Ellis Garvey writes about the history of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party and the current state of the nation under Orbán
Hungary since the notorious Hungarian Uprising always had a reformist style of leadership which would become known as Kádárism, after the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP), Janos Kádár. This would see the move of the country’s economy from full state-planning to a focus on self-financing of the Hungarian state’s enterprises and a much slower, incomplete collectivisation process. On top of this Hungary was known for having open borders when it came to art and culture. With all this considered it is no surprise that Hungary was the first to fall. Using these policies, the Hungarian People’s Republic maintained friendly relations with the west by 1989 and took several IMF loans designed to tie the country to the world market. This stemmed much opposition to his leadership prompting several divisions against Kádár’s leadership, led primariy by Bela Bikaszu. However moves were not made out of fear of both Soviet Intervention and also lack of support from Moscow and now a thriving reform faction within the MSZMP.
In 1989, the social democratic path was confirmed during the signing of the ‘Democratic Package.’ In addition to fierce resistance from the Marxist-Leninist wing, Kadar himself was also critical of the move. This package completely undermined the dictatorship of the proletariat and made no pretence of the importance of the working class. A party coup would then take place by a group who had studied in the West. This group led by Miklós Németh were open about their support for social democracy. After the coup, they began a series of neoliberal reforms. The West would use Hungary as a staging point to undermine and humiliate the socialist camp, especially since Gorbachev was in many ways unwilling to support the cause of socialism abroad. Hungary was used to shelter the hate preacher who incited uprisings in the northern part of Romania, opened the border and allowed an uncontrolled flow of people through designed to humiliate Poland and East Germany.
The result of these reforms?
A total drop in the standard of living due to IMF loan repayments. Having privatised the entirety of the industries, there would be no resources with which the Hungarian government could effectively pay back the loans they had taken out and the result of this was as bloody austerity policy which saw the near total collapse of standards of living. Alike the rest of Eastern Europe, their economy was completely undermined by the West and their industries had left, making the market completely inaccessible. This saw mass unemployment and the total loss of faith in the social democratic and liberal government. Workers were completely disempowered.
Hungary’s current brutal anti-communism has been considered as neo-fascist by many, with symbols of the socialist period forbidden. All communist opposition has been made illegal and criminalised. Hungary’s current Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán, alike many Eastern European politicians who came after the collapse of socialism, was a huge supporter of EU integration. He has routinely used his platform to spread anti-communist rhetoric.
I spoke to Milán, a communist student from Hungary, who has an interest in his country’s past, especially the history of the Workers’ Party.
Ellis: So, when you look back to the period of the peoples republic what do you think?
Milán: I think about how regular people and the workers could enjoy their life, their work and overall anything they had. People were less greedy and more empathetic towards each other. Life in communities were much better as people used to stick together and accept each other.
Ellis: what was good and what was bad about that period? What where the effects of the famed Kádárism or as it is known in the west, ‘Goulash Communism’
Milán: A good thing was improvements of life and material conditions. 100% of the population had social insurance, there was free higher education regardless of class situation, new schools and hospitals were built… I could go on for days. This showed how Kádár cared about our lives, and wanted us to be happy. One bad thing that could come to my mind that despite the convergence of the people, there were many closed-minded people trying to conserve traditional values. This was present in teachers and parents mostly. They taught the kids discipline which is a good thing, however, they often carried it too far with physical violence for instance. This education often mentally affected young people in a wrong way.
Ellis: What was the period like leading up to the collapse:
Milán: As Western culture and the false promises of capitalism infiltrated our country, people became greedier. This had tolls on social life, the economy and slowly started to poison political thinking too. We started to rely on Western imports, the country suffered from financial debt, decline in infrastructural development, and more money was pulled from the agricultural sector. You didn’t need to be a genius to see that the country was declining.
Ellis: what do you think was to blame?
Milán: As much as we sometimes hate to say, I believe that the Moscow leadership had a bad impact on us, but as I said Western culture changed the people, and Kádár was too old to maintain everything properly.
Ellis: What happened following? what effect do you think it made on your childhood?
Milán: Well, as I was too young to notice anything and I lived in the countryside, it didn’t have a significant impact on my childhood. The country obviously went through a lot of changes, many jobs lost, homeless rates went up and we experienced a high inflation, our currency became weaker and weaker. The bread that used to be 3,6HUF (Hungarian Forint) is now around 300HUF or more.
Ellis: Throughout this period we saw the rise of Orbán, what do you think caused it?
Milán: I think the Őszöd speech made by Orbán during the time of the former Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány in 2006 and the following nationwide political crisis and civil unrest caused it. The Hungarian Socialist Party had collapsed and people had lost all trust in the political left. This gave an opportunity for Orbán to say anything bad about the left, and push the Hungarian people further into nationalism and conservativism.
Ellis: what long lasting effect has this made on Hungary?
Milán: Since then, Orbán is still our Prime Minister, and he is successfully using the media to spread his lies and deceive people. More and more people are becoming radical nationalists, most of them going even further and becoming neo-fascists. A major effect this had on Hungary is that we became less accepting, whether we talk about foreigners, people of colour, LGBT or even women. This obviously made many foreign countries despise us, and even the EU has very bad relations with us, despite the fact that we basically depend on the money we receive from them.
Ellis: What do you think about the current situation in Hungary? Is there potential with all the restrictions for a future socialist movement to flourish in Hungary?
Milán: The current situation is simply horrible. I have lot of moments just mentally breaking down about how did we get here? and how could we change this? While the youth has a lot of potential of pushing us into a better direction, we are far from radicalizing them. I believe we need a strong political movement if we want to achieve anything, but first we need to pull the population out of this blindfolded state we are in, and open their eyes about everything we have been lied about for 30 years.