THE HUNGARIAN INDEPENDENT PEOPLE’S FRONT & THE 1949 ELECTIONS
1948 was considered the year of the “turning point”. The left had decisively gained the upper hand, the workers’ parties had merged and become the biggest party, the Three Year Plan was going better then expected and being fulfilled ahead of schedule, the largest industries and banks had been nationalized. Socialist construction was clearly on the agenda.
For the elections of 1949, the goal was to further improve the co-operation of the left bloc. This close unity was possible, now that the reactionaries had been expelled from the coalition parties. As a result, the Hungarian Working People’s Party, the National Peasant Party and the Smallholders created a united election organization, “The Hungarian Independent People’s Front”. Two smaller opposition parties (the Independent Hungarian Democratic Party and the Radical Party) also decided that they now wanted to join and work together with the coalition.
“Instead of the “more or less loose coalition” which existed until then, it took a stand for establishing the “political mass organization of the people’s unity”. It stated that the system of loose coalition
between competing parties “was favourable to the anti-popular forces, which took advantage of party rivalry for infiltrating the democratic parties and thereby hindered democratic co-operation and construction”.
What was actually in mind was the further development of the alliance of the socialist and democratic forces, and primarily the consolidation of the alliance of the working class with the individually working peasants… The alliance of the working class and intellectuals was also to progress within the framework of the new people’s front, winning over for the socialist goals an ever larger part of the intellectuals.
The programme stated that the new people’s front should be a mass organization headed by the Hungarian Working People’s Party. The allied parties, the trade unions, co-operatives and the organizations of women and youth would take part in the people’s front… The aim was clear: to end the party rivalry which resulted in a considerable waste of energy, and create close co-operation among the people’s democratic forces.” (Nemes, pp. 190-191)
“The people’s front declaration of the coalition parties and of the leading mass organizations that supported the country-building aims of the Hungarian Working People’s Party, was published on 1 February 1949. This considered the task of co-operation to “further guarantee the peaceful legal process of socialist social transformation with the inclusion of all the creative forces of the country”. The statement also announced that the political and social organizations comprising the people’s front
would “submit in everything to the decisions of the National Council and would carry them out”. The National Council of the People’s Front was established. Its members included 27 representatives of the Hungarian Working People’s Party, 9 of the Smallholders Party and 6 of the Peasant Party together with the delegates of the mass organizations. The two bourgeois parties which were outside the coalition, the Balogh party and the Radical Party, also announced their adherence to the People’s Front.
Parliamentary elections were held in May 1949. The parties making up the People’s Front decided, on the recommendation of the Hungarian Working People’s Party, to participate in the elections with a joint programme and joint list…” (Nemes, pp. 214-215)
Anti-communist historian Kovrig writes that anti-communists, and in particular the church, encouraged people to vote against the People’s Front, and this “in some districts accounted for over one-quarter of the vote” but “Of the eligible voters, 94 percent… marched to the polls, and 95.5 percent endorsed the [People’s Front] list” (Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār, p. 252)
The election was a landslide victory for the People’s Front. This election was a turning point, because the neo-fascist parties had been banned, the petit-bourgeois parties and even the bourgeois radical party had united with the People’s Front, under communist leadership.
Bourgeois historian Hoensch writes that already previously “the National Peasants’ Party drifted more and more into the Communist camp and began to advocate ‘the development of a people’s democracy’, the nationalisation of industry and agricultural collectivisation” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 168)
And that in 1949 the National Peasants’ Party dissolved itself to be incorporated solely into the People’s Front. (Hoensch, p. 168)
Rakosi could proudly state:
“At these elections only sons of the working people stood as candidates. Counts, big landlords, bankers and other enemies of the people were not included.” (Rakosi, Speech Delivered at the Election Rally of the Hungarian People’s Independence Front in Budapest on May 10, 1953)
Rakosi also stated that in 1949 parties of the People’s Front nominated candidates, but further democratic progress should be made and “a special place must be reserved for the big social organisations—the trade unions, cooperatives and the organisations catering for women and youth.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
Four years later, in 1953, Rakosi was happy to announce that instead of separate parties nominating candidates “the candidates have been chosen directly by hundreds of thousands of workers in the factories, the producer co-operatives and machine stations, in the universities and other institutions from among their own best workers.” (Rakosi, Speech Delivered at the Election Rally of the Hungarian People’s Independence Front in Budapest on May 10, 1953)
Rakosi described the results of the 1949 elections as follows:
“The composition of the House of Representatives elected at that time, shows how the People’s Front looks in practice and, within it, the alliance of workers and peasants. From the 402 deputies, 176 are workers, 115 peasants, and 92 progressive intellectuals. Amongst these are 72 working and peasant women, which is a measure of the equal rights of women.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
“This election was followed eighteen months later by the election of the Local Councils when our working people elected 220,000 council members and supplementary members. This election, through which the working people took control of the local organs of the democratic State, has shown even more strongly the deepening of the worker-peasant alliance. To the 3,217 local councils, 23,016 industrial workers, 103,638 working peasants, 11,116 progressive intellectuals, and thousands of craftsmen, retail traders and others were elected as ordinary members. The inclusion of the working people into State administration has put the finish on the democratisation of our administration and put the entire State apparatus into the hands of the working people…
As a result of the battles fought by the united working people, under the leadership of the Party, the people’s democratic State was created, the State, with the help of which, and as a result of the victory of the Soviet Union, and supported by the Soviet Union, the working people, led by the working class, progressed from capitalism towards socialism. With regard to its functions the People’s Democracy is the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
The bourgeois local organs were dissolved and instead councils were created:
“Since 1950, the local organs of executive power and administration are the county, city, district, and village councils.” (Péter Gál & Gyula Németh, Hungary: A Comprehensive Guide)
What exactly People’s Democracy was, had been debated throughout the mid-late 1940s. Was it a political system between capitalism and socialism? By 1949 the Communists had come to the understanding that People’s Democracy was a united front of progressive forces, which would either move towards a dictatorship of the proletariat and socialism, or be defeated. By 1949 the dictatorship of the proletariat had come to power in Hungary. The capitalists, fascists and reactionaries were ousted from politics. Their organizations were no longer recognized, and served no productive purpose. Instead, people would vote for peasant, intellectual, worker or petit-bourgeois candidates, who were members of the people’s front.
5 YEAR PLAN (1950-1954)
The great Hungarian writer Zsigmond Móricz had written in one of his novels in 1934:
“…how to find work for the thirty thousand unemployed in the County? Thirty thousand men, agricultural workers, marvelous material. The country could be built with these thirty thousand. Roads, houses, schools, museums. All it needed was somebody to set the thirty thousand to work. A will, a power aiming at a goal. The whole country could be re-organised with just these thirty thousand.” (protagonist in Zsigmond Móricz’s novel “Relations” pp. 120-121)
Móricz did not live to see it, having died in 1942, but with the Five Year Plan, jobs would be found for all the unemployed and the country would indeed be transformed!
Bourgeois historian Jörg Hoensch writes that:
“By 31 December 1949… important sectors had even managed to exceed the [three year] plan’s quotas, with the result that on 10 December the National Assembly was able to launch the first Five Year Plan as from 1 January 1950.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 204)
“Industrial development during the five years of the Plan will make as much headway as it did in all the fifty years up to World War Two. The result will be that our country will be transformed… into an industrial country with a developed agriculture. New industrial towns and districts will spring up.” (Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order)
New plants, more hospitals, schools, libraries and apartments – entire new cities were built.
“The Socialist cities established in Hungary at the beginning of the 1950s were Sztálinváros (today called Dunaújváros), Kazincbarcika, Komló, and Tatabánya.” (Zsuzsanna Borvendég & Mária Palasik in “In the Name of the Great Work: Stalin’s Plan for the Transformation of Nature and its Impact in Eastern Europe” ed. Doubravka Olšáková, p. 135)*
*The original site for Sztalinvaros was to be Mohacs. The location had many benefits, but after construction had already started it was discovered the area was threatened by earthquakes, and making an earthquake proof city would increase costs massively. The location was also very close to the Yugoslav border, and when Tito’s treachery was discovered, and Hungary was threatened by Yugoslav invasion, the location of the all important industrial city simply had to be changed. This caused unforeseen additional costs. Dunapentele was chosen as the new location. Unfortunately Dunapentele also had bad unstable land, which was prone to landslides, and this created construction challenges.
“Between 1949 and 1951, the number of workers in construction grew by 125,000… In 1952, an additional 49,000 workers were engaged in construction, bringing the total to 244,000.” (Zinner, p. 121)
“The Plan took effect on 1 January 1950. Investment was already high (60,000 million forints) but was increased (to 80,000 million). Heavy industry had priority” (Stone, p. 415)
Hungary had been a small poor country, ruled by the feudal nobility and the church. Their industrialization and modernization was full of challenges. They needed help from Soviet and Czechoslovakian engineers, raw material had to be imported from the Soviet Union because Hungary’s own mining industry was not developed enough to meet the demand. Norman Stone mocks the idea that Hungary, a small and traditionally agrarian country could become a developed industrial power: “It was, of course, preposterous for a country such as Hungary to be attempting heavy industry, and to apply the Soviet planning system.” (Stone, p. 472)
However, he admits that “On paper [sic] the Plan did succeed, metallurgical products doubling, or, in the case of aluminum, trebling. The industrial workforce grew by 500,000.” (Stone, p. 416)
“As a result of the Three and the Five Year Plans industrial production trebled over the pre-war figure.“ (Nemes, p. 187)
“The results of the first year exceeded expectations, particularly in industry. Instead of the planned 21.4 per cent industrial output was 27 per cent higher than in the previous year. State industry expanded by 37 per cent, while the production of private industry decreased by 26 per cent… In 1950, the output of agriculture was by 5 to 6 per cent more than the previous year’s figure. In the meantime, the arable land of the state farms and the co-operatives both doubled in area, and by the end of 1950 the two together formed 13 per cent of the total arable land of the country.” (Nemes, p. 222)
According to Lazlo Borhi the economy during the First Five Year Plan had “phenomenal growth” (László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union, p. 214)
“The regime could claim a dramatic expansion of the industrial sector, an apparently favorable rate of growth in national income, and a state of full employment.” (Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār, p. 256)
Ernst Helmreich says about Hungary’s industrial development that “the increase is staggering” (Ernst Helmreich, Hungary, p. 306)
“the economy grew – by a staggering 13.8 percent per annum in the first half of the fifties.” (Shawcross, p. 136)
“…In Hungary, output of sugar in 1950 was 15 per cent above the previous year, cotton textiles eight per cent, footwear 50 per cent.” (Klugmann)
“Freight traffic, electric power generation, steel production, shoe manufacture, textile production, have already passed 1938 levels… that there has been any improvement at all is remarkable. Consider once again the unbelievably heavy losses Hungary suffered by the war.” (Behind the curtain, p. 182)
“Advance was made in the building of the Tisza dams; 150,000 new homes, several hundred schools and the People’s Stadium in Budapest were completed… Other achievements of the Five Year Plan included better health protection. The number of hospital beds had increased by more than 11,000 and exceeded 61,000.” (Nemes, pp. 224-229)
“In 1952 the natural birth rate increase per 1000 people was 47 per cent higher than in 1938… The number of marriages per 1,000 inhabitants is 20 per cent higher than it was in 1938. The infant mortality rate is down in 1952 to nearly half the 1938 figure. Tuberculosis which was called the “Hungarian disease” in the past is being gradually repelled and in 1952 fifty-seven per cent fewer people died of this disease than in 1938. In Hungary today more hospital beds are available per 10,000 people than in France or Belgium. As a result of public health activity, the death rate is lower in Hungary than in England or Austria.” (Rakosi, Speech at the Introduction of the Budget for 1953 in the National Assembly)
Because of improvements made in nutrition and healthcare by the socialist government, life expectancy increased from 50 in 1930 to above 60 in 1950. (Source: Hungarian Central Statistical Office, 1993)
“Between 1949 and 1953 the urban population increased by 605,000 while the rural population [decreased by] 218,000” (Kovrig, p. 53)
Initially Hungary began importing trolley buses from the USSR “but since 1952 Hungary has been making its own” (Helmreich, p. 329)
Construction of a new express metro also began: “The first line, which was to be completed during the Five-Year Plan, was to run a distance of eight kilometers (five miles) from the People’s Stadium to Szell Kalman Square, crossing the Danube at Kossuth Square. The design was very ornate, in the style of the Moscow subway.” (Helmreich, p. 329)
“industrialisation, it was recognised long before 1945, was the chief thing that eastern Europe needed… and what it lacked was capital and the impetus to develop. The plans now provide both the impetus and the capital for transforming the agrarian half of Europe into an industrial economy. They are the framework for the industrial revolution.” (Warriner, p. 79)
At this time the United States imposed economic sanctions against Hungary and banned Americans from traveling there.
“The object of American policy in enforcing the embargo on trade… is to build up western Europe for strategic reasons, and to check the spread of communism. The use of the economic weapon against eastern Europe is a consequence of the revolution, and its purpose is to cripple the plans.” (Warriner, p. 164)
“From the east European standpoint, the economic weapon certainly does harm, in that it makes the plans harder to realise and slows down the rise in the standard of living. But it does not neutralise the really vital change, the fact that the people of eastern Europe have an economic future. To reverse that direction, to return to the stagnation of the past, would now be impossible. Looked at in terms of material resources the plans are what the region essentially needed. Looked at in terms of human life they are what the region needed too – they mobilise untouched resources of human energy and enthusiasm. They have brought material benefits to the mass of the impoverished peasants and workers; and not only material benefits; they have released an immense social potential…” (Warriner, pp. 170-171)
The table below gives an idea of the extent of the growth in construction (employees in thousands).
Source: Borsányi & Kende
Hungarian economy in 1930 according to Kovrig (p. 29):
Agriculture, forestry, fisheries 51.8% Extractive industries 1.3 Industry 21.7 Commerce and finance 5.4 Communications 3.9 Public services and professions 5.0 Other 10.9
Hungary’s own mining industry was not developed enough yet, so Soviet help was invaluable. At the same time, the Hungarians were able to sell their new industrial products to the USSR:
“The fact that Hungary belonged to the socialist world system became one of the essential conditions of her economic prosperity. In spite of the fact that Hungary is poor in raw materials, she managed to establish a fairly advanced industry founded upon the Soviet Union’s raw material basis. Related figures can help illustrate the point. In 1955, the share of the Soviet Union in Hungary’s annual import was 28.2 per cent, the corresponding figure for exports to that country was 32.2 per cent. The overwhelming majority of Soviet deliveries were raw materials. Of the raw materials used in Hungary in 1955, 71 per cent of the iron ore, 80 per cent of the pig iron, 30 per cent of foundry lead, 81 per cent of sulphur, 81 per cent of raw phosphate, 77 per cent of native soda, 30 per cent of synthetic rubber, 80 per cent pine timber and 55 per cent of raw cotton were imported from the Soviet Union. At the same time, machines and engineering products accounted for over 50 per cent of Hungarian deliveries to the Soviet Union, a figure corresponding to almost 20 per cent of the annual output of Hungary’s engineering industry.” (Janos Berecz, 1956 Counter-Revolution in Hungary)
Nationalists, Titoists and other reactionaries always claimed that the Soviet Union was oppressing and exploiting Eastern European countries but economist Warriner states categorically that even though Hungary paid war reparations to the Soviet Union “…certainly Russia is putting more into eastern Europe than it is taking out.” (Warriner, p. 166)
“Hungarian leaders actually requested Soviet advisors, rather than having them imposed by Moscow.” (László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union, p. 201)
“figures for road traffic since the war show enormous development, but it must be remembered that growth started from a very low level. Passengers carried in 1937 amounted to 44 million… In 1949, the total was 99 million, and it increased 192 per cent during the Five Year Plan to 290 million in 1953… volume of freight carried in 1953 was approximately ten times as great as in 1937, and nearly four times that in 1950… Streetcars carried 902 million passengers in 1953, almost two and a half times as many as in 1937. City bus lines carried 199 million passengers in 1953, an increase of more than 500 percent since 1937.” (Helmreich, p. 328-329)
Anti-Communist author Hugh Seton-Watson admits that: “industrial output doubled during this period… and labor productivity increased by 63 per cent” (Imre Nagy On Communism, p. xv)
Even highly anti-communist historian Helmreich admits that as a result of the Five Year Plan:
“Hungarian industry nearly tripled” (Helmreich, p. 395)
In the typical fashion, Pryce-Jones criticizes the plans for industrialization as too fast, but admits that “Industrialisation in itself was necessary and impressive” (p. 38)
“We must get down to the job of preparing a Five Year Plan of economic development, and a Ten Year Plan embracing electrification and irrigation. We shall reduce and, as far as possible, abolish income derived from exploitation” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
In 1951 Rakosi said:
“the production of our factory industry has increased to nearly twice that of 1938… to-day a number of industrial goods are manufactured which were not produced in Hungary before the Liberation. The production of our Socialist industry was 35 per cent, higher last year than in 1949. It has developed more in one year than during twenty years of capitalism.
At our first Congress, I mentioned as a considerable success the fact that the living standard of the workers and employees had reached 97 per cent, of the 1938 level. Now, I can record that the workers’ and employees’ wage fund has increased by more than three milliard forints during 1950 and that the average wage of workers in December, 1950, was fifty-nine forints higher than a year ago. National income last year, the first year of the Five-Year Plan, has increased by 20 per cent., which is more than during two decades of the Horthy era.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
“The Three Year Plan was fulfilled ahead of schedule… and the targets of the first year of the Five Year Plan (1950) were overfulfilled.” (Henrik Vass, Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966), pp. 327-328)
INCREASED PLAN TARGETS
“The Hungarian Five-Year Plan (1950-54) was planned to bring about an 86 per cent increase in industrial production over that of 1949 and an increase of heavy industrial production of 204 per cent during the same period. In five years the production of means of production was planned to increase 17 times. Hungarian industry, aided by the Soviet Union, will produce for the first time diesel engines, complex machine-tools and technically-developed mining equipment. But, once again, history has run ahead of even the boldest of perspectives. The first year of the Five-Year Plan exceeded all prevision and in the first months of 1951 the plan was radically revised – upwards.” (Klugmann, From Trotsky to Tito)
“During the Five-Year Plan we wished to double our output of steel, coal and electric power. We have realised these objectives not in five, but in three years. We have also realised our goal of transforming our country from an agrarian country with a developing industry, into an industrial country with an advanced agriculture. By the end of last year the output of our manufacturing industry was triple that of the last pre-war year… Our objective to increase the number of industrial workers by 300,000 in five years was attained in three years. Thereby, unemployment, the gravest threat to the working people, has been done away with… During the past four years the number of social insurance beneficiaries has risen by 1,650,000 and, at present, nearly 60 per cent of our population are covered by social insurance. We enacted a law on mother and child care. Family allowances for large families have trebled in three years. We have abolished the rationing system, a survival of war-time economy. In the first three years of the Five-Year Plan we built thousands of cultural centres, cinemas and public libraries in the villages and in the factories. Last but not least, we have built up our People’s Army, the guardian of our peace and socialist future.
I believe, Comrades, that the Hungarian working people have a right to be proud of these achievements.” (Rakosi, Speech Delivered at the Election Rally of the Hungarian People’s Independence Front in Budapest on May 10, 1953)
“Now we are just about to complete the third year of our Five-Year Plan. On the basis of the present results it can be said that we have fulfilled the targets of our augmented Five-Year Plan, and in fact we have overfulfilled it in the case of coal.” (Rakosi, Speech at the Introduction of the Budget for 1953 in the National Assembly)
“The rate of development of our coal production is rapid when compared with that of the capitalist countries. In Hungary per capita coal production has doubled as compared to 1938, but in Britain, whose mines were not at all damaged by the war, it has not yet reached the 1938 level. In Western Germany it is less than 75 per cent of the level of the last year of peace. This year per capita coal production in Hungary is 40 per cent higher than in France.” (Rakosi, Speech at the Introduction of the Budget for 1953 in the National Assembly)
THE STAKHANOVITE MOVEMENT
“The Stakhanovite movement, a system organized by the Russian shockworker Stakhanov who exceeded his norms in record-breaking fashion, is widely used in Hungary. In fact, from only 5,000 Hungarian Stakhanovites in 1949, the number jumped to 63,000 in February 1953.
Among the several Hungarian movements are the Gazda movement (named for a Hungarian shockworker), aimed at saving raw materials by reducing the number of rejects; the Nazarova movement, a contractual system, aimed at making workers responsible for their tools and machines; and the Koznietzov movement, similar to the Nazarova.
There are movements: for improving methods of production (Innovation movement) and increasing production (Loy movement). The Roder movement, similar to the Soviet “experience exchange,” encourages shockworkers and Stakhanovites to take over less efficient workers and show them the methods by which they can increase production and decrease rejects. Two movements concern the voluntary extension of working hours: under the Ten-Minute movement, the workers pledge to arrive ten minutes early to set up their tools and machines; and under the Five-Minute movement, the workers stay five minutes later cleaning the workshops…
In bigger plants, Stakhanovite Schools press for “outstanding” results in production. There are Schools of Reciprocal Training, Schools of Outstanding Quality Production, Raw Material and Material Saving Schools, Schools of Quick-Processing Methods, Schools of Increasing Profitableness, and so on.” (Ernst Helmreich, Hungary, p. 279)
However, there were reactionary conservative elements too:
“Budapest Stakhanovite, Jozsef Kiszlinger… a skilled worker in the highly unionised heavy-engineering sector, had ‘endless problems with the older [workers]’ when he tried to improve his own work performance.” (From the vanguard to the margins: workers in Hungary, 1939 to the present: selected essays by Mark Pittaway, p. 65)
At the second congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party, Rakosi said:
“The Soviet Union helps us in the building of our most modern factories, give us its best machines, most up-to-date manufacturing processes and, what is no less important, puts its best scientists and ace workers at our disposal. The best engineers and technicians of the Soviet Union, led by Academician Bardin, the world-famous foundry expert, have visited us, people whose advice and guidance means a service to us which cannot be overestimated.
Comrade Bikov was here and passed on his experience in the field of fast cutting. Comrade Zuravlyov taught our foundrymen the method of quick smelting. Comrade Petrov, the chief foundry-man of the Stalin Automobile Factory, passed on his experience in the fields of casting and foundry work. Comrade Dubyaga helped us to transfer to the multi-machine system in the textile industry. Comrade Annanyeva taught our spinning workers how to decrease scrap to the minimum in the spinning mills. Comrade Shavlugyin taught our bricklayers the fast bricklaying method. Comrades Maximenko, Koba and Zuyev developed a whole team of Stakhanovites among our building workers. Comrade Panin taught the Hungarian engine drivers to increase the average speed of our railways. Filimonov, Padgarov and Logvinyenko gave help to our miners in acquiring methods of handling mining machinery, and so on…
It is well known that the Hungarian Stakhanovite movement increased tremendously, following the passing on of work methods by the Soviet Stakhanovites. Their pupils are Imre Muszka, turner, who passes on his methods of work in the Matyas Rakosi Works; Ignacz Pioker, carpenter in the Egyesult Izzo Works; Lajos Kugler, rolling-mill worker in Diosgyor, whose brigade is the best in the country; Sandor Szoczei, the locksmith, who received the Kossuth prize; Mrs. Arpad Ormai, the weaver, who received the Kossuth prize; Mrs. Janos Makar, who works on sixteen weaving machines in the Hungarian Cotton Works; Erzsabet Piszkei, who works on twenty-two automatic machines in Gyor; Barnabas Varga, Tata-banya miner, who received the Kossuth award for his outstanding work; Jozsef Dietrich, Stakhanovite miner; Andras Tajkov, the best miner in Tatabanya; Zoltan Pozsonyi, the building worker, who received the Kossuth award; Jozsef Lengyel, the best engine driver; and hundreds and thousands of those Stakhanovites who form the vanguard of Hungarian Socialist industry…
The transplantation of the highly developed Soviet Socialist methods of production to Hungary is being speeded by visits of our engineers, workers and specialists to the Soviet Union, and by students studying at the universities of that country…
It must be mentioned that in the field of the exchange of experience and mutual aid, a similar relationship is being formed with the countries of the friendly Peoples’ Democracies. Experience acquired by the Peoples’ Democracies and its exchange is also important for the reason that the conditions of development in these countries are, by and large, similar to ours and, therefore, these useful experiences can easily be transplanted to our country.
The Council for Mutual Economic Aid [comecon] and the fact that an increasingly larger part of our foreign trade is carried on with the Soviet Union and the friendly countries having a planned economy, have greatly contributed to our peaceful development.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
“Nationally, the state planned to recruit seventy-six thousand women into industry over the course of the first five-year plan. This drive to recruit women was combined with a campaign to subvert older gender hierarchies by breaking the male monopoly over certain skilled trades. A policy of affirmative action was introduced to ensure that a minimum of thirty to fifty percent of training enrolments for skilled work were filled by young women… [There was] furious resistance of male skilled workers rooted in gendered notions of hierarchy…“ (From the vanguard to the margins: workers in Hungary, 1939 to the present: selected essays by Mark Pittaway, p. 84)
Communists came out with slogans such as “women into university, technology, Parliament” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
Even according to anti-communists Aczel and Meray:
“the overwhelming majority of the new generation fully identified itself with that Party.” (Aczel & Meray, p. 39)
“they went out on “house-to-house agitation,” did “cultural work,” lectured on Marxism-Leninism, delivered election speeches, and sacrificed all their spare time for the Party. Those who think that this was mere careerism… clearly ignore the feverish emotions burning in a young Communist.” (Aczel & Meray, p. 43)
“In this war-torn country, life returned to normal within a miraculously short time. The ruins, instead of depressing the people, seemed to serve as a challenge. Within a few brief months, the whole country hummed like a busy beehive” (Aczel & Meray, p. 40)
“The Communists’ popularity grew, and this was due to a large extent to the fact that, consciously and purposefully, they always presented programs that served the interests of the poorest strata but, at the same time, benefited the entire nation…” (Aczel & Meray, p. 41)
“The smiling faces and the overcrowded shops were arguments in favor of those who had now seized power and who were managing the country’s affairs…. The ecstasy of rapid and somewhat unexpected success was present everywhere. A kind of dizzy exaltation swelled the heart and numbed the brain.” (Aczel & Meray, p. 71)
“Opportunities abounded, particularly at the lower rungs of the ladder and in government employ: there were jobs to be had, apartments to be occupied at subsidized rents, places in schools reserved for the children of workers” (Judt, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, p. 176)
“It is important… to keep in mind (much as you may dislike to hear it) that… non-Communists of the highest talent and experience play along freely with the Communists, and take part in their administrations.” (Behind the curtain, p. 40)
“Budapest is a totally different thing from Belgrade… The people on the streets are better dressed… My wife kept saying that she hardly dared go out, because she felt shabby in comparison to the enormously pretty young Hungarian women. The cafés are animated, and almost everybody makes jokes… Goods of excellent quality are available in the shops” (Behind the curtain, p. 165)
“We strolled up Vaci Utca… and Andrassy Boulevard… The shop windows are full of handsomely designed leather goods, women’s shoes and sandals, silk haberdashery, furs, perfumes. Antique shops had Florentine candlesticks and massive Hungarian hand-painted furniture… at a bookstore… The place of honor in the window was held by a translation of a new novel by Ludwig Bemelmans. And in addition to the inevitable Upton Sinclairs and Theodore Dreisers, we saw books by Pearl Buck, Somerset Maugham, Louis Bromfield, Evenly Waugh. The kiosks told us that a play by J. B. Priestley was a hit, and that you could see both Shaw and Shakespeare.” (Behind the curtain, p. 168)
“we visited a factory, the Manfred Weiss works on Czepel… The factory is completely nationalized… The average wage… was 700 forints a month ($60.00) for unskilled labor, and 800 up for skilled. Also a modified Stakhanoff system is in operation, with bonuses for piecework. If a worker becomes ill, he is on full wages for the first six weeks; then he gets 65 percent of his wages for a year” there are “twenty-five days of vacation at full pay, and eight holidays… The workers get free milk, and pay only a token fee for lunch; they get clothes and so on at sharply reduced prices. The plant has, on the Russian mode, a theater, free schools, a nursery, clinics for pregnant women, a college for adult education, various clubs and culture “corners”, and a large playground and athletic field. We watched two football teams scrambling together, and some tennis matches. Always, visiting a new city behind the Curtain, we would try to keep one question foremost in mind: “Is this regime really doing something for the people?” Visiting this factory anyway we felt that the answer was a fairly clear Yes.” (Behind the Curtain, p. 171)
Gunther spoke to a man named “Dr. Y.” who was briefly in jail for Nazi sympathies: “He was treated well enough in jail, and then released… He said that there was no “hot” terror, no violent excesses” but instead “No one will hire him since he is suspect”. “Several Hungarians we talked to gave us the same impression. Nonpolitical people go about quite freely without surveillance; there was little thought of a rap on the door at midnight, and the Gestapo bursting in. A professional man told me, “With my own eyes I saw women and children shot by the Germans as they ran down the streets in terror, and their bodies… hurled into the river!” Nothing remotely like this, he went on, goes on today.” (Behind the curtain, pp. 172-173)
“Jozsef Révai was not far from the truth when, speaking to an American journalist who inquired about the “terror” in Hungary, he said that such a contention was at variance with facts. “If as a seasoned reporter,” he said, “you walk the streets of our capital for only an hour, you find the answer yourself. No guards patrol the streets, traffic policemen are unarmed, you are not asked to identify yourself, not even if you travel from one end of the country to the other. Hungarian democracy employs 28,000 policemen and 12,000 soldiers. No other country in Europe has fewer. Our strength lies in our democratic workers and peasants.”” (Eric Roman, Hungary and the victor powers, 1945-1950, p. 198)
Journalist “Demaree Bess.. had no difficulty entering Hungary, “found very little mystery about what is going on,” and talked to everyone he wanted to meet” (Edgar Snow, Stalin Must Have Peace, p. 98)
“There were after all important empirical signs of improvement. The government could abolish the rationing of most of the foodstuff, the reconstruction of the destroyed cities was well on its way, people’s colleges were organized, the tertiary educational system was opened for all… cultural life was thriving.” (Agnes Heller, Legitimation Deficit and Legitimation Crisis in East European Societies)
In contrast “food rationing in Britain only ended in 1954… ‘It was queues for everything, you know, even if you didn’t know what you were queuing for… you joined it because you knew there was something at the end of it'” (Judt, p. 163)
Economist Warriner also wrote that in “Hungary… consumer goods are conspicuously plentiful and cheap.” (p. 116)
Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962*
Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār
*Nemes, Borsanyi & Kende, Berecz and Vass are kadarist revisionist authors. They correctly describe the successes of the first 3 years of the Five Year Plan but falsely accuse the increased plan targets of being ultra-leftist and causing problems. This topic will be covered when we start discussing the rise of Hungarian revisionism.
Less than a year after the condemnation of mechanism by the dialectical school headed by Deborin, the Deborin school itself came under severe criticism. They were accused of ‘menshevising idealism’ or idealistic mistakes and slipping towards menshevik positions:
“In point of fact, it was before the first controversy had ended, while Deborin and his followers, during its closing years, were definitely gaining the upper hand, that a feeling arose among a large group of thinkers that neither of the contending schools was working out the kind of philosophic program and structure that were really needed. The feeling was that Deborin, and those who thought with him, had performed a necessary and valuable service in contending against the mechanists and exposing their errors, but that their own philosophical outlook suffered from… grave defects… they had lost touch with the very rapidly, and, indeed, momentously developing social and economic situation of the whole Soviet experiment, particularly, the problems centering round the introduction of the first Five Year Plan, and the building up of the collective farm movement. This area of problems found little reflection in the work of Deborin and his group (any more than in the work of the mechanists); hence arose the charge of the divorcement of theory from practice.
It was the intention to accuse Deborin not so much of outright, full fledged adherence to “menshevism”… but of a tendency, inclination or movement in that direction. It was as much as to say, if he is not a menshevik, he is at least talking like a menshevik; he is menshevising, and if we do not stop him, he will become, once again, a complete menshevik… before the revolution, he had been in fact a genuine menshevik. Philosophically, this meant an adherence to the views of Plekhanov, the intellectual leader of the menshevik faction, rather than to those of Lenin, the leader of the bolsheviks. It meant the belief that Plekhanov was the guiding philosopher of the movement rather than Lenin.” (Somerville, Soviet Philosophy: A Study Of Theory And Practice, pp. 221-223)
THEORY AND PRACTICE
“The character of the group which rose up in opposition to Deborin… emphasized… the social and political contribution which they felt the philosophy ought to make to the currently developing reality. They were rather strict Leninists, and inclined to show little leniency towards the shortcomings of Plekhanov. Among their leading figures were Mitin and Yudin…
It was… Deborin’s lack of a sharp orientation in the social and political sense that made Mitin accuse him of idealistic tendencies, that is, tendencies to deal with ideas apart from their connections with things.
We noted at the outset that one of the principal objections made to the work of Deborin and his followers was that they allowed theory to become divorced from practice. To understand this charge, we must go back to the event which had originally set the ball of controversy rolling. This event was the now famous speech delivered by Stalin at the Conference of Agrarian Marxists. This conference took place in December, 1929, in the midst of the titanic struggles to collectivize the land… In the course of his talk, which was mainly devoted to theoretical questions, or rather to the relation between certain theories and certain matters of practice, Stalin took occasion to make the remark which became so well known, and played such a large part in the philosophical discussion.” (Somerville, pp. 224-225)
“But if we have reason to be proud of our practical successes in the field of socialist construction,” he said, “it is quite impossible to say the same about our theoretical work in the field of economics in general, and in rural economy in particular. More than that: it is necessary to recognize that our theoretical work is not keeping up with our practical successes, that there is a gap between practical achievements and the development of theory. Meanwhile, what is necessary is that theoretical work should not only keep pace with the practical, but should move in advance of it, arming the practitioners in their struggle for the victory of socialism.” (Stalin, Concerning Questions of Agrarian Policy in the U.S.S.R., Speech Delivered at a Conference of Marxist Students of Agrarian Questions, December 27, 1929)
“What this meant in reality was the relation of philosophical work to the great practical problems.” (Somerville, p. 226)
“In this speech Stalin was severely critical of a number of theories at that time current in Soviet cultural life, for instance the mechanist theories of ‘equilibrium’ and ‘samotek’ [or automatism]… “ (Gustav Wetter, Dialectical Materialism, pp. 132)
The theory of equilibrium was Bukharin’s mechanist distortion of dialectics, which he took from the revisionist Bogdanov. The theory of samotek was another mechanistic theory which implied that history progresses inevitably and automatically regardless of consciousness. That is a one sided theory as it doesn’t understand that although history progresses due to material conditions, those conditions are expressed in ideas. For the proletariat, and in socialist society, this is even more the case. As Marx said:
“theory also becomes a material force as soon as it has gripped the masses.” (The Introduction to Contribution To The Critique Of Hegel’s Philosophy Of Right)
“It was the opinion of Mitin and his group that… neither the Deborinites nor the mechanists understood the gravity of the social situation; both were insensitive to their philosophic obligations in the face of it. They were not doing their part… “to find the laws of the transitional period,” i.e., the transition from NEP to socialism. It was that situation around which, as Mitin felt, the philosophic work should mainly revolve, whereas the Deborinites were principally preoccupied with problems of interpreting the history of philosophy. Meanwhile, in regard to sociological matters, it was Bukharin’s theories which, by default, as one might say, were left to stand in the field… It was such conditions that gave rise to Mitin’s charge of divorcement of theory from practice, and “scholasticism” on the part of the Deborin group.
The issues were discussed at length in a philosophical conference which met for three days in October, 1930. Everyone concerned presented his views. Among the leading speakers on one side were Mitin and Yudin, and on the other, Deborin, Karev and Sten. The closing stages of the discussion were marked by Deborin’s admission that his leadership had been faulty, and that he had not carried out his philosophic obligations in the face of the very serious social problems confronting the people. The consensus of opinion was that philosophic work should proceed along the lines indicated by Mitin’s group.” (Somerville, p. 227)
“On 25th January, 1931, in its resolution concerning the journal Pod znamenem marxizma [Under the banner of Marxism], the Central Committee of the Party condemned both mechanism and Deborinism, and demanded of the new philosophical leadership a war on two fronts in philosophy also:
‘In the field of philosophy the journal must wage a relentless struggle on two fronts: against the mechanist revision of Marxism, as the chief danger at the present time, and also against the idealist distortion of Marxism on the part of comrades Deborin, Karev, Sten and others.’
The Deborinists were accused, above all, of having separated philosophy from politics, theory from practice. They were rebuked for not having understood that Leninism represents a new epoch in philosophy, a reproach directed at their high opinion of Plekhanov. All the same it is noteworthy that it was mechanism which was described as the ‘chief danger’ at the present time.” (Wetter, p. 135)
“Lenin… had prescribed a critical attitude towards the Hegelian dialectic, and called for it to be reformed on materialist lines and applied to the concrete reality of the proletarian struggle for existence. Deborin, however, had done neither the one nor the other. In the first place the Deborinists had taken over the Hegelian dialectic as it stood, without transforming it into a materialist dialectic. They had supposed that in Hegel’s philosophy it was only the system that was idealistic, the method itself being a materialistic one…
In addition to their unmodified acceptance of the Hegelian dialectic, the Deborinists had committed a further error in taking an entirely abstract view of the dialectic, without applying it to the concrete problems of Soviet reality. Their whole activity had been occupied almost exclusively with Hegel’s Science of Logic, without taking any account of the questions of the day, the problems of politics and economics, the dictatorship of the proletariat and its struggle for the establishment of socialism. For them it was only the dialectic of logic that counted, not the dialectic of reality and the social struggle…
But it was not only in this Hegelian conception of dialectic that the idealism of the Deborinists presented itself… Their conception of matter is almost equally erroneous. They banish from it, indeed, everything which constitutes, in the Leninist view, the essential nature of matter, namely its character as an objective reality independent of our consciousness which gives rise to our sensations. The nature of matter in this sense is misrepresented in the definition given by Deborin, whose book Lenin the Thinker begins by framing the concept of matter correctly enough, but then goes on: ‘In the broader sense matter is the whole infinite concrete totality of “mediations”, i.e., ties and relationships’.” (Wetter, pp. 155-156)
“under [Deborin’s] direction the Hegelianizing of Marxism had reached such a point that for three or four years the whole work of the philosophical section of the Institute of Red Professors had been devoted to Hegel’s logic, and the last three or four courses had given no opportunity even for making acquaintance with the work of Feuerbach, let alone that of Marx and Engels.” (Wetter, p. 135)
DEBORIN ON PLEKHANOV
The Deboring group was seriously criticized for their view on Lenin and Plekhanov. They held the widespread position among ex-mensheviks, that Plekhanov had been the real theoretician while Lenin had only been a practical leader. They did not understand that Leninism was a higher stage of Marxism. They also did not see any flaws in Plekhanov’s theory and did not see any meaningful disagreement between Lenin and Plekhanov. In reality, Plekhanov was a great theoretician, but he also made many serious mistakes.
It should be stated that after the controversy Deborin did his best to correct his mistakes and made a thorough self-criticism. There were a lot of criticisms, but they were fruitful in the end. Deborin said in 1937:
“To speak concretely, let me cite my earlier views on the relation of Lenm and Plekhanov. A number of years ago, I used to be of the opinion, as my published writings show, that Lenin was our great political leader while Plekhanov was our great philosophic leader. I now see that this whole view of the situation sprang out of a false conception of the relation of theory and practice. I now see that Lenin was not only our political leader, but our theoretical leader as well — as a theoretician, greater by far than Plekhanov. Take, for instance, Lenin’s whole theory of imperialism. Plekhanov never worked out any comparable doctrine of the basic aspects of present day capitalism. Then take Lenin’s theory of the state — the whole concept of the Soviet state, which was of such critical importance in the building of socialism. It was Lenin who rose to that occasion in 1917, and not Plekhanov. Again, it was Lenin and not Plekhanov who understood the nature of the imperialist war, and who, consequently, never wavered in his attitude towards it, whereas Plekhanov completely lost his bearings, and adopted a chauvinist position.” (Quoted in Somerville, pp. 223-224)
“Deborin… had taken Plekhanov, the theoretician, as a complement to Lenin, the man of action; he had constituted himself the uncritical apologist of Plekhanov’s entire ouvre” (Wetter, p. 135)
“Long before the Revolution, Deborin’s book, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Dialectical Materialism, had appeared with a friendly preface by Plekhanov which was in great contrast to the remarks which Lenin penned in relation to the work. They were found in the margins of Lenin’s copy of one of Deborin’s chapters, printed in 1909 in advance of the full work. Lenin was greatly given to writing comments in margins, and among the remarks with which he sprinkled Deborin’s chapter were: “inexact,” “clumsy,” “fibs,” and “ne plus ultra of clumsiness.” There is only one favorable comment, “right,” next to an underlined passage.” (Somerville, p. 224)
“the objection was that… Deborin takes over from Plekhanov precisely what is least valuable in him, his apology for Feuerbach, the application of Feuerbach’s anthropological principle to epistemology, the discounting of Lenin’s theory of knowledge (the ‘copy-theory’ [aka. the theory of reflection]), the attempt to solve the epistemological problem of the subject-object relation in terms of purely metaphysical categories without regard for historical and revolutionary reality. The whole nonpolitical, unrevolutionary spirit of Deborin’s philosophy resembles that of Plekhanov’s.” (Wetter, p. 157)
“Elsewhere, in his Introduction to Volume IX of Lenin’s Selected Writings, Deborin modifies his opinion to some extent, maintaining that Lenin and Plekhanov represented different stages in the development of Marxism:
‘There is a difference between Plekhanov and Lenin which reflects what is peculiar to the historical phases of development in the revolutionary movement and the class-struggle of the proletariat.’
To this the [Marxist-Leninists] objected that the most important works of Plekhanov and Lenin, and not only the philosophical ones but also others, such as the polemic against the Narodniks, belong to the same period. Another well-known Deborinist therefore deals with the question in a rather different fashion. In an article in the magazine Pod znameneni rnarxizma he writes:
‘Plekhanov and Lenin are representative . . . not of different periods in the workers’ movement, but of different currents in it and in Marxism, a different type of insight into the same thing.’
But even this approach found no acceptance from the [Marxist-Leninist] point of view. To speak of different currents and tendencies in Marxism is to abandon Marxist-Leninism. It would mean reverting to the standpoint of the Second International, which looked on Marxism as an agglomeration of movements, tendencies, etc.” (Wetter, p. 158)
DEBORIN ON UNITY AND STRUGGLE OF OPPOSITES
“the mechanists were accused in their day of having interpreted the negation of the negation to signify a restoration of equilibrium; Bukharin, for example, thought of synthesis, not as the negation of the negation, but as a ‘reconciliation’ of opposites:
‘a unifying position, in which contradictions are reconciled’. [see Bukharin, Historical Materialism, p. 74]
The same objection was also brought against ‘menshevizing idealism’, Deborin, for example, having seen in dialectical materialism a reconciliation of empiricism and rationalism,’” (Wetter, p. 358)
“Mitin… makes it a further objection to Deborin that the latter’s view of dialectic represents a reconciliation of opposites, not a struggle between them. In discussing Kant’s antinomies, Deborin writes:
‘Kant opposed the thesis to the antithesis and attempts to show that the thesis excludes the antithesis, and hence that they cannot be reconciled or resolved. The positive dialectic, on the other hand, sees in thesis and antithesis opposites which are not mutually exclusive, but reconciled one with another.’
