Imre Nagy

Imry Nagy

Imre Nagy, the son of peasants, was born in Kaposvar, Hungary in 1896. He worked as a locksmith before serving in the Austro-Hungarian Army during the First World War. He was captured by the Russian Army and spent most of the war in a prison camp in Siberia. He escaped in 1917 and fought with the Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution.

Nagy joined the Hungarian Communist Party when he returned to Hungary in 1918 and held a minor post in the Soviet Republic established by Bela Kun in 1919. Admiral Miklos Horthy, commander-in-chief of the Imperial and Royal Fleet, returned to Hungary in November 1919 and led the overthrow of the Soviet Republic. Nagy lived undercover until fleeing to the Soviet Union in 1929. Nagy remained in exile throughout the Second World War.

When the Red Army liberated Hungary from the German Army, Nagy returned to Budapest and served as Minister of Agriculture in the provisional government established in 1945. In this post he introduced important land reforms.

In 1947 Nagy became Speaker of the Hungarian parliament and became associated with those who favoured a more liberal communist regime. Over the next few years Matyas Rakosi attempted to impose authoritarian rule on Hungary. An estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Communist Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Rakosi from the organization.

Rakosi had difficulty managing the economy and the people of Hungary saw living standards fall. His government became increasingly unpopular and when Joseph Stalin died in 1953 Matyas Rakosi was replaced as prime minister by Nagy. However, he retained his position as general secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party and over the next three years the two men became involved in a bitter struggle for power.

As Hungary's new leader Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. This included a promise to increase the production and distribution of consumer goods. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact.

Matyas Rakosi led the attacks on Nagy. On 9th March 1955, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party condemned Nagy for "rightist deviation". Hungarian newspapers joined the attacks and Nagy was accused of being responsible for the country's economic problems and on 18th April he was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rakosi once again became the leader of Hungary.

Imre Nagy
Imre Nagy

Rakosi's power was undermined by a speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. He denounced the policies of Joseph Stalin and his followers in Eastern Europe. He also claimed that the trial of Laszlo Rajk had been a "miscarriage of justice". On 18th July 1956, Rakosi was forced from power as a result of orders from the Soviet Union. However, he did managed to secure the appointment of his close friend, Erno Gero, as his successor.

On 3rd October 1956, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party announced that it had decided that Laszlo Rajk, Gyorgy Palffy, Tibor Szonyi and Andras Szalai had wrongly been convicted of treason in 1949. At the same time it was announced that Nagy had been reinstated as a member of the Communist Party.

The Hungarian Uprising began on 23rd October by a peaceful manifestation of students in Budapest. The students demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the implementation of "true socialism". The police made some arrests and tried to disperse the crowd with tear gas. When the students attempted to free those people who had been arrested, the police opened fire on the crowd.

The following day commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest. Stalin's statue was brought down and the protesters chanted "Russians go home", "Away with Gero" and "Long Live Nagy". The Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party respond to these developments by deciding that Nagy should become head of a new government.

On 25th October Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square. One journalist at the scene saw 12 dead bodies and estimated that 170 had been wounded. Shocked by these events the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced Erno Gero to resign from office and replaced him with Janos Kadar.

Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and announced he had taken over the leadership of the Government as Chairman of the Council of Ministers." He also promised the "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions."

On 28th October, Nagy and a group of his supporters, including Janos Kadar, Geza Lodonczy, Antal Apro, Karoly Kiss, Ferenc Munnich and Zoltan Szabo, manage to take control of the Hungarian Communist Party. At the same time revolutionary workers' councils and local national committees are formed all over Hungary.

The new leadership of the party is reflected in the comments made in its newspaper, Szabad Nep. On 29th October the newspaper defends the change in the government and openly criticises Soviet attempts to influence the political situation in Hungary. This view is supported by Radio Miskolc and it calls for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country.

On 30th October, Nagy announced that he was freeing Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty and other political prisoners. He also informs the people that his government intends to abolish the one-party state. This is followed by statements by Zolton Tildy, Anna Kethly and Ferenc Farkas concerning the reconstitution of the Smallholders Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Petofi Peasants Party.

Nagy's most controversial decision took place on 1st November when he announced that Hungary intended to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. as well as proclaiming Hungarian neutrality he asked the United Nations to become involved in the country's dispute with the Soviet Union.

On 3rd November, Nagy announced details of his coalition government. It included communists (Janos Kadar, George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy), three members of the Smallholders Party (Zolton Tildy, Bela Kovacs and Istvan Szabo), three Social Democrats (Anna Kethly, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer), and two Petofi Peasants (Istvan Bibo and Ferenc Farkas). Pal Maleter was appointed minister of defence.

