The Three-Year Plan was launched on August 1, 1947. The purpose of the plan was first of all to reconstruct the country after the massive devastation caused by the war, but also to start building a new society with better living conditions. The plan involved the nationalization of large mines and banks.
“The mines had been nationalised first, followed by some industrial concerns which had remained in private hands, and the banks. In March 1948, came the general nationalisation law which covered all factories employing more then one hundred workers.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 28)
“From July 1946 heavy industry was taken over by the state, and in 1947 ten banks. By March 1948 all industries employing more then a hundred workers were taken over, and late in 1949 all employing more then ten.” (Stone, pp. 413-414)
In the previous article I showed that the vast majority of Hungarians supported socialist policies even if they didn’t all vote for the communist party, because all the parties in the government coalition had adopted the same socialist program for the country. The vast majority of the population supported not only the nationalization of banks, but also of factories:
“Additional evidence… includes a study prepared in December 1945 by the respected Hungarian Institute of Public Opinion. In an extraordinary and quite surprising display of support for radical change, 67 percent of the respondents said that they favored the nationalization of factories (with 32 percent opposed and one percent “don’t know/no answer”), while 75 percent favored the nationalization of banks (with 23 percent opposed and one percent “don’t know/no answer”). Results reported by Robert Blumstock, “Public Opinion in Hungary,” in Walter Connor, Zvi Gitelman et ah, Public Opinion in European Socialist Systems (New York; Praeger, 1977), p. 140.” (Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet bloc, p. 70)
Recovery and living standard
“The Three-Year Plan that covered the period of 1947-49 aimed to increase investment and industrial production… Official and independent estimates put the resulting increase in the national income over 1938 levels at anywhere from 16 percent to 24 percent; the plan promoted a remarkable recovery” (Kovrig, p. 75)
“Hungarian industry has surpassed the pre-war level… For example, already by October  the nationalized mining industry had increased its production to 37% higher than before the war. The real wage of the workers in Hungary is 15-20% higher than before the war.” (Kommunisti, no. 3, 1949, s. 130)
“The standard of living for the mass of the people was higher than it had ever been in Hungarian history.” (Howard K. Smith, p. 315)
“[U]nemployment had vanished… For the first time in Hungarian history, a complete system of socialized medicine was created and there was provided paid vacations for all workers, really universal education, and important social security benefits, especially for the incapacitated and the aged.” (Aptheker, p. 67)
The Budapest correspondent of The (London) Times, writing April 1, 1948, summed up the overall situation during the period of the Three-Year Plan:
“Listening to the wealthier peasants, to some of the middle classes, and to those [who had property confiscated], one would think that there was no one behind this Government at all. Listening to the poorer peasants, to their sons and daughters educated free in the new colleges, to young boys and girls going out to build railways, new fields, bring in harvests, and to most workers, one would think that the whole country was enthusiastic for it… Treaties have been signed with nations near by, for centuries enemies… Deserts of ruins have been rebuilt…” (quoted by E. P. Young in The Labour Monthly, Jan. 1957).”
“The three-year plan also provided for the creation of numerous labor unions. Since 1944 the railwaymen, post-office workers, heavy industrial workers, and even government employees formed unions, all of them in branches of industrial and public life, where they had been strictly forbidden under earlier regimes.” (Gyorgy, p.133)
“To come to Budapest in August, 1948… One could sense in the first days the elan of a people striding forward with a faith in the future based on what had been accomplished in the few years since the Liberation. The physical signs of reconstruction were there in front of everybody’s eyes to see, the new bridges over the Danube, whole streets repaired and rebuilt, food and clothing shops well stocked with unrationed goods. There was confidence and hope in the voices of youths and girls, marching through the streets singing their songs of liberation.” (Burchett)
“Village stores, full of new consumer goods which peasants had never seen in their lives before, or at most in Budapest shop windows, were packed with customers. Electrification of the villages gave the peasants an interest in electrical cookers, irons and other gadgets they had never dreamed of before. They were all available in the new village stores. Houses were springing up everywhere in the countryside on sites allocated from the large estates. In Budapest; the shops were crammed with unrationed food and textiles, crammed also with buyers until late at night. To enable the workers to do their shopping in comfort – it is the fashion now in Hungary for both husband and wife to work – the co-operative food stores stay open until 10 p.m. In each district there are special stores which maintain a twenty-four hours’ service.” (Burchett)
“…my travel in England would be limited by petrol rationing, and in Hungary petrol rationing, as all other forms of rationing, has long been abolished.” (Burchett)
“On May Day  Budapest was a mass of banners, singing, marching people, flowers, mobile buffets and groups picnicking in every park and garden. It was the greatest celebration Budapest had ever known.” (Burchett)
“…in the spring of 1949, with the Three-Year Plan well on the way to completion, the people could justifiably celebrate four years of astounding progress.
The rebuilt city, the restored homes and bright new workers’ flats, the four new bridges over the Danube, the rubble heaps converted into gardens – this was all something done by the Budapestians themselves, at first working with their bare hands…” (Burchett)
“Nationalised industries delivered trams and buses to restore the city’s transport service, industrial workers put in extra shifts, at first on the most meagre rations, to get the city’s life pulsing again. Hand in hand with reconstruction went the social and economic reforms, without which the tempo of work and morale of the workers could not have been sustained. The nationalisation of the key industries, equal pay for women, establishments of creches and nursery schools, and generous maternity leave and pay for pregnant and nursing mothers, paid holidays and requisitioning of the former luxury hotels for workers’ holiday resorts…” (Burchett)
Burchett interviewed an old couple in Budapest in 1949. The old man Dindoffer said:
“We had it hard those first months… No food, no heating, no proper roofs over our heads and no clothes. Look at us now,” and he waved his hand round the flat, walked over and opened the wardrobe to show his own winter and summer suits, his good winter overcoat… “I never had two ‘best’ suits in my life before. Now I have one for winter, one for summer. He opened his wallet and showed two 100 forint notes (worth six pounds). I’ve got money in the bank and I always have a little reserve of cash in my purse. Did we ever have spare change in the house in the old days, Mama?” And Mama shook her head and murmured, “More often we were in debt.”
In Dindoffer’s normal week; he earned eight pounds, but as the old chap worked regularly twelve hours a week overtime, his average earnings were thirteen pounds ten a week. For his flat, including heating in winter, he paid eighteen shillings weekly.” (Burchett)
“There had been a very marked rise in real wages, and a rise in the living standards of the poorest peasants. In economic terms, the revolution was brilliantly successful.” (Warriner, p. 31)
“In addition to the average rise, there has been also a rise in the incomes of the lowest paid industrial workers, whose incomes have been levelled up by new wage scales. This large group is certainly much better fed than before… because they receive subsidised rations or factory canteen meals. All industrial workers have benefited by a great extension of social services — insurance, paid holidays, family allowances— which before were non-existent…” (Warriner, p. 81)
“Agriculture needed to be intensified… For both these developments, social welfare and intensification, the Three Years Plan (1947-49) made ample provision. The social results are apparent in every village” (Warriner, p. 97)
Success of the plan
“Bourgeois circles cherished the hope that the Plan was bound to fail. Some of them even claimed that nobody would seriously think of tackling it. This was the cherished dream of Hungarian reaction. However, the Plan is going ahead at a steadily increasing rate” (Rakosi, People’s Democratic Transformation in Hungary: Report to the Third Conference of the Hungarian Communist Party)
The plan was even more successful then predicted.
“All the targets in the original draft of the plan were much lower than those which were finally fixed, and were raised in the second half of 1949 when it was clear that the Three Years Plan targets had been easily over-fulfilled.” (Warriner, p. 99)
“The Three-Year Plan was completed almost 8 months ahead of schedule. Industrial production during the Three-Year Plan reached 140 percent of the last peacetime year. Agricultural production almost reached the prewar level. The standard of living of the workers is, on the average, 37 percent higher then before the war.” (Five-Year Plan of the Hungarian People’s Republic)
“Investment in industry and infrastructure had gone up from almost nothing to a fifth of the national income by 1948, and in 1949 industrial production was substantially above the level of 1941.” (Stone, p. 414)
“In the west, there are three current criticisms of the east European plans. The first, and simplest, is that the plans cannot be achieved… and that… there is never any proof that the targets are actually reached… Hungarian statistics claim that real wages had risen by… thirty-three per cent, in 1949 as compared with pre-war, and these figures can be roughly confirmed by observation—better food, cheaper housing would certainly be sufficient to account for a rise of the order claimed… there is no truth in the criticism that the plan results are not known…
A second line of criticism is that if the plans are achieved, they are achieved by forced labour… This is not true either, for though forced labour does exist it is not the means by which the plans are carried out… This sort of slapdash criticism shows only a complete ignorance of what the real conditions are in most of these countries; there is no need to force labour into industry, because there is so much labour on the land that it is easy to obtain any number of workers by the offer of regular industrial wages, and better food…
The third line of criticism is a genuine one. It is that the plans can be achieved, and achieved without forced labour but only at the cost of the workers present standard of living because the big investment in construction must mean cutting down the production of consumption goods. Now of course it is true that the increased investment must be made at a cost if a big proportion of labour is occupied in building dams and blast furnaces it will not bring in any immediate return in a bigger output of consumer goods and food. That in itself is no objection to the plans; it is indeed their real justification. For precisely what was wrong with the economy of east Europe before was that it did not invest enough… There can be no argument against raising the rate of investment as such” (Warriner, pp. 109-111)
“We have resolutely dislodged landlord-capitalist reaction and representatives of Western imperialism from the political and economic life of our country. The Three-Year Plan which was viewed sceptically not only by our enemies but sometimes even by our supporters, will be fulfilled seven months ahead of schedule.
We consider our economic achievements to be of the utmost importance, but we do not for a moment forget that the individual is the greatest asset of the people’s democracy. And that is why we consider the improvements in the public health to be no less important than our economic successes during the recent difficult years… The fact that we have now more marriages, that the birth-rate is higher and the death-rate lower than ten years ago, that we have been able to reduce infant mortality from 9 per cent to 6 per cent in Budapest – all this speaks of the vast improvement in the economic and living conditions of the working people.
Women are beginning to take an active part in the life of our country. In the past the Hungarian woman was shackled by capitalist exploitation; she did not enjoy equal rights with men, she shouldered the burden of family and household cares…
It is no exaggeration to say that the strength of our people’s democracy can be numerically determined, like the temperature on a thermometer, by the role women play in it. And we shall ensure that the role of the working women in the life of our country grows rapidly in the future.
There has been a radical change in the people’s attitude to labour. More and more people are beginning to understand the connection between individual effort and the common cause. They have adopted a new attitude to work, their outlook has broadened, they see the connection between their personal work and building up the country, realising that by better work they can build a better future. The slogan, “Work better and you will live better” has acquired a new and profound meaning. Realisation of this meant that work is no longer regarded as something that has just got to be done; it is more and more becoming a matter of honour and glory, a great incentive in strengthening the nation and building Socialism; it has given rise to new methods. Thanks to this we are able to carry out the Three-Year Plan in 2 years and 5 months…
In speaking of the gains of Hungarian People’s Democracy during the past four years we must not for a minute forget that we were able to achieve them only because we had the daily assistance and support of our liberator, the Soviet Union.” (Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order)
Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution
Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Charles Gati, Hungary and the Soviet bloc
Kovrig Bennett, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Kommunisti, no. 3, 1949
Howard K. Smith
The (London) Times, writing April 1, 1948
Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe
Howard K. Smith, The State of Europe
Burchett, People’s Democracies
Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
Rakosi, People’s Democratic Transformation in Hungary: Report to the Third Conference of the Hungarian Communist Party
Five-Year Plan of the Hungarian People’s Republic
Rakosi, Strengthening the People’s Democratic Order
“The synapse is nothing but a mechanism… and must have its precise analogue in the computing machine.” (Norbert Wiener, Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, p. 14)
“The synapse in the living organism corresponds to the switching device in the machine” (Norbert Wiener, The Human Use of Human Beings, p. 34)
“One day we shall certainly “reduce” thought experimentally to molecular and chemical motions in the brain; but does that exhaust the essence of thought?” (Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature)
Cybernetics is a set of theories and practices developed mainly by American mathematician Norbert Wiener in the late 1940s. He invented his theories during WWII while working for the US military. Cybernetics is difficult to define exactly, but its supporters usually say it deals with “information”, “control” of processes, and it uses analogies which equate living beings and society to machines. For example, a cyberneticist might describe the functioning of a state as a kind of machine, or the functioning of the human mind as a calculator. The precise definition of Cybernetics and the precise meaning of cybernetic ideas will be discussed later in this article.
In 1952 Mikhail G. Yaroshevsky published an article in the Soviet literary gazette, titled “Cybernetics – “science” of obscurantists”. Other articles appeared, and cybernetics was heavily criticized in the USSR, finally being authoritatively labeled a reactionary pseudo-science in the 1954 Short Philosophical Dictionary. However, in the 1960s and 70s cybernetics became fully accepted in the revisionist USSR and was heavily promoted by the government, to the point that it was included in the khrushchevite party program and Khrushchev praised it as vital for building communism. The period of the early 1950s is therefore now described as the “anti-cybernetics campaign”.
This article investigates the significance of this “campaign”, the reasons why cybernetics was later accepted, and the supposed merits and demerits of cybernetics.
WHY IS CYBERNETICS A PSEUDO-SCIENCE?
Let’s first discuss the Soviet criticism of cybernetics. Its worth quoting the full entry of the 1954 Short Philosophical Dictionary. Afterwards I’ll try to unpack its meaning:
“CYBERNETICS (from the Greek word meaning helmsman, manager) is a reactionary pseudo-science, which arose in the U.S.A. after World War II and which was spread widely in other capitalist countries. It is a form of modern mechanism. The adherents of cybernetics define it as a universal science of the connections and communication in technology, of animals and the life of society as well as of the “general organization” and direction of all processes in nature and society. Thereby cybernetics identifies mechanical, biological, and social correlations and laws with one another. As every mechanistic theory, cybernetics denies the qualitative specificity of laws in the various forms of being and of the development of matter, reducing them to mechanical laws. In contradistinction to the old mechanism of the 17th and 18th Centuries cybernetics considers the psycho-physiological and social phenomena no longer as analogous to the simplest mechanisms but to electronic machines and apparatus, whereby it equates the work of the brain with the work of an automatic calculator and the life of society with a system of electrical and informational communications. In its very essence cybernetics is directed against the materialistic dialectic, against modern scientific physiology, which was founded by I. P. Pavlov, and against the Marxist, scientific conception of the laws of social life. This mechanistic, metaphysical pseudo-science is most compatible with idealism in philosophy, psychology, and sociology.
Cybernetics makes particularly clear one fundamental trait of the bourgeois outlook, namely its inhumanity, its effort to turn the worker into an accessory of a machine, into an instrument of production and into a weapon of war. The imperialist utopia of replacing the living, thinking man, struggling for his own interests, with a machine in production as well as in war is characteristic of cybernetics. The instigators of a new world war use cybernetics in their dirty, practical affairs. Under the guise of propaganda of cybernetics in the countries of imperialism, scientists of various specialties are being attracted to develop new methods of mass extermination of people – electronic, telemechanical, automatic weapons, the design and production of which have turned into a large branch of the military industry of the capitalist countries.” (Short Philosophical Dictionary, 1954)
1. Cybernetics is not a science, therefore it is a pseudo-science
First of all Soviet marxists denied that cybernetics is a science. It does not have a precise subject-matter, a precise definition, and all supposed cybernetic advances have actually been discovered by other disciplines such as electronic engineering, computer-science, mathematics or physiology. Cybernetics overlaps with other sciences in a confused and arbitrary way. While a real “hybrid science” like biochemistry studies chemical processes involved in biology, cybernetics does not do anything comparable. Instead cybernetics is more like a worldview or a philosophical theory than a science.
Slava Gerovitch writes in his book about cybernetics:
“Cybernetics is an unusual historical phenomenon. It is not a traditional scientific discipline, a specific engineering technique, or a philosophical doctrine, although it combines many elements of science, engineering, and philosophy. As presented in Norbert Wiener’s classic 1948 book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, cybernetics comprises an assortment of analogies between humans and self-regulating machines: human behavior is compared to the operation of a servomechanism; human communication is likened to the transmission of signals over telephone lines; the human brain is compared to computer hardware and the human mind to software; order is identified with life, certainty, and information; disorder is linked to death, uncertainty, and entropy. Cyberneticians view control as a form of communication, and communication as a form of control: both are characterized by purposeful action based on information exchange via feedback loops. Cybernetics unifies diverse mathematical models, explanatory frameworks, and appealing metaphors from various disciplines… physiology (homeostasis and reflex), psychology (behavior and goal), control engineering (control and feedback), thermodynamics (entropy and order), and communication engineering (information, signal, and noise) and generalizes each of them to be equally applicable to living organisms, to self-regulating machines, and to human society.” (Slava Gerovitch, From Newspeak to Cyberspeak: A History of Soviet Cybernetics, p. 2)
2. Cybernetics ignores qualitative differences. It is a vulgarizing theory.
This leads us to the second problem of cybernetics. It tries to be a universal science which applies equally to living, non-living, material and non-material, conscious and non-conscious, social and non-social fields. All of these areas are qualitatively so different that they cannot be equated. In order for the same law to truly apply in all these fields, the law must be extremely broad, akin to a philosophical generalization such as the laws of dialectics. Secondly, we would expect the law to function somewhat differently at qualitatively different levels of organization. However, cybernetics doesn’t heed any of these criticisms but instead imposes the same exact laws on all levels of existence.
“To sum up: the many automata of the present age… lend themselves very well to description in physiological terms. It is scarcely a miracle that they can be subsumed under one theory with the mechanisms of physiology.” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 43)
“there is no reason… why the essential mode of functioning of the living organism should not be the same as that of the automaton” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 44)
W. Ross Ashby writes in his book Introduction to Cybernetics that “the worker in any of the biological sciences”, “The ecologist”, “The economist”, “The sociologist”, “And the psychotherapist” all may want to apply cybernetic principles. Someone might argue that the same “simple mechanisms” of cybernetics are not adequate for these different fields. However, Ashby assures as that “This, however, is not so.” (p. 244)
In reality cybernetic “laws” are not laws at all, so it would be better to call them principles. These principles involve things like “loops” and “feedback”. According to cybernetics, everything transmits and reacts to “information” in loops: some kind of stimuli is received and it causes reactions. This process keeps going as a loop. Something like walking has often been used as an example by cyberneticists. As the process happens, the body receives new stimuli based on changing circumstances and corrects its actions based on this new information. This is called “feedback”. A process or “loop” which receives “information” and corrects itself according to “feedback mechanisms” is called “controlled” or even “self-controlled”.
These concepts are borrowed from actual fields of science or engineering, such as physiology, control engineering etc. They are often valid in their own fields, but cybernetics applies them arbitrarily to fields where they don’t belong, and applies them imprecisely. Principles describing the motion of mechanical machines are too crude to describe living beings, and principles describing the motion of non-conscious living beings are too crude to describe consciousness or society. Yet, cyberneticists have equated the media to a sensor which receives a stimuli from the people, and the president to a logic circuit which reacts to the stimuli.
“Cyberneticians combined concepts from physiology (homeostasis and reflex), psychology (behavior and goal), control engineering (control and feedback), thermodynamics (entropy and order), and communication engineering (information, signal, and noise) and generalized each of them to be equally applicable to living organisms, self-regulating machines (such as servomechanisms and computers),and human society.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 87)
Wiener understood the difference between life and death, conscious and unconscious, not as qualitatively different levels of organization of matter, but as only quantitative differences, different amounts of entropy, a term which he borrowed from physics and imposed on every other field.
Wiener “suggested that it was “best to avoid all question-begging epithets such as ‘life,’ ‘soul,’… and the like” and speak merely of the decrease of entropy in both humans and machines.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 90)
An example of how unscientificly, imprecisely and loosely Wiener operated with his concepts, and how deeply vulgarizing this method was, is that Wiener even equated organization with beauty and entropy with ugliness, and presumably it would therefore be possible to demonstrate that a work of art is more beautiful if it is more organized and less entropic. (On what basis do we consider something to be more organized? That Wiener did not say) Therefore beauty and aesthetic value itself would be reduced to mere numbers and quantities:
“For Weiner, the notion of entropy… became a measure of choice, randomness, and organization, with all the rich cultural connotations of these concepts, including beauty and melody.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 91)
The popularization of cybernetics in western academia relied on circular reasoning which Gerovitch describes in his book.
“The historian Geoffrey Bowker has described this circular process as a chief feature of the language of cybernetics. It served an important social function by supporting “legitimacy exchange” among scientists: “An isolated scientific worker making an outlandish claim could gain rhetorical legitimacy by pointing to support from another field—which in turn referenced the first worker’s field to support its claims. The language of cybernetics provided a site where this exchange could occur.” In Bowker’s words, the author of the “conditional probability machine,” A. M. Uttley, “used mathematics to support his physiology and physiology to support his mathematics, using cybernetic terminology to spiral between the formal properties of classification machines and the nature of the brain.”… [A similar trick was carried out by Wiener] On the first pages of his Cybernetics, Wiener suggested the computer as a model for the nervous system… A few pages down, he turned this analogy around and described the computer itself in neurophysiological terms… In another example, physiological homeostasis was conceptualized as a feedback-controlled servomechanism, while servomechanisms themselves were described in anthropomorphic terms. The historian Lily Kay argued that “signifying homeostasis as negative feedback and then resignifying such servomechanisms as organismic homeostasis amounted to a circularity.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 94-95)
Cyberneticians then expanded this method of false equivications to broad philosophical questions, and by using semantical tricks and logical fallacies came to their desired conclusions:
“First the cyberneticians asked grandiose questions: What is life? How do we know the world? What governs human behavior? Next they translated these questions into cyberspeak, then substituted for them much narrower versions that could be answered within a particular specialized field of study: mathematics, logic, control theory, or communication engineering. Then they said that these grandiose questions had now been “precisely defined.” After obtaining the answer to a “precisely defined” question, they claimed that it could be applied universally, far beyond the original specialized field. Thus cyberspeak became a universal language for answering grandiose questions.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 96)
3. Cybernetics is a form of mechanism
The problem which was often emphasized by the Soviets is that cybernetics is a modern form of mechanism or mechanical materialism. As the dictionary states, the mechanical materialism of the 17th and 18th centuries equated people and nature to simple mechanical machines. Cybernetics equates everything to computers or electric calculators. This tendency is extremely widespread today and people have gotten so used to it that they hardly even question it.
However, it goes beyond simply equating living things and societies to dead machines. Cybernetics also sees everything mechanically, metaphysically, i.e. anti-dialectically. It reduces everything to simple “loops”, “feedback mechanisms”, “algorithms”, and “controls”. These loops, circuits and controls are all static and rigid, while reality is fluid, dynamic, complicated and contradictory. The only kind of development and change that cybernetics understands is feedback. It is blatantly evident that this worldview was developed by a bourgeois mathematician and not by a dialectical philosopher.
It is true that some revisionists have tried to explain feedback “dialectically”. Dialectics explains that things have self-motion, i.e. they develop due to their internal contradictions which develop towards something. Some revisionists have claimed that feedback can be understood as a dialectical contradiction. However, dialectical contradictions are not a simple process of action, reaction and another action. That is a simplification which characterizes them taking turns temporaly. In reality the contradictions mutually define each other at every single instant. Sometimes a reaction can simply be caused by an action, but their temporal causality can also be reversed, or they can both happen simultaneously.
To make this easier to understand let’s use an example. A commodity is a unity of two contradictory things, use-value and value. The contradictions exist within each other, and cannot be separated into any kind of action at moment 1 and reaction at moment 2.
Let’s take another example. In capitalism there exist such categories as wage-labour. This is a phenomenon created by capitalism and maintained by capitalism every day. However, labor is much older than capitalism. Chronologically it emerged much earlier. As such it could not be created by capitalism. The fact is that labor was the basis of capitalism just like capitalism is now the basis for wage-labor. Marx begins his analysis of capitalism with the analysis of the commodity, the product of capitalism. Yet, this product is also much older than capitalism. Capitalism is just as much the product of commodities as the other way around. Such a paradox is difficult to explain as a feedback mechanism.
Commenting on Zeno’s paradoxes Engels actually defined motion itself as a paradox and a contradiction. At one moment a body is located at point A and the next at point B. At each separate instance the body is stationary at some point which can be clearly mapped, and yet it is moving and not stationary. How to depict this using cybernetics?
4. Cybernetics is merely a vulgarization of real science
Cybernetics tries to explain phenomena similar to automation science, scientific physiology developed by I. P. Pavlov, laws of nature, society and thought discovered by dialectical materialism etc. However, cybernetics does it much more poorly than these other disciplines. In dealing with physiology cybernetics actually plagiarizes Pavlov, but distorts everything and dumbs it down by a factor of ten. This is understandable since Norbert Wiener had read Pavlov and was aware of his work, but lacked an adequate grasp of physiology or Pavlov’s theories. Wiener was a mathematician and if one only has a hammer, all problems look like nails.
