To answer you briefly, I should say that it was my great good fortune to have lived a rich and eventful life. I regard it as my particular privilege that I experienced the years 1917–19. For I come from a bourgeois background—my father was a banker in Budapest—and even though I had adopted a somewhat individual oppositionism in Nyugat,footnote1 nonetheless I was part of the bourgeois opposition. I would not venture to say—I could not—that the purely negative impact of the First World War would have been enough to make a socialist out of me. It was undoubtedly the Russian Revolution and the revolutionary
To be frank, a writer may experience this state from time to time, while writing. It happens that I feel that I’ve managed to express what I wanted to. It is a different question, how it will look three days later. All I am saying is that this state does exist.
One must make a distinction here between subjective and objective elements. Subjectively, I would say, it was already clear by the 1920’s—let alone today—that those very intense hopes with which we followed the Russian Revolution from 1917 on were not to be fulfilled: the wave of world revolution, in which we placed our confidence, did not come to pass. The fact that the Revolution remained limited to the Soviet Union is not the result of one man’s theories, but of the facts of world history. One’s subjective hopes remain unfulfilled in this sense. On the other hand, someone who calls himself a Marxist—and will, therefore, regard himself as a student of history—must know that no great social transformation has taken place overnight. Millennia passed before primitive communism became a class society. Or, to give an example from historical times, we can now follow the history of the dissolution of societies based on slavery and can conclude that it took eight hundred, nearly a thousand, years of crises for it to evolve into feudalism. Consequently, the more one is a Marxist, the more one
You will forgive me, if I do not give you a straight answer to this. I have no great opinion of modern bourgeois philosophy. It is understandable that when people in socialist countries are disappointed in the Stalinist deformations of Marxism, they should turn towards Western philosophy, just as you can easily find a woman deceived by her husband in anyone’s arms that night. I must confess that I have no great opinion of bourgeois philosophy and that I regard Hegel as the last great bourgeois thinker. If the American or German or French press should declare X or Y to be a great thinker, and if consequently people disappointed by Stalinism imagine that they could remedy Marxism by structuralism, for instance, then—and please do not take it amiss that I should say so openly—I regard this as illusory. I disapprove of the fact that during the Stalinist period official Marxism should have isolated itself completely from the fruits of non-Soviet developments. This was wrong and un-Marxist. For Marx, Engels and Lenin always followed contemporary philosophy and scientific thought with the greatest attention; but, let us add, with the greatest critical attention. If you observe Marx’s career, you will see that it was not only such outstanding figures as Darwin and Morgan who influenced his thinking. For instance, he was passionately interested in Liebig’s agrochemical experiments, in Mauser’s historical researches and so on. But one must add that Marx’s view of his so-called great contemporaries—I am thinking here of Comte and Herbert Spencer—was dismissive and scornful. I can understand psychologically how today’s Marxists are forever seeking support in the West for their reforms, but I regard it as objectively incorrect. What I would regard as necessary is that we should understand Marxism well, that we should return to its real methodology and that we should try to understand, by employing this methodology, the history of the era after the death of Marx. This has yet to be worked out from a theoretical Marxist standpoint. It is one of the greatest sins of Marxism that there has been no real economic analysis of capitalism since Lenin’s book on imperialism—which was written in 1916. Likewise, there is no real historical and economic analysis of the development of socialism. Hence the task that I see for Marxists is that they should examine critically what we can learn from Western writing. It is beyond doubt that in numerous areas of the natural sciences they have achieved enormous results from which we can certainly learn. Secondly, it is my opinion that writings in philoso
What I mean by official Marxism is that Marxism which developed in the Soviet Union after Stalin gained an ideological, political and organizational victory over Trotsky, Bukharin and others. This came about as a process. I don’t want to go into details, but one thing is certain: one cannot say that up to a given day there was Leninism and the next day Stalin introduced Stalinism. Rather, in the course of a process lasting more than ten years, Marxism was reinterpreted to fit the needs of the results of Stalinist rule. I have written of the basic principles of this several times. If I may repeat myself, what this consisted of was the following: Marx derived a great world-historical perspective from an all-embracing dialectical method and he attempted to lay its economic and political foundations in every kind of way. This perspective provided the ultimate motive force for Marx’s activities. This ultimate force was what enabled him to analyse strategic situations in every era and in every situation, and within the strategic situation, the tactical causes. Stalin turned all this on its head. For Stalin it was the tactical situation at any one