Struggle against modern opportunism and revisionism - Experience of Hungarian communists

Gyula Thürmer, President of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party

In 2004 the Hungarian Workers’ Party (Munkáspárt) was just celebrating its 15th anniversary when a heavy political and ideological attack was launched against the party. By that time it was the largest and the most severe offence of the opportunist forces inside the party and it almost resulted in the destruction of the party. During 500 days of tough internal and external struggle the Workers’ Party could overcome this disease. The party was weakened, but they failed to smash the party

The Workers’ Party drew a number of conclusions from the events, has strengthened the Marxist-Leninist character, solidificated the leadership, renewed the system of party education, modified the name of the party to the Communist Workers Party [1], left the European Left Party and in 2012 adopted a new programme of the party.

Who was in the opportunist intraparty opposition?

In 2004-2005 the intraparty opposition led by that time vice-president of the party Attila Vajnai, started an offence against the political line of the party.

A breeding ground for an opportunist intraparty opposition was mainly in two places. First, in those towns where the Workers’ Party cooperated with Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) in local governments (for example in Pécs, Eger, Komárom, Kecskemét and many others). It was always the course of the Workers’ Party that in concrete cases in the interests of the toiling masses it could and should cooperate with other parties, including MSZP. But it does not mean strategic cooperation.

Our representatives in the local governments received public recognition, role and position and – to be frank – considerable income compared to our modest conditions. We did not calculate the possible influence of money. The MSZP was able to literally buy some representatives.

Another breeding ground for opportunism was in Budapest, among intellectual circles. Almost every leader of the opportunist opposition belonged to former “nomenclatura” of socialist Hungary. Former heads of the CC departments, first secretaries of the regional committees, state executives, colonels and generals, professors of the former Higher Party School. They used to say that they had many friends inside the Socialist Party. They refused to face the fact that the MSZP had become a bourgeois, right-wing social-democratic party.

What did the opportunist opposition want?

The opportunist intraparty opposition wanted to change the Marxist leadership of the party and reverse the Marxist nature, strategy, tactics, organizational structure and foreign policy orientation of the party.

Naturally neither those aims were shown at once and directly, nor the people’s ambitions were alike. It made the struggle against them more difficult. Which concrete aims and principles did they proclaimed?

1. “The United Left

The main slogan of the opportunist forces was “to unite the Left”, that is to unite with social-democracy, and with “every left-wing force”. True that they accepted the position of the majority oh the Workers’ Party members according to which there was capitalism in Hungary and the capitalist class consisted of two main groups – social-democratic-liberal on one side and nationalist-conservative on the other.

But at the same time they declared that a victory of nationalist-conservative forces would lead to strengthening of ultra-right, more than that – to fascism, therefore in order to prevent it the Workers’ Party must cooperate with social-democracy and specifically with the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).

2. “United Left Party”.

The opportunists planned to create such an organisation to which would join a part of the Workers’ Party, left socialists, agrarian professionals, disappointed businessmen, public servants etc. As an example they named Spanish Izquierda Unida or Finnish left-wing union Vasemmistoliitto.

In parallel with the idea of a “united left party” they started to organise on Internet a “renewed workers’ movement forum”. They declared that they “are to the left from social-democracy and look for an alternative to neo-liberal policies”. They made special emphasis on the fact that they are independent from the Workers’ Party. And they were leading a harsh, by its rudeness surpassing even the bourgeois media attack against policies and leadership of the Workers’ Party.

Such views used a temporary retreat of the working class to prove that now on the main contradiction and therefore the struggle is not between labour and capital, but between capital, globalisation and so to speak “organisations looking for an alternative to neo-liberal policies”.

3. “Transformation of capitalism” instead of revolutionary struggle.

