What was the Hungarian People's Republic

Hungary 1944 / 45-1985 - About the module

Editor: Andreas Schmidt-Schweizer (Budapest)

This module deals with the history of Hungary from the final phase of the Second World War in 1944/45, when Hungary came under the rule of the Soviet Union, through the establishment of the “People's Republic of Hungary” at the end of the 1940s, the popular uprising in 1956 and the reforms under János Kádár since the 1960s through the mid 1980s. At the latest on the XII. The party congress (March 1985) began to show that Kádár-style socialism could no longer provide answers to the country's growing political-ideological tensions and socio-economic problems.[1] The historical events in these four decades can be broken down into eight phases, the basic events and characteristic developments of which are sketched out below.

I) The "Coalition Years" (1944 / 45-1948): In the last months of the war, the Soviet military power established a provisional national government in Hungary that united various political parties and, under the supervision of the - Soviet-dominated - Allied Control Commission for Hungary, reorganized the administration and economy of the heavily devastated country. After largely free parliamentary elections in November 1945 and already heavily manipulated elections at the end of August 1947, several coalition governments made up of bourgeois, social democratic and communist forces formally governed until mid-1948, although the Hungarian Communist Party (MKP), which is politically supported by Moscow and has the Ministry of the Interior, ruled from the beginning exercised a special political influence that went far beyond their social base. Against the background of the worsening East-West conflict since 1947, the communists gradually disempowered their bourgeois opponents (“salami tactics”) and forced the Social Democrats to unite with the Communist Party to form the Hungarian Working People's Party (MDP) under Mátyás Rákosi. In mid-1948 the creation of a communist state party or a one-party system (party state) was completed. At the beginning of this phase, at the decisive instigation of the Communists, a fundamental transformation of the economic and social conditions was initiated: A radical land reform, also supported by the majority of the population, or the elimination of large estates and the expulsion of a significant part of the Hungarian Germans came about Hungarian-Slovak “population exchange” as well as the nationalization of key industries, banks and insurance companies first, then also of larger industrial, craft and service companies. At the same time, there was a fundamental political and economic reorientation of Hungary towards the Soviet Union in terms of foreign policy.

II) The Rákosi era (1948-1956): After the establishment of communist one-party rule in mid-1948, the communist rulers set about reshaping Hungary's political, economic and social system entirely on the model of Stalin's Soviet Union. While the political-institutional transformation process was completed with the adoption of the "Constitution of the People's Republic of Hungary" (August 1949) and the Council Act (May 1950), the Communists also pursued the expansion of the planned economy system: They now began to nationalize even smaller companies, pursued a rigorous collectivization of agriculture and regulated production comprehensively and in detail, in the sense of a forced industrialization and armaments policy or in accordance with the specifications of the Eastern economic alliance founded in early 1949 (Council for Mutual Economic Aid). (The production of consumer goods was accordingly cut back sharply.) The way in which power was exercised in the Rákosi era was also based entirely on the practice of Stalin's Soviet Union. Mátyás Rákosi, also called “Stalin's best student”, ran a merciless “class struggle” against the “enemies of socialism” in society (especially church representatives and other “reactionaries”) and also persecuted the “traitors” in their own party, whereby there were numerous imprisonments, internments and show trials (Mindszenty and Rajk trials). The State Protection Authority (ÁVH, later called ÁVO), which was set up in September 1948, was an outstanding instrument of this “purge policy”. At the same time, the Hungarian party leader practiced a personality cult that was in no way inferior to that of Stalin. The integration of Hungary into the east in terms of foreign and military policy reached a climax with the establishment of the Warsaw Pact in May 1955.

III) Popular uprising and freedom struggle (1956): After the death of Stalin (March 1953), the Stalinist power practice and the greatly deteriorating living conditions led to burgeoning criticism within the party and in intellectual circles. After a phase of reform attempts under Prime Minister Imre Nagy, the Stalinist forces around Mátyás Rákosi and Ernő Gerő seized power again in the spring of 1955. After serious political unrest had already broken out in Poland (Poznan uprising in June 1956), this finally led to student demonstrations on October 23, 1956 and the outbreak of the Hungarian popular uprising. A day later, the party leadership tried to bring the situation under control by reappointing Nagy as head of government, but the simultaneous military intervention of Soviet troops led to nationwide, ongoing fighting against communist law enforcement and Soviet units. After a tactical withdrawal of the Red Army from Budapest, the founding of a new communist party and various far-reaching steps by the Nagy government (re-occupation of the multi-party system, declaration of neutrality), a renewed attack by Soviet troops on Budapest took place on November 4, 1956. November 1956 led to the collapse of the popular uprising and a mass exodus from Hungary (200,000 people).

