, for the most part, not founded upon an awareness of world political realities. This is due partly to the fact that the general public held illusions which hindered, and in some instances even precluded a clear assessment of Hungary’s international circumstances, and partly to the general propensity of people to make unrealistic demands during the upheaval and agitation of revolution.

A significant portion of Hungarian society mistakenly believed (and still believes) that the spheres of influence established in Europe after World War II were just temporary arrangements and that the Revolution offered the Western powers an exceptional opportunity to change them. The majority of Hungarians were only able to perceive those world political trends which were encouraging for their aspirations. Although the new orientation of East-West relations were leading to a rapprochement between the two world superpowers they continued believing in the unchanged American propaganda emphasizing that the United States would never write off the so-called captive nations. The armed freedom-fighters in particular were counting on military intervention; it was precisely these people who harbored the greatest illusions regarding the world political environment, though they were generally aware of the fact that their struggle against the vastly superior Soviet forces would fail without outside support. Consequently the insurgents commonly appealed both personally to Western journalists or diplomats and en masse before the Budapest legations of the Western powers for political and military intervention as well as arms and ammunition.(24)

It is important to note that the nonbelligerent political entities which sprang up at the time of the uprising, such as the revolutionary and national committees and the workers’ councils just like the reforming political parties(25), did not make similar requests for direct Western assistance. This was due partly to the general inclination toward self-restraint characteristic of the initial stages of the Revolution—for most people were quite aware that exaggerated repudiation of the Soviet Union would certainly provoke immediate Soviet intervention—and partly to the fact that most of these revolutionary organs were directed by intellectuals and workers who tended to advocate an essentially socialist ‘third road’ for Hungary which precluded the idea of Western military intervention.

The widespread illusions regarding the will and ability of the United Nations to mediate a settlement of the Hungarian crisis are reflected clearly in the various revolutionary organizations and press. Hungarian expectations regarding UN mediation were nonetheless of a most diverse nature: there was a universal hope among Hungarians that the Security Council or the General Assembly would be able to induce the Soviets to find a peaceful resolution to the Hungarian crisis; others went even further in their expectations, calling for UN observers or immediate intervention by UN military forces. All these hopes were seemingly supported by the fact that the UN (to which Hungary gained membership in 1955) could be regarded a neutral international crisis managing forum, the resolutions of which therefore could be accapted by the Soviet Union itself. On the other hand, it could be argued, the same forum had proved to be an efficient means for containing communist expansion during the Korean war. Only very few people realized that in fact the UN was able to act effectively only in those cases when the conflict to be settled was not one between the superpowers or their allies. The UN intervention in Korea proved to be an exceptional possibility which, however, was able only to contain communist expansion but was not aimed at rolling it back.

Practically from the very outset of the uprising the various revolutionary programs gave special prominence to the demand that Soviet troops withdraw from Hungary, a contingency which was commonly regarded as an essential precondition for the general restoration of independence to the country. The only issue that the general public of the revolution unanimously agreed on was the demand for sovereignty; they were less certain about what should happen once they have gained independence. Many imagined their future based on the Yugoslav model: a peculiar Hungarian socialism, exempt from the political distortions of Stalinism, parallel with a non-committed foreign policy. This concept was predominantly popular among intellectuals and to some extent among workers at the time. Others, on the other hand, thought that only a western style parliamentary democracy would be the right solution: for them, the bourgeois construction of government and political neutrality — acquired only a year before — of Austria were the most attractive examples. Lack of time and the suppression of the revolution, however, made it impossible to find out how popular these concepts actually were.

Hungarian public opinion thus was unanimous concerning the question of sovereignty and all political programs were based on the wish to remain outside the great power blocs. This desire was reflected in two interrelated demands which became general by the last days of October: the withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the proclamation of Hungary’s neutrality.

Contributing greatly to the general popularity of the notion of neutrality was the seemingly rational (though it too turned out to be erroneous) premise that the Soviet Union would not see any increased security threat in a neutral Hungary. It was also a generally held belief that since the Soviets had assented to a negotiated withdrawal from Austria then they might very well consider doing likewise in Hungary. The flaw in this logic was that whereas the Soviet withdrawal from Austria had come about as a result of an intensely negotiated compromise between the great powers, similar action in Hungary would have required unilateral concessions on the part of the Soviet Union—a variable which was, naturally, not part of the great power equation.

Foreign Policy of the Imre Nagy Government

From the very moment Imre Nagy became prime minister on 24 October, he was faced with increasingly radical demands not only with regard to the internal reorganization of Hungarian society, but also concerning the restructuring of the country’s international status, namely its position within the Soviet alliance.

