On the Character of Our People’s Democracy

Jozsef Revai

I want to speak about a problem, the problem which was mentioned today by Comrade Rakosi in his review, and which was dealt with in his recent memorable article – the problem of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Comrade Rakosi's statement affirmed that the People's Democracy is a dictatorship of the proletariat, though not in the Soviet form, that our People's Democracy fulfills the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

This problem, Comrades, is a decisively important one, though it must he said before the Central Party Leadership that it was not given the attention by the Party officials which it deserved.

It is obvious, however, that Comrade Rakosi’s statement, which was announced almost simultaneously with similar statements by Comrades Dimitrov and Bierut, was of decisive importance. In the thesis that a popular democracy is a dictatorship of the proletariat, though not in the Soviet form, there was included a summary of the evaluation of the results of more than four years of struggle on our part and of the substance of our future tasks.

Why was greater attention not paid to this problem by the Party officials? It is worthwhile to examine this phenomenon, which shows the relative underdevelopment of ideological thinking in our Party. It is true that Party members thirst to learn and are ambitious to improve themselves, and yet, the feeling for theoretical questions is not sufficiently developed. Concern with theoretical questions remains too much a preoccupation of the seminaries and Party schools and has not become the driving force of Party practice in its everyday work. Theory does not occupy the role it ought to; in many cases it means only dead knowledge, instead of a perspective or guide for practice. Very often we are overburdened with practice, and often we find ourselves living from day to day. It is correct that the problems of economic construction, the tasks of everyday Socialistic work, are central in our interest, but this should not be carried so far that our senses become blunted to the problems of politics or power.

It is obvious that the statement “the People's Democracy is a specimen of the dictatorship of the proletariat” is not an announcement to make a great fuss about. But if we don’t have to make a great fuss about it, we don't need to hide it, to deal with it in secrecy. And the decisive factor is the necessity to make known inside the Party the importance of this statement, of this fact. For, Comrades, we are not speaking about a plain theoretical statement, but about a really practical problem. If we make it known within the Party, in the working class, that the People’s Democracy is the dictatorship of the proletariat, then this becomes and should become a further resource of the effort to build Socialism, of the struggle against class enemies, and of the defense against the imperialists.

I believe it is not unnecessary to examine the statement that our People's Democracy, and people’s democracies in general, mean the dictatorship of the proletariat though not in the Soviet form. It is obvious that our People’s Democracy has not been from the beginning a dictatorship of the proletariat, but became so during the struggle.

The development of our democracy is nothing else than a struggle which began with the goals of destroying Fascism, of realising our national independence, and of steadily executing civic democratic tasks, and which was transformed subsequently into a fight against the big fortunes, and then against the whole bourgeoisie; in a fight against capitalism, aiming first at the expulsion of capitalistic elements and of the capitalistic class, and then at their liquidation. Our transformation began as an anti-Fascist, national, civic democratic one, and it became deeper and larger and developed during the struggle into a Socialistic transformation.

Our state, therefore, has not been from the beginning a kind of dictatorship of the proletariat. We should take into consideration the fact that we were for a long time a minority in the government, that until the fall of Ferenc Nagy, the government of the democracy consisted not only of such elements as the kulaks, but of the representatives of the bourgeoisie and the agents of the imperialists as well. Let us take into consideration the fact that the 1944 platform of the Independence Front was in essence only the program of the anti-Fascist, anti-feudalist, anti-German, and bourgeois-democratic transformation and that it pressed only one claim against capitalism: nationalization of the mines, that is, the resources of the earth. Let us take into consideration the fact that in the economy of the People’s Democracy, until the year of the transformation, the middle of 1947, the capitalistic elements were dominant in the nationalization of the industry and banks.

The fact that the Hungarian People's Democracy, as a kind of dictatorship of the proletariat, is the result of a development brought about through tough class struggles, is treated also in our Party platform, in spite of the fact that the platform does not mention the dictatorship of the proletariat. According to our platform, with the liberation of the country, and the fall of the power system of the big landlords and big capital, the working class, the whole of the peasantry and therefore the rich peasants as well, and the anti-German faction of the bourgeoisie took over the power. “With the German threat removed, the destruction of feudalism and the resolution, step by step, of the problems raised by the struggle against big capital, during the fight against the reactionaries and with the intensification of international differences, resulted in the ousting from power and from the government of the representatives of the capitalists as well as most of the representatives of the exploiters of the rural districts. Today in Hungary – our platform says – the working class and its ally the working peasantry are in power.”

