Journey to a Forgotten Revolution — An Interview with András B. Göllner


At the start of the new year, Black Rose Books and the University of Chicago Press announced the world-wide release of a new volume of essays on a revolution that threatened to derail not only the emerging world order after World War I but irritates to this day one of the most sensitive nerve endings of a people’s collective identity in Central Europe. (See: András B. Göllner (ed), The Forgotten Revolution: The 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils, Montreal/Chicago: Black Rose Books/University of Chicago Press. 2022. For details and to order the book please click here.

This is how a member of the American delegation to the Paris Peace Conference of 1919 described the events in Budapest:” if the troubles in Hungary spread, they’ll make wastepaper of our conventions” (Quoted by Margaret MacMillan in Paris 1919 Six Months That Changed the World. 2001). This is how Professor András B. Göllner, the editor of the new publication summarizes the work he and his team of international scholars have just completed: “The 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils had not been treated kindly during the past century by the historians or the political regimes that succeeded it from either the Right or the Left, for fear that full disclosure of its true character may spark a repeat performance and destroy them all. The wall of ignorance surrounding this event had become as impenetrable as those thorn bushes that entombed Sleeping Beauty for a hundred years. Our book raises the curtain on one of the greatest cover ups in world history about the struggle of the oppressed for justice, constitutionally guaranteed equal rights and ecologically sustainable communal well being”.

Rather than joining the ranks of those who condemn the 1919 Republic of Councils as a stain on Hungary’s Christian-National Identity, an embarrassment to the international labour movement and the Left, or a threat to the world order, Göllner and his team embrace and celebrate it. „Our book focuses on the extraordinary but neglected role common folks play in world history. It restores the stolen dignity of millions, who rose spontaneously, and as one, to liberate themselves from the fortune hunters who derive their power and profits by destroying the ability of working men and women to distinguish illusion from reality. Our book puts an end to the relentless character assassination of the 1919 Budapest Commune by ideologues and those who cannot accept the idea that working men and women are entitled to govern themselves without a self-appointed vanguard dictating to them who should get what, when and how within their communities. The Forgotten Revolution restores the voice of those whose lives matter: the long-silenced millions who wanted to liberate not only themselves but to set an example for their oppressed sisters and brothers around the world. It vividly illustrates the true meaning of the word, Solidarity. Ours is a tribute to those who, a century ago, gave their lives for an idea that cannot be exterminated.”

The Editors of HFP recently sat down with Professor Göllner in Montreal for this non-proprietary interview.**

Cover source: Black Rose Books.

HFP: Where did the idea for this book come from?

Since my early days as an inquisitive child of Hungarian refugees to Canada, I’ve been puzzled why it is that every time I turned to my elders on either the right, the center, or the left of the political spectrum and asked them about the 1919 Budapest Commune, they would recoil as if stung by a wasp or complain about the bad taste my question had left in their mouths. The first person to give me a straight answer was Ilona Duczynska (1897-1978), the wife of the economic historian Karl Polanyi (1886-1964). I befriended her in the mid 1970s when I was still a young graduate student at the London School of Economics, and she was near the end of her life. Ilona was the one who lit the fuse of that massive explosion in 1919 that made the diplomats shake in their boots in Paris (she just turned 20 at the time). She is the one who opened my eyes to that great historical event, but it was Dimitrios Roussopoulos, the founder of Black Rose Books, who prompted me to solve the puzzle that has been bothering me since my childhood. In the fall of 2018 and in the shadow of the Commune’s 100th anniversary, he turned towards me with a glass of wine in his hands and asked me to submit a proposal to his Editorial Board on a new journey to Ilona’s stomping ground – that revolution in Central Europe that apparently everyone loves to hate. It didn’t take much arm-twisting to make me say yes. We workshopped his book idea at a colloque at Concordia University in April 2019, I presented some additional sketches of my own that summer at a couple of scholarly conferences in Canada and the US. Our research team left the harbour in the fall when we were certain only drowning men could see us…  

HFP: Hmm…  Who were your crew members on this journey into the Eye of the Storm and how did you go about selecting them?

Dimitrios Roussopoulos is a man who is not long on words (those who will read his closing remarks in our book will be able to recognize this enviable aspect of his character). All he said to me was this: provide me with a manuscript that we can be proud of at Black Rose Books as one of our signature publications celebrating 50 years in publishing. He gave me carte blanche to select the best people I could find in the international community of scholars to get the job done. I did not use the bait he used on me (a fine bottle of Pinot), but took poetic license from a well known poet-troubadour who used to live downstream from my refuge on The Main in Montreal: I chose my fellow travellers from among those who knew where to look among the garbage and the flowers – sailors who could spot the heroes in the seaweed, the children in the morning, who are leaning out for love, and will lean that way forever

HFP: What are you trying to tell us?

Wasn’t it obvious? I climbed the ivory towers, consulted with academic referees in Canada, the US, Europe, Hungary, including a woman called Suzanne, before I settled on the team that would set sail with me on this journey to the policy universe of the 1919 Republic of Councils. The people I chose are internationally recognized experts in their field, some are even historians (!). Every one of them is dedicated to upholding Aristotle’s teachings on the necessity of approaching the truth along a path paved by empirically verifiable facts. We are all stuck in the middle between Hume and Kant on balancing reason and emotion in our approach to knowing. We fully subscribe to the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas and respect the power and virtue of communicative action. We’re all practitioners of what the ancient Greeks referred to as parrhesia – a form of fearless speech that Michel Foucault would deconstruct for us shortly before his passing. Peter Kropotkin’s ideas about mutual aid and solidarity run through our veins. The loosely Polanyian team that I assembled for delivering the goods Roussopoulos was looking for is dedicated to serving the existential needs of those whose lives matter: the oppressed, the discarded, the marginalized, the working men and women of the world, who are leaning out for love, and will lean that way forever… 

There were ten of us on this expedition. In addition to myself and in alphabetical order, they are: Christopher Adam, the late Magda Aranyossi, Lajos Csoma, Péter Csunderlik, Marie-Josée Lavalleé, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Raquel Varela, Dimitrios Roussopoulos himself and Susan Zimmermann. 

