The Archive of the Romanian Revolution of December 1989

A Catch-22 December 1989, Groundhog-Day Production. Presenting the Personal Research & Scholarship of Richard Andrew Hall, Ph.D.

Turn out the lights, the party’s over: The Hungarian Socialist Workers Party Rebrands Itself (6-10 October 1989)

Posted by romanianrevolutionofdecember1989 on October 6, 2014


Az első MSZP kongreszus- így alakult meg az MSZP (1989)


Így alakult meg az MSZP 1989


Published: October 6, 1989

BUDAPEST, Oct. 5— As the Communist Party gathers its shrinking forces for a Congress opening Friday, the party’s chief of ideology propaganda said the leadership’s expectations were modest.

The leaders hope the Congress will be a major step in bringing the party into line with the nation’s new reality. Since the party held its last major meeting, in May 1988, through opposition initiative and leadership disarray, the party’s monopoly on power in Hungary has been broken by a new, independent party. Preliminary elections for a multiparty parliament are scheduled for the first part of next year.

”If a new model left-wing socialist party can emerge from the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, then it will have some chance of coming out of the election as the strongest single party,” said the official, Janos Barabas, Politburo member and secretary for ideology, agitation and propaganda. ”But that still doesn’t mean it could form a one-party government.” Seeking Yet Another New Name

The Hungarian Socialist Workers Party is the name the Communists adopted during the 1956 uprising crushed by the Soviet Army. Mr. Barabas said it will change its name soon, but he added that it saddened him that the party had already changed names six times in its 71 years of history.

”I think this party should have a new name to give it credibility,” said Mr. Barabas. He said among the ”countless” names suggested were Hungarian Socialist or Democratic Socialist Party.

Mr. Barabas said the transformations the Congress is expected to endorse would greatly reduce the membership.

”I’m convinced that after all the restructuring some 400,000 to 500,000 will remain,” Mr. Barabas said. The party announced this week that its membership had shrunk to 725,000 from 800,000 as the year began. On Jan. 1, 1988, there were 871,000 Communists. Loss of Members Expected

The chief ideologist said he expected the loss of members to result not from a split down the middle, as some Communists predict, but from a drifting away at the fringes. He appeared to share a belief of many Communists that their great majority has cast its lot with those who demand reform.

Views are divided on whether orthodox Communists, who appear to be in the minority, will stay in the party after a reforming congress, opt out or regroup in a counter-Communist Party.

”The party today is not a political party in the European sense but a conglomerate of widely differing views,” said Mr. Barabas, who said he spoke for the reform-minded majority.

”It will become an unambiguous left-wing socialist party, breaking with the Bolshevik Communist tradition. It will mark a break with the dictatorship of the proletariat, with thinking exclusively in terms of power and with the ideological sense of Messianic mission.” Yielding the ‘Leading Role’

Mr. Barabas said that the party has abandoned its historic claim to ”the leading role” in the state. ”We say now that the party has a right to be present in the state structure only to the extent to which its representation in Parliament justifies it,” he said.

Party leaders estimate that in Hungary’s first free elections since 1947 the Communists’ best hope is to obtain 30 percent of the vote. Its principal rival is expected to be the nationalist Hungarian Democratic Forum.

The chief ideologist said he believed that the ”successor” to the current party ”will have to show persuasively that it wants democracy and wants to break with everything in its path that must be broken.”

When asked whether the party would insist on retaining control of the defense and interior ministries, as the Polish Communist Party did after Solidarity won its sweeping victory in elections this year, he evaded the question. He finally conceded, ”I think geopolitical realities must be acknowledged by any political force that shares in government.” Worries About Stability

He said a recent visit to Moscow had convinced him that Hungary enjoyed ”intellectual support from representatives of the Gorbachev line.” But he added: ”We also sense some worries about our ability to preserve stability.” After a pause, Mr. Barabas said, ”I share these worries.”