5. Cybernetics supports idealism
Cybernetics is fully compatible with idealistic notions in sociology, psychology and other sciences. Wiener denied the material basis of cybernetic processes saying “Information is information, not matter or energy.” (Wiener, Cybernetics, p. 132)
6. Cybernetics depicts bourgeois inhumanity
Needless to say the capitalists would love to replace every worker with a machine. Machines don’t need to be paid wages, and most importantly they will not go on strike or rebel. Imperialists have also harnessed automated or semi-automated machines such as drones for their purposes. The imperialist dream is to have automated weapons systems, which will unhesitatingly commit any atrocity.
Someone might point out that Wiener used pacifist phrases, and eventually did not want to support the USA war machine anymore. However, we are interested in the objective significance of his theory, not his subjective opinion. Wiener actually began developing his theory of cybernetics after his career as a weapons researcher for the military. His attempt had been to create anti-aircraft guns with aim-assisting functions, and later he often claimed that this experience was crucial for the invention of cybernetics. It turns out the guns developed by Wiener did not work, he was fired and the project was ended:
“his anti-aircraft predictor did not work very well, and in January of 1943 his wartime project was terminated” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 61)
“[David] Mindell argues that “cybernetics… recast military control in a civilian mold”… some view it as an extension of military patterns of thinking and behavior into the civilian realm” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 54-55)
Defenders of cybernetics have sometimes asked “how can cybernetics be a dangerous weapon of imperialism, if it is also a useless pseudo-science?”. The last few sentences in the dictionary make this perfectly clear. Cybernetics itself is a pseudo-science, but it is used in propaganda to attract scientists into the field of automation in service of capitalism and imperialism. The media hype about cybernetics all turned out to be false. It did not create superhuman robots which would easily replace men. It did not create any such thing. However, it served the imperialists in an ideological campaign against marxism, as a form of sabotage inside the USSR, and as propaganda in favor of automatic weapons systems. It also served as reactionary utopian propaganda which claimed that all the societal ills of capitalism could be solved with the introduction of cybernetics – thus it prolonged the existence of capitalism and defended it from criticisms.
THE PROPAGANDA TO PROMOTE CYBERNETICS IN THE CAPITALIST WORLD
When Wiener’s book “Cybernetics” was published, it was immediately promoted heavily by the imperialist media monopolies. The media companies praised the book to high heavens claiming it to be an absolutely essential classic of our era:
“The Saturday Review of Literature noted that it appeared “impossible for anyone seriously interested in our civilization to ignore this book.” “It is,” the magazine commented, “a ‘must’ book for those in every branch of science.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 96)
After reading the book, I can conclude that it is mostly very low level “pop science”, with very little scientific merit at all. The book consists of stories about Wiener’s career, philosophical ramblings and analogies about how there is no difference between societies, humans, animals and machines.
Couple of chapters consist of mathematical formulae, which I cannot comment on. Those chapters make exactly the same conclusions and claims as the rest of the book. In any case, it seems these chapters were intended to impress non-mathematicians and make the book seem more “scientific” and smarter then it actually is. But why would we ask a mathematician to answer philosophical, social, or even biological questions? Yet it seems these chapters really did impress people, and made them think that this “smart mathematician” could answer all questions about life. Cybernetics promised simple solutions to big problems:
“A large portion of the book was occupied by complex mathematical chapters, which a broad audience could not possibly understand. These chapters, although “largely irrelevant,” fulfilled an important rhetorical function: they greatly impressed lay readers, thus conferring legitimacy on the bold claims made in a plain language in the rest of the book. Cybernetics promised solutions to a wide range of social, biological, and technological problems… Complex social and biological phenomena looked simpler… when described in cybernetic terms.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 96-97)
The massive propaganda campaign continued until cybernetics became universally accepted in the West:
“The popular press hailed digital computers as “electronic brains.” Scientific American published an accessible account of cybernetics under the provocative title “Man Viewed as a Machine.” The computer specialist Frank H. George threw a challenge to the readers of the English journal Philosophy: “You can’t tell me anything that your wife can do that a machine can’t (in principle). [sic!!]” Political scientists spoke of the “nerves of government.”… Business consultants began to sell “management cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 97)
The effects of this campaign are still very much present today. Cybernetic terminology is still widely used in politics, sociology etc. In the field of genetics simplistic cybernetic terminology has become the norm, genes or dna are described as carriers of information, codes, or as blueprints:
“Molecular biologists conceptualized the gene as “the smallest message unit”… Biological specificity was “re-represented through the scriptural tropes of information—message, alphabet, instructions, code, text, reading, program. The narratives of heredity and life [were] rewritten as programmed communication systems.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 97)
Let us now deal with the history of cybernetics in the USSR.
WERE CYBERNETICS BOOKS BANNED IN THE STALIN ERA?
A cyberneticist named Kopelev claims they were, but historian V. Shilov says that: “Kopelev’s story made in 1949 is hardly possible.” (Valery Shilov, Reefs of Myths: Towards the History of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 2)
The information about this is actually very conflicting. Perhaps some books were banned, but the sources don’t agree about this. The fact is that cybernetics books would have been available only in the foreign language libraries, for those who spoke foreign languages, and the general public or even most scientists didn’t care about them.
G. N. Povarov said that “in the Library of Foreign Literature one could get this book freely. There I read it. It was approximately in 1952–1953. So this book was not prohibited by censorship” [3, p. 12]] (Shilov, p. 2)
A.V. Shileyko claimed he had access to the book [Wiener’s “Cybernetics”] at a philosophical seminar in the early 1950s. (Shilov, p. 2)
V. A. Torgashev declares that “Wiener’s book “Cybernetics” published in 1948 was translated in USSR in 1949 (in fact its second edition appeared in the open sale only in 1958. However, the book was available in libraries earlier)” [7, p.48-49].” (Shilov, p. 2)
The notorious revisionist and defector Kolman seems to be the source of many of these myths:
“A. Kolman in the article published after his [defection to] the West wrote that he had read Wiener’s book due the help of some unnamed secretary (very important person!) of the Communist Party Central Committee. But in memoirs published 5 years later he told this story in another way – more extensively and heroically” (Shilov, p. 2)
Of course there would be nothing wrong in principal with refusing to publish cybernetics books, or to remove them from public libraries. The only reason cybernetics books should be and were available to some degree is so that people could criticize them.
THE ANTI-CYBERNETICS CAMPAIGN IN THE USSR
Gerovitch claims in his book, that soviet philosophers were not knowledgeable on cybernetics, and many had not read Wiener’s books but only his interviews. He claims the campaign was based on ignorance and strawmen. However, it seems his source for these statements is Khrushchev’s secret speech and other similar statements at the CPSU 20th Party Congress, which slandered and attacked previous policies and rehabilitated cybernetics. So Gerovitch’s claim is not very credible right off the bat. Secondly, it is clear that the authors of the Philosophical Dictionary were knowledgeable, and their criticism is still fundamentally not different, let alone contradictory, with the criticisms made by the earlier supposedly “ignorant” soviet critics.
It is true that the criticisms of cybernetics evolved somewhat, but that is only natural. During intellectual discussion views always develop and evolve. Initially certain philosophers linked cybernetics with semantic idealism, but this connection was later dropped. Different authors pointed out different aspects of cybernetics, but the main point was always the same: it is a form of modern mechanism and idealism.
But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that some soviet critics really did not read Wiener’s book Cybernetics Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. Indeed, it seems certain only some read it. Is it necessary to read Wiener’s book, in order to conclude that Cybernetics is idealistic and mechanistic? No, it is not necessary at all. The basic premises of cybernetics are fundamentally idealistic and mechanistic and it is completely unnecessary to delve into the intricate details of it to come to this conclusion.
However, I read Wiener’s Cybernetics, his later book The Human Use of Human Beings, as well as other influential cybernetics texts such as Design for a brain by W. R. Ashby and his textbook Introduction to cybernetics. These books are not worth reading. They are low quality philosophical ramblings and vulgar pop-science, with some mathematics thrown in. These books also did not change my perception of cybernetics one bit, but only confirmed what was already blatantly evident.
Gerovitch claims soviet critics took Wiener’s statements out of context, but the same controversial claims demonstrating mechanism (equating humans and societies to machines, to animals, to viruses etc.) and idealism (claims that “information” and “signals” are not material) are repeated numerous times in books by Wiener and also by Ashby, so this is not a case of taking quotes out of context or of mere slips of the pen on the part of Wiener.
THE SIZE OF THE CAMPAIGN
Marxist philosophers certainly opposed cybernetics. This is made clear by the entry in the short philosophical dictionary. However, it was not considered a very important problem and the “campaign” against it was small:
“the campaign against cybernetics… was not of large scale – there were near ten publications… Anti-cybernetics articles were not published in the occasional press organs” (Shilov, p. 3) but in specialist technical journals, philosophy journals etc.
Shilov is confident he has the complete list of anti-cybernetic articles, and the list includes only 10. However, many of the 10 publications which Shilov lists as “anti-cyberneticist” did not even mention cybernetics. Even the famous article mentioned by every historian “Mark III, a Calculator” by Boris Agapov which ridiculed the Times article “Can Man Build a Superman?” did not directly mention cybernetics. In the opinion of historian Loren Graham there were only 3-4 articles against cybernetics:
“At the beginning of 1950s Soviet ideologists were definitely hostile to cybernetics, despite that the total number of anti-cybernetics articles was probably not more than three or four” (Loren R. Graham, Science, Philosophy, and Human Behavior in the Soviet Union, p. 272)
If we assume Shilov is correct and Graham is wrong, than this is yet another example of the shoddy quality of bourgeois research. It probably also indicates that the campaign against cybernetics was indeed small, since some of the articles were in publications too niche for Graham to even know about them. However, I think Shilov is exaggerating and trying to increase the number of articles to the maximum, at least by including both the dictionary entry (which Graham doesn’t include because it is not an article) and Agapov’s “Mark III” (which doesn’t mention cybernetics) as anti-cybernetic articles.
Shilov’s list of “anti-cybernetics” articles:
-Boris Agapov, “Mark III, kal’kuliator”, Literaturnaya Gazeta. 4 May 1950. P. 2. -Mikhail G. Yaroshevsky, “Kibernetika – «nauka» mrakobesov”, Literaturnaya Gazeta. 5 April 1952. P. 4. -Bernard E. Bykhovskii, “Kibernetika – amerikanskaia lzhenauka”, Priroda. 1952. 7. P. 125-127. -Kirill A. Gladkov, “Kibernetika, ili toska po mekhanicheskim soldatam”, Tekhnika – molodezhi. 1952. 8. P. 34-38. -Yu. Klemanov, “«Kibernetika» mozga”, Meditsinskii rabotnik. 25 July 1952. P. 4. -Bernard E. Bykhovskii, “Nauka sovremennykh rabovladel’tsev”, Nauka i zhizn’. 1953. 6. P. 42-44. -Materialist, “Komu sluzhit kibernetika?”, Voprosy filosofii. 1953. 5. P. 210-219. -“Kibernetika”, Kratkii filosofskii slovar’. Moskva, 1954. P. 236-237. -Theodor K. Gladkov, “Kibernetika – psevdonauka o mashinakh, zhivotnykh, cheloveke i obshchestve”, Vestnik Moskovskogo universiteta. 1955. 1. P. 57-67.
DID THE CAMPAIGN PREVENT DEVELOPMENT OF COMPUTER TECHNOLOGY?
Cybernetics is a confused and badly defined “science”. As a result it was very often confused with computer technology and automation in general. As a result many people questioned the very existence of the campaign against cybernetics since computer technology was simultaneously highly developed in the USSR:
“Many problems are still the object of acute disputes… Was it [an] anti-cybernetics campaign at all?” (Shilov, p. 1)
P. L. Kapitsa, a conservative but skilled physicist from the tsarist days is a perfect example of this confusion. He argued that since computers are very important, it was a bad idea to attack cybernetics. As if the two are somehow the same thing:
“In 1962 Academician P. L. Kapitsa remarked caustically that … had our scientists back in the year 1954 paid attention to the philosophers, had they accepted that definition [of cybernetics as a reactionary pseudoscience] as a guide to further development of this particular science, we may safely say that our conquest of space, of which we are so proud and for which the whole world respects us, could never have been a reality, since it is wholly impossible to steer space vehicles without recourse to cybernetics.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 309)
Iurii Zhdanov, the son of the party theoretician Andrei Zhdanov, also makes the same mistake. He argued that Stalin always supported computer technology and as a result he did not oppose cybernetics:
“Iurii Zhdanov, the former head of the Science Department of the Central Committee in 1951-53, recalled in his memoirs: “While Stalin spoke against modern genetics, he never opposed cybernetics [by which Iurii means computer technology]. On the contrary, in connection with the space enterprise every effort was made to advance computer technology. In particular, our department had an assignment to help Academician S. A. Lebedev with the construction of the first machines of the BESM type (the High-Speed Electronic Calculating Machine [Bystrodeistvuiushchaia elektronnaia schetmaia mashina]). And that was done…”
The MESM, the first stored-program electronic digital computer in Europe, was already working in Kiev, and two more machines were under construction in Moscow… On 11 January 1950, following the first successful tests of the MESM, the government authorized two independent projects to build large high-speed digital computers: one at the Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Technology in Moscow (the BESM), the other at the Special Design Bureau No. 245, also in Moscow (the Arrow [Strela]).” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”: Soviet Readings of American Cybernetics in the Early Years of the Cold War, pp. 563-564)
Gerovitch states categorically:
“The myth that the anticybernetics campaign was a major obstacle to the development of Soviet computing has already been exposed… On the contrary, party and government authorities provided complete support to computing, control engineering, and communications engineering” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”, p. 566)
“Even though cybernetics was labeled in the Soviet press a “pseudoscience,” computers were not considered “pseudo-machines.” Soviet critics of the cybernetics campaign only branded as “idealistic” and “mechanistic” the use of man-machine analogies in the life sciences and the social sciences; they did not at all object to the use of computers for automation and scientific calculations, which were regarded as acceptable “materialistic” applications. The critics even called the invention of a computer a “real scientific and technical achievement” and argued that computers had “great value for the most diverse phases of economic construction.” Computers, they claimed, could make “calculations of any degree of complexity in the shortest possible time,” being capable of “completely flawless operation and procurement of results.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 142)
The USSR developed the first digital computers in Europe, the second in the world, and was at the cutting edge of computer technology in the Stalin era. Fields related to computer research and automation were rapidly being developed in the USSR exactly at the same time as the pseudo-science of cybernetics was condemned:
“it is possible to find in Soviet literature mention of the rationalization of mental labor and of thinking machines as early as 1926” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 454)
“As early as 1934 the Soviet Academy of Sciences had organized a commission on remote control and automation. The year 1936 witnessed the introduction of the journal Avtomatika i telemekhanika. In 1950 the Institute for Precision Mechanics and Computer Technology came into existence; its chief function was to develop the practical aspects of programming. And it took three volumes to record the reports made in 1953, at the Second All-Union Conference on the Theory of Automatic Regulation, on the progress of automation and cybernation from 1940 to 1953. Excellent textbooks on servomechanisms and control systems were written by B. S. Sotskov (1950), G. A. Shaumian (1952), and E. P. Popov (1956).” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 464)
David Holloway is an anti-communist historian, but he describes this accurately:
“a distinction was drawn between computer technology and the theories of cybernetics. The former was regarded as an important technological advance, while the latter were seen as a malignant ideological growth on the real science of automatic control. Second, the central focus of cybernetics was seen to be the analogy drawn between the brain and the computer; and particular exception was taken to the view ascribed to cyberneticians that the only feature distinguishing brain from computer is the former’s size and capacity. Cybernetics was condemned for attempting to transfer the laws of motion peculiar to some forms of matter to qualitatively different forms where other, higher, laws operate. It was mechanistic in its disregard for such differences; but in so far as it ignored, dismissed, or failed to solve the problem of human consciousness, it was held to leave the door open to idealism and clericalism. Cybernetics was seen as an excrescence on the decaying body of capitalism, reflecting its inhumanity, its aggression, and its fear of the proletariat. The fascination of the ‘thinking machine’ for the bourgeoisie lay, it was said, in the hope of substituting automatic machines for recalcitrant workers, or for pilots who might refuse to bomb peasant women working in the rice fields. Finally cybernetics was said to embody the vain hope that ‘the contemporary technocrats-the cyberneticians’ would be able, with the help of computers to effect substantial changes in the social system. But these ambitions were doomed to failure, for the fundamental problems of capitalist society were not amenable to technological solutions. It was the character of the economic system that determined the course of technological development, not technology that determined social development.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, pp. 310-311)
“Soviet critics complained that the concept of feedback was much cruder than the Pavlovian concept of reflex. Moreover, cybernetics left open the question of the nature and origins of consciousness, which Pavlov was said to have explained by reference to speech, the ‘second signalling system’ which was peculiar to man alone. This had developed as a result of man’s involvement in labour and social interaction, with the consequent need for extensive communication between man. Further, in neglecting the content of speech, cybernetics denied an active role to man’s mental activity.
One of the Soviet critics went on to comment on cybernetics as a social theory. He argued that cybernetics, by claiming that man is not, in essence, different from a machine, played down the crucial fact that man lives in society. Hence it made no distinction between different socio-economic formations, and conceived of society merely as a complex mechanism, consisting of a certain number of elements, and subject to mechanistic laws such as that of feedback. By focusing on the structure of communications it ignored the laws of social development; by ignoring the content of social information it made it impossible to grasp ‘the essence of the phenomena of social life’. As a social theory cybernetics rationalized capitalist society by explaining social change in terms of improvement in ‘group information’, without reference to the mode of production. The crisis of capitalist production could be explained away as the self-regulating mechanism of the market. Because of the need for centralized control the cyberneticians argued that world civilization should be centralized-with its headquarters in Washington.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 311)
One of the main advocates of cybernetics, the notorious revisionist Aksel Berg claimed that condemnation of cybernetics had hindered computer research, but even anti-communist Holloway has shown this is completely false:
“In 1960 Academician Berg wrote that ‘it took such a long time to form a sensible attitude to cybernetics that undoubted harm was done to our science and technology ‘… Berg had referred to the way in which the fears of philosophers had held up the development of computer technology; but, as has been mentioned, computer technology was exempted from the initial attacks on cybernetics. In 1949 the first department of Computer Mathematics in the Soviet Union had been set up at Moscow University, and in the following year the Academy of Sciences established an Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering. Work on digital computers had begun in the late 1940s, and by 1953 several different computers had been completed.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 312)
“In the 1990s, the cybernetics boom was blamed for numerous shortcomings of Soviet science. “This doctrine, which called itself a science of control, chained the technological élan of a great nation,” wrote one commentator in a Russian on-line magazine. “Domestic science wasted immeasurable time and effort on the chimera of cybernetics, while the field of computer technology was deprived of full-scale funding.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 4)
DID SCIENCE SUFFER UNDER STALIN AND FLOURISH UNDER KHRUSHCHEV?
Anti-communist Gerovitch finds it “paradoxical” that science actually developed much better in the Stalin era. There are two simple reasons why this happened: 1) the government gave more funding to science 2) the party gave more guidance to scientists and encouraged criticism of false and fruitless ideas. However, anti-communists have always called this guidance and criticism as something tyrannical which hinders science.
“this image of science suppressed by political interference is hard to reconcile with the impressive scientific achievements of the Stalinist era, which earned Soviet scientists a host of Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry. In the postwar period, scientific and engineering institutions and large-scale industrial and construction projects aimed at fulfilling Stalin’s ambitious plan of the “great transformation of nature” mushroomed, and the Soviet Union celebrated an unprecedented “cult” of science and technology. It was during this period that Soviet scientists built their first atomic and hydrogen bombs. Paradoxically, Soviet science appeared to thrive under Stalin’s totalitarian rule better than in the relatively liberal climate of the Khrushchev regime.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 5)
“[Loren] Graham has dispelled the popular myth of Soviet scientists’ being blinded by Marxist ideology and has shown how dialectical materialism, the official Soviet philosophy of science, was fruitfully integrated into the scientific outlook of many Soviet scholars.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 5)
“Although Soviet science enjoyed reform and looser ideological constraints under Khrushchev, it is worth noting that, strictly speaking, Soviet science may have accomplished more under Stalin… Under Stalin, Soviet physicists and chemists pioneered work for which chemist Nikolai Semyonov, physicist Igor Tamm, economist Leonid Kantorovich, and physicist Pyotr Kapitsa received Nobel Prizes decades later. Other Soviet scientists – including Igor Kurchatov, Lev Landau, Yakov Frenkel… and other world-renowned figures – also developed atomic and thermonuclear bombs, a lynchpin in Stalin’s rapid and forceful industrialization of the remnants of the Russian Empire from a backwater country into a global superpower in only a few decades… Many Soviet scientists successfully employed dialectical materialism as a genuine source of inspiration, not a forced ideology, in their scientific work.“ (Benjamin Peters, Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics, in Information & Culture Vol. 47, No. 2 (2012), p. 153)
CYBERNETICS PROMOTED BY REVISIONISTS
The first stages
In the mid-1950s the revisionists supported cybernetic ideas being advocated. In 1955 a new edition of the Short Philosophical Dictionary was issued, where the entry on cybernetics was removed. In the late-50s cybernetics was no longer called a pseudo-science. However, Soviet scientists, philosophers and engineers still resisted the western pseudo-science. Because they could no longer condemn it as a pseudo-science, they merely pointed out that it did not have an original subject-matter and did not contribute anything that wasn’t already being performed better by actual sciences:
“Ernest Kolman… confirmed the nihilistic state of mind of some of his colleagues toward Wiener’s theory and other branches of Western science and revealed the continuing Soviet antagonism to cybernetics; its opponents no longer referred to the theory of control and communication in the machine and living organism as pseudoscience but now argued that it was identical with automation and therefore deserved no separate title to existence. It was apparent to Kolman from the sessions on automation sponsored by the Soviet Academy of Sciences in October 1956 and from the discussions held by the Moscow Mathematical Society in April 1957 that the very same engineers, technicians, and mathematicians who were furthering automation opposed Wiener’s cybernetics and that the narrow specialists in biology, physiology, psychology, and linguistics could not reconcile themselves to cybernetics because it represented a misalliance” of incongruous disciplines.”” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, Slavic Review Vol. 24, No. 3 Sep., 1965, p. 453)
In other words, real scientists opposed cybernetics even after the communist party had stopped condemning it and had adopted a tone of approval. The opposition to cybernetics was not simply imposed on the scientific community by any “tyrannical stalinist official”. The scientists opposed it even on their own.
“It is important to note, however, that it was not the philosophers alone who rejected cybernetics: In the arguments which were carried on about cybernetics some engineers, technologists and mathematicians, who were themselves doing both practical and theoretical work in the field of automatic systems, came forward as its opponents. They asserted that cybernetics had no right to existence as an independent science, that theories of automata were sufficient.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 314)
Cybernetics was heavily promoted in the USSR by Ernest Kolman who Benjamin Peters in his article “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics” characterizes as “a failed mathematician” (p. 159). Kolman, who saw himself as a philosopher of science was described as a “true stalinist” but in reality he was only a careerist. His commitment to marxism had always been self-serving and disingenuous. He was hardly someone defending the integrity of marxism from bourgeois pseudo-science and “had spent time in a Stalinist labor camp after World War II for straying from the party line in his interpretation of Marxism.” (Peters, p. 160). This is probably not the actual reason for his imprisonment, but in any case it suggests he was at best guilty of ideological deviations and in all likelihood guilty of crimes against the Soviet Union.
Later Kolman defected to Sweden where he openly rejected Leninism entirely and strongly criticized both Marx and Engels. Many of his stories about his past have also been debunked, so nobody should really trust him.