IV) Years of Repression and Retribution (1956-1961): After a pro-Soviet government under János Kádár had been formed on the day of the second Soviet intervention and Kádár had taken over the leadership of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSZMP), the new rulers set about restoring communist one-party rule and its institutions and rigorously against it Actors of the popular uprising ("counter-revolutionaries") to proceed. Their policy was supported by the Soviet military power, whose “temporary” presence was contractually regulated in May 1957. In the course of Kádár’s repression and retaliation, there were mass dismissals, arrests and internment. Special courts sentenced thousands of Hungarians to prison terms and around 230 death sentences were carried out in connection with the popular uprising. The climax of this merciless policy was the execution of Imre Nagy on June 16, 1958. Parallel to the violent measures against the protagonists of the popular uprising - which lasted until the early 1960s - the Kádár regime also introduced the first measures aimed at domestic pacification: Kádár openly condemned not only the “revisionism” of Imre Nagy, but also the politics of the “Rákosi clique” and raised the general standard of living (through wage increases and an increase in the production of consumer goods at the expense of industrial production). When the collectivization of agriculture began again, the regime renounced the open use of force and relied on a system of incentives and sanctions. And at the end of the 1950s, it also announced the first partial amnesties for political prisoners.

V) Kádár’s stabilization (1962-1968): After Kádár's “centrist course” or “two-front struggle” against Stalinism and revisionism and his goal of improving the supply situation had already emerged in the years after the popular uprising, the political leadership did more than just take politics in the following phase of the growing standard of living, but also switched to a course of domestic political liberalization. Party leader Kádár propagated a new “alliance policy” of communists and non-party members under the slogan “Whoever is not against us is for us” and thus brought about a clear defuse of the domestic political atmosphere. In this context, there was also a general amnesty in the spring of 1963 for those convicted of political offenses in 1957/58. In terms of foreign policy, Kádár was able to end the extensive isolation of his country from the West: The United Nations removed the “Hungarian question” from its agenda, UN Secretary General U Thant visited Hungary and Hungary arrived with the Vatican to restore it diplomatic relations with the USA at ambassador level and an upswing in political relations with Austria. At the same time, intensive planning work and initial measures for a comprehensive reform of the central administration economy began within the party and state. This should create the economic basis for the standard of living policy ("goulash communism"). The ultimate political goal was thereby - together with the domestic political liberalization - to ensure the acceptance or at least toleration of party rule by the masses of the population.

VI) Classical Cadarism (1968-1973): When the New Economic Mechanism was introduced in Hungary on January 1, 1968 - despite Moscow's suspicious attitude - this meant a significant liberalization of the system of economic control while at the same time maintaining the socialist, state-owned and cooperative-based property system. (At that time only very limited possibilities were provided for private-sector activities.) The basic idea of ​​the reform was to abolish the rigid, detailed and comprehensive indicators in the production process and to restrict party-state planning largely to the macro level. This meant that the state-owned companies were given significantly more room for maneuver and should decide according to the principle of economic rationality. To promote the reforms, the party leadership also initiated an intensification of economic relations with the West, especially with the Federal Republic of Germany. When internal conflicts and disruptions arose in the spring / summer of 1968 in the course of the “Prague Spring”, Hungary - after Kádár's mediation efforts - unconditionally participated in the suppression of the Czechoslovak reform movement. With this show of loyalty to Moscow, Kádár undoubtedly sought to secure the New Economic Mechanism in terms of foreign policy. It was also characteristic of "classical Kádárism" that the economic reforms were not accompanied by a substantial continuation of political liberalization, even if the constitution of the People's Republic was revised in the spring of 1972, especially in the sense of "alliance policy", and redefined Minority policy was decided.

VII) The phase of recentralization and re-ideologization (1974-1977): After the party leadership, under pressure from Moscow, had already taken the first decision at the end of 1972 to slow down the - relatively successful - economic reforms, there was a fundamental ideological change in Hungarian politics in 1974. This not only led to the withdrawal of essential elements of the economic reforms and economic recentralization, but also to a political re-ideology and hardening of the domestic political climate. It was also characteristic of the change that, on the one hand, outstanding reform politicians from Kádár's environment, including the "father of economic reforms" Rezső Nyers, lost their leading political positions in 1974/75 and that, on the other hand, since the mid-1970s, oppositional activities of small groups of intellectuals have increasingly appeared kicked. The phase of reform setbacks came to an end after a few years, however, when the party leadership realized that, due to the growing economic problems and the poor efficiency of the re-centralized economy, a restart of reform policy - also against Moscow - was indispensable.

