The Hungarian Uprising (A Levels Cold War)

Written by Aaron

The Hungarian Uprising from October – November 1956 is one of the key events mentioned in the CIE A Level History syllabus. Remember, we’re examining this event in the context of the Cold War. So questions like “Why did the Hungarian Uprising happen?” are not likely.

To tackle this event, let’s give it a bit of context, discuss its flow, then its impacts, then how you can use this event in your essay writing.

Quick Stats

2,500 Hungarians killed
700 Soviet troops killed
200,000 refugees flee to Austria
1,000 Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest
Imre Nagy replaced by Janos Kadar

Pre-Hungarian Uprising Context

There were a lot of domestic problems (e.g. economic issues, religious oppression) that fed the Uprising, but we’ll keep our discussion focused on what’s relevant to the Cold War

  • Hungarians expected help from Eisenhower — made them more inclined to protest.
  • Khrushchev had just delivered a speech condemning Stalin — encouraged Hungarians to press for change.
  • Previously, riots in Poland led to a communist leader being replaced with a more popular leader, Wladyslaw Gomulka. USSR eventually approved & did not invade after Gomulka reassured Poland would remaind in Communist bloc — gave Hungarians hope for a better leader.

Flow of the Hungarian Uprising

23rd October: Initially 20,000 Hungarians begin protesting. The crowd quickly swells to a peaceful protest of 200,000.

24th October: Imre Nagy takes over as Prime Minister. Imre Nagy = popular + not super-communist.

28th October: Soviet Army pulls out of Hungary at request of Nagy.

3rd November: Nagy announces Hungary’s departure from Warsaw Pact

4th November: 1,000 Russian tanks roll into Budapest. Janos Kadar appointed as PM by Khrushchev. Nagy is later executed.

Key takeaways:

1) Khrushchev is initially willing to give some space for reform to Hungary, but he draws the line at exit from the Warsaw pact. Shows that even though Khrushchev distanced himself from Stalin, he wasn’t above Stalin-esque measures when brought to the edge.

2) At the same time, the Suez Crisis is ongoing. This offers a ‘cover’ for Khrushchev to crush the Uprising. He is also confident that Eisenhower wouldn’t stop him.

3) This is a case of the USSR ruthlessly replacing leaders that disagree with them. You could consider it a rollback policy of sorts, but from the USSR’s side.

Impacts of the Hungarian Uprising

1. West is horrified: The Uprising causes consternation among Western Leaders and US officials, despite their lack of action. Arguably renews their drive to contain communism.

2. Cold War stalemate: US only protests, but keeps away from Soviet sphere of influence as to not risk war. Khrushchev’s ‘Peaceful Coexistence’ isn’t always peaceful.

3. Soviet authority: USSR consolidates its control over Eastern Europe. No other country attempts to get rid of its troops till Czechoslovakia in 1968. Khrushchev’s authority within the USSR is strengthened.

Using the Hungarian Uprising in Your Essays

Use it in essays to analyse the Thaw. You can say it shows the success of the Thaw given that the USA did not wish to interfere in the Soviet sphere to keep the peace. Alternatively you can point out that the Uprising put a strain on USA-USSR relations.

Use it in essays to analyse Globalisation of the Cold War. While Globalisation focuses primarily outside Europe (as you should too), you can use this as a a brutal example of Soviet foreign policy, and to point out that Eastern Europe was not a sphere contested by the USA.

Use it to analyse the behaviour of leaders. Khrushchev had his own internal factions to appease, and this could be seen as an example of him caving in to domestic pressure at the expense of an initial willingness to allow reform and condemn Stalinisation. You can also use it to analyse Eisenhower — apprehensive towards direct confrontation, but eager to defend spheres of influence elsewhere.

Other key events:

Korean War