The State against Society: Political Crises and Their Aftermath in East Central Europe

By Grzegorz Ekiert | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
The Party-State and Society during the
Hungarian Revolution

THE CONSEQUENCES of the Second World War made all East Central European countries highly susceptible to radical political change and transformations of all prewar political and economic structures and social relations. Foreign occupations devastated their economies, crushed national independence, destroyed existing political and social structures, and compromised prewar political and social organizations. Hungary, having been unable to disassociate herself from Germany, suffered not only severe devastation at the end of the war and found herself under the Soviet occupation but also had her past entirely condemned and all her political leadership discredited. In contrast to other East Central European states, Hungary was a defeated and occupied country. The initial Soviet policy toward Hungary, however, displayed significant hesitancy and ambivalence in comparison to its policy toward other countries in the region. 1

For the first two years following the war, the Soviet Military Command allowed nonfascist parties to organize, and a progressive, democratic coalition, the National Independence Front, was established. It included five political parties: Smallholders, Social Democrats, National Peasants, Radicals, and Communists. According to Joseph Rothschild: “On balance, the Communist political program in 1944 and 1945 was remarkably self-effacing and self-abnegating. It called for the rule of law, free culture, free intellectual inquiry, free political dialogue, a free press, free enterprise, and free election.” 2 This political hesitancy on the side of the Soviet leadership and the caution of the Hungarian communists was aptly illustrated by official political practices during this period. In the relatively free electoral contest of 1945 and 1947, the Communist party remained in the minority in spite of the significant real power it could have exercised under the umbrella of the Soviet occupational administration. 3

Although there has been a debate among historians concerning the interpretations of Soviet policy during the first years after the war, the Stalinization of the country was the Communist party's goal from the very beginning. 4 During these first postwar years (1945–47), in spite of the generally temperate political behavior of the Communist party, the systematic prosecution and purge of real and alleged pro-Nazi elements and war criminals was launched. 5 Purges were quickly extended to include leaders and members of noncommunist political parties, churches, and social organizations and those employed in state institutions. At that time, economic objectives

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