In the late 50s he began promoting cybernetics through writings and speeches. To give cybernetics some credibility Kolman actually linked it to the idealist revisionist Bogdanov, and revisionist traitor Bukharin:
“Along with Bogdanov’s tectology, Kolman also numbers Bucharin’s praxeology among the first beginnings of Soviet cybernetic research” (Michael Csizmas and Patrick McNally, Cybernetics, Marxism, Jurisprudence, Studies in Soviet Thought Vol. 11, No. 2 (1971), p. 90)
The other main supporter of cybernetics, Aksel Berg, also described cybernetics as a universal science of government similar to the ‘universal organizing science’ or tektology of Bogdanov, which also had a large influence on Bukharin:
“Berg actively used his huge influence and connections in the party and government to promote cybernetics as a universal “science of government,”” (Slava Gerovitch, “Russian Scandals”, p. 566)
Other revisionists, for example the East German Georg Klaus made the laughable claim that developers of cybernetics Ashby and Wiener both “produce… clearly recognizable dialectic and materialistic trains of ideas” (Kybernetik in philosophischer Sicht, p. 23, quoted and translated in Gotthard Günther, Cybernetics and the dialectic Materialism of Marx and Lenin, p. 8)
The trio Sobolev, Liapunov and Kitov
Together with Kolman and Berg, the originators of cybernetics in the USSR were mathematicians Sergei Sobolev,Aleksei Liapunov and computer engineer Anatoly Kitov. Together they wrote the influential early pro-cybernetics article “The Main Features of Cybernetics”. (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 173)
“In the autumn of 1954 Liapunov organized a “seminar on machine mathematics” at Moscow University. He did not limit seminar topics to purely mathematical problems, however. Liapunov… incorporated the entire range of cybernetic issues into the seminar’s agenda. Liapunov’s seminar met regularly for several years and served as a nexus of public exchange of cybernetic ideas… While cybernetics was still referred to in the press as a “reactionary pseudoscience,” the participants of Liapunov’s seminar openly discussed most recent Western cybernetic works” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 174-175)
During the discussion of the article “The Main Features of Cybernetics” by Sobolev, Liapunov and Kitov “The Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Voprosy filosofii, Mark Rozental’, objected to the use of the word memory with respect to computers, arguing that memory was a mental attribute. Kitov replied that memory was nothing more than “the ability to preserve information” and contended that “one should not be afraid of calling this thing memory both here and there [in men and machines].” “Why can’t we say memory but have to say storage device?” he asked. “The matter is to preserve a difference between man and machine,” Rozental’ explained. “The real difference is that man is a social being; he is formed under the influence of his [social] environment. There is no need to see a difference where it is not even tangible,” Kitov retorted.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 181)
“In October of 1958, speaking on cybernetics at the All-Union Conference on Philosophical Problems of Natural Science, Sobolev brushed aside the philosophical critique of cybernetics as utterly irrelevant:
“We [Sobolev and Liapunov] admit that we do not even understand some of these [philosophical] questions in relation to cybernetics… One cannot divide physics into materialistic physics and idealistic physics… There is no such thing.”
…Sobolev did not use any philosophical arguments to refute the charge of idealism; instead, he claimed that philosophical terminology simply was not applicable to cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 181-182)
One could ask, if the cyberneticians even admit that they do not understand philosophical questions or philosophical objections to cybernetic claims, how can they be so arrogant as to simply reject these criticisms without even understanding them?
Sobolev and Liapunov also clearly were not familiar with Lenin’s words that:
“no natural science… can hold its own in the struggle against the onslaught of bourgeois ideas and the restoration of the bourgeois world outlook unless it stands on solid philosophical ground. In order to hold his own in this struggle and carry it to a victorious finish, the natural scientist must be a modern materialist, a conscious adherent of the materialism represented by Marx, i.e., he must be a dialectical materialist.” (Lenin, On the significance of militant materialism)
Cybernetics is accepted officially by the Khrushchevites
Cybernetics was finally adopted officially by the revisionists at the 20th party congress, and adopted into the party program at the 22nd party congress:
“In 1961 the Central Committee began promoting cybernetics at the Twenty-Second Party Congress as “one of the major tools of the creation of a communist society.” First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev in particular promoted a far-reaching application of cybernetics.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, Information & Culture Vol. 47, No. 2 (2012), p. 164)
“In 1958 an entry on cybernetics finally appeared in the additional volume 51 of The Great Soviet Encyclopedia… This article acknowledged Norbert Wiener’s pioneering role in the development of cybernetics and effectively legitimized this field in the Soviet Union. The author of this article was none other than Andrei Kolmogorov [famous mathematician and cybernetist]. A separate article, co-authored by Kolmogorov’s student, was devoted to Wiener…” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 151)
To rehabilitate cybernetics its supporters avoided discussing philosophical problems, instead going for a “neutral” technocratic approach. Cybernetics terminology was changed to hide its mechanistic character, the word “mechanism” was removed from all descriptions of cybernetics by its developers, Wiener’s “feedback mechanism” was renamed “the theory of feedback”. The revisionist authors emphasized the theoretical nature of cybernetics to distance it from American pragmatism. (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 156)
By the 1960s the revisionist leaders had decided that cybernetics was so important, that it should be given its entire division in Soviet science. Keep in mind, the entire scientific establishment in the USSR consisted of only three large divisions: physico-technical and mathematical, chemico-technical, and biological. The revisionists claimed that the fashionable western pseudo-science was as important as these major divisions of science!
“In the later 1960s the Academy of Sciences of the USSR vaunted cybernetics as an entire division of Soviet science, one of only four divisions.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Things became even more ridiculous, when revisionists began arguing that really all the other fields should be subordinated under cybernetics, and seen as mere subcategories of it:
“Others waxed extravagant in arguing that even the remaining three divisions – “the physico-technical and mathematical sciences, chemico-technical and biological sciences, and social sciences” – could be read, without much conceptual violence, as subfields of the overarching expanse of Soviet cybernetics, given its ecumenical commitment to stitching together the mechanical, the organic, and the social: a totalizing mission begun with Wiener’s attempt to analogize (in his subtitle to his 1948 Cybernetics) “the animal and the machine” and later (in his subtitle to 1950’s The Human Use of Human Beings) “cybernetics and society.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cybernetics departments kept multiplying like viruses. Cybernetic were created for everything imaginable. Cybernetic psychology, cybernetic geography, cybernetic economics. What’s next? Cybernetic art and cybernetic cuisine?
“Adopting this broad view institutionally, the Academy of Sciences originally categorized cybernetics into eight sections, including mathematics, engineering, economics, mathematical machines, biology, linguistics, reliability theory, and a “special” military section. With Berg’s influence on the Council on Cybernetics, the number of recognized subfields grew to envelop “geological cybernetics,” “agricultural cybernetics,” “geographical cybernetics,” “theoretical cybernetics” (mathematics), “biocybernetics” (sometimes “bionics” or biological sciences) , and, the most prominent of the Soviet cybernetic social sciences, “economic cybernetics.””(Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cybernetic legal theory was added, and naturally the new western fad “semiotics” developed by bourgeois linguists and idealist philosophers, was thrown in and given its own department:
“By 1967 the range of sections had expanded to include information theory, information systems, bionics, chemistry, psychology, energy systems, transportation, and justice, with semiotics joining the linguistic section and medicine uniting with biology.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
CYBERNETICS AS A SHIELD FOR OTHER REACTIONARY THEORIES
Leading cyberneticists were reactionaries who had been fighting against genuine science:”In July 1954 Sobolev published an article in the leading Party organ, Pravda… Using dogmatism as a euphemism for the Stalinist legacy in Soviet science, Sobolev specifically attacked the schools of Lysenkoist biology and “Pavlovian” physiology” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 164) Cybernetics became a haven for all kinds of idealists and revisionists, pseudo-scientists in all fields from psychology, linguistics to law and natural science:
“Sheltering a huddling crowd of unorthodox sciences, including “non-Pavlovian physiology (‘psychological cybernetics’), structural linguistics (‘cybernetic linguistics’), and new approaches in experiment planning (‘chemical cybernetics’) and legal studies (‘legal cybernetics’),”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
The acceptance of cybernetics did not only mean that a useless pseudo-science was adopted in the field of automation or eletronics. It served to promote pseudo-science and to attack real sciences in many other fields, particularly in physiology, but also psychology, biology etc. “Cybernetics began to serve as an institutional umbrella for various unorthodox research trends previously suppressed by dominant Stalinist schools… “biological cybernetics” (genetics), “physiological cybernetics” (non-Pavlovian “physiology of activity”), and “cybernetic linguistics” (structural linguistics).” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 8)
In 1960 “there appeared an article by Ljapunov and Sobol’ev, ‘Cybernetics and Natural Science’, in which the thesis of acquired inheritance was rejected” and the authors attacked michurinism and defended mendelism by saying that “classical genetics is in agreement with cybernetics.” (Michael Csizmas and Patrick McNally, Cybernetics, Marxism, Jurisprudence, p. 94)
“Problemy kibernetiki, for example, published papers on the application of cybernetics to genetics, thereby providing a haven for geneticists.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 327)
Pavlovian physiology was not compatible with cybernetics, and therefore it had to be destroyed. The council setup to maintain Pavlov’s work was dissolved:
“Of the more specific objections raised to cybernetics, that based on Pavlovian theories about higher nervous activity no longer carried the same force, since the Pavlovian orthodoxy had been greatly weakened in the mid-1950s… The Council on the Problem of the Physiological Teaching of Academician I. P. Pavlov, which had been set up to ensure that the resolutions of the 1950 Conference were enforced, seems to have held its last meeting in 1953. See Vestnik Akademii Nauk 0953, 6), 6I-2.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 331)”The frontiers between physiology and engineering are those where cybernetics has had most effect on the conduct of research, and here the situation was more complex. Cybernetics was condemned as incompatible with Pavlov’s theories; consequently the reaffirmation of Pavlovian teaching in 1950, and the subsequent purge of those who had attempted to revise his work, provided a powerful obstacle to cybernetics. One of those purged in 1950 exemplifies this clearly. In the 1930s P. K. Anokhin… had introduced into the physiology of the nervous system the idea of the ‘return afferentation’ of the results of an action to the actor-almost identical with the concept of feedback. This work, however, was condemned for conflicting with the Pavlovian theory of the reflex arc. Anokhin had attempted to rehabilitate his own work in the light of cybernetics:
When cybernetics appeared on the scene and when I began to talk of our Soviet priority in the theoretical treatment of physiology, friends told me: ‘Give up talking about that!’ It’s alright to outstrip a scientific discovery by eleven years, but we don’t advise you to outstrip bourgeois obscurantism by eleven years. In as much as research in physiology was held up it was by the stress on Pavlovian orthodoxy, and only at second remove by the attacks on cybernetics.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, pp. 312-313)
“Nikolai Aleksandrovich Bernshtein (1896–1966), who would later play the leading role in Soviet “physiological cybernetics.” Throughout his career, Bernshtein spoke openly and consistently about his disagreement with Pavlov’s doctrine of conditional reflexes… As early as 1934, Bernshtein proposed to replace the classical Pavlovian concept of the “reflex arc” with a “reflex circle.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 44-45)
“Bernshtein… disagreed with Pavlov conceptually and did not even attempt to portray himself as an orthodox Pavlovian, became a prominent target of ideological criticism… His critics… accused him of attempting to “belittle” Pavlov’s significance. Furthermore, since Bernshtein cited foreign [imperialist] authors, he was charged with “kowtowing before foreign scientists” and “anti-patriotism.” The critics also attached to Bernshtein’s doctrine the usual labels: idealism (for using mathematical analysis) and mechanicism (for regarding the human body as a self-regulating mechanism). They even accused him of holding onto the “false theory of mutations” (i.e., genetics). At the 1950 “Pavlov session,” critics alleged that he knew “neither the letter nor the spirit of Pavlov’s teachings.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 46)
“The “father of Soviet cybernetics,” Aleksei Liapunov, had developed a longterm friendship with a number of leading Soviet geneticists since the early 1940s, when he was involved in a controversy between Kolmogorov and Lysenko over the validity of statistical analysis in the interpretation of genetic experiments. In the late 1940s, Liapunov organized a kruzhok (a “circle,” a home study group)… he offered informal courses on genetics and the theory of probabilities and statistics, which were not taught to biology students at the university. Risking his position as a Party member and a researcher at a closed institution working on classified projects, Liapunov often invited persecuted geneticists to give guest lectures and transmit their “forbidden knowledge” to this select group. Geneticists… seized this opportunity… Such prominent biologists as Dubinin, Romashov, Sakharov, Timoféeff-Ressovsky, Zavadovskii, and Zhebrak spoke at the meetings of Liapunov’s kruzhok.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 183)
Liapunov was involved in signing the anti-lysenko letter of 94 reactionary scientists in 1955 which was expanded in 1956 to the so-called “letter of 300”.
“Liapunov signed the addendum and took an active part in soliciting signatures from influential Soviet scientists; in particular, he managed to obtain Sobolev’s support” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 184)
“Liapunov’s propagation of cybernetic ideas was closely connected with his defense of genetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 186)
“The cybernetics movement began to spread over a wide range of disciplines. “Biological cyberneticians” challenged the Lysenkoites in biology; “physiological cyberneticians” opposed the Pavlovian school in physiology; “cybernetic linguists” confronted the traditionalists in linguistics. The opponents of dominant schools in various fields began speaking the language of cybernetics.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 204)
“As the historian Mark Adams has demonstrated, genetics “hid under protective language: to cognoscenti, such terms as ‘radio-biology,’ ‘radiation bio-physics,’ and ‘physico-chemical biology’ functioned as a kind of protective mimicry, serving as euphemisms for both orthodox genetics and molecular biology.” Genetic research was conducted not in biological institutions (which were controlled by the Lysenkoites) but under the roofs of physical and chemical research institutes. One of the code names for genetics in this period was cybernetic biology.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 211)
“In October of 1958, at the All-Union Conference on Philosophical Problems of Natural Science, Aleksei Liapunov and Sergei Sobolev delivered a paper in which they portrayed [mendelian] genetics as an implementation of the cybernetic approach in biology” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 211)
“Liapunov became the head of the Biological Section of the Council on Cybernetics; as the editor of the series Problemy kibernetiki… he published works on genetics. In particular, Liapunov helped his close friend Nikolai Timoféeff-Ressovsky [a mendelist who had defected to Germany and worked for the Third Reich]… to resume active research and publications after returning from Stalinist labor camps. Timoféeff-Ressovsky’s first lecture after his return to Moscow was given at an informal gathering in Liapunov’s apartment… Thanks to Liapunov’s efforts, however, this article, written in collaboration with the geneticist Raisa Berg, appeared in the fifth volume of Problemy kibernetiki in 1962. To justify this publication, Timoféeff-Ressovsky and Berg injected a few cybernetic terms in their article.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 212)
“Speaking at the 1962 conference, the leading specialist in pattern recognition, the mathematician Mikhail Bongard of the Institute of Biophysics, argued that Pavlovian reflex theory, if subjected to a cybernetic test, failed to explain pivotal physiological mechanisms” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 222)
“Bongard argued that reflex theory was clearly not adequate for explaining higher nervous activity… Instead, Bongard argued, one must look for a solution by building cybernetic models.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, pp. 222-223)
“Sobolev, in particular, argued that there was no limit to the applicability of notions of cybernetics to living organisms: “In cybernetics, a machine is defined as a system capable of accomplishing actions that lead to a certain goal. Therefore, all living organisms, and human beings in particular, are in this sense machines. Man is the most perfect of all known cybernetic machines. . . . There is no doubt that all human activity manifests the functioning of a mechanism, which in all its parts obeys the same laws of mathematics, physics, and chemistry, as does any machine.” Pavlovian physiologists tried to oppose this trend, but they could hardly resist the thrust of the cybernetics wave.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 224)
Ever since the rise of Khrushchev, the Soviet revisionists had tried to create a “less political” technocratic system. Western imperialist ideas were not seen as questionable by the revisionists, instead they were embraced in the hope of gaining somekind of pragmatic usefulness. Khrushchev’s corn fiasco, which attempted to transplant American hybrid corn into the USSR is only one notorious example. The technocrats also encouraged Soviets to not criticize Western imperialist “innovations”, and as a result doctrines like cybernetics, “brutalism” in architecture etc. were imported from the West to the USSR. The technocrats wanted optimal pragmatic solutions, and considered them “non-ideological”—their use of brutalism being a prime example. But brutalism is also a prime example of how this kind of supposedly non-ideological system is actually completely ideological. Brutalism, an imperialist Western trend, replaced Socialist Realism in architecture.
“to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology.” (Lenin, What is to be done?)
The revisionists gleefully accepted “pragmatic” technocratic solutions very similar to right-deviators of the past, such as Bukharin and his use of Bogdanov’s “universal organizing science”:
“In the 1960s, “optimal planning and control” became a motto of the cybernetic movement. Soviet cyberneticians assumed that the main problem of the Soviet economy lay in the inefficient mechanisms of data collection, information processing, and control, and offered a solution based on mathematical modeling and computer-aided decision making. They believed that computers produced a politically neutral, “optimal” solution” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 256)
“In the late 1960s, cybernetic ideas were incorporated into the writings of a leading Party theoretician, the philosopher Viktor Afanas’ev… Adopting terms from cyberspeak, Afanas’ev began talking of “social information” and “the scientific management [upravlenie] of society.”… During the early anti-cybernetics campaign, Soviet critics had attacked cybernetics for being a “technocratic theory.” Now the ideological attitude toward technocratic aspirations of cyberneticians was completely reversed. In 1967 the authors of the fifth volume of Cybernetics—in the Service of Communism wrote with pride that “the view of society as a complex cybernetic system with a multi-dimensional network of direct and feedback links and a mechanism of optimization, functioning towards a set goal, is increasingly gaining prestige as the main theoretical idea of the ‘technology’ of managing society.”… Berg’s Council on Cybernetics played a crucial role in the ideological rehabilitation of the legacy of Aleksei Gastev and other Soviet pioneers of the [bourgeois anti-communist theory of] “scientific management” movement of the 1920s.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 285)
As Lenin had said, belittling Marxism would of course lead to it being replaced by bourgeois ideology more and more.
RE-WRITING OF MARXISM TO SERVE CYBERNETICS
First in the Khrushchev era cybernetics was fully rehabilitated:
Under A. Berg’s leadership a philosophical section was created “to reconcile cybernetics with dialectical materialism by adapting dialectical materialism to cybernetics. Philosophers loyal to cybernetics duly accomplished this task. First, they managed to incorporate the concept of information into the canonical list of categories of dialectical materialism.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 258)
“Cybernetics occupied a prominent place in the fundamental five-volume Philosophical Encyclopedia, published in 1960–1970. The philosopher Aleksandr Spirkin, head of the Philosophical Section, served as Deputy Editor-in-Chief of the encyclopedia, and he secured the publication of an 11-page article on cybernetics. (The article on mathematics was only 6 pages long.) The encyclopedia also included as separate entries such terms as control systems, information theory… thus turning them into philosophical categories. The encyclopedia article on cybernetics fully reflected the new domination of cybernetic discourse over the old philosophical clichés [i.e. over marxism]. The first draft, written by Ernest Kolman, was mildly critical of cybernetic claims, but after a discussion at the Philosophical Section of the Council on Cybernetics it was forcefully rejected. Kolman emphasized the “qualitative differences” between humans and machines, and argued that cybernetic devices did not have consciousness and therefore could not think. Cybernetics supporters brushed such formulations aside… The new version, which was eventually published, placed no philosophical limits on cybernetics” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 259)
In the Brezhnev era this went even further:
“Afanas’ev quickly translated the basic principles of operation of the Soviet government into cyberspeak… The government, the Communist Party, and other political and public organizations constituted the controlling subsystem, while the economy, science, and other social activities made up the controlled subsystem. The Party, “the most important element of the scientific control of socialist society,” played, of course, the role of the chief controller” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 285)
Thus the brezhnevites reduced even Marxism to cybernetics, the Marxist theory of the party and state was now being replaced by bourgeois pseudo-science!
“the Party principle of “democratic centralism,” for example, could easily be interpreted as control by means of feedback.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 286)
Naturally, Western imperialist economic theories were also studied by the revisionists, and they experimented with market mechanisms. Revisionist theories were also rehabilitated. Khrushchev had created the system of de-centralized regional planning. The Kosygin-Liebermann reforms of 1965 introduced profitability or the profit-principle as the guide for enterprises (which had explicitly been condemned by Stalin in his “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR). Cyberneticists also suggested de-centralized planning.”The idea of indirect centralization, introduced by [cyberneticist] Viktor Novozhilov, was based on a mathematical theorem stating that the equilibrium point in a many-person non-coalition game would be an optimum. Applying the results of game theory to the Soviet economy, economic cyberneticians argued that the central government did not need to impose specific output quotas on individual enterprises; instead, it could set “optimal” prices and investment efficiency norms, then allow individual enterprises to make their own decisions. If the criteria of economic performance were properly formulated, the independent activity of individual enterprises should lead to the fulfillment of the national plan. In contrast to the accepted view, economic cyberneticians argued that the ideal of “optimal planning” could be achieved by a radical decentralization of economic decision making and a regulated use of the market mechanism:
“The finding of an optimum may take place in a decentralized way, i.e. the equilibrium point, or optimum, can be found as a result of an exchange of information between economic organs, each of which independently solves the problem of optimization guided by its own individual (local) criterion of optimality. . . . In this way, it is possible to use the market mechanism for organizing the process of the decentralized working out of the optimal plan.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 274)
“Describing the Soviet economy in quintessential cybernetic terms, Novozhilov argued that the market mechanism was equivalent to the feedback principle:
“By now it is already widely known that cybernetics justifies khozraschet [the profit-principle] as the compensator of randomness in a planned economy. A socialist economy is a very complicated system subject to the activity of a multiplicity of random factors and not lending itself to description in full detail. The control of such systems is possible only on the condition that there exists a self-regulator with feedback… the market mechanism is such a regulatory mechanism… The detailing, correction and fulfillment of the plan must be regulated by khozraschet.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 275)
Novozhilov argued that rational planning was impossible and that a socialist economy was impossible without a mindless “self-regulator” and that this regulator must be the market.
The cyberneticians tried to refute Marxism and considered value to be entirely irrelevant when it comes to prices. That is an anti-marxist statement in line with unscientific vulgar economics.
“Economic cyberneticians strongly emphasized their reliance on “objective” computation and “objective” valuations. Contrasting their approach with the traditional discourse of Soviet political economy, which was loaded with ideological formulas borrowed from the Marxist theory of value, they strongly asserted the discursive autonomy of economic cybernetics from political economy: “[The Marxist concept of] value and objective valuations are two completely different and incommensurable things. Value is a category of political economy and objective valuations are an algorithmic formula for the calculation of equilibrium prices in an optimal plan. [footnote 82, chapter 6”]” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 275)
The arrogance of the revisionists was shown by the fact that they assumed cybernetics must be correct, and since political economy doesn’t fit with cybernetics – so much the worse for political economy, it must be thrown into the trash. Keep in mind that this was being argued by Kantorovich, who himself was not an economist at all, but an engineer. Glushkov was not an economics expert either, but a mathematician:
“Sharply criticizing orthodox economists at a 1959 session of the Academy of Sciences, Kantorovich argued that the impossibility to translate their theories into cyberspeak made the shallowness of these theories self-evident” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 276)
FEW REMARKS ON OGAS – A NATIONWIDE COMPUTER NETWORK
In the 1960s cyberneticists advocated building a nationwide network of computers, which could be used to plan the economy. Of course, this would’ve meant their distorted view of planning with market mechanisms. This project was supported by all cyberneticists, but its main architect was Glushkov.
The computer network (known as OGAS) was supposed to link each production facility, each warehouse and each shop to a network which would connect them to computer centers. These centers would track the amounts of products and resources and carry out necessary calculations. The plan eventually failed because of its impracticality. It would’ve been astronomically expensive. There were also bureaucratic problems, as different government organs, both civilian and military, would’ve had to share information and even share the same computers.
In principle a computer network for economic planning is not a bad idea, but its also not a universal panacea, or a magic fix, like the cyberneticians claimed. They believed that the only problems in the revisionist Soviet society were problems of optimal organization. They believed that all problems could be solved through technology, which is deeply misguided. The truth is that 1) problems of the revisionist Soviet society could have been solved even without such a computer network, and 2) such a computer network on its own would not have solved the problems.
Let’s discuss what exactly the computer network was intended to achieve.
“Glushkov indeed admitted that his project for a nationwide network of computation centers would cost more than the space program and the atomic project put together.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 278)
Yet, how much more could be achieved if these massive funds were put into other projects? The cost of the project strongly hindered it from being completed, but we must also ask if the project itself even made any sense. The idea of a fully computerized planning system, where every factory, enterprise, warehouse and shop are connected to computer networks sounds very good. It would improve efficiency because people wouldn’t need to write as many reports, wouldn’t need to make calculations in their head, and the computer would tell people how to organize scheduling of shipments, organize construction etc. more efficiently.
But we must ask, if there is an industrial plant which uses technology of the 1930s, 1940s or 1950s, is adding computers to the plant really the best use of resources? Doubling the budget could massively improve the technology used in heavy industry. Hydraulics were being improved, coal boilers were used but gradually diesel generators became more prevalent. Electronics replaced mechanics. These kinds of improvements helped the Soviet economy grow massively in the post-WWII era, and also allowed for growth of the productive forces in the West. Computers would have improved production much less, but their cost would have been astronomical. It simply wouldn’t make sense. Imagine for the sake of argument that a computer improves efficiency by 10% so that we need 9 people to do what previously required 10. By giving every collective farm new better tractors, repairing old tractors, or by giving miners new drills, construction workers new excavators, would “free up” much more labor, much more cheaply.
