fbpx
Home/Rod Dreher/British Youth Choose Communist Over Gladstone

British Youth Choose Communist Over Gladstone

William Gladstone, reformist prime minister (Source)

On Tuesday, outside a pizza restaurant in Budapest, I met a woman whose rural farm family had everything stolen from them by the Communists. Her grandfather buried the family jewelry somewhere on the farm, but forgot where. A neighbor who knew this ratted him out to the authorities, who led the grandfather around the farm with a pistol to his head, trying to get him to remember. Grandfather did two prison terms. The family went into exile, with nothing.

“Every family in this country has such a story,” she told me.

When I arrived back home, I wrote about this for the blog, and then spent some time online reading about the 1956 uprising against the Soviet occupiers. It is a story of sheer heroism and self-sacrificial patriotism. Here is a good, brief account of it. Excerpt:

Meanwhile, on 31 October, Khrushchev announced the Soviet government’s intention to hold discussions with the Hungarian government on the subject of Soviet troops on Hungarian territory. He even invited Nagy to send over a delegation to Moscow to start the negotiations. The people of Hungary rejoiced – they had done it; they had cowed the Soviet monster; they had forced the Soviet tanks back out of the country.

The following day, 1 November, without informing the Hungarians, Khrushchev changed his mind. Nagy, he concluded, had gone too far; this went much further than Poland. China’s Chairman Mao, who had been heckling Khrushchev for being weak, encouraged him to take a firmer line. As Mao pointed out, if Nagy delivered on these reforms, what sort of message would it send to other members of the Eastern Bloc? Its very foundation would be at risk. The Soviet leader decided to fight back after all.

On 1 November, receiving reports that Soviet tanks were back on Hungarian soil, Nagy confronted the Soviet Union’s ambassador in Hungary, Yuri Andropov. Andropov, who would become USSR’s premier from 12 November 1982 to his death, aged 69, on 9 February 1984, assured Nagy that the reports were false – there were no Soviet tanks on Hungarian soil. Indeed, two days’ later, the Soviet military command invited a Hungarian government delegation to attend a meeting to discuss the Soviet Union’s complete withdrawal from Hungary. The delegation, headed by Pal Maleter, arrived for the meeting. The meeting was nothing more than a ruse – Maleter and his delegation were immediately placed under arrest.

Friday 2 November was All Souls’ Day, the day people remember the dead. Church bells rang sombre tones, people lit candles and black flags hung everywhere.

At 9.30 p.m. on 3 November, in an operation codenamed ‘Whirlwind’, Soviet troops re-entered Hungary and approached the capital. In the early hours of Sunday 4th, the Soviets seized all the vital points of communication. By the time the insurgents had mustered, it was already too late. Together with the Hungarian army, they fought back but this time the Soviets were prepared – infantry, artillery, tanks and even air strikes decimated the city. The tanks reduced to rubble every building from which a single shot was fired.

As the city fell about him, Nagy appeared on Radio Budapest at 5.20 on the morning of 4 November:

‘This is Imre Nagy speaking. Today at daybreak Soviet forces started an attack against our capital, obviously with the intention to overthrow the legal Hungarian democratic government. Our troops are still fighting; the Government is still in its place. I notify the people of our country and the entire world of this fact.’

And that was it. Nagy’s voice disappeared – no one ever heard it again. Seconds later, the National Anthem played, not the communist version but the anthem that brought tears to patriotic hearts. A couple hours later, at 8.10, Radio Budapest broadcast its last appeal, ‘Help Hungary… help, help, help,’ before being taken off air.

The ‘entire world’ that Nagy had appealed to, ignored him. Western powers spoke loud words; the US condemned the attack as a ‘monstrous crime’; John Foster Dulles, the US Secretary of State, said, ‘To all those suffering under communist slavery, let us say you can count on us’. In the event, the US did nothing – the risks of venturing into an Eastern European conflict, and the potential for escalation, were too great. Great Britain and France were distracted by the emerging crisis over the Suez Canal and the US by presidential elections. The aid never materialised.

Soviet communism held Hungary captive for 33 more years. People who lived through it all have lessons for us today, as I write about in Live Not By Lies. Excerpt:

Defending the right to speak and write freely, even when it costs you something, is the duty of every free person. So says Mária Wittner, a hero of the 1956 Hungarian uprising against Soviet occupation. A communist court sentenced Wittner, then only twenty, to death, though this was later commuted to life imprisonment.