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated.

Nagy sought and obtained asylum at the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest. So also did George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy and Julia Rajk, the widow of Laszlo Rajk. Janos Kadar, who claimed that Nagy had gone too far with his reforms, became Hungary's new leader.

Janos Kadar promised Nagy and his followers safe passage out of the country. Kadar did not keep his promise and on 23rd November, 1956, Nagy and his followers, were kidnapped after leaving the Yugoslav embassy.

On 17th June 1958, the Hungarian government announced that several of the reformers had been convicted of treason and attempting to overthrow the "democratic state order" and that Nagy, Pal Maleter and Miklos Gimes had been executed for these crimes.

Primary Sources

(1) New York Times (25th October, 1956)

Even during the many years he spent in Moscow as a Communist refugee Hungary's new Premier, Imre Nagy, was regarded as a strange sort of Communist by his comrades. Their puzzlement about him was expressed by the nickname they gave him: "kulak," the Russian word meaning a rich peasant of the sort Stalin exterminated in the early thirties. Mr. Nagy's Communist comrades called him "kulak" because in background, appearance and tastes he reminded them of the rich, solidly bourgeois peasants they had known in Hungary. A burly 6-foot 200-pounder, he never made any secret of his fondness for good food, good drink, good clothes.

Walking down the streets of Moscow he looked like a prosperous Hungarian peasant dressed in his Sunday best and on his way to church, rather than what he was: the Hungarian Communist party's farm expert on his way to his job as a specialist at the Soviet Agrarian Institute.

When he returned to Budapest with the Red Army in 1944 and had become one of Hungary's chief rulers, he continued his strange ways. He let his daughter marry a practicing Protestant minister. He liked to sit in Budapest cafes and discuss politics or the merits of different Hungarian football teams.

His wife, whom he married more than thirty-five years ago, was the daughter of a village clerk.

As early as 1945 Mr. Nagy's friends knew that he was politically "peculiar" and perhaps even dangerous. Though he had spent more than a quarter of his life in the Soviet Union and had become a Soviet citizen about 1930, he told his friends in Budapest that it was not necessary for Hungary to follow the Soviet Union in every respect.

This was arrant heresy, but then in the early post-war period trained Hungarian Communists were too few and far between to permit the luxury of purging them.

(2) The Times (25th October, 1956)

From 1947 to 1953 he was Speaker of the Hungarian Parliament and a member of the central committee. On July 5, 1953, after the fall of Rakosi and failure of the "Russian" policy of emphasis on heavy industry and neglect of agriculture, Mr. Nagy was elected Prime Minister.

On February 20, 1955, Budapest radio announced that Mr. Nagy, who had not been seen in public since January 25, was seriously ill with coronary thrombosis and would not be able to return to work until April. On February 27 his son was relieved of his post as chief deputy Minister in the Ministry of Popular Culture. The previous week Szabad Nep had laid greater emphasis on the development of heavy industry in Hungary than at any time since June, 1953, when Mr.Nagy's "new course," with its emphasis on light industry and food production, was introduced.

On March 9 the central committee of the Hungarian Workers' Party condemned Mr. Nagy for "rightist deviation," though a careful distinction was drawn between the party decisions on the new course and Mr. Nagy's implementation of them.

Press attacks then followed thick and fast, most of them accusing Mr. Nagy of having caused a crisis by his neglect of heavy industry. Mr. Rakosi, then first secretary of the party, joined in the fray, and on April 18, 1955, Mr. Nagy was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly on the joint proposal of the party committee and the Government.

(3) Imre Nagy, Radio Kossuth (25th October, 1956)

People of Budapest, I announce that all those who cease fighting before 14.00 today, and lay down their arms in the interest of avoiding further bloodshed, will be exempted from martial law. At the same time I state that as soon as possible and by all the means at our disposal, we shall realise, on the basis of the June 1953 Government program which I expounded in Parliament at that time, the systematic democratization of our country in every sphere of Party, State, political and economic life. Heed our appeal. Cease fighting, and secure the 'restoration of calm and order in the interest of the future of our people and nation. Return to peaceful and creative work!

Hungarians, Comrades, my friends! I speak to you in a moment filled with responsibility. As you know, on the basis of the confidence of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers' Party and the Presidential Council, I have taken over the leadership of the Government as Chairman of the Council of Ministers. Every possibility exists for the Government to realise my political program by relying on the Hungarian people under the leadership of the Communists. The essence of this program, as you know, is the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions.

