Northern French troops fire on invading Southern French troops near Orleans.

The 1956 Crisis was a period of tense and confusing politics and war taking place in October and November 1956. The Crisis was actually three distinct events: the Hungarian Uprising, the Suez Canal Crisis, and the French War, but historians tend to study all three together due to their interrelated nature. It was also related to the ongoing Algerian Civil War.

The Crisis was a major coup for the Alliance of Independent Leftist Republics, since it demonstrated the organisation was capable of holding its own against two of the world's great powers, the Republic of France and Great Britain. It also demonstrated its diplomatic skill in resolving the Hungarian Uprising peacefully, and ultimately brought two new members into its fold: Egypt and Hungary. On a global scale it would set the stage for pan-Arabism's growth and the loss of the Northern French seat on the UN Security Council.



Hungary had been a member of the Axis Powers in the Second World War. Following its conquest by the Soviet Union elections had been held, where the communist party had won just 17% of the vote; nonetheless, the communist party's tactics won it total control over the nation, especially through use of the AVH - the secret police. In 1949 the People's Republic of Hungary was declared. The nation then entered a period of political repression under Matyas Rakosi, as well as massive economic stagnation from a poorly-implemented to a socialist economy and Comecon trade agreements.


Imre Nagy was Prime Minister of Hungary 1953-55, prior to the Revolution.

In 1953 Josef Stalin died, and was eventually succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev. There was a brief period of liberalisation within the Soviet Bloc. Within Hungary Matyas Rakosi was removed as Prime Minister and replaced by the more liberal Imre Nagy; however, Rakosi remained General Secretary of the party and had Nagy removed in 1955. The next year Khrushchev delivered the "Secret Speech", news of which soon travelled across the Soviet Bloc and inspired thoughts of further freedoms; the speech also denounced Stalinists in general, such as Rakosi, who was then fully removed on the pretence of illness.

By late October 1956 discontent within Hungary was rife, with students, writers and journalists becoming increasingly critical towards the government, and engaging in debates over the nation's future. In the West, the United States was hoping to limit Soviet control over Eastern Europe but without a military confrontation. And to the south, Yugoslavia was looking to secure its northern border against the Soviet Union and to expand the sphere of its economic influence beyond its AILR partners and Egypt.


In 1952 Egypt was taken over in a coup by Gamal Abdul Nasser, overthrowing King Farouk and establishing an Egyptian republic. From the outset the republic was heavily nationalist, seeking control over many historically Egyptian assets. In 1954 an agreement was concluded between Egypt and the former imperial occupier, Britain, to have British troops withdraw from their base on the Suez Canal. Nonetheless, tension remained between Egypt and Britain, and as it had since 1948, Egypt and Israel.

In the period running up to the crisis both the USA and USSR were trying to gain control over the economically crucial Middle East, and both saw Egypt as a potential ally. In the same way, Egypt was trying to up its standing in the world through playing the superpowers off of one another. To this end Nasser purchased arms from the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia to replace its British equipment (another step in distancing itself from its imperial past), but also seeking arms deals with the USA. The US was hesitant, however, since it did not wish for Egyptian weapons to be turned against its ally: Israel.

Downward-spiralling Anglo-Egyptian relations were caused by each nation trying to frustrate the other in attempts to gain some degree of control over the region. In order to win further support without alienating either superpower, Nasser entered into negotiations with the Alliance of Independent Leftist Republics, intending to enter the alliance. At the time the alliance was successfully walking a middle path between both superpowers and Nasser believed that stronger relations with it, without fully committing, would leave him in a position of strength. He was particularly keen on stronger relations with Southern France. To this end he purchased a large volume of military equipment developed by Southern France's independent rearmament program, and sought a number of trade agreements in return for helping the independence movement in Algeria. Nasser felt that an independent Algeria would strengthen his pan-Arab movement and lay the foundations for a strong economic alliance in the Mahgreb region friendly to both the Alliance and Egypt. Nasser also benefitted from being on good terms with Josef Tito.

