The First Crack in the Iron Wall

Soviet Tanks in Budapest (1956)

The Hungarian Crisis was the first major threat to Soviet domination of half of Europe since the end of WWII. The Revolution began following several years of political infighting between different factions that led to the public’s grievances being ignored. Having seen some of the success that the Polish public had achieved in getting concessions and reforms, university students began to assemble and demonstrate in the center of the Capital, Budapest. Singing soon turned to militancy that led to the Hungarian Communist Party’s newspaper plant being destroyed and shots being fired in the streets all over Budapest. The liberal  Imre Nagy was reappointed Prime Minister in an attempt to quell the uprisings, but this had no effect as Hungarian Army units began to defect to the Revolutionaries.

The Hungarians began to organize local Worker’s Councils which was an attempt to set up interim local government for future reform which would not come. The Worker’s Council’s were meant to take control over the factories and address some of the longstanding issues and grievances that had led to the Hungarian Revolution in the first place. They also would start organizing local militias to help defend against the coming Soviet intervention.

The Soviets at this point decided to step in, but the revolutionaries had become well armed and the Soviet troops were forced to retreat. Nagy, saw the writing on the wall and decided to join the side of the revolutionaries and attempted to declared Hungarian Independence from the Warsaw Pact and USSR, but the Soviets ignored his attempts. Khrushchev and others decided enough was enough and sent in additional troops from across the neighboring Warsaw Pact borders and quickly crushed the insurgency in early November. Over 200,000 Hungarians fled to Austria as refugees as the Soviets and hard line Hungarians like Janos Kadar, who would rule Hungary for over thirty years.

This uprising was the first of many that would occur from Czechoslovakia to Tienanmen Square, eventually the people get tired of the inequality that always exists in the communist system and want a free chance for a better life. Yet, too often then not these uprising are crushed with the exception being at the end of the Cold War and Gorbachev refused to send in Soviet Troops to bolster the communist governments of Europe that relied on their support. It shows that the idea of self-determination was easy to forget about in the face of a cold war between rival factions where sovereignty, democracy and freedom meant nothing, for either side.



“Hungary: Workers’ Councils against Russian Tanks – International Socialism.” Accessed March 27, 2017.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

7 Replies to “The First Crack in the Iron Wall”

  1. I think this conflict is a great example of how education can impact political reform within a country. The same was seen in China through the iconic Tiananmen Square image. You did a good job pointing out the roots of this revolution and I think the Soviet reaction really exemplifies the type of rule behind the Iron Curtain for most of the Cold War. Great work!

  2. I think you did a good job of explaining/giving examples of how certain revolutionaries were unsuccessful despite their tenacity against certain types of governments. I think both China and the USSR are prime examples of the silencing of uprisings and truly show how hard it was for citizens in their fight for certain rights.

  3. It is eye opening to see that the start of a revolution, as you explained in the case of The Hungarian Crisis, came about from demonstrations by university students. Russia and their influence /control in Eastern Europe has and continues to be an interesting to observe. Great post!

  4. Brady’s right — students are often key to bringing social protest movements into focus. That UN report is cool — where did you find it?

  5. I wrote about the same topic for my post. I liked what you brought up about the Communist systems always having the same problems, where, following the revolutions and installment of the government the citizens come to realize that things aren’t as they were promised. The continued inability or nelect for the needs of the workers and farmers is a similar theme in all of these uprisings. This path seems to repeat itself over and over again in Communist countries, beginning as you said here in Hungary. Excellent post.

  6. Very interesting post. Easy to see that the soviet system was very flawed. Having to use military force to put down people that want independence from you can only show your unpopularity.

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