Mitin contrasts this view of dialectic with that of Lenin, according to which it is not the unity, but the opposition, which plays the primary role in the dialectic: the unity of opposites is relative, temporary, transient; whereas the conflict between mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, like development and movement itself.” (Wetter, p. 166)
MENSHEVIZING IDEALISM SUMMED UP
“To sum up, we may say that menshevizing idealism is condemned… firstly as an idealistic tendency in that it offers too many hostages to Hegelianism, adopts the Hegelian dialectic without transforming it materialistically, separates form and content and misconceives the nature of matter; secondly, as a menshevizing tendency, in that it represents a revival of the traditions of the Second International, separates theory from practice, philosophy from politics, failing thereby to practise partisanship in philosophy, over estimates Plekhanov, and underestimates the importance of Lenin in the development of philosophy.” (Wetter, p. 158)
AFTER THE DEBATE
“Since the above-mentioned condemnation of ‘menshevizing idealism’ by the Party Central Committee (25th January 1931), Deborin, having… acknowledged his ‘errors’, has been able thereafter to occupy leading positions in the scientific work of the U.S.S.R. In November 1935 he was elected secretary of the Social Sciences division of the Academy of Sciences, in 1938 we find him on the Council of the Philosophical Institute of the same Academy of Sciences, while in 1939 he was elected to the Presidium of the Academy itself. At present [in the early 1950s] Deborin is a member of the editorial board of the Vestnik, the official organ of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R.” (Wetter, p. 159)
Mitin and his collaborators received some criticism in the mid 1930s for not keeping up with the development of the political situation, but despite this, Mitin was considered a leading Marxist-Leninist philosopher:
“On the occasion of his nomination to ordinary membership of the Academy of Sciences [in 1939], Mitin’s services to Soviet philosophy were appraised by the Vestnik of the Academy as follows: Mitin is ‘one of the foremost researchers in the field of philosophy. For the past 10 years he has been engaged in investigating the problems of dialectical materialism and of the history of philosophy. Among the deepest inquiries devoted to the problems of dialectical materialism are works such as his Boevye voprosy material is ticheskoy dialektiki (Burning Questions of Materialist Dialectics), Engels i dialektichesky materializm (Engels and Dialectical Materialism), Materialist icheskaya dialektika—filosopya proletariat a (Materialist Dialectic—the Philosophy of the Proletariat), Stalin i rnaterialisticheskaya dialektika (Stalin and the Materialist Dialectic). As regards the history of philosophy, particular importance attaches to those works of Mitin which outline the interrelation of ideas between Marxism and classical German philosophy, more especially the philosophy of Hegel (Hegel i materialisticheskaya dialektika (Hegel and the Materialist Dialectic), Istoriya fdosofii Hegelya (Hegel’s History of Philosophy), Filosofiya prava Hegelya (Hegel’s Philosophy of Right). Translations of a number of Hegel’s greatest works are appearing under M. B. Mitin’s editorship (Science of Logic, History of Philosophy). In combination with his scholarly activities, Mitin pursues a thorough-going campaign against mechanist and idealist theories in the field of philosophy. In addition to his academic work, Mitin displays great activity as a lecturer and publicist. He is in charge of the philosophical and socio-political journal Under the Banner of Marxism and is at present Director of the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute.’ (Vestnik Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1939, No. 2/3, p. 181.)” (Wetter, p. 179)
In this article I have discussed and criticized Plekhanov and Deborin at great length. However, I want to re-emphasize that Plekhanov was a great theoretician, and Lenin praised some of his philosophical works highly. Certain works of Plekhanov such as “The Development of the Monist View of History” and “The Role of the Individual in History” are classics of Marxism. In other words, it is good and useful to read and study Plekhanov. Plekhanov still failed to understand certain aspects of dialectics and made serious opportunist mistakes in politics, so his work must be read critically.
Deborin also wrote many good works and I also encourage people to study Deborin. Needless to say he also made many mistakes (some were serious, many were not so serious) but this article hopefully can serve as a guide to avoid many of them. But as Lenin said:
“It goes without saying that nobody can be blamed for making mistakes” the problem is when one chooses to persist in them. (Lenin, The Vperyodists and the Vperyod Group)
I also recommend reading the works of M. B. Mitin. You can find some of them collected on this page.
This series of articles will discuss the development of philosophy in the Soviet Union.
DEBATE BETWEEN MECHANISTS AND DIALECTICIANS (1920s)
“The period of the twenties in Soviet Russia was marked by an extended controversy in science and philosophy over the relative merits of dialectical and mechanistic materialism. There were actually two prongs to the discussion. One issue was whether or not the principles of dialectics, part of the official Marxist philosophy, were applicable to the natural sciences. The other issue was the actual definition of the principles of dialectics.
The initiative in this controversy was taken by a group of natural scientists who maintained that natural science discovers its laws by empirical research, and should not be subject to the imposition of preexisting philosophical laws. Their early spokesman, O. Minin, said that philosophy had to be thrown overboard together with religion… [and his slogan was] “overboard with philosophy… In addition, they favored the models of mechanics as the basis for scientific explanation, and many of the scientists believed that the principles of dialectics could actually be expressed in terms of mechanics. In this contention they found support from Bukharin in his Historical Materialism…
Resistance to this attack was organized among a group of philosophers led by A. M. Deborin at the Communist Academy, an organ of the Central Committee of the Party. A Society of Militant Materialist Dialecticians was organized, and support was gained from philosophers at the Lenin Institute, the Marx-Engels Institute, and the Institute of Red Professors… The position of the dialecticians was given further valuable support in 1925 by the Marx-Engels Institute’s publication of two important fragmentary works, Engels’ Dialectics of Nature and portions of Lenin’s philosophical notebooks.” (Raymond A. Bauer, The new man in Soviet psychology, pp. 24-25)
The debate between mechanists and dialecticians centered around the following main topics: 1. Many mechanists considered that philosophy was unnecessary and the only thing needed was natural science, or that the role of philosophy was very small, while dialectical materialists considered philosophy to be very important. 2. Mechanists considered that motion was mechanical, i.e. simple and not contradictory, while dialectical materialists considered that motion was due to contradictions and interactions. 3. Mechanists considered that motion was external to objects and phenomena while dialectical materialists considered motion to be inherent inside objects and phenomena. 4. Mechanical materialists were fatalistic determinists, considering that freedom doesn’t exist. Dialectical materialism holds a dialectical view of freedom and necessity. 5. Mechanical materialists were a heterogeneous group of revisionists and many also held vulgar materialist views and anti-marxist views in general.
MECHANISTS BELIEVED THAT PHILOSOPHY NEEDED TO BE GOTTEN RID OF
“mechanists… believed that the positive science had virtually eliminated the need for philosophy.” (Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the bolshevik revolution, p. 114)
O. Minin distorts the view of Lenin and Plekhanov, claiming their discussions of philosophy were mere “slips of the pen”:
“Both V. I. Lenin, and Plekhanov also, employ old-fashioned terms such as “the philosophy of Marxism”, “the philosophical implications of the natural sciences” and so forth, but these terms as used by Lenin and Plekhanov are merely slips of the pen and nothing more. In fitting out and trimming the ship of science we must take care to throw, not only religion, but also the whole of philosophy overboard.” (O. Minin, Overboard with Philosophy, 1922, quoted in Wetter, Dialectical Materialism pp. 129-130)
IS THE SOURCE OF MOTION INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL?
“To the mechanist the concept of force is the means of explaining causal relationships in the world. Since his theoretical model is that of a machine which responds or adjusts to external force, there would be no initial motion in the system without the application of external force. The mechanist sees the world as consisting of rigid, isolated elements, so that if force is applied at one point it is transmitted by these rigid elements to other elements and so on. If forces equal in magnitude but opposite in direction are effective on the same point, no motion results but an equilibrium is established… Bukharin’s conception of equilibrium was a good example of this approach. To him society was a system which adjusted to the natural environment. The internal structure—the state of equilibrium within the system— is a function of the system’s external equilibrium. In such a scheme, the initiative always rests in external factors. This is illustrated by Bukharin’s statement: “We may say of a system that it is in equilibrium if that system of itself, without the application of external energy, cannot change its condition.” [N. Bukharin, Teoriia Iistoricheskogo materializma, p. 76]”
Bukharin talks about two kinds of contradictions, ones internal to the system and ones between the system and its external environment. He says the external contradiction is primary, while the internal is only secondary:
“It is quite clear that the internal structure of the system (its internal equilibrium) must change together with the relation existing between the system and its environment. The latter relation is the decisive factor” (Bukharin, Historical materialism, p. 79)
That is a completely anti-marxist position! Bauer sums up the criticism of the dialecticians correctly:
“The dialecticians argued that motion is an inherent property of matter, while the mechanists considered motion to be a property that is imparted to matter from without. The dialecticians contended that the mechanists’ position involved the positing of a prime mover to set matter in motion, and thus led to such concepts as God… This difference in interpretation of the nature of force is a key to understanding how certain Marxists who considered themselves to be dialecticians were criticized as being mechanists.” (Bauer, pp. 26-27)
The classics of Marxism understood the source of motion to be internal contradictions:
“A motionless state of matter is therefore one of the most empty and nonsensical of ideas — a “delirious fantasy” of the purest water.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“Contrary to metaphysics, dialectics holds that internal contradictions are inherent in all things… and that the struggle between these opposites… constitutes the internal content of the process of development” (Stalin, Dialectical and historical materialism)
“The condition for the knowledge of all processes of the world in their “self-movement,” in their spontaneous development, in their real life, is the knowledge of them as a unity of opposites. Development is the “struggle” of opposites… [this view] alone furnishes the key to the “self-movement” of everything existing; it alone furnishes the key to “leaps,” to the “break in continuity,” to the “transformation into the opposite,” to the destruction of the old and the emergence of the new.” (Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks)
Dialectical-Materialism holds that motion and development are constant and absolute, while rest and balance are only relative and temporary:
“The unity… of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative. The struggle of mutually exclusive opposites is absolute, just as development and motion are absolute.” (Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks)
“All rest, all equilibrium, is only relative” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
The classics of Marxism held that matter is uncreated, uncreatable, indestructible and eternal. It does not need a creator because it has always been:
“Thus we have once again returned to the point of view of the great founders of Greek philosophy, the view that the whole of nature, from the smallest element to the greatest, from grains of sand to suns, from protista to men, has its existence in eternal coming into being and passing away, in ceaseless flux, in un-resting motion and change, only with the essential difference that what for the Greeks was a brilliant intuition, is in our case the result of strictly scientific research in accordance with experience, and hence also it emerges in a much more definite and clear form.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
“the eternally repeated succession of worlds in infinite time is only the logical complement to the co-existence of innumerable worlds in infinite space… It is an eternal cycle in which matter moves, a cycle that certainly only completes its orbit in periods of time for which our terrestrial year is no adequate measure, a cycle in which the time of highest development, the time of organic life and still more that of the life of beings conscious of nature and of themselves, is just as narrowly restricted as the space in which life and self-consciousness come into operation; a cycle in which every finite mode of existence of matter, whether it be sun or nebular vapour, single animal or genus of animals, chemical combination or dissociation, is equally transient, and wherein nothing is eternal but eternally changing, eternally moving matter and the laws according to which it moves and changes. ” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
“Whereas only ten years ago the great basic law of motion, then recently discovered, was as yet conceived merely as a law of the conservation of energy, as the mere expression of the indestructibility and uncreatability of motion, that is, merely in its quantitative aspect, this narrow negative conception is being more and more supplanted by the positive idea of the transformation of energy, in which for the first time the qualitative content of the process comes into its own, and the last vestige of an extramundane creator is obliterated.” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“Motion is therefore as uncreatable and indestructible as matter itself” (Engels, Anti-Dühring)
“It already becomes evident here that matter is unthinkable without motion. And if, in addition, matter confronts us as something given, equally uncreatable as indestructible, it follows that motion also is as uncreatable as indestructible.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Engels further says “the creation and destruction of motion… presupposes a creator.” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Lenin and Stalin both referred to Heraclitus’s statement:
“Speaking of the materialist views of the ancient philosopher Heraclitus, who held that “the world, the all in one, was not created by any god or any man, but was, is and ever will be a living flame, systematically flaring up and systematically dying down”‘ Lenin comments: “A very good exposition of the rudiments of dialectical materialism.” (Stalin, Dialectical and Historical Materialism, quoting from Lenin’s philosophical notebooks)
ACCIDENT AND NECESSITY
“The mechanists were criticized for being rigid determinists. They argued that chance or accident were merely the products of our ignorance: “. . . in reality they think that only necessity exists. Accident is a product of our ignorance, and therefore exclusively a subjective phenomenon.” To the extent that the dialectic view of accident can be disentangled from Hegelian terminology it is this: Certain elements in a situation are more relevant than others for the problem at hand. The analyst concentrates on these elements, and factors external to his scheme of analysis, but which may impinge on the events with which he is dealing, he calls “accidents.” “Hence the accidental may be defined as a cause which is not directly related to the lawful inner development of a given phenomenon. It appears as something external in relation to it. That is to say there may be two or more quite independent series of causes and effects which may intersect, and this intersection is accidental.”
The mechanists, in holding to the view that chance is incompatible with causality, are accused of failing to distinguish between the relevant and the irrelevant. The essence of the difference is that to the person looking into the past, “complete” determinism makes sense since the relevance of events can be judged on the basis of the effect they have produced. The person looking into the future does not have such wisdom of hindsight, and he must make some decision before the fact of the relevance of the factors involved since he cannot take all conceivable variables into consideration.” (Bauer, pp. 30-31)
As Engels explained, in trying to deny accidents mechanical materialism actually lowers everything to the level of mere accidents:
“chance is not here explained by necessity, but rather necessity is degraded to the production of what is merely accidental. If the fact that a particular pea-pod contains six peas, and not five or seven, is of the same order as the law of motion of the solar system, or the law of the transformation of energy, then as a matter of fact chance is not elevated into necessity, but rather necessity degraded into chance” (Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Mechanical materialism was perhaps the most serious threat in the history of Soviet philosophy. The debate between mechanists and dialecticians started in the realm of philosophy of science, because most of the mechanists were natural scientists and not philosophers. They advocated a simplistic position which underestimated the importance of philosophy. They had a tendency of saying that the “simple facts” discovered by science should be accepted at face value, and philosophy should simply repeat those findings. They did not question the methodology they had inherited from the capitalist class, and instead of developing a methodology of science based on Marxism-Leninism, they wanted to twist Marxist dialectics into the typical mechanism used by non-dialectical capitalist scientists and philosophers of science. However, the Soviet mechanists still claimed to support dialectics and claimed that in fact they were the real dialectical materialists. This confusion is exemplified by their slogan that “dialectics is mechanist”.
The mechanists also seriously underestimated the subject matter of philosophy. They believed that philosophy can only closely follow the findings of natural sciences, and thus it was only an appendage to science instead of having any possibility to develop relatively independently. Of course materialist philosophy must base itself on science and make generalizations based on scientific findings, but as Marx and Engels noted, philosophy has often been very much ahead of natural science, and philosophy at the end of the day is a separate and theoretical discipline. Most philosophical discussions and debates do not in fact merely summarize recent scientific findings, but discuss much more broad theoretical topics.
The way of thinking of the mechanists “might be characterized as an extreme empiricism. The word “extreme” here would have reference not only to a total exclusion of opposing philosophic tendencies, but also to a certain “untheoretical,” literal minded quality which attached to their conceptions and methods… “Materialism” to them meant a thorough reliance upon the methods and findings of experimental and exact natural science, which alone, in their view, was capable of coming to close grips with “matter” in its various phases. They did not hesitate to refer to themselves as “mechanists,” and to advocate the mechanistic terminology, not only in the philosophy of nature, but in the philosophy of history and society as well.” (Somerville, Soviet Philosophy: A Study Of Theory And Practice, pp. 213-214)
The mechanists claimed that only natural science could reach an understanding of matter. But matter is a philosophical category. A narrow empiricist might list various forms of matter: “matter is particles”, “matter is energy”, “matter is waves”, “matter is electro-magnetism”, but those things do not exhaust the category of matter. As Lenin said:
“Matter is a philosophical category denoting the objective reality which is given to man by his sensations, and which is copied, photographed and reflected by our sensations, while existing independently of them.” (Lenin, Materialism and empirio-criticism)
One of the leading mechanists was the future leader of the Right-Opposition, Nikolai Bukharin. He explicitly claimed that dialectics can be adequately explained mechanistically:
“It is quite possible to transcribe the ‘mystical’… language of Hegelian dialectics into the language of modern mechanics.” (Bukharin, Historical Materialism, p. 75)
Lenin had always maintained that Bukharin did not understand dialectics. During the trade union debate of 1921 Lenin said that Bukharin replaces dialectics with eclectics, i.e. mere mechanical combination:
“Bukharin’s fundamental theoretical mistake, which is substitution of eclecticism (especially popular with the authors of diverse “fashionable” and reactionary philosophical systems) for Marxist dialectics.” (Lenin, Once Again On The Trade Unions, The Current Situation and the Mistakes of Trotsky and Buhkarin)
Lenin had consistently attacked Bukharin’s mechanism and his use of revisionist and capitalist theories. Lenin particularly criticized Bukharin’s reliance on the anti-dialectical empirio-criticist Bogdanov:
“Lenin… particularly disliked what he called the use of “Bogdanovist gibberish” instead of “human language,”… Over and over again he greeted them with “ugh!”, “ha, ha,” “eclecticism,”” (Cohen, p. 114)
“Bukharin came out openly in favor of certain aspects of mechanism in his book, Historical Materialism… his opponents attacked not only his nomenclature, but his basic conceptions and theories, particularly the doctrine of social equilibrium, as being mechanistic.” (Somerville, p. 219)
“Precisely what the mechanist group asserted was that the dialectical conception of nature, properly understood, was the mechanistic conception. Thus [mechanist] Stepanov flatly entitled one of his articles, “The Dialectical Understanding of Nature Is the Mechanistic Understanding.”” (Somerville, p. 215)
THE DEBATE ON SPINOZA AND HEGEL
“The mechanists had gone so far as to advocate, for instance, that the study of the history of philosophy be scrapped in higher institutions… Just as the mechanists were prone to “play down” the study of the history of philosophy as such, they were inclined to belittle the role of classic philosophers in relation to the development of dialectical materialism. These tendencies came out with particular clarity in the voluminous discussions centering around Hegel and Spinoza… they probably would have been glad to forget all about Hegel. But they were not permitted to do so. Hegel became an issue. The “dialecticians” accused the mechanists of failure to comprehend the significance of the fact that Marx and Engels had built on Hegel, had profited immensely from the study of Hegel, and had advised everyone to do likewise.” (Somerville, p. 218)
“the contributors to [the philosophic journal] Pod Znamenem Marksizma must arrange for the systematic study of Hegelian dialectics from a materialist standpoint, i.e., the dialectics which Marx applied practically in his Capital and in his historical and political works” (Lenin, On the significance of militant materialism)
“In the discussion centering around Spinoza, the main question concerned the significance of his work for the philosophic constructions of dialectical materialism. The mechanists— in particular, writers like Axelrod and Timianski— were disposed to make short shrift of the matter by declaring Spinoza an outright idealist. Deborin and his group, however, were inclined to see great value in Spinoza, both as a dialectician and as a materialist. Properly taken, they argued, that is, taken in the light of his historical movement and direction, Spinoza belonged to materialism. They were ready to hearken back to Plekhanov’s conception that dialectical materialism could be characterized as a certain form of Spinozism.” (Somerville, pp. 218-219)
THE MECHANISTS ARE DEFEATED
“In 1929 the controversy came to a head. The immediate occasion of the crystallizing of the long debated views was the meeting in April of the Second All-Union Conference of Marxist-Leninist Scientific Institutions. This was a gathering made up of delegates (229 in number) from all the important scientific institutions of the country. All the leading figures were present and took part in the debates… The leading report was delivered by Deborin, and, in the end, as part of its proceedings, the conference voted a resolution on it which acted as a kind of official condemnation of mechanism.“ (Somerville, p. 220)
Points 6 and 7 of the resolution contain the direct and concrete reference to the mechanist position:
“The most active revisionist philosophical tendency during latter years has been that of the mechanists (L. Axelrod, A. K. Timiriazev, A. Variash, and others). Carrying on what was in essence a struggle against the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism, not understanding the foundations of materialist dialectics, substituting for revolutionary materialistic dialectics a vulgar evolutionism, and for materialism, positivism, preventing, in point of fact, the penetration of the methodology of dialectical materialism into the realm of natural science, this tendency represents a clear departure from Marxist-Leninist philosophical positions.
“The conference considers it necessary to continue the systematic criticism and exposure of the mistakes of the mechanist school from the point of view of consistent Marxism-Leninism.
“The most important problems confronting the philosophy of Marxism-Leninism are the further development of the theory of dialectics, and the thorough application of the method of dialectical materialism both in the field of social science . . . and natural science.
“The crisis through which the contemporary theory of natural science is passing is a continuation of that crisis which has already been analyzed by Lenin. The present successes of natural science do not fit into the pattern of the old, mechanistic, formal logic theories. Here, bourgeois philosophy paralyzes itself, attempting to utilize the crisis in natural science for its own ends. However, a genuine solution of the fundamental difficulties of natural scientists can be attained only by applying the method of materialist dialectics.” (Quoted in Somerville, pp. 220-221)
“the appearance (in 1925) of Engels’ hitherto unpublished work Dialectics of Nature… heartened the supporters of dialectical materialism… The dialecticians took yet further courage from the first publication, in 1929, of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks” (Wetter, Dialectical Materialism, p. 130)
BUKHARIN’S MECHANISTIC THEORIES
“the mechanists see something mystical, teleological, in the notion of dialectic. Bukharin accused Marx and Engels of having bequeathed to the proletariat a world-outlook by no means free from ‘a certain teleological flavour which inevitably clings to the Hegelian formula which speaks of a self-development on the part of “spirit”
In spite of this the mechanists themselves make use of the term ‘dialectic’, though interpreting it in their own mechanistic fashion. Bukharin proposes, in place of the ‘mystificatory’ dialectic, to found Marxism on the ‘theory of equilibrium’, which ‘would constitute a more general formulation, purged of idealist elements, of the laws governing material systems in motion’…
One outcome of this basic conception is the denial of quality, and of the emergence of new qualities. The mechanists taught that phenomena of higher order are attributable to those of lower order” (Wetter, pp. 140-141)
“In the social and political field, mechanism brought forward the theory of spontaneity. The latter represents a radical economic determinism according to which socialism will come about automatically, spontaneously, by natural necessity, in the course of the social and politico-agrarian development of the national economy, in consequence of the socialization process in the towns (industrialization), without the intervention of the collective class-will, without class-warfare in the countryside, without an active struggle for the collectivization of the economy… The class-war and the dictatorship of the proletariat thereby lose their significance…
In the mechanistic theory of samotek [I would translate this as “spontaneity” or “automatism”, the idea that development happens automatically regardless of consciousness] we may see the precise reason why mechanism finds no acceptance in Leninist Bolshevism: the mechanist thesis, which admits only of quantitative changes, leads to the denial of development by leaps and maintains that all such development is continuous. Evolution proceeds steadily, and not in jerks. Mechanism therefore implies the elimination of class-contradictions and avoidance of the class-struggle. Bukharin, the leading exponent of mechanism, was in fact accused of cherishing the hope that the larger peasants [kulaks] would move peacefully over to socialism.” (Wetter, p. 142)
THE MECHANISTS WERE A HETEROGENOUS GROUP OF REVISIONISTS
I quoted various authors who stated that the mechanists were mostly natural scientists and not philosophers. This is true, but the group of mechanists did also include philosophers. These philosophers were actually a very heterogeneous group of revisionists, utopian socialists etc.
“the authors reckoned as mechanists… themselves differed considerably in opinion one from another… The mechanists include both the vulgar materialists of the early years of the Soviet regime, such as Minin and Enchmen, and natural scientists… Among the mechanist philosophers, the most prominent is Bukharin, who applied the philosophy of Bogdanov to historical materialism and political economy, and endeavoured to supplant the materialist dialectic by his well-known ‘theory of equilibrium’. Finally, there are various other philosophers who are reckoned as mechanists, such as Axel’rod and Sarab’yanov, of whom the latter, however, is more of a positivist or subjective idealist, and Varyash, who ranks as a disciple of Freud.” (Wetter, pp. 142-143)
Trotsky also supported not only Freud but also a mechanistic view of society:
“Trotsky favored a fusion of Freudian theory and Pavlovian method” (Bauer, p. 54)
“[Marxist-Leninist philosopher] Mitin also draws attention to a further affinity on Trotsky’s part towards mechanism, rightly detecting in him opinions symptomatic of mechanistic materialism… Trotsky maintains phenomena of higher order to be deducible from those of lower order:
‘Psychology, in our opinion, is reducible, in the last resort, to physiology, and the latter in turn to chemistry, physics and mechanics… The same may be said of sociology… Society is just as much a product of the development of primary matter as the crust of the earth or an amoeba. Thus it is that scientific thought, with its diamond-drill methods, can penetrate from the most complex phenomena of social ideology to matter and its constituent elements, the particles and their physical and mechanical properties.’” (Wetter, pp. 173-174)
“The victory of the dialecticians was announced in April 1929, the same month in which Bukharin and other members of the Right opposition were stripped of much of their political power.” (Bauer, p. 26)
In the end some of the mechanists actually realized their mistakes and corrected themselves:
“comrades Perelman, Sarabjanov*, have appeared in the press criticizing mechanistic errors, first of all their own, and so are gradually joining in our common work.” (V. Adoratski, E. Kolman, A. Maksimov, M. Mitin, P. Judin, V. Raltgevitsh, “Questions of the day on the philosophical front”)
*Sarabjanov had already criticized Bukharin’s philosophical views despite himself being a mechanist at the time (Somerville, p. 219)
The physicist A. K. Timiryazev also went on to have a very successful career as a scientist and communist.
Ivan Skortsov-Stepanov died in 1928 right before the condemnation of mechanism, and Stalin praised him at his funeral:
“staunch and steadfast Leninist… Comrade Skvortsov-Stepanov devoted his whole life of brilliant labour to the cause of the victory of the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Stalin, To the Memory of Comrade I. I. Skvortsov-Stepanov October, 1928)
Bukharin never corrected his erroneous and opportunist views.
Soon after the defeat of the mechanists, the leader of the “Dialecticians” A. M. Deborin, and the entire “Deborin school” were also criticized for idealist and semi-menshevik mistakes – but that will have to be the topic of the next episode. . .
Raymond A. Bauer, The new man in Soviet psychology
Stephen F. Cohen, Bukharin and the bolshevik revolution
Gustav Wetter, Dialectical Materialism
O. Minin, “Overboard with Philosophy”
Bukharin, Historical Materialism
Stalin, Dialectical and historical materialism
Lenin, On the Question of Dialectics, in his Philosophical Notebooks
In the course of the revolutionary movement in Hungary the Social-Democrats had very noticeably split into a left-wing and a right-wing. Reactionaries had suffered many defeats and as a result the Social-Democrat Left was much stronger than the Right. The Social-Democrat Left-Wing supported collaboration with the Communists and had become closer and closer to Communism ideologically. They supported socialist construction and class struggle, and held Marxist positions on various issues. The Social-Democrat Left represented the old Marxist tradition within Social-Democracy.
“The Social Democratic Party, after being driven underground during the Second World War, had been able to reactivate over 350,000 members, mainly industrial workers, by the end of 1945 with its slogan ‘Democracy today, Socialism tomorrow’. It supported the idea of a people’s republic, far-reaching democratic reforms, the nationalisation of key industries and the confiscation of the great estates… The party leadership frustrated both ex-minister, Karoly Peyer’s attempt early in 1946 to return the party to [an anti-communist] line and the negotiations, held in the autumn of 1947, aimed at achieving closer cooperation of all anti-Communist forces under the leadership of the Smallholders’ Party.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 168)
“Regarding foreign policy… the [SDP] left wing preferred an all-out pro-Soviet line.” (László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union, p. 63)
“Among the Social Democrats… the upper hand was gained by the faction in the party leadership which was openly sympathetic to the Communist call to defend the unity of the working class in its struggle against reactionary elements and those wishing to restore capitalism.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 171)
“As a result of the acceleration of revolutionary progress, the members and officials of the Social Democratic Party came still closer in ideology to the Communist Party. It was increasingly recognized that the fusion of the two parties should not be delayed too long. The number of those who went over to the Communist Party was also increasing. The right-wing elements in the Social Democratic Party were considerably upset by these events and fought against them, because further revolutionary
transformations and the unification of the two parties would be tantamount to a complete political defeat for them… The right wing of the Social Democratic Party in Hungary launched a campaign to induce the party executive to take more vigorous action against any efforts to unite the two parties. On 15 October a memorandum signed by 34 officials of the party organizations of 16 factories in Budapest and its vicinity and of three district party organizations was submitted to the party leadership…
They did not touch on a single issue of reconstruction or the struggle against reaction… The principal topic of their petition was to proclaim the “party interests”… They reproached the party executive for failing to fight against the Communist party with sufficient vigour to protect and increase the Social Democratic positions. They demanded the removal of the left-wing activists from the Party centre and their replacement with their own people. As befits persons who were having the ground swept away from under their feet they raised the idea that if their demands were not satisfied, it would be better for the SDP to dissolve of its own accord. Events progressed towards the unification of the two workers’ parties, but those who submitted this memorandum preferred the dissolution of the party to any possible unification with the Communist Party.
The leadership of the Social Democratic Party considered the internal situation of the party and the memorandum submitted on 18 October. Antal Ban observed that some were expecting an American-Soviet war and an American victory, and wanted to see a pro-American policy.“ (Nemes, pp. 174-175)
“In October 1947, at a session of the SzDP’s party Executive the right wing demanded that the left-wing leaders be ousted and that the SzDP break with the policy of co-operation with the Hungarian Communist Party. The idea that the SzDP should dissolve itself as a gesture of protest was also raised. The left wing… launched a counter-offensive in response.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 121)
Matyas Rakosi said:
“The outcome of over three years of struggle is that the working class and labouring peasantry hold power in Hungary. During the past three and a half years the working class, headed by our Party, has proved its ability to govern the country. It has become the leading and decisive force and is recognised as such by the overwhelming majority of the people. This recognition brought into the Party this spring thousands of Social-Democratic workers. The correct policy of the Communists isolated the Right Social-Democrats and brought about healthy conditions for the fusion of the two workers’ parties.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“The left-wing leaders of the Social Democratic Party were justified in emphasizing that the right-wing faction was placing the Social Democratic positions in jeopardy, because it set their party against the revolutionary interests of the working class which had at last achieved power. In the meantime, an increasing number of people left the Social Democratic Party, which was losing its prestige, and joined the Communist Party, which was gaining prestige. By January and February 1948, this transfer of allegiance was assuming the proportions of a landslide. At the same time even more people simply quit the party… party membership and the party’s mass influence were rapidly diminishing.
It was then that the left-wing leaders of the Social Democratic Party… recognized: unification must not be delayed any longer and all opponents of this move should be energetically countered… political unity of the working class should take place in Hungary with the active collaboration of the Social Democratic Party, rather than at the cost of its disintegration. This however made it imperative that the party should be cleansed of anti-communist elements.
In mid-February , there was an open break between the representatives of the left and right wings in the leadership of the Social Democratic Party. Anna Kethly, Imre Szelig and their associates, together with the centrists who joined them, including Antal Ban, were forced to abdicate their leading positions in the party. Following this, several right-wing and centre members of the party executive also resigned, some of them, because they opposed the SDP’s support of the merger and others because they did not want to hamper unification and expected to facilitate its preparation and implementation by standing aside.” (Nemes, pp. 178-179)
Already previously right-wing Social-Democrat leader Karoly Peyer had united with right-wing elements in the Smallholder Party and tried to launch an anti-communist campaign inside the Social-Democrats. However, it failed and he was expelled:
“Peyer launched an open campaign against the pro-Communist trend within the S.D.P., but was defeated, and this left him and the Social Democratic right isolated in the Party. He was reproved and eventually left it to join the Hungarian Radical Party (Magyar Radikalis Part).” (George Schöpflin in Martin McCauley ed., Communist power in Europe, 1944-1949, p. 101)
“the leader of the right-wing, Karoly Peyer, withdrew from the Social-Democratic Party and ran on the ticket of one of the bourgeois parties. This, of course, gave rise to confusion among the Social-Democrats… the Social-Democrats and bourgeois parties fought for the vote of the petty bourgeoisie, with the result that the Social-Democrats lost heavily in this struggle.” (Revai, The activities of the C. C. of the Hungarian Communist Party)
“When the ‘right-wing’ Social Democrats opposed a merger… their spokesmen, who included the former government ministers, Karoly Peyer, A. Kethly, F. Szeder and A. Ban, were expelled following an internal party struggle which lasted until February 1948.” (Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary, p. 183)
“The exposure of the right Social-Democrats made our Social-Democratic comrades realise that the existence of rival working-class parties was altogether unnecessary, and that this inter-party rivalry was most detrimental not only to the interests of the working people but to Hungarian democracy as a whole. A spontaneous movement for the formation of a united workers’ party gained ground among the working class, thousands of Social-Democratic comrades expressed their desire to join our Party. For the time being we have stopped recruiting new members, but thousands of people are impatiently waiting for the day when entry into the Party will be renewed.” (Rakosi, problems of ideological and theoretical work in the communist party of Hungary)
“At the beginning of 1948 a rapidly growing number of SzDP members decided to switch to the Communist Party… By February the flow of social democrats to the Communist Party reached such proportions that the MKP Political Committee was forced to order a temporary clamp-down on new membership. The SzDP met in congress on 6-8 March 1948. This congress resulted in complete victory for the left wing. The resolution adopted at the congress stipulated that the new party leadership begin “talks immediately with the leadership of the Hungarian Communist Party with a view to creating the ideological, political and organizational conditions necessary for the forming of a united workers’ party.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 121)
“The thirty-sixth annual Congress of the Social Democratic party, meeting in Budapest in February , ended with a widely publicized and spectacular victory of its extreme left-wing leaders over the more conservative right-wing members, who seemed to have been completely discredited… The final outcome of the Social Democratic Congress was a dramatic decision of the party leadership to liquidate its moderate members and to integrate its activities with those of the Communist party.” (György, Governments of Danubian Europe, p. 117)
“Then in March 1948 at the Social Democrats’ congress, the Communist-influenced left… called for a merger with the Communists. It took place on 12 June after a joint congress, and the Magyar Dolgozók Pártja, the Hungarian Workers’ Party, was born.” (Stone, p. 399)
“[O]n 12 June… the Social Democrats voted to join outright with the Communists combining into the Hungarian Workers Party.” (Pryce-Jones, pp. 28-29)
At the founding congress of the new party Rakosi said:
“The congresses of the workers’ parties, the Communist and Socialist parties of Hungary adopted an unanimous decision to unite. This historic event is an occasion for joy and satisfaction not only to the working people of Hungary but also to the supporters of democratic progress throughout the world. In line with this decision, which marks a new epoch in the history of our country, we have gathered here to announce the fusion of the two fraternal parties, to discuss the problems of work of the new party and also the draft programme and statutes of the party, which have been submitted to the congress for consideration.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
During the merger as a temporary measure the Hungarian Communist Party “Politburo decided to identify a core of activists as “party workers.” At the time of the merger over 100,000 members possessed special party worker cards.” (Bennett Kovrig, Communism in Hungary: from Kun to Kādār, p. 228)
Challenges involved in an underground party becoming a mass party
The merger of the two workers’ parties happened on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. The merger could be worthwhile only on such a basis:
“One of the prerequisites for the fusion was that the Social-Democratic comrades should adhere to the position of Marxism-Leninism. In accordance with this we drafted a joint programme which we submit to the congress for consideration. This programme not only analyses international and domestic problems in the spirit of the teachings of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin, but also outlines the tasks confronting the united party, tasks which the united Workers’ Party must complete without any loss of time.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“It is of vital importance to us to turn the Party into a truly monolithic organisation, imbued with a single spirit, a single desire and a single will. It is imperative that the comrades who have come from the Social-Democratic Party quickly master the theory of Marxism-Leninism and accept iron Party discipline.“ (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“What was the party like that came into being with the fusion of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party?… The united party which came into being was a Marxist-Leninist party.
It was an important question to what extent the vanguard character of the party would prevail — not only in its role in the life of society, but also in its organizational composition; in addition to the genuine vanguard, to what extent would it rally the sympathizers, in other words the people who supported the policy of the party, but did not come up yet to the requirements of party membership.
It is a universal experience that a legal revolutionary party when it becomes a mass party inevitably includes in its ranks, side by side with the vanguard, a part of the sympathizing masses, who constitute a constant source for refilling and strengthening the party. This also happened to the Communist Party, a large number of sympathizers were persuaded to join… This was one of the results of party rivalry, of a situation when even the number of the registered members of each party figured in the struggle for positions. Consequently, there were many formal admissions to membership, the sort of “joining” which did not mean more for the entrant than a single act, which was not even followed by the payment of the monthly membership dues. This kind of formal membership was even more extensive in the Social Democratic Party.” (Nemes, p. 182)
When the Hungarian Communist Party emerged from the underground, and became a legal party, it recruited members very actively. It was important to draw as many workers, peasants and intellectuals, as well as all partisan fighters and anti-fascist fighters into the party. It was important to increase the party’s membership, because this increased its prestige and influence in the elections and the political struggle of the time.
However, this created its own challenges. First of all, it was difficult for some veterans of the underground party to adapt to the new conditions. Some members held the ultra-left view that they should have simply taken power in a violent revolution, right away in 1944-45, and did not see the “peaceful path” to socialism as a possibility.* This is because they didn’t analyze the concrete conditions of Hungary at the time.
[*Naturally the “peaceful path” to socialism is not a universal or common phenomena, but was related to the very specific and even exceptional conditions of Hungary at the time. It also should not be understood as a “peaceful growing of capitalism into socialism” without a revolution, without the smashing and overthrow of the bourgeoisie]
Another challenge was, that when so many new members were recruited into the party, new recruits were bound to be of lower quality and ideologically weaker. The Hungarian Party quickly grew from mere thousands, to tens of thousands, and in a few years hundreds of thousands. This was not entirely unique though, the Finnish Communist Party also only had thousands of members when it was underground, but still had tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of supporters. When the party became legal, it also had a massive influx of those who had always supported them, but had been too afraid, or unable to join the party when it was underground. Still, the Hungarian Party recruited much more actively then most communist parties, and when it was combined with the Social-Democrats, its membership reached as many as 800,000 in a country of 9 million people.
In early 1948 party members were told to apply for new membership cards. In this process 150,000 inactive members who didn’t renew their membership were removed. As the merging of the two parties was happening, 40,000 people had left the social-democrats and joined the communists. A temporary ban on new members was adopted. Focus now shifted away from quantity, to quality. Right-wingers from the social-democrats were not allowed to join the new party, and ideological education was stepped up.
In various speeches and articles Rakosi gave a thorough analysis of the issues related to the merging of the two workers’ parties:
“It is too early as yet to predict what the membership of the party will be, but it will certainly exceed the million mark. This contains the danger of inflating the Party and of obliterating the demarcation line between the Party and the working class. That is why we have considered it necessary to introduce stricter rules when accepting new members and in this way ensure the healthy growth of the party…” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“It would be incorrect, of course, to draw a parallel between the Communist Party of Hungary and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. But what can be said is that in our Party there are relatively and in absolute figures all the more so — considerably fewer Communists possessing a clear understanding of Marxist-Leninist theory and who could, in all justice, be considered members of the general staff of the working people.
From this it follows that, comparatively speaking, our Party should have considerably fewer members than the CPSU(B). But what is the actual state of affairs? Last autumn Party membership reached 800,000 and, notwithstanding thousands of exclusions in connection with the exchange of membership cards, is now reaching the million mark. In view of the forthcoming fusion of the Communist and Social Democrat Parties, and the mass entry of peasants into the Party, this growth will continue in the united party.
Our Party is not only made up of the vanguard detachment of the working class, but also includes the absolute majority of industrial workers…
How did it come about that our party found itself developing in this way? At first we strove to get the most conscious workers, peasants and progressive intellectuals, who had had some experience of struggle, to join our ranks. To ensure this we accepted members only on the basis of a detailed questionnaire, backed with recommendations by two veteran members of the Party. However, we quickly realised that by following this procedure, we remained in the minority compared with the Social Democrats and other parties which were competing with us. These workers, peasants and intellectuals who were eager to join the Party because they sympathised with the Soviet Union, the Soviet Army or with the vigorous and selfless activities of our Party, these people, in their overwhelming majority had never taken part in the labour movement and wanted to master Communist theory as members of our Party. When we did not accept these sympathisers into the Party, disillusioned and hurt they joined the Social Democratic Party which had a united front with us and which did not follow a line of such strict selection.
The result was that the Social Democratic Party grew by leaps and bounds and soon outnumbered us. In the summer of 1945, for instance, it frequently happened in the course of the factory committee elections that Social Democrat comrades, using the arguments that they had double our membership in the factories, insisted on getting two-thirds of the majority… Moreover, the Right Social Democrats referring to this fact made even more extravagant demands on us. They used this argument in the autumn of 1945 at the time of the General Election when they prevented a common election list being put forward. The immediate effect of this rivalry was that we opened wide the Party doors, which explains the rapid increase in its membership. We were not happy about this and we recognised the dangers inherent in the influx into our Party” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“Unquestionably many people have come into our Party—and this is even more true of the Social Democrat Party — for whom it would have been much better had they first passed through a definite preparatory school of socialism in the trade unions or in other mass organisations, and had not immediately joined the Party which they can thus directly influence” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“Comrade Stalin has pointed out how dangerous it is to turn the Party into a scattered, amorphous, disorganised “formation” which loses itself in a sea of “sympathisers” and obliterates the demarcation line between the Party and the class and bypasses the task of the Party to raise the unorganised masses to the level of a vanguard detachment.
We failed to take full account of the danger that a quantitative increase can lead to a deterioration of quality. We were misled by the circumstance that, despite its swollen ranks, our Party was able to carry out its tasks: to create and consolidate the people’s democracy. At the same time however, there were signs that the existence of a vast number of members lacking Communist education was beginning to hamper the Party in carrying out its vanguard role. A number of recent symptoms show that at critical moments some of its members allowed themselves to be influenced by non-class conscious elements and even enemies of democracy…
It should be noted that careerists of all kinds and enemies are now trying to get into the Party… Our enemies are trying to get into the Party in order to cause us a lot of harm…
The Party, —continued Stalin, could not but know that it was strong not only in the number of its members but, above all, in their quality. The Bolshevik Party combated this danger in various ways: Party purge, temporary non-acceptance of new members, but mainly by adopting a series of measures designed to raise the ideological level of the Party. The composition of the Party must be steadily improved, wrote Stalin at the time, by raising the level of the Party member’s consciousness and by accepting into the Party on an individual basis, only comrades who have been tested and are devoted to the cause of Communism. It is necessary, said Stalin, to extend the propaganda idea of Marxism-Leninism, to raise the theoretical level and political tempering of our cadres. In the main we too, must take similar measures. The task will be much easier during the registration of members in the united party when, fortunately, two-party rivalry will play no role.
Now that the two workers’ parties are combining and the dangerous element of rivalry is eliminated, it is high time that the Party become a party in accordance with Marxist-Leninist theory. For the purpose of raising the ideological level of the Party, the question of study must be given priority… The Political Bureau has decided that the six-month Party school be changed into a one-year school for 50 students. The six-month school will be attended by 100 members annually, the number of three-month courses will be increased to six. About 10,000 Party members will attend the weekly Party school in the course of a year. We shall increase the number of courses and promote individual studies. Each year every Party worker must master, in independent study, at least the material of the three-month course. Naturally, members of the united party will attend these party schools. Apart from this, the special commission handling the matter of study for the two parties is now dealing with the question of refresher courses for the Social-Democratic comrades. We are devoting special attention to the education and discipline of the Party functionaries.” (Rakosi, The party—the vanguard)
“The question of the fusion of the two parties was decided at the recent congress of the Social-Democratic Party. However, as stressed by the leading Social-Democratic comrades, the ideological basis for fusion must be Marxism-Leninism. So that in a few months’ time thousands of former Social-Democratic members of the united party will be fully justified in demanding that we acquaint them with the teaching of Marxism, further elaborated by Lenin and Stalin. But this is only one aspect of the tasks facing us. Apart from the Social-Democratic comrades our Party is being joined by the people from the peasant population and by the intelligentsia. For instance, in the province of Zemplen alone 5,000 small peasants, teachers and doctors joined our ranks in the month that preceded the closing of recruitment.
These peasant people have come to us not because they are acquainted with Marxist-Leninist theory but because of their convictions, which have taken shape in the course of three years observation and experience, that our Party is the most consistent and honest party, is the party that most successfully represents and defends the interests of the working people of Hungary. These peasants and representatives of the intelligentsia will bring with them not only their sentiments of sympathy for our Party but also various prejudices and mistaken conceptions. Unless we take timely measures to provide thousands of new people who will be joining our ranks during the coming weeks and months with the minimum theoretical and ideological education then the theoretical level of our Party, none too high at the moment, may be lowered still more.” (Rakosi, problems of ideological and theoretical work in the communist party of Hungary)
The two parties united on a very equal basis. First, local chapters of social-democrats and communists united, then district levels and finally highest levels. Rakosi said:
“Following the congress, the leadership of the two workers’ parties set up mixed political and organizational committees. On June 12 the Communist Party congress will take place and will decide the question of fusion. The Central Committee has resumed recruiting to the Party, which is being joined by thousands, not only by workers and small peasants, but even by medium peasants.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
The social-democrats had expelled their right-wingers, and now decisively abandoned the opportunism of the 2nd international, and returned to their revolutionary marxist roots. This is why the merging on marxist-leninist principles was possible. It would still take time to develop all these elements into a party of truly iron unity and high theoretical caliber.
