Lessons of a Revolution
By TIBOR SZAMUELY
ISTEPPED out of our gateway into a street that had been one of the city's main thoroughfares and was now utterly deserted. The advancing tanks had not yet reached us—they must have been a few blocks away, judging by the gunfire.
The only person in sight was a young boy standing in the gate. He was hardly more than seventeen or eighteen, but looked very martial, with his red, white and green armband, a festoon of hand- grenades over his jacket, and a sub-machine gun cradled in his arm. We stood for a while in silence, then I asked him what he was doing. 'Why, we're waiting for the United Nations force to arrive,' he replied. 'They can't be long now.
The main thing is to hold out.' I stood by him for a little more, and then went back to the house.
What was the point of telling him that there would be no United Nations forces, that the UN had found better things to do—in short, that after one incredible fortnight it was all up? The date was November 6, 1956; the place, Budapest. - After the defeat despair pervaded every- thing and everyone. For many months it over- hung the country like a heavy pall. Young and old alike talked only of emigrating. And many did: over two hundred thousand in all, the equivalent of nearly one and a half million people leaving Britain in a single wave. It was a monumental gesture of despair. They despaired not for their country alone. Most wanted to get as far away as possible: to the United States, to Canada, Australia, South America—anywhere.
But not, if they could help it, to Western Europe.
'Europe is finished,' was the general attitude. The pessimism of an embittered people in defeat?
Not only: in some strange way the alchemy of revolution seemed to have given them a deeper insight, a new understanding of the world around them. One felt instinctively that a great turning- point had been reached in European and world history. And this assumption, I believe, has been proved right. The fortnight between October 23 and November 6, 1956, was the time not only of Hungary, but of Suez as well. It marked the end of 450 years of European history.
Hungary was probably the only country in the world where the public knew nothing about Suez.
Once or twice the papers carried brief news items about Anglo-French planes bombing Alexandria and British troops landing on the Canal. I re- member wondering, in a vague kind of way, what it was all about—and then dismissing the matter from my mind. It was only much later that I began to understand the underlying basic con- nection between Budapest and Suez, to see them as elements in a simultaneous attempt by both parts of a divided Europe, separately of each other, to undo the results of the Second World War.
Eastern Europe sought to regain its indepen- dence, Western Europe—its freedom of action.
Both were rebelling against the idea of an American-Russian world condominium that first took shape in Yalta—Anthony Eden, by conceal- ing his intentions from the American govern- ment, just as much as Imre Nagy when he pro- claimed Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact. Both attempts were crushed by the stiper- powers almost on the same day..To be sure, there was a vast difference in the methods em-
ployed: bankers are less sanguinary men than generals, and a .run on the pound is infinitely more humane than an artillery bombardment:', NOttbet::is- _the ftekeitt affluent independence of
the Western European countries at all compar- able to the unhappy condition of their Eastern neighbours. Yet from the point of view of Europe's position and weight in world affairs the two operations achieved a single result: the forced retirement of Europe from the world scene which it had dominated for so many centuries.
The events of October-November 1956 on both sides of the great divide present a picture of striking symmetry. In each case the challenge to the post-war pattern of politics came from the two oldest-established and most self-assertive nation-states of their areas : Britain and France, Poland and Hungary. Their actions were carried out in the fields in which they had traditionally excelled : overseas adventure and the struggle for national independence. The two super- powers, in turn, responded to the affront with the traditional methods which had proved most successful in their rise to greatness: military suppression by the master of the East, financial pressure by the giant of the West. For all their bitter hostility, one senses at this point a certain fellow-feeling between the two world arbiters. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Suez ven- ture (for the moment I am not concerned with them) it is surely remarkable that an American administration which had come to power on a platform envisaging the 'liberation' of Eastern Europe and the 'roll-back' of Russian rule should have chalked up the sole foreign policy success of its eight years' term at the expense, not of its country's enemy, but of its closest allies—and achieved it, moreover, in concert with the arch- enemy himself. All things considered, it is pos- sible to harbour a slight doubt as to whether the two strange bedfellows' actions over Suez really were motivated, as they protested, exclusively by an outraged sense of moral virtue.
Of course, it would be wrong to suggest that the eclipse of Europe dates from November 1956. The decisive moment actually came between March 1944, when the Red Army crossed its country's western borders, and July of the same year, when the number of American troops on the Continent first exceeded the forces of their allies. This was probably an inevitable develop- ment : Europe, having torn itself to pieces in two terrible wars, had manifestly failed to settle its own problems—and lost the capacity for doing so —and the two great extra-European powers had stepped in to resolve the issue. The cause of Euro- pean decline can remain a subject for academic argument—what matters is that the military de- cision of 1945, as embodied in the Yalta bipolar concept, was soon transformed into the funda- mental reality of the post-war world. With the centuries-old system of the balance of power shat- tered beyond recall, a devastated Western Europe, cowering before the spectre of overwhelming Russian might, and having helplessly seen its Eastern half disappear behind the Iron Curtain, was only too happy to have America redress the balance. And then there were two. . . .