However, in order to begin this work - together with you - the first necessity is to establish order, discipline and calm. The hostile elements that joined the ranks of peacefully demonstrating Hungarian youth, misled many well-meaning workers and turned against the people's democracy, against the power of the people. The paramount task facing everyone now is the urgent consolidation of our position. Afterwards, we shall be able to discuss every question, since the Government and the majority of the Hungarian people want the same thing. In referring to our great common responsibility for our national existence, I appeal to you, to every man, woman, youth, worker, peasant, and intellectual to stand fast and keep calm; resist provocation, help restore order, and assist our forces in maintaining order. Together we must prevent bloodshed, and we must not let this sacred national program be soiled by blood.

(4) Peter Fryer, Hungarian Tragedy (1956)

The troops in Budapest, as later in the provinces, were of two minds: there were those who were neutral and there were those who were prepared to join the people and fight alongside them. The neutral ones (probably the minority) were prepared to hand over their arms to the workers and students so that they could do battle against the A.V.H. with them. The others brought their arms with them when they joined the revolution. Furthermore, many sporting rifles were taken by the workers from the factory armouries of the Hungarian Voluntary Defence Organisation. The "mystery" of how the people were armed is no mystery at all. No one has yet been able to produce a single weapon manufactured in the West.

The Hungarian Stalinists, having made two calamitous mistakes, now made a third - or rather, it would be charitable to say, had it thrust on them by the Soviet Union. This was the decision to invoke a non-existent clause of the Warsaw Treaty and call in Soviet troops. This first Soviet intervention gave the people's movement exactly the impetus needed to make it united, violent and nation-wide. It seems probable, on the evidence, that Soviet troops were already in action three or four hours before the appeal, made in the name of Imre Nagy as his first act on becoming Prime Minister. That is debatable, but what is not debatable is that the appeal was in reality made by Gero and Hegedus; the evidence of this was later found and made public. Nagy became Prime Minister precisely twenty-four hours too late, and those who throw mud at him for making concessions to the Right in the ten days he held office should consider the appalling mess that was put into his hands by the Stalinists when, in desperation, they officially quit the stage.

With Nagy in office it would still have been possible to avert the ultimate tragedy if the people's two demands had been met immediately - if the Soviet troops had withdrawn without delay, and if the security police had been disbanded. But Nagy was not a free agent during the first few days of his premiership. It was known in Budapest that his first broadcast were made - metaphorically, if not literally - with a tommy-gun in his back.

(5) Imre Nagy, Radio Kossuth (30th October, 1956)

Hungarian workers, soldiers, peasants and intellectuals 1 The constantly widening scope of the revolutionary movement in our country, the tremendous force of the democratic movement has brought our country to a cross-road. The National Government, in full agreement with the Presidium of the Hungarian Workers' Party, has decided to take a step vital for the future of the whole nation, and of which I want to inform the Hungarian working people.

In the interest of further democratization of the country's life, the cabinet abolishes the one-party system and places the country's Government on the basis of democratic cooperation between coalition parties as they existed in 1945. In accordance with this decision a new national government - with a small inner cabinet - has been established, at the moment with only limited powers.

The members of the new Cabinet are Imre Nagy, Zoltan Tildy, Bela Kovacs, Ferenc Erdei, Janos Kadar, Geza Losonczy and a person whom the Social Democratic Party will appoint later.

The government is going to submit to the Presidential Council of the People's Republic its proposition to appoint Janos Kadar and Geza Losonczy as Ministers of State.

This Provisional Government has appealed to the Soviet General Command to begin immediately with the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the territory of Budapest. At the same time, we wish to inform the people of Hungary that we are going to request the Government of the Soviet Union to withdraw Soviet troops completely from the entire territory of the Hungarian Republic.

On behalf of the National Government I wish to declare that it recognizes all autonomous, democratic, local authorities which were formed by the revolution; we will rely on them and we ask for their full support.

Hungarian brothers, patriotic citizens of Hungary! Safeguard the achievements of the revolution! We have to re-establish order first of all! We have to restore peaceful conditions! No blood should be shed by fratricide in our country! Prevent all further disturbances! Assure the safety of life and property with all your might!

Hungarian brothers, workers and peasants: Rally behind the government in this fateful hour! Long live free, democratic and independent Hungary.

(6) Imre Nagy, Radio Kossuth (31st October, 1956)

Here is an important announcement: The Hungarian National Government wishes to state that the proceedings instituted in 1948 against Jozsef Mindszenty, Cardinal Primate, lacked all legal basis and that the accusations levelled against him by the regime of that day were unjustified. In consequence the Hungarian National Government announces that the measures depriving Cardinal Primate Jozsef Mindszenty of his rights are invalid and that the Cardinal is free to exercise without restriction all his civil and ecclesiastical rights.