Questions to the narrator
- Tehát abban az időben miért gondolta ezt, hogy csak a Kommunista Párt képes Magyarországon a szocializmus programját megvalósítani? Miért nem a többi, baloldali pártok?
- Mesélne arról vagy mondana egy-két példát, hogy mit csinált maga, mint ifjú kommunista a ’40-es évek végén és az ’50-as évek elején.
- 1945 és ’47 között a Kommunista Pártnak a támogatóinak száma, az valóban annyira megnövekedett, illetve a ’47-es választásokon visszaélések voltak?
- 00:11Was there a growing genuine support for the left-wing parties between ’45 and ’47 or as is often said did in fact the Communist Party cheat in 195... ’47 and seize power?
- 06:09Why did you think only the Communist Party and not the other left-wing parties or the Peasants’ Party could bring socialism to Hungary? Why did you think only the communists could do that?
- 07:27Could you give briefly one or two examples of what you were doing as a communist, a young communist in the late forties and the early fifties.
- 10:18As a brief example of your work can you describe to us how you helped young peasants to come into industry and university in Budapest, how you helped them to find places to live, and so on?
- 12:01What do you think were the main reasons for the mistakes and illegalities of the Stalin’s period in Hungary?
- 15:47What were the reasons in your view for the events of 1956, and why did the Red Army intervene?
TranscriptPlease note that this transcript is based on audio tracks and doesn't have to match exactly the video
Was there a growing genuine support for the left-wing parties between ’45 and ’47 or as is often said did in fact the Communist Party cheat in 195... ’47 and seize power?
Abuses did indeed occur during the elections of ’47. This meant that 1 or 1.5% of the voters were affected, because 5 million people voted. But this again would be a simplification of what happened if we thought that this 1.5 or 2% were decisive in the events. No. The events were determined by the social transformation, by the fact that a popular democratic revolutionary change had taken place in Hungary and by the extremely wide social struggle of these two years and the influence of the Communist Party and the left as well as the prestige and leading role of the Communist Party increased during these events. I’d like to mention only a few of them. Following the war, especially Budapest, that is to say, during the war Budapest or even the whole country was in an extremely serious situation. The slogan of the Communist Party in this serious situation was that there would be a Hungarian rebirth. What did this serious situation mean, for example, in Budapest? 75% of flats and houses had been destroyed. There was no transport, no electricity, no food, no water, various diseases broke out, typhoid epidemic, that is, an emergency developed, and in this the Communist Party presented itself in front of the nation, for example in Budapest, saying to the population: come up from the cellars, wash yourselves, tidy up, let’s clean the streets, let’s bury the dead, let’s start a new life. The party came forward with a realistic national program to save Budapest, to get the country back onto its feet. Land redistribution was an important part of this program. Land was carved up in 1947; 700,000 peasant families were given land; many million acres of land were redistributed. Well now, following the 1945 elections, in which the Smallholders’ Party /Kisgazdapárt/, that is let’s say the right, the right-wing of the coalition came off victorious, the repossession of this land started. Against this, though, a very significant movement by the peasants, by the peasants that had been given land and in general by the population started with the motto ‘we shall return no land’ and this spread to nearly the whole country. This made a large part of the masses side with the Communist Party and the left. Another such issue that affected nearly the entire nation was inflation. The kind of inflation that occurred in Hungary in 1945–46 is rare in history. In the spring of ’46, in May, the situation was such that a worker was paid several trillion pengős and by the time he got that money, which he took home in a basket, he could only buy a crusty roll out of it. Now, there was great argument about how we should get out of this. The Communist Party had a program of putting an end to inflation. On 1 August 1946, this program, its implementation was started and the good Forint was born. Another such disputed question did not affect all the population to the same degree as the question of land and inflation did, and this was whether there should be a republic or a kingdom because back in ’46 Hungary was still a kingdom. The Communist Party and the left were for a republic; the right was for a kingdom. Another question concerned the works committees; the works committees became power institutions during ’44 and ’45. Following the 1945 elections, the capitalists came back and they wanted to take this power away from the works committees. The Communist Party, in alliance with the Social Democratic Party, took measures against this, it protected this. In smaller questions: there were mills in villages, it started…, the mills were in the possession of rich peasants or landowners, the struggle started to take these mills into communal ownership, so that it should be more useful to the working peasants. This again divided the rural community, on one side there were the working peasants with the left and the Communist Party, on the other side there were the reactionary forces with the rich peasants. That is, these social and political struggles meant that the Communist Party in alliance with the left had program for these, a national program and thus it could win over the working masses. This was the reason and the source of the fact that in ’47 the left got more than 60%.
Why did you think only the Communist Party and not the other left-wing parties or the Peasants’ Party could bring socialism to Hungary? Why did you think only the communists could do that?
