Hungary and the Soviet Bloc
Show Trials: Stalinist Purges in Eastern Europe, 19481954
János Kádár: Selected Speeches and Interviews
1956: Counter-Revolution in Hungary: Words and Weapons
Cry Hungary! Uprising 1956
The Velvet Prison: Artists Under State Socialism
During his thirty-two years of absolute rule in Hungary, János Kádár introduced reforms in the Soviet bloc so comprehensive that next to them Gorbachev’s reforms seem pale. In March of this year his position seemed nearly unassailable, and I was assured by knowledgeable people that he still had the confidence of Moscow, and the loyalty of much of the Party rank and file. This proved not to be true. At the Party conference in May, Kádár and all his principal collaborators were forced to resign by his rivals in the Politburo and by representatives of the local Party organizations. The man whom people used to call “Good King János” is now commonly referred to as the “Old Fool.”
Whether the members of the new Politburo will be able to launch a new period of reform is questionable, for they are a very mixed lot. They include two well-known liberals: Imre Pozsgay, who has long been advocating political pluralism, and Rezsö Nyers, one of the founding fathers of the “New Economic Mechanism”—the limited amount of market activity that has been encouraged since the late 1960s. But Nyers has been shunted aside repeatedly in the past for his advocacy of “market socialism,” in which state banks would finance competitive, privately owned businesses. The ruling group also includes the tough-minded ideologist János Berecz, the author of one of the books reviewed here, and István Horváth, the head of the police.
The new leader is Károly Grósz, a rather mysterious figure, who for the time being combines the positions of Party general secretary and prime minister. We know little more about him than that he is fifty-seven, was born into a working-class Swabian family, and grew up in an industrial region in north-eastern Hungary. He never attended high school or a university. His father was a longstanding member of the Communist movement; Grósz himself joined the Young Communist League in 1945 when he was about fourteen. His career has always been within the Party, even when he briefly worked as a political officer in the army.
In 1956, he actively opposed the uprising. In the 1970s, he acquired a disturbing reputation for anti-intellectualism and orthodoxy, and one heard unconfirmed rumors that he was an anti-Semite. Four years ago, he attracted attention when he argued, in a defiant-sounding statement, that his generation of Party activists had to accept responsibility for the previous forty years, including the government of the early 1950s, a period whose record of repression the Party has officially repudiated.
When Kádár made him prime minister last year, it was interpreted as a shrewd ploy to make Grósz take the blame for whatever unpopular decisions would have to be made to deal with the declining economy. But Kádár’s tactic failed, for very soon Grósz emerged as a strong leader who had the confidence of Moscow, and the man thought to be narrow and orthodox several years ago was now said by Hungarians to be dynamic, intelligent, aggressive, and flexible.
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.