It is with great sadness that we inform our readers of the death of Nicolas Krassó; he died on January 10th this year, following a fire accident at his home in November from which he did not recover. Nicolas joined the editorial committee of the Review in 1965. He brought to the work of our collective invaluable human, intellectual and political qualities; as comrade, friend and counsellor he will be sorely missed. For us he was a living link with the classical heritage, and contemporary predicament, of Central European socialism.
Born in Hungary in 1930, Nicolas first joined a Communist youth cell in 1945. In the early years of Liberation he was impatient of the Party’s accommodation to many features of the old Hungary. He sent an article to the Party daily attacking the privileges of the Catholic Church and arguing that Cardinal Mindszenty’s clerical reaction should not be allowed to dictate the pace of socialist advance; to his great surprise the article was printed, corresponding as it did to a new shift in Party policy. While aged only seventeen or eighteen, Nicolas became not only a contributor to the Party theoretical journal but also a collaborator on the magazine Forum, one of whose editors was Georg Lukács. The atmosphere of hope and enthusiasm, in which it seemed possible that there could be a settling of accounts with the old order, and the invention of a new Hungary corresponding to the ideals of 1848 and 1919, came to an end with the attacks on Lukács and the Rajk trial in 1949. Though Lukács no longer had an official teaching post he continued to conduct a seminar on Aesthetics which Nicolas occasionally attended as a philosophy student at the University of Budapest. Together with his friend István Meszáros, he translated into Hungarian works that Lukács had written on German literature. With the easing of the political climate in Hungary Nicolas contributed to literary journals and attended meetings of the Petöfi Circle. The vigour of one of his essays, a thinly veiled critique of the roots of dogmatic schematism, earnt him a rebuke from Lukács, which he liked to quote: ‘It would be a pity if a talented young comrade like yourself ended up a Trotskyist.’
Nicolas gave a number of accounts of the 1956 uprising, one of which we will be publishing in the Review as a tribute to his memory and in commemoration of the thirtieth anniversary. He plunged into the tumult: on the one hand bringing Lukács the first news of open revolt, and urging the leading reform-Communists at the Party House to take the initiative, on the other attending meetings of the district and factory councils which sprang up all over Budapest. He was dismayed at the paralysis and pessimism he encountered at the Writers Union. Following the second Soviet intervention he was elected the delegate of a District Revolutionary Council in a working-class Budapest suburb. With some
In mid-November, following the arrest of his brother, Nicolas left Budapest and made his way to the Austrian border. After a brief stay in Vienna he travelled to Britain. Thanks to the sponsorship of Isaiah Berlin he obtained a studentship at Oxford. However, he was little attracted to Oxford life and even less to the opportunities for self-promotion available to those who joined the Cold War chorus. He found the cosmopolitan atmosphere of London more agreeable, usually living within walking distance of the British Museum; he met his first wife, an Englishwoman of staunch working-class convictions, working in a launderette in the vicinity of the Museum. Always an enthralling conversationalist, though sometimes difficult to keep up with, Nicolas would participate in meetings of the London New Left Club and wrote his first article for the nlr, a review of the Peter Sedgwick edition of Victor Serge’s Memoirs, in 1962. His appreciation of Serge allowed him to express his abiding contempt for philistine and bureaucratic politics, and in particular for the credulous or cynical former Stalinists who were eager to denounce ‘the god that failed’.
Despite his admiration for Serge’s integrity and consistency, Nicolas could not support any philosophy or politics of ‘revolutionary romanticism’. He was committed to Lukács’s view that the essence of revolutionary politics is finding the necessary mediation between revolutionary goals and present forces. He found the poetry of Attila József a constant inspiration. Introducing a translation of József’s poem ‘Consciousness’ in nlr 37 he wrote: ‘ . . a merely subjective emotional rebellion is quite compatible with, moreover it is directed towards enslavement: it is the real situation that has to be changed. But as opposed to the vulgar-Marxist view, the ultimate source of enslavement is seen (by József) as a subjective vis inertiae—a lack of consciousness.’ This comment was elicited by József’s lines:
See, here inside is the suffering,
out there, sure enough, is the explanation.
Your wound is the world—it burns and rages
and you feel your soul the fever.
You are a slave as long as your heart rebels—
you can become free if you don’t indulge
in building yourself the kind of house
which a landlord settles in.
A number of the observations made by Nicolas about József had a certain application, mutatis mutandis, to himself. He wrote of József