Do you think, Comrades, that our transformation, in its first phase, before it became a Socialistic transformation, was anything else than a bourgeois-democratic transformation? By no means. You know very well that the working class was represented in the government and in the apparatus of power. We were a minority in Parliament and in the government, but at the same time we represented the leading force. We had decisive control over the police forces. Our force, the force of our Party and the working class, was multiplied by the fact that the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Army, were always there to support us with their assistance. In the first phase of our transformation, when we struggled directly and apparently only for a steadfast achievement of bourgeois-democratic tasks, we fought as well for the establishment and assurance of the conditions which made possible the Socialistic transformation. The change in the development of our People’s Democracy into the dictatorship of the proletariat began with the destruction of the right wing of the Smallholders’ Party, with the liquidation of the conspiracy and the fall of Ferenc Nagy. Then the kulak became an enemy, then the leading role of our Party and the working class was strengthened. But the struggle for the transformation of Hungary along anti-capitalistic and Socialistic lines was initiated long before, when in the spring of 1946 the Left Wing Bloc, under the leadership of the Communist Party, succeeded in the fight for the nationalization of heavy industry; when, in the fall of 1946, the Third Congress of our Party announced the watchword: “We are constructing the country, not for the capitalists, but for the people.” Ferenc Nagy resigned at the end of May 1947, but Comrade Rakosi’s address, held in the Angyalföld district of Budapest, giving the watchword, “Let's make the rich pay,” and initiating the struggle, not only for the control, but for the nationalization of the great banks, was held on May 7. Our Three-year Plan, mentioned for the first time before Christmas of 1946, by Comrade Gero, was not directed straightforwardly and openly against capitalism as a whole, the whole bourgeoisie, but it was already connected with the tasks of the struggle against big capital. The Socialistic change of our transformation, the period during which our People’s Democracy developed into a kind of dictatorship of the proletariat, extended approximately from May 1947, the fall of Ferenc Nagy, to January 1948. This is the glorious year of the change, when the majority of the working class lined up behind the Communist Party and when at the First National Conference of Party officials, the watchword of the Third Congress, “We are constructing the country not for the capitalists, but for the people,” was changed to the new, victorious watchword, “The country is yours, you are constructing it for yourselves.” This development, our development into a dictatorship of the proletariat, was crowned and definitively assured in June 1948 by the destruction of the right wing of the Socialist Party and establishment of the unified Workers’ Party.

We must ask the question, whether we were able to see clearly, whether we were aware, during the struggle, of the nature and direction of the changes occurring in our people’s democracy, in the character of our state. No, comrades, we did not see it dearly. At most we were feeling our way in the right direction. The Party didn’t posses a unified, clarified, elaborated attitude in respect to the character of the People’s Democracy and its future development. We must point this out, exercising self-criticism. And we must emphasize the fact that we received the decisive stimulation and assistance for the clarification of our future development from the Communist (Bolshevik) Party of the Soviet Union, from the teachings of Comrade Stalin. The two sessions of the Cominform, the first in the fall of 1947, the second in the summer of 1948, were of fundamental help for us. The first taught us that a People’s Democracy couldn’t halt at any but the final stage of its destruction of the capitalistic elements, and the second showed us that the Socialistic transformation couldn’t be limited to the towns, but had to be extended to the rural districts and that as regards the fundamental questions of the transformation into Socialism, the Soviet Union is our model and that the way of the People’s Democracies differs only in certain external forms, and not in essence, from the way of the Soviet Union.

What were our mistakes in these questions? I think we made the following mistakes:

1. In the first phase of our People’s Democracy, when the struggle was not directed straightforwardly against capitalism, when the fight for the consistent performance of bourgeois-democratic tasks was first on the agenda, we said that the People’s Democracy was a plebeian, militant, consistent and popular kind of bourgeois democracy. In 1945 when the right wing of the Smallholders’ Party wanted to provoke us into fighting the election campaign around the question, “Socialism or bourgeois private property?” we were not mistaken in evading the provocation. I believe we were right when on that occasion we criticized our left wing Socialist comrades, who during the Budapest election announced the watchword: “For a Red Budapest.” This action served only our enemies. It was correct at that time to stress that the issue was not a choice between Socialism or bourgeois private property, but rather the following: Should we compromise with the forces of the old system, or should we liquidate them? It was correct that, in the fight against big capital, we did not stress that this was a transition into the struggle for Socialism but that the measures initiated against big capital meant at the same time the protection of small private properties. It was correct not to show our cards, but often even we forgot that the People’s Democracy at this time was more than just a plebeian variety of the bourgeois democracy and that it was a step toward the Socialistic transition, which contained even then the elements of development into the dictatorship of the proletariat.

