Rudolf L. Tökés: Béla Kun and the Hungarian Soviet Republic,
Pall Mall Press, 54s.
This book fills one of the lacunae in the history of the revolutionary period from 1917 to 1920; unfortunately, Marxist scholarship has once again been forestalled by an American Foundation. In this case, the reasons are fairly clear. Orthodox Communist historiography outlawed the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919 by denying it the status of a true Communist revolution. Since Stalin’s death and the 20th Congress, though Kun has been cautiously rehabilitated, his political position in the 20’s is far from attuned to present preoccupations of European Communist Parties. Luckily enough, Tökés, educated in Budapest before emigrating to the usa in 1956, in general merely restores the earlier Comintern analysis of the failure of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, which historically justified the 21 points and Lenin’s Left-wing Communism. The Hungarian Communist Party was not founded until after the bourgeois-democratic revolution of November 1918; it united a syndicalist group earlier associated with Ervine Szabó ‘revolutionary technocrats’, a second generation of anarcho-syndicalists, leaders of the old ‘socialist opposition’, unattached intellectuals (the most significant of whom was Lukács) and, most important of all, prisoners-of-war who had participated in the October Revolution in Russia and been especially trained by the Comintern. This last group, led by Béla Kun, predominated in the first cc of the hcp, and it was their tactical skill and experience which finally brought down Károlyi’s Bourgeois-socialist government on the occasion of the Vyx note in March 1919, and replaced it peacefully by a Socialist-Communist coalition. But from this point on, Kun’s tactical resourcefulness seems to have deserted him; he allowed the Socialists to dissolve the hcp, leaving power in the hands of the right-wing trade unions. He failed to see the significance of Lenin’s agrarian strategy, and insisted on an orthodox Marxist policy of land nationalization, which alienated the peasantry. He failed to enlist bourgeois support for the Republic by exploiting the nationalist conjuncture which brought him to power, and bungled negotiations with the Entente by being aggressive when he ought to have been conciliatory and vice versa. And he weakened the Red Army by disrupting production through mistimed nationalization of industry. These mistakes, the product both of slavish imitation of the Bolsheviks and of a naively chauvinist belief that Hungary’s more ‘advanced’ economy obviated Russian ‘compromises’ with the peasantry and the bourgeoisie, were made in a much more delicate external situation than that of the Russians—with no space to retreat into, encirclement by imperialist powers no longer at war with one another, and the impossibility of Russian Soviet military assistance at the crucial moment. All this is well-described and documented by Tök’s. He is at his weakest in describing the left opposition in the hcp, and its significance for later Comintern positions. But we can all endorse his last sentence: ‘The ideology of a Communist party is only as viable as the party’s awareness of past mistakes and its willingness to bring this knowledge to bear on its current predicament.’