This week the world watches the murder of Hungary with a gaze focused on the loathsome details: children pouring petrol from jugs to fire the Soviet tanks; rebels who had reached safety in Austria, returning after 12 hours' rest to continue the hopeless struggle; the last cry of Imre Nagy heard from Budapest Radio. In years to come the events of the last fortnight may be remembered for something of greater historical importance, for we have been watching not only the end of the Hungarian bid for freedom, but the end of the Soviet myth.
To all western Socialists the Russian action is indefensible and unforgivable. It is also very nearly incomprehensible. There was never any danger that the Hungarian revolt would end in the restoration of the Horthyite Fascists, or that "western imperialists" would create a military base in Hungary. Hungary could have been neutral, like Austria, without threat to Soviet security. If Russian fears on that score were genuinely felt - and we can scarcely credit this - a very little diplomatic inquiry would have shown them baseless. Why then have the Russians been prepared to throw away all the fruits of their post-Stalin diplomacy and to contradict some of the most important implications of the 20th Congress? The only sane explanation is that the consequences of the escape of one of the satellites would be too grave for the system to stand. If one goes, the Russians seem to believe, others will follow. And why should such a dash for freedom stop short on the Soviet frontier?
Whatever the calculations of the Soviet leaders, their criminal act in Hungary is an indication of political failure. Their dilemma springs from the decisions of the 20th Congress: how do you give people freedom and at the same time limit it? The answer is now clear. Within the limits of the Warsaw Pact individual Communist Parties are to be permitted a good deal of independence. But one step outside and the Russian tanks will move. The Soviet Empire is still held together with bonds of steel.