|Mark Imre Major : American Hungarian Relations 1918-1944|
IN SEARCH OF NEW ROUTES:
THE REFORM GENERATION
Between the two world wars Hungary was a small country. As a result of Hitler's rise to power in 1933, however, Hungary suddenly attained great importance for international politics. The uniqueness of her geographical position (being in the very heart of East-Central Europe) and her people (neither German nor Slav, and endangered by the two fires of Teuton and Slav imperialism) made her capital, Budapest, an important post of diplomatic observation. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became aware of her unique situation soon after his election and sent his envoy, John Flournoy Montgomery, to Budapest with special instructions: besides his ordinary diplomatic duties, he was to send reports from time to time directly to the President himself.
Before going to Hungary in July of 1933, Montgomery spent thirty days of preparatory study in the State Department, where he learned that the Hungary of that time was a puppet of Italy with no independence of action. Arriving in Budapest, however, he found out that in foreign affairs nothing is more misleading than oversimplification. On many occasions, Hungary's inclination was to side with western democracies, but circumstances made
it not so much a question of what the people would like but what they knew they had to do.(1)
The regime of the reconstruction period, as we have seen be fore, left many unsolved problems. It failed to carry out political, economic, and social reforms. As a result, the Bethlen regime had lost the younger generation. This new generation, growing up after World War I, broke with the old outlook of the traditional ruling class, with which it was no longer willing to identify itself. Furthermore, as a consequence of a good educational system, Hungary, within her straitened frontiers, turned out as many university graduates as historic Hungary had produced before her dismemberment - perhaps more.(2) This jobless but strongly patriotic intellectual group was a natural leader of any reform movements. In other circumstances most of them would have gravitated to the Left, as indeed, a few of them did. But the Left bore the stigma of having betrayed the national cause and brought about the ruin of Hungary, and Western democracy that of having imposed the unjust peace. Thus, the younger generation turned in evitably to the Right.
There is no doubt that the Reform Generation was seeking for true social and political reforms, genuine remedies for real grievances. But doing so in the circumstances described, it was attracted toward Nazism. It must be remembered that Nazism, as preached in East-Central Europe, was not merely an anti-Semitic movement but one of social reform. To ignore this is to distort the whole political picture of the period.
While industrial labor enjoyed all the social security which a poor country could afford to provide, the situation was very
different with agricultural labor. Real poverty could be observed among agricultural labor mainly because Hungary had a badly balanced distribution of its arable land. While many magnates and the Church owned large estates which were legally entailed and could neither be sold nor mortgaged, nearly three million people (two-thirds of Hungary's total rural population and one-third of her total national population) possessed almost nothing which could be regarded as providing a living for a family.
The general spirit of the Hungarian employer was certainly not anti-labor. For instance, when living conditions became bad and jobs hard to find during the depression, the landowners voluntarily put a considerable part of their agricultural machinery out of use in order to provide more jobs to manual labor. All of this, however, did not change the fact that the land distribution was unhealthy and this landless, jobless agrarian proletariat turned to the Right for social justice, the Left being taboo in Hungary.
Furthermore, among countries having appreciable Jewish populations, Hungary ranked fourth, being exceeded only by Poland, Lithuania, and Rumania. The 1930 census figures show that the number of Jews increased from the year of 1920 from 5 percent to 7 percent. Their position in the national life was, moreover, far stronger than even these figures would suggest. (3) Among the Jewish element of Hungary, one in four belonged to the middle class, whereas only one in fifteen Gentiles belonged to this class. In the pre-war years, 290 Jewish families were elevated to the nobility and 25 were given the title of Baron, and 70 marriages occurred between Jews and members of the oldest families of Hungary. Of the large Hungarian estates in 1916, Jews owned 1.5 million catastral yokes (one catastral yoke equals 1.45 American acres) out of a total of 10.8 million yokes. During the war they bought another 100,000 yokes, bringing the percentage up to fifteen. Fifty percent
of the Gentile population were agriculturists, and only 3 percent of the Jews belonged to this classification. However, 13 percent of the owners of large estates (200 to 1,000 yokes) and 37 percent of lessees of very large estates (over 1,000 yokes) were Jews. Approximately 18 percent of the estate bailiffs and clerks were Jews, and only 0.9 percent of agricultural workers were Jews.
