Janos Kadar

Janos Kadar

Janos Kadar was born in in Fiume (now called Rijeka, Croatia) in 1912. He worked in a factory and as a result of trade union activities became a member of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1935.

During the Second World War Kadar was a member of the Czech Resistance movement. The Red Army invaded Hungary in September 1944. It set up an alternative government in Debrecen on 21st December 1944 but did not capture Budapest until 18th January 1945.

In elections held in November, 1945, the Hungarian Communist Party won only 20 per cent of the votes. However, the communist filled all the important posts with Matyas Rakosi, the party general secretary, becoming the most important political figure in Hungary.

In 1946 Kador became deputy chief of Budapest's police. He was then appointed Minister of the Interior where he gained a reputation as a persecutor of those who questioned the policies of the government. For example, he was responsible for the arrest of Laszlo Rajk, the foreign secretary, who had criticized attempts by Joseph Stalin to impose Stalinist policies on Hungary.

However, in 1950 he was arrested and charged with being a supporter of Josip Tito of Yugoslavia. Kador was put in prison and he was not released until the end of 1953. During this period an estimated 2,000 people were executed and over 100,000 were imprisoned. These policies were opposed by some members of the Hungarian Workers Party and around 200,000 were expelled by Matyas Rakosi from the organization.

Kador was given a minor post as party chief in Budapest's Thirteenth District. This was an heavily industrialized area and over the next few years Kador built up a large following amongst the workers who were demanding increased freedoms for trade unions.

Rakosi had difficulty managing the economy and the people of Hungary saw living standards fall. His government became increasingly unpopular and when Joseph Stalin died in 1953 Matyas Rakosi was replaced as prime minister by Imre Nagy. However, he retained his position as general secretary of the Hungarian Workers Party and over the next three years the two men became involved in a bitter struggle for power.

As Hungary's new leader Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. This included a promise to increase the production and distribution of consumer goods. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact.

Matyas Rakosi led the attacks on Nagy. On 9th March 1955, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Workers Party condemned Nagy for "rightist deviation". Hungarian newspapers joined the attacks and Nagy was accused of being responsible for the country's economic problems and on 18th April he was dismissed from his post by a unanimous vote of the National Assembly. Rakosi once again became the leader of Hungary.

Rakosi's power was undermined by a speech made by Nikita Khrushchev in February 1956. He denounced the policies of Joseph Stalin and his followers in Eastern Europe. He also claimed that the trial of Laszlo Rajk had been a "miscarriage of justice". On 18th July 1956, Rakosi was forced from power as a result of orders from the Soviet Union. However, he did managed to secure the appointment of his close friend, Erno Gero, as his successor.

On 3rd October 1956, the Central Committee of the Hungarian Communist Party announced that it had decided that Laszlo Rajk, Gyorgy Palffy, Tibor Szonyi and Andras Szalai had wrongly been convicted of treason in 1949. At the same time it was announced that Imre Nagy had been reinstated as a member of the Communist Party.

The uprising began on 23rd October by a peaceful manifestation of students in Budapest. The students demanded an end to Soviet occupation and the implementation of "true socialism". The following day commissioned officers and soldiers joined the students on the streets of Budapest. Stalin's statue was brought down and the protesters chanted "Russians go home", "Away with Gero" and "Long Live Nagy".

On 25th October Soviet tanks opened fire on protesters in Parliament Square. One journalist at the scene saw 12 dead bodies and estimated that 170 had been wounded. Shocked by these events the Central Committee of the Communist Party forced Erno Gero to resign from office and replaced him with Janos Kadar.

Imre Nagy now went on Radio Kossuth and announced he had taken over the leadership of the Government as Chairman of the Council of Ministers." He also promised the "the far-reaching democratization of Hungarian public life, the realisation of a Hungarian road to socialism in accord with our own national characteristics, and the realisation of our lofty national aim: the radical improvement of the workers' living conditions."

On 30th October, Imre Nagy announced that he was freeing Cardinal Joseph Mindszenty and other political prisoners. He also informs the people that his government intends to abolish the one-party state. This is followed by statements by Zolton Tildy, Anna Kethly and Ferenc Farkas concerning the reconstitution of the Smallholders Party, the Social Democratic Party and the Petofi Peasants Party.

Nagy's most controversial decision took place on 1st November when he announced that Hungary intended to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. as well as proclaiming Hungarian neutrality he asked the United Nations to become involved in the country's dispute with the Soviet Union.

On 3rd November, Nagy announced details of his coalition government. It included Kadar, George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy, Zolton Tildy, Bela Kovacs, Istvan Szabo, Anna Kethly, Pal Maleter, Gyula Keleman, Joseph Fischer, Istvan Bibo and Ferenc Farkas.

Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. Soviet tanks immediately captured Hungary's airfields, highway junctions and bridges. Fighting took place all over the country but the Hungarian forces were quickly defeated.

Imre Nagy sought and obtained asylum at the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest. So also did George Lukacs, Geza Lodonczy and Julia Rajk, the widow of Laszlo Rajk. Kadar, who claimed that Nagy had gone too far with his reforms, became Hungary's new leader.

