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Revolution from Within: Institutional Analysis, Transitions from Authoritarianism, and the Case of Hungary

  • Patrick H. O'Neil (a1)

The Hungarian transition from socialism stands out from other examples of political change in the region, in that the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party (MSZMP) suffered an erosion of political power generated largely from within the party itself. The study shows how the Communist Party, after its destruction in the revolution of 1956, sought to institutionalize its rule through a course of limited liberalization and the broad co-optation of the populace. This policy helped create a tacit social compact with society, particularly in co-opting younger intellectuals who identified with the goals of reform socialism. However, the party eventually marginalized this group, creating an internal party opposition that supported socialism but opposed the MSZMP. Consequently, when the limits of Hungarian reform socialism became evident in the mid-1980s, rank-and-file intellectuals within the party began to mobilize against the party hierarchy, seeking to transform the MSZMP into a democratic socialist party. These “reform circles,” drawing their strength primarily from the countryside, spread to all parts of the party and helped undermine central party power and expand the political space for opposition groups to organize. Eventually, the reform circles were able to force an early party congress in which the MSZMP was transformed into a Western-style socialist party prior to open elections in 1990.

The case is significant in that it indicates that the forms of transition in Eastern Europe were not simply the specific outcome of elite interaction. Rather, they were shaped in large part by the patterns of socialist institutionalization found in each country. Therefore, studies of political transition can be enriched with an explicit focus on the institutional characteristics of each case, linking the forms of transitions and their posttransition legacies to the institutional matrix from which they emerged. In short, the study argues that the way in which an autocratic order perpetuates itself affects the manner in which that system declines and the shape of the new system that takes its place.

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1 Well-known examples of structural arguments include Lipset, Seymour Martin, “Some Social Requisites of Democracy: Economic Development and Political Legitimacy,” American Political Science Review 53 (March 1959); notable among process-oriented works is O'Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe C., and Whitehead, Lawrence, eds., Transitionsfrom Authoritarian Rule, 4 vols. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986).

2 O'Donnell, Schmitter, and Whitehead (fn. 1).

3 See in particular March, James G. and Olsen, Johan P., “The New Institutionalism: Organizational Factors in Political Life,” American Political Science Review 78 (September 1984); Powell, Walter W. and DiMaggio, Paul J., eds., The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

4 March and Olsen (fn. 3), 734.

5 Meyer, John W. and Scott, W. Richard, Organizational Environments: Ritual and Rationality (Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage, 1983).

6 Paul J. DiMaggio and Walter W. Powell, “Introduction,” in Powell and DiMaggio (fn. 3), 11.

7 Skocpol, Theda “Bringing the State Back In: Current Research,” in Evans, Peter B., Reuschemeyer, Dietrich, and Skocpol, Theda, eds., Bringing the State Back In (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 21.

8 DiMaggio and Powell (fn. 6), 14–15.

9 Ikenberry, G. John, “Conclusion: An Institutional Approach to American Foreign Economic Policy,” in Ikenberry, G. John, Lake, David A., and Mastanduno, Michael, eds., The State and American Foreign Economic Policy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1988), 224-25.

10 Krasner, Stephen D., “Approaches to the State: Alternative Conceptions and Historical Dynamics,” Comparative Politics 16 (January 1984), 240-44.

11 Notable examples include Comisso, Ellen, “Introduction: State Structures, Political Processes, and Collective Choice in CMEA States,” International Organization 40 (Spring 1986); Jowitt, Ken, “Weber, Trotsky and Holmes on the Study of Leninist Regimes,” Journal of International Affairs 45 (Summer 1991); Nee, Victor and Stark, David, “Toward an Institutional Analysis of State Socialism,” in Stark, David and Nee, Victor, eds., Remaking the Economic Institutions of Socialism: China and Eastern Europe (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1989); and Bunce, Valerie and Csanadi, Maria, “Uncertainty in the Transition: Post-Communism in Hungary,” East European Politics and Societies 7 (Spring 1993).