Although political and theoretical education is the most important way of improving the quality of party members, it was also absolutely necessary to purge the party of right-wingers, careerists and other harmful elements. Rakosi said:
“As is known, when we carried through the exchange of membership cards, new cards were not issued to thousands of former Party members whom we considered unworthy of the Party’s confidence.” (Rakosi, Unity congress of the Workers’ Party of Hungary)
“the Social-Democratic Party is removing the Right elements from its ranks – between 8,000 to 9,000 have been expelled, already. A thorough purge has been carried out in the Parliamentary fraction where 33 of the 68 deputies have been recalled or expelled from the party. When the fusion of the two workers’ parties is accomplished the new party will hold 46 per cent of the seats in Parliament.” (Rakosi, Victory of the People’s Democracy in Hungary)
Later at the second congress of the united party Rakosi also discussed this topic:
“In order to eliminate… undesirable elements we decided upon the supervision of membership. This supervision which was carried out in our Party after suitable preparation, in the first half of 1949, extended to more than one million members. Of these, we excluded 190,407 members and qualified another 125,672 as candidates to membership. Besides, there were many tens of thousands of members who did not report for supervision” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
The Hungarian Working People’s Party
The result of the merger was that communists gained the support of the absolute majority of the working class and that social-democracy was effectively eliminated as a competitor to genuine socialism, i.e. Marxism-Leninism. Right-wing social-democracy still continued as an underground force which attempted to sabotage socialist construction.
The new party; the Hungarian Working People’s Party, was a mass Marxist-Leninist party. It was a vanguard party, although many of its new members still needed a lot of education. It was easily the largest party in the parliament with 46% of the vote.
The bulk of the Social-Democrat members were loyal working class activists, and many of the Left-Social-Democrat leaders also genuinely supported socialism and accepted Marxism. The best element of the Social-Democrats firmly joined with the Communists. Speaking about the new party Rakosi said:
“when the decisive hour struck, when development put the organic implementation of working-class unity on the agenda, the healthy kernel of the Social-Democratic Party stood at the height of its historic task and was capable of acting correctly… The bulk of the Social-Democratic Party was, in these decisive months, loyal sons of their class and people, and they sealed this loyalty with honest and sincere unity with the Communists. All the successes and achievement of the two and a half years which have passed since prove that this merger was correct and healthy, have opened up new sources of strength and gave new vigour to Hungarian Socialist development. The fruit of this merger is our united, unbroken and great Party, the Hungarian Working People’s Party, fighting under the banner of Lenin and Stalin, and fired with Communist spirit” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
After having discussed the merger of the left-wing Social-Democrats into the Communists, let’s discuss the Right-wing Social-Democrats. Who were they? Where did they come from? And what became of them?
The Right-Wing Social-Democrats
As I mentioned briefly in part 1 the right-wing social-democrats basically acted as a fake opposition in fascist Hungary. They made an agreement with the fascist government to not organize peasants, to not organize government employees, to not organize political strikes, and practically to not organize strikes at all but prevent them, to not criticize the government but instead defend the fascist government internationally. They defended the White Terror and promised to attack the communists and all revolutionaries and label them terrorists. In return the right-wing social-democrats were allowed to operate legally, and basically got full control of the party and the trade-unions. This agreement is known as the Peyer-Bethlen agreement – Peyer was the leader of the right-wing social-democrats and Bethlen was Horthy’s prime minister.
“As the white terror raged the social-democratic party began negotiations with Horthy. In December 1921 they agreed, that social-democrats can get a few seats in the parliament, publish their newspaper censored by the government and get amnesty for interned social-democrats. However, social-democrats were not the only ones interned, communists were also imprisoned and the amnesty didn’t include them… On top of that they promised to try to get support from [international] social-democrats for Horthy’s land of white terror…” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 114)
As the liberal count Karolyi writes:
“[Bethlen] brought the Social Democrats to heel, drawing up a secret pact with them. This pact, accepted by the Socialist Party under duress, made them agree to his franchise bill with its open [non-secret] ballot for the rural districts, and his prohibition on all farm-laborers’ organizations. This meant the complete control of the peasantry and was of major importance to the landowner Bethlen.” (Karolyi, p. 234)
“In Budapest, on December 22, 1921, an agreement was signed by the Prime Minister and four Cabinet Members, on behalf of the Horthy Regency, and by five leaders of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party—Messrs. Peyer, Farkas, Miakits, Popper and Bencs. Here:
The delegates of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party declare that they agree to the wishes expressed by the Prime Minister, both with regard to foreign and home policy, and give assurance of fulfillment on their part.
They agreed “not only to abstain from all propaganda injurious to the interests of Hungary, but on the contrary will carry on an active propaganda on behalf of [fascist] Hungary.”” (Atpheker, p. 21, quoting The Labour Monthly (London) April, 1925, VII, PP- 242-44.)
Conservative historian Professor C.A. Macartney writes:
“The terms are believed to amount to the following: It was noted that large open-air meetings were prohibited, and the unions of the State officials, railways, and postal workers, which had been dissolved, could not be revived. The Social-Democrats agreed not to make anti-Hungarian propaganda abroad, to dissipate false (!) rumours of terrorization current among foreign Socialists [i.e. to lie that there is no White Terror], and to adopt the “national” internal policy, they agreed to collaborate on economic policy with the national parties, to abstain from political strikes, and to refer wage disputes to arbitration. They would break with the revolutionary parties. They agreed not to extend their agitation to the agricultural labourers… They would also confine their agitation among the miners within such limits as not to endanger the continuity and measure of production.
In return the Government agreed to arrest and intern none but terrorists, Communist agitators, and other dangerous persons” and to release right-wing social-democrats. (C. A. Macartney, Hungary, p. 266)
After this agreement between the right-wing social-democrats and the fascist government of Horthy became known three years later, the II International criticized it – as the social-democrats belonged to the II International – but nothing else happened. The II International didn’t expel them, and the criticism had absolutely no impact. These right-wing social-democrats remained as the leaders of the party throughout the Fascist period. When Hungary joined the Axis Peyer was the Chairman of the Social-Democrats, and the leader of the government-recognized Trade Union Federation. They were also allowed seats in the parliament, and many of them such as Anna Kethly sat in the parliament all throughout WWII when Hungary was fighting a war of aggression on Hitler’s side.
The right-wing social-democrats, who it is accurate to call social-fascists (people who pretend to be socialists, but really defend fascism) represented Hungary in the League of Nations and tried to act like there was no White Terror, and that Hungary really wasn’t all that bad.
“Invariably, also, Hungarian foreign delegations, as those appearing at the League of Nations, were made up largely of Social-Democratic leaders, men such as the ubiquitous Peyer, or Peidl or Garami.” (Aptheker, p. 22)
The job of the right-wing Social-Democrats was to prevent strikes and to keep the workers under control. During the Great Depression New York Times wrote in its headline of September 2, 1930: “Reds Lead Jobless in Budapest Battle; 2 Die, 257 Wounded. Workers, Erecting Barricades, Driven Out by Tanks. Socialists Unable to Control Protests.”
By “Reds” they mean communists, and by “socialists” they mean right-wing social-democrats. In other words, communists organized workers while right-wing social-democrats sent tanks to kill them.
During WWII the right-wing social-democrats were allowed to operate as helpers of the fascist war effort. When the war had started, right-wing social-democrat leader Peyer wrote to Undersecretary of State Alador Boor:
“During the last few days individuals have repeatedly appeared at the premises of the trade unions under my leadership and attempted to persuade the workers present to commit various unlawful acts. I have the honour to present with respect the reports I received.” (A photostatic copy of this letter, and a translation, are in The Labour Monthly (London), July, 1950, Vol. 32, p. 317)
In other words, workers tried to organize sabotage against the fascist war, but Peyer the right-wing social-democrat, prevented this and informed the authorities. At this point it should be mentioned that there were leftists inside the social-democrat party too, and even communists had infiltrated into the party. Those leftists did try to oppose the war, and this leftist faction became more influential after the Nazis occupied Hungary and banned all parties, even the social-democrats. But the right-wing social-democrats always co-operated with fascism to the bitter end.
“During the years of the war… the Social-Democratic apparatus, including its Parliamentary delegation and its press… though exercising a critical approach, sought fundamentally, as Rustem Vambery wrote, “to make the war popular with the working class.”” (Aptheker, p. 23)
When the defeat of fascism seemed imminent, the right-wing Social-Democrats (Karoly Peyer, Anna Kethly etc.) met with the right-wing leaders of the Smallholder Party to discuss how they should react to the fact that Communists would inevitably become a legal party, and powerful. The right-wing Smallholder leader Ferenc Nagy writes about this in his memoirs:
“the leaders of the Social-Democratic Party met with us to discuss how the parties would react to the unavoidable entry of the Communists into the postwar political arena.” (p. 38)
“Social-Democratic leaders… promised to fight any thrust of Communism, and declared that their platform was general suffrage, private property and self-government; and believed that on this basis our efforts could be coordinated.” (p. 38)
“This is very consequential for the post-1945 period. First of all, as Elizabeth Wiskemann points out, the political reputation of the Social Democrats was “soiled” and this “left them in a weak position when the revolution came.” More important, the Social-Democratic agreement with the fascist [Horthy] Regency had seriously weakened all levels of working-class trade-union organization and had totally neglected the mass of the peasantry in the face of the vilest kind of chauvinistic, anti-Semitic and fascistic propaganda. There had been, therefore, a minimum of any kind of democratic or popular opposition… to extreme reaction and ultra-nationalism…
Meanwhile, the Communist movement had been illegalized, its members arrested, imprisoned for long terms, executed and, not infrequently, summarily murdered by the police or other agents of the Regency.” (Aptheker, p. 24)
This is briefly the history of the Right-wing Social-Democrats. They were fascist collaborators and supporters of the imperialist war effort. Together with the Right-wing leaders of the Smallholder Party (mainly Ferenc Nagy) they had made a secret agreement to do everything in their power “to fight Communism”, as Ferenc Nagy admitted in his memoirs. The Right-wing Social-Democrats were an anti-communist and pro-fascist force, and they became a group of spies, saboteurs and obstructionists hindering the Hungarian Popular Front government from the inside, and working on behalf of Western (mainly American) intelligence services.
As a result some right-wing social-democrats were imprisoned for espionage and conspiring against Hungary together with the American imperialists. Other right-wing social-democrats escaped to America and continued working for the CIA there.
“1949 September 16. The Voice of America broadcasts the statement by Karoly Peyer, the right-wing Social-Democratic traitor to the working class who had fled to the West, in which he states that the people’s democratic state order in Hungary “can only be overthrown with foreign aid”.” (Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 23)
This “foreign aid” obviously means foreign invasion and American funding of counter-revolutionary armed units.
The liberal count Karolyi characterized the Right-Wing Social-Democrats in the same way, as agents of foreign imperialism. He wrote about these reactionaries that:
“The few political [emigres] form an amorphous mass of all shades and parties, Fascists, Royalists, Social Democrats, Reactionaries, ex-Communists and militant Catholics… they exist on hopes of war between the West and the East which might enable them to regain their lost positions. In order to live, all of them are obliged to work for the highest bidder, usually the U.S.A.” (Karolyi, p. 220)
The Hungarian government discovered that right-wing social-democrat leader “Karoly Peyer suggested to [American diplomat] McCargar that if he received American support he would take steps to overthrow the Hungarian Government and to prepare for a change of regime. The matter was also raised of Peyer fleeing abroad and there forming a counter-government with American aid.” (Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 91)
And of course this is what happened, Peyer fled to America. However, the Hungarian government didn’t know at the time (though they suspected it) that McCargar who presented himself as a diplomat, was actually a CIA agent, and actually even led his own organization inside Hungary which was far more secret than normal CIA operations. This is known because in the 60s McCargar wrote a book about some of his activities. The book was published under a false name, but some people were already able to figure out it had to be McCargar. In 2010 documents were finally declassified which confirmed that McCargar had led an ultra-secret spy organization in Hungary.
According to his book (The Spy and His Masters: A Short Course in the Secret War) McCargar (alias Christopher Felix) led his spy organization in Hungary between 1946-48. After this he had to flee. One of McCargar’s agents, codename ‘Paul’, was “a very high member of the Government, a Smallholder. A lawyer by profession” and codename ‘Leo’ “was a Smallholder Member of Parliament”. His other agents included diplomats, officials, for example codename ‘Sara’ “of a nominal Peasant Party membership… [in] the Political Section of the Foreign Office, where she… [had] access to all of that section’s most confidential correspondence.”, codename ‘Sam’ “an official in the [Communist] Trade Union Council” and codename ‘Edmund’ “an officer of the A.V.O. [Hungarian intelligence service]”, codename ‘Guy’ was “the holder of an important post in the National… Police” and codename ‘Anna’, was a monarchist who was involved with the Church. They were also in contact with Smallholder leader Bela Kovacs and right-wing social-democrat leader Karoly Peyer. This American spy organization infiltrated all the main political parties, all sections of the Hungarian government and state including even the Hungarian intelligence service and the police. And it organized all reactionary sections of the population: right-wing Smallholders, right-wing social-democrats, monarcho-fascists and reactionary priests.
As McCargar only talked about his spies with codenames, most of them have never been identified. He mentions Bela Kovacs and Karoly Peyer with their real names, but who for example, was codename “Paul” (a very high member of the government, and a smallholder) or codename “Leo” (a smallholder member of parliament)?
The conspiracy of Bela Kovacs and Ferenc Nagy was revealed. Kovacs was arrested and Ferenc Nagy escaped to America. Peyer also managed to escape but Anna Kethly was arrested. At that point the Right-wingers had already lost control of the Social-Democrat party, and Kethly had even been expelled from it. It seems they got into contacts with American intelligence services exactly because they had lost control of the party and had no other ways of clinging to power.
Naturally anti-communists like to pretend that all these people were completely innocent of any crimes and that they were simply persecuted for some other reason. But Ferenc Nagy doesn’t make it a secret that he was looking for the violent overthrow of the Popular Front government, with American support. The OSS/CIA agent McCargar also admits (although under a false name, and three decades after the fact) that he had recruited Bela Kovacs, Karoly Peyer and Ferenc Nagy. Even anti-communist historians have also admitted, that Bela Kovacs belonged to the illegal Fascist secret society called Hungarian Unity, and that he was their infiltrator inside the government.
In the end the old right-wing leaders “[Smallholder] Bela Varga, [Right-Wing Social-Democrats] Karoly Peyer, Szelig, [Smallholders] Sulyok and Pfeiffer… set up their counter-revolutionary headquarters under U.S. State Department supervision in Washington.” (Kartun, Tito’s plot against Europe: the story of the Rajk conspiracy, p. 55)
Jörg K. Hoensch, A history of modern Hungary
László Borhi, Hungary in the Cold War, 1945-1956: between the United States and the Soviet Union
Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962*
György Borsányi & János Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary*
[*Nemes, Borsanyi and Kende are Kadar-era revisionist authors and while their analysis is fine, it is largely plagiarized from Rakosi.]
These days, anti-communists often claim that in the Hungarian parliamentary election of 1947 there was some kind of election fraud, just like they claimed about the 1945 elections. However, there is absolutely no proof of this. On the contrary:
“Such newspaper correspondents, however, as those representing Le Monde in Paris and the Times and Herald Tribune in New York, reported that, in general, so far as they could see, “there was neither violence nor abuse,” and that elections went off rather quietly and fairly… the general verdict, even of anti-Left observers, was that on the whole the election was quiet, free and bona fide.” (Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary, p. 56)
This is going to sound absolutely ridiculous when I spell it out, but the “strongest proof” of election fraud, is that people who were working or for some other reason, away from their home district, were still allowed to vote. Blue ballot tickets were given to people who were away from their home district but still wanted to vote. According to anti-communist mythology, communists gave out a lot voting tickets to these people, who then supposedly voted in many different places. However, there is actually no proof for this. This is mostly based on rumors and eye-wittness testimonies of reactionaries.
If a right-winger saw a stranger who wasn’t from there, vote, how exactly would he know this person had voted many times? Of course he couldn’t know that. Right-wing conservatives simply saw strangers that they didn’t know, and being hostile to outsiders, immediately invented these lies. Of course its a nice story: “Communists arriving from outside, to vote here”, but its only a story.
Anti-communists claim that communists believed they would get an absolute majority through this kind of fraud, but anti-communist historians have actually never agreed how many extra votes this should have gotten the communists. They don’t agree, because there is no proof for this, and thus it is naturally impossible to calculate. They usually suggest merely tens of thousands of votes, which might sound like a lot, but considering that the communists got more then a million votes, it really has very little significance. If more then five million people vote, how exactly would tens of thousands of fake votes supposedly get you an absolute majority? Its absolutely ridiculous. Naturally no documents about rigging of elections have ever been found, despite the communist archives being available to right-wing researchers today.
This myth about the 1947 election has become very famous these days, but back in the day people didn’t really care about it much. Instead they had a completely different argument for why they considered the election to be rigged. What was their reason? It was because nazis were not allowed to vote. However, it should be kept in mind that in most countries immediately after WWII, nazis were not allowed to vote. Hungary wasn’t in any way different in this.
The Clerical Fascist Cardinal Mindszenty complained that fascists were not allowed to vote. However, while in 1945 5,100,000 people voted, in 1947 the number of voters had not decreased but increased to 5,400,000.
American journalist Howard K. Smith wrote that “only some 300,000 Hungarians were disqualified from voting on suspicion of having had Nazi affiliations… The proportion of disqualifications [of Nazis] was the same as in the elections of democratic Belgium, where there were certainly far fewer Nazis than in Hungary” (Smith, The State of Europe, p. 303).
So the truth is, only a relatively small number of people (actual Fascists) were disqualified from voting, while in reality the voting in 1947 was even more representative then earlier, and even more people voted then ever in the past.
After the ousting of reactionaries the Smallholders party was being taken over by the Left-Wing. A core of the most Right-Wing deputies left, to create a new even more Right-Wing party:
“Zoltan Pfeiffer, led another fifty deputied from the Smallholders, this time as the Independence Party.” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 395)
“The right-wing forces organized new parties in order to campaign in the elections. Under the leadership of Zoltan Pfeiffer, a lawyer ousted from the Smallholders Party, a party was formed which subscribed to the ignominious cause of neo-fascism. Istvan Barankovics, a conservative politician, organized a clerical party, and there was a party, headed by Margit Schlachta, which received support
from the various orders of nuns. Father Istvan Balogh a former leader of the Smallholders Party, also organized a new party. In addition, the Bourgeois Democratic Party and the Radical Party contested in the elections as they had in 1945.“ (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 153)
All these new reactionary parties ran in the 1947 elections, against the Popular Front coalition.
The Communists emerged as the largest party with 22%, the Social-Democrats lost some of their votes and now had 14%, since the reactionaries of various types had now left the Smallholders their support was reduced to 15% and the National Peasant Party increased its support to 8%. The biggest right-wing parties were the Barankovics clericals with 16% and Pfeiffers neo-fascists nationalists with 13%.
Communists won 22% of the votes. “Making a common list with the parties of the Left they could claim a majority.” (Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution, p. 28)
Its worth noting that at this point even the Smallholders had accepted the Communist proposal for a Three Year Plan of reconstruction, nationalization of the biggest banks and state control of key sectors of the economy. The Social-Democrats and National Peasants also supported this in their programs, together with other Communist demands such as purging of fascists and punishment of war-criminals. So although the Communist Party still did not get the absolute majority of votes, the other parties of the coalition had moved to the left and accepted the main points of the Communist program. Of course it would’ve been somewhat unrealistic to imagine that all Hungarians would become Communists in only two years, but it is evident they still supported Socialism in all practical questions:
“the total voting for the two parties standing for Socialism came to about 38% of the entire electorate… In addition, many of the planks of the other parties included more or less complete adherence to Socialism; it seems reasonably clear that, by 1947, a majority of the Hungarian electorate was voting in favor of Socialism, of varying modes and degrees.” (Aptheker, pp. 57-58)
“The entire coalition polled 61 percent.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 67)
Some anti-communist have claimed as usual that communists used some type of election fraud. However, no evidence of this has ever been produced. And besides, the communists gained a moderate increase from 17% to 22%. Meanwhile Social-Democrats lost 3% and the Smallholders lost much more. Is it not more logical that the Communists simply attracted some new voters from these parties, due to their achievements?
I’ll give some examples. The anti-communist historian Paul E. Zinner writes:
“…Communist mayor of Budapest… won respect for the dramatic and efficient supply of the capital with food in the fall of 1945, when famine threatened. The Communist Minister of Transportation, Erno Gero, won plaudits as the chief architect of the rapid rebuilding of the Danube bridges in Budapest and elsewhere. (A popular slogan in Hungary at the time was “Eljen Gero-Hidvero: “Long Live Gero the Bridge Builder.)… Finally, the Communists received credit for stabilizing the Hungarian currency in the summer of 1946 after a runaway inflation… the Communists made a favorable impression by both their agricultural and their industrial policies.” (Zinner, Revolution in Hungary, pp. 51-52)
“between 1945 and 1947… all major social groups benefited from the economic upsurge. The workers scored impressive social gains. The middle class was able to recover losses dating back to the closing phases of the war. But the most striking social and economic advances were made by the peasantry. Communist economic policies contributed significantly to maintaining “alliances” with the peasantry and the middle class.” (Zinner, p. 55)
Special correspondent in southern Europe for the Nation, Hilde Spiel, wrote from Budapest: “The wildest inflation in history has ravaged Hungary during these last few weeks.” She writes that the “feudal landlords” and “a number large financiers left in Hungary, besides a large and bloated bureaucracy” are hindering the governments effort to stop the inflation. She writes:
“The only danger to the country seems to lie with those citizens who are determined at all costs to prevent economic stabilization. They are to be found among the few remaining big financiers and industrialists, the disgruntled state officials, and the landed gentry deprived of their property. Aided by their social standing, and their undeniable charm, they try to influence members of the Western Allied missions against the government, hoping to obstruct the financial reconstruction and thus unseat the present regime. ” (The Nation, August 24, 1946, pp. 211-13)
Despite this obstruction by reactionaries the communists had succeeded in stopping the inflation, as I mentioned in part 2.
“the Communists’ call for the country’s reconstruction fell on fertile ground. Their slogans advocating equality, land reform, and the punishment of war criminals had a significant appeal, whereas their attempt to include formerly disenfranchised social groups in political affairs brought them genuine popularity.” (Apor, The Invisible Shining, p. 37)
“the reconstruction plan launched by the Communists and supported by the other parties, was an undisputed success.” (Molnar, A concise history of Hungary, p. 301)
“Erno Gero, Minister of Public Works and Reconstruction… was the hardest worker at his office, always the first in the morning and the last at night…” (Karolyi, p. 326)
“Their competence, energy, and at times, a wise sense of diplomacy… were recognized by everyone… The bourgeois parties were of little consequence, having no definite programme, and no leading personalities.” (Karolyi, p. 334)
“According to opinion polls, in 1947, especially in the countryside, he [Rakosi] was by far the most esteemed Hungarian politician, and he was considered the most suitable for the post of prime minister.” (Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“Rákosi enjoyed remarkable popularity among the Hungarian population in the postwar years, especially among the petty bourgeoisie, the intelligentsia, and the industrial workers of Budapest. In January 1946 he was the country’s second most popular politician… and he rose to first place a year later. He was considered the most skillful leftist orator in May 1948, and an August 1947 poll showed that the majority of respondents regarded him as the person best qualified to be prime minister… Rákosi’s… popularity… is normally attributed to his—and the MKP’s—role in reconstruction after the war. The Party’s popularity was partly reflected in the sudden growth of its membership after the war. Many of the newcomers joined the Party because of the role it played in reconstruction: land distribution, the introduction of the new currency, and price reductions for basic commodities were popular measures… Rákosi’s relative popularity seems genuine enough” (Apor, pp. 185-186)
But no! Even after such achievements, if the Communists grow their support even by 5% anti-communist immediately accuse them of election fraud!
The results of the 1947 election were somewhat similar to the 1945 elections, the government still needed to be a coalition, but as a coalition it had a comfortable majority. The most noticeably change was the split between the left and right. The amorphous ‘big tent’ Smallholders had split, and half of them were now in opposition to the government. While the left had become more united, the right-wing was becoming more disunited. They worked together, but were clearly divided into two different groups: Pfeiffer’s nationalists who were more urban, and Barankovics’s catholics who were rural. The Catholic Church also got into conflict with the Barankovics Party, because it wasn’t considered conservative enough.
“Signs of disintegration began to appear in the Barankovics Party… Although this party had won the vast majority of the Catholic vote, it was unable to come to an agreement with [extremely conservative-MLT] Cardinal Mindszenty, Hungary’s Archbishop Primate. Because of the conflicts between the Church leadership and the leadership of the Barankovics Party, the clergy withdrew their support from the party. After this the organizations of the Barankovics Party, most of which had been set up during the election campaign, rapidly fell apart. The party leadership, too, was affected by these developments. Many left the party altogether.” (Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 120)
“The collapse of this party was precipitated by the fact that Jozsef Mindszenty, head of the Catholic Church, was dissatisfied with the party’s activity. On the one hand Mindszenty distrusted Barankovics, who had established contact with left-wing circles during the war… Mindszenty stubbornly insisted on the restoration of the Habsburg dynasty, which he expected to result from a third world war and from an American military victory in that war. Thus, the Barankovics Party came under attack from both right and left. Realizing that his situation was hopeless, Istvan Barankovics left the country and his supporters in Hungary announced the dissolution of the party.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 125)
Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary Smith, The State of Europe Stone, Hungary: A Short History Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962 Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic Paul E. Zinner, Revolution in Hungary The Nation, August 24, 1946 Apor, The Invisible Shining Molnar, A concise history of Hungary Memoirs of Michael Karolyi: Faith without Illusion Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary
There’s an anti-communist myth in the west that Lev Vygotsky was the “best soviet psychologist”, but he was suddenly “banned” or “purged” without justification – or something along those lines. In fact, that is not quite true. Vygotsky of course was never “purged”, arrested or even denounced in his life time. He died in 1934 due to natural causes (tuberculosis). He was unsatisfied with his own achievements which were criticized from many sides, and by himself. Despite of that, he was still called a leading Soviet psychologist when he died.
Vygotsky’s most influential ideas regarded an instrumental approach, about how tools, objects and other such stimuli influence the emergence and development of the psyche. That theory might have some real validity to it, but it seems perhaps one-sided. His other important theory was related to child development. That is how he got into the movement known as “pedology” or the study of the psychological development of children. Its not a psychological school but a mix of many disciplines including pedagogy. However, Vygotsky remained unsatisfied with his theory, was re-writing all of it but died before being able to do that to any substantive degree.
At this moment I am not knowledgeable enough to evaluate Vygotsky’s work as a whole, but it should be kept in mind that Soviet psychology was still only taking shape in the 20s and 30s. Actually big changes, debates and re-evaluations or even “revolutions” in Soviet marxist psychology continued to happen even into the 50s (I’m not taking into account whatever changes took place in the revisionist period from 1953 onward).
However, along with reasons for perhaps recognizing merits in Vygotsky, there are many glaring problems in Vygotsky’s system, even to someone who is not an expert on psychology, but knows something about marxism:
A scientific materialist psychological system was being developed at the same time in the USSR by I. P. Pavlov. As far as I’m aware, Vygotsky’s system doesn’t take Pavlov into account to any meaningful degree. In his defence it can be said that Vygotsky’s system is not a complete psychological system, and studied only certain topics, which were different from the subject matter of Pavlov’s research. In my opinion that is not necessarily true, and is not a sufficient excuse. Either way it would demonstrate that Vygotsky’s system could not be the basis of a scientific psychology, but at best a contribution to it.
Vygotsky was in the process of re-thinking his entire system, because together with many others, he was unsatisfied with it. This raises obvious problems.
Vygotsky looked somewhat uncritically to western bourgeois idealist schools of psychology to solve problems with his system. This raises further problems. As a result Vygotsky’s work cannot be readily accepted by scientific marxist psychology but must be very carefully and critically evaluated. Of course many people have attempted to do exactly that.
In 1936 the doctrine of pedology was heavily criticized and eventually marginalized. Perhaps not outright banned, but still a C.C. resolution “on the pedological distortions in the people’s comissariat for education (narkompros)” made it clear that the state schools would no longer use pedological methods on their students. Vygotsky was not attacked, but a field closely related to him was. Thus a significant chunk of his work started to be seen as questionable at best.
Problems in the early Soviet education system: pedology vs pedagogy
So why did the C.C. decide so firmly against those practices? According to a paper by a bourgeois historian, Soviet schools had big problems in handling students. It should be kept in mind that in the Tsarist times the vast majority of the population remained illiterate and poorly educated. This problem was tackled by the Bolsheviks in the 1920s and 30s with massive literacy campaigns and the founding of a universal education system which was free even for the university level. In fact university students received stipends to help cover their living and other expenses. However, big problems remained to be solved, reaching universal literacy was a huge undertaking:
“In early 1937, one-third of sixth graders in a school near Leningrad were not passing their Russian-language course.” (Thomas Ewing, Restoring Teachers to Their Rights, p. 1)
Teachers who had grown up in the Tsarist education system did not handle the situation properly. They blamed students for being “stupid”, “lazy” and “hopeless”. This was the norm in the Tsarist education system. A vivid description of the Tsarist school system is given by N. Pomyalovsky in his book Seminary Sketches.
“Their teacher, Tomsinskaia, told the school director that the failures were due to circumstances beyond her control: children had received inadequate preparation in previous grades, textbooks were in short supply, and pupils had “weak reading habits.” Other teachers in the Krasnosel’skii district offered similar justifications… Velichko asserted that her seventeen failing pupils all suffered from inherited conditions such as “mental retardation,” “underdevelopment,” or “congenital laziness.“” (Ewing, p. 1)
The communists strongly refuted such claims by teachers. Clearly the old teachers themselves needed to be educated how to treat students better:
“According to the regional educational journal, however, these poor results were evidence that teachers were “shirking their responsibility for pupils’ lack of achievement.” While blaming lack of preparation in earlier grades, an article in that journal charged that Tomsinskaia had conveniently “forgotten” that one-half of “failing” pupils had studied with her the previous year and thus she was responsible for promoting them, just as she had “forgotten” to mention that she made little effort to correct mistakes, provide remedial assistance, or encourage independent reading.” (Ewing, p. 1)
The pedologists studied different “defects” in children, gave them different labels and classifications regarding their “defects” and wanted to send them to special schools for “defective students”. This became a big problem because of the sheer amount of children who were declared “defective” and “nearly hopeless” and sent away from normal education. This also gave the conservative, stupid and even reactionary teachers a perfect excuse to always blame students, and merely throw them out. This was deeply damaging:
“Stalingrad pedologists claimed that as many as three thousand pupils enrolled in “normal classes” should be certified as “mentally retarded.” In one extreme case, one-quarter of pupils in a single class were assigned to this category. Moscow pedologists declared that as many as two-thirds of “failing” pupils were in fact “mentally retarded.” (Ewing, p. 6)
Other anti-communist undemocratic attitudes were perpetuated, advocating segregation of “lesser” students from the rest, or casting them out of normal schools:
“Within many schools, “parallel” classes existed, with “strong” pupils separated from “weak” pupils, most of whom were repeating grades… ” In late May 1936, just one month before the repudiation of pedology, a letter published in the newspaper Izvestiia declared that “mentally retarded children” could receive a proper education only in separate schools.” (Ewing, p. 6)
Naturally some students legitimately have severe physical or mental problems, and need special assistance. In some cases special assistance might even mean a separate school which specializes in helping disabled students. However, the goal of communism should be to help integrate disabled people into society as much as possible, make them equal to the maximum degree, and not separate them. It is always better if society can be made more accommodating, rather then separating them to their own space.
It is entirely reactionary to categorically declare these conditions as “hopeless” and even more reactionary, if not outright fascist to declare these students (human beings!) as “hopeless”. Secondly, only people with serious mental disability, physical health concerns etc. might need specialized facilities. In the Soviet case it was clear that vast numbers of students without any such severe disabilities were being labeled “defective” when they would have been entirely capable of studying in the usual school system, if given the necessary help.
The ideas and practices of the pedological “researchers” took on sinister, undemocratic and even racist features:
“Soviet pedologists sought to establish their authority in measuring the mental ability and learning potential of children [and] suggested that even in a “socialist” system, certain categories of children, especially those in rural areas and among “non-Russian” minorities, remained “backward” in their academic achievement.”” (Ewing, p. 10)
Criticism of separation of pedological theory from practice, and lack of its practical usefulness
Marxism teaches that theory must always serve practice, otherwise it is empty.
“Educational policymakers complained that pedologists failed to provide useful knowledge about child development, and a few even called for pedology to be eliminated from teacher training programs. Central Committee member A. Zhdanov criticized pedologists who endlessly studied “difficult” children but made no effort to improve behavior or raise achievement of those pupils conveniently kept “out of the way” in separate schools.” (Ewing, p. 10)
“Pedologists were denounced for “pointless debates” and for “talking endlessly in their own pedological language which no one else can understand.” Most pointedly, critics asserted that pedologists had made no practical contribution to Soviet education: “so-called pedologists have done nothing, are doing nothing, and will never do anything to help the school.” As “observers” rather than “transformers,” pedologists failed to live up to Stalin’s assertion that the people “who make history” are those who not only understand the conditions in which they are living, but also “understand how to change these conditions.”” (Ewing, p. 13)
Criticism of the anti-marxist foundation of pedological theory
The Central Committee had to tackle this problem and restore pedagogy, the science of educating:
“Accusing the Commissariat of Education of yielding control over such functions as assigning pupils, defining regulations, and evaluating achievement, the Central Committee charged that pedologists’ “pseudo-scientific experiments” had called excessive attention to “the most negative influences and pathological perversions” in children, their families, and surrounding environment. Such testing meant that “an ever larger and larger number of children” were assigned to special schools after being categorized as “mentally backward,” “defective,” or “difficult.” In fact, the Central Committee declared, many of these children were perfectly capable of attending normal’naia shkola (normal schools), but once these labels had been affixed, they were considered “hopeless” cases”” (Ewing, p. 11)
“The Central Committee went beyond these complaints about school policies, however, by charging that pedological theory itself was based on “falsely-scientific and anti-Marxist foundations.” In particular, any suggestion that children’s fate was “determined” by “fixed” social or biological factors was condemned as directly contradictory to “socialist development,” which had “successfully re-educated people.” Such claims about environmental and hereditary influences allegedly revealed an “uncritical” borrowing of “bourgeois” theories intended to maintain the dominant positions of “exploiting classes” and “superior races” by perpetuating the “physical and spiritual doom of the working classes and ‘inferior races.”‘ In the concluding section, the Central Committee instructed the Commissariat of Education to achieve “the full restoration of pedagogy as a science and pedagogues as its bearers and guides” by restoring teachers’ responsibility for instruction, returning “the bulk of the children to normal schools,” and eliminating the field of pedology by retraining specialists, withdrawing books, and abolishing courses.” (Ewing, p. 11)
The notion that people from certain nationalities or from bad socio-economic conditions cannot study together with the rest of students, is entirely anti-marxist. The notion that biological or environmental factors cannot be changed or mitigated is completely false. Such claims practically dismantle and eliminate pedagogy, the science of education, by declaring that an educator is totally powerless to do anything about these “hopelessly defective” cases. This is how bourgeois pseudo-science attempts to demolish real science.
Even some cases of sabotage were alleged. Labeling huge amounts of children without serious disabilities as “hopeless” surely sounds like sabotage, and it wouldn’t surprise me if oppositionist or Tsarist teachers didn’t sometimes do it as a form of sabotage:
“Soviet authorities promised that the “unmasking” of “hostile” pedologists would produce “healthier” schools by “rooting out” all “harmful” elements with “counter-revolutionary” intentions.” (Ewing, p. 12)
Correcting the methods of teaching, correcting harmful attitudes, and correcting the role of teachers
“According to Party officials, many “rank and file” teachers had seen special schools as “a means of deliverance” from “undesirable” pupils. Pedologists were thus “very convenient” for “bad teachers” who no longer had to assume “responsibility for teaching underachieving children.” Pedologists even offered teachers a kind of justification for poor results. When a school pedologist “discovered” that less than 10 percent of second graders in a Moscow school were “capable, well developed children,” teachers had an easy excuse for the poor achievement of the entire class…” (Ewing, p. 16-17)
“Yet even as such efforts to evade responsibility were being condemned as “pedological distortions,” some teachers persistently sought to divest themselves of “problem” pupils.” (Ewing, p. 16)
Serbantova is a good example of an undemocratic, elitist and conservative teacher, who has failed at their job and instead blames students:
“Addressing a conference in late 1936, school director P. S. Arshinov described how second grade teacher Serbantova reacted to a pupil with learning difficulties: “For goodness sake, I already have one such ‘incorrigible’ child, and now you have given me another.” On the next day, Serbantova demanded that Arshinov take measures against “this ‘disorganizer,’ this ‘incorrigible one,’ who does not sit still in class, and fidgets all the time.” Noting that the fidgeting resulted from physical illness easily corrected by medical treatment, Arshinov refused this request. Serbantova then incited the parents of other children to make similar demands: “Either remove this boy, or transfer our children to other classes, because he is ruining them.”” (Ewing, p. 16)
The above is a good example of a reactionary, pseudo-scientific bourgeois attitude towards education. Imagine blaming students who are left-handed, have dyslexia or ADHD as “incorrigible” and “stupid”. This in fact was the attitude in many capitalist schools, and still is to some extent today. It is not the attitude of marxism.
Reactionary teachers appealed to the supposed “innate defects” of students. They neglected these students, refused to put in the effort to teach them and help them, and used undemocratic, elitist and outright insulting and dehumanizing labels against these students:
“In a few cases, as in the example of Serbantova, teachers simply refused to teach certain children. Referring to her “incorrigible” pupils, teacher Ur’eva told the school director: “It is either them, or me.” Teachers who commented on the “innate abilities” of children were condemned for accepting pedologists’ “reactionary” views on the so-called “fatal” influence of heredity. A 1938 report claimed that some teachers made decisions two months before final exams that certain pupils would be held back and thus made no effort to prevent their “inevitable” failure. When Leningrad teacher Udal’tsova was asked why she had not graded certain notebooks, she replied: “Oh, those belong to the repeating students, and you can’t expect anything from them.” In Moscow, teacher Durova justified her poor results by claiming that her pupils were “less gifted” than those of a more successful teacher. In direct contravention to the Central Committee decree, many teachers continued to label individual pupils as “lacking intelligence,” “hopeless,” “defective” or “retarded.”” (Ewing, p. 17)
The Communist Party and Communist Teachers took a firm stance against reactionary methods and attitudes. They stated that the vast majority of students must be returned to the normal school system and teachers must give them additional help. It is the job of the teacher to make sure these students learn. These students will no longer be labeled as “defective” and will not be blamed.
Democratic slogans were adopted, such as “the Soviet Union did not have a single “defective child.”” and “There are No Poor Pupils, Only Poor Teachers”. A campaign was launched for 100% successful teaching, so that every student would pass his exams. If a student was having problems, it was the responsibility of the teacher to give them the help they need. This included trying to help their family or trying to solve any factors outside school, which could be causing problems for their education.
“The Stalingrad educational journal offered this unequivocal declaration: “Poor work by the school and poor achievement by the entire class and by individual pupils are the direct result of poor work by the teacher.” Whereas pedologists had asserted that “failure occurs outside the school,” the new policy line proclaimed that “failure occurs only in the school,” at the hands of teachers. [this does not mean to deny factors outside school, such as bad family conditions, but it means the teacher is responsible for addressing those problems too]. Teachers who had been reassured by pedologists that “failure” was the inevitable “fate” of “below average” pupils were now told that “permitting” failure by even one pupil was proof of their adherence to “bourgeois” and “anti-Leninist” theories.” (Ewing, p. 18)
Western anti-communists complain that it is “repressive” to blame teachers for the poor performance of their students. But what is the job of an educator? To educate. Since the teachers were given all the necessary resources, if they just put in the necessary effort they should be able to fulfill their duty. As one communist teacher correctly stated:
“Much has been given to us, but much is also asked of us.” (Ewing, p. 22)
The correct attitude and methods
“Complaining that pedologists had “crippled” children by categorizing them as “defective,” “difficult to educate,” and “disorganizers,” teacher E. Vvedenskaia urged colleagues to recognize that only an “individual approach” could ensure the success of each pupil. In a similar manner, I. Borukhovich declared that eliminating “pedological distortions” and improving schools were attainable ends only if teachers committed themselves to work “thoroughly, thoughtfully, and lovingly” with each child. Reinforcing this shift in expertise, educational authorities promised to pay more attention to “the voice of our best teachers.” With increasing frequency, journals and newspapers published celebratory accounts of how teachers transformed children into high achievers, obedient classmates, and loyal citizens. After M. D. Pronina finished the school year without any failing pupils, her achievement was said to have “disproven” pedology. When K. K. Fediukin transformed the son of a neglectful and drunken father into an excellent pupil, he accomplished a task allegedly declared “impossible” by pedologists.” (Ewing, p. 19)
Communist teachers held the correct humane and democratic attitude towards students, and recognized the necessity to combine theory with practice:
The ideas of one teacher Litvinchuk to correct the situation “consisted of seemingly common-sense approaches. In dealing with “backward” pupils, for example, Litvinchuk called on teachers to provide additional lessons, investigate factors that might impede pupils’ success, and avoid any suggestion that “hopeless” pupils were unable to achieve at “normal” levels. These examples suggest that the “scientific” authority previously claimed by pedologists had been repudiated in favor of teachers who used their “practical” authority to achieve more than these “experts” believed was possible.“ (Ewing, p. 20)
“In a 1939 account, for example, teacher V. P. Laiko described how she brought about the remarkable transformation of a boy named Valia:
For the first three quarters of the year he remained behind in all subjects. I considered him a “hopeless case,” that is, someone who would be held back a year. At the same time, however, I could clearly see that Valia did not have any kind of defects. I decided to work with him in a serious and systematic fashion. I must say that he was a real trouble-maker, as he interrupted lessons, crawled under desks, used improper language, and stole money from his home. The first thing I did was enlist his parents and keep in constant contact with them. I began to have additional lessons with Valia at the end of the day, invited him to my home, gave him interesting books, included him in socialist competition, and began to draw him a little bit away from the street. In the first half of the quarter, I could already see results as Valia began to read at a “satisfactory” level. By the end of the first grade his grades were not all that great, but I decided to promote him to the second grade in order to continue the work that I had begun with him. At the present time Valia is getting an “excellent” grade in reading, a “satisfactory” grade for spelling, and a “good” grade for arithmetic. I think that Valia might become an excellent pupil. If you work in a very painstaking way with children, it is possible to improve their education and raise their level of achievement.” (Ewing, p. 20)
The story of a teacher who emigrated from the USSR verifies how these new improved methods achieved success:
“I obtained my next post at school No. 23 in Kharkov in the fourth grade. This was a school whose children were the toughest I had ever met. Nobody paid attention to the teachers. During class periods the children did everything except listen to what the teacher was saying. The headmaster warned me that this grade was very bad, but he was very surprised when, after one year with me, the children gave up their former habits and became more attentive in their school work.” In these stories, the parallel transformations from a “hopeless case” to “an excellent pupil” and from “the toughest” class to “more attentive” children were presented as defining elements of what it meant to be a teacher.” (Ewing, p. 21)
Vygotsky himself was never the focus of the criticisms. The doctrine of pedology was condemned due to its:
Pseudo-scientific and anti-marxist nature.
Undemocratic, fatalistic (idealist) and heartless attitude.
Counter-revolutionary, harmful consequences which can be compared to sabotage.
Its separation of theory from practice: wasting time on endless fruitless discussions and experiments, while failing to give any useful results to support education.
In fact its elimination and abolishing of pedagogy, its declaration that pedagogy is powerless to help the so-called “defective”.
Lastly, I should mention that the idea of specialized institutes for disabled or other people who needed significant specialist help, was not as such denounced in the USSR. One of the most famous Soviet pedagogues, A. Makarenko, specialized in the 1920s and 1930s in creating self-help communes for street orphans, many of whom had terrible life-management problems and a background in crime.
It was also not prohibited to study the different “natural talents” or differences in people’s talents. One of the leading Soviet psychologists of the Stalin era, B. Teplov, studied what it means for someone to be especially “talented” or “gifted” in some field, such as music or mathematics, and where these “gifts” come from. Marxism does not deny that people are different and have different levels of skills. However, this should not lead to the segregation of people, but to the greatest possible development and thriving of everyone.
