|Testament of Revolution
Lipták was studying at the Technical University in Budapest and one day in 1956, he went to the weekly Communist Youth meeting --- they were all required to attend --- when someone from Szeged stood up and said he wanted to speak. He represented a free student association, MEFESZ.
The party secretary told him, "You have only one duty! Your duty is to study!...You don't want any ideas from Szeged!"
Lipták finds himself thinking of the student trying to be heard,
Does he not understand that we are nobodies, that our collective name is "Shut up!" Does he not understand that he is nothing, that I am nothing, that we have no say in anything? Does he not know that the microphone is only for the Party collaborators and nobody, but nobody, else talks into it?
But one student started applauding, then more, then more, and finally the "penguins" --- the ÁVK aparatchiks of the local Communist party --- leave the auditorium. Suddenly, Hungary has a revolution on its hands.
Reading Testament is like reading a novel where you know that something terrible is going to happen, but you get swept into it, just like the students do. It 's all so innocent --- reminding us of the Summer of Love: students put roses in the tank-cannons; money boxes are left unguarded... placed on the streets to help those who are wounded in the early days. Peasants from the country came into Budapest to bring food to the students.
Lipták was so poor he couldn't afford new shoes; he wired his old ones together until one of the revolutionary stalwarts said that he couldn't possibly be a leader with such sloppy footwear. But he --- twenty years old, a true innocent --- is suddenly a leader in the MEFESZ, bringing in arms, hiding from the tanks and the turncoat ÁVH. When those who have supported the Russians through the previous years suddenly disappear, he and some friends invade their offices, and find liquor, food, drawers filled with magazines:
As I opened them, I could barely believe my eyes. The women were doing unimaginable things. One was standing on a fire escape of a skyscraper with nothing on except high heels and a feathery hat. As she was descending, she was giving a goodbye kiss to a young man in the upper window, while another man was already caressing her from the stairs below. As I turned the pages, my blood pressure rose and I got dizzy.
Lipták's simple but heartfelt language is enough to bring up all those warm feelings we may have for the soon to be foiled uprisings from the past, where suddenly thousands of the oppressed rise up spontaneously against oppressors, whether it be the Philippines in 1900, Warsaw in 1944, Cuba in 1958. In the square in front of Hungary's Parliament tens of thousands of people suddenly appear in the night. The Communists turn out the lights:
Somewhere far, far away, at the other end of the square, somebody put a match to a rolled-up issue of the party paper, the Szabad Nép (Free People). Others followed this example, and within a few minutes thousands of flickering torches illuminated the plaza. It was a serene and unforgettable sight. As we stood hypnotized by the flickering of thousands of flames, a deep voice somewhere in the back started singing the national anthem. A quarter-, perhaps half- million people in this gigantic square stood to attention as the hymn spread, filled the square, and rose to the sky.
But, as all revolutions must, it quickly turned sour. Stalin had General Pal Maleter, an Hungarian official with whom they were to sign a treaty, kidnapped and murdered (as they did the Premier, Imre Nagy). Thousands of Russian tanks poured into Budapest. Towards the end of the spectacular but futile weeks, Lipták sneaks over to the campus and the ÁVH drives in and shoots Béla Jancó, one of the young leaders. Lipták lifts up his submachine gun, tries to pull the trigger:
I checked the safety latch, but it was open. It was not that; it was something else...It was something in me, some hateful, ugly weakness that made me incapable of protecting my friend, of stopping those animals.
Jancó is shot to death. Later, when Lipták goes to help lift up his body, one of his shoes slips off:
I made a bewildered delirious effort to put the shoe back on his foot. I was convinced that if I could do that, somehow everything else would fall into place. If I could only put his shoe back, all other things could still be fixed. If I could put it back, his body would not be so stiff, he could still sit up, he could still tell us the outcome of that meeting he had come from, and most importantly, he could still tell us that there was hope, that it was not over. But the foot was too stiff, the shoe could not be put back on, and under the enormous Hungarian flag, which covered the whole bier, one of Jancsi's stiff feet remained covered by only a torn sock.
The Russians move in and crush the uprising. Lipták escapes to Austria and, ultimately, to the United States (Eisenhower ignored the uprising but later issued a proclamation to accept 32,000 refugees from Hungary).
§ § §
as I was reading it, I wrote to one of my friends about A Testament of Revolution. He replied:
My abhorrence of Stalinism, which had formed already, was reinforced by what I read about Hungary in '56-57.
A thing I noticed back then was that while the Stalinists were always pathological liars, Hungary brought out a new trait in the Stalin-apologists --- willful unawareness, rather than direct lying.
I remember, that very year, checking The Nation magazine in the library to see how it handled Hungary. I was appalled to observe that they simply ignored it. Pretty much the same ever since.
He goes on:
I continue to keep track of The Nation. The magazine periodically offers me free trial mini-subscriptions to four issues. I accept, then cancel after the fourth issue. Then, after an interval, they send me the free offer again, I accept again, then cancel again. Their subscription department is apparently exactly like their political department: they never learn.