The opportunist opposition wanted to reach mainly political goals, to replace the Marxist party leadership and to seize the Workers’ Party, but they also had formulated some ideological positions. Citing examples of left-wing movements in Latin America and of Social Forum they declared that there is no need for class struggle, that “we can transform the exploiting system using the forms of direct democracy”. Emphasized that under current conditions ownership of the means of production is already of no importance and the most important thing – not to own the means of production, but to be able to keep those under control.

4. The main danger – fascism.

The opportunists accepted and repeated the arguments of social-democracy and liberal bourgeoisie according to which in Hungary we have the process of strengthening of extreme right, more than that – of fascism, and the election victory of the conservative-nationalist party opens the way to fascism.

These forces practically restricted the fight against fascism to the fight against anti-Semitism and Holocaust-denial. They left aside the fact that fascism is just a consequence, a complication of the disease and not the disease. The disease, the cause of fascism is the capitalist system itself.

There was extreme right in Hungary in 2004. The extreme right traditionally uses two factors. Partly the fact that in Hungary with a population of 10 million there are 700-800 thousand gypsies for whom capitalist system made it impossible to have a job and thus the gipsy population had become a source of serious social conflicts. Partly the extreme right uses the fact that in Hungary there is one of the largest in Europe Jewish community.

Nevertheless we can’t speak of imminent threat of fascism. It is a fact that the conservative parties were the first to adopt anticommunist laws, when in 1993 they banned the public use of red star and the hammer and sickle. But the social-democratic governments that came after them did nothing to change this situation.

5. “Democratic, open party”.

The opportunists were against the principle of democratic centralism. They declared that decisions of the Central Committee are not obligatory, but only recommendations. Emphasised that the minority should not be bound by the decision of the majority. The representatives of these views instead of a militant organisation which is serving the interests of the workers wanted to create something of a different type, something like a discussion forum based on Internet.

The leadership of three (out of actual 19) regional organisations (Baranya, Bács-Kiskun and Somogy regions) in their official decisions and actions regularly opposed the policy of the Central Committee of the party.

They tried to turn the Committee on Ethics of the party into a parallel governing board opposing the Central Committee.

They planned to change the structure of the party, to replace the disciplined centralized party by a loose alliance of organizations.

Instead of triple requirement to party members (to accept the party programme, to do concrete work in a primary organisation and to pay party dues) they would have opened the party before every sympathiser. They supported the possibility to join the party through the Internet.

In the media activity of the party instead of a conscious committed propaganda they proclaimed loose network forums and social sites.

6. Social forums and other civil society movements.

The leaders of the opportunist opposition visited many events of European Social Forum. They were more and more inclined to think that a communist party should identify itself with civil organisations and movements.

Their position was that nowadays we can no longer consider the working class as the main force of revolutionary struggle, from now on this role is played by intellectual and middle classes which are today more active in politics and which mainly are present in civil movements.

7. Alliance with the Party of the European Left

The opportunists also damaged the system of international relations of the party. They argued that the Workers’ Party should not support the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties but should strengthen cooperation with the European Left and the GUE/NGL group of the European Parliament.

What made possible the emergence and strengthening of opportunism?

The emergence and strengthening of opportunism was the result of the combined effect of several factors, part of which is related to the previous period of socialism and another part is a product of the last two decades.

1. The majority of Workers’ Party members has grown up in the years of socialism, in the spirit of the 20th Congress of the CPSU.

In the system of party education questions of the class struggle were treated in the spirit of the 20th Congress of the CPSU. We were taught that the class struggle is reduced, moreover during socialism disappears or if exists then only in the international arena. In domestic policy a “partnership”, “nationwide” interests of “the whole society” are crucial.

The majority of Workers’ Party members were once taught that communists should cooperate with social-democrats. It was a countless time repeated assertion, almost a dogma that it would have been possible to prevent the rise to power of Hitler if communists had cooperated with social-democrats. These views were also confirmed by the 20th Congress.

Relations between capitalist and socialist countries according to the 20th Congress’s dogma were hoped to be everlasting peaceful coexistence. It was forgotten that capitalism always sought and seeks to destroy socialism.