2. The second mistake was the fact that, first of all and overwhelmingly, we emphasized the differences between the development of the Soviet Union and our development into a People’s Democracy, instead of stressing the similarity, the substantial identity, of the two developments.

3. As for our third mistake, we concluded from the popular and, therefore relatively peaceful, character of the development into Socialism, that we could achieve Socialism without a dictatorship of die proletariat. Or – which was only another form of the same mistake – we said that the dictatorship of the proletariat meant the dictatorship of the proletariat in the Soviet Union, while with us in the People’s Democracy it was superfluous.

4. It was also a mistake to say that we too needed the dictatorship of the proletariat for the achievement of Socialism, but considered the dictatorship of the proletariat as a form of government, which should follow the People’s Democracy and therefore did not consider the People’s Democracy a characteristic form of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

5. And finally, Comrades, it was a mistake to see the essence of the People’s Democracy in the division of power between the working class and the working peasantry. The dictatorship of the proletariat, as it was defined by Lenin and Stalin, means that power is undivided in the hands of the proletariat and that the working class does not share the power with other classes. Therefore, it does not share its power with the peasantry. This faulty conception of the division of power was expressed in my lecture held at the Party Training Conference, where – until Comrade Rakosi's article – we had come the nearest to the correct conception that the People’s Democracy was a transition from capitalism toward Socialism and was therefore a type of dictatorship of the proletariat. This faulty conception is expressed also in the platform of our Party, a fundamentally correct document, but by no means a fetish, which is to be amended, and corrected in certain parts, because some of the basic questions, like the Socialistic development of agriculture, its collectivization, are expressed in the platform only in a disguised form and are not mentioned by their real name.

Regarding the question of whether the dictatorship of the proletariat means the exclusive power of the working class and not the division of that power between labor and the working peasantry, let me cite Lenin and Stalin. Lenin says: “The notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat has meaning... only if that class is conscious of its exclusive possession of political power...” According to Stalin, the dictatorship of the proletariat means that that class “does not and cannot exercise power together with other classes….” Furthermore, Stalin adds that “the leader of the dictatorship of the proletariat is but one party, the party of the proletariat, the Communist Party, which does not and cannot share leadership with any other parties.”

Is this valid for us? With us, there are not only Communists in the government, but also Smallholders’ and Peasant Party members. With us, this government, this cabinet, is still a coalition government. Does this coalition of our Party with the Smallholders’ and Peasant Parties mean that we exercise leadership together with them, that with us power is divided between the working class and the working peasantry?

As to this, let me cite Stalin once more: “We had been marching Octoberward with the slogan of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of the poor peasantry and this in fact was practically achieved in October, inasmuch as we had a bloc with the left wing and a leadership divided with them, although then we already had a proletarian dictatorship in effect, since we Bolsheviks constituted the majority. The dictatorship of the proletariat and the poor peasantry ceased to exist formally too after the leftist S.R. coup… when the full leadership fell into the hands of one single Party – ours – which does not and cannot share the leadership of the state with other parties.”

Formally, also with us there are elements of the division of power and leadership. But in fact, Comrades, it is the working class which alone is in power, in fact it is our Party alone which runs the state machine.

Of course, the fact that today we still share, though but formally, the leadership with other parties has some significance. This indicates that the alliance of the working class and of the working peasantry isn't close enough as yet, that we didn’t as yet organize the peasantry tightly enough around the working class.

Does the overwhelming and unconditional power of the working class mean the exclusion of the working peasantry from the shaping of its own destiny? It does not. The power, the leadership, is undivided, but in certain important realms the working class willingly includes the working peasantry and its representatives in exercising power. Our state is ruled by the working class alone, but this state is a state of the working people and thus of the peasantry too; consequently this state is being built upon an alliance of the working class and the peasantry. However, even if the dictatorship of the proletariat is being built upon this class alliance of the working class and the peasantry, it can't be identified with it at all. Why cannot this power be exercised along with the peasantry? Because in that case the state would cease to be a weapon with which to realize Socialism. For the peasantry, even its working part, is halfheartedly for private property and halfheartedly for the cooperatives. It vacillates. It should be supported, led, educated and assisted in order that it accept the way to the cooperatives. This leadership, education and assistance must be given by the state, too, and that is why power cannot be divided with the peasantry. Furthermore, vacillation concerning the matter of the Socialist progression of the village means at the same time hesitation between capitalism and Socialism, uncertainty in the fight against the kulak, vacillation in the fight against imperialism. But a state transforming itself into Socialism, a state fighting against the kulak, a state that is to protect itself against imperialism, a power dedicated to oppressing anti-class attitudes, must not vacillate.