Those with special needs in certain areas, should receive additional help, and those with special gifts in certain areas should be given all the opportunities they need. This individual and humane attitude is part of raising a socialist generation, creating the socialist human being. It was exemplified for example in the work of a leading pedagogue in the Stalin era, V. Sukhomlynsky. It was the Soviet Marxist-Leninist method, the method of building Communism.
Why did Khrushchev attack the “Cult of Personality”?
In 1956 the Soviet revisionist leader Nikita Khrushchev launched his attack on Stalin, the so-called “De-stalinization” and attack against the “Cult of the Individual”:
“It is of paramount importance to re-establish and to strengthen in every way the Leninist principle of collective leadership… The Central Committee… vigorously condemns the cult of the individual as being alien to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism”. (Khrushchev, Report to the Central Committee, 20th Congress of the CPSU).
“…the cult of the individual acquired such monstrous size chiefly because Stalin himself, using all conceivable methods, supported the glorification of his own person”. (Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)
Khrushchev attacked the cult of personality in order: -to hijack the already existing criticism of cult-like behavior.* -to attack his rivals by labeling them “Stalinists” -to rehabilitate Tito -to justify changes to policy and revision of theory
*for instance, according to Hungarian anti-communist historian Balázs Apor, there was already significant criticism of the ‘cult of personality’ before Khrushchev’s rise to power, but this criticism was never targeted against Stalin. (Source: Apor, The Invisible Shining)
Khrushchev’s project was accepted to the degree that it was, because it was legitimate to criticize the personality cult, though Khrushchev himself did it for false reasons.
Stalin Opposed the Cult of Personality
Khrushchev claimed Stalin orchestrated the Cult of Personality. But in reality Stalin always opposed it:
“I must say in all conscience, comrades, that I do not deserve a good half of the flattering things that have been said here about me…” (J. V. Stalin, Reply to the Greetings of the Workers of the Chief Railway Workshops in Tiflis)
“You speak of your devotion to me… I would advise you to discard the ‘principle’ of devotion to persons. It is not the Bolshevik way. Be devoted to the working class, its Party, its state. That is a fine and useful thing. But do not confuse it with devotion to persons, this vain and useless bauble of weak-minded intellectuals.” (J. V. Stalin, Letter to Comrade Shatunovsky, August 1930)
“The times have passed when leaders were regarded as the only makers of history, while the workers and peasants were not taken into account. The destinies of nations and of states are now determined, not only by leaders, but primarily and mainly by the vast masses of the working people. The workers and the peasants, who without fuss and noise are building factories and mills, constructing mines and railways, building collective farms and state farms, creating all the values of life, feeding and clothing the whole worldt hey are the real heroes and the creators of the new life.” (J.V. Stalin, Speech Delivered at the First All-Union Congress of Collective Farm Shock Brigadiers)
“I am absolutely against the publication of ‘Stories of the Childhood of Stalin’. The book abounds with a mass of inexactitudes of fact, of alterations, of exaggerations and off unmerited praise… the important thing resides it the fact that the book has a tendency to engrave on the minds of Soviet children (and people in general) the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes. This is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory. I suggest we burn this book”. (J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)
Stalin never accepted being equated with Lenin. He was only a continuer of Lenin’s work, a supporter of Lenin’s program:
“Robins: …throughout Russia I have found the names Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, Lenin-Stalin, linked together. Stalin: That, too, is an exaggeration. How can I be compared to Lenin?” (J. V. Stalin, Talk With Colonel Robins, May 13 1933)
”MOLOTOV (. . . stated that he is and will always he a faithful disciple of Stalin.) STALIN (interrupting Molotov): This is nonsense. I have no students at all. We are all students of the great Lenin.” (Unpublished Speech by Stalin at the Plenum of the Central Committee, CPSU October 16, 1952)
Who really promoted the personality Cult?
The Cult of Personality was dishonestly fostered by Stalin’s enemies, by traitors who used it to promote their own careers or used it to hide their anti-Leninist positions. A good example of this was the Trotskyist Radek:
“The first issue of ‘Pravda;’ for 1934 carried a huge two-page article by Radek, heaping orgiastic praise on Stalin. The former Trotskyite, who had led the opposition to Stalin for many years, now called him ‘Lenin’s best pupil, the model of the Leninist Party, bone of its bone, blood of its blood’… He ‘is as far-sighted as Lenin’, and so on and on. This seems to have been the first large article in the press specifically devoted to the adulation of Stalin” (R. Medvedev, Let History Judge, p. 148).
“Mikoyan… at the last party congress in 1939… praised Stalin’s name over forty times in the first 2,000 words.” (Edgar Snow, The Pattern Of Soviet Power, p. 172)
On the occasion of the celebration of Stalin’s fiftieth birthday in December 1929, Anastas Mikoyan accompanied his congratulations with the demand “that we, meeting the rightful demand of the masses, begin finally to work on his biography and make it available to the Party and to all working people in our country”. (‘Izvestia’, 21 December 1929, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,;164).
Ten years later, on the occasion of Stalin’s sixtieth birthday in December 1939, Mikoyan was still urging the creation of a “scientific biography” (‘Pravda’, 21 December 1939, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,.; p. 158) of Stalin.
An official biography was finally published in 1948. Khrushchev’s crony Mikoyan had been calling for such a biography for 20 years. But what did Khrushchev say in his ‘secret speech’? Khrushchev claimed that the book was created on Stalin’s instructions:
“One of the most chararacteristic examples of Stalin’s self-glorification and of his lack of even elementary modesty is the edition of his ‘Short Biography’. This book is an example of the most dissolute flattery”. (Khrushchev, “The Secret Speech” in The Crimes Of The Stalin Era, Special Report To The 20th Congress Of The Communist Party Of The Soviet Union, p. 554)
Grover Furr citing L.V. Maksimenkov points out that Stalin’s only involvement in the writing of his 1948 biography, was that Stalin diminished his own role. (Khrushchev Lied, pp. 117-121)
The right-wing opportunist and anti-Stalin traitor Ezhov was also a major builder of the “cult” around Stalin. Ezhov even demanded that the name of Moscow be changed to “Stalinodar” or “Gift of Stalin”. However, Stalin succeeded in preventing this from taking place:
“Ezhov commanded his subjects to create a project of renaming Moscow to Stalinodar (translated as “Stalin’s gift”)… But Ezhov didn’t take into account that Stalin hated plain flattery. He dismissed the suggestion as “foolish.”… There are accounts that Moscow was subject to another renaming campaign after WWII, (but Stalin refused the suggestion again)” https://www.rbth.com/history/332610-why-bolsheviks-never-renamed-moscow
According to Sarah Davies in The Leader Cult in Communist Dictatorships: Stalin and the Eastern Bloc “On 20 May 1936, Stalinraised an item ‘On renaming towns etc.’ as a result of which the Politburo agreed to ban from 1 June 1936 the renaming of towns, small towns, district centres and railway stations.”(p. 41)
However, the biggest architect of the “cult” was Khrushchev himself:
At the Moscow Party Conference in January 1932, Khrushchev finished his speech by saying:
“The Moscow Bolsheviks, rallied around the Leninist Central Committee as never before, and around the ‘vozhd’ of our Party, Comrade Stalin, are cheerfully and confidently marching toward new victories in the battles for socialism, for world proletarian revolution”. (‘Rabochaya Moskva’, 26 January 1932, cited in: L. Pistrak: ‘The Grand Tactician: Khrushchev’s Rise to Power’; London; 1961; p. 159).
At the 17th Party Conference in January 1934 it was Khrushchev, and Khrushchev alone, who called Stalin “vozhd of genius”. (XVII s’ezd Vsesoiuznoi Kommunisticheskoi Partii (B.); p, 145, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 160).
In August 1936, during the Zinoviev-Kamenev trial, Khrushchev, in his capacity as Moscow Party Secretary, said:
“Miserable pygmies! They lifted their hands against the greatest of all men. . . . our wise ‘vozhd’, Comrade Stalin! Thou, Comrade Stalin, hast raised the great banner of Marxism-Leninism high over the entire world and carried it forward. We assure thee, Comrade Stalin, that the Moscow Bolshevik organisation — the faithful supporter of the Stalinist Central Committee — will increase Stalinist vigilance still more, will extirpate the Trotskyite-Zinovievite remnants, and close the ranks of the Party and non-Party Bolsheviks even more around the Stalinist Central Committee and the great Stalin”. (‘Pravda’, 23 August 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid,; p. 162).
At the Eighth All-Union Congress of Soviets in November 1936 it was again Khrushchev who proposed that the new Soviet Constitution, which was before the Congress for approval, should be called the ‘Stalinist Constitution’ because “it was written from beginning to end by Comrade Stalin himself”. (‘Pravda’, 30 November 1936, cited in: L. Pistrak: ibid.; p. 161).
“It has to be noted that Vyacheslav Molotov and Andrey Zhdanov did not mention any special role by Stalin in the drafting of the Constitution.” (Bland)
Why did the opportunists promote the Cult?
They did it to hide their own revisionism, to promote their own careers by trying to attach themselves to Stalin. Radek and Ezhov were conspiring against Stalin but they could never have defeated him openly. Radek and Ezhov pretended to be good loyal communists, when in fact they were not.
One might ask, “isn’t it counter-productive to foster this kind of hero-worship of Stalin, if one’s goal is to overthrow him?”. One might think it is counter-productive, yet that’s exactly what Khrushchev did successfully. Khrushchev promoted the cult more then anyone else, and used it to promote himself. But in the end he blamed the cult entirely on Stalin (who never even supported it) and Khrushchev then presented himself as some kind of great ‘democrat’ who fought against the cult!
Stalin knew that the cult was at least partially supported by traitors and opportunists, and he fought against it. He always gave credit to others, to the masses, to the party, and reminded people that the “great-man” theory of history is idealist.
The German writer Lion Feuchtwanger wrote:
“It is manifestly irksome to Stalin to be worshipped as he is, and from time to time he makes fun of it… Of all the men I know who have power, Stalin is the most unpretentious. I spoke frankly to him about the vulgar and excessive cult made of him, and he replied with equal candour… He thinks it is possible even that ‘wreckers’ may be behind it in an attempt to discredit him”. (L. Feuchtwanger, Moscow 1937, pp. 93, 94-95)
The Finnish revisionist Arvo Tuominen wrote about a certain incident at a new years’ party in 1935. At this party Stalin parodied those who tried to suck up to him. He said:
“Comrades! I want to propose a toast to our patriarch, life and sun, liberator of nations, architect of socialism (he rattled off all the appelations applied to him in those days), Josef Vissarionovich Stalin, and I hope this is the first and last speech made to that genius this evening”. (A. Tuominen, Bells of the Kremlin, p. 162).
Definition of “Cult of Personality”
In his attack against the “cult of Stalin” Khrushchev doesn’t treat the issue scientifically or in a marxist way at all. He never properly defines what the “Cult of Personality” even is. Khrushchev was not a theoretician, and did not understand what the role of individuals in history is. For Khrushchev, the “cult” was something vague like people singing songs about Stalin, naming cities after him, carrying pictures of him, and generally voicing their admiration and support for Stalin.
However, there is nothing inherently “cultish” or bad in admiring someone who legitimately has achieved something great. It only becomes a “cult” when the person in question is treated as an infallible god, and when people don’t simply respect his wise opinion, but uncritically accept everything without even thinking with their own brains.
Khrushchev never gave an exact explanation like this. Once again, Stalin had the correct position:
“Decisions of individuals are, always, or nearly always, one-sided decisions… In every collective body, there are people whose opinion must be reckoned with… From the experience of three revolutions we know that out of every 100 decisions taken by individual persons without being tested and corrected collectively, approximately 90 are one-sided…” (J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)
A cult of personality promotes the idealist “great-man” theory of history. Stalin correctly said:
“the personality cult of leaders, of infallible heroes… is dangerous and detrimental. The theory of ‘heroes’ and the ‘crowd’ is not a Bolshevik, but a Social-Revolutionary theory.” (J. V. Stalin, Letter on Publications for Children Directed to the Central Committee of the All Union Communist Youth)
The “great-man” theory is a remnant of bourgeois society and bourgeois ideology. To avoid this mistake, many Marxists today totally underestimate and disregard the importance of individuals and leaders. However, individuals and leaders do matter. It is not an irrelevant issue whether Stalin or Trotsky becomes the party leader, it is actually a very important issue.
“Marxism does not deny at all the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. But great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will find themselves in the situation of Don Quixote… With us personages of the greatest authority are reduced to nonentities, become mere ciphers, as soon as the masses of the workers lose confidence in them”. (J. V. Stalin, An Interview with the German Author Emil Ludwig)
To become a revolutionary leader, a person must win the support of the masses and correctly understand objective conditions.
Individuals always represent classes and tendencies. Stalin represented the proletarian political line, and thus relied on marxist theory and the support of the workers. Khrushchev represented a bourgeois line, the line which he pursued ended up restoring capitalism. Building socialism – a new superior type of system – requires a scientific theory and class consciousness. It is not easy to overthrow capitalism and the centuries of habits from class society. However, Marxist-Leninist theory provides the necessary answers for this work. In hindsight we can clearly see the erroneous policies and wrong positions introduced by the Khrushchevites, and avoid them in the future.
This article contains some basic information about Socialist Realism and politically progressive art in Hungary. I will try to update this as I research more.
FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)
The most famous pre-revolutionary music composer was Franz Liszt (1811-1886) who represents perhaps the peak of bourgeois-revolutionary music in Hungary. Liszt was a romantic composer who contributed significantly to the development of music through his masterful piano playing, through his compositions and by helping other composers. He contributed significantly to music criticism through his articles and books (most famous being his book about the life and work of Chopin). Liszt was sympathetic to revolutionary ideas, was deeply concerned about the life of the ordinary working people, and supported the democratic and national liberation movements. He tried to create a Hungarian national style in classical music. As his inspiration in this venture he used the verbunkos, a style of dance music used in military recruitments in Hungary.
At the time Hungary was an Austrian protectorate and culturally dominated by the Germanic world. However, after the failed 1848 revolution by Lajos Kossuth, the reactionary Hapsburg rulers of Hungary were forced to make compromises. They gave Hungary somewhat more cultural autonomy and Liszt was able to start a Musical Academy in Hungary in 1875 with his colleague Ferenc Erkel as its director.
“Liszt, Franz (Hungarian, Ferenc Liszt). Born Oct. 22, 1811, in Doborján, near Sopron, Hungary; died July 31, 1886, in Bay-reuth, Germany. Hungarian composer, pianist, and figure in music and sociology.
Liszt was taught to play the piano by his father, an amateur musician, and began to give concerts at the age of nine. He pursued further studies in Vienna with C. Czerny (piano) and A. Salieri (composition) and, beginning in 1823, in Paris with F. Paer and A. Reicha (composition). Liszt’s only completed opera, Don Sanche, or The Castle of Love, was presented in 1825 in Paris. There Liszt wrote his first works for the piano, including 12 études, Allegro di bravura, and Rondo di bravura, and began his successful career as a concert pianist.
Liszt’s enthusiasm for Enlightenment philosophy and romantic poetry, and more importantly, his acquaintance with Berlioz, Paganini, and Chopin, influenced the formation of Liszt’s aesthetic principles, which are reflected in both his musical compositions and the articles he wrote with M. d’Agoult (whose pen name was Daniel Stern). In his writings, which are democratic in spirit, Liszt raised questions about such subjects as the position of the artist in bourgeois society, the social importance of art, and program music. He welcomed the July Revolution of 1830 and wrote the Revolutionary Symphony (unfinished) under the influence of his impressions. The uprising by Lyon weavers in 1834 prompted the piano piece “Lyon.”
Between 1838 and 1847, Liszt triumphantly toured all of Europe, winning recognition for his powerful artistic temperament, brilliant virtuosity, and talent for poetry and dramatization. He greatly reformed piano playing, and his innovative compositions expanded the uses of the piano and developed new techniques for it. He gave the piano an orchestral sound and broadened its artistic influence by turning it from a salon and chamber instrument into an instrument for large audiences, in keeping with his ideas about the democratization of art.
Liszt’s reformist aspirations are especially evident in his opera fantasies and other virtuoso paraphrases and adaptations for the piano. He wrote piano adaptations of Berlioz’ Symphonie fantastique, Beethoven’s symphonies, and the overture to Rossini’s William Tell (1838); he based his Etudes on Paganini’s Caprices (1838); and he created piano versions of many of Schubert’s songs (1838–46). Liszt also composed fantasies on themes from operas by Auber, Bellini, Donizetti, Meyerbeer, Mozart, Weber, and Verdi.
During tours of Russia (in 1842, 1843, and 1847), Liszt met with M. I. Glinka, Mikh. Iu. Viel’gorskii, and V. F. Odoevskii. He was enraptured by Russian music and made transcriptions of A. A. Aliab’ev’s “Nightingale” and Glinka’s “March of Chernomor.”
In the late 1830’s, Liszt composed a number of original piano works that brought him fame, including Album d’un voyageur (three books, 1835–36), 12 grandes études (2nd 1838; later revised as Transcendental Etudes, 1851), Three Sonnets of Petrarch (1st ed., 1839), and Totentanz (with orchestra, 1838–59).
Liszt composed equally great symphonic works, particularly during his first, or Weimar, period (1848–61), when he turned from a career as a concert virtuoso and accepted the post of court Kapellmeister in Weimar. The major works of program music for orchestra of that period were A Faust Symphony (1854–57); A Symphony to Dante’s “Divina Commedia” (1855–56); 12 symphonic poems (a 13th, From Cradle to Grave, was written later, in 1881–82), including Tasso, Lament and Triumph (after Goethe, 1849–54); Preludes (after Autran and Lamartine, 1848–54); Mazeppa (after Hugo, 1851); Ideals (after Schiller, 1857); and Two Episodes From Lenau’s “Faust” (“Nocturnal Visitation” and “Mephisto Waltz,” c. 1860). He also wrote a series of choral works in Weimar.
Liszt evolved a new musical genre, the one-movement program symphonic poem. He conveyed the “eternal images” (Faust, Prometheus, Orpheus, and Hamlet, for example) of world art in music. Liszt strove to bring music closer to the progressive ideas of his time, and he was attracted by the strong, freedom-loving personality who fights for humanistic ideals. While often following a poetic narrative, the symphonic poems in general create moods with concretely imagistic, effective, and therefore apprehensible music.
Liszt’s major piano compositions are conceptually close to the symphonic program works—for example, the Sonata in C minor (1853); the cycle Années de pèlerinage (1st year, 1836–54; 2nd year, 1838–60; 3rd year, 1867–77), based on travel impressions of Switzerland and Italy and on art images; and Harmonies poétiques et religieuses (1845–52). From the 1840’s through the 1860’s, Liszt composed two concertos (c. 1849–56 and 1839–61), Fantasy on Hungarian Folk Themes (1852) for piano and orchestra, and other works on Hungarian themes that testify to Liszt’s indissoluble creative ties with his homeland.
Liszt used Hungarian folk music material in a variety of genres, including the Hungarian Rhapsodies for piano (15 composed between 1846 and 1851; the last four, 1882–85), “Funeral March” for piano (1849), the symphonic poems Hungaria (1854) and Lament for Heroes (1854), Hungarian Historical Pictures, and the piano pieces “Rákóczy March,” “In Memory of Petófy,” and “The Funeral of Mosonyi.”
In Weimar, where prominent musicians gathered around Liszt (including C. Bülow and J. Raff), forming the Weimar school, Liszt realized his democratic ideals both as a conductor, propagating the works of his contemporaries (including Wagner’s operas), and as a musical journalist (in articles on the works of Berlioz, Schumann, and Weber and a book on Chopin). He developed a democratic plan for reforming opera, which met opposition from conservative aristocratic circles. In 1861 intrigues caused Liszt to leave Weimar. He divided his time between Rome and Budapest, with occasional visits to Weimar.
Disenchanted by life around him and feeling ever more pessimistic, Liszt took minor orders in 1865. Between 1860 and 1880 he produced a number of sacred organ and choral works and many piano pieces, including the second and third Mephisto Waltzes, the famous Three Forgotten Waltzes, a transcription of the “Death of Isolde” scene from Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde, and a polonaise transcribed from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin. He also composed approximately 70 choruses, romances, and songs, some of which are masterpieces of the lyric art song.
Liszt continued to cultivate the development of progressive art, particularly in Hungary. He was involved in the founding of the National Academy of Music in Budapest in 1875 (it bears his name); he was its first president. Liszt encouraged Hungarian performers and composers, as well as musicians of other national musical cultures. He was visited and consulted in Weimar by the pianists A. I. Siloti, V. V. Timanova, E. d’Albert, and A. Reisenauer and the composers Borodin, Smetana, Grieg, Franck, Saint-Saëns, Albéniz, and Glazunov. Liszt had particularly close ties with Russian musicians, whose work he valued highly.
Somewhat contradictory, but generally progressive, Liszt’s multifaceted lifework had an important impact on the development of world musical culture and contributed to the formation of many national schools of composers, most importantly, the Hungarian one.
REFERENCES Trifonov, P. A. F. List. St. Petersburg, 1887. Siloti, A. I. Moi vospominaniia o F. Liste. St. Petersburg, 1911. Kiselev, V. A. Fronts List i ego otnoshenie k russkomu iskusstvu. Moscow, 1929. Mil’shtein, la. I. F. List, [vols.] 1–2, 2nd. ed. Moscow, 1971. (Bibliography.) Szabolcsi, B. Poslednie gody Lista. Budapest, 1959. (Translated from Hungarian.) Ramann, L. Franz Liszt als Künstler und Mensch, vols. 1–2 (pts. 1–2). Leipzig, 1880–94. Raabe, P. Franz Liszt, vols. 1–2. Stuttgart-Berlin, 1931. Searle, H. The Music of Liszt. London, 1954. Third edition: New York, 1966. Rehberg, P. Franz Liszt: Die Geschichte seines Lebens, Schaffens und Wirkens. Zürich, 1961.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
FERENC ERKEL (1810-1893)
Ferenc Erkel was another important composer of the pre-revolutionary era. He is the founder of Hungarian national opera, the first Hungarian composer to write operatic music. His most successful work was the patriotic opera Hunyadi László (1844) and another highly respected work is Bánk bán (1861). He also composed the opera Dózsa György (1867) about the famous peasant revolution of 1514.
The Ferenc Erkel Prize for great composers was created in the Hungarian People’s Republic in 1952.
Like Liszt, Erkel was largely influenced by Western styles but tried to create a Hungarian kind of music and tried to make art music something which ordinary people can also enjoy. The greatest composer of the Hungarian People’s Republic, Zoltan Kodaly said that Erkel “chose the path that made it possible to bring music closer to the people, and the people closer to music. In composing the music for a whole series of folk plays he used genuine folk music. It is a pity that he did not go further, but the gap between folk song and opera seemed to him too big to make any decisive attempt at bridging it. Yet until this has been done, there can be no hope of establishing real contact between the ordinary people and the higher forms of music.” (quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 149)
“Erkel, Ferenc. Born Nov. 7, 1810, in Gyula; died June 15, 1893, in Budapest. Hungarian composer, conductor, teacher, and figure in the music world.
Erkel studied under H. Klein in Pozsony (now Bratislava). From 1828 to 1835 he was in Kolozsvár (now Cluj), where he taught and, in 1830, was a bandmaster. In 1835 he took up residence in Budapest, where from 1838 to 1890 he served as the principal conductor and music director of the National Theater. He was appointed music director of the Philharmonic Society in 1853 and of the National Hungarian Association of Choral Singers in 1868. From 1875 to 1889 he served as principal and professor of piano at the National Academy of Music in Budapest; F. Liszt was the academy’s president.
Erkel was the founder of the Hungarian national opera. Most of his operatic works are based on tragic episodes in the struggle to liberate Hungary from its conquerers, the most important being the heroic lyric operas Hunyadi László (1844) and Bánk ban (1852; staged: Pest, 1861; Moscow, 1957; Novosibirsk, 1958), which gained great popularity among the composer’s contemporaries. Several melodies from these operas, some set to new lyrics, became mass songs that were sung during the revolutionary popular demonstrations of 1848–49 and 1918–19.
Erkel achieved a synthesis of contemporary Western European opera and traditional Hungarian music, making use of the verbunkos (dance) style and Hungarian folk melodies. Among his other operas—he composed a total of nine—are Báton Mária (1840), Dósza György (1867), and two comic operas. Erkel also composed the Festival Overture (1887), works for the piano, incidental music for “popular plays” (népszinmü), and choral works, notably “Hymnusz,” the Hungarian national anthem (1844).
REFERENCES Szabolcsi, B. Istoriia vengerskoi muzyki. Budapest, 1964. Pages 71–74. (Translated from Hungarian.) Maróthy, J. “Put’ Erkelia ot geroiko-liricheskoi opery k kriticheskomu realizmu.” In Muzyka Vengrii. Moscow, 1968. (Translated from Hungarian.) Abrányi, K. Erkel Ferenc élete és müködése. Budapest, 1895. Legány, D. Erkel Ferenc miüvei és korabeli történetük. Budapest, 1972.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by P. F. Veis)
BELA BARTOK (1881-1945)
An important composer of the early 20th century was Béla Bartók (1881-1945), whose work (such as his symphonic poem “Kossuth” about the 1848 revolution) was progressive and supported national liberation. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic (1919) Bartók was a member of the Musical Directorate. After the revolution was crushed he toured abroad and considered emigration. “Everything is being ruined here”, he wrote in an autobiographical work. He finally had to escape the country after Hungary joined WWII on the side of the Nazis. He went to the USA, where he died in poverty.
Right from the beginning Bartók had been inspired by Liszt to create a Hungarian national music. However, after serious research into Hungarian folk music he realized that although the verbunkos are genuinely Hungarian, they are not really folk music. After conducting serious research among the masses he began using and popularizing folk musical motifs collected from the peasants of Hungary and neighboring countries. He began his long collaboration with Zoltan Kodaly, who also collected and studied folk music and had a similar goal of creating a national Hungarian music.
Due to periods of marginalization, isolation from the people, and foreign emigration (which he deeply regretted), part of Bartók’s work suffered from negative bourgeois influences. He lived during the period when capitalism entered its imperialist stage, and the bourgeois system suffered a serious decline in quality of art which has continued ever since. Bartók’s early goal had been to unite the folk music of the masses with elements from contemporary academic music. He had to eventually abandon this project as impossible, and was disturbed by the deepening crisis of bourgeois music.
Bartók’s idea of uniting mass music with classical music had been absolutely correct. However, he didn’t realize that what the contemporary academia considered ‘classical music’ was really decadent imperialist music, which was decaying more and more, and abandoning all principles of art, and all principles of classical music. Bartók understood this only instinctively. In reality Bartók had stumbled upon the core problem of musical art. It was necessary to combine the music of the people (the folk) with classical music, but bourgeois music had abandoned this goal and started to decline further and further. The only solution was to go forward to Socialist Realist music.
Bartók was one of the greatest composers of the 20th century with great artistic achievements. Though Bartók was not a communist he was an ardent anti-fascist and often worked with communists, for example with the writer Béla Balázs. Bartók was a patriot who defended Hungarian independence, and an internationalist. A telling example of Bartók’s internationalism is that he collected thousands of folk songs originally in Hungary, but eventually expanded his research to Slovak, Romanian, Ukrainian, Turkish and other folk songs, even using them in his compositions. A deep and critical Marxist analysis of Bartók’s work was written by Chao Feng (Bartók and Chinese Music Culture).
Despite his great genius and his great achievements, some of Bartók’s works suffered from decadent bourgeois formalism. Some works such as “Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta” is written based on mathematical patterns, and sounds like random dissonant notes. It sounds like it could’ve been written by a computer without ears. It was written in the style called “Serialism” which was fashionable in bourgeois circles at the time, and which reached its peak in atonality. (Atonality means music which doesn’t have a key. It sounds extremely unnatural, unsettling and irritating.)
Some other works such as “The Miraculous Mandarin” are vulgar, without artistic merit and exhibit the same values as typical capitalist consumerism, the main protagonists are villains, prostitutes, thieves and murderers. It also sounds blatantly ugly.
Along with formalistic ugliness the most typical problem in Bartók’s work is pessimism. His works all depict someone who is deeply alienated in capitalist society and often isolated from the masses. Even good works by Bartók such as “the Concerto for Orchestra” suffer from this.
Bartók’s great achivements
Despite the faults, Bartók wrote some very good works which were frequently performed and played on the radio. Favorites included songs for singing such as “Enchanting Song”, “Don’t Leave Me!” and “Pillow Dance”; selections from the Ten Easy Pieces for Piano (particularly “Evening with the Széklers and “Bear Dance”). The Sonatina and the Romanian Folk Dances were also very popular and played many times a week on the radio. Bartók’s late works (particularly the Violin Concerto, the Divertimento, the Concerto for Orchestra, the Third Piano Concerto, and the Sonata for Solo Violin) were also played very often.
Additional information, criticism and analysis about individual works as well as a full list of Bartók’s works that were considered artistically valuable and not formalistic is attached as appendix 1 at the end of the article (even formalistic works continued to be played sometimes. There wasn’t necessarily a complete “ban” against them).
Communists took art seriously and wanted to make sure Bartók’s best work was being displayed. A newspaper editorial from 1950 states:
“The purpose of these programs is to make known Bartók’s true face, his true art, for the working class. We introduce Bartók, the fierce scholar of the Hungarian folk song, Bartók, the progressive artist, the great composer. This week the Radio’s listeners will find practically every outstanding work of his on the program, and through lectures, popular explanations, and introductions these works will find their way to the hearts of the listeners.” (quoted in Danielle Fosler-Lussier, Music divided, p. 56)
The Western imperialists’ reaction to Béla Bartók
The capitalist west carried out a two-fold strategy regarding Bartók. On the one hand, they tried to claim Bartók for themselves. They claimed that the majority of Bartók’s work, all the folk-inspired pieces, and other beautiful and artistic pieces were worthless. In the opinion of the western imperialists only the ugly formalistic and dissonant works, as well as to a lesser extent the escapist and mystical influenced works had any merit. They tried to propagate Bartók’s worst pieces and attacked Communists for not performing them or liking them. They tried to appropriate Bartók, without ever mentioning that when Bartók was alive he never received any support from the West. They let him die of illness in poverty and misery.
Great Hungarian composer Ferenc Szabó wrote:
“Even if we do not agree with certain details of the Bartókian worldview, Bartók belongs to us organically and cannot be separated from us. This is why the English-speaking students of Goebbels trumpet to the world that the Hungarian People’s Republic has denied Bartók, and that in his home—in Hungary—today it is forbidden to perform Bartók’s works. This statement is just as false as their claiming Bartók as their own, equating Bartók with themselves and their filthy worldview. The Hungarian People’s Republic sincerely, rightfully, and with decided openness has always acknowledged Bartók as its own. One of the loveliest streets in Budapest is named after him. One of the most important musical institutions that leads and comprises the spontaneous musical activity of the Hungarian workers carries Bartók’s name. . . . We, the composers of the Hungarian People’s Republic, down to the last man, claim him as our own.” (“Bartók Does Not Compromise” quoted in Music divided, p. 64)
While propping up fascists in Greece, South Korea and Spain and supporting fascists all over the world, Western commentators hypocritically attacked all democratic folk-music and folk-inspired music as fascistic. They also claimed that all melodic classical music inherently seemed “stalinist” and thus should be persecuted. These theories were promoted by fake leftists on the payroll of the CIA such as Theodor Adorno and “the Frankfurt School”, and American Trotskyists of the Partisan Review including Clement Greenberg, Dwight Macdonald and Kurt List. They were also funded through the CIA front organization “Congress for Cultural Freedom”. This was a crusade by the imperialists to destroy beauty in art and to destroy Socialist Realism.
The second half of the imperialists’ strategy regarding Bartók was to minimize his relevance for contemporary composers. Because he wrote folk-influenced and beautiful music Bartók was seen as suspiciously similar to Socialist Realism. Historian Danielle Fosler-Lussier writes:
“Bartok’s music largely fell out of the teaching repertory for composition students at two important European centers of innovation, in Messiaen’s courses in Paris and at Darmstadt. The thinkers who subscribed to modernism as an ethical imperative were also among Europe’s most influential teachers—Leibowitz, Adorno, Scherchen, and Messiaen—and their prominence surely hastened Bartok’s departure from the curriculum and influenced the musical preferences of the next generation of composers. The turn away from Bartok as a model was not merely a shift in taste; it reflected new views of history and of musical style that were shaped directly or indirectly by the political pressures of the early cold war years. For some, such as Scherchen and Stuckenschmidt, the new view was heavily influenced by perceptions… of the threat of socialist realism. For others, such as Stockhausen, the new view seems to have been encouraged by Adorno’s philosophical criticism of musical style but applied in an abstract way to the history of style… (Music divided, p. 48)
When reactionary composers left Hungary and moved to the USA, they were not allowed to show any love for Bartók, or for anything Hungarian:
“Apprehension about the influence of Bartok and the quasi-political connotations his music had acquired lingered for years. The composer Gyorgy Ligeti, who left Hungary for the West late in 1956, exemplified this long-lasting anxiety about Bartok in a particularly poignant way… for Ligeti, as for the other figures [of his ilk], the question of Bartok’s influence was uncomfortably entangled with the [so-called] political backwardness [i.e. socialism] of Eastern Europe; for Ligeti, these were also fraught questions about his personal history and about where he belonged… Ligeti… explicitly avoided addressing the question of Bartok’s influence or even acknowledging the existence of his own works before his emigration… in 1970 he still felt the need to suppress these elements of his personal history, to draw a veil over everything that connected him to his Hungarian past.” (Music divided, pp. 49-50)
BELA REINITZ (1878-1943)
According to Finnish marxist music critic Ilpo Saunio among the first to discover the importance of Bartók was communist composer Béla Reinitz. According to Saunio Reinitz himself was “one of the most important proletarian composers of the early 20s” (Saunio, Sisko, veli, kuulet kummat soitot, p. 101). In 1919 Reinitz worked together with Bartók and was the kommissar for music and theatre affairs in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. He was forced to escape Hungary after the fall of the Soviet Republic. In emigration he composed various works, including communist songs (such as the hilarious satire “Der Revoluzzer” and the anti-war “Der müde Soldat”). After returning to Hungary he composed works based on the great revolutionary poets Sándor Petőfi, Endre Ady and Attila József.
ZOLTAN KODALY (1882-1967)
The greatest composer of the Hungarian People’s Republic was Zoltán Kodály. He was a long time collaborator of Béla Bartók both as a composer and researcher. He devoted his life to composing music, musical education, and researching folk music. He made great achivements in all three fields. His music, which is greatly influenced by folk music, is characterized by an optimistic, clear, democratic-humanist spirit.
The Communist composer Bela Reinitz had said: “In the future, Kodaly will be numbered amongst the most illustrious Hungarians. His name will be added to the list of distinguished men who have upheld the culture of our country” (quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 19). Reinitz’s prediction turned out exactly correct.
Kodaly’s life goal was to unite the music of the masses, the folk music, with art music. With Bartok he traveled the countryside of Hungary and neighboring countries collecting folk melodies.
In the Hungarian Soviet Republic
“The very best of the creative intelligentsia, scholars, painters, composers and others, had lined up with working-class power, a number of them, like Zoltan Kodaly and Bela Bartok, accepted responsibilities in the cultural field.” (Henrik Vass, Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966), p. 136)
In 1918-19 Kodaly worked in the Musical Directorate of the Hungarian Soviet Republic under Reinitz:
“The administration of music was put in the hands of Bela Reinitz, who assumed executive authority from the time of the bourgeois Revolution in October 1918; and who, in the discharge of his duties, called upon Kodaly, Bartok and Dobhnanyi for their expert advice, appointing them as his musical Directory. At its meeting on 14th February, 1919, the Council of Ministers reorganized the Academy as the National Academy of Music of Hungary… Kodaly was appointed to the newly created post of Deputy Director. Kodaly accepted the post at the instance of Reinitz. But he was also motivated… partly because he saw it as a long-awaited opportunity of realizing one of his cherished plans, the creation of a sound system of solfeggio instruction, hitherto badly neglected… The fate of the Hungarian Republic of Councils was sealed by foreign intervention; and at the beginning of August 1919, the dictatorship of the proletariat was overthrown. With the restoration of capitalism, Kodaly’s initiative at the Academy was completely crushed. A witch-hunt was started against anyone who had held office under the Hungarian Republic of Councils, and it became a time for paying off old scores. Reinitz had to flee the country.” (László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 22)
Among other things Kodaly was accused of allowing Red Army soldiers to be recruited at the Music Academy and instructing Academy staff to orchestrate the Internationale (László Eősze, p. 23).
On 3rd February Bartok who also participated in the Music Directorate of the Soviet Republic, wrote to the authorities to defend Kodaly. (László Eősze, p. 24)
Kodaly was accused of anti-patriotism but he defended himself and was shown to be the true patriot, a true servant of the people, while his Horthyist fascist accusers were fake patriots, simple bourgeois nationalists, nothing but servants of rich capitalists and foreign corporations. Kodaly said:
“Let him who has done more for Hungary than I… come forward to lecture me. All the work I have accomplished has been done without any financial aid from the State, but with an expenditure of my own money that might almost be called prodigal. And, incidentally, (these efforts) are of a kind that cannot be paid for in money. And from where have I obtained the energy for all this? Doubtless from that ‘anti-patriotic disposition’ of which people are so anxious to find me guilty. I have never meddled in everyday politics. But, figuratively speaking, every bar of music, every folk tune I have recorded, has been a political act. In my opinion, that is true patriotic policy: a policy of actual deeds, not of mere phrase-mongering. And it is for this I am being persecuted.” (László Eősze, p. 24)
Actually even a reactionary author such as Béla Menczer has noted that the Horthyist fascist clique were fake patriots, and foreign to Hungary and to the Hungarian people:
“many of the leading soldiers and ex-diplomats of 1920, perhaps the best elements in the new “emergency” governing class, were almost strangers to Hungary. With all their [supposed] patriotism, their Viennese education, their service abroad, or in the non-Hungarian parts of the old Monarchy, had made them almost foreigners, who could just speak the Hungarian language, but without an entirely native intonation. Many of them did not even know Ady’s name. With considerable technical knowledge in their own field, these men were strangers to all the social problems and the intellectual and moral crises of their century; their world consisted of governments, armies, and at the most of political salons frequented by Ambassadors.” (Béla Menczer, A commentary on Hungarian literature, p. 104)
The liberal count Mihaly Karolyi wrote about the Hungarian Horthyist ruling classes:
“their patriotism was but lip-service, their much-talked of ‘honour’ but a code without reality, their loyalty to the sovereign self-interest, their Catholic fervour a means to rule over the uneducated.” (Memoirs of Michael Karolyi; faith without illusion, p. 141)
Kodaly never apologized for working in the Music Directorate of the Soviet Republic and defended all his comrades, including the Communist Reinitz:
“As to the men with whom I had the pleasure of serving on that body, any Hungarian musician, I should have thought, would have been flattered to share the company of men like Dohnanyi and Bartok.” And, defending Reinitz, then in voluntary exile, he said: “Our relations were founded on mutual respect. I learned to know him as a fanatic for truth and a man of character from whom I cannot withhold my respect.” (László Eősze, p. 25)
Kodaly was removed from the post of Deputy Director and put on forced leave of absence from the Academy, but since all the best academics defended him, he could not be dismissed entirely.
In 1926 Kodaly composed his famous opera Hary Janos, which he stated, represents the truly Hungarian optimism. This great opera achieved popularity.
Horthyist fascist critics attacked the opera, and in particular attacked it for using folk melodies: “it smells of the ethnographical museum. . . the musical score, consisting as it does of motifs artificially transplanted from folk song, has very little chance of lasting success.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 32)
The Hungarian fascists actually were not patriotic, they did not love their own people but despised them. The fascists were bourgeois nationalists, fake patriots. Actually their policy had always been to enslave Hungary to Austria, Germany, and other Western imperialist powers. The fascists did not support Hungarian culture but romanticized capitalist Germanic music and Germanic culture, which at that point had already been fully taken over by stagnating elements and had begun to decline.
Kodaly as a real patriot and democrat, servant of his people, said:
“We refuse to be a musical colony any longer. We are not content to continue aping a foreign musical culture. We have our own musical message, and the world is beginning to listen to it attentively. It is not we who have invented Hungarian music. It has existed for a thousand years. We only wish to preserve and foster this ancient treasure; and, if sometimes the opportunity should be granted us, to add to it.” (László Eősze, pp. 30-31)
Kodaly then focused on developing Hungarian choral music, because at the time it did not exist. All choir works up to that point had always been sung in foreign languages, such as Latin or German. The attacks of the decadent fascists against Kodaly continued. The reactionary clerical newspaper Magyar Kultura wrote:
“Kodaly in particular, but also in many respects Bartok, is essentially a destructive spirit” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 38)
Things became more and more difficult with the rise of Italian and German fascism:
Kodaly expressed his protest against Fascism in his greatest work The Peacock Roared or The Peacock Variations with lyrics by Endre Ady. The choral singing version of it was banned outright, and a number of instrumental performances were also prohibited by the Fascists (László Eősze, p. 92)
“Both [Kodaly] and Bartok were amongst the first to protest against legislation in favour of racial discrimination; and already in 1938 [Kodaly] had joined a number of progressive artists and scientists who signed a declaration, addressed to the Hungarian people and Parliament, advocating equal rights for all citizens. This courageous stand was regarded with considerable suspicion by the authorities… and it even led to several performances of The Peacock being banned by the police on account of its revolutionary words and stirring music.” (László Eősze, p. 39)
The Hungarian Fascists were completely out of touch with the people and with Hungarian culture. They did not even recognize Hungarian peasant melodies as Hungarian:
“Kodaly and Bartok were attacked on the grounds that the folk songs they collected were not Hungarian but Slovakian and Rumanian… Bartok and Kodaly were accused of promoting alien interests, and therefore of opposing official policy.” (László Eősze, p. 170)
“The Horthy regime’s… racist, anti-liberal, anti-intellectual and anti-cultural disposition, coupled with the purges and denunciations of professors and teachers (by no means only Jewish ones), led in the 1920s to an unprecedented brain-drain from the scientific-cultural milieu… Many of those who had opted to stay in the country, such as the composer Zoltan Kodaly, the poet Mihaly Babits and writer Zsigmond Moricz, and the scientists Gyula Pikler, Zsigmond Simonyi and Lajos Fülep, suffered harassment. The great poet Endre Ady was spared the fate of his friends by his untimely death, but even then incitement against this passionately anti-feudal and revolutionary voice continued: at a Roman Catholic convention in 1920-23 Bishop Ottokár Prohászka claimed that Ady’s soul had been “inoculated with Jewish blood.” (Paul Lendvai, The Hungarians, pp. 385-386)
Already in 1945 Kodaly was chosen to head the newly formed Arts Council, elected unanimously to the Academy of Sciences, and elected as a representative to the parliament. He was also chosen to lead the Board of Directors of the Academy of Music and became the president of the Musicians’ Union. (László Eősze, p. 42)
In July 1945 to a lecture at the Hungarian-Soviet Friendship society Kodaly said:
“The idea that the common people also have a contribution to make in the field of culture was expressed for the first time during the intellectual ferment that preceded the French Revolution… It is a source of great encouragement that to-day, for the first time, the common people of Hungary are entering this field, not only as consumers, but also as producers. What we have to learn from the Soviet Union is, first and foremost, to appreciate art and the artist as they deserve.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 42)
After returning from a concert tour in the USSR where his Hary Janos had been performed by the Leningrad philharmonic with him conducting Kodaly told a meeting of the Music Academy:
“The way the Soviet State provides for its scientists and artists, removing every obstacle from their path, should he an example to any country which regards the promotion of culture as being one of the functions of Government. And all that the Soviet State demands in return is that its scientists and artists should dedicate themselves to their work. This is another respect in which the model she offers deserves to be copied.” (quoted in László Eősze, p. 43)
“And in an interview with Die Brücke, the journal of the Austrian-Soviet Cultural Society, he praised the exemplary organization of musical training in the Soviet Union.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
In 1947 when Kodaly was 65 years old, his birthday was again celebrated by lovers of music, but for the first time there were official state honors and state celebrations. Kodaly had achieved the respect he deserved:
“In addition to receiving the freedom of his native town, Kecskemet, he was invested with the Grand Cross of the Order of the Republic by the Minister of Education; and on 15th March, 1948, he was one of the first of his countrymen to he awarded the newly instituted Kossuth Prize, “for signal services in the fields of science and the arts.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
On the same evening his new opera, Czinka Panna, with a libretto written by Bela Balazs, got its first performance by the Budapest Opera Company. The text by Balazs was criticized for historical inaccuracy, but the critics’ only complaint about the music was that “there was too little of it; and indeed there are parts of it—notably the Minuetto Serio and the Rakoczi March—that brilliantly evoke the spirit of the anti-Habsburg war of independence in the 18th century.” (László Eősze, p. 43)
In 1951 Kodaly succeeded in introducing his methods into musical education institutions and in 1952 he was awarded his second Kossuth Prize, the First Division of the Order of the Hungarian People’s Republic, and the title of “Eminent Artist.” (László Eősze, p. 45)
Kodály well understood the importance of folk music and agreed with the Soviets about it:
“in 1946, he [Zoltan Kodaly] had publicly praised the Russian tradition of basing works of art music on folk music: “The Russian composers came closer to their people because they lived among them, spoke in their language. For their melodies they discovered the outstanding, original forms of polyphony that preserve the characteristics of the melody. In their own creations they maintained the atmosphere of folk music, even as they also elevated its forms almost exponentially.”” (Music divided, p. 97)
After Zhdanov’s well-known criticism of formalism in 1948 Kodály wrote:
“Zhdanov’s warnings are nothing new to us. For thirty years I’ve said the same thing. By this I do not mean to say that we are ahead of them… They have already gotten over a national classicism that we have just come to. On the other hand, there was such here too (at the same time as theirs: Liszt, Erkel), only they did not succeed in such a close connection with the people as Rimsky and his fellows. We had to make up for that… In any case there are many common problems, and we can learn a lot from each other.” (Music divided, p. 97)
Kodály fully agreed with Zhdanov’s statement that “Internationalism in art does not spring from the depletion and impoverishment of national art; on the contrary, internationalism grows where national culture flourishes… Only a people that has a highly developed musical culture of its own can appreciate the musical riches of other nations.” (Zhdanov, On Literature, Music and Philosophy)
“The question that faces us is, whether we can best hold our own in world music by sacrificing our individual characteristics or by emphasizing them? Some think that it is by the former method that we shall become the best citizens of the musical world. My own view, on the contrary, is that the more intensively we study and cultivate our own music, the more we shall be able to contribute to world music.” (Kodaly quoted in László Eősze, Zoltán Kodály: his life and work, p. 78)
Criticism of Kodály’s “peasant romanticism”
Kodály was correct in highly valuing folk music, but he supported folk music too one-sidedly and uncritically. Classical music inspired by folk music alone is not enough. Kodály sometimes implied that if one only used folk elements then that is all that was required, and even more erroneously that even a formalistic piece would be elevated to the status of real art, if it utilized folk motifs.