2. The majority of the Workers Party members had no experience of class struggle

In 1956 he Hungarian communist movement had to face the fact that there existed counter-revolutionary forces which sought to overthrow workers’ and peasants’ government. The experience of 1956 steeled those generation. Those who came after them had no such an experience.

3. For a long time there was ambivalent estimation of the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP) in the Workers’ Party politics.

In autumn of 1989 on the basis of the former Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP) two parties were established. Members of the Workers’ Party, and for rather a long time a part of the leadership too, had illusions that they could cooperate with the MSZP in the fight against capitalism for the interests of working people.

The year of 2002 was decisive in this respect. In the parliamentary elections of 2002 the Workers’ Party in eight single-member electoral district in the second round withdrew its candidates, thereby contributed to the victory in the election of Socialists and the Medgyessy government. Later the leadership of the Workers’ Party often defined self-critically: “we knew we were making a wrong decision, but members of our party believed in the MSZP and the leadership of the party went with the stream”.

At the end of 2002 the 20th Congress of the Workers’ Party had repositioned itself in relation to the MSZP. The Congress declared: the MSZP is neither our friend, nor our natural ally. The MSZP is one of a number of Hungarian bourgeois parties which defend capitalism. This congress decision was a turning point in the life of the party

4. In strengthening of opportunism and prolonged combat against it played its role an ideological unpreparedness of the party.

It was partly the result of the fact that the base of the party among intellectuals was small. In 1989-90 the majority of former Marxist scholars had joined not the Workers’ Party, but the Social-democracy. Partly because it seemed for them to be more easy way out, partly because the MSZP was able to provide them with material means while the Workers’ Party was unable to do this. [2]

Another problem – ideological work had not become the cause of the whole party. The Resolutions of the Central Committee provided clear Marxist analysis, but we could not make those materials reach everyone. A part of the members of the party came under the influence of anti-Marxism.

A serious drawback of the Workers’ Party was that the party failed to develop a system of party education. There were many attempts, but all of them were unsuccessful. We found that it was already impossible to teach Marxism using old textbooks and tutorial materials. We needed new methods, new textbooks, new teachers, but all that took time.

5. A considerable part of the party members for a long time refused to believe the possibility of an intraparty opportunistic opposition.

Many of them were never tired of repeating that “we should see what we have in common, and not what divides us.” Many thought that bad intentions were out of question, younger leaders of the party were just seeking some forms of modernisation. It is regrettable that even for some members of the presidium of the party it took time to recognise that we were facing not the misconceptions and delusions of some young leaders, but a general ideological and political offensive aimed to split the Workers’ Party.

6. Frustration, pessimism of the party members played their role too.

It was hard to get used to the fact that from 1989-90 there was capitalism in Hungary. It was hard to understand what did it mean to lose the power. Many of the party members still hoped that downturn in the communist movement would soon pass and even if the socialism would not come back, the party would strengthen. Many did not understand why the Workers’ Party despite 15 years of hard and persistent struggle could not get to parliament while Greek, Portuguese, Czech and other communists achieved good election results.

7. The strengthening of opportunism inside the Workers Party was in every possible way supported by the Hungarian Socialist Party (MSZP).

The leaders of the social-democrats realized that in the near future the Workers’ Party could mean danger for the MSZP. What indicated that?

First, though the Workers’ Party could not get to parliament as its 2,2-3,9% results were not enough to overcome an election barrier of 5%, still in 2002 in many electoral districts votes from the Workers’ Party decided the election. If in 2002 in the second round of elections the Workers’ Party had not supported the MSZP candidates, the latter apparently would have lost. Then the MSZP on the list scored 42%, while the rival Fidesz 41,07%.