Buying a computer in the 1960s, just so that a warehouse – let alone a simple shop – could track its inventory, would be madness, when the computer would cost so much that we could hire the necessary personnel to check the inventory 100 times over. Nowadays the situation is different. Computers and networks are cheap, wages are high, and it is more difficult to improve production through inventions in heavy machinery. But we shouldn’t impose our modern context back to the 1960s.
“Several pilot projects aimed at the development of small-scale computerized systems for production control and information management at individual factories had little success. “Optimal” control yielded poor results when the technology of production was old and obsolete, as was often the case at Soviet factories. At a metallurgical plant in Dneprodzerzhinsk, the use of computers to control a technological process saved minutes, while hours were wasted because of inefficient technology, faulty sensors, and lack of coordination among the stages of production. Glushkov admitted that any potential profit from management-information systems was also lost because of constant interruptions in supply and the inefficient organization of the industry as a whole. “Optimal planning and control” turned into a pure mathematical abstraction.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 278)
It is quite funny to hear anti-communists like Gerovitch, and revisionists like Glushkov lament the supposedly bad state of the Soviet economy. They talk about “old machines”, meaning machines less then 20 years old. In heavy industry it is common and often even rational to use machines for 15 years. They were talking about interruptions in supply etc. and blamed it all on “communism”. But these problems were never unique to the USSR. The same exact issues are part of production, a fact of life, even today in the most high-tech capitalist countries. Their complaints simply show how out of touch with the reality of production these cybernetic utopians were.
In the factory where I work, there is constant massive inefficiency due to “human errors”, due to shipments of raw materials not arriving on time, due to bottlenecks because of bad planning or due to mistakes, due to unpredictable breakdowns of machines, due to repair staff being too busy, due to constant problems with faulty raw materials etc. etc. And yet, all the inventories are tracked by computers automatically. A custom-built computer system is used for calling repair crews (often times they don’t respond to the computer system, so workers have to walk to their office physically, or call them on the phone). At best, the computer automatically tells us if we are running out of materials – but that wouldn’t be very difficult for a human to do. The computer tracks how many orders still need to be fulfilled, it tracks the production quotas of workers etc. which is a legitimate help, but not something revolutionary. Perhaps the most innovative thing is that the computers automatically track error messages from machines in the production process, which can alert managers that there is a problem in production. But often times these systems don’t work – or it is entirely redundant, because the workers themselves always immediately recognize the problem themselves.
This is not to detract from the usefulness of computers. Computers serve useful functions, and they should also be used to aid economic planning.
So what would’ve been the appropriate use for computers in the 1950s and 1960s in the USSR? Computers should’ve been used as massive calculators, to calculate the most difficult problems which humans practically could not do. They should’ve been used in science and in every field where mathematics is needed. Military and scientific computers should be allocated based on the needs of various institutes, so that smaller institutes might get their own smaller computers, or many institutes would share one big computer. This, in fact, is exactly what was done in the late Stalin-era.
Eventually, automatic information collection and processing, and telecommunication could be used, when it became economically viable i.e. cheaper and more useful. Instead of trying to spread computers everywhere, they should be centralized because they were so expensive and scarce. There was also a lot of room for the economy to grow even without computers. In the late Stalin-era the USSR was attempting to massively increase agricultural yield through mechanization and agricultural practices, to massively increase industrial production by building new plants, equipping them with new machines etc., and trying to improve education through numerous ambitious projects. To accomplish these necessary and extremely rewarding tasks (which the revisionists never fulfilled) computers had only very limited applicability, but they were put to good use for scientific problems, military ballistic calculations, weather forecasting etc.
“Glushkov argued that, unless the processing of economic information was automated, by the mid 1980s nearly the entire adult population of the Soviet Union would be engaged in planning, accounting, and management.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 281)
This is simply a gross exaggeration. It also assumes that the cybernetic de-centralized planning system was not an economic plan at all. In reality the cybernetic “plan” included increased market mechanisms.
THE FAILURE OF CYBERNETICISTS TO DEFINE WHAT THEIR “SCIENCE” EVEN IS
“Cyberneticians, who aspired to make other scientific disciplines more objective by “cybernetizing” them, could hardly agree, however, on exactly what cybernetics meant.” (Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 246)
Cyberneticists couldn’t even agree on what cybernetics is. It was becoming very evident that this “science” was sterile and had reached a dead end. Years went by, and the task of explaining what this new “science” was, remained unfulfilled:
“the internal discord among mathematical cyberneticists swelled, suggesting anything but a unified front. Leading Soviet cyberneticists defined the field in dramatically different terms: Kolmogorov fought to claim information as the base of cybernetics, whereas Markov preferred probabilistic causal networks, Lyapunov set theory, and Iablonskii algebraic logic. In 1958, only three years after their initial article, Kitov, Lyapunov, and Sobolev published an article outlining four more definitions of cybernetics in the Soviet Union, emphasizing the dominant study of “control systems,” Wiener’s interest in “governance and control in machines, living organisms, and human society,” Kolmogorov’s “processes of transmission, processing, and storing information,” and Lyapunov’s methods for manipulating the “structure of algorithms.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)
Like true cosmopolitans they romanticized the American founder of cybernetics and appealed to him as some kind of mythic authority. All these claims about the efficacy and clearness of cybernetics were totally fictitious. Just as fictional was the status of Wiener as an authority:
“Igor Poletaev, a leading Soviet information theorist… argued in 1964 against the then-plastic understanding of cybernetics. He legitimated his call for disciplinary coherence by invoking the iconic and mythically clear foreign founder, Norbert Wiener, claiming that “‘terminological inaccuracy’ is unacceptable, for it leads (and has already led) to a departure from Wiener’s original vision…” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)
“Poletaev continued, “the specificity of the cybernetic subject matter completely disappears, and cybernetics turns into an ‘all-encompassing science of sciences,’ which is against its true nature.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166) However, in reality, this confusion precisely is the true nature of cybernetics.
“The mathematician Nikolai Timofeef-Ressovsky, a practicing cyberneticist, once put the same sentiment in lighter terms… he replaced the Russian word for “confusion” or “mess” with the term “cybernetics,”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 166)”In 1961, a Soviet philosopher concluded from a survey of the methodological problems of cybernetics that… cybernetics is connected with dialectical materialist philosophy as its natural and necessary world-view basis.”, Even in 1961, and certainly in the late 1950s, this was little more than a pious hope, and it was not until some years later that serious philosophical analysis of cybernetics was under way. Moreover, the initial arguments about cybernetics had shown great differences of view about its relationship to dialectical materialism.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 329)
Computers and automatic information processing had never been criticized and had always been supported in Stalin’s USSR. However, the revisionists now falsely gave all credit for computer technology to cybernetics, even though it had had nothing to do with it. By doing this they dishonestly gave cybernetics a veneer of being practically useful and having some contributions to science.
But at the same time they actually demonstrated that cybernetics is not a scientific discipline at all. Although the cyberneticists could never define what exactly cybernetics is, it was agreed that it was supposed to be some kind of universal theory dealing with information, and not merely a theory of computer automation. By equating it with computer automation they totally undermined the claim that cybernetics was a new independent discipline with its own subject-matter:
“What is most interesting about the use of the term cybernetics is the way in which it now came to embrace computers and automatic control systems, which had been excluded from the attacks on cybernetics. This usage undoubtedly created some difficulties for the advocates of cybernetics by drawing attention away from the general theory of control processes and focusing it on computers. But it was also of the utmost importance in helping to legitimate cybernetics. For the practical usefulness of computers was being more clearly realized in the Soviet Union, and military and space successes were claimed by the advocates of cybernetics as evidence of the practical value of their science.” (David Holloway, Innovation in Science-The Case of Cybernetics in the Soviet Union, p. 318)
“Undoubtedly many Soviet scientists saw in cybernetics and the traditional theory of control and communication a duplication of effort since the traditional theory was well established before Wiener’s entrance into this area… Soviet philosophers have not as yet established to their own satisfaction any clear relationship between Wiener’s theory and the other sciences, nor have they sharply delineated the area of operation for cybernetics.” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, pp. 457-458)
“The Rumanian scholar I. N. Belenescu pinpointed the following characteristics of matter in motion: (1) all motion exists in time and space; (2) all forms of motion involve the interactions of things and events; and (3) all forms of motion contain within themselves contradictions and a unity of contradictions, and a unity of continuity and noncontinuity. In his estimation Wiener’s cybernetics did not possess any particular form of motion of its own; therefore, it could not be treated as a science in the same sense as physics, chemistry, or biology. Pursuing Belenescu’s thinking to its logical conclusion, Ukraintsev, in 1961, did not anticipate that cybernetics would make any new discoveries or establish any new laws of moving matter.” (Maxim W. Mikulak, Cybernetics and Marxism-Leninism, p. 458)
By the 1970s the emperor had absolutely no clothes left. Nobody could explain what cybernetics even is, but somehow it included absolutely everything and absolutely nothing:
“cybernetics had grown to a nearly all-encompassing size… By the 1970s seemingly little more than a name (kibernetika) and a common interest in computer modeling held together this loose patchwork of institutions, disciplines, fields, and topics.” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
By the 1980s cybernetics, a term which nobody can define, and which not many people remember today, was discarded:
“By the 1980s the term “cybernetics,” which, although no longer new, had failed to mobilize consensus, diffused in relevance to the point that it gave way to the rise of its replacement, “informatics.”” (Benjamin Peters, “Normalizing Soviet Cybernetics”, p. 167)
Cyberneticists claimed they would make everything precise but in reality their own system was incredibly confused and meaningless:
“The computer came to symbolize a new spirit of rigorous thinking, logical clarity, and quantitative precision, contrasting sharply with the vague and manipulative language of Stalinist ideological discourse [sic]… Soviet cyberneticians sought a new foundation of scientific objectivity in the rigor of mathematical formulas and computer algorithms and in the “precise” concepts of cybernetics… they put forward a computer-based cybernetic criterion of objectivity as overtly non-ideological, non-philosophical, non-class-oriented, and non-Partyminded. The cyberneticians aspired to bring computer-based objectivity to the entire family of the life sciences and the social sciences by translating these sciences into cyberspeak.” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 8)
And how did the cybernetic project fulfill its goals and promises? It turned out to be an utter failure.
HOW DID IT ALL END?
Kolman defected to the West, but things did not necessarily go any better there—quite the opposite. Norbert Wiener himself had become disgusted with American militarism and how his ideas were used. He became more and more pessimistic over time. As a stupid liberal he hoped for some kind of “third way” between capitalism and socialism.
The other leading American cybernetics pioneer Claude Shannon wrote already in 1956:
“[Information theory] has perhaps been ballooned to an importance beyond its actual accomplishments. Our fellow scientists in many different fields, attracted by the fanfare and by the new avenues opened to scientific analysis, are using these ideas in their own problems. . . . It will be all too easy for our somewhat artificial prosperity to collapse overnight when it is realized that the use of a few exciting words like information, entropy, redundancy, do not solve all our problems.” (Claude Shannon, “The Bandwagon”, quoted in Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 98)
“Eventually, Shannon withdrew from the public eye and refused to speak about his “information theory.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 98) Many of the founders of Soviet cybernetics themselves were totally disappointed. Liapunov abandoned his position already in the 1960s:
“Liapunov began to distance himself from the fussy activity of [Berg’s cybernetics] council… Liapunov, the accepted “father of Soviet cybernetics,” declined to write for the series Cybernetics—in the Service of Communism… As one memoirist put it, after Liapunov’s departure “the center that had unified cybernetics disappeared” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 263)
In the 70s the long time linguistic cyberneticist, structural linguist “Mel’cuk… no longer wanted to play the cybernetics game. He even called one of his own articles on the connection between cybernetics and linguistics “showy and shallow.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 281)
“Igor’ Poletaev (a close associate of Liapunov and the author of the first Soviet book on cybernetics), who had once fought to legitimize cybernetic research, bitterly told his friends in the 1970s: “Now it is I who will say that cybernetics is a pseudo-science.”” (Gerovitch, Newspeak to Cyberspeak, p. 289)
1946 and 1947 were years of intense class struggle, and struggle against Fascist and Feudal remnants. Certain representatives of the Horthy administration had been allowed into the People’s Front, because they had turned against Germany at the very end. However, they were reactionaries and militarists. All kinds of reactionaries also tried to join the Smallholders Party. A struggle began to oust them from power. These reactionary elements had opposed the creation of the Republic, and the land-reform.
Right-wing historian Norman Stone writes that: “In March 1946 Voroshilov [as a representative of the Allied Commission] arrested two [Smallholder] deputies who had opposed the proclamation of a republic…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 393)
In the eyes of the Allied Commission, these types of monarchist politicians could not be tolerated. There were some “pure monarchists” in Hungary, mainly among the clericals and nobility who wanted the Hapsburg monarchy to be restored, but most opponents of the Republic were Horthyite fascists.
The reactionaries also campaigned for land to be returned to the feudal estates and large land-owners. It was easy for the workers, peasants and democratic intelligentsia to unite against such a blatantly reactionary stance:
“On 7 March [1946-MLT] the Left Bloc [Communist Party, Social-Democrat Party, the National Peasant Party and trade-unions-MLT] held a mass meeting in Budapest’s Heroes’ Square. This was one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the liberation. Hundreds of thousands shouted the slogan: “Out with the enemies of the people from the coalition!” A sweeping majority of the proletariat living in the capital marched to Heroes’ Square, where they were joined by large masses of all the progressive strata of the population; all in all over 300,000 working people participated at the demonstration.” (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 110)
“The resolution adopted at the mass meeting stated that the parties defending democracy “are confronting the gathering of the reactionary forces with the power of the organized working masses and are ready fully to eliminate any right-wing actions”. In response to the attacks against the land reform, the statement declared: “Not an inch of land is to be returned!” It demanded that the Smallholders Party exclude reactionary elements from its ranks. At the same time, it welcomed the “manifesto of the progressive democrats of the Smallholders Party and welcomed the friendly hand offered in the joint struggle”.
The next day, the representatives of the Left Bloc submitted their demands to the leadership of the Smallholders Party… Four days later, the Smallholders Party executive issued a statement declaring that it accepted the demands and it would exclude twenty right-wing parliamentary representatives from the membership of the party.” (Nemes, p. 111)
Or in the words of right-wing historian Norman Stone:
“Communists…set up a left-wing bloc, with the Social Democrats, the trade unions and the National Peasants’ Party, which with street demonstrations early in 1946, demanded the expulsion of… twenty Smallholder deputies as reactionaries. The Smallholder government might have resisted, but the party was not united [the Smallholder left sided with the left Bloc-MLT]” (Stone, pp. 393-394)
Stone gives the impression that he wishes the Smallholders had really stood their ground, and given uncompromising support to these Horthyite reactionary elements, which is a testament to how anti-communist he is.
Other demonstrations were also organized:
“In the demonstrations against the “speculators and stockjobbers,”… organized by the way under the insignia of the Leftist Bloc… there were easily 100,000 persons, if not more.” (Miklos Molnar, A short history of the Hungarian Communist Party, p. 111)
“the number of marchers arriving at communist gathering places was usually two to three times as large as at the gathering places of the SZDP.” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“In many places, the MKP organized the SZDP, in some places even the FKGP, not to mention the Peasant Party.” (Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
The communists did this in order to support the Popular Front of the 4 parties. This is a good indication of the fact, which has also been pointed out by many others, that the communists were clearly the leading political force in the country.
There were also violent attacks by fascists and reactionary elements, who were still very numerous in the country:
“At Kunmadaras, a former chief instructor in the fascist para-military youth organization provoked,
with anti-semitic demagogy, a mass affray on 21 May, during which two people, a Communist and a Social Democrat, were killed and 18 people were injured. A few days later at Karcag, a fatal clash with the police was touched off, when a clerical leader of the Catholic young men’s association and a leading member of the local Smallholders Party youth group organized a fascist demonstration in support of a war criminal, against the democratic order. In the middle of June, the Smallholders Party chief notary and the chairman of the local Smallholders Party branch, organized a demonstration against the workers’ parties in Nyirtura, and a member of the Hungarian Communist Party was stabbed.
A few days later, on the main boulevard of Budapest, fascist assassins ambushed two Soviet officers killing them together with a girl, a young worker who happened to pass by; several passers-by were wounded. On 31 July, on the eve of the introduction of the stable forint— fascist elements organized an anti-semitic demonstration at Miskolc, taking advantage of the just anger of the people against speculators. Led by provocators, a crowd of people invaded the police building and dragged out two local mill-owners, who had been arrested for black-marketeering, and lynched one of them. Because a group of the lynchers was arrested, another fascist demonstration occurred the next day, when an officer of the democratic police was killed…” (Nemes, p. 118-119)
Fascist and anti-semitic attitudes were still so widespread in 1946 that it was possible to incite lynchings and mass killings of Jews, other minorities and leftists. Most fascists and reactionaries were not physically eliminated, because Hungary had switched sides in the war. The Hungarian army was not destroyed, and many members of the Horthy administration were allowed to remain in the state machine at least temporarily.
Western right-wing historian Norman Stone mentions some of the same Fascist attacks:
“…the background being the enormous inflation and black-marketeering, there were pogroms. Peasants in Ózd and, more ominously, workers in Miskolc rioted and lynched. In Kunmadaras on 20 May 1946 a riot broke out against the People’s Judges and a Communist leader; two Jews were killed and fifteen wounded…” (Stone, p. 388)
“The police and the people’s courts dealt with the murderers and provocators. They discovered and suppressed a number of fascist conspiracies. The Minister of the Interior in July disbanded the Catholic young men’s associations, the Boy Scouts, the Emericana student organization and several other right-wing associations because of their anti-democratic activities and their assistance to the fascist conspirators.” (Nemes, p. 119)
Stone might deny the fascist or far-right nature of these crimes, and try to justify them. But considering he admits that the murderers wanted to lynch communists, social-democrats and jews, it seems impossible not to conclude that they were fascists. Undoubtledly the Hungarian authorities acted completely correctly when they suppressed these fascists, racists, reactionary murderers and their accomplices.
REACTIONARY CRIMINALS INSIDE THE SMALLHOLDER PARTY
The Arrest of Bela Kovacs
The Smallholder general secretary Bela Kovacs was arrested due to his participation in a Fascist secret society:
“Bela Kovacs, the smallholder secretary general… was… arrested… but not before the party leadership had agreed to his questioning by the police… Kovacs was accused of complicity in a plot to overthrow the Hungarian People’s Republic, a plot allegedly prepared by the Hungarian Unity, a secret society dating from prewar years… The Hungarian Unity had at one time had an enormous… influence… Its membership comprised “racially pure” Hungarians… The Hungarian Unity had a political committee of seven members who, by virtue of their social background and record of service to the [Horthyite fascist-MLT] Hungarian state, were barred from holding public office [by the Allied Commission after liberation-MLT]. Kovacs… was… by temperament a fiery uncompromising opponent of Communism, ideally suited for liaison between the Smallholder Party and the Hungarian Unity. With due regard to his political post, he was a “silent” (eight) member of the Unity’s political committee of seven.” (Zinner, Revolution in Hungary, pp. 42-43)
Perhaps anti-communists would argue that Kovacs was not really a reactionary or a fascist, and was simply arrested for no reason. However, even the anti-communist historian Zinner very diplomatically admits that:
“If his participation in the political committee was a crime, he was guilty beyond doubt…” (pp. 42-43)
Undoubtledly it was considered a crime for a major government politician to belong to a completely fascist organization. More importantly, Kovacs as a government politician was acting as a “liaison” as Zinner says, so that Fascists who the Allied Commission had banned from the government, could still influence the government,from the inside, and have their own man, Kovacs, inside the government.
Zinner goes on to say that: “Kovacs… served to implicate other Smallholder leaders. A direct result was the flight of Ferenc Nagy, the Smallholder premier.” (Zinner, pp. 42-43)
“Kovacs… implicated… the Prime Minister [Ferenc Nagy]… He resigned on June 2 and has since remained in exile.” (Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947, pp. 44-45)
This brings us to the case of Ferenc Nagy.
Ferenc Nagy escapes to the West
“Late in 1946, a conspiracy involving a number of leading members of the Smallholders’ Party was discovered. The Prime Minister, Ferenc Nagy, leader of the party was abroad and refused to return. He was replaced as party leader and Prime Minister by Lajos Dinnyes, an agriculturist with a long record in the Smallholders’ Party.” (Burchett, People’s Democracies)
It is often implied that Ferenc Nagy was simply targeted by the communists so as to sabotage the Smallholders, but this accusation doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Warriner wrote that plots of this type were frequently used by reactionaries in Hungary: “Nagy and two other leaders of the Smallholders Party, Kovacs and Varga, were said to be involved… For the Hungarian reaction, plots were just political routine…” (p. 29) Even Zinner admits that Kovacs was guilty, and he implicated Ferenc Nagy, who then escaped the country.
“the two leftist parties were drawn even closer by the [discovery of the rightist] conspiracy and thus presented an inexorably united front… According to Jozsef Revai, editor of the Communist daily, Szabad Nep secretly intercepted messages clearly proved that the conspiracy aimed at working hand-in-hand with anti-Democratic organizations outside Hungary.” (Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe, pp. 120-121)
Historians Argentieri and Lorenzo write: “The Hungarian Unity trial was not a fabrication. This anti-communist group was organized during the German occupation, but its members remained connected.” (quoted in Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
“British envoy Gascoigne claimed that “there are at least a hundred reactionary organizations currently in Hungary”.” (Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért)
Though these few reactionaries and conspirators were ousted, the Smallholders were not robbed of the Prime Minister position or their position in the government, instead they were allowed to keep those positions. However, this was a substantial defeat to the reactionaries and fascists, who felt that the Smallholders Party was no longer suitable for them:
“Various right-wing groups detached themselves from the party… The representative of the democratic wing tried to halt the full disintegration of the Smallholders Party through more definite co-operation with the Left Bloc. A new leadership, headed by Istvan Dobi, took over the party.” (Nemes, p. 151)
Before Bela Kovacs was interrogated the Smallholder Party was asked for permission, and they gave it. Later they also did not challenge the notion that Kovacs had been a secret fascist conspirator, who had only been using the Smallholder Party for his own nefarious purposes.
Liutenant-General Sviridov, chairman of the Allied Control Commission in Hungary wrote in his letter to Brigadier-General George H. Weems, head of the United States Mission on the Allied Control Commission on March 8, 1947:
“Even the Independent Smallholders Party itself recognizes the fact of the conspiracy against the Constitution and of the danger this implies for the young democracy of Hungary.” (quoted in Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 40)
Why specifically did the Fascists and reactionaries try to join the Smallholder Party? And why were there so many of them? The answers are quite simple. The Smallholders were the most right-wing of the large government parties. They also had no clear ideology, or target audience. Sure, most of their followers were petit-bourgeois, but in those conditions the capitalists, the clergy and fascists also gave their support to the Smallholders – who else could they support? The Communists? The Social-Democrats? The National Peasant Party which represented the rural poor? Of course not. It only left the Smallholders.
“In 1944 the entire state machine, the Army, the Church, the richer peasants, most of the middle class, as well as the real upper class of magnates and capitalists supported the Horthy regime; they now (after the war) supported the Smallholders.” (Warriner, p. 28)
Why was it so easy for Fascists to do this, and why were there so many? Because Hungary had previously been a Fascist country, but had switched sides. The Hungarian government was purged, and democratized, but countless bureaucrats from the Horthy days still remained in the state apparatus and the army. The ones who were ousted, also tried to come back, and why wouldn’t they? The right-wing politicians in the state apparatus also wanted to let more right-wingers join.
“The right wing of the coalition was very active in the struggle for administrative positions and managed to clear a number of fascists for such positions. The former administrative officials soon started to infiltrate the Smallholders Party and in many places the reactionaries who had become “Smallholders Party members” supplied certificates for each other in the defascization committees. The democratic forces ousted part of the reactionaries from public positions, but many retained their places or smuggled themselves back.” (Nemes, p. 69)
Anti-communist historian Zinner also confirms this, he says:
“On one extreme in the Smallholder Party were fellow travellers… who… helped to influence party policy in favor of the Communists. At the other extreme were those who constituted a link with the horthy regime…” (Zinner, p. 47)
There was a constant struggle in the government coalition between reactionaries and leftists, and in the society as a whole. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets, and protested against the reactionaries inside the Smallholders:
“400,000 of them, veterans, women’s organisations, trade unions etc. in a main square… The Smallholder party’s left wing… forced the executive to accept a Communist-influenced programme” (Stone, pp. 394-395)
What was this ‘communist influenced programme’ that Stone mentions? It was opposed by the Smallholder right, but supported by the Smallholder left. It was the program of nationalization, and the Three Year Plan of Reconstruction.