Though few people were aware of it at the time of the outbreak of the Revolution, Imre Nagy had circulated a theoretical treatise among his friends in January of that year(26) which expressed support for the pancha sila, or the five basic tenets of the nonaligned movement with regard to peaceful coexistence—mutual respect for national sovereignty and territorial integrity, noninterference in domestic affairs, equality, reciprocal benevolence, and fraternal cooperation—identifying the totality of these principles with the notion of national independence. Nagy also expressed his conviction that national independence was not simply a question of achieving international autonomy, but also had a social dimension as well. In more specific terms, Imre Nagy believed that it was the Yugoslav model, that is a socialist domestic order coupled with a nonaligned foreign policy, which offered Hungary the greatest chances for achieving national independence. It is important to note that none of Imre Nagy’s thinking was based on Hungary taking any sort of unilateral action; he hoped that the encouraging trends perceptible in international political relations would eventually lead to the dissolution of the contentious world power blocs, thus enabling the countries of eastern Europe to continue to build socialism on a new foundation of national independence and equality and noninterference in internal affairs.

Nagy considered the latter scenario to be all the more possible in light of the Soviet Union’s apparently friendly disposition toward the nonaligned movement at that time, accepting the above mentioned five principles of peaceful coexistence. It was above all the Soviet Union’s rapprochement with Yugoslavia that fed the general illusion that the Soviets were prepared to accept the principle that building socialism could be based on a model other than of their own.

It was Imre Nagy’s thankless task as prime minister to reconcile his measured vision regarding the restructuring of Hungary’s international relations with the increasingly radical demands of the Revolution. Nagy was always very aware of the fact that the fate of the Revolution was entirely in the hands of the Soviet Union and from the very outset of negotiations held with a high-ranking Soviet crisis-management delegation led by Mikoyan and Suslov(27), Nagy attempted to convince the Soviets that with adequate support he would be capable of stabilizing the internal situation.

The peaceful resolution of the Polish crisis(28) likely strengthened Nagy’s conviction that the Soviets were interested in finding a similar settlement in Hungary, even if they had to grant a certain number of concessions in order to do so. It was for this reason that on 25 October Nagy suggested that calling for Soviet intervention had been a mistake and that in the interest of calming unrest among the people it would be wise to announce the government’s intentions to initiate negotiations regarding the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. Later on that day Nagy made this announcement, despite vigorous Soviet objections, in the course of a radio address.(29) On the following day Nagy, playing up the extreme social pressures under which the Hungarian leadership was operating, attempted to convince the Soviet delegation that over and above suppression of armed resistance, the most effective way to bring the prevailing disorder under control would be to place the party at the head of the mass social movement which had materialized with the Revolution(30).

The events of the following days seemed to vindicate Imre Nagy’s policy toward the Soviets; his pledges to consolidate the situation in Hungary were designed to extract further concessions from them: on 29 October, Soviet military units began withdrawing from Budapest and the Soviet government’s declaration of the following day included an explicit promise that it would lay new foundations for relations between the Soviet Union and other socialist countries based on equality and noninterference in domestic affairs; in addition, it promised to consider a decision to withdraw Soviet troops from Hungary.

At nearly the same time, however, signs of the Soviet Union’s real intentions began multiplying at an alarming rate: as already mentioned, beginning on 31 October came reports that fresh Soviet troops were entering the country, occupying all important strategic locations. It was at this point, when it became clear that the Soviet invasion, with the obvious aim of overthrowing and abducting the legitimate Hungarian government was imminent, that the cabinet decided to make an heroic last-ditch effort at rescuing the Revolution: on November 1 Nagy announced Hungary’s withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and declared the country’s intention to be neutral.(31) At the same time he sent an appeal to the secretary-general of the United Nations requesting that the four great powers help defend Hungary’s neutrality and that this question be urgently placed on the agenda of the upcoming General Assembly. (32)

The Imre Nagy government had therefore turned to the great Western powers and the United Nations—always with the ideal of Austrian-style neutrality in mind—in a last-ditch effort to stave off the increasing threat of a Soviet invasion. Nagy himself was nevertheless quite aware of the extreme improbability of vigorous assistance from either the great Western powers or the UN; he was also quite familiar with Soviet imperial politics and thus recognized that within the existing international political context it was likewise very improbable that the Soviet leadership—for whom the suppression of the Revolution was never really more than a logistical question—would relinquish one of its strategically important dominions just because the government there had declared its independence.

Thus, even as Nagy launched a further appeal for UN action on 2 November(33), he continued to work desperately behind the scenes to try and work out some kind of an agreement with the Soviets. In the first days of November, Nagy summoned the ambassadors of the socialist countries, first of all Soviet Ambassador Andropov, in order to try and persuade them of the correctness of his policies. Moreover, Nagy informed Andropov that he was willing to rescind his appeal to the UN in exchange for a Soviet pledge not to engage in further military intervention; Nagy also requested an immediate audience with the highest-level Soviet leadership—a request which the Soviets promptly denied. Finally, in discussions held in Budapest with a Romanian party delegation on 3 November, Nagy attempted to coordinate a plan whereby Gheorghiu-Dej would petition Khrushchev for a Soviet-Hungarian summit meeting. (34) On that very same day, however, the Soviet leadership was holding a summit meeting of a very different nature in Moscow with János Kádár in order to coordinate the violent overthrow of the Hungarian revolutionary government .(35)