Second, in 2004 the Workers’ Party initiated a national referendum about privatisation of hospitals and other health care facilities demanding that those should stay in state or municipal property. This initiative was openly directed against the MSZP, because then the MSZP was in power and it was the socialist-liberal government that decided to privatize health care. The activists of the Workers’ Party despite of winter cold and snow did collect the 200,000 signatures necessary for the referendum (moreover altogether 300 000 signatures were collected). This was the evidence of the organisational strength of the Workers’ Party.

Third, the 20th Congress of the Workers’ Party held at the end of 2002 had changed the policy of the party in relation to MSZP and made it clear that in future elections the Workers’ Party would not support the MSZP in any form.

The initiative of the Workers’ Party on national referendum disturbed the socialists, they have tried to “buy” the Workers’ Party. György Jánossy, the then Chairman of the Board of the MSZP was instructed to persuade the Workers’ Party, personally Attila Vajnai not to give in the collected signatures. They also asked communists not to nominate their candidates at the elections to European Parliament. In return they offered support in the local governments and well-paid positions in state institutions. The answer of the leadership of the Workers’ Party was short: The Workers’ Party is not for sale! Our party had submitted the collected signatures and persisted on the referendum.

The leadership of the MSZP realised that in 2006 parliament elections they would face a very strong Fidesz, that was why every single vote would be of great importance. The Socialist Party never wanted to cooperate with communists at the all-country level. Their aim has always been to win votes of the Workers’ Party referring to the phrase “under the threat of fascism the Left should unite”.

8. In the strengthening of opportunism the role of the Party of the European Left (PEL) was also significant.

The Hungarian Workers’ Party was one of the founders of the PEL, though from the very beginning we treated the PEL with considerable reservations. The PEL spirit had its influence on intellectual circles of the Workers’ Party, though that influence was somewhat limited by the language barrier.

In December 2004 the PEL president Fausto Bertinotti had visited Budapest in order to convince the leadership of the Workers’ Party of the importance of the "new European political culture”, which in his opinion was to replace the “outdated” concept of class-struggle. Bertinotti failed to convince the leadership of the party, but the opportunist opposition felt the evidence that their views and actions were supported at the “European level.”

In January 2005 Attila Vajnai then still vice-president of the party proposed to hold all-party vote to confirm our membership in the European Left. His intention was obvious: under the guise of “European” and “modern” bring the party on his side. The Central Committee rejected the idea of all-party vote.

What were the consequences of the activity of the opportunist intraparty opposition?

The attacks of the opportunists inside the party had severe impact on the Hungarian communist movement and on the Workers’ Party.

1. The attacks of the opportunist opposition completely immobilised the Working Party, its members and organisations for 500 days.

Thus weakening the party before the 2006 parliamental elections. Although all the forecasts seemed to suggest that the Workers’ Party would be able to win the votes of those who in four years had become disappointed in the MSZP.

2. The opportunist forces had weakened the party organisationally.

As they had failed to gain leadership of the party in 2005 they left the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party and in 2006 registered a new party under the name of “the Hungary’s Workers' party - 2006”. As a result about 20% of the members left the HCWP, part of them joined the split party, but the larger part, frustrated, left the communist movement.

The leadership of 4 (out of 19) regional party committees defected to opportunists. As a result many primary party organisations in those regions were perplexed and became passive.

3. The opportunist forces harmed the credibility of the Hungarian communist movement, demonstrating thathere too there is no unity, here too there are only inner disputes with each other”. That alienated many potential supporters.

4. These events dropped back to the start the process of strengthening of communist influence in the trade unions and civil movements.

In the struggle against opportunism

To combat opportunism the Workers’ Party has taken a number of political, ideological and organisational measures thus saving the party from destruction.