Of industrial enterprises employing more than twenty workers, 361 out of 783 (46 percent) were owned by Jews, divided according to industry as follows:
Sugar refineries 10 out of 12
Iron and Metal Industry 23 out of 61
Machine and Vehicle Industry 26 out of 76
Stoneware, pottery, glass industry 18 out of 33
Spinning and Weaving 35 out of 53
Clothing 77 out of 113
Paper 10 out of 15
Starch Manufacturing 2 out of 2
The Stock exchange Year Book showed that in the twenty largest industrial enterprises of Hungary, 235 board members out of 336 were Jews (70 percent), and only one of these enterprises did not have a majority of Jewish directors. Of privately owned medium sized enterprises, 78 percent were owned by Jews, including the entire asphalt and tar industry, the three largest poultry companies, the ten largest transportation companies, and three largest wine shops. To the State services, the Jews supplied only 1.6 percent. On the other hand, 53 percent of the independent persons engaged in commerce, 80 percent of those in finance, 50.6 percent of the advocates, 59.9 percent of the doctors in private practice, 27.3 percent of the authors, 23.6 percent of the musicians, and 22.7 percent of the actors were Jewish.
Of taxpayers who have declared fortunes in excess of one million Pengo (four pengo equal $1), 83.2 percent were Jews (not including land owners). Of persons declaring an annual income above 100,000 pengo, 84.3 percent were Jews, and of those declaring
incomes from 30,000 to 100,000 pengo, 85.6 percent were Jews. The total income of Jews in Hungary was estimated at 750 million pengo in 1936, and the per capita income of Jews averages 2,506 pengo against 427 pengo for Gentiles.
Figures from the 1936 Press Year Book showed 306 out of 418 professional journalists (73 percent) to be Jews. In nine of the largest newspapers of Hungary, the percentage of Jewish journalists ranged from 77 percent to 97.5 percent. The proportion in the publishing industry was about the same. The part played by Jews in the ownership and control of theaters, films, radio, sports, and other lucrative enterprises of Hungary was equally important.
Accusations against Regent Horthy's Hungary, being a Nazi anti Jewish regime, often arose abroad. The truth is that the extremist excesses ceased after 1922, and thereafter the regime set its face strongly against anti-Semitism, even in its non-violent form. The figures quoted above show that the Jews had become an urban and bourgeois element in Hungary and illustrate the degree of control exercised by them over the industry, banking, and resources of Hungary. Furthermore, these figures explain why any attempt to regulate the large industries and estates or any attack on the privileges of industrialists may appear to be anti-Semitic in character; and, indeed, a large number of the younger generation, searching for social reform, became more anti-Semitic.
The situation became more complex for Hungary as Hitler's power grew. The country was faced with a political dilemma: Germany was the only power capable and willing to break the iron ring of the Little Entente and its French support; but the accomplishment of this would place Germany in a dominant position in Europe, a position also dangerous to Hungary. This political dilemma shadowed the whole Hungarian political spectrum of the 1930's and, complicated by Hungary's social and economic problems mentioned above, drew the country step by step into Hitler's net until she fought World War II on Germany's side.
In spite of the common desire for reforms, the younger generation was not totally of one accord. A great majority of the youth
herself completely into Germany's arms. Mostly due to their work, Hungary's policy during this period was a sort of permanent hesitation both in foreign and domestic affairs and, despite the strong German pressure, she was able to maintain a more decent, human. and civilized policy longer than some of her neighbors could.
One movement of the time cannot be classified as belonging either to the Left or to the Right. A group of young men, most of them sons of landless agricultural laborers, who by their talents had won scholarships to universities, together with some sympathizers from other circles, founded a little group known as the "Village Explorers" with the purpose of making known the conditions prevailing among the rural poor. They published a series of studies which were often exceedingly radical. They tended to be Hungarian radicals, attacking both German and Jewish influences impartially. This was a standpoint difficult to maintain for long and, as time went on, most of them tended to drift into other camps - some joined various Right Radical movements, some became crypto-Communists. The movement gained its significance. however by the fact that Professor Gyula Szekfu, the most famous Hungarian historian of that time and Professor at Peter Pazmany University at Budapest. was sympathetic to it. Professor Szekfu had been led by his studies to realize how small was the genuine Magyar element in the Hungarian ruling class. He regarded the Jews as a separate element. which could never be assimilated. and had observed the movement of dissimilation which had been taking place among the Swabians (the German minority in Hungary) since about 1930. He also had a feeling for social justice, and the effect of all this made him a patron of the Village Explorers. some of whom had been his pupils.