12 See, for example, Moore, Barrington Jr., Terror and Progress, U.S.S.R.: Some Sources of Change Stability in the Soviet Dictatorship (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954).

13 Jepperson, “Institutions, Institutional Effects, and Institutionalism,” in Powell and DiMaggio (fn. 3), 146.

14 See in particular Jowitt (fn. 11); and Nee and Stark (fn. 11).

15 Jowitt (fn. 11), 40.

16 See the criticism of Jowitt's approach in Schmitter, Philippe C. and Karl, Terry, “The Types of Democracy Emerging in Southern and Eastern Europe and South and Central America,” in Volten, Peter M. E., Bound to Change: Consolidating Democracy in East-Central Europe (New York: Institute for East-West Studies, 1992), 4345.

17 W. Richard Scott, “Unpacking Institutional Arguments,” in Powell and DiMaggio (fn. 3), 179–80.

18 Selznick, Philip, Leadership in Administration (Evanston, Ill.: Row, Peterson, 1957), 17.

19 As Alvin Gouldner argues, this is in fact a basic part of political development in all societies; in the long run the intellectual “expert” segment must be “either coopted into the ruling class or it must be subjected to the repressive control of a burgeoning bureaucracy.” See Gouldner, , The Future of the Intellectuals and the Rise ofthe New Class (New York: Seabury Press, 1979), 24.

20 Konrád, George and Szelényi, Iván, The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979).

21 Szelényi, Iván, “The Prospects and Limits of the East European New Class Project: An Auto-Critical Reflection on The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power Politics and Society 15, no. 2 (19861987).

22 Holmes, Leslie, “The GDR: ‘Real Socialism’ or ‘Computer Stalinism’?” in Holmes, Leslie, ed., The Withering Away ofthe State? Party and State under Communism (London: Sage, 1981).

23 Hankiss, Elemér, East European Alternatives (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), chap. 3.

24 Lengyel, László, Micsoda év! (What a year!) (Budapest: Szépirodalmi Könyvkiadó, 1991), 20.

25 Gazsó, Ferenc, “Cadre Bureaucracy and the Intelligentsia,” Journal of Communist Studies 8 (September 1992); see also the formerly classified Statisztikai adatok a káderállományról (Statistical data on cadre positions) (Budapest: MSZMP KB Párt- és Tömegszervezetek Osztálya, 1983), esp. 10, 67.

26 For details on the class origin, age, and tenures of county party secretaries in Hungary, see Statisztikai adatok (fn. 25), esp. 48; and András Nyírö, Segédkönyv a politikai bizottság tanulmányozásához (Resource guide to the study of the Politburo) (Budapest: Interart, n.d.).

27 Data derived from Central Intelligence Agency publications on Communist Party cadre demographics in Eastern Europe. See, for example, Directory of Hungarian Officials (Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1987).

28 Gergely, András A., Az állampárt varázstalanítása (The disenchantment of the party-state) (Budapest: TTI, 1992); and László Bogár, “A megye pártszervek szerepe a megyei tanácsi területfejlesztési döntési mechanizmusban” (The role of county party organs in the county council's regional development decision-making mechanism) (Manuscript, TTI collection, Budapest, 1989).

29 One journalist has provided a clever example in his observation that the further one traveled from the capital and out from under the gaze of “az Oreg” (the old man), meaning Kádár, the more audacious were party elites and thus the more sumptuous their food: “Nowhere else could one find a more exceptional kitchen than at the county party committee.” László Hovanyecz, “Háborús gyerek” (Children of wartime), Népszabadság, May 15, 1993, p. 21.

30 Zsolt Szoboszlai, “Vázlat a vidéki értelmiségröl” (Outline of the rural intelligentsia), Juss 2/3 (December 1989-January 1990), 103–12; Pál Bánlaky, “A kisvárosok értelmisége a ‘helyi társadalom' közéletében” (The small-town intelligentsia the public life of “local society”), in Huszár, Tibor, ed., A magyar értelmiség a '80-as években (The Hungarian intelligentsia in the 1980s) (Budapest: Kossuth, 1986).