The Soviet Bloc and the Revolution

The Soviet leadership, occupied with the political crisis in Poland starting on November 19, only reluctantly agreed to comply with Gerô’s request that Soviet troops assist in the dispersal of the mass demonstrations in Budapest on October 23. (36) However, on repeated appeals from the first secretary of the Hungarian party and most importantly on the pressure of Ambassador Yuri Andropov declaring the situation very dangerous, eventually the Soviet Politburo decided to intervene and ordered their troops in Hungary to move to Budapest. The next day they sent a crisis-management delegation to Budapest consisting of Mikoyan, Suslov, KGB leader Serov and the deputy chief of staff, I. Malinin. For several days after the outbreak of armed conflict, Khrushchev and the rest of the Soviet leadership continued to maintain hope that the newly appointed prime minister, Imre Nagy, would effectively quell the reigning disorder and that the Hungarian crisis could ultimately be resolved within the same framework of compromise and negotiation which had proved successful in Poland. In negotiations conducted with Nagy and the rest of the Hungarian leadership on 26 October Mikoyan and Suslov defined the outer limits of possible Soviet concessions in their expression of a willingness to allow some politicians who had previously belonged to noncommunist parties into the government (the possibility of a multiparty system was not even considered) and a return of Soviet troops to their bases after the restoration of order, similar to what had occurred in Poland. They also warned the Hungarian leadership that further concessions might very well lead to the overthrow of the communist system, an eventuality which the Soviet delegation quite clearly suggested would evoke a vigorous response from Moscow. (37) The Soviet leadership never entertained the slightest notion of allowing the restoration of a parliamentary system in Hungary for fear that it would lead to the disintegration of its vitally important East European security zone.

There were also significant ideological factors motivating the Soviets to suppress the Hungarian Revolution. As previously mentioned, during these years Soviet attempts to enlarge the world communist empire centered on the Third World; the Soviet leadership could well imagine the damage that might be done to these expansion efforts if Hungary were to be seen restoring multiparty democracy by way of an anti-Soviet uprising nearly ten years after the institution of communism.

The Soviets regarded the following elements to be of paramount importance to the maintenance of the communist system in the eastern European satellite states: a competent and unified communist party leadership; a potent and resolute state security apparatus; a loyal and disciplined armed force and military leadership, and a strict party control of all media. Any hint of unrest in any of these four institutions immediately set off warning bells within the Soviet decision-making mechanism; the breakdown of all four of them at once, as happened in Hungary in 1956, left the Soviets with only one option: armed intervention.(38)

However it was in the short-term interests of the Soviet Union to exercise this radical option only if all possible peaceful means of resolving the crisis had already been exhausted; the Soviet desire to preserve communist bloc unity and the process of rapprochement with Yugoslavia, to improve the standing of communist parties in the West and propaganda efforts in the Third World, as well as to find a peaceful resolution to the Polish crisis all weighed in against the option of armed intervention.

Tactical considerations also compelled the Soviets to make further concessions: On 28 October, they assented to a cease-fire, agreed to withdraw their military units from Budapest—without having first eradicated the groups of armed rebels—and did not take official issue with the passage in the new government communiqué pertaining to the initiation of negotiations over the eventual withdrawal of Soviet troops from Hungary. The Soviet government pronouncement of 30 October contained further pledges to examine the possibility of troop withdrawals from Hungary. (39)

As many suspected at the time, the Soviet leaders had serious debates about the Hungarian situation from the very beginning onwards. What undoubtedly shows the gravity of the situation is that the presidential body held meetings nearly every day between 23 October and 4 November: the main question was to what extent and in what way they should compromise with the government of Imre Nagy, so that the latter would be able to consolidate the crisis in a way that the social system of Hungary and the country's place in the Soviet alliance would remain unchanged. Consequently they unanimously agreed that Hungary's separation from the socialist bloc was simply unimaginable and should be prevented at all costs. Probably the greatest possible compromise was that even on 30 October it was a matter of consideration whether it would be more advisable for a peaceful reconciliation if Soviet troops were withdrawn from Hungary, provided the Hungarian government could secure the necessary conditions.

The developments of the days following the government’s acceptance of the Revolution’s essential demands on 28 October (the evaluation of the events as revolution, the reinstallment of the multy party system, the dissolution of the secret police, the disintegration of the party leadership and the passivity of the armed forces) convinced the Soviets that the Leninist-Stalinist-type communist system was in jeopardy of collapsing in Hungary. They concluded, correctly, that Imre Nagy—whom they already held to be opportunistic and irresolute—was unable, and worse yet, unwilling to restrain those forces which were threatening to break up the entire Soviet system.