A key turning point in the path of the region was when the United States withdrew funding support for the construction of the Aswan Dam, with the intention of teaching Nasser a lesson. Eisenhower's administration believed it would be impossible for the Soviet Union to fund the dam's construction, and certainly not the AILR. However, Nasser's response was, in accordance with his nationalistic policies, to nationalise the Suez Canal on July 26th 1956. The same day he blockaded the Gulf of Tiran and closed the canal to Israeli shipping. Britain was greatly angered at the threat to its imperial lifeline and, along with France and Israel, began to plan how to win back control of the canal.

French divide

The rise of communist-controlled Southern France produced significant tensions on both sides of the French border. The border itself was a major part of the problem: it was entirely indefensible, having been based (mostly) on the border of wartime Vichy France. Southern France was happy to accept a more defensible border while it prepared for a national revolutionary conquest. Northern France simply desired the destruction of Southern France. Though neither side was prepared to directly provoke the other, conflict was already rife.

In Southern France, the 1950 election had established the 'left-only' system, forbidding any parties more right-leaning than labour parties. This was enforced both by secret police and by the National Council for Political Correctness, an elected body of respected international communist scholars who pruned parties for adherence to leftist policies. In the North, this was manifested as strong support for conservative parties and roving gangs in the cities who beat up suspected communists. Unsurprisingly, US Senator Joseph McCarthy found himself much in agreement with the Northern French approach to the communist threat.

In 1954 conflict broke out in Algeria over the issue of independence. The French Communists were initially reluctant to take part in the conflict, since they felt that Algeria was not ready for independence; however, diplomatic feelers extended from Egypt began to turn their opinion on this. By 1956 Southern France was fully involved in the war, supporting the Algerian Communist Party in its plight for independence.

Progress of the Crisis

The Hungarian Uprising


The student rally in Budapest.

On 23rd October a massive student uprising began in Budapest, with over 20,000 students marching on the headquarters of Radio Budapest to broadcast their demands: Soviet withdrawal and disbanding of the AVH, the secret police. Violence broke out as the police fired to disperse the crowd. Popular demand returned the ousted Imre Nagy to the position of Prime Minister on the 24th while calls for a general strike began to spread. As the uprising spread into the countryside and new, independent workers' councils formed, Nagy announced an intention to negotiate for Soviet withdrawal. By the 28th Soviet troops had departed the country and Nagy began negotiations and reforms. However, international attention for the uprising was turned to the unfolding situation in Suez on the 29th. Nonetheless, Nagy opened into negotiations with the Soviet Union for full neutrality.

Soviet forces withdrew on November 1st after intense street fighting.

But the negotiations were far from successful. The Soviet Union was not keen on any withdrawal from its sphere of influence, fearing it would lead to a chain of revolts. Soviet troops began to mass on the Hungarian border. Meanwhile, Yugoslavia was keen to secure its northern frontier and rally more members to AILR. As such, it too entered negotiations, advising Nagy and his deputy Kadar to abandon some reforms and institute a more limited and palatable set of reforms - and to back this up, positioned troops along the northern border. In this respect it had support from the United States: while President Eisenhower was disappointed that it would not be able to move Hungary into the Western camp, he knew a loss of Soviet power was the next best thing.

In the confused days of the Crisis, the USA could not commit full power because of the aggression of Greece and Southern France against its interests, and the USSR could not commit to military action because Greece and Southern France were acting in its interests. Eventually, deciding that Hungary was the least of their problems at the time and that their manpower may well be needed for what appeared to be the brink of the Third World War, the Soviet Union backed off on November 5th, but only on the condition that Yugoslavia released political prisoners incarcerated in Goti Otok prison camp, along with some trade deals being mandated in order to make up for Comecon's losses. Yugoslavian troops remained in position for several days longer but by the 9th they had also backed out, and were now preparing to lend pressure to the unfurling Mediterranean conflict. On November 18th Hungary formally joined the Alliance of Independent Leftist Republics, a peaceful end of their side of the crisis.

The French War

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