But it took some time for the facts to sink in. The substance of European world power had gone—the shadow still remained. The new arrangement was as yet so unfamiliar, it repre- sented such a sharp break with time-honoured traditions and attitudes, that inevitably it was regarded as a temporary. Makeshift to cope with extraordinary but etarisient circumstances. The feeling 'persisted (not only in the East)
that the Russian empire in Europe would somehow break up—either from within or under the stress of war—after which the American presence would become superfluous. Hopes of a return to normalcy were fostered by the phe- nomenal' economic recovery of Western Europe, on the one hand, and the post-Stalin crisis in the Communist world, on the other. The blithe expectation of a 'new Elizabethan age' in Britain was matched by the young Hungarian intellec- tuals' optimistic hopes of a rejuvenated, demo- cratic and independent socialism for their country.
Eleven years—half a generation—had passed since the war. The worst wounds had been healed, the patient was well on the road to recovery. Confidence was in the air. Europe was ready to return to its normal way of life. A fortnight later the bubble burst.
This time there could be no escape from reality. The United Nations did not come to the relief of my young friend and of the thousands of others like him: it went instead to Suez to intensify the humiliation of Britain and France. The post-war world had come to stay. Europe had been finally and incontrovertibly dethroned. Now, after so many centuries, it was the others' turn. If 1956 ended an era, 1957 saw two events which finally set the seal upon the past and ushered in the first decade of a new age: the Soviet Sputnik inaugurated the Soviet-American space race, and the granting of independence to Ghana started an avalanche which rapidly de- posited Africa in the centre of world attention.
'Roll up that map of Europe; it will not be wanted these ten years.' The words were the younger Pitt's, after Austerlitz: they might have been spoken after Budapest and Suez. Europe retreated, licking its wounds. One would be hard put to write its political history in the past decade. Scarcely anything has happened. True, life in Eastern Europe has become more tolerable, while the western half of the still-divided Continent waxed more prosperous than ever before. But politically? The Fourth Republic was replaced by the Fifth, Adenauer by Erhard, the Tories by Labour. That is about all. Probably of greater future importance are the ponderous moves to- wards Western European unity, but until now they have hardly amounted to much politically. The decade's most violent tempests were aroused by agricultural prices.
In the world at large Europe, for the first time since it unified the globe, has ceased to count. The cockpit of the world has become a tranquil backwater. Two world wars originated in Europe (not to mention the global conflicts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), but the crises of the past ten years, with the sole excep- tion of the now happily dormant Berlin prob- lem, have been located in distant places—the Lebanon, the Congo, Laos, Cuba, Vietnam— and hardly impinged upon European interests. This is certainly a cause for satisfaction (the Chinese have a curse: 'May you live in interest- ing times'}—but it also underlines the basic trend of our age. The United Nations Organisation— greatly expanded in size, if not in effectiveness— has become a body in which European countries make up a puny, meek and mute minority. Their role is largely confined to that of cere- monial scapegoat. Since Hungary the UN has washed its hands of European problems, and Europe itself has become almost an irrelevancy to it. For many years now, to take an obvious example, we have been told that the exclusion of Communist China from the world organisa- • tion creates a situation fraught with the grave,st peril—yet hafdly anybody seems to give a thought to the absence from it of Germany, the strongest and most populous country of Europe. Of course, the legal and political aspects of the two cases are very different—yet surely the general unconcern about the question of Germany is significant. It still remains to be seen how much of a menace to world peace China really represents: we do have a certain amount of experience with regard to Germany's potential in this respect.
In recent years international politics have come to be dominated more and more by the curious concept of 'world opinion.' Its 'approval' is eagerly sought by one and all, its 'disapproval' signifies calamity and woe. If one examines this nebulous notion of 'world opinion' with a criti-
cal eye one soon discovers that it means, in effect, the opinion of a majority of the governments
represented in the United Nations—with the exception of the nations of Europe. The dis- tressing fact is that Europe, alone of all the con- tinents, plays almost no part in shaping 'world opinion.' Consider: the East European countries, for all their liberalisation, internationally still
speak in chorus—with the voice of Moscow; Britain cannot step out of line with the Com- monwealth countries, particularly the African
ones; France is dismissed as a maverick, Ger- many had better shut up (and does not exist for the UN anyway), Spain and Portugal are fascists and, as such, beyond the pale. Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland are professional neutrals. Yet, oddly enough, it is precisely in the Western European countries that genuine public opinion finds free expression and full opportunity to in- fluence foreign policy. Among the hundred or so non-European member states of the UN the same could be said of a mere half-dozen; in the rest the expression of 'public opinion' is the prerogative of a more or less unrepresentative government. These, then, are the makers of the 'world opinion' to which the browbeaten and dazed nations of Western Europe are expected to submit (Eastern Europe receiving its guidance from points still further east).