This assessment of the situation in Hungary led the Soviet leadership to the conclusion that the possibilities for peaceful resolution of the crisis had been exhausted; accordingly, on the second day of its session of 30 and 31 October , the Presidium of the Central Committee of the CPSU reached a decision in favor of armed intervention and took the steps necessary to set Operation Whirlwind in motion.(40)

During the first days of November, Khrushchev — together with other members of the Politburo — had negotiations with the leaders of Eastern European socialist countries — the Polish on 1 November in Brest, the Bulgarian, Romanian and Czechoslovakian on 2 November in Bucharest — who all assured the Soviets of their support. The East-German, Czechoslovakian, Romanian and Bulgarian leaders had been observing the Hungarian events with apprehension from the beginning, so consequently it was a great relief for them that the Soviet Union finally committed themselves to restore law and order: it was discussed in Prague that, if need be, Czechoslovakia would take part in the invasion, while Romanian leaders did not hesitate to let Moscow know their willingness to intervene.(41)

The reshuffled Polish government on the other hand, with Gomulka at the helm after the October crisis, were firmly supporting Imre Nagy's efforts to consolidate the situation, and condemned the first Soviet intervention. Accordingly, the Polish public — uniquely in the Soviet bloc — could overtly express their solidarity with the Hungarian revolution through mass demonstrations, manifestos, blood-donor and charity campaigns, while the Polish press catered objective reports on the Hungarian events. At the end of October, a party delegation of two went to Budapest to obtain direct information from Hungarian leaders, especially Imre Nagy and János Kádár, about the current state of affairs, and to try to convince them that Hungary only had a plausible chance for development by following the "Polish road". Even the Polish government observed the fundamental political changes that had taken place by the beginning of November in Hungary with much apprehension. Besides, withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and the declaration of neutrality were political moves that, for the Polish, jeopardized the post-war geopolitical structure, more specifically and with frightening potential the security of the Polish-German border. Thus Gomulka was compelled to accept reluctantly the Soviet decision about preparations for intervention — under the pretense of saving socialism — even though he must have been hoping all the way long, just as Imre Nagy did, that somehow it could all be avoided by the end. This is the reason why the official announcement of the Polish communist party to the nation, which had been ratified on 1 November after the Brest meeting and published the following day, still stated that socialism in Hungary should be defended by the Hungarian people, and not ensured by foreign intervention.(42)

Chinese leaders, who had just started to re-evaluate their relationship with the Soviet Union, the leading power of the socialist bloc, were at first sympathizing with Polish and Hungarian events, because they hoped they would bring about the restriction of Soviet influence in Eastern Europe. Soon, however, it turned out that the reform of the socialist system itself was only tolerated in Beijing to the extent of the Polish changes. In this way the Hungarian situation that had seriously aggravated by the beginning of November was logically considered a counter-revolution by the Chinese — similarly to the Soviets — and Imre Nagy naturally seemed treacherous from their own point of view. Accordingly, when the delegation of the Chinese communist party, with whom the Soviet leaders had been continuously negotiating their opinions previously, arrived in Moscow on 24 October led by Liu Sao Chi, they eventually agreed on every principal question of the planned measures concerning Hungary.(43)

Negotiation with Yugoslav leaders were held on the night of 2 and 3 November on the island of Brioni; this was the meeting that the Soviets were most worried about, because they knew all too well how significant an effect the Yugoslav propaganda had on the activities of radical Hungarian party opposition, and thus indirectly on the intellectual groundwork for the revolution. Moreover, Tito assured Imre Nagy of his support in a letter to the Central Leadership of MDP (Hungarian Labour Party) on 29 October, sympathizing with his new policy of reassessment, but at the same time firmly warning him against the dangers of counter-revolution. The Hungarian events of the following days, however, disappointed Tito as well, who originally hoped that Hungary would follow the Yugoslav way in every respect. Instead he had to realize that the newly forming system — skipping a major step — started to resemble the Austrian model, which of course he found unacceptable. Therefore, to the great relief of Khrushchev and Malenkov, the Yugoslav leadership not only agreed that intervention was necessary, but also promised to help eliminate Imre Nagy and his adherents from political life. (44)

The Western World, the Suez Crisis, and the United Nations

The western public, who felt somewhat guilty about the tragedy of the East European "enslaved nations", received the news of the Polish and, more importantly, Hungarian events of October 1956 with distinctive sympathy from the very beginning. Not only in Europe and North America but, the Soviet bloc apart(45), nearly all over the world there were smaller or greater events — protests and demonstrations — organized to express sympathy with the Hungarian revolution. The press and the electronic media, through the reports of western correspondents and camera crews who could work undisturbed in Budapest, reported at first hand and for the first time on an armed uprising that happened, and was happening, in an allied state of the Soviet Empire. The western public observed with a mixture of fear and wonder the struggle of revolutionaries, who were fighting the superior numbers of Soviet troops with small arms and Molotov cocktails. As to the government of Imre Nagy, they largely condemned it up until 28 October. Then, however, once the government and the rebels reached an agreement that seemingly the Soviet Union also accepted, the general atmosphere on the west was that of hope and expectations, and suddenly many considered the unthinkable, i.e. that a satellite state would liberate themselves without external help, plausible.