1. The Workers’ Party gave a Marxist evaluation of the opportunist offensive.

In 2005 the 21th Congress of the party had completed this process. It declared: “The 21th Communist Congress of the Workers’ Party condemns the actions of certain members and organisations of the party against the resolutions of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. The aim of their activity was under the pretext of an alleged permissive attitude to the right to replace the leadership of the party, undermine the Workers’ Party and to subject our party to the Hungarian Socialist Party. Factionalists caused serious damage to the Workers’ Party, diverted the party forces from the electoral and organizational work. The Congress confirmed the resolutions of the Central Committee on the intraparty opposition, approves the exception of inner opposition from the ranks of the Workers’ Party and dissolution of the regional committee leadership of Baranya region. The Congress closes the discussion on the intra-party opposition. Congress calls upon all members and organisation of the party to restore party discipline.”

2. In 2005 the Workers’ Party decided to be called the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party.

By this the party wanted to demonstrate in domestic politics and in international workers’ movement as well that our party is a Marxist-Leninist communist party.

3. In 2009 the 23th Congress of the HCWP almost completely changed the composition of the Central Committee and the Presidium of the party

From the actual life fresh, new forces entered the leadership of the party – active workers, working intelligentsia. The average age of the members of the Central Committee elected by the Congress was 50 years.

4. The party leadership decided to exercise direct control of the means of party propaganda, the party weekly “Szabadság”, Internet activity.

The party has organised the party courier delivery service, which delivers to local organisations the central party weekly and at the same time provides communication between the center and local organizations.

5. In 2011 the HCWP had established the Ervin Szabo Academy. [3]

Among its 80 students there are all members of the CC, all region leaders, young activists and leaders of youth and women organisation.

6. The Workers’ Party did a considerable theoretical and ideological work

In 2006 the CC gave a complete analysis of the counter-revolutionary events of 1956. In 2007, the year of the 90th anniversary of the Great October – the analysis of nine decades of communist movements.

In 2010-11 we worked out the theses of the New Programme of the HCWP. On the base of new knowledge and experience, using new methods we analysed four decades of socialism in Hungary, the reasons of the 1989 counter-revolution. These theses were discussed in the broad ranks of party members. At the same time the CC accepted the Theses of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party on the 100th Anniversary of the birth of Janos Kadar, in which there was a new evaluation of Janos Kadar’s activity and experience of Hungarian socialism.

The presidium of the party and its professional groups worked out a number of materials, in which were analysed the specific issues of the pension system, employment policy, economic policy, the questions of party building.

As a result of all this work the New Programme of the HCWP was prepared, which was adopted by the 24th Congress of the party in 2012.

7. The Workers’ Party has concentrated all efforts on the concrete work.

We presumed, that ideological and political development of the party is possible only if the party is testing its principles in concrete work, sums up the concrete experience and uses it in its ideological and political work. The party is taking part in the trade unions actions, demonstrates, organises the party actions on the streets of cities and towns, party activists enter civil organisations and movements.

8. The HCWP deepened its ties with other Marxist communist parties of the world, is studying their experience.

The HCWP is an active participant of the annual International Meetings of Communist and Workers’ Parties.

In this struggle the Workers’ Party has learned that it should be ready not only to resist the attacks of the bourgeois forces from the right. We should realise that the bourgeois forces along with the anti-Communist campaigns use the opportunism as one of the main weapons in the fight against communist movement.

Capitalist system, including Hungarian capitalism, is in crisis. This crisis stems from the very nature of capitalism and it seems that capitalist countries are unable to regulate this crisis. Bourgeoisie everywhere responded to the crisis by reduction in spending on social and other public needs, restriction of workers' rights. This increased the resistance of the masses.

The Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party - although the difficulties are not yet behind – withstood the ordeals of the last two decades and is a real and recognised force of Hungarian life. In Hungarian society more and more people begin to realize that politics and ideology of reconciliation with capitalism lead nowhere. There is one true path: struggle against capitalism, perspective of socialist revolution

[1] Up to 2005 the name was the Workers’ Party

[2] All the property of the former Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party got the MSZP, which was announced official assignee.

[3] Ervin Szabó (1877-1918), leader of the Hungarian labor movement, Marxist theoretician, historian and sociologist.