VIII) Continuation of reforms and opening up to the West (1977-1985): In the years since 1977, the party leadership again initiated measures to decentralize the economy and again granted companies greater scope for action, also with regard to their foreign trade activities. In addition, resolutions were made to significantly expand private-sector activities, which were intended to "complement" the state and cooperative sectors, and painful price increases were implemented in the course of the subsidy reduction, which were in part "absorbed" by social policy measures. The "appeasement" of the population also served as measures to expand the "small freedoms", that is, the opportunities to travel to the West and "unregulated" cultural activities. The reform of the political system meanwhile was essentially limited to a reform of the electoral law, which provided for two compulsory candidates and the running of independent candidates. Of course, this did not give the representatives of the - still politically marginal, but closely spied on by the regime - liberal-urban Democratic Opposition and the national-rural Folk Opposition, a real opportunity to influence politics. Particularly noticeable during this phase were the diverse foreign policy and foreign trade policy activities of Hungary, which were also connected to the difficult economic and financial situation in the country and which were also supposed to serve to "compensate" for the economic problems through foreign policy successes. Before the resurgence of the East-West conflict, Hungary managed to get the Hungarian royal crown back from the United States (1978) and there were spectacular meetings between János Kádár and Pope Paul VI. (1977) and Helmut Schmidt (1977 and 1979). Even after the outbreak of the "Second Cold War" as a result of NATO's double decision and the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan at the end of 1979, Hungary continued to maintain close contacts with the Federal Republic (as the most important capitalist trading partner) and joined the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund - much to the displeasure of Moscow and expanded his contacts to other western states, although the military integration into the east and the priority of eastern economic cooperation were never questioned by Kádár. Despite all the economic and political reform measures and despite the numerous foreign policy successes, the end of the Kádár era and the beginning of a new era in Hungary became more and more evident from the mid-1980s (see the module "Upheaval in Hungary 1985-1990") .

state of research

The history of Hungary after the Second World War and during the years of communist rule was intensively reviewed by both Hungarian and foreign historians in the decades after the system change. In addition to numerous monographic representations, mainly in Hungarian, English and German, which deal with the most diverse topics of the epoch in terms of time, content and method, there is also a number of source collections that contain basic documents, albeit almost without exception only in Hungarian Language are available. The clear thematic focus of the representations are overview representations and works on the events of autumn 1956.

Selection of documents

When selecting the text sources, particular attention was paid to illuminating, on the one hand, individual outstanding thematic aspects (domestic and party politics, constitutional order, foreign policy, economy, society and opposition) in the individual development phases outlined above, and, on the other hand, covering the broadest possible spectrum of types of sources (Party programs, international agreements, ordinances and laws, speeches, resolutions by state and party bodies, constitutional texts, letters, protocols, declarations and official communications). Particular attention was also paid to documents that show the changes in the economic and political system as well as with regard to the practice of rule and - related to this - social policy. Due to their outstanding importance, the selected documents were mostly published in their original language, but the editor also included sources that he discovered in the course of archival research and considered particularly meaningful.The text sources are supplemented by three groups of materials, namely by contemporary photographs from the online image archive “www.fortepan.hu”, which present some of the protagonists of the time, characteristic life situations and typical cityscapes, by statistics that deal with demographic, social and Hungary's economic situation or its change - usually in the four decades from 1950 to 1990 - as well as tables of the results of the parliamentary elections in 1945 and 1947.


According to the political and institutional character of the party state, the “government lists” not only list the most important government offices, but also the staffing of the leading party organs. The chronology records all those events that appear essential to the editor and are useful for the historical classification of the sources. The bibliography not only includes essential works of secondary literature in Western languages ​​(German and English), but also lists basic, especially more recent, monographs as well as some important collections of sources in the Hungarian language. This is intended to provide an overview of the international state of research.

[1] At the end of the Kádár era and the dynamic processes of change that began at that time, which ultimately led to the transformation of the economic and political order in Hungary, see the module "Upheaval in Hungary 1985-1990".