Kadar promised Nagy and his followers safe passage out of the country. Kadar did not keep his promise and on 23rd November, 1956, Nagy and his followers, were kidnapped after leaving the Yugoslav embassy.

On 17th June 1958, the Hungarian government announced that several of the reformers had been convicted of treason and attempting to overthrow the "democratic state order" andImre Nagy, Pal Maleter and Miklos Gimes had been executed for these crimes. Geza Lodonczy and Attila Szigethy were both to die in suspicious circumstances soon afterwards.

Over the next few years Kadar did introduce a series of economic reforms which helped to raise living standards. He held power until resigning as leader of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1988.

Janos Kadar died in 1989.

Primary Sources

(1) New York Times (25th October, 1956)

The new leader of Hungary's Communists is well acquainted with terror since he has in turn been a jailer of anti Communists and a victim of Communist jailers. He is a man who has been moved by a single passion for five years - to destroy Matyas Rakosi, the leader of the Working People's (Communist) Party, who put him in jail in April 1951, and kept him there until late 1953. It was the strength of this passion that enabled Mr. Kadar to survive the purge and then to emerge so steeled in mind and body that within three years he had driven his enemy into exile and had himself won the seat of power.

The measure of the man is the skill with which Mr. Kadar rose from prisoner to party chief. Released, still in semi-disgrace, in late 1953, he was given a relatively minor job as party chief in Budapest's Thirteenth District, an area with factories and workers' residences. In that ward he built up his own machine and his influence and prestige soon spread elsewhere.

By last spring and early summer, he was so powerful that he was one of the key figures behind the scenes in the intrigues that culminated in Mr. Rakosi's resignation last July. Formal recognition of his role came at the Central Committee's July meeting, which elected him to the Politburo. His return to power parallels that of Wladyslaw Gomulka, Poland's new party leader.

There is both irony and justice in Mr. Kadar's appearance at this critical moment when Hungarian Communists looked for a symbol of national communism to placate the country's rebels. He was, after all, the Minister of Interior and head of the secret police in 1949 when Laszlo Rajk, one of Hungary's Communist leaders, was tried and executed on charges of national communism and Titoism. But this factor in his career is more than counter-balanced by his jail terms and other elements.

(2) Janos Kadar, Radio Kossuth (24th October, 1956)

Workers, comrades! The demonstration of university youth, which began with the formulation of, on the whole, acceptable demands, has swiftly degenerated into a demonstration against our democratic order; and under the cover of this demonstration an armed attack has broken out. It is only with burning anger that we can speak of this attack by counter-revolutionary reactionary elements against the capital of our country, against our people's democratic order and the power of the working class. Towards the rebels who have risen with arms in their hands against the legal order of our People's Republic, the Central Committee of our Party and our Government have adopted the only correct attitude: only surrender or complete defeat can await those who stubbornly continue their murderous, and at the same time completely hopeless, fight against the order of our working people.

At the same time we are aware that the provocateurs, going into the fight surreptitiously, have been using as cover many people who went astray in the hours of chaos, and especially many young people whom we cannot regard as the conscious enemies of our regime. Accordingly, now that we have reached the stage of liquidating the hostile attack, and with a view to avoiding further bloodshed, we have offered and are offering to those misguided individuals who are willing to surrender on demand, the opportunity of saving their lives and their future, and of returning to the camp of honest people.

(3) Janos Kadar, Radio Kossuth (30th October, 1956)

My fellow-workers, working brethren, dear comrades! Moved by the deep sense of responsibility to spare our nation and working masses further bloodshed, I declare that every member of the Presidium of the Hungarian Workers' Party agrees with today's decisions by the Council of Ministers. As for myself, I can add that I am in wholehearted agreement with those who spoke before me, Imre Nagy, Zoltan Tildy and Ferenc Erdei. They are my acquaintances and friends, my esteemed and respected compatriots.

I address myself to the Communists, to those Communists who were prompted to join the Party by the progressive ideas of mankind and socialism, and not by selfish personal interests - let us represent our pure and just ideas by pure and just means.

My comrades, my fellow workers! Bad leadership during the past years has cast on our Party the shadow of great and grave burdens. We must fully rid ourselves of these burdens, of all accusations against the Party. This must be done with a clear conscience, with courage and straight-forward resolution. The ranks of the Party will thin out, but I do not fear that pure, honest and well-meaning Communists will be disloyal to their ideals. Those who joined us for selfish personal reasons, for a career or other motives will be the ones to leave. But, having got rid of this ballast and the burden of past crimes by certain persons in our leadership, we will fight, even if to some extent from scratch, under more favourable and clearer conditions for the benefit of our ideas, our people, our compatriots and country.

I ask every Communist individually to set an example, by deeds and without pretense, a real example worthy of a man and a Communist, in restoring order, starting normal life, in resuming work and production, and in laying the foundations of an ordered life. Only with the honour thus acquired can we earn the respect of our other compatriots as well.