“Once I said to one of the guards in prison, ‘You are lying.’ For that alone, I was taken to trial again,” remembers the feisty Wittner. “The state prosecutor said to me, ‘Wittner, why did you accuse the guard of being a liar? Why didn’t you just say, ‘You’re not telling the truth’? I said, ‘It matters that we speak plainly.’”

For her insolence, Wittner was sent back to prison with extra punishments. She had to sleep on a wooden bed with no mattress and was given reduced rations. By the time her sentence was commuted and she was released, Wittner weighed scarcely one hundred pounds. Nevertheless, she insists that a broken body is a price worth paying for a strong and undefiled spirit.

“We live in a world of lies, whether we want it or not. That’s just the case. But you shouldn’t accommodate to it,” she tells me as I sit at her table in suburban Budapest. “You will be surrounded by lies—you don’t have a choice. Don’t assimilate to it. It’s an individual decision for each person. If you want to live in fear, or if you want to live in the freedom of the soul. If your soul is free, then your thoughts are free, and then your words are going to be free.”

Under hard totalitarianism, dissenters like Wittner paid a hard price for their freedom, but the terms of the bargain were clear. Under soft totalitarianism, it is more difficult to see the costs of compromising your conscience, but as Mária Wittner insists, you can’t escape the decisions. You have to live in a world of lies, but it’s your choice as to whether that world lives in you.

Here she was on the streets of Budapest in 1956:

And here she is today:

Maria Wittner: Hungarian patriot and hero of the 1956 revolution, in her home in 2019

More:

Mária Wittner, now in her eighties, is regarded by her countrymen as a national hero for fighting the Soviets when they invaded Hungary in 1956. She was only a teenager then. The communist regime arrested her shortly after she turned twenty, and a year later, sentenced her to death. Her sentence was later reduced because of her youth. But she endured terrible grief and pain in her eight months on death row.

“There was an execution either every day or every other day, by hanging,” she tells me. “The people who were being brought to the execution, each one said their name aloud and left some sort of message in their final words. Some sang the national anthem, others praised their country, there were people saying, “Avenge me!”

There were days when several people were hanged, even seven a day. Wittner’s friend Catherine was also sentenced to death. They spent Catherine’s last night together in the cell, and said their final goodbyes after sunrise. Wittner explains:

The guards took her. The last sight I saw of her was that she straightened herself up and went with her back ramrod straight. The door closed, and then I was left alone. I started to bang on the door, shouting, “Bring her back!” even though I knew perfectly well that it wouldn’t matter. Then I fainted. When I came to my senses, I swore to myself that I will never be silent about what I have seen, if I have the opportunity to bear witness.

This, she believes, is why her life was spared: so that she could to tell the world what the communists did to people like her.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about fear, as such,” she says. “What is fear? Someone who is afraid is going to be made to do the most evil things. If someone is not afraid to say no, if your soul is free, there is nothing they can do to you.”

The old woman looks at me across her kitchen table with piercing eyes. “In the end, those who are afraid always end up worse than the courageous.”

After reading about the 1956 events, I took one look through the UK papers before turning in. There, to my very great shock, I found this:

Woke students have forced Liverpool University to rebrand an accommodation block named after William Gladstone because of his family’s links to slavery.

Gladstone Halls will be renamed after racial inequality campaigner Dorothy Kuya, who was the city’s first community slavery officer.

But the move has caused fury among members of the faculty, with politics professor Dr David Jeffrey slamming the decision as ‘shameful’.

He added: ‘Liverpool University is shamefully going ahead with renaming Gladstone Hall. Named after one of our greatest Prime Ministers and one of Liverpool’s most consequential political exports.

‘He worked for the abolition of slavery and never owned slaves himself.’

Gladstone – the British prime minister between 1868 and 1894 – never owned slaves himself, but his family had links to the trade.

The move to change the name of the halls was first touted in 2017, when students signed an online petition.

Alisha Raithatha, from Birmingham, spent her first year at Liverpool University living in the Roscoe and Gladstone Halls.

She did not realise Gladstone’s links to slavery until making a trip to the city’s slavery museum.