Economist Warriner writes:
“Then, in the spring of 1947, came the Communist and Socialist proposal to nationalise the five big banks. This was crucial, because the Big Three, the Credit Bank, the Commercial Bank and the Discount Bank, together controlled seventy per cent of the industry of the country. If this measure
were carried through, it would mean the liquidation of the former ruling class.” (Warriner, p. 29)
Another anti-communist historian David Pryce-Jones admits that a significant element supported the Smallholders party only because they saw it as the strongest opponent against the communists. This is logical since the Smallholders were the most right-wing party in Hungary allowed by the Allied Commission, the others had been full-on fascists or Nazi collaborators and were thus banned, though of course the Smallholders also had collaborated with Horthy’s fascism to an extent.
Reactionary elements flooded into the Smallholders party in 1945-47, but many Smallholders were democrats and wanted to work with anti-fascists and communists. They helped to expel many of the worst reactionaries from the Smallholders.
According to Pryce-Jones, the Smallholders split in two between “those who had supported them as a bulwark against the Communists” (p. 25) and those who wanted to collaborate with the Communists and leftists. Historian Kovrig Bennet corraborates this by saying “[The Smallholder party] attracted a wide range of noncommunist support which led to a lack of… common resolve: some of its members… sympathized more-or-less covertly with the communists.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p.66)
The liberal count Mihail Karolyi wrote:
“The Smallholders were thus gradually being ground between those [right-wingers] who had given [Ferenc] Nagy their support… and… [left-wing] crypto-Communists”
(Memoirs of Michael Karolyi, p. 324)
Karolyi also said about the Smallholders’ Party that: “reactionary elements… had infiltrated into it.” (p. 324)
Anti-communists Aczel and Meray also admitted that:
“there was some truth in it that the Smallholders Party offered a haven and support to the fascists, to the reactionaries, and to the large capitalistic forces still existing in the country.” (Aczel & Meray, The Revolt Of The Mind, p. 42)
“Due to pressure from rank and file members and after reactionary party leaders were exposed as participants of a plot against the Republic, the democratic elements gained the upper hand [in the Smallholders Party] and ousted the traitors.” (SKP vuosikirja IV, s. 227)
“Ferenc Nagy, the leader of the Smallholders Party an obscure but socially ambitious politician, became the mouthpiece of the bank-shareholders… “ (Warriner, p. 29)
Warriner’s opinion agrees completely with the testiomony of Ferenc Nagy’s secretary Ferenc Kapocs, who said that the Smallholders under Ferenc Nagy’s leadership were basically American puppets, funded with American money, and they were promising that if the Popular Front government was overthrown America could setup military bases in Hungary and get access to raw materials there, such as Hungarian oil:
“From May to June 1945, the Independent Smallholders Party started to build up its illegal home and foreign political echelon… they started to send suitable persons abroad and build up contacts with West-European foreigners in Hungary, in the first place Anglo-Saxons, and with contact-men living in the United states and Britain. This happened on the one hand for the reason that the Party should receive political support and on the other hand that foreign circles should be able to support the elections financially.
Ferenc Nagy… tried to play the concessions into the hands of America, as he said, he was thinking of oil and aerodromes, — and generally to make Hungary a South-East European economic and political base for America.” (quoted in Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 51)
However, this all had to be done secretly. Ferenc Nagy knew that violently overthrowing the Popular Front was very difficult since Soviet troops were still in the country. His plan was that it should be done immediately after Hungary signs the peace treaty with the Allies and United Nations and the Soviet troops leave. Kapocs said:
“Ferenc Nagy also added that an open stand on America’s side could only be taken after the ratification.” (Ibid.) i.e. after the ratification of the peace treaty. A lot of tactical maneuvering was taking place around the negotiations for the peace treaty, as you can see.
The Right-wing leaders in the Smallholder Party actually didn’t want new elections to be held, and tried to delay them as much as possible, because they calculated that Smallholders still had a very good position in the government but after the elections they probably would not, because they were sure to lose support in the election. So instead they made contacts with American espionage services, fascist secret societies etc. and hoped the peace treaty would be ratified before new elections. They could then try to overthrow the People’s Front.
Hungarian communist theoretician Jozsef Revai said at an international communist meeting:
“Hungarian reaction, supported by American imperialism, was in general opposed to new elections… The very fact that we were able to hold the elections defeated the plans of reaction. Even at the time of the election campaign the Americans tried to get the Smallholders’ Party as well as the Social-Democrats to boycott the elections. Our plan was to carry out the elections and thus strengthen the Party, to win a majority of Left democratic parties and thus secure the predominance of the Left parties in Parliament and in the government.“ (J. Revai, The activities of the C.C. of the Hungarian Communist Party, Informative report delivered at the conference of representatives of several Communist Parties, held at the end of September, 1947, in Poland, published in For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy!, No. 3, December 15, 1947)
It was no wonder that the popularity of the Smallholders was quickly disappearing. Historian Andrew Gyorgy, despite being an anti-communist, gives a very illustrative characterization of the situation:
“…the Smallholders’ party of Hungary… seldom engaged in the defense of the depressed elements of their peasantry. On the contrary, by their lack of interest and political opportunism they gradually weakened the foundations of the class they were supposed to protect. They were composed of extreme conservatives who upheld primarily the interests of a wealthier kulak group. This category was particularly well represented in Rumania and Hungary, where the so-called peasant parties were organized and managed by typical townsmen… Collaborationist, fascist elements have actually taken refuge in the peasant parties… Consequently, the peasant parties were faced with the unpleasant situation of offering asylum to politically undesirable groups while misrepresenting the interests of their own class. Slowly the nature of these postwar movements changed and the political coloring altered until their ranks are filled not only by peasants but, more than even before the war, by the urban bourgeoisie, the bureaucracy, and people of an extreme rightist, nationalist background.” (Governments Of Danubian Europe, pp. 48-49)
The Right-Wing smallholder leader Ferenc Nagy was the Secretary of the Hungarian fascist diet during WWII as Nagy writes in his memoirs (p. 33), which he wrote after escaping to the USA.
Ferenc Nagy’s autobiography “is anti-Semitic… and anti-Communist and anti-Soviet to an hysterical and fanatical degree.” (Aptheker, The Truth About Hungary, p. 75)
Ferenc Nagy writes in his memoirs that he and his collaborators had “clandestine meetings with Western representatives” and says that restoration of capitalism in Hungary is only possible through American invasion (Ferenc Nagy, Struggle behind the iron curtain, p. 455)
He says that after capitalism is restored the common people must be removed from political life. He writes: “The misled masses must be de-politicalized. In the new world order, the masses must have no opportunity or occasion to go astray politically” (pp. 459-60).
Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962
Miklos Molnar, A short history of the Hungarian Communist Party
Árpád Pünkösti, Rákosi a hatalomért
Paul E. Zinner, Revolution in Hungary
S. D. Kertesz, The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947
W. Burchett, People’s Democracies
A. Gyorgy, Governments of Danubian Europe
Documents on the hostile activity of the United States Government against the Hungarian People’s Republic
Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Memoirs of Michael Karolyi: Faith without Illusion
Aczel & Meray, The Revolt of the Mind
SKP vuosikirja IV
J. Revai, The activities of the C.C. of the Hungarian Communist Party, published in ”For a Lasting Peace, For a People’s Democracy!”, No. 3, December 15, 1947)
“Nothing would be easier and more obvious than to imagine that upon Lenin’s death his successors— with Stalin in the lead— quickly gathered in a back room and immediately understood the utility of preserving, displaying, and worshiping his body. A top-down manufactured cult of Lenin would then provide a substitute religion for the peasants, complete with the sainted founder’s relics, to replace the Russian Orthodoxy they were trying to destroy. It would enhance the legitimacy of Lenin’s successors and of the regime in general by tracing that regime’s descent from a founder, who was rapidly and intentionally becoming a mythical progenitor on whose pyramid the successor acolytes would stand to demonstrate their lineage… This idea, which is not uncommon in the scholarly literature, assumes that the Bolsheviks had a plan… Here it seems that there was no plan, no major role for Stalin but rather a series of contradictory, ad hoc, and contested proposals reflecting input both from below and above. Lenin’s successors stumbled and bumbled for a long time about what to do with his body.
First of all, it seems that Stalin had little if anything to do with the decision to permanently display Lenin. He was not on the Lenin Funeral Commission, chaired by Feliks Dzerzhinskii, where such decisions were made, and his associate Kliment Voroshilov, who was a member, bitterly opposed the idea. Stalin was a member of the Politburo, which, as it turned out, approved all the recommendations of the commission, but he seems to have played no active role in the decision. According to rumors that surfaced decades later (in the 1960s), Stalin had been the initiator of the idea to mummify Lenin even before Lenin died, having supposedly suggested it at an informal meeting of Politburo members in 1923, at which time Trotsky vehemently opposed the idea. This story is quite improbable on its face. The idea that such a careful political tactician as Stalin would openly talk about disposing of Ilich’s body while the latter was still alive, and in the presence of his arch-rival Trotsky, borders on the ridiculous. The senior leaders would consider it unpardonably crude to have such a discussion while their dear Lenin lived, and Stalin would certainly not have handed Trotsky such a faux pas on a platter…
The decision to preserve and display Lenin’s body was taken incrementally over a period of years, and it was not until 1929– 30 that his resting place was finalized in the stone mausoleum. At first, on 24 January 1924, Lenin was put in the Kremlin’s Hall of Columns for viewing by the public. Professor Abrikosov embalmed the body in customary fashion so it would last the three days until the funeral and burial. Nobody contemplated a longer viewing. Two days later, the huge crowds obliged the Politburo to order moving the display to Red Square near the Kremlin wall. Architect A. V. Shchusev was quickly conscripted to design and build a temporary structure there which was thrown together by 27 January. The crowds kept coming, and soon Shchusev was charged with designing a larger structure that was completed some weeks later. But it was not made to last. It was a wooden structure called the “temporary mausoleum.”
Meanwhile, during the extended viewing period… Lenin’s body began to decay. The Dzerzhinskii Commission was consequently faced with making a longer-term decision about the body. In February, commission member and engineer Leonid Krasin claimed that he could preserve the body through freezing, and on the seventh the commission authorized him to buy expensive German machinery for that purpose. By 14 March, the body continued to deteriorate and although Krasin continued to defend the freezing idea, the commission brought in Professors Zbarskii and Vorob’ev with a new chemical procedure for long-term preservation. It was not until 26 July that the commission made the final decision to embalm and display Lenin forever, based on Zbarskii and Vorob’ev’s procedure…
[About] whether or not even to have an open casket, there was sharp debate… Voroshilov took sharp issue with N. I. Muralov’s suggestion to display the body. According to Voroshilov, “We must not resort to canonization. That would be SR-like…” …Would Lenin have approved? Probably not, Dzerzhinskii admitted, because he was a person of exceptional modesty. But he’s not here; we have only one Lenin who is not here to judge, and the question is what to do with his body. He brushed aside deep questions, noting that everybody loved Lenin. Pictures of him were treasured; everyone wanted to see him. Lenin was a truly special person. “He is so dear to us that if we can preserve the body and see it, then why not do it?” “If science can really preserve the body for a long time, then why not do it?” “If it is impossible, then we won’t do it.”… the Dzerzhinskii group won the day… It was rather an incremental process.
Voroshilov, as we saw above, was afraid of the hypocrisy and person-worship… Other Bolsheviks, like Dzerzhinskii… thought that Lenin was such a special case as to not provoke such reflections…
As with preserving the body, the resistance to traditional monuments was strong… In October-November 1924, senior Bolsheviks Lunacharskii and Krasin made the case for monuments. “The question of monuments should be seen from the point of view of the demands of the revolutionary people.” The proletariat, they argued, has a solid sense of history and connection to the past. Proletarian monuments, unlike bourgeois ones, are not mere idols or signposts. Proletarian monuments are “sources of strength taken from the revolutionary masses. . . . A revolutionary monument is an active thing; it is a centralizer and transformer of social strength. . . . Revolutionary society does great deeds and therefore has a need to immortalize itself.” “Lenin’s tomb has already become a magnetic center for the masses, who visit it and whose literal voices of millions of people show that it answers a profound need of the masses.” … “We are an organic unified class doing great things and therefore naturally monumental.”… they concluded “We are not anarchists. We have great and brilliant leaders. So we conclude that monuments and monumentalism are completely natural in our revolutionary life.” Voroshilov, who resisted displaying the body, thought monuments were fine to maintain memory. After all, he had been to London to see Marx’s grave…
[When Lenin died] Thousands of unsolicited condolence letters and telegrams spontaneously poured in. The very decision to move Lenin’s body from the Hall of Columns to Red Square had to do with crowd control and was the result of thousands of requests from the public, especially from those unable to reach Moscow in time to see the body during the viewing period originally planned. The decision to build the second, “temporary” wooden and then the third permanent stone mausoleum had similar causes: the people kept coming, more than a hundred thousand in the first six weeks, despite bitter cold… proposals poured in from the provinces to build local monuments to Lenin and to name all kinds of things for him. Without permission, in Cheboksarai they build an exact replica of the mausoleum to be used as a bookselling kiosk. This caused much consternation in Moscow. Sailing in the wake of popular action, the regime quickly understood that they needed to get control of this process, and arrogated to themselves the right to approve or disapprove such requests; nothing could be built without their approval. Subsequently much of the work of the Dzerzhinskii Commission consisted of approving (but mostly disapproving) these proposals, which included everything from a proposal for an electrified mausoleum, complete with lightning bolts, to renaming the calendar months because as one letter-writer said, “Lenin was savior of the world more than Jesus.” (Arch Getty, Practicing Stalinism, pp. 69-77)
WWII caused massive destruction in Hungary, mostly because the German fascists stole everything they could and took it to Germany, and what little they couldn’t steal they blew up, burnt and destroyed.
“The siege of Budapest lasted fifty-one days before the Russians captured the city. Hardly a house was intact and thousands of soldiers and civilians had been killed” (Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution, p. 17)
“The Germans, departing, had taken 214,000 tons of goods, including machinery and food, by barge or railway (32,000 waggons) or lorry (8,000 loads); 70,000 dwellings had been destroyed, and a quarter of the inhabitants were homeless… a gold train had taken away the valuables stolen, mainly from Jewish families. (The property stolen from Jewish families and others, and the gold reserve of the National Bank, ended up in mining shafts in Austria.) The Holy Crown of King Saint Stephen I and the crown jewels were also transported west…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, pp. 363-364)
“Half of the industrial plant, the railways, the bridges, the livestock, had gone.” (Stone, p. 365)
“Budapest was a city of rubble, burned tanks and rotting corpses… every bridge over the Danube destroyed by the Nazis. Of 35,500 apartment houses, 29,987 had been destroyed or badly damaged… Bands of starving children roamed in the streets, wailing for bread and their parents. Of the city’s fine bus service, 16 buses were left, the Germans had driven off in the rest. Gas, water supply, and electricity services were disrupted… all telegraph and telephone poles had been cut down by the Germans, railway lines had been cut through at regular intervals by special sabotage machines. Every road leading into Budapest had been mined, every bridge over thirty feet long destroyed.” (Burchett, People’s democracies)
“1,200 locomotives and over 40,000 railway wagons were driven off to Germany… there was no food in the country… livestock had been reduced from 8.6 millions to 3.2 millions. Budapest in early 1945 was a hopeless city of rubble, stench and starvation.” (Burchett)
“[M]ost of the agricultural machinery, tractors and combines had been destroyed or shipped back to Germany, eighty per cent. of the draught cattle had been killed” (Burchett)
“the German invaders and the Arrow Cross agencies endeavoured to take away everything they could lay their hands on… wherever this was not prevented by the resistance of the Hungarian people or the advance of the Soviet troops…” (Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, pp. 31-32)
“three-quarters of the pool of railway trucks, two-thirds of the operable locomotives and most of the motor vehicles. The value of the goods taken to the West amounted to about 2,000 million dollars. The retreating fascists had made 40 per cent of the rail network unusable and demolished thousands of railway and load bridges.” (Nemes, p. 83)
I’ve cited a lot of numbers here, but the level of destruction is almost impossible to comprehend. More then half a millions Hungarian jews had been killed in the holocaust, and hundreds of thousands of others had lost their lives at the hands of the fascists. Two-thirds of trains, almost all cars and buses and the vast majority of livestock had been destroyed in Hungary, while practically all homes in Budapest had been destroyed, electricity and railnetworks had been clipped into little pieces by sabotage machines, all major roads had been mined and practically every bridge had been cut. Half of industry had been stolen or destroyed, all the national bank’s gold reserves had been stolen. The fascists had left the country destroyed and starving.
“The Red Army tried to preserve Budapest and especially its citizens as much as possible, heavy artillery and bomber plains didn’t bomb the city.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 122)
Despite their own problems, the USSR was able to send food aid to Hungary, for example:
“At the end of March, the Soviet Union sent 1,500 wagons of cereals, 300 wagons of meat and 200 wagons of sugar to Hungary as loan.” (Nemes, p. 60)
“After liberation the Red Army was first to deliver food supplies and medical aid to Hungarians, saving the citizens of Budapest from starvation and epidemic.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, pp. 122-123)
LIBERATION. END OF THE WAR. DEBRECEN PROVISIONAL GOVERNMENT.
While the fighting was still going on, a provisional anti-fascist government was set up in Debrecen. This anti-fascist government, was a coalition of the Communist Party, Social-democratic Party, The National Peasant Party, the Smallholder Party, as well as trade-unions and other democratic forces. National Committees of trade-unionists, communists, partisan fighters and others also spontaneously emerged in liberated areas. These united to the Debrecen government and became the foundation of a new democratic state.
“Tanks and field-guns stood blackened where they had been hit and the bodies of soldiers lay unburied in the winter, but politics were beginning. In villages, towns, districts, and counties occupied by the Russians, ‘national committees’ sprang up, run by representatives of left-wing movements or trade unions. A National Council on these lines was installed in Debrecen on 21 December 1944…” (Pryce-Jones, p. 19)
“…230 delegates assembled, a third of them Communists, from villages and townships liberated by the Red Army, and they elected a new government from all the anti-Fascist parties. Its programme included land reform and confiscation for war criminals…” (Stone, p. 361)
“For the first time after 25 years underground, the Communist Parly began to freely operate and it was the first to begin the work of reconstruction and the creation of a new power.” (Nemes, p. 33)
“The great cause of national reconstruction and joining in the war against the nazis required the creation of a new central power, a new Hungarian state. A clear-cut programme had to be drawn up to rally the national forces and rebuild the country. The Communist Party issued such a programme for a democratic national rebirth published on 30 November 1944 in the Debrecen newspaper Neplap.
This document stated:
“Our country is experiencing the most disastrous catastrophe in its history. The leaders of Hungary, hiring themselves out to the Germans, plunged Hungary into the Hitlerite imperialist war… They aligned themselves with the German fascists, because with such help they intended to subjugate the neighbouring peoples and ruthlessly suppress the Hungarian people within the country and keep them in slavery. The country is suffering under the fatal consequences of this criminal policy. Despite this, the Communist Party proclaims that there will be a Hungarian rebirth!”” (Nemes, pp. 34-35)
“In April the provisional government moved to Budapest… The Communist Party line for the moment was that Hungary was experiencing a [bourgeois democratic] revolution… and that all [democratic] elements should therefore co-operate. ‘Unite All Forces for Reconstruction’, was the slogan coined by Matyas Rakosi, First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. As a proof of goodwill, Communists helped to rebuild churches. They also activated the other political parties permitted by the Allied Control Commission.” (Pryce-Jones, pp. 20-21)
Zinner also points out “The apparent concern of the Communists with national welfare and the zeal with which they led the reconstruction of war-damaged installations, including churches…”
(Revolution in Hungary, p. 50)
“The provisional government undertook to conclude an armistice with the Allies, to pay the reparations, to wage war against Germany, to repeal anti-Semitic and antidemocratic laws, to guarantee democratic rights and to institute universal and secret suffrage, to disband right-wing political movements and punish war criminals, and to effect a land reform.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 64)
“The leader of the Hungarian Communist Party, Mátyás Rákosi, stepped onto the tribune. He was welcomed with immense enthusiasm. “Long live Rákosi! Long live Rákosi!” resounded from the crowd… “Freedom!” Comrade Rákosi began his speech and hundreds of thousands roared back from every corner of the square: “Freedom!”” (Apor, The invisible shining, p. 58)
By April 4th the whole territory of Hungary had been liberated from the Nazis. (Ignotus, Hungary, p. 152)
“Hungary received aid from the Soviet Union for restoring the economic life and production e.g. to replace the horses stolen by the Germans, new horses and cars were brought for transporting food supplies. The Soviet Union aided the development of the Hungarian national economy and living standard of the citizens by reducing war reparations by 50%.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, pp. 122-123)
The most important political action of the provisional government was land-reform. It was undeniable, that the Hungarian peasants had suffered horribly under the rule of the Hapsburg monarchy and then under Horthy.
“In Hungary, peasants… were… more then the rest, oppressed and exploited.” (Ignotus, p. 171)
“…the greatest problem of modern Hungary: the vast inequality of landholding. It was a largely peasant country, and the peasants often farmed with primitive methods.” (Stone, p. 50)
“…smallholders only amounted to about one-third of the rural population; the rest were either totally landless or ‘dwarf-holders’: compelled, that is, to sell their labour on a market where manpower was cheaper than anything else.” (Ignotus, p. 172)
“before the war some 400,000 Hungarians possessed so little land that they had to sell their labor power as agrarian serfs in order to keep from starvation, and another 400,000 had no land at all.” (Behind the curtain, p. 181)
Historian Elizabeth Wiskemann wrote “In Hungary the distribution of land remained… the most unjust in central Europe” (in R. R. Betts, ed., Central and South East Europe, London, 1950, p. 98)
“Among East European countries, Hungary was the worst instance of the system of giant landed estates and their complement, a vast agricultural proletariat, living below subsistence level. This state of affairs was preserved unimpaired up to 1945.” (Ilonya Polanyi, World Affairs, a magazine published by the London Institute of World Affairs April, 1949, p. 134.)
Before WWII “it was calculated that… In Hungary 24%… of the rural population belonged to the category [of unemployed or under employed].” (Nevalainen, marxilaisen taloustieteen oppikirja osa 2, p. 67)
“In March [the Debrecen government] carried through a land reform. This was long overdue, in a country where almost half the arable land had belonged to one percent of the landowners. Four and a half million acres were now distributed among 660,00 peasants… Tremendous posters everywhere claimed this reform as an achievement of the Communist Party.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 19)
“Committees dominated by Communists and the National Peasants’ Party people carried out the redistribution… and within three months 8 million acres had been taken over, some for state farms but the greater part (5 million acres) given to 500,000 new owners… The Catholic Church lost 90 percent of its lands…” (Stone, pp. 370-371)
“[The second largest landowners in Hungary] The Eszterhazys between them owned 750,000 acres of which the senior member of the family, Prince Paul Eszterhazy, owned 300,000. They owned 15 castles in Hungary, several more in Austria and Bavaria… There was only one larger landowner in Hungary and that was the Roman Catholic Church.” (Burchett)
The Peasants had lived in misery, while the richest 1% had owned half the land in the whole country. The land had primarily belonged to the clergy and the nobility, who now lost most of the power they had held century after century. They had literally lived like kings, standing over the peasants. The Land-reform was necessary, to destroy feudal social relations, to free the peasants from the total power of the church and the noble families. Although land-reform was only the first step, it immediately produced favorable results. Economist Warriner writes:
“The land reform has brought a complete social and economic transformation in the countryside… In 1947, I visited again the same villages that I had known in 1936, where land had now been distributed.
The most noticeable change then was better food: the new peasants were eating wheat and rye bread regularly, instead of maize, and drinking coffee with sugar, unknown before… Peasants who had been
estate labourers before, and had now become owners of the standard 12 acre holding, said that in a bad year their real income was twice what it had been before, and with a good harvest would be three or four times as high. Their money income was large enough to buy boots for the whole family. Two years later, in 1949, the dominant impression in the villages was the good supply of consumer goods; ‘Nepboltok’— ‘People’s Shops’— had been started, with a wide range of textiles, shoes, aluminium saucepans, china.” (Warriner, p. 134)
Journalist Wilfred G. Burchett interviewed one of the noble families after the land-reform. The nobility had lost their massive land holdings, and their numerous castles, mansions and private parks:
“[Countess Eszterhazy] shuddered when I asked what had happened to the properties at Tata. “It’s too dreadful to speak about.” she said. “The castle has been turned into a lunatic asylum, the beautiful old Hunting Lodge has become a Communist Youth Hostel, the English Park was turned into a training ground for the Olympic team, because they said the atmosphere and climate was like that of England and would help the team that was going to England for the Olympic Games. The parks are all thrown open, anyone can wander through them,” and her china-blue eyes filled with tears.” (Burchett)
“I made a tour of some of the Eszterhazy castles to see for myself what was going on. Tata is a beautiful village, about ten miles off the main road between Budapest and Vienna. Sure enough the main castle had become a hospital for the insane, the Hunting Lodge – was full of gay young people, including a group of Canadians who had been working on one of the volunteer youth brigade projects. It was Sunday, in mid-summer, the two magnificent parks were crowded with villagers and peasants, reclining in the shade of massive oak and elm trees. More peasants and some workers from the nearby Tata coal mines (Eszterhazy property before they were nationalised), were splashing away in a fine swimming pool that had formerly been a private preserve of the Eszterhazys.” (Burchett)
“[L]ives [of the Tata peasants] are still hard, they still work from dawn to dark and have little enough at the end of the month to buy clothes or other necessities with. They are still plagued by priests who tell them it’s sinful to have taken the land of their masters, and that God and the Americans will punish them for it.