31 Gamson, William, Power and Discontent (Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey, 1968), esp. 32–37.

32 The following discussion of the reform circles is based on an analysis of approximately two hundred unpublished reform circle documents collected by the author, MSZMP archival research, and interviews with reform circle participants and former Politburo members (Imre Pozsgay, Reszö Nyers, and Károly Grósz) in Hungary. Specific interviews or documents will be cited as appropriate. For an expanded analysis of this topic, see O'Neil, Patrick, “Revolution from Within: The Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party ‘Reform Circles’ and the Transition from Socialism” (Ph.D. diss., Indiana University, 1994).

31 Author interview with Károly Grósz, Gödöllö, June 2,1993; also transcripts of Central Committee meeting, December 15, 1988, Hungarian Ministry of Education MSZMP archival collection 288f 4/248 ö.e.

34 Author interview with Csongrád county reform circle members, Szeged, February 9, 1993, and Budapest, October 20, 1992, and March 23, 1993; József Lovászi, “Párttagok reformköre Csongrád megyében” (The party members' reform circle in Csongrád county) (Unpublished document, dated March 28,1989).

35 “Reformkörök a pártban is!” (There are reform circles in the party as well!”), Délmagyarország, November 29,1988, p. 2.

36 “Megalakult a párttagok reformköre” (The party members' reform circle has been established), Csongrád Megye Hírlap, December 3,1988, p. 3.

37 “Grósz Károly beszéde a megyei pártertekezleten” (Károly Grósz's speech at the county party conference), Csongrád Megye Hírlap, December 12,1988, pp. 3–4.

38 Radio Budapest, January 28,1989, cited in Alfred Reisch, “HSWP Study Re-Evaluates the 1956 Revolution, Imre Nagy, and Forty Years of Hungarian History,” Radio Free Europe Research (February 24,1989), 5.

39 Kerényi, György, “Reform kor-kör-kór-kép” (A portrait of the reform time/circle/malady), Jelzö 1, no. 6 (1989).

40 For details on the conference, see István Tanacs and Éva Terényi, “Békés átmenettel a demokratikus szocializmusba” (With a peaceful transition to democratic socialism), Népszabadság, May 22, 1989, pp. 1, 4–5; Judith Pataki, “First National Conference of HSWP Reform Circles,” Radio Free Europe Research (May 30,1989).

41 “Tajékoztató az MSZMP Központi Bizottságának az MSZMP reformkörök 1989 május 20-án Szegeden rendezett munkatanácskozásáröl” (Information for the MSZMP Central Committee on the MSZMP reform circles' May 20,1989, work conference in Szeged), MSZMP Central Committee meeting, May 29, 1989, Hungarian Ministry of Education MSZMP archival collection 288f. 4/263 ö.e., 125–29.

42 See the text of a television interview with Károly Grósz, “’Tagadom, hogy a négy évtized zsákutca volt” (I deny that the last four decades were a dead end), Magyar Hírlap, May 31,1989,4–5.

43 “Reformkongresszust! Felhívás az MSZMP tagsághoz” (Reform congress! Call to the MSZMP membership) (Unpublished joint document of six reform circles, June 14, 1989); “A Budapesti Reformkörének állásfoglalása a pártkongresszusról” (The Budapest reform circle statement regarding the party congress), Népszabadság, June 12,1989, p. 7.

44 Kerekes, György and Varsádi, Zsusza, eds., Reformkörök és reform-alapszervezetek budapesti tanácskazása (The Budapest conference on reform circles and reform cells) (Budapest: Kossuth, n.d. [1989]).

45 See Kongresszus '89, no. 23 (October 6,1989), 1. This was a special party publication disseminated to all delegates from September 1989 until the last day of the congress.