‘I didn’t realise — I don’t think anybody did,’ she told the Liverpool Echo. ‘I looked it up and realised William Gladstone wasn’t in favour of abolishing slavery. I was a bit disgusted to live in the building without realising that history.’

So she began a petition on the Liverpool Guild of Students’ website, explaining she was ‘horrified’ by the news about Gladstone’s past.

‘We believe,’ the petition said, that ‘someone with this controversial background should not have a university hall named after them, especially in a city where we try hard not to forget the atrocities that took place on our docks.’

In a follow up tweet after the final decision was made in March, Dr David added: ‘We’re post-truth. It doesn’t matter what the facts are, if you can kick up a storm on social media you can bully your way to getting what you want.

‘Liverpool’s going to be a historically barren place if you erase everyone who was even close to someone who owned slaves.’

Gladstone, a Liberal politician, once campaigned for compensation for slave owners after the abolition of the horrific practice but also dubbed slavery the ‘foulest crime.’

The university halls will be now named after Liverpudlian race campaigner Ms Kuya.

Dorothy Kuya was a leading member of the Communist Party of Britain. She is being honored by these students for her work against racism in Britain, but that cannot begin to blot out her great moral crime. The British CP was founded on Lenin’s orders, and slavishly followed Moscow’s line. When Stalin signed a peace treaty with Hitler, it suddenly switched to oppose fighting Hitler. Then, when Hitler attacked the USSR, the CP of Britain was back onside. Dorothy Kuya stayed with the party after the 1956 Hungary invasion. She stayed with the party after the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. She stayed with the party after the Cambridge spy ring betrayed her own country for the Soviets. She stayed with the party after the publication of The Gulag Archipelago. To her dying day, Kuya supported the ideology for whose principles scores of millions were murdered.

Gladstone? The 19th century liberal was one of Britain’s greatest prime ministers. He condemned the slave trade. But his father made money in part from slavery, so that makes him an untouchable, according to these British students, for whom “antiracism” is such a sacred cause that it absolves its proponents of any moral crimes.

I would love to see someone take Maria Wittner and other heroes of 1956 to Liverpool to tell those students what Communism is. I’m serious. They ought to name a hall there after Maria Wittner, who put her life on the line to oppose totalitarianism. If this initiative in Liverpool doesn’t shock the conscience of those who are old enough to remember Communism, and compel us to retrieve the truth from the memory hole, we are well and truly lost. In Live Not By Lies, I mention a conversation with a young California woman who told me that she has become a Communist. “What about the gulags?” I said to her. She had no idea what I was talking about!

And now, in Liverpool, the young prefer a lifelong lackey of brute Soviet power to William Gladstone. In last night’s post recounting the conversation I had with the Hungarian woman at the restaurant, I recalled her saying that she had lived for a time in Britain, but left in part because she couldn’t stand the constant social tension there over race. She got tired of being told that she was privileged because she’s white. She said she tried to defend herself by saying that her family was ruined by Communism, and so forth, but these British antagonists refused to hear it. She is white, and that’s all they felt that they needed to know.

Ideas have consequences, folks. Here in Hungary, people ask me about my book. I tell them it has sold well despite an almost total blackout from the mainstream media. I have nothing to complain about — as I said, the book is selling well — but it is quite telling that nobody in the mainstream media wants to hear what those who survived Communism are saying about what the woke are doing to our country. I have an interview scheduled for a Hungarian TV show later today. I’m going to try to find an opportunity to talk about this moral atrocity in Liverpool, and urge Hungarians who remember to speak out, loudly. 

I know this blog has a readership among US and UK journalists. Not all of them are woke, or water-carriers for the illiberal Left. Y’all, come on: tell the stories of these people! Listen to what they are saying! Ignore my book if you like — that’s fine, I’ve made my money from it — but don’t ignore Maria Wittner, and all the others. They have something vital to tell us. If you can’t see what the students of Liverpool have done — and what the administrators of that college have allowed them to do — and be shocked by what it says about the loss of historical memory, then you are part of the problem.

What a strange thing to be sitting in a former Communist country, watching all this play out in the West. This period feels like I imagine the 1930s did, that “low, dishonest decade” (Auden). I’m going to spend as much time as I have here in Hungary to find more people like Maria Wittner, and write about them in this space.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

leave a comment

Latest Articles