The principal threat to stability, he said, is ”what’s happening in the economy.”Burdened with the heaviest per-capita foreign debt in Europe -$18 billion – the Government appears unable to halt a continuing slide in the standard of living. About 20 percent of the population is shown in official statistics to be living below the poverty line. As loss-producing state enterprises face enforced shutdowns, unemployment is expected to rise sharply.

Mr. Barabas says the party should preserve elements of the Communist-Socialist system, including ”solidarity, equality of opportunity, striking a balance between collective and individual freedom.”

Asked how the party intended to equalize opportunities in a multiparty system by giving up such advantages of its power monopoly as the headquarters palace on the banks of the Danube, where the interview took place, Mr. Barabas said the party would have to return expensive properties to the Government and let Parliament decide its redistribution.

As for the headquarters, known popularly as the ”White House,” the chief ideologist said: ”You won’t recognize this party in one year, one and a half years. We won’t have the money to maintain this kind of building. There will be so few of us in the apparat that we’ll have to move to a much smaller office.”

Key Hungarian Communist Urges More Open Party and Ties to West

Published: October 7, 1989

BUDAPEST, Oct. 6— One of the four top leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party told his comrades at a party congress today that they had to change their basic orientation.

”It cannot be Communist, and it cannot be simply a social democratic party,” the official, Rezso Nyers, the party president, said in his address at the congress, which opened today. ”We should seek a synthesis to be created from the coming together of social democratic and Communist traditions, values and practices.”

In his address, Mr. Nyers declared that the party, known formally as the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, should be superseded by a new one that would broaden its links to the Soviet Communist Party by establishing ties to Western socialist and social democratic groupings. Prospect of Many Parties

Whether Mr. Nyers’s suggestion is immediately followed or not, it was raised amid the prospect that the Hungarian party, which now still maintains a monopoly of political power, may fragment or that its members may become part of a spectrum of new parties when legislation permitting the formation of openly competing opposition groups goes into effect.

Mr. Nyers said the successor to the present party should seek friendly relations with Communist parties that are changing in the East and West, particularly with the Soviet party.

He also called, for the first time among ruling Communist parties, for ”friendly bonds” with the Socialist International, the grouping of democratic socialist parties long reviled by the Soviet Union and its allies.

The congress is expected to adopt, possibly with minor amendments, two basic documents and a new party statute worked out by the Central Committee in months of discussion. They are marked by the dominant tendency toward change.

The new party program fully endorses its new ideology of a traditional left-wing European socialist party, into which the Communists wish to transform themselves. It calls for a ”democratic state of laws,” the prevention of ”exaggerated concentration of power,” a freely elected parliament to which the Government will be responsible and ”free competition” between freely created parties.

In a bow to its past, the party pledges itself to prevent by ”all political means” a restoration of capitalism. But it fully endorses freedom of property in a market economy. ”We must abandon our stubborn prejudice against private property,” the program stated. Education Monopoly Opposed

In a major change of heart on a social issue, the Communists proposed abolition of ”the state monopoly in education.”

Mr. Nyers, State Minister Imre Pozsgay and Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth, the three more change-minded members of the party Presidium, appear to be attuned to the majority of the 1,256 delegates assembled in the convention center.

But the more conservative fourth member, General Secretary Karoly Grosz, spoke with a self-assurance and authority that belied rumors assiduously circulated by radical reformists that his downfall was assured.

He was applauded when in a thinly disguised attack on Mr. Pozsgay he condemned as ”Stalinists” those who steered so radical a course of change as to want to force out of the party those who do not share their views. An Alliance Is Seen

Mr. Grosz, while endorsing change, chided those who view all of the party’s 44 years in power as years of failure and say ”they are ashamed in the eyes of their children and grandchildren.” He warned against the party’s ”ignoring the working class and the values and ideals of Communism.”

Party officials believe that a de facto alliance has been formed between Mr. Nyers and Mr. Grosz, despite their differing views, to work to prevent a major party split, at which Mr. Pozsgay has been hinting. Both the President and the General Secretary are thought to have been moved to the middle of the road in reaction to Mr. Pozsgay’s more radical language.

Mr. Pozsgay was named before the congress as the party’s candidate for the new post of President of the republic, to be elected probably next month. This explains his attempts to appeal to non-Communist voters.