During the late 1930's this intellectual movement of the Village Explorers had come to the fore, participated in by some of the best writers, poets, and politicians of the younger generation. It was a passionate movement, a popularism, for the liberation of the abandoned small peasantry and agricultural proletariat. The fact that most of its representatives were immediate descendants
rejected any revolutionary and alien ideas, Communist or Fascist, and wanted true national reforms based on national traditions and on disciplined Christian aims. They worked out a program which consisted of the following eight points: land reforms; reform of taxation; regulation of agricultural indebtedness; credits for agriculture and industry; development of foreign trade, especially with British, French, and Scandinavian markets; a balanced budget; and, once these were achieved, introduction of secret and general franchise: and a foreign political orientation on Italy.(4) Their movement, officially known as "Reform Generation", wanted to follow the policies of Count Stephen Szechenyi, the great Hungarian reform politician of the first half of the nineteenth century.(5) This meant that they hoped to achieve their ends by parliamentary evolutionary policy, by pure Hungarian patriotism, and through a more or less English type democracy. This group came into power in 1932 and carried out its program with partial success during the coming years.
The forces which had governed Hungary through the reconstruction era were now in the opposition, of which they formed, for all practical purposes, the ultra-Conservative wing. Their recognized leader during the whole period remained Count Bethlen. The other parties - the Legitimists, the Liberals, the Social Democrats, and above all the Jews - found themselves also in opposition to the government, not because of its social program but because the reform movement meant to link up with Germany, according to them Hungary's hereditary enemy. Moreover, it was not just Germany; it was Nazi Germany. To these parties, of course, Nazism was a touch of horror. They argued that Nazism in Hungary was not only abominable itself but the greatest threat to the nation's independence, since the Nazi-minded Hungarians
were Germany's "Fifth Column". In addition, they were convinced (as were such men as Bethlen and Regent Horthy himself the one man in Hungary who understood the importance of sea power) that Germany's methods would end in provoking a war in which she would be defeated. Thus, they were extremely anxious to avoid any too-close link with Germany; no fate could be worse, they argued, than to again suffer defeat and dismemberment as Germany's ally.
The Opposition Front, as they called themselves, was of course an exceedingly heterogeneous body, whose various components held very different views on social problems and on the extent to which resistance to Germany could or should be carried. By the autumn of 1937, an attempt was being made to find a common basis for opposition to Hitler. The last hope was some kind of a restoration of the vanished Austro-Hungarian Monarchy. It seemed that Western democracies also favored the plan. The leader of the Legitimist Party, Count Antal Sigray, organized a rally in a little city in West Hungary. The leaders of all the bourgeois opposition parties attended, and all of them came out openly in favor of Legitimism. The Social Democrats could hardly participate openly in the rally, but at a meeting of theirs a week later their leaders made an unmistakable reference to it when they said that "if the Socialists were confronted with the choice between dictatorship and constitutional freedom, we should unhesitatingly choose the latter, whatever the name which the form of Government guaran teeing it might bear''.(6)
As a general rule the opposition parties became more and more conservative and although some of them had been fighting for social justice earlier, they now seemed to be trying to prevent the government from carrying on the much needed reforms. As a consequence of this policy, their popularity decreased. Yet their work was not useless: since there were many influential politicians among them, they were able to prevent Hungary from throwing
of the racially purest classes of the country gave their struggle additional momentum. Although they did not form a united political party, they called themselves the "March Front" (an allusion to the revolution of 1848) and agreed in their conviction that without the liquidation of the feudal system there was no hope for Hungary. They produced an astonishingly large, many-sided, and enthusiastic literature which is worthy of careful consideration even from an international point of view.(7)
This literature can best be characterized as the expression of Hungarian narodniki, because it had a striking resemblance to the more moderate wing of those Russian agrarian socialist who "went to the people" in the second half of the nineteenth century in order to rebuild the old Tsarist structure on a popular basis. They regarded the Russian peasantry as the only source of salvation in a society where there was no conscious bourgeois class or enlightened intelligentia. Race, soil, and the anti-capitalistic traditions of Russia's genuinely popular forces were preponderant factors in the formulation of their doctrine. The characteristic
