"Changing Times-- The Canadian Hungarian Worker and the 1956 Revolution"

The 1956 Revolution 50 Years Later—Canadian and International Perspectives
Institute of Canadian Studies – University of Ottawa
October 14, 2006

The 1956 Hungarian revolution and its aftermath—namely, the arrival of 200,000 refugees to Western Europe and North America—portended significant social and political implications for all countries, including Canada, which had accepted Hungarian asylum-seekers in large numbers. The already existing Hungarian émigré communities, churches, fraternal benefit societies and, most importantly, Hungarian-Canadian newspapers were most keenly aware of the dramatic impact that the 38,000 refugees would have on their institutions. Those Hungarians who came to Canada in 1956-57 did so under very different conditions than previous arrivals and fled a quintessentially different country than the 27,600 Hungarians who had arrived in Canada during the interwar period. Consequently, their political attitudes were often influenced by their experiences in Hungary and by the looming shadow of Eastern Europe’s bloodiest revolution.

This paper examines the revolution and the mass arrival of Hungarian refugees to Canada from an often neglected perspective—namely, from the eyes of Canada’s Hungarian Communists and their weekly newspaper, the Kanadai Magyar Munkás (Canadian Hungarian Worker). The Worker, edited and published in Hamilton by István Szöke, had engaged in a protracted and visceral verbal conflict with the paper’s main Hungarian competitor, the conservative Kanadai Magyar Újság (Canadian Hungarian News) from the 1920s onward. Yet during October 1956 and in the early months of 1957 the Worker faced the much more complicated task of discussing the Hungarian revolution, especially in light of the complete repudiation of Stalinism and the wave of anti-Communist uproar on the part of Hungarian-Canadians, as well as society in general, over the brutal repression of the revolt.

Not only had the Worker been a self-professed Communist weekly, but Szöke openly gravitated to Mátyás Rákosi, Hungary’s Stalinist leader, and his politics. During the 1930s, Szöke organized protests and demonstrations throughout Canada demanding that the then imprisoned Rákosi be set free. Even more significantly, in 1951 Sz?ke published a book on the history of Hungarians in Canada in which he praised Rákosi, who in the previous two years had engaged in the purge of a wide-range of people perceived to have been opponents of the Hungarian Communist Party. The Worker’s endorsement of Hungary’s Stalinist regime in the early 1950s and its affiliation with Communist ideology more generally meant that the paper was weighed down by much historical baggage by 1956. With the use of archival material,  this essay examines how the Worker’s Communist roots and previously-held Stalinist sympathies affected both its coverage of the 1956 revolution and the paper’s attitude to the arrival of Hungarian refugees to Canada following the revolt.

Christopher Adam