Hungary in the 1950’s

By | December 27, 2021

The constituent assembly that emerged from the elections of May 15, 1949 (in which a single list of candidates was presented), with a very brief debate just formal on August 20, approved the new Communist Constitution, prepared by a special commission chaired by M. Rákosi. Unlike the constitution of January 31, 1946, which defined an order along the lines of Western parliamentary democracy, the charter of 1949 gave rise to a Soviet-style “People’s Republic”: State ownership of the means of production, implementation of an economic system socialist, dominant position ensured, constitutionally, to the Communist Party (called the Hungarian Workers’ Party). The “highest body of state authority” is the unicameral National Assembly,

Meanwhile, as a firm stopping point for the “Titoist” or national-communist tendencies that had also appeared in the United States, on June 8, 1949, the same Foreign Minister Laszlo Rajk was arrested: tried for treason because of his “Titoist activity” “was condemned and shot in October 1949. This meant a closer link and ideological alignment with the USSR, while on the economic and structural level, the process of socialization of businesses and collectivization of the countryside began in 1949, as mentioned above said, a vigorous impulse; but the results on the political and human level no less than on the economic one will suggest a notable step backwards, also as a consequence of the “new course” which also took place in Hungary after the death of Stalin (5 March 1953).

After the elections of May 17, 1953 to the National Assembly had ensured the only list presented, that of the popular front – communists, radical independents, national peasants and small owners – 98.2% of the votes, there was 27 and 28 June a meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party, with extensive interventions by the prime minister and party secretary M. Rákosi, a heated “Stalinist”, and by the vice president Imre Nagy. The result was the creation of a three-party secretariat – Rákosi, then appointed first secretary, L. Acs and B. Veg – in November, the abolition of the organizing commission and the election of a new political commission. In government, the National Assembly on 3 July elected President of the Presidium I. Dobi and Prime Minister Imre Nagy. L’ the latter’s rise to power, a moderate and common-sense element, hostile to the forced collectivization of the countryside, and considered the best expert in agricultural problems, initiated a series of “relaxing” measures: a decrease in appropriations for industry heavy to favor an improvement in the standard of living hitherto excessively sacrificed; increase in investments in agriculture with an accentuation of the voluntary nature of joining agricultural cooperatives; general amnesty; abolition of concentration camps; price reduction and abolition of bread rationing. A year later, the socialization of the countryside dropped from 39.2% in March 1953 to 30.5% in May 1954.

However, this was a brief moment, because already in January 1955 M. Rákosi after a long trip to the USSR resumed his share in marking the country’s political directives in an orthodox Soviet sense. At the beginning of March 1955 a resolution of the Central Committee of the party was published in which President Imre Nagy was accused of “deviation to the right” and “anti-Marxist opportunism”, also underlining the need to insist on a development policy heavy industry. A few days later, on April 18, Nagy – accused of “bukarinism” and right-wing tendencies – was expelled from the Politburo and the party and replaced by Andras Hegedüs in the office of prime minister. The ongoing struggle between the “Stalinist” tendency and the one more open to the demands of political and social reality, saw a return in strength of the Rákosi group, strong at the time with the support of N. Khrushchev. Thus, under the aegis of Andor Berei, appointed head of economic planning to replace the moderate Bela Szalai, a decisive impetus was given to the “socialist construction”, that is to say the process of industrialization in the socialist sense and the collectivization of agriculture.

All this, which occurred suddenly after the hopes aroused by I. Nagy’s relaxation measures, must have increased beyond measure the discontent of the classes on which the “popular power” was most reliant: the peasantry, the working class and the intellectuals. In fact, with M. Rákosi, the Hungary it remained the only country where communism continued to be interpreted and applied, up to the extreme consequences, in a strictly Stalinist sense; after the anti-Stalinist decisions of the 20th Congress of the CPSU, while supporting the condemnation of the cult of the personality and promoting the “rehabilitation” of Rajk, he worked hard to save as much as possible the “Stalinist” line of his politics. Ultimately, however, with respect to Nagy’s policy, it was more a matter of a difference of method than of substance: the Rákosi contrasted the need for reform, of graduality put forward by Nagy, of collectivization and forced socialization, also as a means of keeping the Hungary firmly anchored to the USSR, at a time when a certain desire for at least looser relations between the USSR and “popular democracies” and consequently for greater internal freedom was proving to be ever more bursting.

Those who mainly fueled this expectation were the intellectuals. Bearers, since the uprisings of the century. 19 °, of a high non-conformist and revolutionary tradition, gathered in compact groups among which the Union of Magyar writers and the Circle Pet ő fi stood out, the intellectuals, after the fall of Nagy, sided decisively against Rákosi and, encouraged by the resolutions of the 20th congress, demanded greater freedom, an end to censorship also for the press and the intervention of the party authorities in the cultural, literary and artistic. The unrest gradually spread to the whole country, and gained the workers and peasants sector. The Soviets themselves were so concerned that, after A. Mikoyan and MA Suslov’s visit to Budapest, Rákosi withdrew from the political scene on 18 July and was replaced in the post of first party secretary by Erno Gerő.

After the Yugoslav example of 1948, distant but always present and alive, especially as a result of the “fine” made by Bulganin and Khrushchev, in their visit to Belgrade in 1955, the Poznań revolt of the summer, the rise to power of Gomulka in Poland (October 18, 1956), greeted in the Hungary with an explosion of joy, and the “new course” of Polish politics, represented the occasional push for the movement of Hungarian intellectuals and then of the entire population.