Indications are growing that Mr. Nyers may be the majority candidate for election to the new post as the party’s sole president. The election is expected just before the end of the congress, probably on Monday. Defeated on Procedure

Mr. Pozsgay’s supporters were defeated on a procedural point this morning, which would have provided for the election of the new leadership on Saturday. Their apparent hope was either to provoke the conservatives to walk out or at least to chasten them during the remaining days of debate.

In the text of the party program, Communism is only glancingly mentioned and its eventual attainment no longer postulated as the ultimate goal.

Describing the ideology of the new party it intends to become, the statement said, ”the roots of its spirituality reach back to the Marxian system of ideas, but it is open to all new, scientifically founded thought.”

The second document before the congress, prepared under Mr. Pozsgay’s chairmanship, deals with the party’s history.

In its crucial passages it drops the highly unpopular thesis that the 1956 uprising, crushed by Soviet forces, was a ”counterrevolution.” Instead, it praises its leader, Imre Nagy, and the associates who were hanged with him. ”Their stand, even accepting martyrdom, is exemplary,” the document states. Traditional Slogans Replaced

In another departure from the almost ritual customs of Communist Party congresses, no top party leaders from other Communist countries, not even the Soviet Union, were invited.

Only the speaker and the chairman faced the public from the stage, the entire leadership sat with the rest of the delegates. The traditional slogans of the ”long live Communism” type were replaced by three words on the stage wall: ”Democracy-Legality-Socialism.”

In other parts of Budapest today, in apparent coincidences, Otto Hapsburg, the son of Hungary’s last King, addressed a meeting of ”old boys” of West German dueling university fraternities wearing their caps and sashes, and a copy of the tall statue of Stalin, pulled down in 1956, was erected at its old site, to be toppled again for a movie. PLEASE KEEP LAST GRAF.


Published: October 8, 1989

BUDAPEST, Oct. 7— The Hungarian Communist Party voted today to transform itself into a socialist party and said it would strive to bridge the gulf between doctrinaire Marxism and European democratic socialism.

In a series of votes to change the party’s name to the Hungarian Socialist Party and set general party direction, the delegates at an extraordinary party congress here greatly raised expectations that the reform-oriented leadership’s entire program to overhaul the party would be adopted. Among the changes expected are more democratic procedures for choosing the leadership.

With Poland, Hungary is at the forefront of change in the Eastern bloc. But unlike Poland, where the Solidarity union has taken the reins of power with the Communist Party largely unchanged, Hungary is pushing through radical change from within its Communist Party. Approval From the Floor

While decisive, tonight’s vote totals were difficult to ascertain because some measures were approved by a show of hands of the large number of delegates and went uncounted.

In a news conference before the voting, Imre Pozsgay, a member of Hungary’s collective presidency and a leader of those advocating major change, said an overwhelming majority of the delegates supported the leadership’s program so that the party can better confront new, independently formed parties in free parliamentary elections due to be held by next June.

Mr. Pozsgay did not elaborate on the party’s new path, but details of the nature of the renamed party and its prospective leadership were disclosed by an official close to Rezso Nyers, the party President. Elections Ahead

The official said in an interview that by this morning, a majority of the more than 1,200 delegates to the congress had agreed on the new party structure, the leaders to be elected and the program to be adopted before the congress ends Sunday or Monday.

The official said Mr. Nyers would be chosen as party president. Mr. Pozsgay and Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth, another member of the presidency, are to be named vice presidents, and it is possible that a Politburo member, Pal Vastagh, will be elected to that same rank.

The post of General Secretary, now held by Karoly Grosz, is to be abolished. Instead, the lesser position of National Secretary is to be created. Jeno Kovacs, now a Central Committee secretary, has been chosen to fill the office, which is to manage the day-by-day work of the party.

Dispensing with the traditional Politburo and Central Committee, the new party is to be guided by a presidium of 15 to 21 members and a national committee of about 150.

