History of the Hungarian People’s Republic (PART 9: The Co-operative farm movement)

“In August 1948 Rákosi announced that mass collectivisation would proceed over the next four years… By 1953 there were… 5,224 cooperative farms… representing a quarter of the arable land.” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 417)

“State farms… hold 14 percent of farmland.” (Zoltan Halasz, Unkari: kuvitettu tietoteos, p. 156, based on numbers from 1960)

In total, the socialist farming sector was more than a third of all agriculture.

Around election time in 1949, Burchett visited an election meeting at one of the most conservative regions of Hungary, Celldomolk near the Austrian border:

“After the meeting was over, the taverns were full of excited peasants discussing Rakosi, whom most of them had seen for the first time. All they knew of him, was what they had heard from their priests – that Rakosi was a synonym for anti-Christ… “But he talks good sense,” one glum old peasant told his neighbour, “he talked about seeds and fertiliser and machinery as if he knew all about it. About crops and prices. I was told he’d talk only about kolchozes and the church.” “Kolchozes” was a famous bogey-word at the time in some of the more backward villages where the priests spread the word that the “kolchoz” was a sinful, Soviet invention… Many of the peasants had no idea even that the word meant communal farm. They only knew from the priests that the “kolchoz” was an evil thing and must be avoided.” (Burchett, The people’s democracies)

“Hungary will certainly not remain a country of tiny landholders. The development of the machine-tractor station and the co-operative farm have started the second revolution in five years in the Hungarian villages. Hungarian peasants, because millions of them have had the status of serfs for generations, are backward and fearful of change… and the government is wise in introducing the new co-operative farms very gradually.

The principle is to demonstrate to the peasants that the co-operative farms give the best results, the best crops and give more free time to the farmer. There is no pressure on people to join. Unwilling farmers will not plant crops and the government does not want any interruption in its food supplies. Reactionary priests in all parts of the country warn farmers to have nothing to do with this new evil.”

“our first and foremost task is to strengthen the already existing co-operatives and to make provisions so that these co-operatives attract the working peasantry through their good example and good results…

Owing to the initial difficulties, some of our co-operatives are not sufficiently attractive, and it happens that some of the co-operative members who come from the poorest village class go over to industrial construction or go into the towns which offer sure and permanent wages. If, as in such cases, the maize field of the producer cooperative is covered with weed, or the yield is smaller than that of the individually working peasants of the village, then the enemy, the kulak, grasps the opportunity, exaggerates the situation and spreads the rumour throughout the whole district.

Therefore, we must support with all our strength the work of the producer co-operatives; we must help them to eliminate the difficulties. The help should be led by the Party, the Federation of Working Youth, the State, the councils, the State machine stations, and State farms…

It is important that where development is not sufficient, the highest or the third type of cooperative should not be suggested; but we should be satisfied with the simplest, or first, type, which has the advantage of giving an opportunity to the individual farmer and the still hesitating peasants to try out the good side of co-operation at a time when they still are afraid of a more advanced, higher form, which is too collective for them. We should not be afraid of the first type of co-operation. The superiority of cooperative production will show itself at this simple stage in that, as the experience of the past years has proved, in the majority of cases the members of the first-class co-operative will move towards a higher co-operative grading” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)

“All those who want to join, perhaps fifteen or twenty families, will meet together and elect a committee, a governing board of the co-operative. If their farms are not adjoining, the committee will have to do some negotiating with their neighbours, exchanging perhaps some pieces of land so that the co-operative farm will lie in one block of land. The members will have to decide what sort of farm they want to have and there are two main types.

(1) One in which the land is completely pooled… the peasants lose all claim to any land if they withdraw, payment will be made on the same basis to all according to the number of working days he or she has worked.

(2) The land is pooled only for working purposes… if the peasant wants to withdraw he can take his land out with him, payment is based partly on rent paid for his land and partly on the working-day system.” (Burchett)

“Old-established co-operatives have already built their own cinemas, and in some cases small theatres to which troupes from Budapest come and play.” (Burchett)

“The policy of our Government of not tolerating any kind of compulsion or pressure in forming the co-operatives, but strictly adhering to the principle of voluntariness, has been vindicated.” (Rakosi, Speech Delivered at the Election Rally of the Hungarian People’s Independence Front in Budapest on May 10, 1953)

Indeed, after they had seen the efficiency of the co-operatives, the poor peasants gladly joined them:

”the poorest strata, the agricultural population, who received… small plots in the land reform program… the introduction of cooperatives held no terror for them” (Ernst Helmreich, Hungary, p. 115)