Western governments, at the same time — unlike their public opinion which expressed vivid solidarity with the Hungarian uprising from the beginning--were acutely aware of their limited room to maneuver within the existing European status quo and reacted with extreme caution to the uprising in Hungary from its very beginning and, in most instances, went so far as to give explicit public endorsement of the principle of nonintervention. Behind the Western response to the Hungarian Revolution was the realization that under the prevailing international political circumstances, any sort of Western military intervention in Hungary contained the implicit threat of war with the Soviet Union, quite possibly to be waged with thermonuclear weapons, which would likely lead to the obliteration of the very Eastern European peoples which intervention was designed to liberate.

Nevertheless, between armed intervention and total passivity there could have been alternative solutions, especially for the three great powers, with which they could have tried influencing Soviet decision making in a positive direction. The question is whether the governments of the United States, Great-Britain and France ever considered these possibilities at all, and whether the armed conflict in the Middle East at the end of October, in which Britain and France were heavily involved, influenced the foreign policy of the three great powers towards Hungary, and, provided it did, to what extent.

The United States

The events which took place in Poland and, particularly, Hungary in October of 1956 caught the American government completely by surprise even though it was extremely well informed about the political changes which were taking place in these countries. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had already publicly distanced the administration from the possibility of armed intervention during the Polish crisis, though this information never did reach those most affected by the crisis. In an appearance on the popular televised political program Face the Nation on 21 October, Dulles stated that the United States would not send troops to Poland even in the event of Soviet armed intervention.(46) The American government was exceptionally pleased with what it deemed to be positive developments in the Polish crisis during the following days, for they had come about without any kind of American involvement whatsoever. And moreover, contrary to all the pessimistic predictions, the Soviets had not intervened militarily and had ultimately agreed to accept the new Polish leadership.

The Americans thus found the news of the uprising in Hungary to be all the more disturbing, especially since the American government had no previously prepared strategy for dealing with such an unlikely occurrence. It was at this time that the Eisenhower administration was confronted with the fact that, contrary to one of the predominant themes of the massive liberation propaganda it aimed at Eastern Europe, even the United States, the world’s greatest military power, had only very limited options regarding any sort of intervention within the Soviet sphere of influence. It was nonetheless very important for the United States to conceal this impotence in order to preserve its international prestige: it was for this reason that on 24 October , Dulles suggested to President Eisenhower that the issue of Soviet intervention should be broached in the Security Council (47)(which indeed happened on 28 October after the three great Western powers requested that the issue be placed on the Council’s agenda).

On 26 October, the United States' highest-level advisory body, the National Security Council, sat for the first and last time during the period of the Hungarian Revolution in order to evaluate the events taking place in Eastern Europe and to plan what kind of official message to communicate regarding US policy on the region. Among the general confusion which reigned during the session there was one intelligent proposal made by Harold E. Stassen, the president’s advisor on disarmament: Stassen suggested that it would be expedient to offer assurances to the Soviets that the United States would not seek to exploit the possible independence of the satellite countries in any way that could threaten the security of the Soviet Union. (48) Although this suggestion was promptly rejected by the National Security Council, the next day proponents of the plan succeeded in getting the president to endorse an expanded version of Stassen’s original proposal. According to this plan, the United States, either through Tito or some other diplomatic channel, would attempt to convince the Soviets that a zone of strictly neutral, non-NATO countries, politically akin to Austria, would offer them just as much security as the existing buffer of satellite countries.(49) The essential logic behind the proposal was that during negotiations regarding the Austrian State Treaty it was precisely the Soviets who had insisted that Austria remain strictly neutral and not be allowed to join NATO. Of course the same possibilities for compromise didn't apply to the East European Soviet satellite countries as had applied to Austria, but within the strict confines which circumscribed the United States' room to maneuver, a plan offering the possibility of mutual concession, such as the plan then being proposed, was preferable to complete passivity. Ultimately Eisenhower instructed Secretary of State Dulles to build the message to the Soviets into the presidential campaign speech Dulles was to deliver in Dallas on 27 October. (50) However Dulles, who had opposed the proposal from its very inception because it offered the Soviets exaggerated ideological concessions, watered it down—partly with the president’s assent and partly on his own initiative—dropping any reference to both neutrality and prohibition on NATO membership. In the end, the American secretary of state’s message to the Soviets consisted, in all, of the following celebrated sentence: ‘We do not look upon these nations as potential military allies.’(51)