time that was paramount and it was for this tactical situation that he created a strategy and a general theory. Let us say, even if the 20th Congress did condemn Stalin’s doctrine that the class struggle underwent continuous intensification in socialism, it still failed to declare—unfortunately—that the problem is not that Stalin concluded this and basing himself on this conclusion, prepared the Great Purges against Bukharin and others. The problem is rather that Stalin felt he had a tactical need for these purges. He carried out the purges and then made up a theory for them, according to which the class struggle intensifies under socialism. I could illustrate this with an even more pregnant episode where Stalin was actually in the right tactically. When he signed his pact with Hitler in 1939, he took a tactically correct step. There followed that phase of the war, in which Britain and the United States fought Hitler in a common alliance with the ussr which succeeded in warding off the danger of Nazism. To my mind, the great question is whether this would have occurred without Stalin’s initial tactical move. As against this, when Stalin decreed in 1939 that the Second World War was in essence no different from the First, and that the task for Communist Parties was therefore still the Liebknechtian one of fighting the enemy at home, then—starting from a tactically correct step—he gave, in the name of the Comintern, catastrophically incorrect advice to the French and British parties. I think the grotesque results produced by Stalinist methods are shown
I must confess I do not consider myself entitled to comment on problems of Yugoslav ideological development. Briefly, all I can say is that during the Second World War, Yugoslavia aroused the enthusiasm of all of us. Among the small countries, it was the only nation to wage a large-scale war of Resistance independently against Hitler. From this point of view, the behaviour of the Yugoslav people was an example to all others, including the Hungarians, whose will to resist Hitler was far less conscious, determined or successful. Secondly, all of us—and by this I mean a group of thinking people—regarded the development of Stalinism with a certain dissatisfaction. Anyone who reads my articles from the 1920’s and 30’s will see that even at that time I was in disagreement with Stalin’s and Zhdanov’s line. For example, the book I wrote on Hegel was diametrically opposed to Zhdanov’s analysis of him. However, in spite of this, Hungarian policies closely followed the Soviet line and for all of us who were capable of thinking for ourselves, it was a great event that Tito took the field against Stalinist methods with practical criticism. The history of socialism will never forget this great deed of Tito’s. As a result, Marxist writing in Yugoslavia began to be much freer than official Marxism. I did pay attention to this, but that also means that at times I criticized it sharply. Such developments—I must repeat—are not like getting out of one train and climbing on another. Great ideological battles are needed before the ideology of the new phase takes shape. That this process has begun, reflects much credit on the Yugoslav comrades and this will never remain unnoticed. However—and this applies not just to Yugoslavia but the entire movement—the critique of Stalinist thinking and the struggle for the renewal of Marxism that is under way are being pursued with whatever intellectual tools are available, as best they may. It is thus evident that wholly clear viewpoints and a single dominant trend have still to emerge. I am sure you will not take it amiss if I say that I am hopeful, subjectively, that the trend which I support will emerge as the dominant one, although I know that everyone hopes that history will accord his own viewpoint its ultimate approval. In any event, such a historical decision, as to which is the correct road, has yet to be given objectively and so there are people everywhere, in socialist and capitalist countries, who are striving for a renewal of Marxism. Everyone tries their own methods, in their own way, debating among themselves, hoping that some trend will be reached which would lead Marxism out of the unhappy situation into which it strayed thanks to Stalin’s influence.
It would be very difficult to answer your question in this form. In general, what I would say is that workers’ self-government is one of the most important problems of socialism. To my mind it is incorrect when many people oppose Stalinism with a general democracy—more accurately, bourgeois democracy. Marx described the basic structure of bourgeois democracy already in the 1840’s; it is built on the antithesis of the idealist citizen and the materialist bourgeois, and the inevitable result of the growth of capitalism is that the capitalist bourgeois comes out on top and the idealist citizen becomes his servant. By contrast, the essence of socialist development—which started with the Paris Commune and continued with the two Russian Revolutions—is known by a name: workers’ councils. To express this on a theoretical plane, we could say that it is the democracy of everyday life. Democratic selfgovernment unfolds at the most elementary levels of everyday life, reaching upwards until it becomes the decision of the people as a whole over all important public issues. We are at the very beginning of this development today. But there can be no doubt that those innovations which occurred in Yugoslavia, and the fact that they were the subject of responsible debate, will contribute, in the new circumstances of today, to the ultimate success of workers’ councils in becoming once again the basic principle of every socialist development.