“The machine station is an important adjunct to the co-operative farm and a valuable bridge between the city worker and the peasants. Hungary’s small farmers are not wealthy enough to own tractors… The government set up machine stations all over the country, each with a few tractors, harvesting machines and other essentials. They were manned by young men and women from the city, politically educated as well as being first-class mechanics. All of them volunteered for the work. They are the city workers’ ambassadors to the peasantry. At first they were regarded with deep distrust… In some cases they were attacked, their sheds burned. They are there primarily to serve the co-operatives, but any farmer who wants his ploughing done can call up the machine co-operatives and the ploughing will be done at a very modest charge. In some cases the machine stations have been absorbed by the co-operatives and, of course, the latter has priority over private farmers’ work. The private farmer must pay slightly more than the co-operatives.” (Burchett)

“In the old days a villager turned to the priest as the supreme authority on all matters, now they turn to the mechanics. Instead of being completely isolated as they were at first, the technicians from the machine stations are now the centre of the village life. They are good propagandists for socialism by their very skills… “Work hard, develop your co-operatives and you and your-children can enjoy the same sort of life as we have in Budapest,” they tell the peasants. They open up entirely new horizons, give a picture of a life where one need only work eight hours a day, six days a week, have paid holidays… Why should farmers always work from dawn to dusk and live in misery? The co-operative farm and the tractor will alter all that.” (Burchett)

“The government, of course, favours the co-operative farms, by selling them the best seeds and fertilisers, giving them the benefit of any new developments in treating diseases of crops or cattle… By communal effort they lay on an irrigation system, they take the advice of the government and try the deep ploughing and rotation of crops. Specialists survey their soil for them and tell them what is best to plant where. Usually by the second season, there is a demonstrable improvement in their crops and in the financial situation of the members. More farmers want to join and in a neighbouring village a new group starts up and that’s the way the government wants to have it. The co-operatives should grow naturally by the example of successes firmly demonstrated. In 1949 the government had to put a temporary halt to the formation of new co-operatives. They were beginning to grow too fast, faster even than Hungarian industry was able to keep pace with tractors and machinery. But the movement is now on a firm basis with over 1,500 co-operatives farming half a million acres, and 220 machine stations operating 3,800 tractors, by the end of 1949, the last year of the Three-Year Plan.” (Burchett)

Life has become better

“The slow development of individual peasant households is due to the fact that over 80 per cent of them farm small plots. In such cases it is extremely difficult, and often impossible, to use modern agricultural machinery and the latest production methods…

Our Party wants every working peasant to use modern means of production – machines. We want him to have everything that the town is capable of supplying. We want him to have electricity and water supply, doctors, hospitals, maternity homes, cinemas and sports grounds. We want him to have a radio set in his home, we want his sons and daughters to enjoy all the amenities of the town. We want him and his family to benefit from social insurance, old age pensions and all the State assistance which the city worker receives.” (Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order)

“The biggest change has occurred in the lives of the hundred thousand families formerly employed on yearly contracts as farm hands on the great manorial estates… theirs had been the lowest social status in the rural hierarchy… lived in miserable barracks in the manorial courtyard, and worked under the supervision of bailiffs for practically unlimited hours.” (I. P. and E. W., Land Reform in Hungary, in The World Today, London, Jan. 1949, V, p. 22).

The kulak, a rural capitalist.

In capitalist times:

“Milk, sugar and fruit were luxuries in the Hungarian villages. In many places the adults could obtain no work, and the children were compelled to stay home from school for lack of proper clothing. It was stated in parliament: ‘There are families… where four-year-old children do not know what shoes are because they have never worn them.’ Half the village dwellings were mud and adobe huts with earthen floor in which tuberculosis killed off 10,000-12,000 people annually.” (A History of Hungary by Ervin Pamlényi, p. 504)

Under capitalism:

“Millions of peasants had still to struggle along with little or no land while huge tracts belonged to a few magnates. The plight of the landless farm worker was particularly sad. One of their spokesmen, Sandor Csizmadia, presented this gloomy picture at the turn of the century: “I have watched the life of the peasants on the estates, three or four families, sometimes as many as twenty to twenty-five persons living in the single room of a hut. I have seen men collapsing of famine on the richest soil of the country, and I have also seen men being virtually drowned in their fat. Families of the puszta are working for fifteen krajcars (a dime) from three in the morning till ten at night.

The working day of the factory hand was very long, too, and he earned not much more than the farm worker. When the labor unions began to agitate for an eight-hour day, they met violent opposition.