In May 1950 in New Music Review (Új zenei szemle) “Miklós Csillag published a harsh critique of Kodály that included a cautionary comment about the interpretation of folk music influences in art music [the interpretation that using folk elements is all that is required]. He wrote:
“The young people of Hungarian music regarded Zoltán Kodály with great expectations. They expected that he would stand before them and show the direction for the founding of a new Hungarian music worthy of our revitalized nation. They waited for him to step forward, all the more so because they believed that his musical work of the past justified this hope. Kodály, however, still owes the people’s democracy this positive leadership. Our composers lacked direction, and thus it is understandable that when they brought with them formalist trends not only from the environment, but also from our musical education of past decades, they ran into a dead end both in general content and in the formal sense as well. Many were of the opinion that the working out of folk themes would avert the formalist dangers from the outset. However, the problem is that with us, the folk theme most often went through the mill of the kind of formal and harmonic processes that made it wholly inappropriate and unenjoyable for our working masses.”” (Music divided, p. 104)
The great Communist theoretician of art József Révai said:
“The folk song cannot, it is impossible that it could, reflect the new richness of feeling, the richness of feeling that belongs to the person who is building socialism. Does this mean that we turn our backs on the folk song? It is not even worth debating about it. Now we are the ones who say that Hungarian poetry cannot go further on the path of Ady or even of Attila József, because neither is sufficiently part of the folk. One can go further on the path of Petofi—naturally with new content. Now I ask you, apply this to Bartók. My opinion is that we can continue better on Kodály’s path than on Bartók’s. . . . [But] if we state that we cannot go further on Bartók’s path, this does not mean that we deny Bartók.”
Almost immediately after his statement that Kodály’s path was preferable to Bartók’s, Révai proceeded to criticize Kodály’s person and his politics in no uncertain terms, even while continuing to praise his music. “I maintain what I said, that I had not heard a work as valuable as the Peacock [Variations] in our ‘socialist music literature,’ and Háry János too is an entirely outstanding opera. Unconditionally we must work with Kodály—here there is no disagreement at all. But to believe that Kodály can be a leader ([aside:]Comrade Szabó), that he should stand at the forefront of our new music, I feel there must be a certain lack of confidence with regard to our own strength and a misunderstanding of the relationship between us and Kodály.” Révai went on to describe how Kodály had tried to save choruses that were affiliated with Catholic religious organizations (“cover organizations for the political reactionaries”) and to state that Kodály was a sentimental populist who wanted to hold back the development of Hungarian music. His rhetoric became irate; he concluded by remarking that he could say much more, but he did not wish to “blacken Kodály’s name.”
Révai’s assertion… that Kodály’s style was the one that should be followed was moderated by the repeated statements that the folk song could not be used as it was (as in, for instance, Kodály’s opera Háry János), but must be fundamentally changed to express the new content… The party thus notified composers that even though in general Kodály’s path was better than Bartók’s, it was by no means the perfect model.” (Music divided, pp. 112-114)
Kodály received extremely high praise from Révai, who stated that his opera “Háry János” is outstanding and that the “Peacock Variations” is the best music of socialist Hungary. Révai also stated that the path of Kodály was superior to Bartók. Why is that? Kodály’s work was consistently more melodic, simply beautiful while artistically deep, more popular and democratic in style, not obscure, bizarre and dissonant, and not pessimistic.
But Kodály also received some harsh criticism. He was not a Communist and did not understand Communism or the proletariat. He had petit-bourgeois tendencies: he shielded conservatives and reactionaries because they were his friends, he looked at things in a petit-bourgeois way, in a supposedly “neutral way” and not from the point of view of the proletariat. Such an “objectivist” or “neutral” petit-bourgeois outlook always only shields the outlook of the capitalists.
Musically Kodály was already becoming outdated. His was the music of the utopian peasant democrat. The music was not urban enough, not proletarian enough, and relied too heavily on copying what was old instead of developing something truly new. Kodály’s music was the best music of the past and of today, but what was required was a music of the future.
SOCIALIST REALIST MUSIC
It was necessary that as a Socialist society was being built, a new Socialist music was created. Socialist Realist music needed to master classical music, folk music, and develop something truly new and superior from the best old sources.
The most influential Socialist Realist composer in the Hungarian People’s Republic was Ferenc Szabó. He had studied and worked with Kodály. Szabó’s work is of excellent quality, but he lost influence after de-stalinization and the rise of revisionism.
Szabó wrote symphonic works and other instrumental works, but achieved even greater success with choral works and mass songs, including film music. He won the Kossuth Prize for the film score for Ludas Matyi (1950). His score for Föltámadott a tenger (1953) is also excellent.
Another skilled composer of Socialist Realism was Endre Szervánszky. His song “Honved kantata” (“Homeguard cantata”) is well known and highly respected. Szervánszky was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1951.
“Szervánszky was given the silver award for his orchestral Rhapsody and for the Home Guard and Patriotism cantatas, and Szabó received the gold award for Song Singing and for the music to the 1950 film Ludas Mátyi. These works continued to be played often on the radio as well as in live performances for several years.” (Music divided, p. 114)
Detailed analysis and criticism of the works of Szabó and Szervánsky is at the end of the article as appendix 2.
ENDRE SZEKELY AND ANDRAS MIHALY: MUSICAL SABOTEURS
The creation of a Socialist Realist musical life was hampered by the sabotage activity of a reactionary composer Endre Székely inside the Hungarian Working Peoples’ Party and Union of Composers. Székely was strongly criticized in a 1950 document found in the archives of the Party’s Agitation and Propaganda Division:
“”Whereas in the other branches of the arts serious progress is shown . . . our musical culture demonstrates nonetheless a constant and rapid regression. The leadership, or one might say “rule,” is held in the hands of a narrow little clique, which in directing our musical politics keeps in its sights not the goals of our party or the interests of the working people, but rather the individual interests of the clique’s members. Many signs point to the fact that here we are speaking not merely of the careerism of individuals, but rather of enemy influence, intentional troublemaking, and sabotage.”
…the typescript announced that Endre Székely was the leader of the clique accused of obstructing Hungarians’ progress toward socialist realist music… The author of the typescript indicted Székely as a brutal dictator who controlled nearly every facet of musical life and who hindered every socialist development. He also accused Székely of “political crimes”: the corruption of Hungarians through the appropriation of politically tainted melodies (including the tunes of fascist marches and Zionist songs); the placement of “enemy elements in important functions”; the intentional alienation of Kodály; and the programming of “reactionary” (sacred) choral music by composers such as Handel, Lassus, and Viadana.” (Music divided, p. 121)
Already in the past “Ferenc Szabó had lodged complaints about him [Székely] to the Ministry of Education and to the party’s Division of Agitation and Propaganda.” (Music divided, p. 121)
Opportunist composer András Mihály was Székely’s main accomplice. Mihály was strongly criticized for his conservatism, nationalism and anti-Soviet bias. Both Mihály and Székely were bureaucratic despots who suppressed other composers and suppressed democracy. Due to their reactionary nationalism they tried to repress true communist composers like Szabó and attacked them as “Soviet composers”.
A memorandum to Révai stated:
“In the area of musical life András Mihály and Endre Székely cannot hold leading functions. From this it follows that they must resign from membership in the board of the association. We further recommend that Mihály resign his membership in the Music Academy’s board of directors, that Székely resign from the membership of the Opera’s board of directors, and that likewise both of them resign from their offices in the Association of Hungarian Librettists, Composers and Music Publishers. Only Székely must resign from the editorial committee of the New Music Review; Mihály may continue to fulfill that function. Székely’s resignation from the position as the director of the Radio Chorus may be considered if we can find an appropriate replacement.” (Quoted in Music divided, p. 136)
A meeting was then held under Révai’s leadership where Mihály and Székely had the chance to defend themselves. Székely failed to say anything adequate while Mihály gave a self-criticism. However, this self-criticism was not severe or thorough enough, and his later career showed it was entirely dishonest. Mihály continued a covert struggle against the Party and socialism for years afterwards.
In the realm of popular music and musical entertainment in the Hungarian People’s Republic, Folk Ensembles were created, such as the Honvéd military Ensemble, the Radio Folk Ensemble, the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble and Rajkó Ensemble, Gypsy Orchestra of the League of Young Communists.
The earliest known Hungarian poem is the Lamentations of Mary (Ómagyar Mária-siralom) written down in c. 1300. The most significant renaissance humanist poet of Hungary was Janus Pannonius (1434-1472). During the Turkish occupation the most important poet was the soldier Bálint Balassi (1554–1594). The founder of romantic poetry in Hungary was Sándor Kisfaludy (1772-1844). He was the brother of Károly Kisfaludy (1788-1830), the founder of the national drama.
MIHÁLY CSOKONAI VITÉZ (1773-1805)
Mihály Csokonai Vitéz was an early progressive Hungarian poet who drew inspiration from the people:
“Csokonai Vitéz, Mihály Born Nov. 17, 1773, in Debrecen; died there Jan. 28, 1805. Hungarian poet and dramatist.
Csokonai Vitéz’ poems, representative of the Enlightenment, reflect the influence of J.-J. Rousseau and Voltaire; they include “Evening” and “Constantinople.” In the satirical play Tempefői (published 1844; staged 1938), he denounced the stagnation and ignorance of the nobility. The poem cycle Songs of Lilla creates an atmosphere of amorous languor, bitter solitude, and disappointment while protesting against social inequality. Csokonai Vitéz’ poems combine traditional mythological elements and a refined style with the form and language of Hungarian folk poetry.
During his lifetime, Csokonai Vitéz published only a small amount of poetry, the collection of translations Spring (1802), and the comic epic poem Dorottya (1804).
WORKS Összes versei, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1967. In Russian translation: [“Stikhi.”] In Mad’iarskie poety. St. Petersburg, 1897. [“Pesnia.”] In Antologiia vengerskoi poezii. Moscow, 1952. Pages 89–97. REFERENCES Gidash, A. “Tvorets prekrasnykhpesen.” Ogonek, 1955, no. 4. Sinkó, E. Csokonai életműve. Novi Sad, 1965. Tótfalusi, I. Árkádiában éltemén is Csokonai élete. Budapest, 1966. Csokonai Vitéz Mihaly: Bibliografía. 1945–1954. Budapest, 1955.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
FERENC KÖLCSEY (1790-1838)
Ferenc Kölcsey was a Hungarian poet, literary critic, and reform politician. He wrote Himnusz, the national anthem of Hungary in 1823.
“KÖLCSEY, FERENC (1790-1838), poet and politician, author of the text of the Hungarian National Anthem. He was the son of a family of the lesser nobility. After finishing his law studies he lived from 1812 on his estate in the countryside. He endeavoured to promote the country’s advance from feudalism by his contributions to literature. In 1829 he was deputy clerk of Szatmar County, and then became a delegate to the diet, one of the finest speakers of the Reform Party, a spokesman for the emancipation of the serfs. From 1830 he became a full member of the Academy of Sciences.” (Biographical note in Ervin Pamlényi, A History of Hungary)
In the study of Jozsef Revai ““Kölcsey helye a magyar irodalomban” (The Place of Kölcsey in Hungarian Literature), which deals with the great nineteenth century Hungarian poet Ferenc Kölcsey… Revai recalls Kölcsey, who had experienced and understood the universal problems of the Hungarians of his day. The confrontation of homeland and progress emanated from the objective fact that in Hungary, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the leading national class was the bourgeoisified middle nobility which could lead the country onto the path of bourgeois progress only after great internal struggles, inhibitions and reactionary relapses by keeping one leg on the feudal ground against which it had to fight.
Kölcsey’s concept about the relation between nation and progress was free of conflict and in all aspects pointed the way ahead. The homeland could only be assured, in his view, if the contemporary demands of progress were satisfied, if the serfs were liberated and if civil liberties were obtained. Therefore, prompted by his love of his country, he fought for social progress in the interest of the rebirth of the nation. The organic interconnection between homeland and progress was the basis, in Kölcsey’s world outlook, which led him to take the first steps towards a proper interpretation of the complete unity of national and world freedom. It follows from Kölcsey’s example, Revai wrote, that “the patriotism of one people cannot be in contradiction with that of another: those who love their own country and people, understand and love every country and people, the world over. In other words, those who know how to fight for the happiness of their own people, for its freedom and independence, regard the liberty and independence of another nation as their own cause”.” (Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966) by Henrik Vass, pp. 278-279)
“We are the rightful heirs, the straight continuation of all that which was progressive in our thousand years of history, of all which was vigorous and pointed to the future. That is why we could intimately and unitedly celebrate the centenary of the 1948 revolution, the birth of Vörösmarty, the anniversary of the death of Petöfi and the fighter for freedom, General Bem. That is why we develop further and lead to victory the great ideas of Hungarian progress. This historical heritage makes every Hungarian Communist duty-bound to fight even better, not to spare his efforts for the happiness and flourishing of his much-suffered people.“ (M. Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party February 25, 1951)
“Mihaly Vörösmarty (1800-55)—The great poet of the Reform Period, whose work still bore marks of the classical period, but who turned more and more towards national and popular themes His great epic poem The Flight of Zalan, marked the beginning of a new period in Hungarian literature. His poetry expressed the romantic spirit of the times His later life was affected by the defeat of the War of Liberation, and his poetry became pessimistic and full of foreboding.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Vörösmarty, Mihály. Born Dec.l., 1800, in Kapolnasnyék; died Nov. 19, 1855, in Pest. Hungarian poet, playwright, and critic; exponent of Hungarian romanticism. Graduated from the departments of philosophy and law of the University of Budapest.
In 1825, Vörösmarty published the romantic patriotic narrative poem Zalán’s Flight. His play The Exiles (1830) embodied the notion of the lawfulness of an uprising against a despotic king, and the story-play Csongor and Tünde (published 1831) gave expression to the idea of the victory of life over death. Sympathy for the people (the ballad Beautiful Ilonka, 1832) and the spirit of the love of freedom (the historical drama Czillei and Hunyadi, published 1844; the poem The Call; and others) are characteristic of his writings. He welcomed the revolution of 1848 (the poem Battle Song) and was elected deputy to the revolutionary parliament. In 1849 he became a judge of the High Court of Appeals of Hungary. The poems Foreword and The Old Gypsy, written after the defeat of the revolution, when terror was prevalent, testified to Vörösmarty’s fidelity to the ideals of national liberation.
WORKS In Russian translation: Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1956. REFERENCES Klaniczai, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia ven-gerskoi literatury. [Budapest] 1962. Horváth, J. Vörösmarty drámái. Budapest, 1969.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
Sándor Petőfi was a legendary patriotic poet and revolutionary. He was a key leader in the 1848 revolution and is the National Poet of Hungary. His poetry was taken as a model by Socialist Realists.
“Sandor Petofi (1823-49)—The greatest Hungarian poet, and one of the great poets of the world. He was also the most far-seeing of the political leaders of the 1848 revolution. He was killed in battle in 1849. His writings were distorted and in some cases repressed by the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Horthy regime. Under the People’s Democracy his work is widely appreciated, and lie is hailed as its leading precursor.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Petőfi, Sándor. Born Jan. 1, 1823, in Kiskőrös; died July 31, 1849, in Fehéregyhaza. Hungarian poet and revolutionary democrat; participant in the Revolution of 1848-49 in Hungary.
Petőfi’s father, I. Petrovics, a Serb by birth, was a cattle merchant; his mother was from a poor Slovak family. Poverty led Petőfi to enlist as a soldier in 1839. He was dismissed from the army in 1841 because of illness. He became an itinerant actor and also earned his living by translating and copying. His first poem, “The Drinker,” was published in 1842. In 1844 his collection Verses was published on the recommendation of M. Vörös-márty. It already revealed a nationally based world view and a realism imbued with humor. Many of Petófi’s poems, such as “Once Into the Kitchen I Flew” and “Bargaining,” have become popular songs.
The rebellious protest of Petőfi’s poetry became democratic in character at an early stage, as seen in “Against Kings” and “The Wild Flower.” In his heroicomic narrative poem The Village Smith (1844) and the folkloric fairy-tale epic The Knight János (1844), Petőfi abandoned the prevailing conservative pseudo-romantic literary canons and affirmed popular content and form.
Disappointment in love, critical attacks on his alleged crude-ness and tastelessness, as well as concern for the fate of his country, led to an inner crisis for Petófi. The cycle Clouds (1845— 46) is imbued with a sense of the disharmony of existence, and the narrative poems Szilaj Pista Silai (1846) and Salgó (1846) contain tragic themes.
In 1846, Petőfi attempted to found a revolutionary organization, the Society of Ten, among the radical youth of Pest, in order to strive for a democratic literature. His friendship with J. Arany and marriage to Julia Szendrey (1847) were of great importance for Petőfi. As the social struggle intensified, his poetry became almost a calendar of its events, expressing civic responsibility and a craving for revolutionary action. This is seen in “Only One Thing Troubles Me,” “The Palace and the Hovel,” “To the Poets of the 19th Century,” “In the Name of the People,” and “Heroes in Sackcloth.” In his love lyrics, Petőfi celebrates a woman whom he sees as a comrade in the revolutionary and patriotic conflict. The unity of socially analytical realism and revolutionary romanticism and of clarity of expression and intense intellectuality, as seen in Man and Lights!, elevates Petőfi’s work to humanistic and literary heights.
In 1847, Petőfi became head of the Young Hungary organization. He helped develop the program for the bourgeois democratic revolution (the “12 Articles”). Together with P. Vasvári, he led the revolutionary uprising of Mar. 15, 1848, in Pest and Buda. He called for the complete abolition of feudalism, the intensifying of the revolution, and the founding of an independent and democratic Hungarian republic. The poet-tribune demanded full implementation of popular rights in such works as “National Song,” “To the Gallows With the Kings!” and “To the Nation.”
Defeated by the nobles in elections to the National Assembly, Petőfi joined the revolutionary army in September 1848, becoming the aide-de-camp of J. Bem in January 1849. He wrote battle songs glorifying the soldiery. As before, the content of his lyrics merged with the revolutionary cause, but now tragic chords appeared as well, evoked by national difficulties, the enemy’s military superiority, and the absence of other revolutionary centers in Europe. These traits are seen in “Most Terrible Times” and “Life or Death” and in the narrative poem The Apostle (1848; published in full in 1874), whose hero sacrifices his life for the liberation of the people.
Petőfi died in a clash with cossacks of the tsarist army. His works began to appear in Russian in the 1850’s in translations by V. Benediktov, F. Korsh, M. Mikhailov, and A. Mikhailov. In the Soviet period his translators have included V. Levik, G. Abashidze, A. Lunacharskii, L. Martynov, B. Pasternak, L. Pervomaiskii, and N. Tikhonov. His poetry has been translated into most of the national languages of the USSR.
WORKS Összes művei, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1955. Összes Költeményei, vols. 1-2. Budapest, 1966. In Russian translation: Sobr. soch., vols. 1-4. Moscow, 1952-53. Tigr i giena. Moscow, 1957. Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1958. Stikhotvoreniia, poemy. Moscow, 1971. Vitiaz’ Ianosh: Izbr. stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1972.
REFERENCES P-ov, S. “Aleksandr Petefi: Vengerskii poet.” Russkoe slovo, 1861, no. 3. Mikhailov, A. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1878, no. 21. N-v, N. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Zhivopisnoe obozrenie, 1899, no. 32. Kun, B. “Shandor Petefi—poet mirovoi svobody.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1958, no. 3. Gidash, A. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1960. Lunacharskii, A. V. “Aleksandr Petefi.” Sobr. soch., vol. 5. Moscow, 1965. Shakhova, K. O. Shandor Petefi spivets’ ugor’skoi revoliutsii. Kiev, 1969. Gershkovich, A. A. Poeticheskii teatr Petefi. Moscow, 1970. Iiesh, D. Shandor Petefi. Moscow, 1972. Rossiianov, O. K. “Sovremennost’ Petefi.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1973, no. 1. Ferenczi, Z. Petőfi életrajza, vols. 1-3. Budapest, 1896. Hatvany, L. Igy élt Pető fi, vols. 1-5. Budapest, 1955-57. Ady, E. Ifjú szivekben élek. Budapest, 1958. Pándi, P. Petőfi Budapest, 1961. Petőfi tüze. Tanulmányok Petőfi Sándorról. [Budapest] 1972. (Bibliography, pp. 565-77.)” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by O. K. Rossiianov)
“Janos Arany (1817-82)—The greatest epic Hungarian poet of the nineteenth century. He supported the revolutionary movement of 1848-49. His greatest work The Trilogy of Toldi, was the story of a fifteenth century small nobleman, who fought against the ruling oligarchy. He translated Shakespeare into Hungarian, and wide a number of essays on poetry, drama and literary history. A member of a group of writers studying folklore and folk poetry; his work showed strong influence of this trend.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
The poet János Arany was another revolutionary comrade and friend of Sandor Petőfi.
Arany’s poetry reflects peasant life with deep truth and insight and his poetry shows the aspirations of the peasantry for liberation. Arany’s epic Toldi trilogy, powerfully depicts the struggle of the peasant masses (see Lukács György: A százéves Toldi)
Arany’s works also advocated a scientific materialist worldview (such as the poem “The Mustache”, a parody of a superstitious kulak)
Despite Lukacs holding right-deviationist views and later becoming a renegade, his analysis of Toldi is profoundly correct. After the failure of the 1848 revolution and the death of Petöfi, Arany’s work changed. He became somewhat pessimistic and escapist. Already in Toldi we see that the protagonist is alienated from the aristocratic world, but doesn’t consciously fight against it, only abandons it. In his late work Toldi became interested in myth and the ancient Hungarian past. Without Petöfi’s revolutionary courage and vision, he could no longer attain the political sharpness and heights of artistic quality of his best work.
After the proletarian power was established in Hungary there was an increased interested in Arany. The works of the great poet were studied and became popular:
“For the 1950 Book Day, an anthology of the poet’s poems was published… János Arany’s oeuvre received increased attention on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of his death .” (Ágnes Eitlereitler, “The “Re-Tuning” of János Arany’s Life and Work in the Popular Education of the 1950s”)
“Arany, János Born Mar. 2, 1817, in Nagyszalonta; died Oct. 22, 1882, in Budapest. Hungarian poet.
Arany was the son of a peasant. He worked as a schoolteacher and was a clerk on the town council. His epic poem Toldi brought him recognition and the friendship of M. Vörösmárty and S. Petöfi. He took part in the Hungarian Revolution of 1848–49 and wrote the popular songs “Song of the National Guardsman” and “What We Do.” In 1857, Arany wrote the angry patriotic ballad “Welsh Bards.” He was also the author of historical ballads (such as “László V”), epic poems (Toldi, 1846; Toldi’s Eve, 1848; and Toldi’s Love, 1878), narrative poems (such as Kevehaza), satirical poems (such as The Lost Constitution); and lyrical and philosophical poetry.
WORKS Összes munkái, vols. 1–12. Budapest, 1900. Összes kolte ményei, [vols. 1–3. Budapest,] 1955. In Russian translation: Izbrannoe. Moscow, 1960. [Foreword by E. Malykhina.] Ballady. Budapest, . REFERENCES Tri velikikh vengerskikh poeta. Budapest, 1952. Levik, V. “Poeziia la. Arania.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1961, no. 12. Klaniczai, T., J. Sauder, and M. Szabolesi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury XI-XX vv. Budapest, 1962. (Translated from Hungarian.) Riedl, F. Arany János. Budapest, 1957. Keresztury, D. “S mi vagyok én . . .”: Arany János’ 1817–56. Budapest, 1967.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
Sándor Csizmadia was a social-democratic poet who served for a time as the People’s Comissar of Agriculture in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. However, he later adopted an opportunist nationalist line. He split from the social-democratic party and created his own faction. Despite his later opportunism he “played an important role at the beginning of the century in the development of proletarian culture.” (Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966) by Henrik Vass, p. 195)
ENDRE ADY (1877-1919)
The most important pre-revolutionary Hungarian poet of the 20th century was Endre Ady who wrote democratic, patriotic and anti-imperialist poetry. The best analysis of Ady’s work was done by the marxist theoretician Joszef Revai. I have added links to collections of Ady’s poems in English at the end of the article.
In the introduction of Poems of Endre Ady by Anton N. Nyerges, the author claims that Ady fits poorly into the “communist mold”. This is simply an ignorant statement. Ady of course was not a socialist realist, he actually came from the symbolist tradition. However, there is nothing of the usual reactionary character of much of symbolism in Ady. Ady opposed the non-political attitude and pessimism of symbolism. In Ady’s work there is nothing similar to the poet Akhmatova, who was strongly criticized by Zhdanov. There is sadness, but no apathetic pessimism, there are themes of love and emotion, but nothing anti-political, there are themes of ancient mythology, but nothing about wanting to return to the past.
Ady began from the symbolist tradition and wrote much about mortality and death. He used symbolist techniques and religious imagery, but he developed a unique Hungarian and democratic set of symbols. The class struggle deeply resonated with him and he started also writing about it and demanding revolution. The first imperialist world war shocked him deeply, and as a committed democrat and internationalist he focused a lot of his artistic attention to oppose the war. In his last works the horror of the war is the main theme, and this is generally regarded as the peak of his career.
In his poems there can be found an anti-imperialist, internationalist and socialist revolutionary program:
In the book Blood and Gold the entire cycle “Money, Our Lord” is a critique of capitalist society, albeit perhaps obscure. Ady writes:
“By gloomy banks of Babylon I sit… My father, Mammon, hear these fawning prayers trembling from your little servant’s lips …I sit enslaved …Mammon, soothe my sorrowing chasteness and say that it was you who willed my fate. Hum that my lot is good, my rags no curse.”
In the book On Elijah’s Chariot in the poem “Song of the Magyar Jacobin” Ady perfectly characterizes the situation. Hungary is asleep, the masses are asleep. But only when the masses awaken to revolution they can build a better life for themselves:
“poor anaesthetized Hungary. Do you exist? — and we?… When will we fuze a thousand mycelian desires into one enormous will? How long will they be rulers and we the sheepish millions?… all belongs to us tomorrow in this land of the sombre disinherited if we will and if we dare.”
He also emphasizes internationalism, and says all the different nationalities must work together against their common oppressors:
“for magyar, slav and roman sorrows are issue of a single sorrows… When shall we coalesce and out in one voice we the rabble and homeless the magyars and non-magyars?”
The poem “The Star of Stars” from the same book is one of the most beautiful poems I have ever read:
“Never will the red star fall — sun, moon, and Venus streak from sight, but the red star lords in the eastern sky. …dawn can emerge with one star alone.
Red star, shine refulgent and rule. Since first men looked toward the sky, the red star has kept their hope alive.”
In “The Grandson of Dozsa” (Dozsa was the leader of the Hungarian peasant uprising of 1514) Ady identifies himself with the revolutionaries and threatens the nobility:
“I am grandson of George Dosza… If the people come, ho magnates, whither from marauding castle litters shall you flee?”
In “The Message of the Mirage” Ady warns the bourgeoisie too:
“Ye, good burghers… Tomorrow may be too late to change, To correct old sins, the ancient charge. Gentlemen, there may be dire trouble some dawn If you be awakened by a red mirage.”
In one of his most beautiful poems, “The Sun of March” Ady writes a communist revolutionary program:
“Sun of the March month, mighty is your power, and yet in aeons you never seared us with a Revolution, a Hungarian March. Like Mastodons we sate in mirrors of ice
…if we fail to trample those who bar our way, all those who hinder a Hungarian March. If there is a God who smites, let him smite those who would keep the smallest bit of old. A curse is on this land, we must destroy all the agglomerations of our past…
We see revolt in every passing hour and look with unspeakably murderous eyes at haughty aristocrats and the newly rich, because within this world that hurries on our future and our life is now at stake. The stench of rank and money stupefies…
The radiant March has ordered everyone to be reviewed and weighed in battle ranks. At last this March may reach sad Hungary
… a miracle of beauty your coming.”
Ady’s anti-war poems have become famous, particularly “Remembrance of a Summer Night” and “Leading the Dead” which depict in a fittingly apocalyptic style the destruction, death and madness that overtook the entire country. Another famous poem is “Greetings to the Victors” where Ady mourns the horrible devastation.
Of course Ady was not a Socialist Realist, and showed the influences of his own time. He was a solitary individual artist, a visionary, and not a stereotypical idealized proletarian poet. But nonetheless, in Hungary he was the best of his time.
“Ady, Endre. Born Nov. 22, 1877, in the village of Ermindscent; died Jan. 27, 1919, in Budapest. Hungarian poet and publicist. Son of an impoverished nobleman. Studied at the law faculty of Debrecen University.
Ady’s first collection was Poems (1899). His passionate striving to change bourgeois reality begins to appear in the collection Once Again (1903). His article “Earthquake” (1906) was devoted to the December 1905 armed uprising in Moscow. During the years when the liberation struggle in Hungary was on the ascent, one of Ady’s main lyric themes was the call to revolution—for example, in the cycle “Song of the Street” in the collection On the Chariot of Elijah the Prophet (1908) and in the poem “Let Us Gallop Toward the Revolution” (1913).
WORKS Összes versei, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1955. Válogatott cikkei és tanulmanyai. Budapest, 1954. Összes prózai mũvei, vols. 1–8. Budapest, 1955–68. In Russian translation: Stikhi. Moscow, 1958. REFERENCES Rossiianov, O. K. Tvorchestvo Endre Adi. Moscow, 1967. Bóka, L. Ady Endreélete es mũvei. Budapest, 1955. Bölöni, G. Az igazi Ady. Budapest, 1966. Varga, J. Ady Endre. Budapest, 1966.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
ATTILA JÓZSEF (1905-1937)
The time of true Proletarian Poets was going to follow: the best example of this is Attila József. He joined the Communist Party in 1930 and was persecuted by the fascist government. The life of the great proletarian poet ended tragically, as he had long suffered with mental illness (probably Schizophrenia) and committed suicide in 1937. Particularly in the early 30s József developed Socialist Realism. Some of his later poems show signs of his suicidal mood and mental degradation, dealing with topics of madness and premonitions of his own death. Some of his poems particularly from the period of his worsening mental health, do not stand up to the same high quality as his best works. They suffer from pessimism, mysticism, individualistic subjectivism and general formalism. All the negative qualities and mistakes in his art are explained primarily by the fact that Attila József remained quite isolated from the masses.
It must be noted that Attila József committed some political mistakes (idealistic tendencies), which were caused or made worse by his mental suffering (more about his mistakes in appendix 3 at the end of the article). Despite any mistakes, he was always held in very high regard by the Hungarian Communist government. Attila József was awarded a posthumous Kossuth Prize in 1948. In 1950 the government of the Hungarian People’s Republic created the Attila József Prize which was awarded to Hungarian writers of excellent quality.
The great national liberation revolutionary poet Petőfi, the democrat, internationalist, socialist poet Ady, and the proletarian Attila József, laid the foundations for Socialist Poetry in Hungary. All the other great national poets such as János Arany and Mihály Vörösmarty were also greatly appreciated. However, Petöfi was the greatest because he was the most connected with the masses, learned from them and thus achieved the greatest clarity and expressiveness. Jozsef Revai said:
““It could disturb our progress, had we not related critically to such giants of the Hungarian culture as Béla Bartók, Endre Ady,Gyula Derkovits and also a part of the works of Attila József should be listed here in a manner. Theirs is a great work, eternal treasure of the Hungarian culture. But it is not a coincidence that the Hungarian poetry did not depend on the ways of Endre Ady or Attila József, but in the imaging methods and democratization of the style going back to Sándor Petőfi. These great rebels without exception had the weakness that although they hated the old world and wanted the new one, they were more or less isolated from the revolutionary popular movements of their age, or they did not quite uphold it”” (quoted in “The rule of Sándor Petőfi in the memory policy of hungarians, slovaks and the members of the hungarian minorty group in Slovakia in the last 150 years”, Ivan Halász, Andor Mészáros, Gábor Schweitzer, Károly Vȍrȍsp. 135)
Stressing the superiority of Petőfi, Revai said in another speech “Hungarian poetry cannot go further on the path of Ady or even of Attila József, because neither is sufficiently part of the folk. One can go further on the path of Petőfi—naturally with new content.” (Music divided, p. 113)
That is not to say that others didn’t make contributions, they certainly did, and it had become part of the artistic culture, but Petőfi’s superiority lay exactly in his democratic clear style, which was most suitable for advancement. It needed to be developed further and given a new Socialist content.
“József, Attila. Born Apr. 11, 1905, in Budapest; died Dec. 3, 1937, in the village of Balatonszarszo. Hungarian poet; became a member of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1930.
József was the son of a worker. He studied at the universities of Szeged and Vienna and at the Sorbonne. Imitation of E. Ady, G. Juhász, and W. Whitman is noticeable in his first collection, Beggar of Beauty (1922). However, in his collections It Is Not I Who Shouts (1924) and No Father or Mother (1929), despite the well-known influence of expressionism and surrealism, he was already asserting his own defiantly grotesque, but at times sincere, lyric manner. József’s poetry, in which an intense drama-tism appears, reflects the unfortunate condition of working people and their will for revolutionary struggle (the collections Root Out the Stumps and Don’t Whine, 1931; Night on the Outskirts, 1932; and Bear’s Dance, 1934). In his last collection, Very Painful (1936), bitter protest is interwoven with depression and despair.
WORKS Összes versci. [Budapest] 1966. Összes művei, vols. 1–4. Budapest, 1952–67. Irodalom es szocializmus. [Budapest] 1967. In Russian translation: Stikhotvoreniia. Moscow, 1958. Stikhi. Moscow . REFERENCES Shargina, L. ‘Attila Iozhef.” In the collection Pisateli stran narodnoi demokratii. Moscow, 1959. Rossiianov, O. “Poeticheskii obraz u Attily Iozhefa.” In the collection Poeziia sotsializma. Moscow, 1969. Szabolcsi, M. Fiatal életek indulója. Budapest, 1963. Forgács, L. József Attila esztétikója. Budapest, 1965. Tötök, G. A lira: Logika. Budapest, 1968. Balogh, L. József Attila, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1970.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by O. K. Rossiianov)
MIKLOS ZRINYI (1620-1664)
A progressive patriotic fighter and writer. The outstanding writer of the baroque era:
“ZRlNYI, MIKLOS (1620-1664), great-grandson of the hero of Szigetvar, and also his successor in his office of ban of Croatia. He was a pupil of Peter Pazmany, but even more a product of Italian baroque culture, with which he became acquainted on his travels in Italy. He took possession of his estate while only a youth, and had to fight constant battles against the Turks to protect them. Turning against the Vienna government’s weak Turkish policy, from 1655 he assumed the leadership of the ‘national’ party which aimed at protecting the self-government of the nobles from absolutist aspirations, and sought to have the Prince of Transylvania elected King of Hungary. After the Turkish invasion of Transylvania he endeavoured to unite the Habsburg court and the Hungarian nobility as an effective force against the Turks, but during the Turkish attack of 1663-4 he did not obtain sufficient support from either side: moreover, the imperial government did not allow him to assume a leading military role because it regarded him as the chief obstacle to the peace it desired to conclude with the Turks. After the Peace of Vasvarhe retired in disappointment to his estate at Csaktornya, where he suffered a fatal hunting accident. He used his outstanding talents as a writer in the service of his political objectives. In his epic poem Sziget Disaster, the most important work of Hungarian literature of that century, he wrote of the heroic exploits of his great-grandfather. In his writings on military science and political leaflets, written in a soaring baroque style, he called for support in the battles against the Turks.” (Biographical note in Ervin Pamlényi, A History of Hungary)
“Zrínyi, Miklös. Born May 1, 1620, in Ozalj Castle, Croatia; died Nov. 18, 1664, in Csáktornya (Čakovec). Hungarian poet, statesman, and general. Ban of Croatia from 1647 to 1664. During the Austro-Turkish War of 1660–64, the troops led by Zrínyi inflicted a number of heavy blows on the Turkish Army (near Berzence, Babócsa, Szigetvár, and Pécs).
Zrínyi was the author of a plan by which the peoples of the Kingdom of Hungary were to expel the Turks using their own forces, without any help from the Hapsburg Empire, thus preventing the total subjugation of the country to the oppression of the Hapsburgs. His lyric poetry and the epic The Szigeti Disaster (1645–46), about the heroic struggle of his ancestor against the Turks, were published in 1651.
Zrínyi depicted battles based on his personal impressions, following the literary style of L. Ariosto, T. Tasso, and G. B. Marino. He was the author of the political tract Reflections on King Mátyás (1655), in which he defended the idea of the independence of the Hungarian state; his patriotic pamphlet Remedy Against the Turkish Opium (1660–61) is an outstanding example of old-style Hungarian publicistic prose.
REFERENCES: Klaniczai, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury, XI-XX vekov. [Budapest] 1962. Perjés, G. Zrinyi Miklos és kora. Budapest, 1965. (Bibliography, pp. 379–85.) Szilágyi, F. Fõnixmadár: Zrínyi, a kötõ és hadvezér. Budapest, 1968.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by V. S. IVANOV)
MIHÁLY TÁNCSICS (1799-1884)
Mihály Táncsics was a significant revolutionary writer, close comrade of Petőfi and a socialist propagandist.
“TANCSICS, MIHALY (1799-1884), writer, publicist and politician. Until the age of 20 he worked as a serf, then became a weaver. He was self-taught, and travelled over Europe. He was the first in Hungary to demand the emancipation of the serfs without compensation (1846). He was imprisoned because of his writings, until the revolution of March 15, 1848 liberated him. In 1848 and 1849 he was a member of the parliament, and in his paper, Munkasok Ujsaga (Workers’ Journal), he demanded the expropriation of the big estates. After the defeat of the War of Independence he was sentenced to death in contumaciam. For eight years he went underground and spread illegal leaflets. He escaped only after the Compromise with Austria but he was nearly blind. In 1869 he became a member of Parliament and editor of the workers’ paper Aranytrombila (Golden Trumpet), and then the chairman of the General Workers’ Association. He retired after 1870 and wrote only a few articles for the workers’ press.” (Biographical note in Ervin Pamlényi, A History of Hungary)
“Táncsics, Mihály Born Apr. 21, 1799, in Ácsteszér; died June 28, 1884, in Budapest. Hungarian revolutionary democrat.
The son of a serf, Táncsics worked as a farm laborer, weaver, and teacher. He was a supporter of the French Revolution, the Jacobins, and Robespierre and an advocate of French utopian socialism. In The People’s Book (1842), Views on Freedom of the Press (1844), and The Voice of the People Is the Voice of God (1848), he set forth the most radical program of revolutionary reforms of his time, including emancipation of enserfed peasants without redemption payments and the introduction of universal suffrage. In 1847 he was jailed for his revolutionary pronouncements. His liberation, on Mar. 15, 1848, was one of the first events of the Revolution of 1848–49 in Hungary, in which Táncsics, together with S. Petőfi and P. Vasvári, led the radical wing.
In June 1848, Táncsics was elected a deputy to the Hungarian National Assembly. After the defeat of the revolution, he was sentenced to death in absentia. He hid until the proclamation of a general amnesty in 1857. In 1860 he was arrested and imprisoned for organizing a demonstration to commemorate the anniversary of the revolution. After his release, in 1867, Táncsics formed ties with the workers’ and socialist movement, and for a time he was chairman of the Universal Workers’ Union.
WORKS Válogatottirásai. Budapest, 1957. Moi zhiznennyi put’. Moscow, 1972. (Translated from Hungarian.)” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by T. M. Islamov)
JOZSEF EÖTVÖS (1815-1871)
“Jozsef Eötvös (1815-71)—A poet, writer, philosopher and politician, he was a member of the liberal-minded aristocracy. He fought against injustice, the feudal system and for the emancipation of the Jews. He was the author of several historical novels, one of them dealing with the peasant revolution of 1514. His style is heavy and complex, but full of thought. In later life he joined the Government, and compromised with the Hapsburg Monarchy.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
His novel The Village Notary, ruthlessly criticizes and satirizes bureaucratic semi-feudal Hungary.
“Eötvös, József. Born Sept. 3, 1813, in Buda; died Feb. 2, 1871, in Pest. Hungarian writer and political figure. Baron. Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1839).
In his novels Eötvös exposed the social inequality and injustice of feudal-serf relations. He belonged to the progressive circles of the nobility and held moderately liberal views. Eötvös believed Hungarian society could be changed through reforms and education.
From April to September 1848, during the Revolution of 1848–49, Eotvos was minister of education in the government of Batthyány. He opposed the overthrow of the Hapsburgs and in the autumn of 1848 emigrated to Munich. He returned to Hungary in 1851. In 1867 he joined Deák’s Party. In the same year Eötvös received his former post of minister of education in the government headed by Andrássy. He was the author of such novels of social criticism as The Village Notary (1845) and Hungary in 1514 (1847).
WORKS A falu jegyzõje, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1969. REFERENCE Sõter, I. Eötvös József. Budapest, 1967.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
“Kalman Mikszath (1849-1910) —One of the most popular Hungarian novelists, who introduced political satire into his short stories. He was well acquainted with the life of the people and the small gentry, and showed up the abuses of the bureaucracy. Although he depicted the debauchery and decadence of upper-class life, he did not go as far as to draw conclusions from his observations, his style is full of charm and natural humour.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
Mikszath’s novel St. Peter’s umbrella tells the story about a village priest and lost inheritance. This genuinely hilarious novel exposes superstition and (much like the work of Zsigmond Moricz) criticizes the greed of relatives who are only looking to get a sizeable inheritance.
“Mikszáth, Kálmán. Born Jan. 16, 1847, in Szklabonya; died May 28, 1910, in Budapest. Hungarian writer. Honorary Member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1889).
Mikszáth was the son of a nobleman. He studied law at the University of Budapest. In 1887 he was elected a deputy to the parliament as a member of the ruling Liberal Party. Mikszáth won acclaim for his collections of stories The Slovak Kinsfolk (1881) and The Good Palócs (1882), in which he described the peasants with sympathy and humor, although he depicted their life somewhat idyllically. In his novel A Strange Marriage (1900; Russian translation, 1951), Mikszáth ridiculed the vestiges of feudalism and the reactionary clergy. In his short story “The Cavaliers” (1897; Russian translation, 1954) and his novel The Siege of Beszterce (1896; Russian translation, 1956), he criticized the moral degradation and parasitism among the nobility. Bitter irony permeates descriptions of parliamentary life in the novel Elections in Hungary (1893–97; Russian translation, 1965).
