The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
The Soviet Invasion and the Defeat of
the Revolution

THE SOVIET MILITARY INVASION

In words of a distinguished student of Hungarian politics, “Hungary's normalization … began with the nation's complete defeat, with the total knock-down of Hungarian society.” 1 In contrast to the invasion of Czechoslovakia, where troops of other Warsaw Treaty Organization countries participated in the military operation, and to martial law in Poland, where domestic forces were used, this defeat came exclusive at the hand of the Soviet army, which invaded Hungary early on the morning of November 4, 1956. The Soviet troops were militarily involved in Hungary since the beginning of the revolution, but the first Soviet intervention in Budapest on October 24 was ill-planned, badly executed, and relied on unprepared and insufficient forces. Fighting with the insurgents ended on October 30 following the cease-fire agreement. The second military operation was well-planed and executed systematically in order to smash all armed resistance and to crush the population's will to resist. Although Soviet leaders received the request for military assistance from the Hungarian government at the outset of the revolution, during the entire period the invading Soviet troops acted without any significant cooperation from Hungary's political institutions, its armed forces, or its other political organizations. 2

The invasion plan called for a simultaneous attack on all urban centers so as to wipe out the territorial bases of the revolution. In preparation for military action, units of the Soviet army stationed in Hungary were replaced and reinforced by a massive number of additional units from the USSR and Romania, and Soviet forces took control of all strategic points within the country. Several days before the invasion, nineteen Soviet divisions reinforced by two thousand tanks had already occupied airports, train stations and communication centers, road junctions, and bridges, supposedly to cover a Soviet withdrawal from Hungary. When the Soviet army attacked at dawn on November 4, Hungarian leaders understood the hopelessness of armed resistance. Budapest had no organized defense, and Hungarian armed forces were not only unprepared but also had never received an explicit order to resist the Soviet invasion. Facing the overwhelming Soviet strategic advantage, Nagy's refusal to issue clear-cut orders to the Hungarian army, either to fight or to lay down their arms, must be seen as a responsible way of avoiding vain bloodshed. 3 In such a situation, improvised military resistance

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