Friday, November 03, 2006

More tributes to Peter Fryer

Behind the woman in white is Peter Fryer, taking his place with Hungarian comrades at the congress of the Workers International (for Reconstruction of the Fourth International), in 1987.
Nearby, turning towards him, is Balasz Nagy, Hungarian Trotskyist.

I'M pleased to see Peter Fryer has had a good obituary in the Guardian, written by Scottish historian Terry Brotherstone (who like Peter and myself was a contributor to Workers Press in the late 1980s).

Communist journalist who told the truth about Hungary 1956

The death of Peter Fryer aged 79, comes 50 years to the week since his honest reporting of Hungary's 1956 revolution for the Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) split the Communist party of Great Britain, and changed his own life. A loyal CP member since 1945, and a Worker journalist for nine years, he immediately wrote a short, passionate book Hungarian Tragedy in defence of the revolution - and was expelled from the party.

Fryer's book has been compared to John Reed's Ten Days that Shook the World on the Bolshevik uprising of 1917. A few days before he died, Fryer heard that Hungary's president had awarded him the Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic, in recognition of his "continuous support of the Hungarian revolution and freedom fight".

Sent by the then Worker editor, Johnny Campbell, to report on a "counter-revolutionary" uprising, Fryer's loyalty was to communism, Marx's "truly human society", not to the CPGB's Stalinist line. Realising that he was witnessing a popular uprising of students and workers, he sided with the revolutionaries. His dispatches were savagely edited, then suppressed.

In 1949, Fryer had covered the Hungarian Stalinist regime's show trial of Hungarian party leader, László Rajk. In good faith, he reported Rajk's "confession" - made with the promise of being spared, but resulting in his execution - as proletarian justice. So, when the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's revelations about Stalinism at the 1956 Soviet Party congress were followed in Hungary by Rajk's cynical "rehabilitation", Fryer's engagement with the CPGB's crisis was personal. The "doubts and difficulties" shared by many members, for him meant confronting the part he felt he had played in Rajk's murder.

Held up at a border town on the road from Vienna to Budapest, Fryer saw his first dead bodies - 80 people shot during a demonstration. It was his turning-point. Attending the election of a workers' council at a state farm was the last straw. An apology that it was taking all day because "we have absolutely no experience of electing people" made him think: "So much for 'people's democracy'."

In late October 1956 there was a lull which followed from the brief Soviet withdrawal and ended with the Soviet army's return to Budapest on November 4 to crush the revolution. During that period Fryer offered to edit an English-language paper, and he was proud to read, in a 1961 Hungarian emigré bibliography of the revolution that this was "of capital importance as regards the character of the insurrection: the only foreign journalist who decided to act for the sake of Hungary was a Communist".

Hungarian Tragedy played a big part in the CPGB's fierce internal discussions which followed the Soviet invasion and led up to its Easter 1957 Hammersmith congress. But the party proved irredeemable. By then Fryer was working with the Trotskyist "club" of Gerry Healy (obituary December 18 1989), for which he edited the weekly Newsletter and co-edited Labour Review. These publications represent one of the few attempts by British Trotskyists to engage in serious dialogue and for a while they attracted a wide range of authors.
(Guardian obituaries, Friday November 3, 2006),,1938086,00.html
for the full article.

Meanwhile, having contacted a few people to tell them the sad news, I had the following among replies:

From Nick Davies, Labour Party member in Swansea:
This is sad news. I saw Fryer speak at a 1986 commemoration of the uprising. he modestly described 'Hungarian Tragedy' as 'a young man's book'. Maybe it was, but it was none the worse for that. Fryer thought for himself and spoke the truth about Hungary, despite the fact it lost him his job and his party membership.

Nick Davies

From Steve Ballard, north London teacher and long-standing Trotskyist, now a member of the United Socialist Party:
Peter’s greatest achievement for me was his weekly column... It was always erudite and informative, drawn from a wealth of carefully observed personal experience, often amusing, usually affectionate or generous about the people he was writing about, except when criticising someone’s action or behaviour when the need arose. He shared with his readers his interests and enthusiasms for music (particularly Latin American), history and life in general. But most importantly his column was an object lesson in how to write for a newspaper aimed at the working class - it was never pompous, patronising or unnecessarily judgemental.
His recounting of some of the crucial episodes in the history of the Communist Party were all the more telling because he had the sense not to embellish it with his own point of view or the benefit of hindsight.
Not all of Peter’s energy went on work. He was still playing the piano late on Friday nights between the sets of the main band at the Brazilian bar in Archway run by his son-in-law, a source of pleasure of which he was clearly proud.


From Amanda Sebestyen, writer and art historian:
How really sad- I noticed in the Guardian retrospective on Hungary that Peter Fryer was ill and unable to participate, but I got the impression he was more absorbed with Brazilian matters and his book about how slave music in its turn re-influenced music back in Africa.
I think he wrote wonderful prose and I really liked his handbook on writing style for journalists - it was Orwellian in its crispness and very funny.
We only met once, on a march (possibly against the gulf war of 1991) . We got talking and his discoveries were fascinating, but unfortunately we fell out over 'political correctness', ie feminism.
If there is ever a meeting about him which would be suitable for a wider audience than family and/or ex WRP members, I'd like to come.
Meanwhile I remember him with great respect.

All good wishes

From Madge Dresser, University of the West of England lecturer who has done much to promote Bristol's awareness of Black history and acknowledgement of its part in the slave trade:
Very sad news, he was such a nice man and made such a contribution to our historical understanding of Britain.


Hungarian Revolution on line:

Hungarian Tragedy, by Peter Fryer
Balasz Nagy on the Workers' Councils in 1956:
The same writer wrote an article on the The Relevance of Trotsky's Transitional Programme, in 1966, republished (with a spiteful whinge from the Spartacists) in Revolutionary History magazine:

The latest Revolutionary History is devoted to remembering 1956 and the crisis in the Communist Parties:

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At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Tekas said...

This comes as a shock a random sherch on the web, and I am very sad to find out Peter as passed well over a year ago. I still remember him as dear comrade to which I had the greatest respect, and admiration for his work, and easy going manner.His views as political journalist writer and internationalist has been a source of information and enlightnment for many. I did enjoyed his company and some of the times we passed together. I first met him when we shared a platform in 1995 at Manchester University

Maria Teresa Santana


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