“My boy’s at the university,” said one brown old peasant, squatting on the ground in the English park at Tata. “He’s learning to be an engineer. D’ye think I could ever have managed that in the old days? If I’d saved up everything and could sell a pig or two, I couldn’t even keep him at school after he was twelve. Now they even pay him for learning. He’s at one of the People’s Colleges and they pay him enough that he sends me and the missus a bit on the side.”
Of the land reform, he said, “We could have done with a bit more land. It’s hard to make do without 10 acres, but we live all right. We eat better than we ever did”” (Burchett)
“At the village of Eszterhazy the castle had been turned over to an Agricultural College. On the Sunday I visited it, there was a big Mothers’ Day meeting in progress. In the castle courtyard, seats had been set out in the warm autumn sunshine, and parents were watching a performance by the school children. On other Eszterhazy estates parks had been thrown open to the public, in some cases used as plant research stations, castles used as hospitals, schools, orphanages, youth hostels.” (Burchett)
Rakosi had said “in front of the [horthyist] court in 1926 that “land will only be distributed in Hungary by the Communists!”” (Apor, p. 55) Now his promise became reality!
““Blessed should be the name of he who has granted us land,” a delegation of farmers from Szolnok County told Rákosi in early March…” (Apor, p. 55)
It was essential to begin normal production as soon as possible, to produce necessary goods, electricity, and to repair war damage. Factories destroyed by the war, and looted by the Nazis, had to be restored. Workers organized into Factory Committees, took over the management and control of factories.
“The management of industrial plants was taken over by the factory committees as they were known. For the time being these did not change the legal status of the plant: this remained in private ownership. Since, however, in most cases the owners and the company management had fled the country the factory committees assumed responsibility for the most important tasks linked with the starting of production.“ (Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 103)
“with the setting up of factory committees under Communist leadership workers’ control was realized in practice.” (Nemes, p. 37)
“[Communists and Social-Democrats] jointly pushed through a government decree which was passed in February  for the recognition of the activities and jurisdiction of the factory committees. The factory committees were officially authorized to take control of production as well as the trade activities of the industrial companies, and could play an active role in the regulation of labour relations and the administration of companies. Control by the workers in factories and mines was established as soon as they started to operate, but pressure had to be exerted on the right wing… to give government approval to this practice. The right wing considered this a forced concession. At the same time they emphasized the capitalist ownership of the factories, in order to be able to limit later the jurisdiction of the factory committees to the settlement of labour disputes. However, the factory committees were power positions of the working class which strengthened the government’s influence among the workers and at the same time reduced capitalist exploitation.” (Nemes, p. 65)
The masses had already dealt two serious blows to the landowners and capitalists: the land had been redistributed to the peasants, and workers established themselves in Factory Committees, which already had an important role in managing factories even though they were still privately owned, and they were a position from where the workers could defend their interests against the capitalists. Capitalists no longer had total control over the factories, and if Hungary was to build socialism, transferring factories to socialist ownership could happen smoothly since they were already worker controlled. The workers were already learning to manage the factories themselves, without the capitalists.
“In November 1945 the first completely free election, under secret ballot, ever held in the history of Hungary took place” (Behind the Curtain, p. 177) (There actually were elections with universal secret ballot already during the 1919 Hungarian Communist Revolution, but ignoring that Gunther is correct)
The four largest parties received the following results:
“Smallholders received 57 per cent., Communists and Social Democrats 17 per cent. each, National Peasants 6 per cent. The coalition government or “People’s Front” continued in office.” (Burchett)
It was significant that despite decades of intense anti-communist propaganda, and a prevailing environment of reactionary nationalist and religious ideology, the Communist Party emerged as one of the largest parties. In fact, the Communists had the same amount of votes as the Social-democrats, despite the fact that the Communists had never been able to organize legally before, and had been heavily persecuted. Of course, the Communists had some supporters from their underground years. They also received new support because they were the main organizers of the anti-fascist resistance movement and partisan movement. The Communists were also the main organizers of the land-reform. They had quickly emerged as the leading force in the Factory Committees and as an equal partner with the Social-Democrats in the Trade-Unionions. The Communists were used to underground conditions, and thus their organization was not paralyzed by the Nazi occupation and Arrow-Cross coup de’tat to the same extent as the other parties.
“Despite the persistence of popular stereotypes concerning the Communists, the first few months of 1945 witnessed a remarkable increase in the MKP’s popularity. Membership skyrocketed: the organization had only a few thousand members in January, but by October, Party membership had reached half a million” (Apor, p. 36)
“the party’s main newspaper Szabad Nep, whose chief editor was comrade Revai. The newspaper soon increased from 100,000 to 300,000 copies.” (SKP vuosikirja VI, p. 126)
Some right-wing anti-communists might want to claim that communists simply rigged the elections, or used some kind of election fraud, but this was not the case. Even anti-communist historians like Paul E. Zinner, were forced to admit that:
“…the election was free; it met the highest standards of democracy; it was secret, universal, and direct and everyone could vote according to his conscience… On the basis of the conduct of the election and the reaction of the Communists to its outcome, no one could describe their behavior as anything but impeccable. They obviously did not tamper with the ballot” (Zinner, p. 40)
According to Zinner there were “Liberties seldom, if ever, experienced before (free election by democratic franchise, free press, free speech, an intensive formal parliamentary life)” (p. 37)
“in Hungary… free elections took place” (Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947)
The big winner of the election, was the Smallholders party, a rather amorphous centrist party without any clear ideology or message. It was logical that the Smallholders could receive a lot of votes, but their popularity was of temporary character, the Smallholder Party appealed to everyone, and at the same time, didn’t fully satisfy anybody. In a country where the vast majority of the population had never been able to vote before, the Smallholder Party seemed like a safe bet. It would’ve been unrealistic for them to suddenly jump to the Communist Party or Social-Democratic Party. Likewise the National Peasant Party was distinctly left-wing, and thus couldn’t appeal to everyone, and also focused primarily on the Peasants, and thus didn’t appeal to the urban population.
The devastation of the war, massive theft of Hungarian property and gold by the Nazis, the terrible shortage of goods and black-marketeering had caused massive inflation.
“In 1945 and 1946 Hungary was in the grip of the greatest inflation in history… People rushed out with their whole week’s salaries to buy a few bus tickets or a loaf of bread.” (Burchett)
In order to make the situation tolerable, workers at factories often received their wages in food and other products directly, and other goods were rationed.
“Most experts were of the view that a stable currency could not be established without a foreign loan.” (Borsányi & Kende, p. 110)
The inflation was so bad, that the Communists suggested a completely new currency:
“On the initiative of the Communists a currency reform was worked out and put into effect on August 1, 1946. One new Forint was valued at 426, followed by twenty-seven zeros of the old pengoes. Overnight Hungary had a stable currency which could buy real goods which now began to appear in the shops. Currency reform won the Communists great prestige…” (Burchett)
Hungary’s gold had been stolen and production had been decimated. There was a shortage of everything and black market prices skyrocketed. But as soon as production got going again, it was possible to solve the inflation since prices remained stable and the currency could actually get consumers what they wanted.
After the currency was stabilized, right-wing anti-communist ‘historians’ changed their narrative. Nowadays they describe the ending of the worst inflation in world history, as nothing special. They do not want to give communists credit for this achievement, and instead suggest that the inflation really could have been easily ended and blame the communists for ending it too slowly. For example, in his book Revolution in Hungary, Zinner says: “once inflation was in progress, the communists refrainted from halting it.” and “Hungary’s currency could have been stabilized long before August 1, 1946”! (p.54)
Even putting an end to the worst inflation in history, is not good enough for anti-communists. They don’t give communists any credit for it. I would like to ask mr. Zinner, if ending the inflation was supposedly so easy, then why did the capitalist opposition parties or the Smallholders Party not do it, and instead claimed that it could only be solved with massive loans from the West?
The communists had emerged as one of the biggest parties in Hungary, and clearly as the most active political force in the country. They had a plan for the reconstruction of the country and solving economic and social problems. They led the creation of the anti-fascist democratic coalition government. They organized workers into factory committees, which began to restore production. The communist party grew into a mass party of hundreds of thousands of members. The communists also carried out land-reform together with the national peasant party, and stabilized the currency. As a result of these and many other successful policies the popularity of the communists would continue to grow rapidly, while the popularity of the right-wing and reformist forces would begin to diminish.
David Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution
Norman Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Wilfred G. Burchett, People’s democracies
Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962
SKP vuosikirja VI
Paul E. Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary
Bennett Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Balazs Apor, The invisible shining, p. 58)
Pal Ignotus, Hungary
John Gunther, Behind the curtain
R. R. Betts, ed., Central and South East Europe
Ilonya Polanyi, World Affairs, April, 1949
Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
Eino Nevalainen, marxilaisen taloustieteen oppikirja osa 2
Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary
Kertesz, S. D., The Methods of Communist Conquest: Hungary 1944-1947
This article series presents a short history of the founding of the Hungarian People’s Republic: the establishing of a Socialist system in Hungary. We will explore the conditions in Hungary before socialism, and then the events which led to Socialism being victorious. Hungary had many national peculiarities which make this investigation interesting, it is also a notable example of a relatively peaceful socialist transformation. It was still a communist revolution, but a relatively peaceful one. We will explore how that was possible, what the results of the socialist system were, and what challenges it had to face.
HUNGARY IN THE EARLY 1900s
After suffering a crushing defeat in WWI, Hungary had become one of many stagnant little Eastern European fascist dictatorships. The country had lost 2/3 of its territory in the war, was economically under developed, dependent on the West, and still semi-feudal. Hungary was technically still a monarchy, though it had no monarch anymore. The fascist dictator Horthy was serving as a Regent, i.e. a leader in the absence of a king. Hungarian society was ruled by the landed-aristocracy, medieval nobility, clergy and to a lesser extent the rising capitalist class. Most wealth in the country was in the hands of the Catholic church.
As economist Doreen Warriner stated, Hungary, like most Eastern European countries, was already a fascist dictatorship before the Nazis:
“…the outstanding fact about eastern Europe as a whole, with the exception of Czechoslovakia, was that it was Fascist-ruled. The regimes headed by Horthy, Boris, Beck Stojadinovic and Antonescu were not the creation of Nazism on the contrary, they had come to power long before… as a result of the victory of internal reaction in the nineteen-twenties… Western powers… openly aided Horthy in the
Hungarian counter-revolution… The popular parties were crushed out of existence by extremes of oppression in Horthy’s White Terror in 1920… Western powers did not protest… so long as the dictatorships were anti-Soviet, it did not matter if they were also anti-democratic.” (Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe, p. ix)
The ideological climate of Hungary was dominated by nationalism and religion. Anti-semitism was widespread. Catholicism was the largest religion, but there was also a substantial Calvinist and Lutheran minority.
“Up to 1918 the desire for national independence… had been a progressive force. But when national independence had been achieved… [east European] dictatorships exploited the national grievances to build up their own power” (Warriner, p. x)
In the case of Hungary, this was particularly easy because Hungary had suffered so much in WWI and lost so much of its territory. This particular form of nationalist rhetoric was also particularly reactionary, because similar to nazism in Germany, it centered around starting a new war where Hungary could restore itself to the status of a great imperialist power, like it used to be.
“In Hungary is the strongest, the most pervasive nationalisn in all Europe. In the chauvinism sweepstakes the Hungarians beat even the Poles.” (John Gunther, Inside Europe, p. 425)
James D. Evans calls nationalism in Hungary “a veritable obsession” (That Blue Danube, London, 1935, p. 127) and European correspondent for the Overseas News Agency and the New York Post, Leigh White wrote that “the Magyar [Hungarian-MLT] curse is chauvinism … it is simply a dementia” (The Long Balkan Night, p. 15).
Leftist, democratic and communist parties were illegal in Horthyist Fascist Hungary. There was a parliament though, and several parties existed which were used by Horthy to fool the people and maintain a facade of democracy. The social-democratic party was the only legal supposedly “left” party in the country. It was allowed to function in the 20s and early 30s if it agreed to collaborate with Horthy, and not try to organize strikes or resistance.
“The Social Democratic Party… [had] its wings… clipped by a previous formal agreement with [Horthy’s prime minister] Bethlen under which the Social Democrats would abstain from rural politics and undertake to keep the trade-unions out of the political sphere.” (Kovrig, The Hungarian People’s Republic, p. 32)
“…Bethlen managed a deal with the socialists in December 1921, by which they… accepted limits on trade union activity…” (Stone, Hungary: A Short History, p. 279)
Theoretically the trade-unions existed, but their activity was strictly limited. The Horthy government specifically demanded that the Social-Democrats and trade-unionists not organize in the countryside, because the vast majority of the population were peasants. So, although trade-unions existed, the vast majority of people could not join them, and while technically there was a parliament, the vast majority of people couldn’t vote either.
“…Hungary was… dominated by estate owners, magnates of the Esterhazy-Karolyi class in the Upper House or gentry with middling-sized estates, who occupied most parliamentary seats. This was a gentlemen’s parliament…” (Stone, pp. 145-146)
Wilfred Burchett pointed out that at the best time during Horthy’s rule “in Hungary less than 30 per cent of the population had the right to vote…” (Burchett, People’s Democracies). Norman Stone says the same in his book Hungary: A Short History “The suffrage… widened to 27 percent…” (p. 279)
While some parties were allowed to function under these restrictions, the Communist Party and any genuinely democratic or leftist parties were banned outright. Still, the Communist Party tried to organize underground despite the persecution.
“The traditional political climate in Hungary had been anything but favorable to the Communists… The penalties were so severe, and the skill shown by the Hungarian security police in ferreting out Communist organizers… was so great as to discourage all but the most determined from seeking Communist ties.” (Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary, p. 27)
The Communists were labeled enemies of the fatherland, enemies of god and as jews. The Church controlled the education system, so the limited schooling that people received was virulently nationalistic, chauvinistic and religious. Jews were frequently lynched, treated as second class citizens and excluded from political and academic life, so large numbers of them joined unferground leftist democratic movements including the communist party. Thus the accusation that communists were all jews was very much a self-fulfilling propechy: the communists were part of the few who accepted the jews, and both jews and communists were persecuted by the state. I will discuss this in more detail later.
Warriner describes the situation of Hungary very aptly in the following way:
“With political oppression economic stagnation went hand in hand… Hungary… [was] mainly agricultural, with the bulk of the population on the land as small peasant farmers or landless labourers. Industry developed very slowly. The greater part of industrial and financial capital was owned by foreign interests.“ (Warriner, p. xi)
“…the standard of living, measured in manufactured goods, was very low, and during the ‘thirties was falling. For this widespread poverty the only remedy would have been industrialisation. But to this the obstacles were shortage of capital, and the lack of an internal market due to the poverty of the peasants. Foreign capital did not relieve the shortage, because it was invested only in the raw materials needed by the West… Peasant poverty therefore created a vicious circle, with no way out. It was not a transient thing, which could be expected to disappear with gradual economic advance, for within the existing set-up there could be no such thing as a gradual economic advance. The dictatorship… existed to prevent it, to protect the interests of the foreign investors, and their local capitalists and landowners, who both had vested interests in stagnation. The ruling class was a paralytic network of interests resisting change, topped off by a… dictator, and banked up on nationalism.” (Warriner, pp. xii-xiii)
“What eastern Europe primarily needed was the industrial revolution, and without the shift in the European balance of power resulting from Soviet victory it would never have come. Western Europe, so far as it was interested in eastern Europe at all, was interested in keeping it backward, as a source of cheap food and cheap labour…” (Warriner, pp. xiii-xiv)
ANTI-SEMITISM IN HORTHY’S HUNGARY
“The two social categories branded as ‘destructive’ since the 1919 counter-revolution, namely Jewry and the industrial working class… were treated as outcasts, or at best as second-class citizens, with painful consequences…” (Ignotus, Hungary, pp. 165-166)
“…universities were ruled by right-wing student organizations called fraternal societies… They received semi-official support from the government and were given preference among those applying for state scholarships. The patrons of the fraternal societies, the so-called domini (usually outstanding right-wing public figures) lent them a helping hand after graduation… Neither the semi-official mentors nor the domini objected… when at the beginning of the academic year, the fraternal societies launched noisy and brutal ‘Jew-beatings’… to scare off the Jewish students already admitted in limited numbers to the universities.” (Szász, Volunteers for gallows, p. 32)
Historian Kovrig wrote about Hungarian anti-semitism:
“[A]nti-Semitism remained as a latent and disintegrative force.” (Kovrig, p. 27)
However, as a reactionary Hungarian emigre, Kovrig naturally turns everything upside down. He doesn’t think that jewish workers, peasants and intellectuals were radicalized because they were oppressed second class citizens. Instead he blames anti-semitism on the jews, implying that if only the jews had submitted to oppression and not struggled for rights, then there wouldn’t be anti-semitism against them (p. 26). It is the old self fulfilling prophecy. Jews joined leftist parties because those are only places that welcomed them, and they fought for their rights. The reactionaries then turn around and say ‘the leftists are all jews’ and ‘jews are a bunch of troublemakers and revolutionists’.
Even the British conservative anti-communist historian David Pryce-Jones admits that:
“Jews had often become revolutionaries in the hopes of changing their status in a country of traditional anti-semitism.” (The Hungarian Revolution, p. 36)
“In… Hungary… the virulently racist, anti-Semitic prejudices of the population, fanned and incited by the prewar, semifascist regimes, drove Jewish workers and intellectuals to the communists, the only party that had put up an uncompromising fight against the preparers of the Holocaust.” (Hodos, Show Trials, p. 149)
“The record of Horthy’s Hungary was besmirched by anti-Semitic legislation… [the first Hungarian nazi] law was passed at the end of 1938, limiting Jewish employment…” (Stone, p. 300)
You can tell Stone (who was an adviser for Margaret Thatcher) was being very generous to Horthy. In fact there were anti-jewish laws much earlier then 1938.
“it is undeniable that many citizens of Budapest are fiercely anti-Semitic” (Gunther, Behind the curtain, p. 183)
“The feeble support for the Communist movement in Hungary [in the 20s and 30s] was closely linked to the rise of anti-Semitism in interwar Hungary and the popular perception of the Communist Party as a Jewish organization… a “Jewish conspiracy” in the eyes of many. The Party leadership was very much aware of the persistence of anti-Semitism in Hungarian society” (Apor, The Invisible Shining, p. 36)
HUNGARY JOINS THE AXIS
Hungary joined WWII on the axis side for three main reasons: its close historical and economic ties with Germany, Hungary’s own Fascist system with similar goals to Germany, and because of the Treaty of Trianon. That was the treaty after WWI where Hungary had been reduced to less then 30% of its size. The explicit goal for Hungary in the war, was to try recreate its lost empire. Hungarian forces invaded the USSR together with Germany. Fascism had ramped up in Hungary throughout the 30s but now it reached yet a new level. The Horthy government also participated in the holocaust:
“…familiar features of Nazi terror rule set in… the Yellow Star on Jews and ‘Jewish houses’, while from the provinces practically the whole of Jewry (including Christians of Jewish origin, in some cases even gentiles of ‘mixed blood’) was deported for ‘final solution’… Parliament, purged of [even pseudo] leftist parties and anti-Nazi conservatives… political dissenters, including well-known journalists, capitalists, and trade-unionists as well as politicians proper, were deported en masse.” (Ignotus, p.189)
“Adolf Eichmann arrived on 19 March with a detachment of thirty-two Gestapo ‘specialists’, and [prime minister] Sztojay approved an immediate plan to send 100,000 Jews for ‘labour’ – in fact, to Auschwitz… measures against Jews: the yellow star, prohibitions on buying food in short supply, freezing of bank accounts, closure of shops… By the end of April ghettoisation went ahead, starting with Kassa and going through the rest of the country… then the deportations got going, on 15 May.” (Stone, p. 319)
“Then Eichmann turned his attention to Budapest, where since May 170,000 Jews were concentrated in 1,900 ‘yellow star’ apartment houses, while 120,000 lived illegally in Christian households. On 25 June a curfew was imposed on the ghetto Jews, and they were unable to receive guests; and the deportations were to start on 6 July.” (Stone, p. 321)
However, as the war went on, it became clearer and clearer that the Soviet Union was winning. It became necessary for the Hungarian rulers: the imperialists, clergy, nobility and capitalists to start thinking of options of how to get out of this war, which they were losing.
“At the time, the ruling circles feared that if they supported the nazis to the very end, the power of the Hungarian landlords and capitalists would also be eliminated after the German invaders had been driven out. They not only had to realize that the defeat of Germany was unavoidable, but also had to recognize that their hopes of peace, based on a compromise between the British and Americans on the one hand, and the Germans on the other, were false. The very last moment came when the Horthyite leading circles, who had often been deceived and humiliated by Hitler’s government and the German general staff, could still take the step of assisting Hungary to join the anti-Hitler coalition. The only way to do this was to ask the Soviet Union without delay for an armistice [and switch sides]…” (Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962, p. 14)
Germany’s defeat was certain, so it was best to abandon the Axis and surrender. That way, the Horthy government hoped it could save itself. Horthy calculated that he could join the Allies, and not be destroyed by them. However, he hesitated to make an armistice, because he was hoping that he could surrender to the Anglo-American troops, instead of surrendering to the Soviet troops. The rule of the capitalists and Horthy, would be better protected if it were the Western troops that occupied Hungary, and not the Soviets.
“The key idea was to get Hungary into a ‘neutral’ position, fighting Bolshevik Russia, but not the English and Americans it wanted to befriend… the political ruling class was… concerned… with saving its own skin. Its project… included the preservation of… [the] undemocratic system, an attachment to the revisionist vision… and a move over to the Allies but without calling a halt to the war with Russia…” (Molnar, A concise history of Hungary, pp. 287-288)
“When the Red Army began its operations in Hungary, three German and three Hungarian armies were stationed in the area of the Carpathian Ukraine, North Transylvania and in the region east of the Tisza. Two German army groups joined their front to the south… The German general staff had at their disposal bigger military forces in [this] area… than in both the West European and Italian theatres of war. This explains why the Horthy clique hoped that, with German assistance, they could hold back the Red Army until the arrival of the Anglo-American forces, and that was why they hesitated until the last minute to ask for an armistice.” (Nemes, pp. 15-16)
At the same time, the anti-fascists, led mainly by the communists, were organizing themselves to rise up and fight the Nazis:
“The German occupation… created a new situation for the working class movement. The legal working class movement ceased to exist… After a common platform had been hammered out, the Hungarian Front, a united organization of anti-fascist resistance, was formed in May 1944 – The Front comprised communists, social democrats, smallholders, and the National Peasant Party as well as the Dual Cross Alliance, an organization representing the anti-German wing of the ruling class.” (Borsányi & Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary, p. 97)
It was possible for Hungary to change sides, and turn their army against the Nazis:
“The combined strength of the Hungarian forces in the theatre of war totaled about 450,000 men. This represented a significant force… The Hungarian general staff had another quarter of a million armed troops in Budapest and other districts available to disarm the German invaders. [The anti-fascist resistance movement] The Hungarian Front was ready to provide all assistance to this end.” (Nemes, p. 16)
However, the Horthyists wanted to avoid a conflict between them and the Germans, wanted to delay the arrival of the Red Army and hoped that the British and American forces would come to Hungary first.
“The new offensive of the Red Army started on 6 October 1944 and the Soviet troops began their campaign to liberate Hungary… the Communist Party urged an immediate cease-fire and castigated those who were hesitating and delaying its conclusion… It appealed to Hungarian soldiers: “Join forces with the Red Army in the struggle against fascist barbarism!”” (Nemes, p. 17)
“On the initiative of the Communist Party, the Hungarian Front issued an appeal to the officers of the army: “Our criminally irresponsible government… is delaying… the only decision which could save our country and our national army from complete destruction. This decision is: an immediate armistice with the Red Army and armed struggle against the German invaders.” …It called upon the officers of the garrisons to supply arms, ammunition and explosives to the workers and peasants and the anti-German intelligentsia, and assist them in their struggle. “There is no time for further hesitation and long preparations. Act now!”” (Nemes, pp. 17-18)
The Communists were adamant that it was necessary to arm the workers to prevent a Nazi coup, as the Nazis would undoubtedly take over the Hungarian government, if they suspected that Hungary might want to switch sides. The Horthy government refused to arm the workers, and was more concerned with trying to split the anti-fascist resistance movement and have communists and leftists removed from it (Nemes, p. 18).
