1919 and the Hungarian Communist Party between 1949 and 1959
During the last decades the study of memory has become central to the historical discipline as a powerful conceptual tool to assess both the political-ideological implications of social constructions of the past and the writing of history itself. Yet, most of these investigations focus on post-dictatorial situations and suggest ways to understand how these societies confront their controversial and often traumatic past, like communism in Eastern Europe, Nazism in Germany, the two world wars and occupation in Western Europe and military dictatorships in Latin-America. This work suggests an innovative approach to these broader themes in three respects. First, it studies in depth a particular phenomenon that illustrates how a dictatorship, a communist state remembers. Second, unlike many works analyzing the workings of memory, it concentrates on authenticity as the crucial concept in establishing the success or failure of memory-constructions. Third, this research attempts to integrate a broad range of processes – political, scholarly, artistic – through which history is sought to be rendered authentic.
This work examines a detailed case of a profound rethinking of history, the representations of Béla Kun’s First Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 as it was performed by the re-establishing communist authorities following the 1956 revolution in Hungary. 1919, the experience of a communist dictatorship was the crucial element shaping Hungarian political culture throughout the 20th century. The interwar political system claimed itself a ‘counterrevolutionary’ regime defending society from the alleged menace of a second Bolshevik revolution which the authorities justified mostly by mobilizing the fears 1919 could trigger among the elite and middle-classes. Following 1945, the re-emerging communist party had to fight these negative associations attached to the image of revolution when it tried to establish itself a national and democratic political force. 1949, the communist takeover did not mean the automatic elevation of 1919 into the core of national historical memory. Albeit, the party initiated a revision of the history of 1919 as an important reference model for communist activists, due to its problematic implications, chiefly Béla Kun’s perish during the Stalinist purges, its memory remained fragmented. The real momentum for 1919, its real communist type of re-appraisal came after 1956 in connection with the interpretation of the October ‘counterrevolution’. Meanwhile, the new communist leadership justified the suppression of democratic and independent aspirations by claiming to protect Hungarians against the peril of counterrevolution, it built the image of October 1956 on its alleged historical connection with 1919, the white terror that followed the fall of Béla Kun’s short livened Soviet Republic in Hungary. Since it was vital for first party secretary, Kádár and his fellow party leaders to render the imaginary historical continuity between the “first” and “second” editions of the white terror tangible, it became crucial to construct a credible representation of the First Hungarian Soviet Republic that could suit the comprehensive revision of modern Hungarian history. The memory of 1919 permeated Hungarian political and broader everyday culture in the late 20th century. On the one hand, as political culture in general up until 1989 was largely shaped by the recurrent fear of counterrevolution, which motivated both cultural policies and police operations throughout the entire period, 1919 remained an important means to evoke and articulate these concerns. On the other hand, the history of 1919 became an area where important issues of contemporary communist ideology and politics, such as international vs. national communism, youth radicalism of the 1960s, generation and socialist life-style models could be addressed. Events and personalities were frequently evoked in films, novels, pioneer competitions or historical re-enactment festivals such as the tour of the re-constructed armored train of the Hungarian Red Army.