Hunger typhus was endemic in parts of the country, and tuberculosis was called the Hungarian malady. Pellagra and other vitamin-deficiency diseases sapped the people’s health. In some areas, half the infants died before the age of five. Iniquitous tax assessments favored the rich; the richer the taxpayer, the less his share of the burden.” (Emil Lengyel, The land and people of Hungary, pp. 82-83)

But life began to change during socialist construction:

“Many country people lived in straw-thatched mud huts, which had to be replaced by more durable houses covered with tile… The government introduced fertilizers, improved seed, new farm machinery, and farm products; it undertook large-scale irrigation, drainage, and marketing.” (Emil Lengyel, The land and people of Hungary, p. 97)

In People’s Democracy: “The tone of life in Hungary is changed. The peasant has lost his demeanor of chronic servility” (Howard K. Smith, The State of Europe, p. 217)

“Nothing had been done for the Hungarian peasants or villagers for hundreds of years until 1945. Even villages on the outskirts of Budapest had no electric light until the Three-Year Plan brought it to them. Nearly 400 have been linked up with the electricity network during the Three-Year Plan, and by the end of the Five-Year Plan there will not be a village without electric light.” (Burchett)

“The horrible poverty which strangled the village in Horthy’s time has disappeared. The village has become wealthy and consumes more agricultural produce.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)

“Collectivisation of land… released an abundant supply of men and women for work in mines and factories; the single-minded Communist emphasis upon investment in heavy goods production… ensured unprecedented increases in output… In terms of gross production figures the growth rates in the first generation of industrialization were impressive” (Judt, Postwar, p. 170)

“Experience of the past has taught [the peasant] to fear the state as their enemy. Today the propaganda of the Church against collectivisation as the instrument of the devil reinforces that fear.” (Warriner, p. 149)

“kulak… bandits brutally murdered Imre Kish, a peasant in the village of Lendelka-polna, the secretary of the local organization of the Hungarian Working People’s Party.” (K. M. Frolov, The Struggle of the Working Class for the Victory of Socialism in the People’s Democracies)

“the Catholic Church, and the adherents of the old regime in the village, former estate bailiffs, and the remaining gentry. All these have made energetic propaganda against the land reform, first saying that those who claimed land would be punished when the rightful owners returned with the Americans and British, and then, when this did not happen, that the reds would drive the peasants into the dreaded golhaz, with collective meals and collective wives…

The first object of communist policy therefore was to dispel these fears, to avoid the word, and to prove that producers co-operatives were better than individual farming. This has certainly been done. The groups started in 1948-49 have been given every kind of help, in the form of credits, fertilisers at

cheap rates, tractor service from the Machine Tractor Stations at special rates, livestock for fattening on credit, expert advice; and they have shown good results” (Warriner, p. 156)

“The following figures show the higher grain yields on co-operative farms, compared with the average on individual farms in the same village… Naturally these results are impressive to the Hungarian peasants, who know what good farming means.” (Warriner, p. 156)

In 1951 Rakosi stated:

“The average wheat and rye yield was 9.2 per cent, higher last year than in the ten years of peace preceding the war. This fact is the more noticeable because production carried on in the large estates before the war, gave 15 to 25 per cent, higher yields than on the peasant farms. Due to this fact, our enemies calculated after the land reform, that it would take much longer to reach the peace-time standard in agriculture.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)

And this was in spite of the fact that there had been extremely bad weather:

“We must take into consideration the fact that, there has been a drought every year since the Liberation, which was especially severe last year. In the light of these facts, it can be stated that our working peasantry has, by and large, fulfilled the hopes placed on them.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)

According to New York Times Hungary “suffered from a severe summer drought and spring frost in 1952” (NY Times, Dec. 27, HUNGARY CONCEDES BIG DROUGHT LOSS; Says She Averted Famine by Importing Food – Progress in Industry Is Seen)

According to a scientific paper by I. Pálfai from 1990 presented at the 14th International Congress on Irrigation and Drainage in Brazil “the most significant droughts occurred in the period 1947-1952.” (Pálfai, Description and forecasting of droughts in Hungary)

“The damage caused by the bad weather would have meant a catastrophe in capitalist times, as they spelled catastrophe in neighbouring Yugoslavia, where now a veritable famine is raging and hundreds of thousands of peasants are becoming impoverished.” (Rakosi, Speech at the Introduction of the Budget for 1953 in the National Assembly)

“Yugoslavia is threatened with a grave food crisis” (“Yugoslav threat of famine”, The Courier-mail, sep. 19, 1950, p. 4)

To fight against the terrible droughts, massive irrigation works were built:

“During the first five year plan the Tiszalök dam was built in Tisza. A 100 kilometer channel was dug from it, which is used to regularly irrigate the area. Thus it has been possible to improve the grazing fields and begin rice cultivation on a huge area, and to plant forests.” (Halasz, pp. 20-21)