THE NAZIS TAKE OVER: SZALASI’S COUP
On October 15th Horthy announced his cease-fire with the Soviet troops. Immediately, he was arrested by the Nazis and the government was taken over by them:
“Within a few hours he was deposed and taken prisoner by the Germans. In his place ex-Major Szalasi, the leader of the most extreme Nazi Party, the ‘Hungarists’ or ‘Arrow-cross Fascists’, was appointed ‘Leader of the Nation’. All points of strategic importance in the capital, including the vital broadcasting centre, were occupied by the Gestapo and other German formations.” (Ignotus, p.190)
“By the evening all stations and the radio were in German or Arrow Cross hands, and at 5.30 a.m. on 16 October Veesenmayer came to the Castle to take Horthy and the others to Gestapo headquarters… There he abdicated… to give Szalasi authority to form a government.” (Stone, p. 341)
This was a strategic move on Horthy’s part:
“…the Hitlerite general staff were able to make their preparations for the Arrow Cross coup, and they concentrated about three divisions of German forces in the area of Budapest… At noon on 15 October, Horthy announced the cease-fire over the radio, after first informing the Germans of the step he was about to take. He also made this fact known in his proclamation: “I informed the local representative of the German Reich that we were concluding a preliminary cease-fire with our enemies.” The Hungarian Front had not been informed in advance of the announcement of the cease-fire, whereas the Germans had been given prior notice.” (Nemes, pp. 21-22)
The Hungarian military had not been given instructions about what to do in this situation. They had not been given instructions to unite with the Red Army and turn against the Germans. However, the Germans who knew the situation before hand, had ordered the Hungarian Commanders to not obey any instructions without first asking the German command. Horthy was not genuinely switching sides, to unite with the Soviets against the Germans. He was merely making a statement of armistice, thus giving him some credibility in the eyes of the Allies, but in practice not fighting the Germans. The Hungarian army stayed firmly under German control and had not been made ready to fight against Germany.
As a result of Horthy’s sabotage of the anti-fascist resistance, of his refusal to give weapons to the workers, of his opportunist maneuvering, the Arrow-Cross Nazi Coup, which had been prepared well before hand, took place. In order to delay the Red Army, and thus to protect power of the capitalists and nobility, Horthy was willing to unleash the Hungarian Nazi Party, the Arrow-Cross, on the Hungarian people.
“The Germans… persuaded Horthy to withdraw his proclamation and resign as head of state in favour of Ferenc Szalasi, the Arrow Cross leader. On the demand of the Germans, Horthy issued a statement on 16 October that declared his proclamation of the previous day to be null and void, and called on the Hungarian army to continue the war against the Soviet Union… Horthy and his associates pulled out, but they did so leaving the country, without any resistance, in the hands of the German invaders and their Arrow Cross agents.” (Nemes, p. 22)
THE RULE OF THE ARROW-CROSS
The rule of Szalazi was the worst time in Hungarian history. There were daily mass killings and the remaining jews were hunted down, rounded up and put into cattlewagons that would take them to Germany — to their death. As the Nazis’ time was running out, the Arrow-Cross began simply killing all the jews they could find, right then and there, without bothering to try to transport them to Gas Chambers. It was truly senseless, because the war was already almost over. Nazi forces were in full retreat, to escape the advancing Red Army. Only those who were completely blinded by Nazi propaganda, still thought they could turn things around and win the war. It was in these conditions that Szalasi’s Arrow-Cross Party took over, it was the last ditch effort by the most fanatical reactionaries to cling to power, before their total defeat.
“Violent anti-Semitic propaganda issued from the radio, inciting pogroms… When the siege began, the Arrow Cross were still murdering about fifty Jews every night, and in early January three Jewish hospitals were ransacked: 17,000 Jews were killed in this period. Just before the Red Army arrived, the militia had picked up children in the Jewish orphanages in Pest and Buda and were deterred from shooting them only because they themselves now had to flee.” (Stone, p. 345)
“While the German regular army dismantled and transported westward all that was movable in factories and trade-combines, the armed Arrow Cross gangs were roving the streets and knocking up households at will with demands for jewelry, cash, and lives. As winter set in, with ice-floats blocking the Danube, and the people of Budapest shivering in cellars beneath the thunder of Soviet gunfire and Allied air raids, the Hungarian Nazis took their final toll in blood and property, no longer bothering themselves about deportation when railway waggons were not available, but shooting their victims on the spot… The hunt was directed against political dissenters and jews… by the end of the war some two-thirds of Hungary’s Jewish population (practising and converted), including some 40% of those in Budapest, were exterminated. On the whole territory which during the war was supposed to be run by Hungarians, about 600,000 Jews lost their lives. The Nazis left behind a wholly devastated country…” (Ignotus, p.191)
The guns of the Red Army could already be heard, and despite all the lies and propaganda against communism that Hungarians were subjected to, despite the reactionary medieval ideology that they had been submerged in for centuries, people knew that nothing could be as bad as the Arrow-Cross. Even many anti-communist historians agree that Hungarians anxiously waited for the Red Army to liberate them, save them from the Arrow-Cross and finally bring peace again.
“Szalasi’s Arrow Cross government was to have a reign of terror which brought anarchy, destruction and almost civil war to the country. The more outrageous the behavior of the fascists, the more the Red army was looked upon locally as a liberating force. Throughout Hungary, ordinary people came to wait eagerly for the Russians… Few people waited more eagerly then the Jews, for whom this was a desperate life-and death matter.” (Pryce-Jones, p.15)
“For the next weeks, as the Russians closed the ring around Budapest, the Arrow Cross fascists roamed the city in bands looking for Jews or Communists. They shot them on the spot, or sometimes hanged them. Inhabitants became used to hurrying past street-corner murders, and averting their eyes in case they were accused of helping subversives.” (Pryce-Jones, p. 16)
THE HUNGARIAN PARTISAN MOVEMENT
“the Communists were the earliest and most effective fighters against the Nazi invaders and oppressors; it was the Communists, as a rule, who initiated and led military and political action; it was they who were hounded most mercilessly by the Fascists… it was they who imparted discipline and organization to the scattered patriotic forces.” (Gunther, p. 36)
“Directly after the Arrow Cross coup, the Communist Party issued another appeal to the Hungarian people… It again emphasized… all-out national resistance against the German invaders and their Arrow Cross accomplices… it asked every member of Hungarian society: Where do you belong, to the nazi front or the Hungarian Front? Whoever belongs to the Hungarian Front “acts and organizes the national resistance”.” (Nemes, p. 25)
“Before… 15 October… the Communist Party was the only party in Hungary that organized armed resistance. The Budapest action guards… already operated. On 6 October one of these groups, the Marot group, blew up the statue of Gyula Gombos, regarded as a symbol of Hungarian fascism… German motor vehicles and guns were destroyed, railway tracks around Budapest were repeatedly blown up, hand-grenade and sub-machine-gun attacks were launched against German and Arrow Cross headquarters and guards, and communication lines were damaged…. They encouraged resistance and increased the feeling of uncertainty within the Arrow Cross camp and power apparatus, thus speeding up their collapse.” (Nemes, p. 25)
“After 15 October larger Communist partisan groups of from 30 to 80 members were formed in the outlying districts of Budapest. During their activity they contacted the anti-nazi officers of several Hungarian military units and with their help acquired arms… Among the suburban groups the armed activities of the Ujpest and Kobanya-Kispest partisans were significant. They killed nearly one hundred Arrow Cross and SS members.” (Nemes, pp. 25-26)
“The partisan units and the small resistance groups that came from the Soviet Union or were formed at home together caused a total of over 3,000 casualties — dead, wounded and prisoners — to the fascist troops and their auxiliary detachments… Compared to the Soviet, French and Yugoslav partisan struggles, or the uprising in Slovakia, the partisan movement in Hungary was of modest dimensions. Nevertheless, its significance went far beyond its direct military impact, because it encouraged the growth of other forms of national resistance. ” (Nemes, p. 27)
“With the support of the other parties of the Hungarian Front, a broader front emerged early in November, with the formation of a joint body named the Liberation Committee of the Hungarian National Uprising.” (Nemes, p. 29)
“The appeal of the Young Communist League appeared at the end of October announcing the reorganization of the League and its action programme… It designated the main tasks of the League to organize and mobilize armed troops of working-class youth and to increase their participation in the national resistance, together with other youth organizations… Communist students at the Gyorffy College established contact with anti-nazi groups of students at two other colleges and at the Universities of Technology and Economics… these formed a joint organization called the Freedom Front of Hungarian Students, and their anti-nazi propaganda activities were particularly successful.
The Young Communist League also initiated a broad youth coalition that was formed in November under the name of the Freedom Front of Hungarian Youth. It consisted of the Young Communist League, the Freedom front of Hungarian Students and a peasant party youth group… Some representatives of the religious youth organizations also joined the developing anti-nazi youth front. Within the framework of this front was organized the Gorgey battalion consisting of 100 to 120 students and young workers…” (Nemes, pp. 30-31)
There was an attempt to organize a general national uprising, together with partisans and those units of the Hungarian army who wanted to fight the Nazis, but unfortunately the leaders of the uprising were caught by the Gestapo. “They were court-martialled in December and executed by the Arrow Cross forces… they gave their lives for the national liberation.” (Nemes, p. 31)
The Hungarian anti-fascist heroes, led by the Communists and other patriotic forces believed in the approaching victory. They knew that the dark days of Nazi occupation and fascism were coming to an end. The insane terrorism of the Arrow Cross would finally stop. The anti-fascist heroes fought fearlessly to win peace and a new better life for their country.
Doreen Warriner, Revolution in Eastern Europe
John Gunther, Inside Europe
John Gunter, Behind the curtain
Evans, That Blue Danube
White, The Long Balkan Night
Kovrig Bennett, The Hungarian People’s Republic
Norman Stone, Hungary: A Short History
Zinner, The Revolution in Hungary
Paul Ignotus, Hungary
Béla Szász, Volunteers for gallows
David Pryce-Jones, The Hungarian Revolution
Hodos, Show Trials
Apor, The Invisible Shining
Dezső Nemes, History of the Revolutionary Workers Movement in Hungary: 1944-1962
Molnar, A concise history of Hungary
György Borsányi and János Kende, The History of the Working Class Movement in Hungary
Wilfred G. Burchett, Peoples’ Democracies
FEW WORDS ABOUT MY SOURCES:
Almost all my sources are established “respectable” anti-communist/pro-capitalist mainstream historians. The only exception is that I cite 2 books by Hungarian communist historians: one by Nemes and the other by Borsányi & Kende. Burchett is also a journalist with communist sympathies.
The facts I present here can be considered very reliable, because they are confirmed both by pro-communist and anti-communist sources. I chose to cite mostly anti-communist historians, since they obviously have no bias to lie on behalf of communism. This way the information should be acceptable to non-communists.
That said, capitalist historians are dishonest and biased against communism, so I typically don’t recommend any of them. The only non-communist book on this topic I can recommend is “Revolution in Eastern Europe” by Doreen Warriner, it is both objective and well researched, with lots of empirical data. The other non-communist history books are extremely flawed, I had to verify everything I quoted from them from multiple sources and make sure it was true.
Nemes, Borsányi & Kende are not perfect either, they are kadarist revisionists. I agree with the facts I quoted from them, but not necessary with everything they might say.
At the end of this series I will probably discuss the research process and the sources in detail.
There is a widespread but baseless myth that ‘Stalin banned Hamlet’ in the USSR.
Shakespeare researcher Michelle Assay writes about it in “What Did Hamlet (Not) Do to Offend Stalin?” published in Actes des congrès de la Société française Shakespeare, 35, 2017.
THE MYTH IS SPREAD EVERYWHERE, EVEN BY ‘RESPECTED’ SCHOLARS
“there is no official documentation that could provide a factual backbone for his so-called Hamlet ban.” (p. 1)
However, anti-communist propagandists have never needed sources or fact:
“Yet it has become received wisdom that Stalin not only hated Hamlet and its hero but accordingly banned any production in the Soviet Union. Stalin’s animus towards Hamlet features in almost every study dealing with Shakespeare and Soviet political/cultural life. The myth of the ban in fact takes various shapes: at best it is nuanced by such modifiers as “tacit” or “virtual”; at its worst the myth takes the form of highly exaggerated claims, which usually disregard the historical facts, including actual productions of Hamlet during Stalin era.” (p. 1)
The myth was spread even in so-called academically ‘respectable’ publications:
“Here are two examples from quite respectable publications: “Theatrical performances of Hamlet were subsequently [to Mikhail Chekhov’s 1924-5 production] banned until after Stalin’s death in 1953”, and “[in the 1940s] the play [Hamlet] had not been produced in the Soviet Union since Nikolai Akimov’s zany version of 1932.”Such statements can quickly be disproved. They disregard not only the provincial productions of Hamlet in the 1940s (for instance two in Belorussia directed by Valeri [also known as Valerian] Bebutov, one in 1941 at the Voronezh State Dramatic Theatre, and one in 1946 at the Iakub Kolas Theatre in Vitebsk) but also Sergei Radlov’s rather wellknown 1938 staging, which due to its great success toured widely beyond Leningrad and Moscow, as far as the Urals, Sochi and Belorussia, to almost unanimously positive reviews… More ideologically motivated are over-exaggerations of the kind found in Solomon Volkov’s widely debated concoction of Shostakovich’s supposed memoirs.” (p. 1)
HOW WAS THE MYTH INVENTED?
Assay suggests that the myth could have originated from Stalin’s statement (real or invented) that during WWII the nation needed an active optimistic hero, and not someone as passive and tragic as Hamlet. But as Assay writes, Hamlet was still performed during this period: “this in itself does not imply the complete absence of Hamlet… from the Soviet stage.” (p. 2)
Assay cites Dimitri Urnov’s article “How did Stalin ban Hamlet?” where Urnov suggests that the myth could have originated from the Moscow Art Theatre production of Hamlet from 1940, which was never completed. But “Urnov, however, goes on to argue – convincingly – that the production of Hamlet at the Moscow Art Theatre was halted not by Stalin but rather by many unfortunate circumstances and much internal tension within the Theatre itself.” (p. 3)
“There was at least one other contributing factor to the longevity of the myth of Hamlet and Stalin: the Hamlet fever that took over Soviet theatres following Stalin’s death” (p. 8)
However, this fever is hard to pinpoint. There had never been a Hamlet ban—Hamlet had simply been continuously produced. So when exactly did the fever begin? It is clear that Hamlet’s popularity increased over time and in the late 60s there was even a film. It seems clear that in the late 40s and early 50s there were other large projects and other topics which received most attention.
IN REALITY SHAKESPEARE AND HAMLET WERE CELEBRATED IN THE USSR
Assay writes that in reality Hamlet and Shakespeare plays were not only performed but:
“Bearing the seal of approval of Marx, Engels and Lenin, Shakespeare was indeed an attractive subject for schools and research institutes and provided “an ideal classic to reach the widest strata of readers and audiences and thus to bridge the gap which had frequently developed between modern art and the people.”” (p. 6)
In the late 40s when the Cold War intensified, the USSR became more and more critical of western capitalist propaganda in the form of culture. About this, Assay writes that Shakespeare was never under attack, only capitalist methods of Shakespeare criticism. Shakespeare’s works were translated and printed:
“During this critical period, it was not Shakespeare but supposed Western-style attitudes towards his scholarship that came under attack, including works of Mikhail Morozov that were deemed to be under Western influence… It was not the subject matter or the mere fact of writing about a foreign author that came under criticism, but Morozov’s [bourgeois] approach to Shakespeare scholarship… Following these attacks, and while politically correct “Soviet Shakespearology” was being supplanted by commentaries by Pushkin and Vissarion Belinski, there were also translations, often reprinted in anthologies.” (p. 7)
WHY THE MYTH WAS CREATED
Assay is a bourgeois scholar writing for a bourgeois publication. They only hint that there were political motives behind creating this myth—this fabrication—without delving any deeper into it.
Of course western academia used every opportunity to invent lies about the USSR, Stalin and Communism, including this totally non-existent ‘Hamlet ban’.
When the Finnish revolution and civil war began on midnight between 26-27 of January 1918, the country had already been in a revolutionary situation for months. The February revolution of 1917 had dismantled the Tsarist police and created a serious power vacuum in the country. A people’s militia had been created to carry out police duties, but the militia was not a typical police force at all and consisted largely of ordinary workers.
The conditions of the working class, poor tenant-farmers and household servants were very bad. They worked anywhere from 10 hours per day, 16 hours per day, or in the case of household servants basically an unlimited amount of hours. Unemployment was also high and famine was a serious danger. One quarter of the population were at an imminent risk of starvation.
The socialists won elections in 1916 but in 1917 the government was disbanded by the Russian Empire. There was also no municipal democracy: in municipal elections people with more property had more votes. The ordinary people lived in terrible conditions and didn’t have many peaceful ways of trying to improve their situation.
When the Tsarist police and other repressive institutions collapsed, the Finnish workers began strongly demanding an 8 hour working day, reasonable wages, food at decent prices and equal suffrage. Household servants began demanding the right to organize, and tenant-farmers began demanding land reform. There were massive demonstrations, protests and strikes.
The rich capitalists, aristocrats and politicians tried to use the police to suppress the people, but the new police – the people’s militia – didn’t always obey the rich. It often sided with the people.
Finland didn’t have its own military so in order to repress the people, the capitalists needed to create a military. That is why the White Guard was created. The White Guard carried out violent and brutal attacks against protestors and striking workers and peasants. To protect themselves, the workers and peasants created their own Red Guards, which were unarmed at first.
In December 1917 the Socialists began a General Strike demanding an 8 hour working day, democracy, end to the repression, food for the starving and other similar demands. This strike caused the Finnish state to completely collapse. Red Guards, who had only a small number of rifles, spontaneously occupied most government buildings and important locations. Power was in the hands of the people.
However, the capitalists and right-wing politicians managed to trick the people. They promised that the socialists could form a government if they just ended the General Strike. The socialists accepted and ended the strike, but it was all a lie. The capitalists and right-wing politicians now refused to allow the socialists to form a government, and they refused to grant any of the people’s demands, although some workplaces were forced to accept an 8 hour work day.
Already for months, the Finnish capitalists, right-wing politicians and aristocrats had been building a secret White Army in the region of Ostrobothnia. They had stockpiled massive amounts of weapons and ammunition which they had received from Germany and Sweden. They had hidden large amounts of food, and created a secret network of White Guard agents, disguised as volunteer fire-departments, forest offices and under other kinds of cover. They had received hundreds of non-commissioned officers from Germany, who were now training White troops in Ostrobothnia.
It was absolutely necessary for the capitalists to have total control inside Finland. The militia was unreliable, and they couldn’t tolerate the existence of the Red Guards. They also couldn’t keep the people from protesting or going on strike. Of course, they categorically refused to grant the people’s justified demands – instead they were going to rely on violent repression.
The situation had become more and more revolutionary, but the December General Strike was a turning point. The Bolsheviks had taken power in Russia in October, which demonstrated that a workers’ revolution was possible. The December General Strike showed to the Finnish capitalists, exactly how precarious their situation was if the workers decided to rise up and take power. Therefore, the capitalists massively speeded-up their military preparations. They needed to create a strong army, attack the workers, destroy the Red Guard, and install a military dictatorship or a monarchist dictatorship.
THE WHITE ASSAULT: The declaration of war
The war began with an assault by the White Army, North from most of the big population centers. The Whites had previously withdrawn the senate and most capitalist politicians to their new secret capital in Vaasa. This became the seat of the White government.
The Whites began their assault under the pretext of trying to liberate Finland from Russia. This might seem very strange. After all, Finland had already been given independence by the Soviet Russian government, and the Russian police, the Russian governor general and other Russian authority inside Finland had been totally dismantled. So how could they claim they were defending themselves from the Russians?
The fact is, there were still some Russian troops inside Finland. This is because Finland did not have its own military, and the Russian Empire had been worried that Germany might invade Finland. WWI was still going at this point.
The remaining Russian troops inside Finland were not stable fighting units. During the last days of the Russian Tsarist Empire and the Russian Provisional Government, the army had completely collapsed. Soldiers had started to leave their barrackses and go home. The soldiers had supported the February revolution and killed their monarchist officers. In Finland, the capitalists had tried to use Russian troops against demonstrators but the troops didn’t obey. Sometimes the soldiers defended the workers and peasants who were demonstrating. These troops were not in Finland to occupy or oppress the people, in fact, they refused to do so.
British historian Upton says the Russian soldiers: “had neither the will nor the ability to retain control in Finland.” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 272)
“It was quite clear that the presence of the Russians was to be temporary, and that the defense of Petrograd was the sole reason for their remaining.” (Upton, p. 249)
The Whites accused the socialists of wanting the Russians to stay, so they could use them for their own purposes but historian Upton completely debunks this:
“Not the slightest hint had been given that the party wanted the Russians to stay…” (Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918, p. 249)
The Finnish capitalists themselves had often tried to use Russian soldiers against Finnish workers, but socialists never had any intention of doing so. The social-democrats were anyway not in favor of violence, and didn’t speak Russian.
Furthermore, the military had absolutely collapsed, most units were barely held together and the Russian army couldn’t have oppressed Finland even if they had wanted to. On top of that, the Soviet Russian leader V. I. Lenin, had promised that the troops would be gradually withdrawn from Finland. The only thing holding this back was the war. Soviet Russia was intending to stop its participation in WWI and immediately when a peace treaty could be signed between Soviet Russia and Germany, the troops would begin to be withdrawn.
In reality, already for months troops had been returning home even without orders. Lenin also ordered the military to not interfere in Finnish affairs, not that the soldiers would’ve wanted to anyway. Consistently when the Finnish capitalists had asked Russian soldiers to attack demonstrators and thus interfere, the soldiers had refused.
In short, there were Russian troops in Finland, but they were confined to their barrackses and were not in fighting condition. This is why, when the Whites attacked the soldiers, they defeated them easily. The soldiers were not interested in fighting or prepared for it.
“Their Russian opponents were mostly demoralized, isolated… without any obvious cause to fight for, and mostly taken by surprise” (Upton, p. 272)
The Soviet-German peace treaty was signed on March 3, 1918, about a month after the Finnish civil war started. The Whites were in a hurry. If they wanted to pretend that the civil war was a “national war” against Russia, and not a class war against the Red Guards, then they had to attack right away before the Russian troops were pulled out.
“Mannerheim ordered the war to begin with the disarming of Russian soldiers in Southern Ostrobothnia … small number of Russian barracks thinly spread out, were not in any condition for battle, so a surprise attack guaranteed an easy victory and a large amount of weapons and supplies. The intention was that the early success would inspire the whites, boost moral, instill a sense confidence…
The Russian soldiers posed no threat, had been ordered to not get involved in Finnish affairs, and were waiting to be pulled from the country after a peace had been made between Germany and Russia. So why did Mannerheim choose to attack them? To get weapons, boost morale etc. but there was a more important reason:
“The goal of targeting the Russian soldiers was to make the war a seem like a national war against Russians. Mannerheim’s secret order of 25. of January… said to attack the Russian soldiers on 28 [of January]… [source: Erinnerungen, p. 171] Around the same time, though not right away, the working class movement concluded that revolution was unavoidable…” (Holodkovski, Suomen työväen vallankumous 1918, p. 148)
In white guard propaganda the war was presented as a “national war” against Russian tyranny. But this was a lie. Soviet Russia had given Finland independence and had agreed with the Finnish government that the remaining Russian troops would be pulled after Russia signs a peace treaty with Germany. The white guards screamed that Russia had no reason to fear a German intervention, although Russia was still at war with Germany. In fact, the whites themselves would arrange a German intervention into Finland.
The real target of the white attack were not the Russian soldiers, that was demonstrated by the war itself. The real target was the Finnish working class.
“There was no need of war to remove the Russian soldiers; they would have removed themselves in a little while.” (Upton, p. 272)
To give some perspective, according to historians such as Paasivirta (Suomi vuonna 1918, p. 206) only 1000-4000 Russians participated in the fighting. The exact number is not known, but it is small, and without question most of these soldiers were only acting in self-defence and trying to retreat to Soviet-Russia. The Soviet Russian government allowed volunteers to help the Finnish reds, but the Soviet government had its own war to fight and was not in a position to send troops. They gave the Finnish reds rifles and bullets, and also significant amounts of food.
The White war effort was not a war of independence, the capitalists themselves had a very mixed relationship with the independence movement (most of them were not committed to it) while the Russian Bolsheviks and Finnish socialists had supported Finnish independence much more strongly.
