Hungary, People’s Republic Of


Hungary, People’s Republic Of
   In the years subsequent to the conclusion of World War II, Hungary was transformed into a communist state under the yoke of the Soviet Union. There were deviations from orthodox Soviet ideology, but on the whole the country followed the same doctrine of “official” MarxismLeninism as the rest of the satellite region, and accordingly the regime collapsed in 1989/90.
   The country was ruled by the Hungarian Workers Party (HWP, later Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, or HSWP) under General Secretaries Mátyás Rákosi between 1948 and 1956, and János Kádár between 1956 and 1988, at which point successor Károly Grósz oversaw the gradual folding of party and regime. The communist rise to power had begun in 1947 with the removal of anti-communist politicians from the scene under the watchful eye of Josef Stalin. In June 1948, aware of the Hungarian Communist Party’s relative lack of influence or support, Stalin forced the Social Democratic Party into a merger that saw the creation of the HWP, and the election of Rákosi as general secretary. By the 1949 election, with all opposition smothered, the takeover was complete, and Stalinist-style purges began in order to consolidate the HWP’s grip on the country. A new constitution modeled along Soviet lines was adopted, state organs and organizations such as trade unions were subordinated to party interests, and a mass resettlement of “enemies” occurred with 700,000 urban middle- class dwellers relocated to countryside labor camps. Such Sovietization suppressed Hungary’s heavily nationalistic inclinations and sought to bring about a strong, centralized political dictatorship. Hungary rapidly assumed the characteristics of an orthodox Marxist–Leninist country, reorganizing along Stalin-approved lines that resulted in a heavy industrialization program and a reduction in the production of consumer items. A Stakhanovite system of rewards for reaching centrally planned targets rather than material gains was put into action, as was the collectivization of rural land.
   This brisk transition to a Soviet, or more exactly Stalin-inspired, Hungary was slowed only with the death of the Moscow leader in 1953, as the heavily Stalinist Rákosi was forced to share power with the more liberal prime minister Imre Nagy whose “New Course” of reforms promised considerable change. The events of the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, however, culminated only in a return to orthodox Moscow-influenced rule under Soviet puppet leader Kádár’s newly renamed HSWP. Kádár immediately set about consolidating the orthodox regime by ensuring party unity, chiefly through offering slight concessions to those baying for reform, for example in his “alliance policy” which sought to relax political and social discrimination. As time progressed there was also amnesty for a number of political prisoners, and the most tyrannical elements of Stalinism dissipated. The collectivization of land was successfully completed in the 1960s, largely because of liberalizing measures such as the adoption of economic rewards for workers’ efforts and an element of free enterprise. The 1968 New Economic Mechanism, similar to Vladimir Ilich Lenin’s New Economic Plan, was implemented by Kádár to rectify mounting fiscal problems in the country. The scheme promised and delivered reduced central planning and interference, and an increased role for the free market in Hungary’s economic landscape. At the same time, concerned for its legitimacy in the eyes of its people, the Hungarian regime attempted policies of increased tolerance culturally, produced multiple-candidacy lists for parliamentary elections and strove to create full educational and employment opportunities for women, so that by the end of the 1960s a fairly developed welfare state had been fashioned. However, the Leonid Brezhnev–led government in Moscow, along with conservative figures in the Hungarian administration, were successful in halting the pace of reform by the mid-1970s. At the same time, cracks were appearing in the Hungarian economy, with the 1973 oil crisis causing a rise in the country’s trade deficit and increasing its foreign debt to $8 billion. This economic downturn eventually contributed to the downfall of the Hungarian communist regime.
   As the pendulum swung back toward reform in Hungary with a raft of decentralizing measures at the start of the 1980s, and, given that popular disgruntlement with the economic situation was already widespread, dissent among Hungarians grew dramatically. The country became increasingly liberalized economically, and socially as state censorship gave way to self-censorship and a “samizdat” oppositional press thrived. This “Goulash communism,” akin to the “socialism with a human face” of Alexander Dubcek during the 1968 Prague Spring, when combined with Mikhail Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika reform agenda, whet the insatiable desire of Hungarian dissenters for change, and the communist regime’s tenure looked unsteady. As Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe gradually receded, the Hungarian communists were rendered unable to count on any support to quell unrest as they had been in 1956, and a quiet revolution in May 1988 saw Kádár forced to resign.
   The new HSWP leadership, under General Secretary Grósz, forwarded an agenda for the creation of a multi-party democracy and a market-oriented economy. At the same time, the solidarity that had once existed between states in the Eastern Bloc was imploding, as the Hungarian willingness to permit those fleeing the German Democratic Republic to pass through Hungary indicated. With a number of new political parties springing up in Hungary as the course of reform snowballed, the HSWP were forced into self-liquidation in October 1989, and out of its ashes arose the social democratic Hungarian Socialist Party. In May 1990, the communist era officially came to a close, and an amended constitution guaranteeing individual and civil rights, and the holding of free elections was announced. Hungary’s first post-communist government, named the Democratic Forum, immediately set about a program of privatization and other reforms that sought to extirpate any last vestige of Marxism–Leninism from Hungarian life.
   Hungarian Marxism, while predominantly sticking to the Soviet Leninist template until its demise in 1989–90, did break away from Moscow on a number of occasions, notably in the liberalizing eras of the early 1970s and 1980s. Additionally, events in 1956 represented a strong rebuking of Stalinist excesses and a concerted call for national autonomy. Though the uprising was eventually crushed, its occurrence paved the way for later reforms, and influenced Khrushchev into recognizing the validity of the concept of separate roads to socialism for Eastern European states. There also developed a separate philosophical stream in Hungary, chiefly in the guise of the Petofi Circle, which campaigned against the deterministic nature of Marxism–Leninism and called for a return to a humanist analysis of socialism. Influential intellectual notables such as Ferenc Fehar and George Konrad were able to advance lengthy critiques of Soviet societies, and in the short period between Stalin’s death and the suppression of the uprising, revisionist, anti-orthodox ideas infiltrated party, government and society in Hungary. However, such freedoms were gradually curtailed following the quelling of the uprising, but the Hungarian administration was unable to entirely ignore the reformers’ agenda. Communist Hungary, while retaining the key elements of Marxist–Leninist orthodoxy, did offer slight deviations on the Soviet theme.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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