Anti-Soviet Movements in 1956


Stalin's death destabilised the Iron Curtain countries.   In 1956, Khrushchev faced crises in two countries which were destalinising.



1.   Poland, 1956

In Poland, a number of political prisoners were set free.   At the same time, a bad harvest led to unrest.    


Railway workers led a protest of people calling for ‘Cheap Bread’ and ‘Higher Wages’.   When the police shot some of the marchers, there was a riot.   Government officials were killed.   Mr Gomulka, (who had been in prison) took power.


Khrushchev sent Russian troops into Poland to put down the rebels.    But he left Gomulka in power – Gomulka continued the process of destalinisation, but he kept Poland loyal to Russia and the Warsaw Pact.



2.   Czechoslovakia

At the Writers' Congress in 1956, several authors criticized the political repression in , and on May Day of 1956 students held demonstrations in Prague and Bratislava, demanding freedom of speech and access to the Western press.  


The President of Czechoslovakia, Novotny, suppressed the movement and reinforced a hard-line Stalinist regime.




New Words

patriotic: loving your country.

censorship: where the government controls what the newspapers/ radio etc. say.

telex: an early form of fax, connecting typewriters down a telephone line.








Why did the Polish Uprising of 1956 fail?  




Hungary, 1956



The basic cause of the Hungarian revolution was that the Hungarians hated Russian communism:


  1. Poverty

    Hungarians were poor, yet much of the food and industrial goods they produced was sent to Russia.   

  2. Russian Control

    The Hungarians were very patriotic, and they hated Russian control – which included censorship, the vicious secret police (called the AVH after 1948) and Russian control of what the schools taught.  

  3. Catholic Church

    The Hungarians were religious, but the Communist Party had banned religion, and put the leader of the Catholic Church in prison.  

  4. Help from the West

    Hungarians thought that the United Nations or the new US president, Eisenhower, would help them.  

  5. Destalinisation

    When the Communist Party tried to destalinise Hungary, things got out of control.   The Hungarian leader Rakosi asked for permission to arrest 400 trouble-makers, but Khrushchev would not let him.

Hungarian Revolution web sites:

  Film clip


National Security briefing - an American site

A Marxist interpretation

The Institute for the History of the 1956 Hungarian revolution - v. detailed and difficult



•    The Hungarian Revolution



- Giles Hill on the Hungarian Revolution



















On 23 October, there were riots of students, workers and soldiers.   They smashed up the statue of Stalin, and attacked the AVH and Russian soldiers.


On 24 October, Imre Nagy took over as Prime Minister.   He asked Khrushchev to take out the Russian troops.  


On 28 October, Khrushchev agreed, and the Russian army pulled out of Budapest.


29 October – 3 November:   The new Hungarian government introduced democracy, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion (the leader of the Catholic Church was freed from prison).   Nagy also announced that Hungary was going to leave the Warsaw Pact.


On 4 November, at dawn, 1000 Russian tanks rolled into Budapest.   By 8.10 am they had destroyed the Hungarian army and captured Hungarian Radio – its last words broadcast were ‘Help!   Help!   Help”!’   Hungarian people – even children – fought them with machine guns.   Some 4000 Hungarians killed fighting the Russians.


Numbers are notoriously hard for historians.   Western textbooks published before 1989 said that the Russians killed 30,000 Hungarian people.   Since the end of the Cold War in 1989, Russian and Hungarian documents have come to light which have led historians to revise the figure to c.4000 Hungarians killed fighting the Russians, and up to 300 executed afterwards.


      Khrushchev put in Janos Kadar, a supporter of Russia, as Prime Minister.



Source A

We are quiet, not afraid.   Send the news to the world and say it should condemn the Russians.   The fighting is very close now and we haven’t enough guns.  

What is the United Nations doing?   Give us a little help.   We will hold out to our last drop of blood.   The tanks are firing now. . .

The last message – a telex from a newspaper journalist – from Hungary.  


There were FIVE reasons why Khrushchev acted harshly in Hungary:

1.  Nagy’s decision to leave the Warsaw Pact – Russia was determined to keep its ‘buffer’ of states.

2.  China asked Russia to act to stop Communism being damaged.

3.  Nagy had obviously lost control; Hungary was not destalinising – it was turning capitalist.

4.  Hard-liners in Russia forced Khrushchev to act.

5.  Khrushchev thought, correctly, that the West would not help Hungary.  



TWO reasons why the West did not help Hungary:

1.  Britain and France were involved in the Suez crisis in Egypt.

2. Eisenhower did not think  Hungary worth a world war.

When the UN suggested an investigation, Russia used its veto to stop




Hungary - Results

  1. 200,000 Hungarian refugees fled into Austria.

  2. Russia stayed in control behind the Iron Curtain – no other country tried to get rid of Russia troops until Czechoslovakia in 1968.

  3. People in the West were horrified – many British Communists left the Communist Party.

  4. The West realised it could do nothing about the Iron Curtain countries – but this made Western leaders even more determined to ‘contain’ communism.



Source B  

A British cartoon from the time.   Notice:

•   The Communist Hammer and Sickle emblem on the soldier's helmet.

•   The wreath from the United Nations with the label: 'Help for Hungary - a resolution from UNO [United Nations organisation]'.

What is the cartoon saying?


Did you know?

What made the Hungarian revolution so heart-rending was the desperate bravery of the rebels.   One journalist found a little girl of 12, dead, armed with a machine gun.


The Russian invasion of Hungary

a Hungarian joke

In Budapest in 1956 the Hungarian uprising has been crushed by Russian tanks and the city was in ruins.   On the battered buildings, government posters show the friendly assistance given to Hungary by the Soviet Union. 

Two men meet on the street. 

'You know come to think of it, we Hungarians are very lucky people.'

' What? You don’t mean you’ve become one of them?'

'Oh no, but just think. The Russians came here as friends. Imagine what they’d have done if they came here as enemies!'




2.   Study Source B.   Discuss as a class: 'The West was responsible for the deaths in Hungary, not the Russians'.

3.   Why was Hungary a so-much-more bloody affair than Poland?