The White commander Mannerheim himself actually admitted that the real target of the war, were the Reds, who he calls huligans and bandits:
“The peasant army of independent Finland under my command does not wage war against Russia, but has risen to protect freedom and the legal government and to ruthlessly defeat the huligan and bandit forces, that publicly threaten the country’s legal order and property.” (Mannerheim quoted in S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918, p. 56)
“…Mannerheim himself proved that foundational claim of bourgeois propaganda, that supposedly a national liberation war had started in Finland, to be a lie, and admitted the class character of the war…” (Holodkovski, p.166)
The White government also told Sweden, that they were fighting a civil war and not a war with Russia. However, the Whites also wanted to deny that this was a class-war and instead claimed that the Reds were criminals and huligans:
“The Swedish government was told: The struggle which is now in progress in Finland is not a class war… but is a collision between, on the one side a legal social order… and on the other side plain terrorist activity… criminal gangs, which have initiated violence against all human and divine rights…” (Upton, p. 311)
“Mannerheim told the Swedish minister that… “the Reds have begun a rebellion…”” (Upton, p. 311)
Lastly, although the Russian troops did not want to fight, and were told to not interfere in Finnish affairs, and although the actual war was in fact fought between White Guards and Red Guards, and not between Finland and Russia, its worth mentioning that at times Russian soldiers still tried to defend themselves from the Whites. The Whites then tried to use this as proof of Russian aggression. The Whites executed their Russian prisoners and carried out mass killings and massacres against Russians, although reactionary monarchist Russian officers actually worked together with the Whites. Mannerheim himself had been a Czarist officer whose job it was to oppress Finland and other nations in the Russian Empire. Mannerheim did not speak Finnish, and had no ties with the Finnish people and he also had a soldier assistant who only spoke Russian. These were the aristocratic and militarist “independence warriors” who claimed they were not fighting a class war, but a “national war”.
THE WORKERS’ REVOLUTION
The Finnish social-democratic party was controlled by a center-left faction which had not been very keen on revolution. The party had decided by a narrow margin, to not carry out a revolution during the December General Strike. They had agreed to end the strike, in hopes of being able to form a government and carry out peaceful reforms. However now the socialists realized that the whites had secrelty built a massive army, were passing dictatorial laws and were preparing for a war to crush the workers, destroy the Red Guard, and strip the people of all their rights. The socialists saw the whites were being mobilized. The Reds finally began to make hasty preparations, 2 days before the white assault.
The working class itself was very militant, much more militant then the social-democrat politicians. The trade-union and the Red Guard were also quite revolutionary. The party had a very small right-wing faction, which opposed the revolution and immediately went into hiding when the revolution started. This right-wing group led by Väinö Tanner, later collaborated with the whites and the German invaders. The party also had a leftist revolutionary faction, but the biggest group were the center-leftists. The center-left was not keen to start a revolution, but when the civil war was imminent, they realized they needed to act, they needed to defend themselves, and they couldn’t simply abandon the workers to be slaughtered by the Whites. They started a revolution:
“The social-democratic party committee, the central command of the workers’ militia and the central command of the red guard published a declaration on 26. of January that an executive committee has been created as the highest revolutionary authority.” (Esa Koskinen,Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa, s.54)
“The… declaration alerted the masses that the bourgeoisie has begun an armed attack against the working class movement to strip away those democratic rights, which it only recently won in the revolutionary struggle of the general strike” (Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918, p. 98)
“…the Workers’ executive committee gave the worker guards orders to prepare for occupying all government buildings and strategic locations.“ (Holodkovski, p. 175)
“The orders stated that mobilization of the worker guards was to be begun on the 26. of January at midnight and to be completed in three days. Worker guards were to be given special lists of people, who were to be arrested and transported to locations where guards were responsible for their safety and good treatment. After the order to begin the revolution is given, the parliament, the university, regional governments, highest government organs and banks are to be taken over under the supervision of persons appointed as worker guard comissars. The central command had the right to seize for itself those buildings and locations it saw fit as well as transportation and telephone. [Source: “Красный архив” (“Red archive”), 1940, vol. 2 (99), pp. 34, 35]” (Holodkovski, p. 175)
“Bourgeois newspapers were to be closed down.” (Hyvönen, p. 98)
“On the 27. of January the [more moderate] Workers’ guard and [the more militant] Red guard were merged, taking the name the Red guard.
The executive committee considered serious resistance by the white guards a possibility and gave the Red guard central command the following order: the Red guard has, if necessary the right to use armed force against those members of the white guard who attempt armed resistance. Those members of the white guard who surrender without resistance, must be disarmed. Their commanders must be arrested and transported to the militia building… the imprisoned or wounded must not be treated brutally or inhumanely… any weapons and large amounts of food must be confiscated and listed, signed by the owner of the supplies or two wittnesses. [Source: H. Soikkanen, Kansalaissota dokumentteina, II, pp. 34-35]“ (Holodkovski, pp. 175-176)
“Throughout the country corresponding messages were sent to [Red guard] regional commands… At 11 o’clock at night on January 27. Red guard detachments began to occupy locations mentioned in the orders of the previous day in the capital of Finland. A red lantern and red flag appeared in the tower of the workers’ club as a signal that the revolution had begun.” (Holodkovski, p. 176)
“…Helsinki was quickly taken under red control without a fight. By the end of January the most important cities of Southern Finland were under the control of the reds… A declaration of revolution to the people of Finland was published in The Worker on 28. of January, which stated that the working masses have taken state power in their hands. At the same time it encouraged all the working class organizations and [red] guards [and militias] to fulfill their revolutionary duty, everyone according to their ability.” (Koskinen, p. 54)
The following examples are from a Southern municipality:
“The command decided on 4. of February to announce that all weapons and ammunition were to be brought to the Red guard within 24 hours of the announcement… The confiscations happened without incident and e.g. in the manor of Vaanila Nyberg’s flying column was served pancakes and jam. [A local man] testified… that [the Red Guard leader] Nyberg was quiet and polite when conducting the gun search…” (Koskinen p. 62)
“The Red guard of Koikkala-Vaanila carried out gun confiscations with the help of 17 men and 6 horses in the villages of Koikkala, Hongisto, Röylä, Paksalo, Mynterlä, Vaanila and Lehmijärvi.” (Koskinen p. 62)
“The confiscations began on 4. of February. Aleksander Stick said he took part in the confiscations of weapons in at least 25 houses. They took the shotguns and browning rifles, which were taken to the workers’ club… on 5. of February… property owning farmers brought their guns voluntarily. But they were unusable as the owners had left parts of them at their homes.
The telephone centers were taken under control. In Koski-Suittila the watchman at the “phone-central” was to make sure the manager mrs. Åström only allowed calls to the food-authority, the doctor or drugstore. Other calls were not allowed. Elderly men worked as watchmen…
Travel without permit was not allowed. Permits were given by the local command. At [the train] station guards inspected those traveling by railway.” (Koskinen p. 62)
The workers’ executive committee stated in their declaration to the Finnish people:
“The great moment of the Finnish working class revolution has arrived. Today the working people of the country’s capital have bravely defeated the sinister den of oligarchy, that started a dangerous war against its own people… Members of the criminal senate prepared in the capital disgusting plans to have Finns spill the blood of their brother Finns, and a treacherous attack against the organized working class of Finland. In doing this they made themselves guilty in such brazen treason as to request foreign monarchist governments to send murderer troops to slaughter the Finnish people. Thus the entire freedom and life our our nation was in great danger… [the workers must] rise to save themselves and the whole nation from that destruction and misery… The senate has committed countless crimes to steal for itself that state power which belongs to the people. Apparently the main plot was that the senate wished to crush the working class movement with bloodshed, shackle all attempts at democracy and bury the poor people’s hopes for change in the slumber of death.” (“To the working people of Finland”, quoted in Holodkovski, p. 177)
So the revolution began. The Reds were still poorly organized and poorly armed compared to the whites and the whites also managed to steal most of the state’s funds to their new capital. The Reds occupied government buildings and infrastructure, organized control of public transport and created a system where travel was only allowed if one had a permit. This was to prevent spying, smuggling etc. The Reds tried to monitor the telephone centers to prevent spies from listening on calls, and to allow the scarce telephone to be used only for important calls. The Reds spent a lot of time confiscating weapons from local landlords, rich peasants and capitalists. The Reds easily took control (often practically without resistance) in all the southern areas, and in the bigger population centers in other regions of the country too.
The right-wing counter-revolutionary faction of Väinö Tanner split from the social-democrat majority and stayed in hiding throughout the civil war. At the end of the war these traitors collaborated with the Whites and invading Germans. The centrists united with the revolutionary left-wing faction of the social-democrats to support self-defence by workers, and to protect democracy from a capitalist military-monarchist dictatorship which the whites were building.
FIGHTING THE WAR
“In armed struggle the Finnish working class movement was forced to operate in unfamiliar circumstances. It was clearly visible in the formation and arming of the red guards and especially in directing the battles. A newly arising class, such as our working class was, could naturally never compete in the realm of military expertise with the ruling classes, who in that realm held all the experience. Officers are always serving the prevailing system, dependent on it and grown attached to it… The most populous and important region, Southern-Finland, ending up under working class control, made it possible for the reds to aim their attack towards the North, which the whites had chosen as their base area… But in order for the war effort to have been directed correctly, the red leadership would have needed to know the laws of revolutionary war. However, the revolutionary leadership of the red troops did not know them, and this was evident since the very beginning of the war effort.
Initially the reds quite correctly began advancing towards the North, but even so it wasn’t done with as much energy and determination as it could have. For example the Haapamäki—Pieksämäki railroad ended under white control due to the slow start of the red advance. When after stopping at Vilppula, the reds didn’t immediately make serious attempts to breach North, the whites were able to fortify this section of the railway under their control. Poor understanding of the character of a revolutionary war was also demonstrated by the fact that immediate firm actions were not taken to raise the red guards of the North to battle, and after the red guards of the North had suffered defeat, there weren’t serious attempts to organize them into a partisan movement behind white lines.
In preparation for the victory of the Russian October revolution the Bolsheviks always had the clear and determined goal to secure the military victory over their opponent. After the path of armed struggle had been chosen, every party organization prepared for an armed rising… When societal forces are being driven to an armed conflict, all other issues depend on this conflict; all other action must be subordinated to serve the armed effort in such a situation. — In this sense it is justified to criticize the actions of the Finnish social-democratic party. The party was late in preparing for the struggle and thus when the situation arose, couldn’t provide the necessary leadership to the most important struggle, that of the workers’ and tenant-farmers’ red guard. Important administrative actions and fulfilling the goals of the revolution could only lead to results if victory had first been insured in the war effort.
The early portion of the war resulted in the whites capturing Northern-Finland and the reds Southern-Finland. A front emerged accross the country from West to East. From Merikarvia through Ikaalinen, Virrat, Ruovesi, Vilppula, Jämsä, Mäntyharju, Savitaipale and Vuoksenniska all the way to Lake Lagoda. The military initiative shifted to the red guard in late February. In early March a general offensive was being planned, the goal of which was to capture the Haapamäki—Pieksämäki railroad. Clear signs of fatigue began to show among white troops. The peasant troops who had been forcibly conscripted or recruited through lies or bribery, now began to understand the nature of their war against the Finnish workers and tenant-farmers. Furthermore the monarchist agitation of the white officers and bourgeois newspapers helped to expose the real goals of the whites. Most of all, Spring was approaching and peasants were getting restless about neglecting their farms.” (Hyvönen, pp.117-119)
At the beginning of the war, both sides were still recruiting more troops. The Whites began forced conscription in their territory, while the Reds organized volunteers. Both tried to quickly throw forces at the front. The Reds still lacked weapons, but were able to mobilize ten thousand armed troops very quickly. During the course of the war, the size of both armies increased to 80,000 each.
The war can be understood in three phases: The formation of the front, the Red General Offensive, and the White General Offensive.
During the first phase, both sides rushed forwards. The Reds tried to advance North as fast as possible, and the Whites tried to run towards the South. Both sides thus tried to get more territory. This was important for controlling strategic locations and resources. It was particularly important to control railways, which played a huge role in the war. There were no tanks, and practically no cars. Resources and reinforcements were transported on rails, and armored trains were used in battle. I will discuss individual battles or series of battles in detail in further videos, but here I will give a brief overview of the war as a whole.
The first battle of the war was waged in Lyly, a village North of the city of Tampere on February 2nd. The frontline can be separated into three parts: the Northern Front, which formed North of Tampere, the Eastern front North of Vyborg, and the center front basically between them. It was convenient for the Whites that while population centers like Oulu, Varkaus and others were all taken over by workers, they were inside the White territory and far away from the Red territory in the South. The Whites could then go from town to town, and eliminate the Reds there.
The Reds were a bit too slow to advance forward and thus gave Whites an unnecessary advantage. The Reds also lacked the necessary military skills and military discipline, to carry out a massive general offensive. As I described in the article about the structure of the Red Guard army, the units were too decentralized to coordinate massive attacks. They could hold their own against the Whites, and defend successfully even though the Whites had superior weaponry and professional officers. But the Reds had a difficult time trying to attack.
However, it was understood that remaining on the defensive mean the death of any revolution, so the Reds correctly understood the importance of taking the initiative and attacking. The second period of the war was the Red General Offensive which lasted from the end of February to the middle of March. Fierce battles were fought during this time, but the Reds did not succeed in destroying the Whites.
However, time was not on the side of the Whites. They didn’t control industrial centers and would eventually run out of resources. Also as spring approached, the soldiers conscripted by the Whites wanted to go work on their farms. This might have been necessary in any case, as the Whites would otherwise start running out of food. The Reds could fight a long war and be completely fine, but the Whites couldn’t. The Whites were thus in a hurry to launch their own general offensive, and it had to succeed, otherwise they were ruined.
The Whites only won the war, because of the following reason: they agreed that Germany should invade Finland in the South and attack the Reds in the rear. In exchange, the Whites would turn Finland into a German protectorate with a German king. Finland would sign a highly exploitative trade agreement with Germany, and Germany would dominate Finland politically and economically.
Because of the German invasion the Reds had to split their forces. There was chaotic fighting in the rear against the rapidly advancing Germans, while also trying to hold the front in the North. The Whites on the other hand were able to concentrate their troops on an attack in the North, against Tampere. This was the most important battle of the war, and had massive casualties on both sides, and caused massive destruction in the city. The victory in Tampere and the German invasion in the South gave the Whites the initiative, and they were able to keep their attack rolling from then on. This lasted through March to the beginning of May.
During the final phase of the battle Mannerheim gave his notorious declaration to the people of Tampere:
“To the citizens and troops of Tampere! Resistance is futile. Raise a white flag and surrender. Enough citizen’s blood has been shed. Unlike the reds we don’t kill our prisoners. Send your representatives with a white flag. MANNERHEIM”
This was a complete lie. After the battle in Tampere the Whites carried out a mass extermination and slaughtered prisoners of war and civilians. This became a trend, and they carried massacres and atrocities after most victories. This is why practically every town in Finland, even smaller ones, have mass graves, and monuments to victims of the Whites. They continued mass killings after the war in the White Terror.
Mannerheim’s lie “we dont kill prisoners unlike the reds” was even more gross, because not only did the whites arrange mass killings of prisoners and civillians all the time, but the reds on the other hand practically never did. The red government never ordered any mass executions. The small amount of white prisoners or capitalist civillians who were killed, were killed by reckless undisciplined elements who disobeyd orders. This happened against the orders of the reds. On the other hand, Mannerheim in his notorious “weapon in hand”-order, instructed to treat all red guard prisoners as traitors, and the punishment for treason is the death sentence. For this reason the White Terror killed more then 30,000 people while the so-called “red terror” killed only around 1000 people. And this remarkably low number includes violence by random criminals and thieves, which was falsely blamed on the reds. The number also includes executions which the reds carried out against criminals and murderers who had infiltrated inside the red guard. Red guard members who committed crimes or violence against civilians were punished, sometimes with death. But for the Whites slaughtering civilians was policy, and those who criticized it were attacked.
As the Whites and Germans advanced, the Reds began moving East to escape to Soviet Russia. There they founded the Communist Party, and made plans to continue the struggle against the White dictatorship.
WHY DID THE REDS LOSE THE WAR?
I will start with the least important reasons, and end with the most important.
The Reds were militarily inexperienced, but this is somewhat unavoidable as the workers and poor peasants necessarily have less officers and career soldiers in their ranks. The ruling classes always foster a reactionary military. This situation was made more difficult because Finland hadn’t had a military since 1901. This meant that only very few members of the population had military training: practically only those who had served in the Tsarist military. Obviously the vast majority of Tsarist officers were far-right reactionaries, such as Mannerheim. Some had gone to Germany as “jägers” to be trained by the German Imperial army, but majority of these were right-wingers and wealthier people too. The police also had some training with weapons, but obviously most police officers were also rightists. This meant that the Reds had an exceptionally serious lack of military training. The situation was more favorable for the Bolsheviks as the October Revolution took place during WWI. The workers and peasants had been conscripted by the Tsar, and had been fighting the war for years and thus were already quite battle hardened and capable soldiers. Still, this difficulty wouldn’t have been insurmountable.
The Reds also had a serious tendency towards indecisiveness, softness, a reformistic and legalistic attitude and style of work. This is because they came from a reformistic background and had been under the influence of the reformist and opportunist 2nd international. The Finnish Reds were not rotted to the core by this opportunism, and in fact they overcame it. However, it caused problems and challenges. I’ve discussed the Reds military difficulties and softness in detail in part 6.
As a consequence of their softness and reformistic attitude, the Reds focused a lot on carrying out the policies which they promised: land reform, job programs, democracy, social welfare etc. but this was premature. They should’ve focused 100% of their efforts towards winnig the war. The Red government represented the highest point of Finnish society, it was truly the most humane, most free, most progressive and enlightened government that this land has ever had. However, it was tragically destroyed because they lost the war. The people’s dream was drowned in blood by the White butchers and their German masters.
The Finnish revolution began in the most difficult circumstances. The Bolsheviks were able to carry out their revolution at an opportune time, and only had to fight the civil war later. The Finnish revolution began as a civil war. This meant that organizing the government, the economy and everything else had to be done during the chaos of war. An exceptionally difficult task. The Reds also had to learn how to fight, how to lead an army, how to build an army, as the war was already raging. The Reds had not learned revolutionary skills before hand, everything had to be learned in the fighting itself. However, they were up to the task. They were learning. The Red Guard became a quite strong and capable fighting force, and if the war had lasted longer, if the Reds had had more time, they would’ve become truly skilled revolutionaries and they would’ve won.
The Finnish Reds were not familiar with Leninism other then superficially. They couldn’t read Russian and did not have a Leninist vanguard party. Their party was of the old social-democrat type, althought it was a leftist social-democrat party, and not a counter-revolutionary one. While the Leninists were conscious revolutionaries, the Finnish Reds were still somewhat groping in the dark. They had a revolutionary heart, but lacked the necessary knowledge and experience.
It is universally acknowledged these days that the revolution should’ve been started during the December 1917 General Strike. The workers were able to take power easily, they surprised the capitalists and the capitalists were not able to respond. It was a devastating mistake to end the strike and return to “normal” life. It gave the capitalists the opportunity to build up their army, make a deal with Germany, and launch the civil war at a time that was suitable for the Whites but unfavorable for the Reds. This is biggest mistake the Finnish Reds made, while their biggest deficiency was their unfamiliarity with Leninism.
However, despite all these difficulties, mistakes and problems, the Reds were becoming more experienced, were moving closer to Leninism and would’ve been able to rectify all the mistakes if not for the German invasion. The Whites needed Germany, and they would not have been able to fight a protracted war. However, the German invasion would probably not have happened if the Reds had taken power in December 1917. The German invasion would also possibly not have happened, if Leon Trotsky had not sabotaged the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. Kuusinen wrote:
“I forgot to mention a third cause of the defeat of our revolution in 1918: this was the well known theatrical gesture made by Comrade Trotsky at the first Peace negotiations with the representatives of the German Government at Brest-Litovsk (January/Februarv). The peace conditions proposed at that time by the German government were much more favourable than those dictated later, both for Soviet Russia and for the Finnish workers’ government. Before Comrade Trotsky left for Brest-Litovsk for the last time (at the end of January), Comrade Lenin told him that he should sign the peace treaty at once…
Had peace come about between Germany and Russia at that time, then it is highly probable that the German government would have sent no troops to Finland. This conclusion of ours is based upon the memoirs of German generals, published after the war.
But on 10th February, Comrade Trotsky refused to accept the conditions of peace offered by the Germans. A valuable month passed before the peace treaty was accepted, and during this time Soviet Russia was obliged to abandon Reval and other cities at our (Finland’s) back to the Germans. And during the same time the German troops struck their blow at us.” (O. W. Kuusinen, “A Misleading Description of the “German October””)
THE SOCIAL-DEMOCRAT LEADERSHIP IN THE REVOLUTION
Around the time of the revolution, the social-democrat leadership began taking its first steps towards Bolshevization. Leaders such as Kuusinen and Sirola began studying the ideology of Leninism for the first time.
“Those leaders of the Finnish working class movement who later became founders of the Finnish communist party, began to gradually distance themselves from traditional parliamentary tactics and more and more adopt a firm revolutionary stance. This was aided by the experience of Soviet-Russia and becoming more closely familiar with Lenin’s ideas. At the end of 1917 Sirola began with the help of a Finnish-Russian dictionary, to read Lenin’s text “Can the Bolsheviks Retain State Power?”[source: E. Salomaa, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti, p.225]“ (Holodkovski, p. 150)
“On 12. of January he published in “The Worker” his article titled “Will the situation develop to a revolution?” [Kehittyykö tilanne vallankumouseksi?], where he stressed especially those questions which were important for supporters of revolution: pointed out Marx’s words that ending up on the defensive, is the death of an uprising, thought it essential to follow Danton’s slogan “Courage, courage and once more courage”, and explained how important it was for the bolsheviks to win the support of the peasantry. [source: E. Salomaa, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti, pp.226-227]
A strong desire to look into Lenin’s works had also arisen in Kuusinen after he had met Lenin and discussed with him shortly before the October revolution. [Source: U. Vikström, Torpeedo, p. 50] For Kuusinen also, the problem was that he didn’t speak Russian. Kuusinen only began studying Lenin’s book “The State and Revolution”, which is of special importance in taking a correct Marxist stance on the bourgeois state and for understanding the necessity of the dictatorship of the proletariat, during the final period of the Finnish revolutionary government, and therefore this theoretical study couldn’t influence the revolutionary government’s policy.” (Holodkovski, p. 150)
It became evident that a Leninist party of the Bolshevik type was essential for a successful revolution but the Finnish socialists were lagging in behind in this regard, still influenced by the reformist trend of Kautsky and the 2nd international. Both Kuusinen and Sirola would later write their own criticisms of the SDP’s reformism from a Marxist-Leninist perspective. The most well known is “The Finnish Revolution: A Self-Criticism” by Kuusinen.
Upton, The Finnish Revolution 1917-1918
Holodkovski, Suomen työväen vallankumous 1918
Paasivirta, Suomi vuonna 1918
Suodenjoki & Peltola, Köyhä Suomen kansa katkoo kahleitansa
S. Jägerskiöld, Gustaf Mannerheim 1918
Esa Koskinen, Veljiksi kaikki ihmiset tulkaa
Hyvönen, Suurten tapahtumien vuodet 1917-1918
“Красный архив”, 1940, vol. 2
H. Soikkanen, Kansalaissota dokumentteina
Kuusinen, “A Misleading Description of the “German October”
Salomaa*, Yrjö Sirola sosialistinen humanisti
*Salomaa was a communist who became a big revisionist eurocommunist especially since the 1960s. The history books he wrote are still mostly good and correct, and had to follow the party line more or less. However, after de-stalinization he used every opportunity to falsely attack Stalin in his books.
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).
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.
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)
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.
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)
MIHÁLY VÖRÖSMARTY (1800-1855)
“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 PETÖFI (1823-1849)
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)
JÁNOS ARANY (1817-1882)
“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 (1871-1929)
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)
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”)
KALMAN MIKSZATH (1849-1910)
“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”)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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)
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, László Benjámin, Ferenc Juhász, Péter Kuczka, Sándor Rideg and others. 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.
Gyula Illyés (1902-1983), a 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 didn’t produce anything of quality after that. 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)
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.
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) came from a proletarian background and painted pictures of workers.
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.
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.
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.
“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. Zsigmond Kisfaludi Strobl was perhaps the most talented Socialist Realist sculptor in Hungary. Sándor Mikus and Pál Pátzay also produced extremely skillful works.
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.
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.
Béla Balázs should also be mentioned because he was a well known early Hungarian Communist aesthetic thinker, critic and writer who also worked with Bartok and Kodaly. However, he made serious theoretical mistakes.
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.
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)