Hungarian Communist Party
The Communist Party of Hungary (Hungarian: Kommunisták Magyarországi Pártja), renamed Hungarian Communist Party (Magyar Kommunista Párt) in 1945, was founded on November 24, 1918, and was in power in Hungary briefly from March to August 1919 under Béla Kun and the Hungarian Soviet Republic. The communist government was overthrown by the Romanian Army and driven underground. The party regained power following World War II and held power from 1945 under the leadership of Mátyás Rákosi. In 1948 the party merged with the Social Democrats to become the Hungarian Working People's Party. The Communist Party of Hungary was a member of the Communist International.
Foundation and early years
The Communist Party of Hungary (KMP) was first established in late 1918 by Béla Kun, a former journalist who fought for Austria-Hungary in World War I. After spending time in a POW camp, Kun, along with several associates, set up the initial workings of the KMP in Moscow in October 1918. These first members returned to Hungary in November, and on the 24th officially created the KMP. Initially, the group was small in number, boasting only its founders and a handful of leftist Social Democrats. Nonetheless, the political instability of the government under Mihály Károlyi and the growing popularity of the Bolshevik movement prompted the Social Democrats to seek a coalition with the KMP. For the Social Democrats, an alliance with the KMP not only increased their standing with the common people, but also gave them a potential link to the increasingly powerful Russian Communist Party, as Kun had ties with prominent Russian Bolsheviks.
Following the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in March 1919, Kun set about nationalizing private industry while embarking on a massive agricultural collectivization project. He also took steps towards normalizing foreign relations with the Triple Entente powers in an effort to gain back some of the land that Hungary was set to lose in the post-war negotiations. For the 133 days that the Hungarian Soviet Republic existed, the KMP concentrated mostly on trying to fix the widespread economic chaos that had resulted from Hungary’s defeat in World War I. Unfortunately, Kun’s economic policy only created higher inflation while also leading to food shortages across the land. Opposition began to grow, led by Miklós Horthy, and in June, following an attempted coup, the KMP launched a violent terror campaign through its secret police mechanism. Despite all this, the Soviet Republic fell on August 1, 1919, following the Hungarian Army’s crushing defeat by Romania. The invading Romanians seized Budapest from the Communists, exiled Kun to Vienna, and forced the KMP to hand over power to the Social Democrats.
Interwar period and exile
The fall of the Soviet Republic was followed by a year-long anti-Communist purge, known as the White Terror, by the new nationalist government under István Bethlen, in which anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 people were killed and thousands more were imprisoned and tortured. Much of the old KMP leadership was either executed or exiled, primarily to Vienna. There, remnants of the KMP Central Committee, once again led by Kun, reformed into a Provisional Central Committee, which attempted to keep the Party together despite its illegal status in Hungary.
Throughout the 1920s, many Hungarian Communists moved to Moscow, with Kun among them. Kun’s actions in Russia, most notably the organization of a massacre of White Russian POWs in 1921, drew censure from Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin and other prominent Bolsheviks. Nonetheless, Kun maintained a prominent position with Comintern until 1937, when he was arrested and executed during one of Joseph Stalin’s purges. Furthermore, Kun was the unquestioned leader of the KMP during the inter-war period, with his main rival, Jenő Landler, dying in 1927.
During this time, the KMP held its First Party Congress on August 18, 1925. The Party also organized a legal cover party, the Socialist Workers Party of Hungary (MSzMP), to act as its representative in Hungary. But the Hungarian government soon took steps to abolish the MSzMP, and by 1927, the party existed in name only.
For the remainder of the inter-war period, the internal leadership of the KMP beyond Kun fluctuated tremendously, and membership was minuscule. On the home front, the declaration of martial law in 1931 allowed the government to round up suspected Communists and imprison and execute them at will, damaging the KMP to the point that the Comintern dissolved it in 1936. Further throwing the Hungarian Communists into disarray were the inconsistent policies of the Comintern throughout the 1930s, culminating in the 1939 Soviet-German Non-Aggression Pact and the abandonment of the Popular Front tactic that had marked Communist ideology for the last decade. On top of all of that, Stalin’s purges in the late 1930s had taken a heavy toll on the Hungarian émigrés in Moscow.
World War II and the Communist takeover
The KMP entered the 1940s a shell of what it once was. In late 1941, following Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, the Central Committee advised Party members to work with non-Communist resistance groups in order to present a united anti-German front. This prompted the KMP to attempt to reestablish itself as a legal entity in Hungary, despite the Horthy government’s alliance with Nazi Germany. This movement was quickly put to an end, however, as mass arrests in 1942 effectively destroyed the leadership of the KMP. This, coupled with the dissolution of Comintern in 1943, spelled the end of the KMP as a functioning party for the time being.
In an effort to continue their actions, Hungarian Communists under János Kádár founded a new party, dubbed the Peace Party, as a replacement for the KMP. This designation lasted until late 1944, at which point the Peace Party reverted back to its designation as the Communist Party. By this point, Horthy was frantically trying to end Hungary’s role in the war. Attempts to scale back the involvement on the German end failed, and so, with the Red Army approaching the country’s borders, Horthy tried to declare Hungary a neutral state. The move backfired horrendously; Arrow Cross forces seized the capital, took power, and set the stage for an almost year long battle that claimed thousands of lives and left Budapest in ruins. The city was finally liberated in April 1945.
Despite rapid growth in membership immediately following the war, the party refounded under the name MKP received 17 percent in the elections, equal to the Social Democrats. But the appointment of party secretary László Rajk as Minister of the Interior, coupled with the presence of the Red Army in the country and strong support for the MKP within other parties, allowed the Hungarian Communists time to whittle away their political opponents. Within two years, the MKP had broken the power base of the Smallholders Party (SHP), the majority party in the new government, and by 1948, every party but the Social Democrats had vanished. These two parties merged in June 1948 to become the Hungarian Workers Party (HWP), and in 1949, the Communists took over parliament in new elections with no opposition. The Communist takeover in Hungary was complete.
- Crampton, R.J. Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century - And After, 2nd Ed. Routledge Press, 1994.
- Kenez, Peter Hungary from the Nazis to the Soviets: The Establishment of the Communist Regime in Hungary, 1944-1948, Cambridge University Press, 2006
- Kovrig, Bennett. Communism in Hungary: From Kun to Kadar. Hoover Institution Press. Stanford, 1979
- Molnár, Miklós From Béla Kun to János Kádár: Seventy Years of Hungarian Communism, Berg Publishers, 1990
- Hungarian Socialist Workers Party
- History of Hungary
- Hungarian People's Republic
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