WORKS: Össezes müvei, vols. 1–23. Budapest, 1961. In Russian translation: Sobranie sochinenii, vols. 1–6. Introductory article by G. Gulia. Moscow, 1966–69. REFERENCE: Király, J. Mikszáth Kálmán. Budapest, 1960.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, by E. V. UMNIAKOVA)
GUYLA KRÚDY (1878-1933)
“Krúdy, Gyula. Born Oct. 21, 1878, in Nyíregyháza; died May 12, 1933, in Budapest. Hungarian writer.
Krúdy was the son of a lawyer. His short stories The Youth of Sindbad (1911), The Red Stagecoach (1914), Seven Owls (1922), and The Elegant Life of Kálman Rezéda (1933) depicted the almost spectral monotonous life of the provinces and the decline of the Hungarian gentry. Many of Krúdy’s articles and essays evince his sympathy for the Hungarian proletarian revolution of 1919.
WORKS Három király. Budapest, 1958. A fehérlábúu Gaálné, vols. 1–2. Budapest, 1959. Éji zene. Budapest, 1961. REFERENCES Klaniszay, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi titeratury XI-XX veka. Budapest, 1962. Diosegi, A. In the collection Venegerskie posledovateli Turgeneva: Vengersko-russkie literaturnye sviazi. Moscow, 1964. [13-1464-3]” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
ZSIGMOND MÓRICZ (1879-1942)
Zsigmond Móricz was Hungary’s greatest fiction author of the 20th century. He wrote Critical Realism. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic he worked for several communist newspapers and in the Writers’ Directorate. As a result he was persecuted and blacklisted in Horthy’s Hungary. Móricz’s most famous work is Be faithful unto death, which has been translated into English. It is a semi-autobiographical story about a sweet student boy named Mihaly (or “Misi”) who is struggling with the hardships of life and is falsely accused of theft. It reads a lot like Charles Dickens, and is just as good. I absolutely loved reading it. The book vividly reveals the class realities of semi-feudalist capitalist Hungary.
Relations is a novel about a poor clerk in a small town, who is promoted and discovers how corrupt the town bureaucracy is. The rich bureaucrats have been stealing town funds for decades and are involved in all kinds of scams. This is a very hard-hitting critical realist work.
Gold in the mud is realistic examination of peasant life with incredibly life-like characters. The premise might sound boring, but the book is absolutely gripping. The depiction of the characters small and big joys, life’s monotony and agony of unhappiness are all shown with amazing reality and life. The characters are so vivid and believable that you get very invested in them, you smile at even their brief happiness and cry at their tragedies.
“Móricz, Zsigmond. Born July 29, 1879, in Csécse; died Sept. 4, 1942, in Budapest. Hungarian writer.
The son of a peasant, Móricz studied at the University of Debrecen; he later became a journalist. He won renown for his story “The Seven Kreuzers” (1908). His novels on country life, Gold Nugget (1911), Behind God’s Back (1911), and The Torch (1917), are imbued with sympathy for the common people. In 1918, Móricz hailed the bourgeois-democratic revolution and, in 1919, the Hungarian Soviet Republic.
In 1920, Móricz published his novel Be Good Till Death (Russian translation, 1959), his lyrical reminiscences of childhood. In the novels Gentry Spree (1927; Russian translation, 1961), Hot Fields (1929; Russian translation, 1963), and Relatives (1930; Russian translation, 1954), Móricz depicted the decline of the feudal gentry in Hungary and the greed of the capitalists. He wrote the historical trilogy Transylvania (1922–33). In 1935, Moricz published his novel The Happy Man, about the tragic fate of a Hungarian peasant condemned to inescapable poverty in a world of moneygrubbers.
In the last years of his life, Móricz became increasingly rebellious; for example, his novel Betyár (1937). His works, following the trend of critical realism, occupy an important place in Hungarian literature.
WORKS Összegyüjtött müvei, vols. 1–49. Budapest, 1953–60. In Russian translation: Rasskazy. Moscow, 1954. Izbrannoe, vols. 1–2. Introductory article by O. Rossiianov. Moscow, 1958. P’esy. Moscow, 1962. Zhuzhanna v Klagenfurte: Rasskazy. Moscow, 1970. REFERENCES Ady, E. “Móricz Zsigmond.” Nyugat, Aug. 16, 1909. Móricz, V. Apám regenye. Budapest, 1963. Illés, E. Krétarajzok. Budapest, 1957. Czine, M. Móricz Zsigmond útja a forradalmakig. Budapest, 1960. Móricz, M. Móricz Zsigmond érkezése. Budapest, 1966. Vargha, K. Móricz Zsigmond: Alkotásai és vallomásai tükrében, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1971.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by E. I. Malykhina)
Jozsef Revai said about the great classical Hungarian authors:
“Our struggle for socialist humanism is indeed humane because our fight for a classless society is strengthened and enlarged by the knowledge that the old and inhuman world has been loathed, not only by us but also by those great critical realists such as Jozsef Eötvös, Kalman Mikszath and Zsigmond Moricz, who unveiled the depravity and rottenness of the old world with shattering force. It is we who carry out the death sentence on the old world, but Moricz in his novels had already pronounced that this world was ripe to perish.
To honour classical realistic inheritance and to study it seriously, of course, does not mean that we renounce the right to set out and criticise the weakness and class-limits of our great realistic writers. We know that Eotvos was not only the writer of The Village Scribe, etc., but also the man who was frightened by the storm of 1848 and who compromised after 1867, We know that Mikszath not only criticised the Hungary of the gentry with murderous satire but also contemplated the process of its decay with cynical amusement, without giving voice to the despair of the people. Zsigmond Moricz, who in the last period of his life already searched for a way out, by means of popular revolution, from the decay of gentry Hungary, nevertheless could not free himself completely from a certain melancholic sympathy, from feeling a certain “Hungarian solidarity” with the gang of depraved gentry who set fire not only to their own homes but to the whole country.
We do not thus close our eyes to the class-limitations of our classical realists and to the weaknesses which arise from them, but we also know that their work and their importance and the part played in the history of Hungarian literature cannot be characterised and understood from these class- limitations alone. Can we understand Eotvos only by the fact that he was a baron, and he was in the Ministry of the compromising Bathanyi Government who forsook freedom? Can we understand Mikszath only from the fact that he played cards with Kalman Tisza?” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, pp. 25-26)
*Tisza was a liberal politician who eventually became a strong reactionary.
MIHÁLY BABITS (1883-1941)
“Babits, Mihály. Born Nov. 26, 1883, in Szekszárd; died Aug. 4, 1941, in Budapest. Hungarian poet.
Babits graduated from the University of Budapest. His first verses were published in the collection Holnap (1908); in 1909 he published a collection of verses Leaves From the Wreath of Iris. In the poem “Before Easter” (1916), Babits came out against the imperialist war; later he condemned fascism (the narrative poem The Book of Jónás 1941). Beginning in 1916 he was one of the editors of the literary-social magazine Nyugat. He translated Dante’s Divine Comedy into Hungarian. Babits also wrote novels (Sons of Death, 1927; and others) and essays (Life and Literature, 1929). He was the author of History of European Literature (1934).
WORKS Müvei, vols. 1–7. Budapest, 1957–61. Válogatott versei. Budapest, 1957. REFERENCES Klaniczay, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury Xl-XX v. Budapest, 1962. A magyar irodalom története, vol. 5. Budapest, 1965.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
FRIGYES KARINTHY (1887-1938)
“Karinthy, Frigyes. Born June 24, 1887, in Budapest; died Aug. 29, 1938, in Siófok. Hungarian writer.
Karinthy began his literary career in 1907 as a contributor to the progressive journal Nyugat. His novella Excuse Me, Teacher (1916; Russian translation, 1962) was written in the realistic tradition. In 1918 he published a collection of antiwar articles entitled Christ or Barabbas.
In his dramas (Tomorrow Morning, 1921) and novels (Capillaria, 1921, and Journey Around One’s Own Skull, 1937), Karinthy used the grotesque and fantastic and exposed the flaws of bourgeois society. He was also the author of parodies (That’s How You Write, 1912), topical satires, and poems. He translated the works of Swift, Heine, and Mark Twain into Hungarian.
WORKS K’ótéltánc. Budapest, 1958. Az iró becsülete. Budapest, 1962. Válogatott mtlüvei. Budapest, 1962. REFERENCES Klaniczai, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury XI-XX v. Budapest, 1962. Pages 231–32. Szalay, K. Karinthy Frigyes. Budapest, 1961.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by V. S. BAIKOV)
LAJOS KASSAK (1887-1967)
Petit-bourgeois radical, utopian socialist poet, writer and painter. Kassak worked in various formalist trends. He collaborated with the Hungarian Soviet Republic, but also ran into conflict with it. After the defeat of the Soviet Republic he eventually competed with the Communist artists. Before the Soviet revolution Kassak was influential in radical artist groups such as “the Activists” and edited the newspaper “MA“. Kassak was not a great artist and politically was a petit-bourgeois utopian, but he was influential.
“Kassák, Lajos. Born Mar. 21, 1887, in Ershekuivar; died July 22, 1967, in Budapest. Hungarian author.
Kassák’s verse in the early 1900’s was influenced by W. Whitman, and it expressed faith in the historical role of the working class (The Workmen, 1915). During World War I, Kassák led the Hungarian avant-gardists, and in 1919 he emigrated to Vienna, where he remained until 1927. Although he diverged from communism in his views on revolution and literature, Kassák truthfully described the workers’ life (for example, in his novel Angyalfold, 1929). He also described his own difficult adolescence in his autobiographical novel The Life of One Man (1927–35). His lyrics are imbued with the spirit of democracy and humanism. They include his verse collections The Paupers’ Roses (1949), My Wealth, My Arsenal (1963), and The Oak Leaves (1964). Kassák was awarded the Kossuth State Prize in 1965.
REFERENCES: Gusev, Iu. P. “Svoeobrazie formy v poezii Laiosha Kashshaka.” In the collection Khudozhestvennaia forma v literaturakh sotsialisticheskikh stran. Moscow, 1969. Bori, I., and E. Körner. Kassák irodalma és festészete. Budapest, 1967.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
MILÁN FÜST (1888-1967)
Hungarian leftist writer of the Nyugat tradition, winner of the Kossuth Prize (1948) and three-time Baumgarten Prizes.
PÁL SZABÓ (1893-1970)
Peasant writer from the National Peasant Party. He showed promise as a democratic writer receiving the József Attila Award (1950) and Kossuth Prize (1951, 1954). However during the ‘New Course’ of Imre Nagy he supported rightist views.
LÕRINC SZABÓ (1900-1957)
“Szabó, Lõrinc. Born Mar. 31, 1900, in Miskolc; died Oct. 3, 1957, in Budapest. Hungarian poet and translator.
Szabó’s poetry collections Earth, Forest, God (1922), Caliban (1923), and Satan’s Masterpieces (1926) voice an enraged, anarchistic, often expressionistic, protest against the bourgeois order. Such collections as You and the World (1932), A Separate Peace (1936), and Battle for a Holiday (1938) are imbued with individualism and a sense of disillusionment with culture and democracy. Wartime impressions and a reappraisal of the past in the light of life’s experience brought Szabó to the more harmonious world view of the autobiographical lyric cycle The Chirring of Grasshoppers (1947–57). Szabó translated into Hungarian many works by Shakespeare, F. Villon, Molière, Omar Khayyam, A. S. Pushkin, V. V. Mayakovsky and other writers. He was awarded the A. József Prize in 1954 and the L. Kossuth Prize in 1957.
WORKS Válogatott versei: Elõszó Illyés Gy. Budapest, 1956. Összegyűjtött versei, 2nd ed. Budapest, 1962. REFERENCES Kabdebó, L. Szabó Lörinc. Budapest . Rába, Gy. Szabó Lörinc. Budapest, 1972. Sotkó, J. Szabó Lörinc: Bibliográfia. Budapest, 1966.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
“In our literature, one after the other, young Socialist writers appear. Our art and theatre turn more and more to the successful application of Socialist realism. Everywhere we witness encouraging beginnings” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
An advanced Socialist Realist type of literature was emerging. Perhaps the best representative of this new art is Béla Illés (1895-1974). Unfortunately his work has largely not been translated for foreign audiences and it suffered at the hands of the Kadarists. Other socialist realist authors include Antal Hidas, Andor Gábor, Sándor Gergely, Ferenc Juhász, Sándor Rideg and others.
BÉLA ILLÉS (1895-1974)
Communist socialist realist writer, Kossuth Prize Winner, (1950, 1955) recipient of the Order of the Red Star (1945).
The most prominent socialist realist writer was “Béla Illés (1895-1974), who arrived in Hungary as a major of the Soviet Army in 1945… Illés was secretary-general of the Proletarian Writers’ World Federation in Moscow. He left Hungary after the revolution of 1919, and while resident in Moscow wrote an ambitious trilogy of that revolution, (The Tisza Ablaze, 3 vols., Moscow, 1930-3), closely modelled on Sholokhov’s Quiet Flows the Don, which revealed him as a traditional writer… he followed the Romantic model as set by [classic Hungarian writer Mor] Jókai, heavily interspersed with anecdotes for good measure. The same can be said of its sequel: Carpathian Rhapsody (Moscow, 1941), in which the narrative takes place in Illés’s native Kárpátalja. He planned a further trilogy about the liberation of Hungary… he enjoyed a special place in literary life until his death… critics hailed him as a great socialist-realist author.” (Lóránt Czigány, A History of Hungarian literature: From the Earliest Times to the mid-1970’s)
“Illés, Béla. Born Mar. 22, 1895, in Kassa (present-day Kosice). Hungarian writer; member of the Communist Party since 1919. Graduated from the department of law of the University of Budapest.
Illies was drafted into the army in 1916, and he took part in the Hungarian proletarian revolution of 1919. After its defeat he emigrated. In 1920 he engaged in underground work in the Transcarpathian Ukraine. In 1921 he moved to Austria, and from 1923 to 1945 he lived in the USSR. From 1925 to 1933 he was secretary of the International Association of Revolutionary Writers.
Illes described his impressions of the war years in the novel Notes of Doctor Pal Utrius (1917). The novel The Tisza Burns (Russian translation 1929–33; published in Hungarian in 1957) re-creates the struggle of the Hungarian working people for the Soviet republic in 1919, and the trilogy Carpathian Rhapsody (Russian translation, 1941; published in Hungarian in 1945) is devoted to the life and revolutionary struggle of the working people in Transcarpathia. The novel The Homeland Found (books 1–3, 1952–54; Russian translation, 1959) deals with the events of World War II (1939–45) and the liberation of Hungary. Illes was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1950 and 1955.
WORKS Kenyer. Budapest, 1961. Loveszarokban…. [Budapest] 1967. Pipafust mellett … [Budapest] 1967. In Russian translation: Zolotoi gus’. Moscow, 1958. REFERENCES Zhivov, M. Ot Pemete do Tissy. Moscow, 1932. Klaniczai, T., J. Szauder, and M. Szabolcsi. Kratkaia istoriia vengerskoi literatury, XI-XX v. Budapest, 1962. Kun, B. Slat’i o literature. Moscow, 1966. Diószegi, A. Illés Béla alkotásai és vallomásai tükreben. Budapest, 1966.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by V. S. IVANOV)
SÁNDOR GERGELY (1896-1966)
Communist socialist realist writer, Kossuth Prize Winner (1949, 1956), recipient of the Order of Merit of Labor (1953) and Order of Merit of the Red Banner of Labor (1956).
“Sándor Gergely (1896-1966) also returned from Moscow in 1945… His chief work is a trilogy about Dózsa, the leader of the peasants’ war in 1514 (3 vols., Moscow, 1936-45).” (Lóránt Czigány, A History of Hungarian literature: From the Earliest Times to the mid-1970’s)
“Gergely, Sándor. Born Feb. 2, 1896, in Sopronkeresztúr; died June 14, 1966, in Budapest. Hungarian writer.
A collection of Gergely’s short stories, The Desert, was published in 1922. In his novels Peace (1924; Russian translation, Night Over Budapest, 1937) and The Amazing Life of Ficko Achrem (1925), the life of the urban lower classes is portrayed with elements of naturalism. His novels The Wood-borer (1929; Russian translation, 1933) and Something Is Being Prepared (1931; Russian translation, 1932) depict the underground activity of the Communists. From 1931 to 1945 he lived in the USSR. He is the author of the historical trilogy György Dozsa (vols. 1-3, 1936-54; Russian translation of vol. 1 under the title 1514, 1937) on the Hungarian peasant war and the novel The Drum Thunders (1934; Russian translation, 1936) about the peasant disturbances in Hungary under Horthy. Gergely’s novel Hot Summer, about the new Hungarian countryside, was published in 1952. In his novel The Thorny Path (1955; Russian translation, 1959), Gergely told how a member of the intelligentsia comes to join the workers’ movement. He received the Kossuth Prize in 1949 and 1956.
WORKS Felsöbb osztályba léphet. Budapest, 1964. Valami készül. Szú. Embervásár. Budapest, 1967. Emberek között, vols. 1-2. Budapest, 1968. REFERENCE Illés, B. “Tvorchestvo A. Gergelia.” Inostrannaia kniga, 1932, no. 4.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
LAJOS BARTA (1878-1964)
Lajos Barta was a socialist realist writer and communist politician. He worked in the socialist movement and during the Hungarian Soviet Republic worked in the Writers ‘Directorate. He was also the secretary of the Writers’ Trade Union and edited the Torch, the daily newspaper of the Public Education People’s Committee. His drama Revolution was also performed by three theaters in Budapest. In 1919 he was arrested and emigrated after his release. He continued his work in exile and returned to his homeland in 1946. He was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1956.
GYÖRGY BÖLÖNI (1882-1959)
György Bölöni was a Hungarian socialist realist author and communist politician. He was the Netherlands ambassador of the Karolyi government and later the Hungarian Soviet government. As a result he could not return to his homeland during the White Terror. He carried out communist work in France until his return to Hungary in 1945, where he joined the Hungarian communist party. He again served as the ambassador to the Netherlands in 1948-1950. He was given the Baumgarten Prize in 1948 and the Kossuth Prize in 1955.
PETER VERES (1897-1970)
“Peter Veres—Born in 1897, the son of a day-labourer. He worked as a swine-herd until the age of eleven. Alter serving in the First World War as a private, he became the most prominent member of the “peasant romantic” trend in Hungarian literature. He was many times persecuted by the police, and sent to a forced labour camp during the Second World War. After the liberation he became one of the leaders of the Peasant Party. In 1950 he was awarded the Kossuth Prize for his novel The Test Case.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
“Socialist construction, the leading role of the Party in the life of the people, can be depicted to an even lesser degree as time goes on by standing outside and above the struggles of the people, without Party adherence, and by the “objectivity” of old realism. This is proved, for instance, by the development of Peter Veres who, as a peasant realist writer, while depicting the new peasant life without any preconceived “political” intentions, found himself confronted with the problems of the producer co-operatives, of Communist peasants, and of the role of the Party; and when trying to solve these problems in a literary way, under the pressure of creation, so to speak, developed from a peasant realist into a socialist realist.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 25)
“Veres, Péter. Born Jan. 6, 1897, in the village of Balmazújváros; died Apr. 16, 1970, in Budapest. Hungarian writer: emerged in the literature of the 1930’s as a representative of the so-called popular writers.
Veres depicted realistically—although tending toward the purely factual—the land hunger and poverty of the peasants (the collection of short stories The Sod Row, 1940; the novella Year of Bad Harvest, 1942, and others). His collection of stories about the new Hungarian countryside, The Test (1949; Russian translation, 1954), and the collection Railroad Workers (1951) received the Kossuth Prize. Veres’ trilogy The Story of the Balogh Family (1950-57) was devoted to the life of the poor peasants of Hungary in the early 20th century and under the fascist Horthy regime.
WORKS: Pályamunkások. Budapest, 1951. A kelletlen leány. Budapest, 1960. Az ország útján: Onéletirás 1944-1945. Budapest, 1965. Való világ. Budapest, 1966. A Balogh család története. Budapest, 1967. Jelenidő. [Budapest] 1968. In Russian translation: Durnaia zhena. Moscow, 1956.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, by O. K. ROSSIIANOV)
Despite growing closer to socialism, Veres remained to a significant degree influenced by his lifelong career as a peasant populist. As such he could not follow the correct course with guidance from the Marxist-Leninists. In 1953-55 he came somewhat under the influence of rightism. During the 1956 counter-revolutionary uprising, Veres did not actively support the uprising, but also did clearly understand its significance. He wanted to bring an end to the bloodshed by negotiations, but this was utopian. After the uprising Veres continued his work in the People’s Democratic government, but could not understand or resist the new Kadarist revisionism.
ÁRON TAMÁSI (1897-1966)
Áron Tamási was a folk-writer and member of the National Peasant Party. He carried on progressive work in the 1930s.
He wrote in 1933: “In Transylvania we are not Hungarians in fomenting hostility between religious denominations, we are not Hungarians in upholding the feudal estate system, we are not Hungarians in protecting the capitalist bank policy and we are not Hungarians in the pursuit and acceptance of cheap and harmful irredentism.” (Studies on the History of the Hungarian Working-Class Movement (1867-1966) by Henrik Vass, p. 265)
However, he never superseded the stage of peasant romanticism in literature. In the National Peasant Party he sided with the rightist faction of Imre Kovacs. He was given more significant political and literary positions and a Kossuth Prize in 1954 during the ‘new course’ policy of Imre Nagy.
BELA JOZSA (1898-1943)
Hungarian writer in Romania. He was a soldier in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. He wrote for the communist fiction magazine Írjatok and for Romanian as well as Hungarian leftist magazines. He was arrested and killed by the fascists in 1943.
GYULA ILLYÉS (1902-1983)
Hungarian peasant writer. He was a member of the peasant party, and was promoted by the People’s Republic to become a progressive, democratic, anti-fascist and pro-socialist writer. As a result he received the Kossuth Prize in 1948 and the József Attila Prize in 1950. However, right before and during the 1956 counter-revolution he began to agitate against Marxism-Leninism and support a right-deviation. He wrote the slanderous rightist poem “one sentence on tyranny” and was active in the newly created reactionary peasant party. He ended up in an ideological and artistic dead end and didn’t produce anything of quality for a while.
Already in 1950 Revai had seen serious flaws in the work of Illyés and had seen that Illyés wasn’t keeping up with socialist construction: “Gyula Illyes… takes a stand for the cause of the working people, independently of time and space, but evades every reference to the present working man who in general does not only toil but is building Socialism.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, pp. 25-26)
After the defeat of the counter-revolution, Illyés eventually was able somewhat to return to his roots as a humanist leftist writer.
“Illyés, Gyula. Born Nov. 2, 1902, in the village of Récegres. Hungarian poet; son of a blacksmith. After the defeat of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919, he lived in Paris (until 1926). He studied at the Sorbonne.
In the realistic poems of his first collections, The Heavy Earth (1928) and The Mowed Rows (1930), and in the narrative poem Three Old Men (1931), Illyés expressed his fidelity to his native people. The accusatory notes in his work were intensified in the narrative poem I Speak of Heroes (1935) and the collection Under the Flying Heavens (1935). Illyés participated in the first Congress of Soviet Writers (1934) and published a book entitled Russia (1935). The lives of poor peasants are portrayed sympathetically in the novel The People of the Puszta. Illyés was also the author of the book Petofi (1936). In his poetry collections Order Amid the Ruins (1937), Uncertain Future (1938), and Looking Fixedly (1947), bitter, fatalistic notes alternate with critical, humanistic tendencies.
After the liberation of Hungary (1945), Illyés’ poetry became more optimistic. He received the Kossuth Prize for his screenplay Two Men (1950), about Petofi and J. Boehm, the Polish revolutionary who participated in the national liberation struggle of the Hungarian people in 1848–49, and the tragedy The Example of Ozora (1952), which dealt with the struggle of the people’s militia against the Austrian armies in 1848. In the 1950’s, Ulyès experienced an ideological crisis, which he overcame by turning to the life of labor and the wisdom of the people (the collection New Poems, 1961).
WORKS: Osszes verse, vols. 1–3. Budapest, 1947. In Russian translation: Rukopozhatiia. Preface by D. Samoilov. Moscow, 1969. “Obed v zamke.” Inostrannaia literatura, 1971, no. 9. REFERENCE: A magyar irodalom törtenete, vol. 6. Budapest, 1966.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, by O. K. ROSSIIANOV)
Hungarian writer in Romania. He wrote for the communist fiction magazine Írjatok and for Romanian as well as Hungarian leftist magazines. His Romanian Communist Party membership was revoked in 1952 due to his collaboration with fascistic populist writers, but it was restored in 1954 and he received the state prize in 1955.
JOZSEF DARVAS (1912-1973)
“Jozsef Darvas—Born in 1912, the son of a day-labourer. He became a teacher and, later, editor of the left-wing periodical Thought. His first book, Black Bread, was one of the pioneer works of Hungarian popular literature. One of the founder-members of the Peasant Party, he was Minister of Construction m 1947-49, and Minister of Education in 1950.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
Jozsef Revai said that after Horthy’s counter-revolution many writers apologized for their support of the Soviet Republic. But after the creation of the Hungarian People’s Republic, how many self-criticized for their concessions to horthyism? Revai said: “Jozsef Darvas is the only one who did that, and he isn’t the one who had most reason.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 22)
In 1953-54 Darvas wavered politically. He held something like a middle position between the Marxist-Leninists and the rightist group of Imre Nagy. In 1954 he returned to the Marxist-Leninists, but couldn’t put up a serious enough resistance against the later Kadarist revisionism.
ZSIGMOND EDE (1916-1944)
A Jewish Communist poet who was also a member of the Social-Democratic Party. He wrote humanistic works and works against fascism. He was forced into labor service on the eastern front in 1943 and he died in 1944.
ERNO URBAN (1918-1974)
A skilled writer who received the Kossuth Prize in 1952 and the Attila József Prize in 1971. Urban had political waverings in 1953-54 when his satirical play “The Cucumber Tree” was published. This play was influenced by rightist views and received criticism from the Marxist-Leninists. Urban distanced himself from Imre Nagy in 1954 and came back to the side of the party. However, he couldn’t put up a serious fight against the later Kadarist revisionism.
SÁNDOR NAGY (1922-1990)
Sándor Nagy was a writer and journalist from the Peasant Party. In 1948 he joined the Communist Party and helped organize the People’s Colleges. He won the Baumgarten Award and the Kossuth Prize in 1949. He began working for Szabad Nép and Hétfői Hírek. In 1952 he won the Third Degree Stalin Prize for his work “Megbékélés” (Reconciliation). In the mid 50s he worked for the Művelt Nép and wrote articles on culture for Hétfői Hírek.
Sándor Nagy “confronted the Communist Party in the early 1960s, because of its Sino-Albanian policy. He was convicted on charges of political agitation in a so-called Sino-Albanian lawsuit.” (sources 1, 2) At that time the Party had become revisionist and held anti-Chinese and anti-Albanian views (I would really like to get more information about this). After serving his sentence Sándor Nagy worked as a manual laborer.
In 1950 Revai had criticized Sándor Nagy for objectivism (political neutrality in art): “We can unfortunately observe this tendency in the young and otherwise gifted Sandor Nagy.” (Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 31)
Writer, poet, literary translator, science fiction writer, editor. Kuczka was a promising communist writer (Attila Jozsef Award in 1950, Kossuth Award 1954), but in the period of revisionism became confused and non-political. During the counter-revolution he created dubious political organizations.
OTHERS (For these writers I haven’t been able to find much information yet. They may have held revisionist views at a later point):
FERENC KIS (1908-1964)
József Attila Prize-winning Hungarian poet (1950, 1961). Arrested several times for political activities. He was a friend of Attila József. In 1944 he defected to the Red Army in WWII. After the World War, he was a party worker and a librarian at the Ervin Szabó Library in Budapest.
ALADAR MOD (1908-1973)
Theoretician and critic. Member of the Communist Party since 1932. He was arrested for communist propaganda activities as a student. In the 30s he wrote for many leftist magazines. He was imprisoned in 1941 and fled to the countryside. In 1943 he published 400 év – Küzdelem az önálló Magyarországért [400 Years – Struggle for an Independent Hungary] which paralleled the anti-Hapsburg struggle with the anti-fascist struggle. He also worked with the partisan movement. After liberation he carried out political work and got a history doctorate in 1955.
IMRE LUKACS (1908-1981)
Poet and writer. Member of the Communist Party since 1929. He conducted literary and communist political activities and was repeatedly imprisoned in the 1930s. Since 1945 he became a full time writer and his selected poems was published in 1950.
ZOLTAN KESZTHELYI (1909-1974)
Poet and novelist. He translated Shakespeare, Walt Whitman and Carl Sandburg into Hungarian. He received the Attila József Award in 1951 [probably for translation work].
GYÖRGY SZÜDI (1909-1964)
József Attila Award-winning poet (1951, 1964). Joined the Social Democratic Party c. 1930, leaving it in 1931 and joining the Communist Party. Was imprisoned many times political activities. He started writing poetry in 1930.
GÉZA KÉPES (1909-1989)
Poet, translator. József Attila Prize (1950, 1952, 1956, 1974) winner. In 1984 he was awarded the Tibor Déry Prize named after the reactionary traitor to socialism, which strongly suggests he himself had become a renegade.
JANOS FÖLDEAK (1910-1997)
Communist poet, writer, József Attila laureate (1958, 1970). Member of the Communist Party since 1930. Besides fiction writing, most of his career he worked for Népszava, the Writers’ Association etc.
LASZLO HARS (1911-1978)
József Attila Prize-winning Hungarian poet, writer, journalist. He was sentenced to 3 months in prison for his poetry in 1933. He was the head of the Social-Democrat cultural department after WWII. He received the József Attila Award in 1971.
LAJOS KÓNYA (1914-1972)
Kossuth Prize winner (1950, 1953) Hungarian poet, writer, teacher.
LÁSZLÓ BENJÁMIN (1915-1986)
Wrote poetry for leftist publications. After WWII he was a literary spokesperson for the People’s Government, but after 1953 his work became confused and depressed.
GYÖRGY SOMLYÓ (1920-2006)
Poet, writer, essayist, literary translator. Winner of multiple József Attila Award (1950, 1951, 1954, 1966) [probably for translation work]. He was given the Tibor Déry Award (1987) named after the notorious traitor, which suggests he probably had become a renegade.
KAROLY RAJCSANYI (1921-1982)
Journalist and writer. Member of the Hungarian Communist Party since 1945. Worked for Szabadság in 1945-1948. For 5 years from 1948, he was the editor of the newspapers Népszava and Független Magyarország. Between 1953-1954 he was a journalist for Szabad Nép , and between 1954-1955 he was a journalist for Szabad Ifjúság.
FERENC KARINTHY (1921-1992)
Writer, playwright, dramaturg. József Attila Prize (1950, 1954, 1974) and Kossuth Prize (1955) winner.
FERENC JUHÁSZ (1928-2015)
József Attila Award winner (1950) and Kossuth Prize winner (1951, 1973).
IMRE REVESZ -?
FERENC VAAD -?
ISTVAN BERENYI -?
BELA MARIA -?
FERENC SALAMON -?
MIHALY VETO -?
GYULA LASZLO (1915–1998) -?
LITERATURE AND THE RISE OF REVISIONISM
The 1948-53 period represented the peak of Socialist Art in Hungary. The rise of revisionism negatively affected the work of authors, either forcing them out of politics or causing them ideological confusion.
Special conditions (nationalism, titoism etc.) prevailed in Hungary during the revisionist “New Course” and rise of Imre Nagy (1953-1956) and were strengthened by it. As a result a significant number of potentially valuable writers became renegades. These writers had been given awards and support by the People’s Republic, on the assumption that they would later grow up to be great writers and worthy of expectations. However, they failed to fulfill these expectations and instead became traitors. The traitor writers are the following:
Gyula “Julius” Háy (1900-1975), a writer. Like many others, he was supported by the People’s Republic to become a progressive, democratic, anti-fascist and pro-socialist writer. He received the Kossuth Prize in 1951. In 1950 Revai had criticized Háy for his method of making the class enemy into a “tragic” central figure of a plot (see Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”, p. 33). At least since 1953 Gyula Háy became a revisionist supporter of Imre Nagy. In the Writers’ Union he supported Nagy, titoist policies, and opposed the government during the 1956 counter-revolution. He was expelled from the workers’ party and sentenced to 6 years in prison in 1957. After serving his sentence he emigrated to the West.
Tibor Déry (1894-1977), the most influential and gifted of all the renegade writers. He was a member of the Communist party and his book “The Unfinished Sentence” (1947) was appreciated highly by Communists. It is considered his best work. In 1948 Déry was given the Kossuth Prize. His book “The Answer (volume 2)” (1952) received very negative reviews. The flaws of the book were symptoms of his ideological deviation, but ever since getting negative reviews his revisionism and bourgeois tendencies became more blatant. He was a fellow traveler during times when Communists complimented him, but immediately when he was criticized and asked to self-criticize he showed his true colors. He was a bourgeois individualist, an egoist who couldn’t stand criticism. Déry became an angry outcast fighting against socialism. His literary work also completely deteriorated and became decadent, ugly and nothing else. He attacked the People’s Republic and Marxism-Leninism as much as he could in a discussion venue called the Petöfi Club in 1956 and was expelled from the party. Being a committed enemy of Socialism at this point, Déry worked on behalf of the 1956 counter-revolution and as a result was sentenced to 9 years in prison. He continued serving a suspended sentence since 1961 and was amnestied in 1963.
Tamás Aczél (1921-1994), a famous renegade writer, started writing agitational poems and his first collection came out in 1941. He received support from the People’s Democratic government and began writing progressive poems and novels. He received the Kossuth Prize (1949) and the Stalin Prize (1952). However, since 1953 he became a supporter of the New Course (promoted by the USSR under Malenkov’s leadership) and of Imre Nagy, who promoted the rightist economics of the New Course, but also rightism on the whole ideological and cultural front. Under Nagy’s influence Aczél completely abandoned progressive and socialist literature and poetry. As a Nagy supporter, he sided with the 1956 counter-revolution and after its failure, migrated to England (1957-1966) and later to the USA (1966-1994). In exile he became part of western academia and wrote books attacking socialism (such as “The Revolt of the Mind: History of Intellectual Resistance behind the Iron Curtain”).
Tibor Méray (1924-2020), writer and journalist. Since 1946 he worked as a Szabad Nep foreign correspondent at least in the DPRK and DDR. He was awarded a silver degree Kossuth Prize for his work in Berlin in 1953. For his literary work he was also awarded the József Attila Prize in 1951 and 1952. He was the chief editor for the literature magazine Csillag in 1947-49. During the rightist New Course Méray became secretary of the Hungarian Writer’s Association (1953-54) and was on the editorial board of Szabad Nep (1954-55). Marxist-Leninists finally succeeded in dismissing him from his position in Szabad Nep in 1955. He supported Imre Nagy during the 1956 counter-revolution and after its failure fled to Yugoslavia and later to France. In exile he wrote books attacking socialism and defending Imre Nagy and collaborated with Tamás Aczél.
Lajos Tamási (1923-1992), renegade poet who was given support by the People’s Government and awarded the Attila József Attila Prize in 1951 and 1952. However, during the period of de-stalinization he betrayed socialism and wrote one of the most famous reactionary poems defending the fascist counter-revolution (Piros a vér a Pest utcán).
Zoltan Zelk (1906–1981), originally a pro-communist writer but became a revisionist supporter of Imre Nagy and served two years in prison for participation in the 1956 counter-revolution.
PAINTING AND VISUAL ART
Realism and Critical Realism
The foremost painter of pre-revolutionary Hungary was the Realist Mihály Munkácsy (1844-1900). He painted many masterpieces, most famously the gritty “The Last Day of a Condemned Man”. Near the end of his career he turned towards more political themes and painted “Strike”, a picture of striking workers.
“Mihaly Munkacsy (1844-1900)—One of the greatest Hungarian painters of the nineteenth century His work is characterised by brilliant technique and a realist outlook. For subject he usually chose the life of the peasants, and the poor m general. Some of ins paintings show Biblical scenes. He spent some lime in Paris, where he very soon became famous.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
László Mednyánszky (1852-1919) was from a noble background and influenced by impressionism. However, he became disgusted with the aristocracy and began painting Critical Realist works depicting the suffering of ordinary people. During WWI he painted the misery of prisoners of war.
János Nagy Balogh (1874-1919) and Istvan Nagy (1873-1937) painted pictures of workers.
“János Nagy Balogh and István Nagy depicted in their art the life, work, typical characters and environments of the proletariat and poor peasantry.” (Halasz, p. 260)
Adolf Fényes (1867-1945) painted many Critical Realist works, most famously “The Life of the Poor Man” series. In the Hungarian Soviet Republic he belonged to the “Artistic Executive Committee”. Because of his jewish origin he was forced into the Budapest Ghetto by the Arrow Cross Fascists which seriously undermined his health. He died from illness in 1945.
In pre-revolutionary Hungary the Nagybánya artist colony (founded in 1896) included many leading painters of the time. Its style began with naturalism (which depicts reality metaphysically, as static and with an over-emphasis on unimportant details) and later developed under the influence of impressionism (which sometimes meant progress but soon lapsed into subjectivism especially with the neo-impressionists or “Neos” of Nagybánya) and more abstract styles. The Nagybánya school included elements of the stagnation of bourgeois art, but also trained future artists. By the 20s the school had stagnated. In 1920 the territory was annexed by Romania and the school was closed by Romanian Fascists in 1937. Nagybanya attempted to create a Hungarian national style, which was correct, but its attempt to do this was misguided. It sought to achieve this by combining elements of naturalism and post-impressionism.
The French cubist, Italian futurist, German expressionist and other foreign trends were influential in Hungarian bourgeois art for a short period in the 1900s but never took root with the people. They merely represented the crisis of bourgeois art internationally and in Hungary. This is also shown by the fact that although many artists dabbled in these styles they also quickly abandoned them as the styles ended in stagnation and crisis.
“The Eight” (approximately 1909-1918)
The “Eight” group also had contradictory tendencies. Their project represented an attempt to solve the problems of contemporary bourgeois art. The attempt ran into a blind alley, but their work had a progressive influence on the next generation of artists. It was the necessary transitionary step for some artists of bourgeois origin. The “Eight” did not have a unified style, but were influenced by a variety of foreign bourgeois trends. Their ideology was petit-bourgeois radicalism and idealist utopianism. Many of their members are not worth mentioning here as they did not contribute to progressive or socialist art.
A significant early member of the group was Károly Kernstok (1873-1940). Inspired by the Critical Realism of those times, one of his earliest paintings is a realistic picture of a socialist agitator. He also created paintings of workers and peasants (such as “The Plum Pickers”) but these were already impressionistic. Afterwards he veered further and further away from reality. This is when “the Eight” group was created. Kernstok supported the Hungarian Soviet Republic and had to flee Hungary to escape the White Terror.
Bertalan Pór studied at Nagybánya, later joining the Eight. In the course of his career he was able to overcome the bourgeois influences of his early period. During the Hungarian Soviet Republic he was the head of the painting department of the Art Directorate and designed some of the most iconic posters for the revolution. After the revolution he lived in emigration in the Soviet Union. After his return to Hungary in 1948 he changed his style completely, and began producing works of Socialist Realism.
“The Activists” (approximately 1914-1925)
The artists gathered around the magazines “Tett” (“action”) and “MA” (“today” but also short for “Magyar Aktivizmus”) are known as “the activists” . Their style was similar to the Eight and they shared a similar petit-bourgeois outlook.
A member of the activists worth mentioning, Béla Uitz, became a marxist and joined the Hungarian Communist Party. Like many other members of the group he was initially attracted to the ultra-left Proletkult art movement in the USSR. Together with his comrades he split from the activists and created a communist art magazine Egység (1922-24). During the revolution of 1919 he had created posters for the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Most activists had to escape from Hungary after the revolution was crushed by the Horthyists, many emigrated to the USSR. In the USSR Béla Uitz began developing a realistic style focusing on frescoes. He painted frescoes for the Kirghiz Soviet Republic.
Gyula Derkovits originally followed the post-Nagybánya style but the content of his work made him a forerunner of the Hungarian Socialist Realists. He was a proletarian, and created pictures of proletarians. He joined the Communist Party in 1918. After the mid 1920s he began to discard the formalistic bourgeois influences of his past more and more. In the late twenties he created the “1514” engravings about the Dózsa peasant revolt and in the 30s his true masterpieces “Generations”, “Along the Railway”, “Weaver” and others. Unfortunately his poverty had undermined his health which led to his early death in 1934.
“Gyula Derkovits (1894-1934), the first and so far the greatest painter of the Hungarian proletariat” (Zoltan Halasz, Unkari: kuvitettu tietoteos, p. 259)
Istvan Desi Huber was influenced by post-impressionism but worked in the Labor Movement and tried to develop a socialist style of art. He died in 1944 during the Nazi occupation.
“Along with Derkovits should be mentioned another skilled proletarian painter, who also died young, István Dési-Huber. Like Derkovits, Dési-Huber initially earned his living through manual labor and suffered want before he gained recognition for his art. The subjects of his art are always phenomena of proletarian life, depicted through realistic means but with earnest sympathy.” (Halasz, p. 260)
“The Group of Socialist Artists” (1934)
In 1934 the Socialist Artists’ Group was founded. This group did not have a unified method or style, but tried to create a socialist type of art. Painters and visual artists in the group included: –Endre A. Fenyő (painter who later became famous for Socialist Realism) –Béla Ban (painter who made some Socialist Realist works but was mainly a surrealist) –Béla Fekete Nagy (painter who made some realistic works but was mainly influenced by bourgeois styles) –Andor Sugár (painter who was influenced by Impressionism but made beautiful Socialist Realist works. He died in a German concentration camp) –Károly László Háy (Socialist Realist graphic artist and set-designer) –ErnőBerda (anti-fascist and progressive graphic artist)
Socialist Realist visual artists in the Hungarian People’s Republic besides the above mentioned, include the likes of painter Iván Szilárd the famous Sándor Ék and poster artists István Czeglédi, Tibor Bánhegyi and György Konecsni.
Other established painters also took up the new style. For example, still-life painter Anni Gáspár Felekiné received a second degree Munkácsy Award for socialist realist paintings in 1946 and Jenő Benedek and Bernáth Aurél were awarded the Kossuth Prize for their works.
In January 1945 a big exhibition called “The 1st Exhibition of the Union of Artists from Nagybánya” was held to show the works of many of the most skilled painters of the recent past in Hungary, which also showed some works of Socialist Realism.
Many big art exhibitions were held in the following years and they made visual art much more popular then it had ever been in the past. Particularly exhibitions of the work of the Realist Munkacsy, the greatest painter in Hungarian history, drew big crowds. There was also a big exhibition specifically dedicated to Socialist Realism, called “The Road to Communism”.
In 1952 Rakosi stated proudly that: “The Munkacsy Exhibition was visited by 430,000 people and the exhibition entitled “The Road to Communism” attracted over 200,000 spectators in a month” (Rakosi, Speech at the Introduction of the Budget for 1953 in the National Assembly)
In pre-revolutionary Hungary sculptor Ö. Fülöp Beck followed the bourgeois Art Nouveau trend but produced some realistic works, mainly his bust of Zsigmond Móricz.
Leftist sculptor György Goldmann was the leader of the Socialist Artists’ Group. He died tragically in a Nazi concentration camp.
The important Socialist Realist sculptor László Mészáros also belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. Sándor Mikus and Pál Pátzay also produced extremely skillful works.
ZSIGMOND KISFALUDI-STROBL (1884-1975)
Zsigmond Kisfaludi-Strobl was perhaps the most talented sculptor in the Hungarian People’s Republic. He was influenced by academicism.
“Kisfaludi-Stróbl, Zsigmond. Born July 1, 1884, in the village of Alsöraik, in the county of Zala. Hungarian sculptor. People’s Artist of the Hungarian People’s Republic (1952); honorary member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR (1958).
Kisfaludi-Stróbl studied at the Institute of Decorative and Applied Art in Budapest from 1900 to 1905, at the Academy of Applied Art in Vienna from 1905 to 1906, and at the Académie Julien in Paris from 1906 to 1908. He became a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest in 1924. Kisfaludi-Stróbl did a number of sculptures of women between 1910 and 1930 that revealed the influence of academic salon art. During this period he also executed large decorative sculptures, distinguished by the dynamic crispness of composition (for example, The Archer, bronze, 1918–19, the Hermitage, Leningrad).