I did not think that only the Communist Party could do it, but the Communist Party in alliance with the other left-wing parties, particularly with the Social Democratic Party, but with other left-wing groups. This alliance had already formed during the war. But my experience was that it was the Communist Party that fought most consistently to have Hungary turn against the fascist powers, that it should join the anti-fascist coalition, and because of this it was mainly members of our party, young and old that were imprisoned, thousands of them, from 1939 to 1944; and I experienced that the party came up at the most critical moment, for example in the autumn of 1944 with a national program which could unite all the progressive national trends.
Could you give briefly one or two examples of what you were doing as a communist, a young communist in the late forties and the early fifties.
During the forties, I was the youth secretary of the Communist Party and so I took part in the struggles and the work of the party, I dealt mainly with the political and social questions of young people, and actually not just me but everyone else who was given this task. Our task was to help young people and to ensure that the widest possible spectrum of the young would participate in this large social transformation. The post-war Hungarian youth had many problems, for example, apprentices were needed in industry, apprentice hostels were required for this, new professionals were needed. At the time, there were ten thousand students at universities and colleges in Hungary. Of these only 3–4% came from the working and peasant classes. We started a movement aimed at getting more universities and schools of higher education. Within a few years, instead 10,000 there were more than 40,000 students at colleges and universities, and the number of students with working class and peasant backgrounds rise from 3–4% up to 45–50%. To this end we gave support to the college movement, we helped young people to get into universities, and it is a rare moment in history that happened in Hungary in the years following 1947 and even after ’48, a complete transformation of society and state, which meant that 220,000 new people were needed for leading positions and out of these 50,000 were young, between the ages of 20 and 35. And so, we, the youth organization helped this /process/ and we helped young people to become mana…, factory managers, presidents of councils actually still called mayors at the time, or to get them into mayors’ offices, army officers, police officers, government officials in local government. That is, this meant a significant change and great perspectives for young people at the time.
As a brief example of your work can you describe to us how you helped young peasants to come into industry and university in Budapest, how you helped them to find places to live, and so on?
Well, not only me, but also the movement, we helped to develop for example apprentice hostels, well along an avenue today called Népköztársaság út on the side of Városliget /City Park in Budapest/ there were many villas even then – these still exist. All of these villas, or a great majority of them belonged to rich factory owners, and these young peasants who had come to Budapest to learn a trade but had no place to live in and had no food, we started, helped this apprentice hostel building movement, and we requisitioned these villas and these young peasants moved into these and they became apprentices. True, there were wonderful pieces of furniture here, well sometimes the furniture was damaged and well, you see, they couldn’t take proper care of them, but on the other hand a new generation grew up for Hungarian industry from among these young peasants.
What do you think were the main reasons for the mistakes and illegalities of the Stalin’s period in Hungary?
I think this had very many causes, one of them is that one must consider that socialism as a whole is seventy years old. The birth of a new social order, for example it took several hundred years for capitalism to develop. Well, socialism is actually still a young society. That is, from a historical point of view I believe this has to be taken into consideration very seriously. And now specifically, talking about Hungary, what the reasons were for these, I think that although not the basic but one of the basic reasons was the Cold War and the wrong reaction to the Cold War. Well now, what do I mean by this? Well, it appeared that there would be a war led by the United States of America. One must get prepared for this war. Because of this, you see, the government and the and the party leadership formulated a policy after 1948–49 by which the entire social development was artificially, well we saw it clearly, I saw it clearly only later, was artificially accelerated, that is, to develop industry quickly, to accomplish the socialist reorganization of agriculture rapidly, to transform the entire governmental life quickly. And now coming to illegalities, striving for absolute safety, striving for such a kind of safety that doesn’t exist. This developed from this, the exaggeration of this certain kind of vigilance, which is necessary but not in such a distorted and excessive form, and even then a certain fear that those who wanted to overthrow Hungary’s socialist order, wanted to destroy it had great power. Such forces did exist. There is an English writer, Stuart Stephen, he has an excellent book about this, that in the United States of America this writer, journalist, historian, this Stuart Stephen studied over the years how the policy and the various institutions of the United States of America were instrumental in causing the illegalities, that is, how they built on Stalin’s distrust, on Rákosi’s morbid distrust, and how they cast suspicion on various people, so this also was a factor. Thus, this was a complex matter, in which of course the basic thing was the forming and the development of errors and erroneous views within the party leadership.
What were the reasons in your view for the events of 1956, and why did the Red Army intervene?