Contrary to Communist practice, the national committee will not be chosen by the party congress, as the Central Committee is, but through balloting by all party members, a bow to greater democracy. Central Committee secretaries, the party’s equivalent of government ministers, are to be replaced by presidium members assigned to specific tasks.

Faced with severe economic problems and declining popularity, as shown in recent losses in several parliamentary by-elections, the party has gradually introduced liberalizations in recent years, including the scheduling of next year’s multiparty national elections, the country’s first in more than four decades.

Another change came this year when, in an opening to the West, Budapest lifted restrictions along its border with Austria, setting off a mass migration of East Germans through Hungary and on to West Germany. Defection of the Orthodox

The official close to Mr. Nyers said the leadership expects the Communist transformation to prompt as many as a third of the present membership of 725,000 to leave the party.

It is expected that some of those who leave will regroup in a new party. In expectation of such a move, the official said, the party has taken legal steps to secure its hold over such assets as the grandiose party headquarters on the Pest bank of the Danube.

In speeches, several delegates to the congress demanded that the party return to the Government many of its extensive assets throughout Hungary, including office buildings, hotels and resorts, and commercial properties.

The biggest loser in the creation of a new leadership is likely to be Mr. Grosz. Since unseating Janos Kadar last year, Mr. Grosz has seemed to be a reluctant reformer. As recently as Friday, he insisted in a toughly worded speech that reforms be limited and Communist ideals retained. And He aimed a sharp rebuke at Mr. Pozsgay, without mentioning him by name, accusing him of seeking to drive more orthodox Communists out of the party.

In a sharp rebuff to Mr. Grosz, the delegates tonight approved an amended text of a statement that specifically rejected a Grosz proposal. The General Secretary had strongly urged the Communists to simply declare a renewal of the party rather than the establishment of a new one. The amendment pointedly redrafted the declaration to make it clear that the old party was dead and that it considered itself a new party.

Mr. Nyers is said to have managed months of internecine disputes and maneuvers to prevent an open split in the congress while still securing the transformation of the party, which had been formally known as the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. Although there is personal antipathy between Mr. Nyers and Mr. Pozsgay, both advocate change, as does Prime Minister Nemeth.

All three have stressed that their commitment to change does not mean that the party means to question Hungary’s alliance with the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact.

Today, Mr. Nemeth sounded the clearest call yet for drastic change to prepare for next year’s elections.

”We must be the most democratic of all Hungarian parties,” he said to applause. ”We need a new party, with a new form of organization, a new platform and a new name. We need a reformed membership. Our members should not be a flock of sheep following a bellwether. Those who don’t feel at home in this party should form a new party.”

Mr. Nemeth made evident the ultimate purpose of the reorganization, saying, ”We don’t want members, we want voters.”

Hungary’s Extraordinary Change Draws Critics of Varying Ideologies

Published: October 9, 1989

BUDAPEST, Oct. 8— A day after the Hungarian Communist Party changed its name to the Socialist Party and rejected orthodox Marxism, leaders contended today with criticism from members who thought it had not gone far enough as well as from die-hards who thought it had gone too far.

Despite an overwhelming vote on Saturday night to change the name and model the party along social democratic lines, some of those most staunchly in favor of reform, like Deputy Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, said the changes would fail to achieve the ”necessary purification” to purge hard-liners from the party.

”This is a compromise, and I am not convinced the compromise is convincing enough,” he said. ”It is not necessary to carry with us the former party as a whole.” Grosz Must Choose

Among orthodox Communists, the principal losers, there were also rumblings of disaffection and mutterings of breaking away. Karoly Grosz, the General Secretary before the large-scale shifts this weekend, said in an interview with the party’s daily newspaper, Nepszabadsag, that he would either register as a member of the Socialist Workers Party, as the Communist Party had been formally known, or retire from politics.

And there was criticism from non-Communist opposition groups expected to take part in multiparty elections next year. Ferenc Kosseg, a leader of the Alliance of Free Democrats, said he considered the restructuring of the governing party as ”a compromise to satisfy reform-minded party intellectuals without hurting the party apparatus.”