After the establishment of the people’s power in Hungary, Kisfaludi-Stróbl created his principal work, the Liberation Monument on Gellert Hill in Budapest (1947), which became a symbol of the new life. He also did a number of portraits, in which he faithfully reproduced the features of his sitters (for example, Somerset Maugham, bronze, 1948, National Gallery, Budapest), and several other small-scale works that are distinguished by the combination of a realistic representation of nature with a symbolic interpretation of the subject (for example, The Wandering Petöfi, 1949; The Haymaker, 1954—both bronze, National Gallery, Budapest). Kisfaludi-Stróbl was awarded the Kossuth Prize in 1950 and 1953.
REFERENCES Vuchetich, E. V. Zhigmond Kishfaludi-Shtrobl’. Moscow, 1960. Kopp, V. Kisfaludi-Stróbl Zsigmond. Budapest, 1956.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979, article by L. S. ALESHINA)
“The tendency with roots in academicism and depicting the external features naturally stylized, is represented by the art of Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl. His artistic maturity is demonstrated by his finely detailed sculptures, along with his public statues, the most noteworthy of which is the massive Statue of liberty on Gellért hill.
One of founders of new goals and a new plastic language was Fülőp Ö. Beck (1873-1945) and the recently deceased Ferenc Medgyessy (1881-1958). Medgyessy had a peculiar talent to create monumental works, he was a sculptor individual who thought through stone, who had gotten his schooling through Maillol, but had also adopted much from Egyptian and Assyrian sculpture… Contemporary masters of plastic arts with a socialist content are Béni Ferenczy (born 1890), Márk Vedres (born 1871), Pál Pátsay (born 1896), the creator of the Hunyadi monument in Pécs, Sándor Mikus, Jenő Korényi, József Somogyi as well as gifted members of the younger generation.” (Halazs, Unkari: kuvitettu tietoteos, s. 262)
Hungary became famous for its ceramics. The three most important artists in this field were István Gádor, Géza Gorka and Margit Kovács. They helped develop modern ceramics into an art form. Especially Gádor and Gorka were originally influenced by bourgeois styles, but became more and more interested in folk-art, theart of the people. In 1934 Gádor joined the Socialist Artists’ Group and tried to create a united anti-fascist front of artists. The realistic and folk-inspired tendency of these artists only increased over time, but they still worked under considerable economic difficulties. Only when Hungary became a People’s Democracy their art was given full freedom to blossom.
JÓZSEF KATONA (1791-1830)
József Katona was a classic Hungarian playwright, famous for his work Bánk bán. The play was used during the anti-Hitler struggle:
“In terms of content, message, audience appeal, and rave press, particularly outstanding was the April 18, 1942 performance of the leather workers’ theatre troupe, when they presented József Katona’s tragedy, Bánk Bán, which is a super-patriotic smash hit about the anti-German struggle. The objective of performing this play was summed up as follows in the program notes published in the April 14, 1942 of the Népszava: “Today the vanguard of the thousand-year-old Hungarian tradition of striving for freedom is the Hungarian working class and therefore it is the duty of this class to represent this striving in the most appropriate way that it can.” The big hall of the ironworkers’ union headquarters was filled to the rafters on opening night. As the Népszava wrote it in its April 20, 1942 issue, “Everyone understood the great historical truth that Katona was conveying, and a huge enthusiasm for free, independent and happy Hungary was reflected in the stormy applause.” The play also was presented on the 10th and 17th of May at the Erzsébetváros Theatre in the City Park, again before packed houses. However, the police did not allow any further performances.” (Studies on the history of the Hungarian trade-union movement, ed. E. Kabos & A. Zsilak, p. 189)
BÉLA BALÁZS (1884-1949)
Béla Balázs was a well known early Hungarian Communist aesthetic thinker, critic and writer who also worked with Bartok and Kodaly.
“Balázs, Béla. Born Aug. 4, 1884, in Szeged; died May 17, 1949, in Budapest. Hungarian writer and motion picture theorist. A Communist; a doctor of philosophy.
In 1908, Balázs appeared in print as a symbolist poet. He worked in the People’s Commissariat of Education of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919; after the defeat of the republic, he emigrated and lived in the USSR from 1931 to 1945. During this time Balázs became a realist writer; he wrote the novel The Impossible People (German, 1930; Russian translation, 1930; Hungarian, 1965), the play Mozart (1941), and the collection of poems Fly, My Word (1944). He also wrote books on the art of the motion picture: The Visible Man (German, 1924; Russian translation, 1925; Hungarian, 1958), The Spirit of Film (German, 1930; Russian translation, 1935), The Art of the Motion Picture (1945), the autobiographical novel A Dreamer’s Youth (1948), scripts, and fairy tales. He also published the collection of poems My Path (1945; Kossuth Prize, 1949).
WORKS In Russian translation: [“Stikhi.”] In Vengerskaia revoliutsionnaia poeziia. Moscow-Leningrad, 1925. [“Stikhi.”] In Antologiia vengerskoi poezii. Moscow, 1952. REFERENCES Burov, S. “Bela Balash—teoretik i kritik kino.” Iskusstvo kino,1947, no. 1. Eisenstein, S. Bela zabyvaet nozhnitsy: Izbrannye proizvedeniia, vol. 2. Moscow, 1964. A magyar irodalom tö rténete,6th ed. Budapest, 1966.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
FERENC HONT (1907-1979)
“Ferenc Hont —Born in 1907, he is a stage producer and theatre director. After the Liberation he became director of the Academy of Dramatic Art and of the Madach Theatre.” (biographical note in Jozsef Revai, “Lukacs and Socialist Realism”)
He received the 2nd grade Kossuth Prize in 1949.
“The young Hungarian film industry achieved international noteworthy results within a short time.” (Rakosi, Report to the Second Congress of the Hungarian Working People’s Party)
Film reached a high level in Hungary only during the Socialist government. Before that, there barely was a film industry in the country at all. Cinema going doubled from previous figures during the first Five-Year Plan (1950-54) and many collective farms built their own cinemas. Movies were originally produced in beautiful vibrant color but unfortunately the original film prints were later damaged and color degraded over time. They could be restored to their original beauty but naturally the capitalists don’t want to do that.
Socialist Realist films in Hungary were democratic in character: they depicted the lives, challenges and successes of ordinary people. For example, Civil a pályán is a film about football, one of the favorite past times in Socialist Hungary. These films (while not perfect) are both entertaining and democratic, without losing intellectual, political and artistic quality.
Many films were made about Hungarian history. Instead of advocating chauvinism, national hatred or oppression, these films demonstrated the best progressive traditions in the nation’s history. The motto of Socialist Realism is “socialist in content, national in form”. Each country has their own history of heroic class struggle against oppression and exploitation. The film Föltámadott a tenger depicts the 1848 revolution for democracy and national sovereignty of Lajos Kossuth, Rákóczi hadnagya is about Ferenc Rákóczi’s 1703–11 peasant war against the Hapsburg monarchy’s domination of Hungary.
Other Socialist Realist movies include Első fecskék, Ütközet békében, Tűzkeresztség, Teljes gőzzel, Becsület és dicsőség.
Musical and comedy elements were used to create a positive outlook on life and hope in the future. Films also utilized suspense elements to warn about the dangers which the class enemy still poses in the form of criminal sabotage and foreign intervention.
The most important bourgeois architect in Hungary is Miklós Ybl (1814-1891) who worked in the renaissance style. The Ybl Miklós Award for architects was created in 1953.
“Ybl, Miklós Born Apr. 6, 1814, in Székesfehérvár; died Jan. 22, 1891, in Budapest. Hungarian architect.
Ybl studied at the Polytechnical Institute in Vienna in 1831 and at the Academy of Arts in Munich during the early 1840’s. His works in Budapest include the Karolyi Palace (1863), a customhouse (1870-74), the Opera House (1875-84), St. Stephen’s Basilica (1867-91), and the west wing of the Royal Palace (1880-91). From 1845 to 1855 he built a church, a priest’s house, and a school in Fót. To a large extent, the unique appearance of the center of Budapest was determined by Ybl’s imposing buildings designed in Renaissance and baroque revival styles.
REFERENCE Ybl, E. Ybl Miklós. Budapest, 1956.” (The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 1979)
In capitalist Hungary, architect Máté Major had belonged to the Socialist Artists’ Group. However, he had received a purely bourgeois education and advocated bourgeois views. His work was completely superseded by the newly arising Socialist Realist architects like Emil Zöldy and Tibor Weiner.
Tibor Weiner had studied and later taught architecture in Hungary. He had been a member of the secret Communist Party of Hungary. Due to persecution he lost his academic position in 1931 and emigrated to the USSR. There he joined a group of socialist designers called “The Red Front”. He designed a vocational school for the silk industry in Baku in 1931 and a college of commerce in Tashkent in 1931-32. He began teaching in the Moscow College of Architecture and was a city planner for the new city of Orsk. After liberation he returned to Hungary.
During socialist construction, talented architects of pre-revolutionary Hungary like Lajos Gádoros, István Janáky, Antal Károlyi, Oszkár Winkler and Gyula Rimanóczy now adopted a Socialist Realist method of work.
“Hungarian architects have held several meetings, where after studying the architecture of socialist countries, they’ve decided to abstain from excessive modernism, instead considering it their responsibility to uphold the progressive traditions of their national architecture and apply socialist realist principles. New constructions have been created based on these decisions, such as the Danube Iron Works and Sztalinvaros, Kazinsbarcika, Komlo, the Tisza power plant, Inota, the People’s Stadium and various apartment blocs in Budapest, as well as certain individual buildings (the Red Star hotel in Gyor, office building in Nyiregyhaza, the central trade unions building in Budapest etc.).” (Halasz, Unkari: kuvitettu tietoteos, s. 261-262)
The new socialist industrial city of Sztálinváros was built following the principles of Socialist Realism in architecture. This means it was designed to serve the people, following a visual style rooted in the national traditions.
Buildings in Sztálinváros were inspired by largely by Hungarian classicism and decorated by beautiful ornaments. frescoes and mosaics. Particulary Jenő Percz created magnificent mosaic art for the city. Painter Endre Domanovszky designed frescoes. György Szrogh designed the Dózsa Cinema and many nice buildings were designed by István Zilahy. Tibor Weiner was the lead architect and city planner. Unfortunately this style which represented the peak of Hungarian architecture was entirely abandoned during the revisionist period (the name of the city was also changed to Dunaújváros).
Appendix 1. (On Bartók)
List of Bartók works which were broadcast on the radio since 1950 and considered not formalist:
PIANO WORKS -From Ten Easy Pieces: “Evening with the Széklers” (Este a Székelyeknél), “Bear Dance” (Medvetánc), Slovak Boys’ Dance (Tóth legények tánca), Hungarian Folksong (Gödollei piactéren, listed erroneously as GödWllei vásárterem) -Sonatina -Selections from Romanian Colinda Melodies (Román kolindadallamok) -From Three Burlesques: “A Bit Drunk” (Kicsit ázottan) -From Two Romanian Dances (Két román tánc), no. 1 -From Mikrokosmos: March (Induló), “Jack-in-the-Box” (Paprika Jancsi), Theme and Inversion (Téma és fordítása), Peasant Dance (Dobbantos tánc), plus a group of six unspecified pieces (possibly selected from the collection “Seven Pieces from Mikrokosmos”) -From For Children (Gyermekeknek): Slovak Folk Songs and Dances (Slovák népi dalok és táncok), “Stars” (Csillagok), “Joke” (Tréfa), “Outlaw’s Song” (Betyár nóta), Dance Tune (Táncdal ), “My Dear Daughter” (Kiskece lányom) -From Fourteen Bagatelles: Rubato, two unspecified movements, and possibly “Elle est morte” (listed as Valaki meghalt) -From Fifteen Hungarian Peasant Songs (Tizenöt magyar parasztdal ): Old Dance Tunes (Régi táncdalok, listed as Régi magyar táncok), nos. 7–15 -From Nine Little Piano Pieces: Air (Dal) -Waltz (which one is unspecified; possibly from Bagatelles, no. 14) -From Two Elegies, no. 2 only -One of the Three Rondos
CHAMBER WORKS -Romanian Folk Dances (Román népi táncok) (arrangement for violin and piano) -Two Romanian Dances (op. 8a) (arrangement for violin and piano) -First String Quartet -Sixth String Quartet -Sonatina (arrangement for violin and piano) -Excerpts from For Children (Gyermekeknek) in two different arrangements for violin and piano -Hungarian Folk Songs (arrangement for violin and piano)
CHORAL WORKS -From Twenty-seven Two- and Three-Part Choruses: “Don’t Leave Me!” (Ne menj el!), “Play Song” (Játék), “Bread Baking” (Cipósütés), “Loafer’s Song” (Resteknek nótája), “Boys’ Teasing Song” (Legénycsúfoló), “Lonely Wandering” (Bolyongás), “Pillow Dance” (Párnás táncdal ) , “Enchanting Song” (Jószágígézo), “Suitor” (LeánykérW ), “Hussar” (Huszárnóta), “Don’t Leave Here!” (Ne hagyj itt!), “Girls’ Teasing Song” (Leánycsúfoló), “Had I Not Seen You” (Ne láttalak volna!), “Jeering” (Csujogató) -Four Slovak Folk Songs, including one performance in a new orchestration by Szervánszky]; also Wedding Song (Lányát úgy adta) as an excerpt -Székely Songs (Székely dalok)
SONGS -Hungarian Folk Songs -From Eight Hungarian Folk Songs (Nyolc magyar népdal ): “Black Is the Earth” (Fekete fod), “My God, My God” (Istenem, Istenem), “Wives, Let Me Be One of Your Company” (Asszonyok, Asszonyok), “If I Climb” (Ha kimegyek) -From Twenty Hungarian Folk Songs: Slow Dance (Székely lassú), Fast Dance (Székely friss), Dialogue Song (Pár-ének), New-Style Songs (Új dalok) -From Village Scenes: Lullaby (Bölcso dal)
ORCHESTRAL WORKS -Violin Concerto -Two Portraits (Két portré) -Two Pictures (Két kép) -Concerto for Orchestra -Dance Suite -Third Piano Concerto -Hungarian Peasant Songs (Magyar parasztdalok) -Hungarian Sketches (Magyar képek): complete and, as an excerpt, Melody (Melódia) and Swineherds’ Dance from Ürög (Ürögi kanásztánc)
List of Bartók works which were seriously condemned: (Of course, there are a number of works which were neither condemned nor praised, and many works which were simply not significant or popular enough to be played)
STAGE WORKS -The Miraculous Mandarin
CONCERT WORKS -Piano Concerto no. 1 -Concerto for two pianos, percussion, and orchestra -Piano Concerto no. 2
VOCAL WORKS -5 songs on poems by Endre Ady” (Music divided, p. 54)
About Bartók’s work “Improvisations on Hungarian Peasant Songs for Piano” (1920) “[Music critic] Asztalos… defended the Improvisations on these grounds:
“Let us take the “Improvisations” as an example and compare them to the Six Little Piano Pieces by Schoenberg written around the same time. . . . In the “Improvisations” there are undeniably peculiar harmonic experiments. Bartók is seeking a new path: this is what we are addressing. But in every piece of the “Improvisations” there is the broadly and flexibly developed melodic material of the folk song, in many cases even left in its original purity. In Bartók’s music the human message, the deep and honest human content, seeks the form for its expression, and in the seeking, in the struggle for expression, individual constructive elements come into shocking contradiction with the basic material. At the same time, Schoenberg does not express anything for anybody; he makes inhuman, antisocial music.”
Even though Bartók’s accompaniment remains generally dissonant and achieves no clear harmonic resolution even at the end of the movement, the folk song dominates the texture throughout because it is clearly distinguished from the accompaniment by its tessitura and manner of articulation. Thus, despite the presence of “difficult” features, the folk song provides the listener with a connecting thread to follow.” (Music divided, p. 61)
About Bartók’s work“Out of Doors”
“In “Music of the Night” from Out of Doors, the melodic thread is much more tenuous. Rather than immediately introducing a melody, Bartók sets another layer of sporadic and irregular activity against the pulsating accompaniment, creating the oft-noted evocation of the sounds of the night that became so important a part of his style. Asztalos reported that the evocations of natural sounds in Bartók’s night-music style presented no difficulties in theory, since even Beethoven had engaged in this kind of mimesis. “The trouble begins,” Asztalos explained, when the listener arrives in a mysterious shadow world that is pregnant with complaints and with oppressive, fearsome signs. Here we meet a musical composition of human speech where we do not understand the words, but only the general features, and we feel their grave emotional content. . . . In many ways this world is like the symbolic world of folk poetry or Ady’s symbolism filled with phantoms—expressing the alienation of the spirit that finds no rest in society. This is even more harrowing with Bartók, because here as a consequence of the nature of the musical language itself, the true sound hallucinations become even more shadowy, reality becomes even more ambiguous, more dreadfully featureless: they become a monstrous document of imperialism.” (Music divided, p. 61)
Révai about Bartók’s “The Miraculous Mandarin” and “Bluebeard’s castle”
“In connection with the Bartók ballets, about which there was the big ruckus (to put it plainly) when they accused us of being against Bartók in general, here we turned against Menyhért Lengyel and Béla Balázs, and not primarily against Bartók. But Bartók too was accountable for whom he took up with. The subject of The Miraculous Mandarin is garbage. Bartók wanted to express something great, that love is greater than death, but Menyhért Lengyel cannot express something like that. And therefore we are not in favor of its being performed very often. Bluebeard is a pseudo–folk tale. In this period Bartók was mystical. This is not a folk tale, because if it were nobody would have anything against it. We are in favor of new operas being performed, which afterward must be judged. But even liberalism has a limit.” (Music divided, p. 135)
Appendix 2. (On Szabó and Szervánszky)
Criticism of Szabó’s “Homecoming concerto”
“Soviet composer Zakharov “criticized Szabó’s Homecoming concerto as too “individualistic,” but he said that since Szabó had more recently written better film music, at least he was progressing in the right direction. Szabó did not fare as well in Novikov’s essay about Hungarian music, first published in the main Soviet music journal, Sovetskaya muzyka, and later reprinted in Free Folk. Novikov stated that “Ferenc Szabó is one of the most talented of contemporary Hungarian composers. Unfortunately, he still clings to his less successful work, such as the symphonic poem entitled ‘Homecoming,’ which is a formalist work… The sooner he gives up toying with antiquated modernist ‘relics,’ the greater the contribution he will make to Hungarian musical life.” The reliance on Bartók in Szabó’s work may well have contributed to Novikov’s accusation of formalism… Szabó [realized the problem and] published several articles denouncing it as “pessimistic” and claiming that it reflected “every oppression, horror, and inhumanity of the time of imperialism.” (Music divided, pp. 25-26)
[For context: “Homecoming concerto” is a work inspired by Bartók’s “The Concerto for Orchestra”. This is one of Bartók’s better symphonic works, but suffers somewhat from formalistic tropes and in particular strong pessimism. This is not a bad work at all, and neither is Szabó’s “Homecoming concerto”, but it was flawed and it was known Szabó could do much better in the future. “Homecoming” (1948) was written in an earlier style suited for the broad anti-fascist struggle of 1944-48, it was not written in the style of the future Socialist society, which began to be formulated in Hungary only in 1948-49 and took shape in 1950. As such, “Homecoming” obviously seemed like a relic of an earlier era and would be considered flawed as the bar for the best composers was set higher.]
Analysis of Szervánszky‘s Honvéd kantáta
“Endre Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata (Honvéd kantáta), composed in 1949, and Ferenc Szabó’s Song Singing (Nótaszó), composed in 1950.These were among the first pieces on folk song themes to have been composed entirely after the 1948 resolution on music, and they were lauded at the time of their appearance as the fulfillment of great expectations in the field of socialist music.
Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata, a four-movement work for male chorus and orchestra, is a generic hybrid of sorts. Though choral settings of folk songs were nothing new in the Hungarian tradition, the scale of this work (both in its instrumentation and in its formal conception) indicates that it was intended as an impressive symphonic piece for the larger concert hall rather than as a project a community chorus could successfully undertake. The four movements of the piece are analogous in tempo to the movements of a symphony: the first and last movements are fast and rousing, the second movement is a scherzo, and the third is a slow ballad. Even the accompanimental styles demonstrate a complexity that surpasses the mere presentation of the folk song. In the second movement, for instance, Stravinskian ostinato patterns in the high woodwinds add textural interest without obscuring the presentation of melodies below. The grandiosity of the conception is offset somewhat by the relatively straightforward treatment of the simple melodies on which the work is based. Folk tunes are prominent in the texture and provide the basis for the cantata’s formal organization. The use of the cimbalom, a Hungarian instrument that had been employed since the nineteenth century to evoke national themes in orchestral music, enhances the folksy atmosphere.
The cantata uses soldiers’ songs to present four scenes from military life. The most obvious Hungarian musical topic of this kind is the tradition of military recruiting music, or verbunkos. In the fourth movement of the cantata, for instance, the text exclaims, “Come be soldiers!” and the instrumental interludes sound the “gypsy fiddling” topos typical of the faster style of verbunkos performance. This topos is featured prominently in the first movement as well. The piece also includes a lyrical love song and a dance song with a pastoral interlude. A possible model for the use of the military subject was Soldiers’ Songs, a 1947 work by the Soviet composer Anatoly Novikov, who had served as the Kremlin’s cultural emissary to Hungary… Musically, however, the works bear few similarities.
In three of the four movements of his cantata, Szervánszky uses folk songs as building blocks to create large-scale formal units. For example, the first movement is a rondo (ABACA) in which each episode consists of a contrasting folk tune in a different key. Within each section, the tunes are almost always repeated two, three, or even four times. Between the sections—and therefore between the folk songs themselves—Szervánszky inserts short, modulatory orchestral interludes so that the voice parts never have to modulate; they enter after the arrival of the new key. This technique not only makes the vocal parts easier for the chorus; it also ensures that each folk song presentation remains in the same key throughout, which allows the songs to keep their original shapes despite the harmonization that has been added by the composer. Bartók made a distinction in his typology of folk songs among “oldstyle,” “new-style,” and “mixed-type” songs. Each type distinguished by Bartók is associated with particular patterns of phrase structure: the older songs feature open-ended, nonarchitectonic formal patterns (for example, AAAA, ABAB, or ABCD), whereas the newer songs are often constructed on principles of return found in Western art music (for example, ABBA or AABA)… The songs used in the Home Guard Cantata all fit into either the new-style or the mixed-style categories. Some have architectonic designs suggestive of art-music influence (such as the AABA design of example 6b, which was published by Bartók in 1924), while others have phrase structures reminiscent of the old-style folk song (ABAB, AAAA) but have other stylistic features associated with the newer style, such as the verbunkos topos. This might be interpreted as a turn away from the emphasis on “authentic” models that featured the old-style song as the bearer of Hungarian identity, toward a preference for folk songs that were more likely to be in common use and therefore recognizable to audiences.
The style of Szervánszky’s first and fourth movements is highly evocative of Kodály’s use of the verbunkos style in his own instrumental works, particularly of the Intermezzo from Háry János. Szervánszky’s sequential use of folk songs to build a larger and more genuinely symphonic work also recalls some of Kodály’s most famous pieces: both the opera Háry János, made of many songs strung together, and the Peacock Variations, a set of variations on a single folk song, are constructed on this “chain” model. This technique ensures that the folk tunes remain audible and comprehensible at every moment of the performance, even though they are presented in the context of a longer piece” (Music divided, pp. 99-104)
Analysis of Szabó‘s “Song singing”
“The six-movement work is scored for chamber orchestra and chorus, a considerably smaller and simpler ensemble than that required by Szervánszky’s cantata. In addition, Szabó included in the score a part for a single solo voice to be used if a chorus was not available, thus making the work more accessible to performing groups with limited resources. Although the accompaniments are carefully and artfully constructed, they tend to be simple and repetitive and to remain in the background. This music is much less elaborate than that of Szervánszky’s cantata.
Like Szervánszky’s, Szabó’s piece uses lyrical folk texts; the overriding themes are flirtation and love, and the movements are arranged in such a way that they can be construed as telling the story of a couple from their first meeting to their wedding celebration. The narrative, however, is not made explicit in the work through dialogue, characterization, or other means; this places the piece in the genre of cantata and differentiates it from the Soviet genre of “song opera” as well as from its Hungarian antecedents, such as Kodály’s folk song opera Háry János. Among the Hungarian precursors, it is perhaps most similar to Kodály’s stage work The Spinning Room (Székely fonó), in which the words and music of the plot are derived entirely from folk song texts and melodies; but here, too, Kodály’s work was designed to be acted out on stage, whereas the drama remains implicit in Szabó’s modest cantata.
The folk songs Szabó chose for the work are mostly new-style melodies, again suggesting an emphasis on living tradition. Indeed, the title, Nótaszó, can be understood as a polemical position against the fetishization of peasant music. Nóta is the Hungarian term for a genre of popular art song widespread in Hungary since the nineteenth century… By entitling his piece Nótaszó, conversely, Szabó invited the listener into an experience of “song singing” that might include several different Hungarian song traditions, not only authentic peasant song.
Szabó’s methods of setting folk songs in Song Singing differ somewhat from Szervánszky’s in the Home Guard Cantata. Most prominent, perhaps, is Szabó’s flexible treatment of the preexisting folk melodies: he sometimes altered them by extending phrases to effect transitions or smooth over the boundaries between phrases. The folk melody used in the sixth movement, entitled “Wedding” (Lakodalmas), originally consisted of two four-bar phrases in an antecedent-consequent pattern. In his setting Szabó extends the second phrase through repetition and alteration of motives (and, necessarily, of verbal text), so that the consequent phrase cannot close but ends again on a dominant pedal, over which the orchestra jauntily reiterates the tune. The orchestra’s version, too, remains unfinished; it is not extended but is instead interrupted by a modulation to a new key for another statement of the tune. This extension of the tune’s boundaries by elementary compositional techniques breaks down the four-square shape of the tune and allows it to be used more flexibly in constructing the piece.
Szervánszky had chosen in three of the four movements of the Home Guard Cantata to include several songs as a means of differentiating sections and achieving a large-scale formal scheme. He provided modulatory passages only in the orchestral transitions; he never changed key within the vocal presentation of a particular folk tune. Szabó, on the other hand, used one folk song per movement in Song Singing, and he moved from key to key within the presentation of a single folk song. This procedure sometimes distorts the original profile of a song somewhat in the service of tonal contrast within the movement. The musical comprehensibility of the piece is not impaired in the least, for the art-music element of tonal contrast Szabó provides is usually of the sort a city-bred industrial worker might find familiar from nóta or other popular art music.
One example of this technique occurs in the fifth movement of Song Singing, entitled “Late Evening” (Késo este). This movement sets a variant of the same folk song that Szervánszky used in “Evening’s Rest,” the third movement of the Home Guard Cantata. Rather than setting the version Bartók collected, Szabó chose a variant that provided a good opportunity for tonal contrast: the third, contrasting phrase of Szabó’s tune (unlike that collected by Bartók) rises above the octave compass of the preceding phrases by one note. Szabó’s harmonization of this melody highlights the contrast implicit in his chosen variant of the tune. Taking advantage of the close commonality between the C mixolydian and F major scales, Szabó sets the first two phrases of the melody with harmonies that accentuate F major. Then, in a short orchestral interlude, Szabó effects a modulation that leads to an arrival on a D major triad (sounding as the dominant of G minor) at the beginning of the third phrase. In addition to the sense of “elevation” provided by the modulation, the phrase is also distinguished by a thickening of the texture from the pointillistic accompaniment pattern that had characterized the first two phrases to a much denser treatment with tutti scoring, including divisi string parts moving in parallel motion and a heavy walking bass pattern. This heightened phrase lasts only five measures; by the end of the vocal phrase the transition back to the original tonality has already begun.
By choosing a variant of the tune that reached outside the rigid octave compass, Szabó made it easier to integrate the tune into a musical structure that derives not exclusively from the folk song, but also from departure-and-return principles characteristic of the European concert music tradition. In other words, the composer had taken a small step toward the “synthesis” of the folk song into another tradition… This process of synthesis bespeaks an attitude toward the folk material that emphasizes not its authenticity but its utility. Szabó did not treat the folk song setting as “the mounting of a jewel”; he freely changed the substance of the song to suit the musical need of the moment. Szabó’s synthesis is not thoroughgoing, for the work is organized on the principle of a series of folk songs, and therefore strongly resembles the “chain” model used by Szervánszky. In this respect the construction of Szabó’s piece is even simpler than that of Szervánszky’s, for he does not build larger forms out of the folk songs. Still, in its fusing of folk song with formal characteristics more typical of eighteenth-and nineteenth-century art music, Szabó’s Song Singing can be said to be one step closer to the synthesis end of the spectrum than Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata.
During his visit to Hungary in March 1950, the Soviet composer Vladimir Zakharov had encouraged composers to take just these sorts of liberties with folk song. Zakharov expressed dismay in a lecture to the Hungarian Musicians’ Association that Hungarians were much too focused on the authenticity or purity of their folk song tradition, and not enough on what the folk song could do for socialist culture. Through an interpreter (and hence in the third person) he recounted to the Hungarians:
“Much was said during his visit about the Hungarian folk song. He himself has worked much with various areas of the Russian folk song; he understands the problems of the folk song, and he still must say that he doesn’t understand what the question is here. Many times he heard that Hungarian music, pure [tiszta] Hungarian music was finished one hundred years ago and that what has happened since then is music full of foreign influences, which must be thrown out. In his opinion this debate is unnecessary. . . . It does not matter when the melody came into being, and what influences are present in it, if this melody is needed. The essence is how the composer uses the melody. . . . It is in his opinion totally incorrect to debate about the extent to which the style of a folk song is pure.”
Here Zakharov was addressing in part the choice of folk songs to set: his dismissal of “purity” was a critique of composers’ continued respect for Bartók’s categories of old and new styles, in which the older songs were regarded as the more authentically Hungarian. As we have seen, though, some composers had already set new-style songs before Zakharov’s critique, so it is difficult to ascertain the relevance of his remarks to recent compositional practice. Zakharov’s emphasis on the utility of a given melody, on the other hand, most likely applied to issues of how the folk song is set. Rather than leaving the melodies unchanged, composers were to transform them and fit them with new contexts, as Szabó began to do in Song Singing. Among other purposes, this formal recasting of folk songs would in theory distance them from their original peasant context, thus decreasing the danger of sentimental populism and increasing their relevance to city dwellers.” (Music divided, pp. 105-109)
Criticism of Honvéd kantáta and Song singing
“István Szirmai, the director of Hungarian Radio, criticized Szervánszky’s Home Guard Cantata and Szabó’s Song Singing for failing to synthesize folk song into art music in a new way. In Szirmai’s words,
“These new works are not of high enough quality. . . . [They are just] a somewhat primitive type of arrangement. Essentially the comrades just took folk songs and tied them into a bouquet, presenting the folk songs again in their purely original form. What aspect of this work can be considered creative work? They orchestrated [the songs] for larger orchestra, they created some kind of connecting music for them. In essence, however, there was no message, they gave them back to the people in the same form in which they received them from the people. That is not much, and it is not what we expect from our composers.”
Although, as we have seen, there are some important differences between Szabó’s and Szervánszky’s treatment of folk songs, Szirmai felt that both reflected too closely the Kodályan “chain” model. From his comment it is evident that, in his view, creative work should still ideally involve some substantial personal achievement on the part of the composer; simplicity of style should not be equated with the accomplishment of a simple task. Szirmai’s comments reflect two distinct objections: the “giving back to the people” of the folk songs “in the same form in which they [were] received,” which raised once again the specter of sentimental populism; and the creative failure of the composers to transform the songs. Révai, undoubtedly the most influential voice in Hungarian cultural politics, agreed with Szirmai in the main about the quality of recent works based on folk songs. Révai did not condemn Szabó’s and Szervánszky’s works outright, but he criticized their simplicity and closeness to the original folk melodies.” (Music divided, pp. 110-111)
Appendix 3. (On Attila József’s Freudist idealist deviation)
Attila József couldn’t explain why the level of class consciousness was so low in Hungary. It seems he expected class consciousness would arise almost automatically, or at least pretty easily among the population of extremely poor workers and peasants. However, in reality (as Lenin explains in What is to be done?) class consciousness can only arise as a result of organization, struggle and study. The Communist Party must organize the people and provide them with understanding – class consciousness never arises automatically. However, because Attila József couldn’t understand this, he looked for answers in Freudism (he had received Freudian psychoanalytical treatment for his mental problems before).
Freudism masquerades as science but is really an idealist doctrine based entirely on speculations about subconscious “urges” and “drives” which cannot be measured or detected. These urges supposedly determine a person’s actions. Reactionary followers of Freud have “explained” fascism and imperialism, not as inevitable results of capitalism, but as merely the result of man’s “subconscious desire for death”. Capitalist crisis has also been “explained” merely as the result of the subconscious drives of the investors, not as the inevitable outcome of capitalism. The answers to all questions are found in metaphysical speculations about the minds of individuals, and not in material reality.
Because Attila József did not understand the cause of the low level of class consciousness in Hungary, he believed that perhaps subconscious drives of the people are hindering their class consciousness.
Books on the topic:
Franz Liszt, artist and man. 1811-1840 vol. 1 & vol. 2 by Lina Ramann (Earliest thorough bourgeois biography of Liszt. Not bad, but sadly it doesn’t cover his whole life)
Modern Hungarian ceramics by Ilona Pataky Brestyánszky (Very informative, but is too soft on bourgeois art and near the end of the book tries to make excuses why sculpture and ceramics was suffering and becoming bourgeois under revisionism)
In March 1921 there was a mutiny against the Soviet government among soldiers in the fortress town of Kronstadt. The mutiny went on for two weeks, until it was suppressed by the Bolshevik government. The Kronstadt mutiny is one of those topics which is always debated: was it a heroic uprising against the ‘tyrannical bolsheviks’? Or was it an attempt at counter-revolution? Before I started researching this topic I thought that the Kronstadt mutiny was just a silly anarchist action – but its actually much worse then that.
THE LASTING MYTH OF KRONSTADT
The Kronstadt mutiny has remained a topic of discussion to this day. That is because it is always used as an example of supposed ‘communist tyranny’ by anarchists and revisionists, but also by capitalists and imperialists. They all claim that since the communists had to suppress a mutiny, therefore it proves they were anti-worker, oppressive and that they had turned against the revolution. Of course, this is simplistic and childish thinking and pure demagogy. Of course, there were other revolts and plots against the bolsheviks too, but the Kronstadt mutiny works much better for anarchist and capitalist propaganda purposes because at least on the surface it was done by soldiers of mostly peasant origin (and not by the rich) and because at least on the surface it had a left-wing agenda – however, the surface appearance doesn’t necessarily reflect the whole truth.
The first capitalist president of Russia Boris Yeltsin (the most hated Russian leader in known history) praised the Kronstadt mutiny and opened the archives on Kronstadt for researchers, so that they could prove how heroic the mutiny was and how evil the bolsheviks were. Unfortunately it backfired, since the primary source evidence doesn’t support his conclusion at all. The opened archives contain more then 1000 documents which include firsthand accounts by mutineers, secret White Guard reports, articles, memoirs etc. collected from a range of Soviet, White Guard, Menshevik, anarchist and western capitalist sources.
When the mutiny broke out it was immediately praised and supported in the capitalist media – actually, it was already praised and supported in the capitalist media two weeks before it had even broken out. This already shows that the mutiny was organized, or at least sponsored and supported by capitalists and western imperialist countries.
LEADER OF THE MUTINY PETRICHENKO
The leader of the mutiny was a political adventurer named Stepan Petrichenko. He had been in the Red Army, but considered himself an anarcho-syndicalist. He was also a Ukrainian nationalist. Petrichenko apparently remained an anarcho-syndicalist at least on the surface for most of his life, but one year before the Kronstadt mutiny he had tried to join the White Army. Anarchist historian Avrich writes:
“Petrichenko returned to his native village in April 1920 and apparently remained until September or October… The authorities, he later told an American journalist, had arrested him more than once on suspicion of counterrevolutionary activity. He had even tried to join the Whites…” (Avrich, Kronstadt, p. 95)
Avrich also discovered a secret White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt.
Already pretty quickly after the events in Kronstadt we had absolutely solid proof the leaders and organizers of the mutiny were White Guardists or were working with White Guardists. And now with the archival materials, we have absolutely mountains of further evidence. If anyone says otherwise, they are wilfully ignorant or lying.
HOW THE MUTINY WAS ORGANIZED
In 1921 the country was in ruins after years of WWI and civil war. Fuel and food were always extremely scarce. As long as the civil war lasted, the population tolerated all these hardships. They understood it was inevitable in the war. However, in 1921 the war was coming to an end. Massive amounts of soldiers were sent home from the Red Army or at least taken away from battle. This created disturbances as people were no longer focused on fighting the White Army, and there were lots of badly adjusted jobless soldiers wandering around. Peasants also began opposing the war-time policy of grain requisition at fixed prices. Most soldiers themselves were peasants. This all combined together, to create some spontaneous disturbances. The policy of the government, was to evaluate the situation, change from war policies to peace time policies, and organize the reconstruction of the country and revitalization of the economy. However, that was an extremely difficult task which couldn’t be completed in one day.
There was unrest in Petrograd after several factories were temporarily closed due to fuel shortages. Some menshevik counter-revolutionaries were arrested without bloodshed. False rumors of workers being shot and factories even being bombarded, were spread in the fortress town of Kronstadt. Reactionaries took full advantage of these rumors and spread them.
“Mingled with the initial reports was an assortment of bogus rumors which quickly roused the passions of the sailors. It was said, for example, that government troops had fired on the Vasili Island demonstrators and that strike leaders were being shot in the cellars of the Cheka.” (Avrich, p. 71)
“the Petrograd strikes were on the wane… But the rumors of shootings and full-scale rioting had already aroused the sailors, and on March 2, at a time when the disturbances had all but ceased, they were drafting the erroneous announcement (for publication the following day ) that the city was in the throes of a “general insurrection.”” (Avrich, p. 83)
This was the necessary ideological preparation for the mutiny.
A mass meeting was held in Kronstadt on March 1 where anti-Communist statements and lies were spread. The meeting was orchestrated in such a way that Communists were not allowed to speak. The topic was raised that new elections to the Soviet should be carried out.
A delegate meeting of soldiers was held the next day on March 2. In this meeting it was proposed that all Communists be arrested. The delegates were amazed. However, the organizers of the mutiny made the completely baseless and hysterical claim that armed Communist detachments were about to surround the meeting and arrest everyone, therefore it was supposedly justified and necessary to begin rounding up and arresting Communists. This type of fear propaganda was cleverly used by the mutineers. Delegates had no time to think, they had no access to information, and Communists had no chance to speak. Thus the reactionaries could basically push through their anti-Communist policy.
“the Bolshevik commissar barely had time to object to the irregular proceedings before being cut off by the “military specialist” in charge of artillery, a former tsarist general named Kozlovsky… “Your time is past,” Kozlovsky declared.” (Avrich, p. 81)
The adventurer, anarcho-syndicalist and would-be White Guardist Petrichenko declared that a so-called ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ or PRC had been elected. This PRC would now take over.
“[T]he chair of the meeting, Petrichenko, quieting down the meeting, announced that ‘The Revolutionary Committee… declares: “All Communists present are to be seized and not to be released until the situation is clarified” (Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)
“suddenly… a voice from the floor… shouted that 15 truckloads of Communists armed with rifles and machine guns were on their way to break up the meeting. The news had the effect of a bombshell, throwing the delegates into alarm and confusion… it was the bogus report that Communists were preparing to attack the meeting that actually precipitated the formation of the Provisional Revolutionary Committee… Petrichenko himself took up the rumor and announced that a detachment of 2,000 Communists were indeed on their way to disperse the meeting. Once again pandemonium broke loose, and the delegates left the hall in great excitement.” (Avrich, p. 84)
Using skillful propaganda and deception Petrichenko claimed that the ‘Provisional Revolutionary Committee’ was elected by soldier delegates. However, this was simply a lie. No elections had been carried out. But the masses did not know that – after all, maybe their delegates in their meeting had elected such a committee? Who could say? This is a good example of how such a reactionary coup can happen.
The Provisional Revolutionary Committee or PRC was never elected, its members had already been chosen before hand. In fact the committee was already sending orders and messages, one day before it had supposedly been elected. The committee stated:
“[T]he Communist Party is removed from power. The Provisional Revolutionary Committee is in charge. We ask that non-[Communist] party comrades take control into their hands” (“To All Posts of Kronstadt,”, reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy.)
Avrich also mentions how the PRC was never elected, though he claims it was merely “for lack of time to hold proper elections” (Avrich, p. 84)
This “Provisional Revolutionary Committee” actually consisted of opportunists, capitalists and counter-revolutionaries. Two members of this committee were Mensheviks who had opposed the October Revolution. Mensheviks and their foreign supporters believed Russia needed capitalism and wasn’t ready for a workers’ revolution. Ivan Oreshin, another member in the committee was part of the capitalist Kadet party, one of the leading parties under the Tsar. The head of the Committee was the would-be White Guardist Petrichenko. The chief editor of the Kronstadt mutiny’s newspaper, Sergei Putilin was also a supporter of the capitalist Kadets. Thus both the political leadership of the Kronstadt mutiny, and the mutiny’s propaganda outlets were under the control of counter-revolutionaries.
A genuine revolution is not led by anti-revolutionary Mensheviks or by capitalists. Already from its very inception, the Kronstadt mutiny was basically counter-revolutionary. However, that was just the beginning.
Other members of the PRC were a black-market speculator Vershinin, former police detective Pavlov, two ex-capitalists or property holders Baikov and Tukin “who had once owned no less than six houses and three shops in Petrograd. Another committee member, Kilgast, had reportedly been convicted of embezzling government funds in the Kronstadt transportation department but had been released in a general amnesty on the third anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.” (Avrich, pp. 93-94)
“Perepelkin may have been the only reputed anarchist among the rebel leaders, but… he was in a good position to propagate his libertarian views… [however] the sailors, for their part, never called for the complete elimination of the state, a central plank in any anarchist platform.” (Avrich, p. 170)
It was important for the leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny to appear like they were some kind of revolutionaries. They needed gauge the mood of the soldiers, and try to fool them. Leader of the Kronstadt mutiny, would be-White Guardist Petrichenko made the proposal to allow full freedom for “all socialist parties” in the public meeting of March 1. Immediately he was attacked by angry shouts by soldiers: “That’s freedom for the right SRs and Mensheviks! No! No way! …We know all about their Constituent Assemblies! We don’t need that!” (Kuzmin Report, Stenographic Report of Petrograd Soviet, 25 March 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
Petrichenko needed to be careful to not alienate his crowd. The Kadet Ivan Oreshin who was part of the PRC wrote: “The Kronstadt uprising broke out under the pretext of replacing the old Soviet… with a new one… The question of… extending the vote also to the bourgeoisie, was carefully avoided by the orators… They did not want to evoke opposition among the insurgents… They did not speak of the Constituent Assembly, but the assumption was that it could be arrived at gradually…” (Oreshin in Volia Rossii (April-May 1921), quoted in Shchetinov Kronstadt Tragedy)
The mutiny leaders understood that the soldiers didn’t actually support their goals, so they needed to keep their true goals secret. They could be achieved “gradually” by sneaky secret maneuvering.
During all these operations the reactionary organizers of the mutiny still carefully tried to use a cover of revolutionary and pro-worker language. They called each other ‘comrades’ and ‘the revolutionary committee’. However, they were adamant that Communists must be crushed. The vaguely anarchistic ideology, most likely influenced by Petrichenko, suited their purposes. All kinds of demagogical slogans were made about “freedom against bolshevik tyranny”, “soviets without communism” etc.
However, even if we didn’t know that Petrichenko had wanted to be a White Guardist it was still completely obvious that the Kronstadt mutineers were not following anarchist theory in any typical sense. They were not establishing a stateless society but an anti-Communist military dictatorship. 300 Communists were rounded up and thrown into prisons, but hundreds of Communists also managed to run away.
“The repression carried out by the PRC against those Communists who remained faithful to the communist revolution fully refutes the supposedly peaceful intentions of the rebels. Virtually all the minutes of the PRC sessions indicate that the struggle against the Communists still at large and against those still in prison, remained an unrelenting focus of their attention. At the last phase they even resorted to threats of field courts martial in spite of their declared repeal of the death penalty.” (Agranov, April 1921, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
An anarchist thug named Shustov, was the commandant of the prison. Imagine being an anarchist and advocating the abolition of all prisons, but at the same time you’re literally a prison warden, and you keep arresting hundreds of Communists! Shustov was chosen as the executioner who would shoot the leading local Communists. There was a plan to carry out a mass execution:
“Early on the morning of March 18, Shustov set up a machine gun outside the cell, which contained 23 prisoners. He was prevented from slaughtering the Communists only by the advance of the Red Army across the ice.” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)
THE KRONSTADT DEMANDS
Lenin pointed out that the Kronstadt demands were quite vague and unclear. This was inevitable because they were not realistic policy proposals but a combination of utopianism, spontaneity and demagogic propaganda intended to gather enough support until the White Guard could take power and crush the Communists and all other opposition.