The counter-revolution of 1956 had four main causes. One of these concerned the grave distortions and errors in the leadership and the policy of the party and the government. Right now I’d like to point out just one of these. As a consequence of these errors the standard of living in Hungary decreased by 20% between 1951 and 1953, although this is just one factor. This distortion of this policy had an effect on the whole social and governmental life. So, this was the basic reason. The other reason, very important reason was, and this fault, we can say, bore the mark of Rákosi’s name, although he wasn’t the only one at fault, the other reason was the wrong reaction to this, as we say it using our own phraseology, a revisionist trend developed bearing the hallmark of Imre Nagy’s name, one of the main errors of which was that it professed the opposite or nearly the opposite of every error that had been committed earlier as a result of the distortions. This revisionist trend intentionally or unintentionally rallied all the trends in the country which were not against the errors – because the revisionist trend took action mainly against the errors – but it produced a unity in which the dominant role was given to those who took action against the whole system. The third main reason was a political warfare carried out with the leadership of the United States of America, which provided hope for the reactionaries here at home that the USA, if a movement, particularly an armed movement started in Hungary against the popular democratic system, would provide all kinds of support including military support to them. From 1953 onwards, this was constantly propagated and explained by the Radio Free Europe. It is very interesting, and I wish to draw the attention to the fact that Radio Free Europe in 1962 or ’63, I don’t know, published all the programs of the radio stations, radio transmitters that existed in Hungary during the counter-revolution. But it hasn’t published its own programs which went on air before the 23 October 1956 and between 23 and 4 November, even up to this day, the reason is that these are very compromising exactly from the point of view I mentioned. Thus, the third main cause was the political warfare conducted by the United States of America. The fourth cause was the role of the reactionary forces at home. These were the four main reasons, which of course does not mean that other factors played no part, but as I see it, these were the main causes. The action of the Soviet army on the night of 23 October 1956 was wrong; this was requested by the Hungarian government headed by Imre Nagy, Gerő and the other leaders; the central leadership made the decision, this was a mistake because on 23 October and even in the following days and during the next week there were enough Hungarian forces to get the situation under control. The situation was different from 1 November. From 1 November, exactly because of the role of the revisionist tendency and due to the errors committed earlier, the reactionary forces gained mass support, they got into key positions, power slipped into their hands. A situation developed in Hungary, which was very enticing for a military intervention. In West Germany, the American army was mobilized with weapons armed with nuclear warheads. England and France and Israel attacked Egypt…
Ervin Hollós (1923–2008)
Ervin Hollós, state security officer, author of party-state propaganda materials, university professor, was born on 25 October 1923 in Budapest and died on 10 October 2008 in Budapest. His father, Leó Sámuel Holzschlag, was a master hairdresser, his mother, Anna Münz, was a housewife, and he had five siblings. His wife, Vera Lajtai, was a historian and editor-in-chief of the communist journal Pártélet [Life in the party]. They had three children, two girls and a boy.
He graduated from a three-year furrier apprenticeship school in 1942, but quickly committed himself to politics. He was secretary of the youth section of the Social Democratic Party from 1938 and a member of the National Youth Committee from 1940 until his arrest in 1942. In fact, he was already a member of the banned Communist Party at that time. He conducted illegal political work as a collaborator of Endre Ságvári and János Kádár. He was arrested and imprisoned for his communist activities, but in 1944, he escaped from the prison squadron and went to Szeged, which was occupied by the Soviets. After the Second World War, he became secretary of the Hungarian Democratic Youth Federation in Budapest, and from April 1945, he also completed a three-month course in the Party School. In 1946, he worked as a youth secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party, and from 1949 of the Hungarian Working People's Party. In 1952, he graduated from the Party School of the Hungarian Working People's Party, then after the two-year course he was appointed secretary of the Central Executive Committee of the Workers' Youth League. He held this post until October 1956.
From November 1956, he worked in various departments of the Ministry of the Interior: he started as a major in the Political Investigation Department, then became deputy head of the II/5 subdivision, the counteraction against internal reaction, from December 1956, and head of it from 1958. Since 1961, he was head of the Group Headquarters III/III of the Ministry of the Interior with the rank of colonel. He was involved in the repression following the Revolution of 1956, first in the internal affairs field and later as an active formulator of state propaganda. Several former members of the gendarmerie of the Horthy regime took part in the revolution, on which the post-1956 gendarmerie trials were based, and Hollós was responsible for the persecution and imprisonment of prominent members of the Petőfi Circle. He was credited with the first Marxist partisan summary of the revolution, which stigmatised the perception of the revolution in the Kádár regime for decades (Kik voltak, mit akartak? [Who were they, what did they want?], 1967). Together with his wife, Vera Lajtai, he published several books attacking the participants and martyrs of the Revolution of 1956, describing 1956 as a fascist, counter-revolutionary coup attempt, actively supported by foreign imperialist powers. He also wrote a few film scripts and young adult novels, the best known of which is the novel Harminckét nevem volt [My Thirty-Two Names], which was turned into a film in 1972.
In 1962, he was dismissed from the Ministry of Interior. He was appointed deputy head of the Marxism-Leninism Education Department of the Ministry of Education. He received his doctorate from the Eötvös Loránd University in 1964 and a candidate degree in history in 1967. At the Technical University of Budapest, he was first head of a group of professors, then associate professor, and finally head of the Department of Scientific Socialism until 1989.
He was first awarded the Order of Labour in 1955, the Gold Medal in 1970, the Military Order of the Red Star in 1960 and the Order of Merit for Socialist Fatherland in 1970.
Ervin Hollós has never been held accountable for his role in the reprisals that followed the 1956 revolution.