But he said the party had avoided a ”split down the middle” that would have been ”healthy but dangerous” since it would have left the armed forces and the bureaucracy uncertain about who commanded them. Vanguard of Change

The vote of 1,005 to 159 by party delegates on Saturday night came at a special congress that has been meeting to prepare for the elections, which must occur by June. Facing major economic problems and rising unpopularity, the party has placed Hungary alongside Poland at the forefront of change in the Soviet bloc.

The congress is dominated by Communists who declare themselves in favor of far-reaching change in a ruling party that most say has outlived its capacity to act in a more open and technologically advanced world.

But among them today, only the largest group, the middle-of-the-road faction represented by Rezso Nyers, the party President, appeared to be satisfied with the compromise that produced Saturday’s heavy majority.

Disaffection among orthodox Communists had been expected. Janos Barabas, party chief of ideology and propaganda, said last Monday that the leadership expected the changes at the congress to cause membership to drop to a range of 400,000 to 500,000 from the present 725,000.

Party officials interpreted Mr. Grosz’s remarks in the newspaper interview to mean that he would not recognize the party’s transformation; they said he might gather around him many Communists who contest the legality of the new Socialist Party’s claim as successor.

Followers of the late Janos Kadar, the Communists’ leader for 32 years until Mr. Grosz unseated him last year, said they would form a party of those who remained faithful to Communism.

Criticism today from the leaders most enthusiastic about change was somewhat unexpected, though. Is the Change Sufficient? Deputy Prime Minister Medgyessy, a former Finance Minister who is considered one of the party’s leading technocrats, said he had ”considerable doubt” about whether the negotiations between the dominant reformist group and the harder-line factions had brought about the needed wholesale changes in the membership.

In a dramatic aside, Mr. Medgyessy added, ”I haven’t made up my mind yet whether I’m a member of this party or not.” Like others in his group, he appeared unhappy that Mr. Nyers had not led a vigorous enough fight to prompt more hard-liners to leave.

The Deputy Prime Minister said the party’s positions need to be clarified so that opponents of the reorientation toward left-wing socialism would see whether they could adopt the new policies or quit. He said the party needed to make clear its attitude toward its past policies, its readiness for fundamental renewal and its determination to privatize sectors of the economy.

In less diplomatic language, a member of the dominant group promoting change said at a caucus today, ”Those with blood on their hands may have left, but the rats are remaining.”

Like Mr. Barabas at a news conference Saturday night, Mr. Medgyessy conceded that leaders were at a loss to define the new party’s ideological stance and undecided on how much of their former ideology and symbols would remain.

”The ideology is taking shape at the moment,” the Deputy Prime Minister said. ”The party is socialist and leftist. It rejects Stalinist theory and practice.” Censoring the Sage

He added, ”We have to delete a number of things from Marxism.”

Mr. Barabas said he had no answer yet to the question of how many tenets of Lenin would remain in practice or whether the ubiquitous pictures of the patriarch of Soviet Communism would continue to adorn the walls of virtually all party offices.

As a first sign of a change of symbols, Nepszabadsag appeared today for the first time without the slogan ”Workers of the World, Unite,” the Marxist entreaty that is the front-page motto of official Communist Party papers everywhere. And, instead of describing itself as the official organ of the party, Nepszabadsag restyled itself a ”socialist daily.”

Budapest Encore: Old Socialist Elected

Published: October 10, 1989

BUDAPEST, Oct. 9— The newly named Hungarian Socialist Party, which as the Communist Party over the weekend abandoned hard-line Marxist dogma, today elected Rezso Nyers, a once and present Socialist, as its President.

Mr. Nyers had served as head of a four-member party presidency since June. In his new function, he will be the party’s sole chief. A 23-member Presidium was also elected and will take the place of the Politburo characteristic of Communist parties.

Mr. Nyers, 66 years old, was chosen by 78 to 80 percent of the 1,256 delegates to the party congress meeting here, said Janos Barabas, a spokesman. But, the nomination and voting took place behind closed doors and required almost four hours of sometimes heated debate.