This fundamentally modified version of Stassen’s original proposal did not achieve its original aim of pacifying the Soviets, or perhaps more precisely, achieved it to an exaggerated degree. Whereas the original idea had been to try and induce concessions from the Soviet Union through explicit recognition of its security interests, the revised version was of a distinctly defensive tenor which the Soviets logically assumed to mean that the United States was not going to take any action whatsoever in behalf of the independence of Eastern Europe. The American leadership nonetheless went to great lengths to make absolutely sure that the message reached its addressee: on 28 October, Henry Cabot Lodge, the United States representative to the United Nations, quoted the passages from Dulles’s speech which concerned the satellite countries during a session of the Security Council(52); on 29 October the American ambassador in Moscow received instructions to confidentially reiterate the germane points of the speech to the Soviet leadership, including Zhukov(53); and on 31 October Eisenhower himself reiterated the previously cited passage in the course of a televised address.(54)

The above statement, despite the fact that usually its role in pacifying the Soviets is emphasized, was of historical significance, even in this radically altered version. Prior to this, all the official statements of the Eisenhower administration regarding the satellite states were based on the supposition that, should these states gain independence, it would mean their joining the western world, which in the given context automatically meant NATO membership at the same time. Therefore, stating that the United States did not consider these states as potential military allies was in fact the renunciation of their earlier opinion, and the starting point of a process that would determine their politics in the following decades, one that eventually did away with the double-faced character of American foreign policy through cleaning up the remains of their liberation propaganda.

At the end of October a Special National Intelligence Estimate, prepared jointly by the CIA, the State Department and organizations of military intelligence, determined that the Soviets had only two options: either accede to Hungary’s desire for independence and risk unleashing similar forces throughout the satellite countries or to forcibly reinstate their supremacy over the country. The authors of the report nonetheless left no doubt as to which option the Moscow leadership would choose in an emergency. (55) Regarding possible American policy toward the crisis, the report of the National Security Council’s advisory committee analyzing the recent events in Eastern Europe, completed by October 31, basically expressed the view that prospects for concrete action were extremely limited, although it did contain one well-founded proposal for compromise with the Soviet Union according to which, if the Soviets withdrew their troops from Hungary, the Americans would, in exchange, make proportional reductions in the number of its troops stationed in Western Europe.(56)

The agenda for the 1 November meeting of the National Security Council called for deliberation over this document; however before the meeting got under way, President Eisenhower, at the urging of Dulles, decided to postpone discussion on Eastern Europe until a later date so that the Council could devote its entire time and energy to examination of the Suez crisis, which had degenerated into armed conflict on 29 October . (57) The American leadership was not again inclined to occupy itself with the events taking place in Hungary until the time of the second Soviet intervention on 4 November. Eisenhower and Dulles had decided that since the United States really didn't have any effective means of exerting its influence inside the Soviet sphere, its energies should be concentrated on resolving the Suez crisis where it was faced with the task of laying down the law not with a rival superpower, but with its own military and political allies. In spite of its complications, this was a much easier and more feasible undertaking and within just a few days the resolute actions taken by the United States, particularly its economic arm twisting of Britain, had borne fruit.

The NATO, which was gaining more and more significance in the Western European integration during these years, had been concerned since June 1956 with the question of how the West should react to the challenge of the Eastern European changes which had happened after 1953. On 24 October the NATO Council was supposed to have discussed a proposition, which had just been completed after long months of preparations, about their policy towards the satellite states. Due to the Polish and Hungarian events of a few days before, however, there was no possibility for a debate proper, so the startled delegates first of all emphasized that the study apparently misjudged the role of Titoism as the only evolutionary possibility for Eastern European countries to achieve greater independence.(58) The Council had more meetings during the Hungarian revolution, where on the one hand they tried to evaluate the current situation, and on the other hand they tried to consider possibilities of action. At the end, however, the only point they agreed on was that the NATO should not corporately take sides in the question, because it would only provide the Soviet Union with a basis for further intervention.(59)

Thus the sole international political forum which was apparently willing to give worthy consideration to the Hungarian crisis was the United Nations. However, the previously mentioned conflict of interest which arose among the great powers at the time of the simultaneous outbreak of the two international crises began to play itself out in the UN as well, just a few days after the Hungarian question had been placed on its agenda.

Great Britain, France, and the Suez Adventure

The governments of Britain and France, which were already preoccupied with preparations for an attack on Egypt, were likewise caught off guard by the developments in Eastern Europe. Indeed, due to their paramount desire for success in the Middle East, the reaction of the British and French to the Soviet intervention in Hungary was even more cautious than the habitually restrained response of Western governments to events in Eastern Europe.