attitude of the Hungarian Village Explorers was similar. They believed in the Messianic role of the Hungarian peasantry . Their whole literature was a flaming protest against existing conditions. (8)
Besides these movements described above, there were the extreme Right Radicals, generally known as the "Arrow Cross".(9) This movement claimed to draw much of its inspiration from either German Nazism or Italian Fascism. Of these two, Nazism was by far the more popular model because of the anti-Semitic ingredient in its doctrine. But it should be emphasized that the whole strength and appeal of Right Radical extremism did not consist exclusively in anti-Semitism. Their objection to the Government Party was not that it was insufficiently anti-Semitic but that it was insufficiently radical in social matters. It had proclamed war on the big estates and on big capital, but it had not lived up to its promises on land reform and on the secret franchise; and even had it fulfilled all its pledges, it was still a middle-class party, still the embodiment of the old ruling clique. These far-rightists would have been Communists had Communism not been taboo in Hungary.(10)
The extreme Right Radicals were not united even among them selves. They tended to form separate little political parties under various leaders, the most important of whom, in the late 1930's and early 1940's was Major Ferenc Szalasi. Their members comprised only some 5 to 6 percent of the lower house until October 15, 1944, when they took over the country in a coup d'etat supported by German troops.
The real struggle for power which went on in Hungary during the early 1930's was the struggle between the two great groups of the Government Party - Bethlen's Conservative-Liberals and the "Reform Generation". An agricultural crisis, industrial unemploy ment, the dismissal of large numbers of government and civilian employees, and the hopeless situation in which the country's youth found itself had all created a revolutionary intellectual atmosphere. This situation caused the fall of Bethlen's Conservative - Liberals; the government was assumed by the Reform Generation, whose acknowledged leader was General Julius Gombos.(11)
Gombos' Prime Ministership had been awaited with many sanguine hopes and many anxious fears. Both hopes and fears were to prove unfounded. It was Gombos humanly tragic destiny never to see the effects of his work. Nevertheless, if Gombos could not build, he could plan and lay foundations by which the whole future course of Hungarian policy, both international and domestic, was irrevocably decided. His enemies afterwards accused Gombos of having delivered over Hungary to the German power. So far as his own intentions were concerned, nothing is more untrue! If that was the ultimate effect of his policy. it was the result of the dilemma of the inter-war Hungarian policy, described above. No Hungarian in the inter-war period was more intractably hostile to any hint of danger to Hungary's independence than was Gombos,
and interference by Germany was no more welcome to him than interference by anyone else.(12)
Gombos definitely rejected any compromise with the Successor States, terming it defeatist policy. He also rejected the alternative solution of Habsburg Legitimism, which he believed to be more dangerous to Hungary than Pan-Germanism could ever become.
Gombos' political creed was centered around two main points: anti-Habsburgism and racialism. Around these two poles he found room for a genuine wish to improve the social conditions of his people, whom he regarded as the exploited victims of Jewish financiers and Habsburg-tainted landlords. His foreign political program was a surprising theory at that time, and made him the father of the "Berlin-Rome Axis".(13) In l927, under the imminent effect of the Italo-Hungarian Treaty of Friendship and of Mussolini's consequent public sponsoring of Hungarian revisionism, Gombos had conceived a vision of an "Axis" which was to consist of a new semi-Fascist Hungary, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany. These three states, linked by kindred ideologies, were to help each other to realize their national objectives and thereafter to exercise a sort of joint leadership of Europe, a better Europe, purged of Bolshevism and its shadows. Germany was to annex Austria (except for the Burgenland, which she would restore to Hungary). allaying Italy's fears by guaranteeing the Brenner frontier. "If that can be brought about, Italian and German nationalism will change the map of Europe".(14)
1 John Flournoy Montgomery was Minister of the United States in Hungary from 1933 to 1941 He became a great friend of Hungary and published his diplomatic experiences in a book entitled Hungary, The Unwilling Satellite (New York: Devin-Adair Company, 1947).
