Chris Birch: eyewitness account of Hungary 1956

October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm (CPB, history, liberation, posted by JD, protest, stalinism, students, tragedy, truth, USSR, workers, youth)

Image result for pictures Hungary 1956

As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:

Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.

It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.

During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”

He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.

Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”

It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.

John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.


JD recommends some reading and resources:

1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.

Other recommended reading

Other media


  1. david walsh said,

    Andy Anderson was a fascinating guy, who I knew from when I lived in SE London. Some people were wary of him, as he was ex army and had via his time with the diplomatic service subsequently obviously brushed up knowingly with the security services.

    However there was no doubt of his democratic credentials as shown in his eye witness accounts. Back in suburban Dartford he became an early luminary in the Solidarity grouping, first wave CND and the Committee of 100. I firstly recalled him as someone on the verge of prison by consciously withholding that portion of his rates calculated to be devoted to Kent County Council’s civil defence activity – about 7/6d I recall, and which in the end was never paid.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Would you like write some more about Andy Anderson, David?

      Please contact me at

      • David Walsh said,

        From 50 years distance, its about all i can remember. He was quite open with me and others about his antecedents. I had – and have – no doubt of his sincerity to the movement he was part of.

        As to more, I do know that do have most of the print run of Solidarity between 63 and the early 50’s downloaded on their site and I do know he had articles in the paper as well as being cited in news pieces. If there are any surviving comrades from Solidarity around, I am sure they can expand (I do know from news reports of the STWC in South London that Jim Radford is still alive and kicking)

  2. David Walsh said,

    Sorry, that should be “early 1970’s”

  3. februarycallendar said,

    I know I’ve said this before, but this whole thing left a massive gap in the lives of the children of British communists and Soviet fellow travellers, just as Suez – at the exact same moment – left a massive gap in the lives of the children of what William Hague once called the “mass mainstream majority”. No wonder rock’n’roll – and briefly, at this moment, skiffle – were so incredibly potent for both. You need to have everything you have built your lives on crumble for music to mean *quite* that much.

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