A bloc of delegates that advocated a greater distancing of the new party from its predecessor challenged Mr. Nyers. They proposed policies that would have alienated more orthodox Communists. How to Attract Voters

Those leaders most favorable to change believe that only policies and statements that Hungarian voters accept as marking a clean break with communism would give the renamed party a good chance in the period of free elections. This multiparty voting, to take place by next June, is supposed to transform Hungary into a state observing the norms of West European democracies.

In a stormy session on Sunday night, the bloc of delegates pressing for greater change demanded that the party withdraw its cells from all places of work. Mr. Nyers sided with a middle-of-the road majority.

The issue is considered vital for the campaign. Advocates of change believe that the party’s presence in shops and factories has long been a thorn in the sides of workers, who feel that party functionaries are the real bosses of all enterprises. More orthodox party members, however, believe that they cannot hold its members together if it does not organize them at their jobs.

In the heated debate, Imre Pozsgay, a State Minister, and Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth opposed the party President, and this apparently caused the unraveling of a leadership compromise engineered by Mr. Nyers with the two others.

As a result, an official close to Mr. Nyers said tonight, Mr. Pozsgay and Mr. Nemeth were not elected vice presidents, as planned. Presidium Posts

But the compromise did succeed in placing 11 reformists, including Mr. Pozsgay and Mr. Nemeth, on the Presidium. The other members are largely middle-of-the-road socialists, Communists until Saturday, and can be counted on to support Mr. Nyers in steering a reformist course.

In his news conference, Mr. Nyers, referring to his reputation as father of Hungary’s first economic liberalizations, said he did not disagree with the liberal minority’s goals but with its means, which he deemed radical. Differences Are Reconcilable

Still, ”I’m easygoing,” he said. ”I live in the style and taste of the 1930’s and don’t want to change.”

To indicate that no bad feelings remained after the election struggle, Mr. Nyers said he has urged the renamed party to reaffirm its predecessor’s nomination of Mr. Pozsgay as its candidate for the national presidency.

He conceded that he had had some differences of opinion on economics with Mr. Nemeth, but said that ”the clouds are going away. The sky is clearing.”

An aide said Mr. Nyers would soon name a Presidium member, Jeno Kovacs, as National Secretary. The new post will replace that of the old General Secretary. The job has been downgraded, however, and Mr. Kovacs is to be in charge of the daily management of party affairs, not policy-making.

The last General Secretary, Karoly Grosz, was the principal victim of the transformation. He was dropped from all party functions and said that he did not wish to be a member of the new Socialist Party. But he told Hungarian journalists, he intended to continue to be ”present” in political life.

Many party officials believe that hard-line Communists are likely to put aside differences among themselves. These aides think the hard-liners will eventually form a separate party or declare that they do not recognize the name change but consider themselves still members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party, as the Communists called themselves. Printer Rose Rapidly

Mr. Nyers started his working career as a printer and his political career as a member of the Social Democratic Party and rose quickly to high party posts. He joined a faction of the party that merged with the Communists in 1948.

Having studied economics in the meantime, he became a senior official of the Internal Trade Ministry in 1952. From 1957 to 1960, he was chairman of the National Association of Consumer Cooperatives. He became Finance Minister in 1960 and was a secretary of the Communist Central Committee for economics, the equivalent of a ministerial post.

Mr. Nyers was elevated to the Politburo in 1962 and quickly became known as an advocate of economic change, seeking to free the highly centralized economy from excessive controls and parcel out responsibility and rewards to enterprises.

The changes were put into operation in 1968 but halted, at Soviet demand, in the early 1970’s. From then until 1988, Mr. Nyers lived in relative obscurity as director, and later adviser, in an economic research institute.

He was brought back to the Politburo last year, when a reformist wave swept the late Janos Kadar, party leader for 32 years, from office.

Photo of Mikhaly Bihary, a member of Hungary’s Socialist Party speaking with Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth, and the poet Sandor Csouri, a leader of the Democratic Forum. (AP); Rezso Nyers after being elected head of Hungary’s new Socialist Party. (Reuters)

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