Small wonder that the last ten years should have witnessed a positive orgy of self-loathing throughout Europe: of denigration of the past and degradation of the present, of hatred for our values and ridicule for our traditions. This dis- tasteful fashion is usually explained by a Western 'guilt-complex.' I doubt, however, whether that is the real reason—else why would we be con- fronted by a similar phenomenon in the Eastern European countries, which have precious little to feel guilty. about. It seems to me that the present epidemic of self-hatred is caused to a much greater degree by a feeling of impotence, by a sense of our inability to influence the course of events around us—a situation to which the European nations are still unaccustomed. For ten years now the map has been rolled up, with Europe a cipher in world affairs. Is this the end of the road? Is Europe as a whole to become a glorified Scandinavia : affluent, affable, futile? Possibly. But there does seem to be something fundamentally unnatural about such a prospect: Europe today, although overshadowed by the two giants, and divided by the Iron Curtain and
sundry political frontiers and customs barriers, is intrinsically more powerful, more flourishing than ever before. It is stronger economically, healthier politically, better balanced socially than in any previous period of its history. It rev. mains a source of energy and vitality, a power- house of ideas and techniques. It may have lost (perhaps only temporarily) its nerve, but it cer- tainly shows no signs of decadence or stagnation.,
The discrepancy between Europe's real power and its political impotence—explicable only, in
such a very special case as that of Germany—is artificial and unhealthy. The virtual disappear- ance of Europe from the international scene has contributed decisively to the creation of the world of illusion and make-believe in which we find ourselves today : a world where habitual aggres- sors lecture everyone on the need for peace; where blatantly racialist regimes preach the brotherhood of man; where unconstitutional governments deplore illegality; where dictator- ships extol the democratic virtues; where police states issue ringing manifestoes on the Rights of Man; where colonial proconsuls demand instant independence for everybody but their own sub- jects; where bankrupts embark on grandiose schemes of development—and where all these patent impostures are accepted with the utmost solemnity and at full face value by all. A world where tinpot Hitlers and twopenny-halfpenny Stalins like the preposterous Sukarno or the sinister Nkrumah are eulogised as leading demo- cratic statesmen of our century. Hypocrisy, fraudulence and megalomania are by no means new inventions—what is new is the universal and institutionalised refusal to recognise them for what they really are. With Russia and America competing for the favours of the pre- cipitately arisen 'Third World,' and with Europe totally indifferent, it could hardly be otherwise. The main sufferers are the peoples of the 'Third World' themselves.
The inordinate flattering of the new govern- ments of Africa and Asia, the subservience to their every whim and fancy, the puerile belief that unpalatable facts would somehow disappear simply by never being mentioned: these and similar practices have created something of an international cloud-cuckoo-land that is receding ever further from reality. Entrance to this be- witching land, however, is firmly barred to the Afro-Asian multitudes—they, poor souls, have to live with the reality. Today, with in- stability and unrest spreading around us, pre- tences are becoming harder to sustain. It is tragic to recall that only a very few years ago, during the early stages of the Congolese troubles, the two countries proudly cited as proof of African maturity and stability, and indeed in- vited to participate in the restoration of law and order, were Ghana and Nigeria. Now Ghana is bankrupt and ruled by a military junta, while Nigeria is well on the way to becoming another Congo herself. Many more examples spring to mind—such as the frightful Indonesian massacres, about which humanitarian opinion has maintained such a curious silence.
Chaos is spreading in the world, whether we recognise this or not. The two super-powers can do very little about it. Dreams of the 'American Century' or the 'Atlantic Era' have gone the way of 'World Revolution.' The dethronement of Europe may have had happy results, such as the liquidation of the colonial empires—it has also led to a grave and ominous imbalance in world affairs.
One hears much well-meaning talk nowadays about the imperative necessity for world govern- ment. It is time we realised that at present, when a state of international anarchy is threatening, this goal is more remote than in any previous period of history. The United Nations organisation—it is also constantly said—represents the last great hope of mankind. It certainly represented the last hope for the young National Guardsman whom I met ten years ago in Budapest. And it failed him. He was, after all, only fighting for the independence of a European nation—and who cares about them?