Contrary to the renown of the American secretary of state’s previously cited Dallas address, it is a little-known fact that representatives of both the British and French governments delivered similar messages to the Soviet Union which implied a recognition of Soviet security interests in Eastern Europe. On 26 October French Foreign Minister Christian Pineau, in a speech delivered before a gathering of journalists, stressed that although the Western powers welcomed the developments which were taking place in Eastern Europe, it would be ill-advised to try to exploit them for their own military and political profit; Pineau furthermore insisted that raising the issue of relations between the West and Eastern Europe was still dangerously premature and that, as for France, it would not intervene in Poland or Hungary under any circumstances. (60) The British were even more adamant about avoiding even an inadvertent provocation of the Soviets and, furthermore, not giving them grounds for accusing the West of having in any way instigated the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution. According to a memorandum of 27 October, written by Deputy Under-Secretary of State, Sir John Ward, top-secret sources had informed the British that the Soviets were preparing for Western intervention in Hungary.(61) Accordingly, on 1 November, the government declared in parliament that: 'It is not our slightest intention to try and exploit the events taking place in Eastern Europe in order to undermine the security of the Soviet Union’. (62)

The striking simultaneity of the Suez and Hungarian crises inevitably raises the question whether the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution had any bearing on the timing of the attack on Egypt which was planned during secret British-French-Israeli negotiations held at Sèvres between 22--24 October.(63) Recently published monographs and primary source materials reveal that the date for the Israeli attack on Egypt (29 October) was almost certainly set during the first day of the Sèvres talks. (64) When this conditional timetable was established, the foreign ministers of Britain and France immediately made it clear that they would have liked the Israeli attack to be fixed for an even earlier date. The rationale for this was not the presumption that the Soviet Union would be preoccupied with the crisis in Hungary, as is commonly assumed, since the Hungarian Revolution broke out only on the next day. However, the Polish crisis, which broke out a few days earlier on 19 October, may have started exercised some influence on the timing of the attack—a suggestion which appears in various Israeli sources. But the most important reason for the haste of the British and French was undoubtedly that their expeditionary forces had been in a state of full preparedness—a condition which could not be maintained indefinitely—for quite some time simply waiting for the political green light to begin the attack on Egypt.

The official protocol containing the results of the secret Sèvres negotiations was finally signed on 24 October. In this protocol the day of the Israeli attack is permanently fixed for 29 October; thus the fact of the outbreak of the Hungarian uprising did not cause the slightest change to the existing strategy and, contrary to earlier suppositions, did not serve to bring forward the date of the military action in the Middle East. Available sources even raise doubts as to whether the subject of Hungary even came up during the final day of negotiations on 24 October when news of the Budapest uprising could very well have reached the negotiating partners. However, according to Ben Gurions’s diary, he learned of the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution and the alleged Soviet suppression thereof only after his return to Israel, sometime during the midday of 25 October.(65)

The Hungarian Question in the United Nations

The American administration, primarily for reasons of prestige, decided on 25 October that, in concert with its allies, it would initiate discussion in the United Nations on the subject of the Hungarian uprising. (66) The British and French initially expressed reluctance when Dulles proposed on 26 October that the three countries launch a joint initiative to convene a meeting of the Security Council.(67) With the Suez action having already been definitely decided upon, the British and French leadership was worried that if the question of Soviet intervention in Hungary were put on the agenda and discussed in the UN, it might serve as a precedent for a similar procedure regarding the joint Israeli-British-French attack on Egypt which was to take place at the end of October. But since they had not informed the United States of their plans, they were forced to accede to American pressure and on 27 October the United States, Great Britain and France submitted a joint request that the Security Council be convened to examine the situation in Hungary.

From this date until 3 November the representatives of these three great powers met continually behind the scenes in order to work out a UN strategy which all could agree on; the comportment of the United States, Britain, and France during the three Security Council sessions which dealt with the Hungarian question on 28 October and on 2 and 3 November was completely planned in advance during these secret negotiations.(68)

In the days preceding the Israeli attack on Egypt the UN representatives of the three great Western powers agreed that it was imperative to voice emphatic public condemnation of the Soviet intervention and that beyond this action they would employ a wait-and-see policy until the confused situation in Hungary became more transparent. The consequence of this policy was that the three Western powers which had placed the Hungarian question on the agenda did not even introduce a draft proposal during the 28 October session of the Security Council. After the widening of the armed conflict in the Middle East with the engagement of Great Britain and France on October 31, the tenor of the negotiations among the great Western powers regarding Hungary changed completely. Eisenhower and Dulles, who had placed increasing importance on establishing good relations with the Arab world with the aim of expanding American influence in the Middle East, reacted angrily to the actions of its European allies. Not only did they publicly condemn the Suez action, but they also instructed the American UN representative to submit a draft proposal calling for the immediate cessation of all military operations in the Middle East, a motion which brought about a circumstance which had no precedent in the history of the UN with the representatives of the United States and the Soviet Union voting in concert against Great Britain and France.

As a result of the sudden deterioration in relations between the Western powers, subsequent discussions between them regarding the Hungarian question were conducted in an increasingly icy atmosphere in which the negotiating partners were not really interested in condemning, much less impeding, Soviet intervention, but wanted rather to exploit the Hungarian crisis in the name of their own, in this case drastically conflicting, great power interests. Beginning at this time, the British and French undertook to get the Hungarian question moved from the Security Council to the emergency session of the General Assembly—which had been convened to discuss the Suez crisis—where they hoped that the simultaneous treatment of two issues would lead to a mitigation of the censure they had been receiving. Transfer of the Hungarian question to the General Assembly would have been of incidental benefit to the forces of change in Hungary, for in the General Assembly there is no veto power, which left at least the theoretical possibility that the UN would pass a resolution having a positive influence on the outcome of events in Hungary. The sole objective of the American leadership under the existing circumstances was to resolve the Middle Eastern crisis; therefore they did everything within their powers to frustrate the aforementioned strategy of the British and French: until 4 November the Americans succeeded in preventing them from submitting a draft proposal concerning the Hungarian question in the Security Council and further blocked them from referring the question to the emergency session of the General Assembly via the ‘uniting for peace’ procedure.

