Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

New International, August 1948


Valentin Toma

Szakasits of Hungary

Profile of a Social-Democratic Turncoat


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 8, October 1948, pp. 246–247.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To an impartial observer, several of the leaders of the Eastern European social-democracy (which is now being liquidated by the Cominform offensive) present a still unclarified problem of psychology – namely, the problem of their rapid integration into the Stalinist political machine.

Grotewohl, the representative of the German Social-Democratic fusionists, began the parade of these types; and he required several months to become housebroken in Pieck’s Stalinist menage. In the case of Radaceano – who, at the socialist-Stalinist unification congress in Rumania, still tried timidly to demarcate the differences between the two groups – the sea-change in language and mentality took place more quickly. But for the speed record in accomplishing the metamorphosis from social-democrat to Stalinist, one must give the palm to Szakasits of Hungary.

Well-Earned Reward

Szakasits, the new president of the Hungarian republic, put up as candidate by the unified Hungarian Workers Party of which he is the head and which was created one and a half months ago, is a clever politician.

His career in the pre-war social-democracy was a rather modest one. During the difficult period of semi-legal struggle against the authoritarian regime of Horthy and the Hungarian reaction, he was an activist without special responsibilities.

An attempt is now being made to puff up the myth of Szakasits as a leftist element in the pre-1944 Hungarian Social-Democracy. But the truth is altogether different; Szakasits was always in accord with the Social-Democratic party leadership and its policies.

The fascist regime inaugurated by the Nylas movement (called the Arrow Cross) illegalized the socialist party and put its leaders in concentration camps. But very quickly the dictatorship fell under the hammer blows of Russian military might. At Debreczen, under the egis of the occupation authorities, the Hungarian independence front was created. It was made up of some Horthyite high officers, some Stalinist leaders returned from Moscow, some new names representing the Social-Democratic Party, a few others from the Small Holders Party and some Stalinist sympathizers thrown together to improvise a national peasants’ movement.

This was Szakasits’ moment, and he seized it; as a homo novus he rapidly scaled the ladder of the hierarchy all the way to the top.

At the head of the Social-Democracy his position was rather precarious. The self-styled “Left,” formed by Stalinist agents like G. Marosan who had been sent into the party, from the beginning rejected any necessity for an independent socialist policy. This group proposed to transform the Social-Democratic Party into a kind of antechamber for the Communist Party. In opposition to this clique of liquidators the genuine working-class elements demanded a consistent socialist policy. They thus won a growing popularity within the ranks of the party and outside of it.

Standing in the middle between these two wings, Szakasits and his circle tried to maintain a clever balance between the crypto-Communists on the one hand, faithful to every slogan of the Stalinists (no matter how absurd), and on the other the bulk of the party who were tired of the policy of tailending after the CP to the detriment of the working class.

These lofty tactics of compromise were put to the test after the elections of August 31, 1947. Thanks to their electoral machinations directed in the first place against the Social-Democracy, the CP became the leading party in the country. The resentment of the socialist rank and file against the rigging of the election was so great that a meeting of the Party Council had to be convened.

CP Learns a Lesson

At this conference, the rank-and-file militants rained criticisms upon the leadership. A half-hundred speakers from every corner of the country set forth their views: not a voice was raised on behalf of the leaders responsible for the party’s policy. Under the impact of this attack Szakasits retired from the leadership. It was Ban, then still in emigration, who had to be brought forward to replace him.

At the last minute an old-time party member made an appeal for the conflicting forces to come to an agreement. The upshot was that a compromise was reached. Szakasits remained, but his powers were restricted. And along with Szakasits went the party apparatus he had created.

The Stalinists learned their lesson : the oppressive regime was redoubled. The old routine continued, and the “purge” began. The men who enjoyed the confidence of the workers in the shops were kicked out and replaced by Stalinist puppets.

Szakasits understood what was up: his position depended on the will of the Stalinist leadership. He accepted the aid of Rakosi [the CP leader] and his shock troops against the majority of his own party.

The Stalinist neophyte Szakasits thereupon went to the congress of unification and unblushingly told the delegates:

“The Hungarian Communist Party has followed a correct policy, for it had reasonable and far-seeing plans which it achieved boldly and resolutely; it ably utilized its forces, sustained and animated the left wing of the Social-Democratic Party.”

And the same Szakasits in the same report recalled with horror “the revolt of the right-wing elements in September” – namely, the revolt of his own party! He recognized that “from that moment on, events led logically to the idea of unification with the Communist Party.”

It is in the following terms that he spoke of his savior:

“I remember with gratitude the sincere, honest and loyal support and aid given on this question by my friend and comrade Rakosi, whose support and aid made it possible for the Social-Democratic Party to enter upon the road of unification.”

Speaking of the CP’s generosity, he admitted the deplorable state to which the Stalinist offensive had brought the traditional party of the working class, the Social-Democracy. Thanks to this psychological slip, one learns how a movement which had more than 600,000 members could be considered “a beaten and humiliated army.”

And Szakasits did everything he could to get into the good graces of the conqueror. Like a genuine “Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist” he poured epithets like “treason” on his own political past and on his friends of yesterday. On the other hand, his language with reference to Russia did not differ in the slightest shading from those of his colleagues who had been steeped in Stalinism for a longer time.

The final scene in the tragedy of Hungarian democratic socialism was marked by the election of Szakasits to the presidency of the republic, where his political role is virtually finished. This is the curtain on the political career of a Szakasits.

But the Social-Democratic workers, employees and peasants of Hungary cannot follow the road of Szakasits, whose “climate of friendship” earned him the presidential sinecure; his counsel for unity remains a vain appeal. They cannot be bought by honors and posts. It is their party which has been sold out; it is they who have been betrayed.

On the morrow of the presidential election an old socialist worker, listening to the harangues about the “Hungarian popular democracy,” commented:

“That’s true, the popular democracy is very fine. Only – for the first five hundred years it will not go along the way it’s supposed to.”

In the history of the international workers’ movement the name of Szakasits will bear a dark significance.

Top of page

Main NI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 2 August 2018