The essential demands were: (Source: March 1 Resolution, quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
1. New elections to the Soviets. In Kronstadt Communists were arrested and thus would not be allowed to run in elections. Instead the Soviets would be filled with mensheviks, white guards, anarchists and opponents of the October Revolution such as the SR kerensky types. Of course the reactionaries also hoped this could spread elsewhere and help destabilize the Soviet government. Needless to say this was not an anarchistic “stateless” order.
2. Full freedom of action for anti-Communist parties including the left-SR terrorists who tried to assassinate Lenin in 1918. The terrorist’s bullet hit Lenin in the neck but he survived. These anti-Communist forces would receive full freedom of action, but of course in Kronstadt the Communists would be repressed and prevented from all activism. Again, the reactionaries hoped this would spread to other areas too.
3. There should be no government regulation of trade-unions. Of course, in practice this simply meant that unions should denounce the Soviet government, sever their ties with the Soviet government and not follow instructions from it. If this demand was implemented it would lead to chaos because the unions were the government’s main instrument of economic management and workplace democracy. The demand for unions which did not collaborate with the workers’ government was also an essentially anti-socialist demand. Unions working with a proletarian state are an important part of planned economy and socialist construction.
4. Anti-Communist rebels like menshevik saboteurs, SR terrorists and those organizing revolts should be freed from jail.
5. The mutineers demanded bigger rations. Of course everybody wanted higher wages and bigger rations, but this was just a cheap attempt to garner popularity. Also, the bolshevik government was being basically forced to pay somewhat higher salaries and better rations for skilled experts, bourgeois officials and workers in strategic branches. They did not want to do this, but they had to. Those experts and officials could not be replaced right away, and if they didn’t collaborate the government would have huge problems. Therefore the bolsheviks simply had to accommodate those people until Red Experts could be trained to replace them. It may seem unfair, but failing to recognize this necessity is just another example of utopian stupidity.
6. The abolition of “war communism” or grain requisition. Again, this demand could gain some popularity. The peasants never particularly liked the system of war communism, though it was necessary for the war effort. The mutineers more broadly demanded that peasants should be able to use their land and property exactly how they see fit. They did not want collective agriculture or socialist planned economy, but instead who ever was lucky enough to have land should use it to the best of their ability and compete on the market. Landless would remain landless, and big peasants would get bigger.
7. The mutineers demanded the purging of Communists from the military and factory management, and abolition of Communist political departments from the army. The army at this point still had very large numbers of professional officers and soldiers from the times of the Tsar and Kerensky. These officers were needed and used by the Communists because of their skills and professional military training. However, because those officers and soldiers were not communists or workers, and were generally untrustworthy the Bolsheviks invented ‘political comissars’ to supervise the officers.
“former imperial officers were… [used] as “military specialists” ( voenspetsy ) under the watchful supervision of political commissars. In this way, badly needed command experience and technical knowledge were provided until a new corps of Red Commanders could be trained.” (Avrich, p. 66)
The Kronstadt mutineers demanded that this system be abolished. Such a demand might appeal to some anarchists, but one can only imagine what the result would be. The non-Communist officers inside the Red Army would no longer follow socialist instructions and the Red Army would stop being a proletarian army at all. In fact, this quickly happened and the old Tsarist officers Kozlovsky, Vilken and others were soon walking around like they were masters of the situation. In fact, they were masters during the mutiny.
According to the SRs the White Guard general Kozlovsky was ‘elected’ to the defence council of the Kronstadt mutiny, but it seems unlikely he could get elected. Its more likely he was simply chosen by the counter-revolutionaries into that post. The Menshevik newspaper Sotsialisticheski Vestnik published in Germany wrote that Kozlovsky and the other Whites tried to convince the Mensheviks and SRs to begin a general military assault against the Soviet government, but they were unable to convince them. The Mensheviks wrote: “The political leaders of the insurrection would not agree to take the offensive and the opportunity was let slip.“
WHITE GUARDS AND CAPITALISTS IN KRONSTADT
White emigres immediately began making plans to join the Kronstadt mutineers. A former associate of White General Dennikin, N. N. Chebyshev wrote about those times: “White officers roused themselves and started seeking ways to get to the fight in Kronstadt… The spark flew among the emigres. Everybody’s spirit was lifted by it” (quoted in Shchetinov, Introduction to Kronstadt Tragedy)
Imperialist France and Britain encouraged capitalist states on the Russian border to assist the Kronstadt mutiny. British foreign minister Lord Curzon sent a secret message to Finland On March 11 stating: “His Majesty’s Government are not prepared themselves to intervene… Very confidential: There is no reason, however, why you should advise the Finnish Government to take a similar course or to prevent any private societies or individuals from helping [the mutiny]” (Documents on British Foreign Policy 1919-1939).
Food and money came from rich capitalists and White emigres to support the Kronstadt mutineers. Tsarist Baron P. Y. Vilken, the former commander of the Sevastopol, used his spy contacts to deliver the money. His telegrams discuss sending the funds through Helsinki “which needs the money in the beginning of March” (Russkaia voennaia emigratsiaa 20-x—40-x godov).
“The Russian banks, with the former Tsarist minister of finance Kokovtsev at their head, began to collect money for Kronstadt. Goutchkov, the head of the Russian imperialist party, got in contact with the English and American governments to obtain food supplies.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
“The Whiteguard emigres in Paris organized collection of money and provisions for the mutineers, and the American Red Cross sent food supplies to Kronstadt under its flag.“ (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
“the Russian Union of Commerce and Industry in Paris declared its intention to send food and other supplies to Kronstadt… an initial sum of two million Finnish marks had already been pledged to aid Kronstadt in “the sacred cause of liberating Russia” (Avrich, p. 116)
“the Russian-Asiatic Bank contributed 225,000 francs. Additional funds were donated by other Russian banks, insurance companies, and financial concerns throughout Europe, and by the Russian Red Cross, which funneled all collections to Tseidler, its representative in Finland. By March 16 Kokovtsov was able to inform the Committee of Russian Banks in Paris that deposits for Kronstadt already exceeded 775,000 francs…” (Avrich, p. 117)
The leaders of the Kronstadt mutiny published an article on March 6 where they claimed to oppose the Whites. However, this was more deception as Petrichenko and many of his associates were White Guardists. Two days later on March 8 they welcomed a secret delegation of allies, which included a courier from the SR Administrative Center, an agent of Finnish State Security, two representatives of the monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization and four White Guard officers, including Baron Vilken.
The Whites were disguised as a “Red Cross” delegation sent from Finland. According to a detailed report by White Guardist Tseidler to his HQ, the delegation was immediately invited to ajoint session of the PRC and the general staff officers. A plan was reached to use the Red Cross as a cover to organizing sending food, supplies and funds to Kronstadt. (Source: Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921).
White emigre and former member of the Kronstadt leadership Kupolov wrote later that some of the Kronstadt leaders (probably mensheviks and anarchists) were not too happy about the monarchist and White Guard plots. However, Petrichenko was simply using them and planned to eventually get rid of them too. Kupolov writes:
“The PRC, seeing that Kronstadt was filling up with agents of a monarchist organization, issued a declaration that it would not enter into negotiations with, nor accept any aid from, any non-socialist parties… But… Petrichenko and the General Staff secretly worked in connection with the monarchists and prepared the ground for an overthrow of the committee…” (Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC”)
This is exactly why the Bolsheviks stated that while many of the Kronstadt mutineers were not White Guards or members of the capitalist class, their action still furthered the goals of the White Guard counter-revolution and of capitalist restoration. The White Guards were simply using these mensheviks and hapless opportunists.
The PCR claimed: “In Kronstadt, total power is in the hands only of the revolutionary sailors… not of the White Guards headed by some General Kozlovsky, as the slanderous Moscow radio proclaims.” “We have only one general here… commissar of the Baltic Fleet Kuzmin. And he has been arrested.”” (Avrich, p. 99)
In exile Petrichenko stated: “Cut off from the outside world, we could receive no aid from foreign sources even if we had wanted it. We served as agents of no external group: neither capitalists, Mensheviks, nor SR’s.” (Avrich, p. 113)
These days we know that he was lying.
Anarchist sailor Perepelkin, who was there in Kronstadt stated:
“And here I saw the former commander or the Sevastopol, Baron Vilken with whom I had earlier sailed. And it is he who is now acknowledged by the PRC to be the representative of the delegation that is offering us aid. I was outraged by this. I… said, so that’s the situation we’re in, that’s who we’re forced to talk to. Petrichenko and the others jumped on me… There was no other way out: they said. I stopped arguing and said I would accept the proposal. And on the second day we received 400 poods of food and cigarettes. Those who agreed to mutual friendship with the White Guard baron yesterday shouted that they were for Soviet power.” (Komarov Report, 25 March 1921)
“Any doubts about Vilken’s motives (his officer background was known to the rebel leaders) were brushed aside, and the Revolutionary Committee accepted his offer.” (Avrich, p. 122)
This has of course continued to this very day. The pseudo-Anarchists in Rojava made the same exact arguments. They said, they needed to collaborate with American imperialists because American imperialists were giving them funding, training, military support and weaponry. And were they really expected to win all on their own without such support? But such opportunistic logic merely reduces any movement into helpless puppets of capitalists and imperialists.
Wrangel’s right hand man, White General General Von Lampe literally laughed at the anarchists, mensheviks and SRs. He wrote in his diary that their propaganda was “full of justifications to dispel the thought, God forbid, that the sailors were under the influence of [White Monarchist] officers… The SRs don’t understand that in such a struggle, what are needed are severe and determined measures.” (Quoted in Kronstadt Tragedy)
An editor for the mutineer newspaper Lamanov stated: “Up until the seizure of Kronstadt by Soviet troops I thought the movement had heen organized by the Left SRs. After I became convinced that the movement was not spontaneous, I no longer sympathized with it… Now I am firmly convinced, that, without a doubt, White Guards, both Russian and foreign, took part in the movement. The escape to Finland convinced me of this. Now I consider my participation in this movement to have heen an unforgivable stupid mistake.” (Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov)
On March 15 the Kronstadt mutineers secretly sent two of their leaders to Finland, to ask for support. At this time Finland was ruled by the ferocious White Guard government of Mannerheim and co. which was launching invasions into Soviet-Karelia and supporting the Russian White Generals. When the mutiny was being defeated, on March 17 Petrichenko and the leaders ordered the crews of ships Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol to blow up the ships and flee to Anti-Communist Finland. However, at this point the soldiers had already begun to think their leaders must be reactionaries and did not follow orders. They rose up, saved the ships and arrested all the officers and Provisional Committee members they could get their hands on.
After the Kronstadt mutiny had failed and its leaders had fled to Finland, they agreed to join the White Army of Wrangel:
“In May 1921 Petrichenko and several of his fellow refugees at the Fort Ino camp decided to volunteer their services to General Wrangel… in a new campaign to unseat the Bolsheviks and restore “the gains of the February 1917 Revolution.”” (Avrich, p. 127)
It is very significant that at this point they were no longer in Kronstadt, and thus didn’t need to pretend they supported the October Revolution. Hence they now began to only praise the February revolution of Kerensky!
The Petrichenko gang and the Whites forces of Wrangel agreed to “the retention of their slogan “all power to the soviets but not the parties.”… the slogan was to be retained only as a “convenient political maneuver” until the Communists had been overthrown. Once victory was in hand, the slogan would be shelved and a temporary military dictatorship installed…” (Avrich, pp. 127-128)
THE REACTIONARY PROPAGANDA CAMPAIGN
The Kronstadt mutineers and their capitalist allies carried out a massive propaganda campaign to support the mutiny. They published lies claiming that supposedly the Bolsheviks were carrying out atrocities and supposedly everybody was rising up against them. In fact, nothing of the kind happened.
The Kronstadt newspaper wrote on March 7: “Last Minute News From Petrograd” – ”Mass arrests and executions of workers and sailors continue.”
On March 8 a Finnish capitalist newspaper Hufvudstadsbladet published the following lies, provided to them by Mensheviks: “Petrograd workers are striking… crowds bearing red banners demand a change of government – the overthrow of the Communists.”
On March 11 the Kronstadt newspaper wrote: “The [bolshevik] Government In Panic.” “Our cry has been heard. Revolutionary sailors, Red Army men and workers in Petrograd are already coming to our assistance … The Bolshevik power feels the ground slipping from under its feet and has issued orders in Petrograd to open fire at any group of five or more people gathering in the streets …”
“Moscow Rising Reported. Petrograd Fighting.” (London Times, March 2, 1921)
“Petrograd et Moscou Seraient aux Maine des Insurgés qui ont Formé un Gouvernement Provisoire.” [“Petrograd and Moscow will be in the hands of the insurgents who have formed a provisional government”] (Matin, March 7)
“Les Marins Revoltés Débarquent à Petrograd.” [“Rebelling sailors land in Petrograd”] (Matin, March 8)
“Der Aufstand in Russland.” [“The uprising in Russia”] (Vossische Zeitung, March 10)
“In Petrograd the remnants of the SRs, Mensheviks and various anarchists banded together… [and] collaborated with the newly formed monarchist Petrograd Combat Organization (PCO), as the PCO itself asserted (PCO Report to Helsinki Department of National Center, no earlier than 28 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy). The [monarchist-capitalist] PCO even printed the Mensheviks’ leaflets! On March 14… [they] issued a leaflet in solidarity with Kronstadt that said not one word about socialism or soviets, but instead called for an uprising against “the bloody communist regime” in the name of “all power to the people” (“Appeal to All Citizens, Workers, Red Army Soldiers and Sailors,” 14 March 1921; reprinted in Kronstadt Tragedy).” (Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution)
“Savinkov, aide to Kerensky… in his Warsaw newspaper Svoboda, printed on Polish [capitalist] government money, boasts (24th February) “I fight against the Bolsheviks, I fight alongside those who have already struggled with Kolchak, Denikin, Wrangel and even Petlioura, strange as that may seem.” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
Savinkov wrote that the sailors of Kronstadt had captured the battleship Aurora and fired its cannons on Petrograd. This never actually happened. He wrote: “when the cruiser Aurora fired on Petrograd it was an expression of repentance for the sin committed on the 25th of October 1917 with the bombardment of the Winter Palace, the seat of Kerensky’s ministry.”
“The Roul of Berlin, the organ of the right wing of the Cadet Party, wrote “The uprising of Kronstadt is scared, because it is an uprising against the idea of the October revolution”. The Society of Russian Industrialists and Financiers of Paris, when they heard the news from Kronstadt, decided to not worry about the extremist demands or the primitive cause of the mutiny [“les revendications extremistes cause primitive de la mutinerie”] because its essential point was that “the sailors were for the overthrow of the Communist government” [Dernières Nouvelles de Paris, 8th March].” (Radek, The Kronstadt Uprising, 1921)
The reactionary mutineers claimed that mass uprisings had broken out in Petrograd and Moscow to support the Kronstadt mutiny, but this was a total lie. Even Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2). This is easy to understand, because the mutiny was not based on genuine political organizing or a genuine program. It was a plot organized by White Guard reactionaries and political adventurers, by spreading false rumors, lies, and exploiting the temporary difficulties and confusion in Kronstadt at the time in order to carry out a military coup, repress the communists and prevent the workers and peasants from understanding what was actually going on.
It was enterily unlikely that workers would support the mutiny in other towns where they could not be simply tricked by plotters, and where they had their working class and Communist organizations. The Kronstadt mutiny used anarchists, left-SR terrorists and Mensheviks as their henchmen but even they were to a large extent simply fooled into it, as White Guardists were secretly trying to orchestrate many aspects of the mutiny for their own purposes.
Its also worth pointing out that the best revolutionary elements in the left-SRs, left-Mensheviks and even anarchists had already seen the error in their ways and joined the Bolshevik Party either right before the October Revolution or soon after it. Only the worse elements like terrorists, utopians and right-wing Mensheviks now opposed the Bolsheviks. The anarcho-syndicalist “Worker Opposition” also supported the Bolsheviks in crushing the Kronstadt mutiny.
“SOVIETS WITHOUT COMMUNISM! DOWN WITH COMMUNISM!” –IDEOLOGY OF THE KRONSTADT MUTINY
Milliukov, one of the capitalist leaders of Russia who was ousted by the October Revolution, wrote in his newspaper which he published in Paris, that reactionaries need to support the Kronstadt mutiny. He therefore advocated the slogan “Down with the Bolsheviks’ Long live the Soviets!” (Poslednie Novosti. 11 March 1921). The first step was to get rid of the Bolshevik Communists, after that it would be easy to restore the power of the capitalists.
“The [capitalist]… Milyukov, supplied the Kronstadt counter-revolutionaries with the watchword “Soviets without Communists””(A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
Stalin said: “Soviets without Communists — such was then the watchword of the chief of the Russian counter-revolution, Milyukov…” (J. Stalin, Articles and Speeches, Moscow, 1934, , Russ, ed., p. 217)
“But the class enemy was not dozing. He tried to exploit the distressing economic situation and the discontent of the peasants for his own purposes. Kulak revolts, engineered by Whiteguards and SRs, broke out in Siberia, the Ukraine and the Tambov province… All kinds of counter-revolutionary elements — Mensheviks, SRs, Anarchists, Whiteguards, bourgeois nationalists—became active again. The enemy adopted new tactics of struggle against the Soviet power. He began to borrow a Soviet garb, and his slogan was no longer the old bankrupt “Down with the Soviets!” but a new slogan: “For the Soviets, but without Communists!”
A glaring instance of the new tactics of the class enemy was the counter-revolutionary mutiny in Kronstadt… Whiteguards, in complicity with SRs, Mensheviks and representatives of foreign states, assumed the lead of the mutiny. The mutineers at first used a “Soviet” signboard to camouflage their purpose of restoring the power and property of the capitalists and landlords. They raised the cry: “Soviets without Communists!” The counter-revolutionaries tried to exploit the discontent of the petty bourgeois masses in order to overthrow the power of the Soviets under a pseudo-Soviet slogan.
Two circumstances facilitated the outbreak of the Kronstadt mutiny: the deterioration in the composition of the ships’ crews, and the weakness of the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt. Nearly all the old [revolutionary, communist Kronstadt] sailors… [had been sent away to the] front, heroically fighting in the ranks of the Red Army. The naval replenishments [sent to Kronstadt to replace them] consisted of new men, who had not been schooled in the revolution. These were a perfectly raw peasant mass who gave expression to the peasantry’s discontent with the [grain requisition system and war communism]. As for the Bolshevik organization in Kronstadt, it had been greatly weakened by a series of mobilizations for the front.” (History of the CPSU(B) short course)
Anarchist historian Avrich writes that the bulk of Kronstadt sailors had fought in anti-Communist forces before: “…we have it from Petrichenko himself that “three-quarters” of the Kronstadt garrison were natives of the Ukraine, some of whom had served with the anti-Bolshevik forces in the south before entering the Soviet navy.” (Avrich, p. 93)
“Throughout the Civil War of 1918-1920, the sailors of Kronstadt… More than 40,000… replenished the ranks of the Red Army on every front.” (Avrich, p. 62)
“There can be little doubt that during the Civil War years a large turnover had indeed taken place within the Baltic Fleet… old-timers had been replaced by conscripts from the rural districts… By 1921… more than three-quarters of the sailors were of peasant origin, a substantially higher proportion than in 1917, when industrial workers from the Petrograd area made up a sizable part of the fleet.” (Avrich, p. 89)
The temporary weakness of the local Communist organization in Kronstadt, the mass influx of politically uneducated people from the countryside, who were even anti-communists, and the sending of politically educated, experienced proletarians away to the frontlines during the war – these factors allowed the SR utopians, terrorists, anarchists, mensheviks and outright capitalists, monarchists and White Guards to gain a temporary foothold in Kronstadt.
One of the reasons for the relative weakness of the Kronstadt Bolshevik party organization, was that Trotskyists and Zinovievites were in a strong position there:
“The work of political education was at that time badly organized in the Baltic Fleet, and the Trotskyites… managed to get into leading positions…” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
A power struggle began between the opportunist factions of Trotsky and Zinoviev. At this time Lenin had been waging ideological struggle against Trotsky’s bureaucratic position on the questions of war-communism and role of the trade-unions. Zinoviev took advantage of this to strengthen his own opportunist faction. Trotskyists themselves admit this:
“Seizing on Trotsky’s wrong-headedness, Zinoviev mobilized his own base in the Petrograd-Kronstadt area against Trotsky… Zinoviev opened the floodgates of the Kronstadt party organization to backward recruits while encouraging a poisonous atmosphere in the inner-party dispute. The rot in the Kronstadt Communist Party organization was a critical factor in allowing the mutiny to proceed” (“Kronstadt 1921…”, Spartacist, Spring 2006 #59, )
There is no honor among scoundrels! A few years after this the renegade cliques of Trotsky and Zinoviev would unite their forces against the Bolshevik party.
“The authority of the party was further undermined by a struggle for political control in the fleet, which pitted Trotsky, the War Commissar, against Zinoviev… As a result of this dispute, the commissars and other party administrators lost much of their hold over the rank and file.” (Avrich, p. 70)
Another piece of information, indicating that the Kronstadt mutineers did not represent the best revolutionary elements, but actually some of the most politically backward elements, was their rampant anti-semitism. Anti-semitism of course was quite common in Russia at that time, but it was not tolerated among the Communists. It was more common among peasants then workers.
“feelings against the Jews ran high among the [Kronstadt] sailors, many of whom came from the Ukraine and the western borderlands, the classic regions of virulent anti-Semitism in Russia” (Avrich, p. 179)
One of the Kronstadt newspaper editors Lamanov, said that people constantly wrote anti-semitic articles about Jews having “murdered Russia” but he usually succeeded in preventing them from being published. (Source: Further Minutes of Questioning of Anatoly Lamanov, 25 March 1921)
“Vershinin… [member of the PRC] shouted an appeal for joint action against the Jewish and Communist oppressors…” (Avrich, p. 155)
“Jews were a customary scapegoat in times of hardship and distress… In a particularly vicious passage [one sailor] attacks the Bolshevik regime as the “first Jewish Republic”… he labels the Jews a new “privileged class,”… calling the government ultimatum to Kronstadt “the ultimatum of the Jew Trotsky.” These sentiments, he asserts were widely shared by his fellow sailors… Witness the appeal of Vershinin, a member of the Revolutionary Committee… on March 8… “Enough of your ‘hoorahs,’ and join with us to beat the Jews. It’s their cursed domination that we workers and peasants have had to endure.” (Avrich, pp. 179-180)
WHY DIDN’T THE BOLSHEVIKS NEGOTIATE A PEACEFUL SETTLEMENT?
Anarchists usually claim that the Bolsheviks saw the Kronstadt mutiny as some great threat to their power. That supposedly the “heroic struggle” of the mutineers could’ve inspired everyone to overthrow the Bolsheviks. However, this is completely false.
“This Kronstadt affair in itself is a very petty incident. It no more threatens to break up the Soviet state than the Irish disorders are threatening to break up the British Empire.” (Lenin, On the Kronstadt revolt)
The Menshevik leader Dan admitted in his 1922 book that “the Kronstadt mutiny was not supported by the Petersburg workers in any way” (quoted in ‘The Mensheviks in the Kronstadt Mutiny,” Krasnaill Letopis’, 1931, No.2)
The Bolshevik government suppressed the mutiny because the Whites still tried to use it as a springboard for restarting the civil war with foreign imperialist backing.
“What the authorities feared, in other words, was not so much the rebellion itself…” (Avrich, p. 134)
“Of greater concern to the Bolsheviks was the determination of the [white] emigres to gain access to Kronstadt and use it as a base for a landing on the mainland. This would have meant nothing less than a resumption of the Civil War…” (Avrich, p. 134)
The ice was quickly melting so time was of the essence. Kronstadt had an extremely strong fortress and heavy weaponry. It would be very difficult to attack, and if the ice melted the only way to get there would be on battleships. Kronstadt itself also had two battleships. Therefore if the Bolsheviks waited and didn’t attack and take the Fort right away, the resulting battle might be catastrophic in its casualties and material damages. The mutineers also felt that they had gone too far, and there was no turning back. They felt they couldn’t negotiate their way out of this and simply had to fight as long as possible.
Zinoviev carried out pointless negotiations with the mutineers, which achieved nothing and only allowed the counter-revolutionaries to fortify their defenses.
“Zinoviev negotiated with the traitors for seven whole days, thereby giving them time to fortify themselves.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, p. 307)
It is often stated that Trotsky led the suppression of the Kronstadt mutiny, and that under Trotsky’s leadership the soldiers committed atrocities. However, both of these claims are false. The military defeat of the mutiny was entirely led by Voroshilov. Trotsky himself wrote later:
“The truth of the matter is that I personally did not participate in the least in the suppression of the Kronstadt rebellion” (Trotsky, More on the Suppression of Kronstadt)
The soldiers, 300 of whom had been delegates to the 10th Bolshevik Party Congress, acted heroicially but Zinoviev who was in a power struggle with Trotsky at the time, spread all kinds of lies about the military operation, saying that it was organized by Trotsky and that all kinds of mistakes and wrong-doings supposedly occurred. But the bureaucratic mistakes of Trotsky, neglecting ideological education in the army and navy, and the further sabotage of Zinoviev contributed to the outbreak of the mutiny.
DEFEATING THE MUTINY
“The mutineers gained possession of a first-class fortress, the fleet, and a vast quantity of arms and ammunition… Against the Kronstadt mutineers the Party sent its finest sons—delegates to the Tenth Congress, headed by Comrade Voroshilov. The Red Army men advanced on Kronstadt across a thin sheet of ice; it broke in places and many were drowned. The almost impregnable forts of Kronstadt had to be taken by storm…” (History of the CPSU(B) short course)
“Picked units of the Red Army were sent to crush the Kronstadt counter-revolution. The Tenth Congress of the Party, which was in session at that time, sent 300 of its delegates, headed by K. E. Voroshilov, to reinforce them. On March 16, the revolutionary soldiers… commenced an assault upon the main forts of Kronstadt, rushing forward in spite of continuous machine-gun fire and the bursting shells which broke the already fragile ice over which they were advancing. In the front ranks of the assault columns was Voroshilov, setting an example of Bolshevik courage and valour.” (A History of the USSR, volume 3, pp. 307-308)
APPENDIX. LENIN ON KRONSTADT:
“What does it mean? It was an attempt to seize political power from the Bolsheviks by a motley crowd or alliance of ill-assorted elements, apparently just to the right of the Bolsheviks, or perhaps even to their “left”—you can’t really tell, so amorphous is the combination of political groupings that has tried to take power in Kronstadt. You all know, undoubtedly, that at the same time whiteguard generals were very active over there. There is ample proof of this. A fortnight before the Kronstadt events., the Paris newspapers reported a mutiny at Kronstadt. It is quite clear that it is the work of SRs and whiteguard émigrés, and at the same time the movement was reduced to a petty-bourgeois counter-revolution and petty-bourgeois anarchism. That is something quite new. This circumstance, in the context of all the crises, must be given careful political consideration and must be very thoroughly analysed… There is evidence here of the activity of petty-bourgeois anarchist elements with their slogans of unrestricted trade and invariable hostility to the dictatorship of the proletariat… they wanted to correct the Bolsheviks in regard to restrictions in trade—and this looks like a small shift, which leaves the same slogans of “Soviet power” with ever so slight a change or correction. Yet, in actual fact the whiteguards only used the non-Party elements as a stepping stone to get in. This is politically inevitable. We saw the petty-bourgeois, anarchist elements in the Russian revolution, and we have been fighting them for decades. We have seen them in action since February 1917, during the great revolution, and their parties’ attempts to prove that their programme differed little from that of the Bolsheviks, but that only their methods in carrying it through were different. We know this not only from the experience of the October Revolution, but also of the outlying regions and various areas within the former Russian Empire where the Soviet power was temporarily replaced by other regimes. Let us recall the Democratic Committee in Samara. They all came in demanding equality, freedom, and a constituent assembly, and every time they proved to be nothing but a conduit for whiteguard rule. Because the Soviet power is being shaken by the economic situation, we must consider all this experience and draw the theoretical conclusions a Marxist cannot escape… We must take a hard look at this petty-bourgeois counter-revolution with its calls for freedom to trade. Unrestricted trade—even if it is not as bound up initially with the whiteguards as Kronstadt was—is still only the thin end of the wedge for the whiteguard element, a victory for capital and its complete restoration. We must, I repeat, have a keen sense of this political danger.” (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“I emphasised the danger of Kronstadt because it lies precisely in the fact that the change demanded was apparently very slight: “The Bolsheviks must go . . . we will correct the regime a little.” That is what the Kronstadt rebels are demanding. But what actually happened was that Savinkov arrived in Revel, the Paris newspapers reported the events a fortnight before they actually occurred, and a whiteguard general appeared on the scene. That is what actually happened.” (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“The way the enemies of the proletariat take advantage of every deviation from a thoroughly consistent communist line was perhaps most strikingly shown in the case of the Kronstadt mutiny, when the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries and whiteguards in all countries of the world immediately expressed their readiness to accept the slogans of the Soviet system, if only they might thereby secure the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Russia, and when the SRs and the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries in general resorted in Kronstadt to slogans calling for an insurrection against the Soviet Government of Russia ostensibly in the interest of the Soviet power. These facts fully prove that the whiteguards strive, and are able, to disguise themselves as Communists, and even as the most Left-wing Communists, solely for the purpose of weakening and destroying the bulwark of the proletarian revolution in Russia.“ (Lenin, Tenth Congress of the R.C.P.(B.))
“The vacillation of the petty-bourgeois element was the most characteristic feature of the Kronstadt events. There was very little that was clear, definite and fully shaped. We heard nebulous slogans about “freedom”, “freedom of trade”, “emancipation”, “Soviets without the Bolsheviks”, or new elections to the Soviets, or relief from “Party dictatorship”, and so on and so forth. Both the Mensheviks and the SRs declared the Kronstadt movement to be “their own”. [Menshevik] Victor Chernov sent a messenger to Kronstadt. On the latter’s proposal, the Menshevik Valk, one of the Kronstadt leaders, voted for the Constituent Assembly. In a flash, with lightning speed, you might say, the whiteguards mobilised all their forces “for Kronstadt“. Their military experts in Kronstadt, a number of experts, and not Kozlovsky alone, drew up a plan for a landing at Oranienbaum, which scared the vacillating mass of Mensheviks, SRs and non-party elements. More than fifty Russian whiteguard newspapers published abroad conducted a rabid campaign “for Kronstadt”. The big banks, all the forces of finance capital, collected funds to assist Kronstadt. That shrewd leader of the bourgeoisie and the landowners, the Cadet Milyukov, patiently explained to the simpleton [Menshevik] Chernov… and to the Mensheviks Dan and Rozhkov, who are in jail in Petrograd for their connection with the Kronstadt events… that there is no need to hurry with the Constituent Assembly, and that Soviet power can and must be supported—only without the Bolsheviks.
Of course, it is easy to be cleverer than conceited simpletons like Chernov, the petty-bourgeois phrase-monger, or like Martov, the knight of philistine reformism doctored to pass for Marxism. Properly speaking, the point is not that Milyukov, as an individual, has more brains, but that, because of his class position, the party leader of the big bourgeoisie sees and understands the class essence and political interaction of things more clearly than the leaders of the petty bourgeoisie, the Chernovs and Martovs. For the bourgeoisie is really a class force which, under capitalism… and which also inevitably enjoys the support of the world bourgeoisie. But the petty bourgeoisie, i.e. … cannot… be anything else than the expression of class impotence; hence the vacillation, phrase-mongering and helplessness…
[Menshevik leader] Martov showed himself to be nothing but a philistine Narcissus when he declared in his Berlin journal that Kronstadt not only adopted Menshevik slogans but also proved that there could be an anti-Bolshevik movement which did not entirely serve the interests of the whiteguards, the capitalists and the landowners. He says in effect: “Let us shut our eyes to the fact that all the genuine whiteguards hailed the Kronstadt mutineers and collected funds in aid of Kronstadt through the banks!” Compared with the Chernovs and Martovs, Milyukov is right, for he is revealing the true tactics of the real whiteguard force, the force of the capitalists and landowners. He declares: “It does not matter whom we support, be they anarchists or any sort of Soviet government, as long as the Bolsheviks are overthrown, as long as there is a shift in power; it does not matter whether to the right or to the left, to the Mensheviks or to the anarchists, as long as it is away from the Bolsheviks… ‘we’, the capitalists and landowners, will do the rest ‘ourselves’… History proves it. The facts bear it out. The Narcissuses will talk; the Milyukovs and whiteguards will act.” (Lenin, The Tax in Kind)
“You must have noticed that these extracts from the whiteguard newspapers published abroad appeared side by side with extracts from British and French newspapers. They are one chorus, one orchestra… They have admitted that if the slogan becomes “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” they will all accept it. Milyukov explains this with particular clarity… He says he is prepared to accept the “Soviet power without the Bolsheviks” slogan. He cannot see from over there in Paris whether this is to be a slight shift to the right or to the left, towards the anarchists. From over there, he cannot see what is going on in Kronstadt, but asks the monarchists not to rush and spoil things by shouting about it. He declares that even if the shift is to be to the left, he is prepared to back the Soviet power against the Bolsheviks…” (Lenin, The All-Russia Congress Of Transport Workers)
Paul Avrich, Kronstadt: The 1921 Uprising of Sailors in the Context of the Political Development of the New Soviet State
[Avrich provides a lot of useful factual information, however he is pro-anarchist. He sees the Kronstadt mutiny as a tragedy which could never have succeeded but he sympathizes with it. Despite everything he tries to deny that the mutiny was orchestrated by the Whites. He admits that the Kronstadt mutineers collaborated with Whites, Monarchists, Capitalists, foreign powers, Mensheviks and SRs but basically claims “that doesn’t matter”. His book is from 1970 when the archives were still closed. For that reason he relies quite heavily on dishonest Menshevik and Anarchist sources which have nothing to support their claims, and often he takes Petrichenko’s words at face value. He also doesn’t understand Marxism and therefore distorts it. Perhaps it was impossible to publish in American academia unless one reached an anti-bolshevik conclusion? Still he deserves credit for his discoveries.]
White Guard Memorandum On Organizing An Uprising In Kronstadt, reprinted in Avrich
Primary source documents printed in “Kronshtadtskaia tragediia 1921 goda, dokumenty v dvukh knigakh” (“Kronstadt Tragedy”): -Kuzmin Report, 25 March 1921 -Agranov Report, April 1921 -“To All Posts of Kronstadt,” Kronstadt Izvestia -Ivan Oreshin, Volia Rossii (April-May 1921) -Kronstadt March 1 Resolution -Tseidler, Red Cross Activity in Organizing Provisions Aid to Kronstadt, 25 April 1921. -Kupolov, “Kronstadt and the Russian Counterrevolutionaries in Finland: From the Notes of a Former Member of the PRC” -Komarov Report, 25 March 1921 -Von Lampe’s Diary entry -Minutes of Cheka Interrogation of Anatoly Lamanov
Kronstadt 1921: Bolshevism vs. Counterrevolution, Spartacist #6 Spring 2006 [Very good article, which brought many primary source documents to my attention. The article propagates erroneous Trotskyist views but luckily they have practically nothing to do with the topic of Kronstadt and can thus be ignored.]
“…no living person can help taking the side of one class or another…” and “Taken as a whole, the professors of economics are nothing but learned salesmen of the capitalist class, while the professors of philosophy are learned salesmen of the theologians” (Lenin, Materialism and Empirio-criticism)
What Lenin said about capitalist professors of economics and philosophy, is surely even more true about capitalist historians. Engels put it even more bluntly:
“…the best paid historiography is that which is best falsified for the purposes of the bourgeoisie.” (Engels, Notes for the “History of Ireland”)
Communists are constantly under a barrage of psychological warfare from the capitalists and their henchmen. On any given historical topic there are countless books about the supposed crimes and atrocities committed by communists. While those books are often lazily researched, have bad evidence or no evidence at all, or can even be deliberately lying, they carry out their purpose. Their purpose is, that when ever someone wants to learn about a given topic related to communism, he is told “the communists are bad”. The sheer amount of anti-communist books on every possible topic, can slowly start to work on even an intelligent and devoted communist.
When one reads book after book, of more and more horrors supposedly caused by communism, it will unavoidable cause the communists to become discouraged, depressed – at least temporarily. The communist might almost start to believe the lies which all these dozens and dozens, thousands and tens of thousands of anti-communist books spread. Then, after hours and hours of research, the communist might find something which reveals the truth about communism, debunks the capitalist lies. For a moment, he is satisfied and comfortable. But the anti-communist psychological bombartment continues relentlessly.
Is it any wonder that so many workers hold anti-communist views? No. Withstanding the anti-communist propaganda bombartment can be extremely difficult, and for a person who hasn’t already learned the truth about marxism it is even more difficult. I grew up being taught to fear communism. And I really did fear it. Even after learning about marxism, it took several years to finally get rid of most of that fear, which was instilled deep inside my psyche, by years of indoctrination. Even after becoming a marxist, I still emotionally and irrationally feared communism. I knew it was the result of lies, but that didn’t make it go away.
Maybe for some other people it was easier, but for me it wasn’t easy. Only very gradually, after discovering more and more, and becoming slowly more and more convinced of the truth of communism, I finally was able to discard that fear.
Researching the history of socialism in Hungary has reminded me of all these things, because I read dozens of books, maybe 30 or 40 about the topic, and the vast majority of them were absolutely virulently anti-communist.
My plan for researching the history of socialism in Hungary was simple: 1) find some books discussing it from a marxist point of view. 2) find maybe two or three non-marxist books on the subject which would be somewhat objective, as neutral as possible, and have lots of sources and evidence.
The first goal was actually very easy. I found some marxist books about Hungary. The second goal proved to be impossible. I didn’t find even a single good history book about Hungary written by a non-communist. Even the best ones, like “Hungary: A Short History” by Norman Stone and “Revolution in Hungary” by Paul E. Zinner were terrible. Some chapters by Stone would have only a small number of sources, and it had insane and unproven slanders against communism all the time. Zinner’s book had more sources, but it was equally dishonest, untrustworthy and often times blatantly lying or badly researched. The other books which I read, were all much worse. Some of them had zero sources, or less then five sources in the whole book, it was common. They all made the same unfounded assertions about important events in Hungarian history.
I could read those books, and always get the same answers, and everytime it was without any good evidence, without citations, or citing one of those terrible books which I had already read, which itself had no evidence or cited yet another terrible book with no evidence. Eventually after hours of research, I could discover the original source for some baseless claim, and it was proved to be lies. But what if I wanted to find out the truth, and not merely discover what was lies? It was extremely difficult, because those books often times contained barely any truth. Even a basic summary of Hungarian history was often distorted almost beyond recognition.
But it began to take its toll. There were times when it made me sad. I read atrocity-story after atrocity-story. “Communist dictators”, “communist murderers”, “bloodthirsty communist tyrants”, “economic disaster caused by communism”, “destruction of culture by communism”. I knew it was lies, but it still made me unhappy to have to read it constantly, book after book. And only occasionally, I would get a small glimpse of truth, some new fact which I could verify and add to my pile of knowledge. I stayed motivated, and sometimes the little discoveries that I made were rewarding.
History is just as partisan as any science. History has a class character like everything. Capitalist society is ruled by capitalist ideology. Those truths were always in my arsenal. But it might be easy to forget those things. One might simply fall into the comfortable fantasy that the historians – taught in capitalist schools, taught by virulent anti-communists, taught based on anti-communist books, restricted by the capitalist academia which decides what gets published and what doesn’t – that those historians, really were telling the simple and “neutral” facts. Life would be so easy then, so comforting. One wouldn’t need to rack one’s brain. Could simply believe the professors, could simply believe the “salesmen” of anti-communism as Lenin said. One might simply fall into that comfortable dream… of class collaboration.
But instead, we have to awaken to the frightening, and unpleasant wakefulness, where the henchmen of the capitalists are always merely serving their class interest, where we can never believe in some “simple” and “neutral” truth, but have to always analyze everything for ourselves, through a firmly proletarian and marxist viewpoint, never lapsing into the fantasy of “neutrality”, but always keeping a proletarian partisan viewpoint. And at every step, the capitalist propagandists try to hinder us, they hide the facts, they spread lies, they falsify, distort, they use fear-propaganda and drive it into our heads daily and for all our lives. And many of them even believe many of their own lies.
When I read a historian or a journalist, and I discover that they are telling lies, deliberately, maliciously, to protect exploitation, to oppress the hard working everyday people of the world, it almost always makes me at least a little unhappy. When I read a historian who uses very colorful well crafted language to describe a situation, his text captures my imagination, I go with the flow of his text, almost beginning to believe him, and then something alerts me, stirs me from the enjoyable activity of reading a well crafted narrative. I stop. I consider. He has written something which cannot be right… or something very biased… I check to see… There is no citation… or the citation is one of the familiar hacks and liars. Another disappointement. More malicious lies! I’m not surprised but I am unhappy.
There is an optimism which comes with marxism, but there is also a sadness. A sadness about the state of the world, and the capitalists use this ruthlessly against us. They want a sad, apathetic mass of people without hope.
We can live in the fantasy-land where the capitalist professors are simply “neutral” and always reliable. It would be easier. No critical thinking is required. Just play video games, drink alcohol, distract yourself. In that kind of life, we are safely kept away from communism by fear and ignorance. “Communism doesn’t work”, “Communism leads to millions of deaths”. Better to stay away from it! As long as one doesn’t care about the truth, as long as one isn’t too curious! And there are so many products to help take our mind off things…
Stalin said that revisionists are those, who surrender under the pressure of capitalism and capitalist ideology. (Stalin, The Right Deviation in the C.P.S.U.(B.)) A revisionist believes in their heart that it is too hard to fight the capitalists, to resist them. It is easier to capitulate, compromise with them. This is why so many people who consider themselves progressives or even communists, adopt revisionist ideas and believe lies about communism. They are under a constant shower of anti-communist propaganda, it takes determination and hard work to resist it – but we must resist it, we have no choice, the masses, humanity itself, has no other choice.
Lenin said: “a revolution that is more difficult, more tangible, more radical and more decisive than the overthrow of the bourgeoisie,… is a victory… over the habits left as a heritage to the worker and peasant by accursed capitalism.” (Lenin, A Great Beginning)
Should we be surprised about the revisionists and opportunist waverers, the compromisers and those who consider themselves honest and good people, and even progressives, who still parrot anti-communist lies? They collapse into the bourgeois swamp under the weight of all the propaganda, all the conservative attitudes, prejudices and ingrained beliefs which have been drilled into our heads for generations.
In What is to be done? Lenin discusses how there exists a spontaneous working class movement. He says this movement will always be limited in what it can achieve, and it can even turn to strengthen capitalism, because it lacks class consciousness. The spontaneous movement is a product of capitalism, and only class consciousness can help it overcome this. Class consciousness does not arise automatically, but due to hard struggle and study. It is always easier to lapse into spontaneity, to think what everybody else is thinking, to accept the status quo, or if the spontaneous person rejects the status quo, they do it based on the status quo: though its ideas, through false solutions provided by the status quo itself, not through class conscious communism, but through reformism, nationalism, revisionism, utopianism.
Instead of the difficult but correct road of class consciousness it is easy to step into the broad and massive marsh of spontaneity and capitalist ideology, which surrounds us from all sides: “We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having… chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh!… Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place… Only let go of our hand… for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!” (Lenin, What is to be done?)
To surrender under pressure from capitalist ideology, to collapse under the weight of capitalist ideas, prejudices and traditions, to become discouraged and pessimistic, to sink into the marsh of spontaneous capitalist trends and beliefs, or even to become a happy and brainless believer in the lies of the capitalist professors, a blissfully ignorant person. Those are all dangers for any worker, for any communist.
But capitalism has no future, and it has no truth, only ignorance, lies and decay, poverty, misery and war, death of culture, stagnation of philosophy, and science being turned against the people.
So let’s keep fighting for a better world for the workers, for humanity itself. Despite all the difficulties the future is ours’. Marx wasn’t wrong when he said “workers have nothing to lose but their chains”, he wasn’t wrong at all. More often then not, those chains are not only physical but intellectual and mental too: chains of lies, chains of ignorance, chains of fear. The truth is that we don’t have anything to lose, only a world to win!