That is the reason, Comrades, why we must liquidate the concept that the working class shares its power with other classes. In this concept we find remnants of a viewpoint according to which a People’s Democracy is some quite specific kind of state which differs from the Soviets not only in its form, but also in its essence and functions.

However, the fact that power is exclusively possessed by the working class isn’t to be chattered about everywhere. We do not intend to mislead the peasantry but equally don't wish to strengthen reactionary elements. Toward the peasantry, we should stress – what is true – that in important fields even the dictatorship of the proletariat includes the working peasantry in wielding power, that the dictatorship of the proletariat is being built upon the close alliance of the working class and the peasantry; of course, not upon any kind of alliance, but upon one building Socialism.

I shall mention briefly what consequences should be drawn from the realization that our People’s Democracy is a variation of the dictatorship of the proletariat.

To begin with, the power in possession of the working class must, in the interest of the shaping of Socialism, the oppressing of class enemies and the defense against imperialism be still much more decidedly and severely exercised than it has been up to now. “Dictatorship” also means the exercising of force in oppressing enemies. The realization that the People’s Democracy is a variation of the dictatorship of the proletariat arms us with the knowledge that, in fighting this class enemy, those organs destined to apply this force must be rendered more effective and unified than they are.

We are conscious that the dictatorship of the proletariat does not merely consist of the exercise of force; its essential functions also include construction; to conquer allies for the proletariat, and to unite them for Socialist production. In our case, thanks to the fact that we can rely upon the Soviet Union and so can be spared from a civil war, the foremost function of our dictatorship of the proletariat is a task of economic and cultural construction. However, this does not mean at all that the functions of oppression and violence also appertaining to the dictatorship of the proletariat should be overlooked as secondary.

Rendering innocuous the agents of the imperialists, and the oppression of the class enemy within, are not at all secondary tasks; on the contrary they are conditions of the work of building Socialism. Furthermore, we must also clearly realize that periods may come in our evolution when the chief function of the dictatorship of the proletariat will consist of exercising force against enemies from within and from without. Whoever forgets that commits the crime of pacifism, demobilizes the Party and the working class, and overlooks the building up of our state security organization as well as our army.

When outlining the tasks which lie ahead, Comrades, we must keep in sight not only the fact that our state is in close kinship with the dictatorship of the proletariat, but also that it is still wearing the eggshells of its origin, remnants from the period of the bourgeois democratic transformation. Our dictatorship of the proletariat isn’t as yet a complete, finished achievement – we still have heavy tasks ahead before its final consolidation.

When we say “Our state is a dictatorship of the proletariat, though not in the Soviet form,” it must not be meant that there is nothing in the Soviet form of the dictatorship of the proletariat to be studied and applied at home. Of course there is. The organism of our state should get closer to the Soviet-type of the dictatorship of the proletariat: i.e., in reorganizing our administration, putting an end to the dualism of that administration, making the working people cooperate more and more effectively in the administration and in exercising the power of the state. No doubt, even our Parliament has to be reformed, inasmuch as it still wears the remnants of a bourgeois, prattling parliamentarianism, the dualism of the legislative and the executive.

Comrades, on March 21 of this year we shall celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the proclamation of the first glorious Hungarian dictatorship of the proletariat. For 30 years, we have been cherishing its memory, keeping up its traditions and educating our Party in a spirit of self-criticism exercised upon the faults committed in those early days. Today, in a different way from that of some 30 years ago, in entirely different and much riper circumstances, we have reached the stage where we had to stop working 30 years ago. Then the dictatorship of the proletariat lasted but 131 days; today we are in the fifth year of that People’s Democracy, which developed into the dictatorship of the proletariat. In 1919 our innate shortcomings and foes from without brought the dictatorship of the proletariat to an end. This time we will win and build up Socialism.

This translation is from the magazine Foreign Affairs. It has not been checked with the original.

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