(4) Janos Kadar, Radio Kossuth (1st November, 1956)

In their glorious uprising our people have shaken off the Rakosi regime. They have achieved freedom for the people and independence for the country. Without this there can be no socialism. We can safely say that the ideological and organisational leaders who prepared this uprising were recruited from among your ranks. Hungarian Communist writers, journalists, university students, the youth of the Petofi Circle, thousands and thousands of workers and peasants, and veteran fighters who had been imprisoned on false charges, fought in the front line against Rakosiite despotism and political hooliganism.

In these momentous hours the Communists who fought against the despotism of Rakosi have decided, in accordance with the wish of many true patriots and socialists, to form a new Party. The new Party will break away from the crimes of the past for once and for all. It will defend the honour and independence of our country against anyone. On this basis, the basis of national independence, it will build fraternal relations with any progressive socialist movement and party in the world.

In these momentous hours of our history we call on every Hungarian worker who is led by devotion to the people and the country to join our Party, the name of which is the Hungarian Socialist Workers Party. The Party counts on the support of every honest worker who declares himself in favour of the socialist objectives of the working class. The Party invites into its ranks every Hungarian worker who adopts these principles and who is not responsible for the criminal policy and mistakes of the Rakosi-clique. We expect everybody to join who, in the past, was deterred from service to socialism by the anti-national policy and criminal deeds of Rakosi and his followers.

(5) Peter Fryer, Hungarian Tragedy (1956)

The troops in Budapest, as later in the provinces, were of two minds: there were those who were neutral and there were those who were prepared to join the people and fight alongside them. The neutral ones (probably the minority) were prepared to hand over their arms to the workers and students so that they could do battle against the A.V.H. with them. The others brought their arms with them when they joined the revolution. Furthermore, many sporting rifles were taken by the workers from the factory armouries of the Hungarian Voluntary Defence Organisation. The "mystery" of how the people were armed is no mystery at all. No one has yet been able to produce a single weapon manufactured in the West.

The Hungarian Stalinists, having made two calamitous mistakes, now made a third - or rather, it would be charitable to say, had it thrust on them by the Soviet Union. This was the decision to invoke a non-existent clause of the Warsaw Treaty and call in Soviet troops. This first Soviet intervention gave the people's movement exactly the impetus needed to make it united, violent and nation-wide. It seems probable, on the evidence, that Soviet troops were already in action three or four hours before the appeal, made in the name of Imre Nagy as his first act on becoming Prime Minister. That is debatable, but what is not debatable is that the appeal was in reality made by Gero and Hegedus; the evidence of this was later found and made public. Nagy became Prime Minister precisely twenty-four hours too late, and those who throw mud at him for making concessions to the Right in the ten days he held office should consider the appalling mess that was put into his hands by the Stalinists when, in desperation, they officially quit the stage.

With Nagy in office it would still have been possible to avert the ultimate tragedy if the people's two demands had been met immediately - if the Soviet troops had withdrawn without delay, and if the security police had been disbanded. But Nagy was not a free agent during the first few days of his premiership. It was known in Budapest that his first broadcast were made - metaphorically, if not literally - with a tommy-gun in his back.

(6) Manchester Guardian (14th November, 1956)

The fighting in Budapest is over. The streets are crowded. It is at once a city at peace and a city at war. The crowds in the streets, the workers of the factories, have no thought of resuming work. The people filling the city's main thoroughfares are part of a huge silent demonstration of protest. In an unending line they file past the damaged and destroyed houses, silently point to the shell holes and heaps of rubble that were once walls, and pass on.

The workers are streaming back to the factories but only to collect their pay - in most cases 50 per cent of their wages - and then go home. Sometimes they assemble for mass meetings in their factories, where resolutions are passed demanding an immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops, the formation of a Government under Imre Nagy, the admission of United Nations observers into the country, the establishment of a neutral Hungary, and free elections - though this last point is omitted in some resolutions. No work will be done except by public facilities and food services, the resolutions say, until the workers' demands have been conceded.

Leaflets, some of them printed, some cyclo-styled, spread the texts of these resolutions through the city. Government posters calling for a return to work are plastered over with these leaflets and with smaller handwritten posters calling for a continuation of the general strike.

The fighting in Budapest is over but the fight is on. And it is a grimmer fight than during the days when shells were whizzing past and boys and girls with Molotov cocktails were throwing themselves at Soviet tanks.

For, while limited supplies of food are available, the refusal of the fathers to work means starvation both for young and old and death for the weakest. Indeed, the youngest and the oldest and the infirm, deprived of the minimum food they need and of the medical attention that goes in the first place to the wounded freedom fighters, are dying in greater numbers than in more normal times. These deaths, like the deaths resulting from the actual fighting, are the logical consequences of the decision taken by the whole nation to carry on the fight.

The general strike through which this fight is now carried on is a murderous weapon both for those who use it and for those against whom it is directed. For the Kadar Government, supported only by Soviet tanks, is being killed as effectively as if each of its members were strung up from a lamp-post. The people taking part in this strike realise full well that what they are doing is madness, that they are not harming the Russians by their strike but only themselves. Yet there is method in their madness. They cannot believe that the West will stand by and witness passively the slow suicide of a whole nation.