“Irrigated area has increased tremendously. Before liberation irrigation was practiced only on 14 000 hectares, but by 1958 it was already practiced on 72 000 hectares.” (Halasz, p. 160)

Rakosi enjoyed immense popularity during socialist construction

“One of the men who led the Communist government following World War I is today deputy premier of Hungary and secretary-general of the Communist Party. He is Matyas Rakosi, easily the most important political figure in his country.” (Martin Ebon, World Communism Today, p. 78)

According to Ebon, Rakosi’s policies were popular, not only among the far left, but also more broadly:

“Rakosi… pressed actions that were favored by genuinely liberal Hungarians.” (Ebon, p. 79)

Ordinary people sent letters to Rakosi asking for his help:

“On one occasion, a small girl, Ida Csombor from Jászjákóhalma, asked “Uncle Rákosi” to provide her with school textbooks, because her family was poor: “I turn to you because I know that you help every child of the proletariat.” Rákosi allocated 100 forints to the girl’s family to purchase the necessary books… the parish priest of Tápiószentmárton asked for the leader’s help in replacing the lost bell of the local church. “We have heard that Mr. Vice-Prime Minister has retrieved the bells of so many villages before. Ours has gone missing too.” “The bell will be recovered,” promised Rákosi.” (Apor, The invisible shining, p. 57)

“letters expressed the people’s gratitude to Rákosi for a new textbook, a renovated school, or the “unity of workers,” as in the case of the workers of the Goldberger factory, who wrote their letter to “the leader of the working people,” “in the happy hours of [the] unification” of the two Marxist parties. Letters of gratitude were written by sportsmen and sportswomen as well. A group of Hungarian athletes at the London Olympics, for example, thanked Rákosi in a letter for providing the opportunity to take part in the event, where they had the chance to demonstrate the “ardent fighting spirit” of the “Hungarian democratic youth.” (Apor, pp. 65-66) Hungary achieved extremely good success in the Olympics due to government’s efforts in helping sports and health.

As told by teacher Gyula Kékesdi, when Rakosi toured the countryside:
“People rushed Rákosi with presents. One of the peasant women brought him bread, the other a cloth, the third a knitted coat… An old woman standing next to me also seemed to want to give something too. [handing over a basket] she pushed into the crowd and said, “Comrade Rákosi, I cooked this, but I could barely save it from my husband, because he loves it too, but you’ll receive it from us with love””
(Pünkösti Árpád, Rákosi a csúcson 1948-1953)

“”[Rakosi] received a lot of presents in Kecskemét,” said the driver Károly Szirmai…

“I remember a truck brought the presents from the rally; the garden was full of them” – said Lajos G.” (Pünkösti, Ibid.)

The peasants gave animals and food as presents:

“there were geese and five sheep. We kept them in the yard for days, then they were taken to the zoo. The edible gifts went to the children’s home and dormitories” (Pünkösti, Ibid.)

Rakosi frequently visited ordinary people to learn about their problems and listen to their opinions: “he would take a walk around the given location (village, factory, etc.), chat with the people about their problems, and sometimes even share their meal with them. His visits, especially those in the countryside, often lasted until sunset.” (Apor, p. 59)

Socialism was being successfully constructed both in industry and agriculture, people’s lives were improving tremendously, and they looked to the future with hopeful optimism.


Stone, Hungary: A Short History

Zoltan Halasz, Unkari: kuvitettu tietoteos

Burchett, The people’s democracies

Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party

Rakosi, Speech Delivered at the Election Rally of the Hungarian People’s Independence Front in Budapest on May 10, 1953

Ernst Helmreich, Hungary

Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order

I. P. and E. W., Land Reform in Hungary, in The World Today, London, Jan. 1949, V.

Ervin Pamlényi, A History of Hungary
[Quite a good book otherwise, but the criticism of Rakosi and Stalin and the attempt to defend Titoism and Rajk in Chapter X section 2 and the attempt to justify Kadarism in Chapter X section 3 are totally erroneous.]

Emil Lengyel, The land and people of Hungary

Howard K. Smith, The State of Europe

Judt, Postwar

Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe

K. M. Frolov, The Struggle of the Working Class for the Victory of Socialism in the People’s Democracies


Pálfai, Description and forecasting of droughts in Hungary

“Yugoslav threat of famine”, The Courier-Mail, sep. 19, 1950

Martin Ebon, World Communism Today

Apor, The invisible shining

Pünkösti Árpád, Rákosi a csúcson 1948-1953