2 In 1914 the total number of students graduating in historic Hungary was 11,000. From 1925 onward the annual average of Trianon Hungary was 12,000, Macartney, OctoberFifteenth, I, n.l, p. 78.
3 The figures of this paragraph and of those which follow are based on the dispatch of the American legation. "The Jewish Problem in Hungary", Department or State, 864.4016/92 (Budapest, February 6, 1937).
4 U. S., For. Rel., Department of State, 864.00/827.
5 Count Stephen Szechenyi (1791 - 1860) is often called "the Greatest Hungarian". He was a political opponent of Louis Kossuth. Szechenyi wanted reforms by evolution and not by revolution.
6 Macartney, October Fifteenth, I. 183
7 In this note the author of this study can refer only from memory to the most influential works, all of them published in Budapest during the 1930's Odon Malnasi, A Magyar Nemzet Oszinte Tortenete (A Sincere History of the Hungarian Nation); Gyula Illyes, Pusztak Nepe (The People ot the Puszta); Imre Kovacs, A Nema Forradalom (The Silent Revolution); Geza Feja, A Viharsarok (The Tempest Corner); Matyas Matolcsy, Uj Elet Magyar Foldon (New Life on the Hungarian Soil); Zoltan Szabo, A Tardl Helyzet (Situation in Tard); Ferenc Erdei, Futohomok (Quicksand); Peter Veres, Szamadas (My Account); Joseph Darvas, A Legnagyobb Magyar Falu (The Biggest Hungarian Village); L. Liptak, Egy Veszdelmes Nep (A Dangerous People); A. Nemeth, A Naposabb Oldalon (On the More Sunny Side). Gyula Ortutay, Parasztsagunk Elete (Life of Our Pesantry); Viharsarok a Birosag Elott (The Tempest Corner before the Court), edited by the "March Front"; A Nema Forradalom a Birosag es a Parlament Elott (The Silent Revolution before the Court and Parliament), edited by the Brotherhood or Service and Writing.
8 For details see Oscar Jaszi, "Feudal Agrarianism in Hungary", Foreign Affaires, XVI, No. 4 (1938), 714 - 18.
9 some of these groups had begin by adopting as a symbol the German Hakenkreuz. When the government forbade the use or foreign political symbols, the device was changed to one of two crossed arrows, each barbed at both ends.
10 For instance, the program or the Hungarian National Socialist Party, founded by Zoltan Mesko in 1934, held clearly Marxist ideas in its program. It demanded among other things: the introduction of compulsory labor for all and the right to work for all who want to work; limitation of private property and the abolition and prosecution or all revenue not derived from work and labor; the sharing by workers (employees) in the profits of enterprises; nationalization of the credit system; nationalization or all big enterprises and mines; nationalization or exports and imports; planed production for the whole country; a general and national economic organization under state control; ownership of land by those who actually cultivated it. The Hungarian National Socialist Party was one of the so-called "Arrow Cross" parties. U.S., For. Rel., Department ot state, GRC 364.00/798.
11 Julius Gombos, 1886-1936, one of the most prominent leaders of the counter-revolution in 1919 and a convinced anti-Habsburg, served as minister of defense in the cabinets of Bethlen (1921 - 1931) and Julius Karolyi (1913 - 1932). He was appointed premier in September, 1932; he died in office in October, 1936
12 This unorthodox interpretation of Gombos' character and policy is based on Macartney's October Fitteenth. However the author of this study found the same, or an even more favorable interpretation ot Gombos' character and policy in the contemporary reports of the Legation of the United States at Budapest. See U. S., For. Rel., Department ot State, documents 864.00/320 - 864.00/366, 864.00/775 - 864.00/803, 864.00/943.
13 For details, see Macartney, October Fifteenth, I, 75-78 and 136 - 54.
14 Lajos Marschalko, Gombos Gyula, a fajvedo vezer (Julius Gombos, the race-protecting Leader) (Budapest: n.p., n.d.), p 39
|Mark Imre Major : American Hungarian Relations 1918-1944|