After the second Soviet intervention the American UN representative, Henry Cabot Lodge, unilaterally implemented the British-French strategy without asking for the cooperation of his European Security Council allies, with whom he had broken off negotiations regarding Hungary the previous day as a method of punishment for British and French actions in Suez. When the Security Council was subsequently convened upon the arrival of the news regarding renewed Soviet intervention on 4 November, the American representative initiated a measure which effectively circumvented the Soviet veto and referred the Hungarian question directly to the emergency session of the General Assembly. On the afternoon of the very same day a large majority of this body voted to adopt a draft resolution—likewise submitted unilaterally by the US representative—which condemned the intervention of the Soviet Union, called for it to withdraw its troops from Hungary, and recognized the right of the Hungarian people to a government which would represent its national interests.(69)

At the same time, this resolution—which the British and French supported despite its unilateral submission by the United States—made no reference to the recognition of Hungary’s neutrality, for which Imre Nagy had so emphatically appealed in his messages to the UN secretary general on 1 and 2 November . This may be due in part to the fact that there was much disagreement within the American leadership regarding whether Hungary’s neutrality served the interests of the United States. The concept of Hungarian neutrality engendered a good deal of support in the State Department where it had already surfaced as a topic of discussion days before Nagy launched his appeals to the UN. President Eisenhower himself sympathized with the idea of establishing a zone of neutral states in Central and Eastern Europe but he hoped to achieve this aim through negotiations with the Soviets in a general framework of general reconstruction of East-West relationships. Overtly supporting the one-sided radical move of the Hungarian government, that is recognizing their neutrality, had the possible danger that the American government would take on an international responsibility which would be extremely difficult to cast off after the suppression of the Hungarian uprising, which was seemingly close at hand. However, it was more important for Eisenhower that such a diplomatic move, due to the probably vehement Soviet reaction, would have seriously jeopardized the Soviet-American relations, and indirectly the whole dètente process.

However Dulles, who had sharp misgivings regarding the increasingly powerful nonaligned movement, and was therefore generally ill-disposed toward the idea of neutrality, not surprisingly, came out against the idea with regard to Hungary. Dulles firmly believed that if, perchance, Hungary were to succeed in its struggle to free itself of Soviet domination, the United States should not rest satisfied with the country’s neutrality when there existed the real possibility of incorporating it into the Western sphere of influence. (70)

In the early hours of the morning of 4 November, the United States nonetheless fervently condemned renewed Soviet intervention in Hungary—Eisenhower even sent a personal message of protest to Bulganin—and in this way succeeded in leading the world to believe that it had, from the very outset, played a constructive role in attempts to settle both the Suez and Hungarian crises.

The real clash of conflicting viewpoints in the United Nations, contrary to earlier interpretations, took place not between the Western powers and the Soviet Union during meetings of the Security Council where what was said on both sides was primarily for public consumption, but behind the scenes, in the course of secret negotiations between the representatives of the United States, Great Britain, and France.

The result of the discord which arose in relations between the great Western powers over the Suez crisis was that the UN was unable to take firm steps toward the resolution of the Hungarian question at a time (from November 1-3) when the circumstances in Hungary, such as Nagy’s request for UN mediation, made such steps feasible.

However, one should not overestimate the potential influence of any UN resolution by the Emergency Session of the General Assembly condemning Soviet intervention, a measure which remained a distinct possibility right up until 3 November. The Soviet Union, in light of its status as a world superpower and the reassuring pledges it had received from the United States, was by no means disposed to let the moral authority of UN resolutions prevent it from intervening militarily, if necessary, to restore order in a country within its own sphere of influence.

The discord among the Western powers which came about as a result of the Middle Eastern conflict no doubt made things easier for the Soviets, though it is fairly certain that even without the Suez crisis they would have pursued a similar policy, just as they made the same decision regarding Czechoslovakia in 1968. Similarly, Western passivity was not caused by the Suez crisis, but by a limitation to its range of options in Eastern Europe implicit in the prevailing international status quo and the notion of spheres of influence. The Suez crisis simply served as a handy excuse, especially for the United States, in order to explain why, after years of liberation propaganda, it was not capable of extending even the smallest amount of support to an East European nation which had risen in arms in an attempt to liberate itself from Soviet domination.

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Copyright © 2000 National Széchényi Library 1956 Institute and Oral History Archive
Utolsó módosítás:  2006. szeptember 18. hétfő

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