46 László Bihari, “A multát végleg eltörölni” (To finally break with the past), Kapu (October 1989), 4–5.

47 Supplement to invitations for the first meeting of the Reform Alliance congress platform, September 25,1989.

48 For details on congress events, see Kimmel, Emil, ed., Kongresszus '89: rövidett, szerkesztett jegyzökönyv az 1989 oktöber 6—9 között tartott kongresszus anyagából (Congress '89: Shortened, edited transcripts of the material from October 6–9,1989, congress) (Budapest: Kossuth, 1990); Benkö, Judit, Kerekes, György, and Patkós, János, A születés szépséges kínjai, avagy a rendhagyó híradás az MSZMP kongresszusról 1989 Október 6–9 (The beautiful agony of birth, or irregular information concerning the October 6–9,1989, MSZMP congress) (Budapest: Kossuth, n.d. [1990]).

49 Benkö, Kerekes, and Patkós (fn. 48), 20.

50 Rudolph Tökés, “Beyond the Party Congress: Hungary's Hazy Future,” New Leader, October 30, 1989, p. 6.

51 Calculated by the author. Nearly half of the delegates for the Peoples' Democratic Platform were from Budapest, as opposed to less than a quarter for the Reform Alliance; Vass, László, “A Magyar Szocialista Párt,” in Bihari, László, ed., A többpártrendszer kialakulása magyarországon (The formation of multiparty democracy in Hungary) (Budapest: Kossuth, 1992), 149.

52 László Kéri and Mária Zita Petschnig, “Ez a név lesz a végsö” (This name shall be your last), pt. 2, Elsö kezböl (October 16,1989), 9–10.

53 Erzsébet Sulyok, “Antipolitikus sorok, reformkörben” (Antipolitical ranks in the reform circles), Szegedi Egyetem, October 16,1989, p. 1.

54 Rezsö Nyers, “Az MSZP várja tagjait az MSZMP-böl és azon kívülröl is” (The MSZP expects members from both inside and outside the MSZMP), Népszabadság, October 14,1989, p. 14.

55 Zoltan D. Barany, “The Hungarian Socialist Party: A Case of Political Miscalculation,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report (December 22,1989), pp. 1–2.

56 For detailed information on the outcome of the elections, see Szoboszlai, György, ed., Parlamenti választások 1990 (Parliamentary elections 1990) (Budapest: MTA Társadalomtudományi Intézet, 1990); an analysis of the Hungarian electoral system can be found in Hibbing, John R. and Patterson, Samuel, “A Democratic Legislature in the Making: The Historic Hungarian Elections of 1990,” Comparative Political Studies 24 (January 1992).

57 Racz, Barnabas, “The Socialist-Left Opposition in Post-Communist Hungary,” Europe-Asia Studies 45, no. 4 (1993), 660-63.

58 For details, see Judith Pataki, “Hungary's New Parliament Inaugurated,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Report (July 22,1994), 7–11.

59 József Géczi, “Jöttünk, láttunk, buktunk … bukva gyöztünk?” (We came, we saw, we failed … in failure were we victorious?), Népszabadság, June 23,1990, p. 17.

60 Schmitter and Karl (fn. 16), 59–61.

61 This last point is made most clearly by Bruszt, László and Stark, David, “Remaking the Political Field in Hungary: From the Politics of Confrontation to the Politics of Competition,” Journal of International Affairs 45 (Summer 1991), esp. 19 fn. 11.

62 O'Neil, Patrick, “Presidential Power in Post-Communist Europe: The Hungarian Case in Comparative Perspective,” Journal of Communist Studies 9 (September 1993).

* The research for this study was supported in 1992 and 1993 by a Fulbright-Hays Grant from the Center for International Education of the U.S. Department of Education, as well as by a grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX), with funds provided by the U.S. Department of State. None of these organizations is responsible for the views herein expressed. My thanks to Andrew K. Milton for his comments on previous versions of this article.

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