A demonstration of consensus for the Polish events was decided on October 22 by university students and writers, with the permission of the Minister of the Interior (President Gerö was visiting Belgrade), with the intention of parading up to the statue of General Bem, one of the commanders of the Polish legions in Hungary in 1848-49. The demonstration was grandiose and culminated in the request, formulated by Péter Veres, president of the Union of Writers, for an independent national policy, based on socialism, but in a situation of equality with the USSR and the popular democracies; it was also asked that workers be able to access the political, economic and social direction of the country and be able to express their interests through trade unions, that the peasants had full freedom to join cooperatives or not; that power was conferred on I. Nagy, with opposition to any counter-revolutionary attempt; that free, direct and secret voting be re-established.

Gerő, hastily returned to Budapest, accused the demonstrators of wanting to “undermine the power of the working class”, break ties with the USSR and popular democracies, etc.; above all he refused to convene the party committee for eight days. Then, to avoid the worst – the crowd had already demolished the huge statue of Stalin and the political police (AVO) had ended up shooting at it – on October 24 the first concession was announced: the appointment of I. Nagy as first. minister replacing Andras Hegedűs, while Gerő retained the post of first party secretary. But together, by practically burning Nagy himself, Gerő proclaimed martial law and appealed to Russian troops stationed in the Hungary to intervene.

In this confused situation, with heated spirits that shouted at Nagy’s betrayal and that did not think the intervention of the Soviet troops was possible, Suslov and Mikoyan arrived in Budapest: Gerő, accused of being solely responsible for the situation, was thrown out and replaced. by Janos Kadar, considered “Titoista” and already imprisoned by Rákosi. Immediately afterwards, an appeal – addressed by Nagy on the radio – in which, without having been able to deny the use of Soviet intervention, he promised the implementation of the 1953 program, the democratization of the whole life of the country asking for the return to order and to calm – fell into emptiness. By now, workers’ and revolutionary councils had formed everywhere, which in addition to replacing the trade unions and claiming the leadership of the companies, rejected the state and party authorities: the revolutionary councils, in making the original program of the intellectuals their own, took over the local administration, the municipalities, the provinces and the same happened in the factories by the workers’ councils, with an avowedly anti-state and almost anarcho-syndicalist. Nagy and Kadar try to take matters into their own hands but find themselves with no way out, between the now unleashed insurrection and the presence of the Red Army ready to move. The second visit of Mikoyan and Suslov (31 October and 10 November), with which they seek an agreement with Nagy and the insurgents, in order to preserve the Hungary in the communist “system” and to allow Russia to avoid a retreat that would have shaken its prestige also among other satellites, did not lead to any result: the revolution was by now unleashed, the successes were, or appeared, decisive and the very willingness of Kadar and Nagy to recognize the revolutionary and workers’ councils in order to put an end to the struggle was the sign of the complete deprivation of the government and the regime. Nagy – narrow in the choice between joining the insurgency, or taking a decisive stand against the insurgents and asking for Soviet intervention – on 10 November proclaimed the neutrality of the Hungarian People’s Republic, asked for an exit from the Warsaw Pact, addressing an appeal to the USSR to which negotiations were proposed. All this fell on deaf ears and Nagy was replaced as president by Kadar. or take a strong stand against the insurgents and ask for Soviet intervention – on 10 November he proclaimed the neutrality of the Hungarian People’s Republic, asked for the exit from the Warsaw Pact, addressing an appeal to the USSR to which negotiations were proposed. All this fell on deaf ears and Nagy was replaced as president by Kadar. or take a strong stand against the insurgents and ask for Soviet intervention – on 10 November he proclaimed the neutrality of the Hungarian People’s Republic, asked for the exit from the Warsaw Pact, addressing an appeal to the USSR to which negotiations were proposed. All this fell on deaf ears and Nagy was replaced as president by Kadar. For Hungary 2018, please check

While the West was occupied by the serious Suez crisis, the USSR decided to intervene: on 4 November at 4 am, 15 Soviet armored divisions, strong with 6,000 heavy tanks, began to sweep the country. Within days, the Hungary riot was put down. It is estimated that from start to finish it cost the nation the loss of 25,000 people (over about 150,000 exiles) and, according to a report submitted to the Assembly by a UN mission that visited the Hungary from January 4 to 7, 1957, the the country lost 60% of its food capacity, light industry production decreased by about 50%, the metallurgical industry had stopped and coal production was reduced by a third.

Straight from dec. 1956 by the Kadar government (succeeded in January 1959 by Ferenc Munnich), the Hungary it returned to align itself completely within the framework of the Soviet system. The death of I. Nagy (June 1958), shot after a trial, was matched by the definitive removal of Rákosi, who was held by Khrushchev most of the responsibility for what had matured, up to the revolutionary outcome. Naturally, the collectivization of the countryside was accelerated: in December 1959 55.8% of arable land was now collectivized and by September 1960 the percentage of 70% had been reached. Similarly, on the international level, the Hungarian leaders moved within the context and with the orientations of the whole communist system, both in the UN and in relation to polemical attitudes against the West, while leaving an opening for economic and cultural relations.

Hungary in the 1950's