HFP: One of the striking features of your expedition is its unique gender profile. Unlike earlier ones, which consisted almost entirely of men, yours is equally divided between five man and five women.  Was this the result of chance or of a conscious decision?  

The latter. During my review of the scholarly literature on the 1919 Republic of Councils, I too was taken aback by the persistence and durability of its lopsided “gender profile”. The number of studies, memoirs, reflections produced by men vastly outnumber those written by women. Not surprisingly, this lopsided profile had cast a long, patriarchal shadow on its subject matter. What role did workingwomen play in the 1919 “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” in Hungary? What kind of policies, civil and human rights were gained by or fought for by Hungarian working women during those times, and what have historians written or said about all of this during the past century? It is not an exaggeration to say, that until relatively recently, there have not been any studies on the Commune from a gender history perspective. Compiling a new take on the 1919 Commune, in which yet again, all the contributors are men, was out of the question for me.

HFP: How has Covid 19 affected your voyage to the policy universe of the 1919 Budapest Commune?

It delayed our return by about a year and a half. 

HFP: Apart from its „gender profile” what distinguishes this journey back in time from previous expeditions?

Where should I begin? And how much time do I have?  

I suppose, what really distinguishes this trip from others is that it will put a smile rather than a frown on the face of working men and women around the world, and nowhere more so than in the land of my ancestors. It will eliminate that bad taste from the mouth of everyone, except for the fortune hunters, the 1%, the leaders of the assault on our natural habitat, the perpetrators of the various affinity-frauds against the down and out not only in Hungary but in all corners of the world. The Forgotten Revolution is not a celebration of Béla Kun, his “Lenin Boys”, but the heroism of millions who risked everything including their lives so they and their oppressed sisters and brothers around the world could walk in dignity on the path of righteousness towards justice, equal rights, and ecologically sustainable communal well-being. 

What distinguishes our journey from all previous expeditions is the approach we have taken to what many have looked upon until now as an irritating Red Dwarf in the sky. This comment is not intended to belittle the efforts of the serious, objective pioneers who have gone before us. It merely seeks to draw attention to the fact that the compass or navigational system we relied upon to guide us is of a very recent vintage – the culmination of decades of rigorous work by some of the finest public policy scholars from around the globe. It was simply unavailable to members of the earlier expeditions, including the most recent ones that departed from Hungary during the past couple of years. Our state-of-the-art compass enabled us to get around all kinds of obstructions, especially the ideological ones, that kept that multi coloured “Big Lie” about the Commune alive and well for over a century. 

I hasten to add: ours is not a final but an opening statement, an important test run with a new, state-of-the-art compass that has enabled us to bring back not only breathtakingly fresh, and sharp images of the architecture of the Red Dwarf at its peak luminosity – its burning-hot core, the constituent parts of its public-policy engine, the actors, ideas and institutions that shaped its public policies – but actual samples of its policy initiatives: its judicial policies, its approach to law enforcement, the exercise of physical force over its territory, its alleged reliance on terror, its approach to women, its relationship to the closest planets to its orbit and last but not least, the resonance of its sound as it faded from view in the night sky. 

HFP: Can you tell us a bit more about this state-of-the-art viewfinder that can reveal details about the 1919 Republic of Councils that our earlier instruments have been unable to detect?

Due to the limited space at my disposal here, I can only give you a thumbnail of its mechanics (readers will find the “full specs” in Chapter 4 of our book). The first thing everyone should know about it is this: Ours is a moral rather than amoral compass. Before someone jumps on us by declaring that one should never, ever allow a moral compass to guide a scientific inquiry I hasten to add my caveat: ours has been certified by the global academy of the policy sciences as kosher. It is the model featured by virtually all of the leading academic texts on public policy analysis today. Those who would prefer something more down to earth, let me add the following reassurances: the value preferences of our compass are not only universally accepted by all members of the United Nations, including the current government of Hungary, but were fully embraced by millions of ordinary Hungarians in 1848, 1919, and 1956. This compass, in other words, possesses unassailable legitimacy in the policy evaluation toolkit of anyone who wants to pursue state-of-the-art research on the policy universe of the 1919 Republic of Councils, or of any other State in the universe.  

Apart from its unassailable value settings, the most unique feature of our compass is that it integrates the latest innovations from the policy sciences into the electronic circuitry of its sensors allowing us thereby to connect the dots between the past, the present and the future. It is this fusion, combined with some other technical refinements, that has enabled us to provide not only startlingly fresh images from the policy universe of the Budapest Commune, but to expose the roots of the current autocratic government of Viktor Orbán that derives its essential nutrients out of the counterrevolution that buried the 1919 Budapest Commune and distorted its character. We’re confident, that our compass will enable others to follow where no one had gone before and bring about a paradigmatic shift in how we look upon the behavior of working men and women and their self-appointed vanguards in any time or space and without any jeopardy to Einstein’s concept of relativity.  

What are some of the most precious treasures that you brought back from your journey? What are the most important revelations in this book?

It’s hard to decide not only what to start with, but what to lay out on a relatively small surface such as this one. Instead of cherry picking, let me start with a general observation: Our findings refute the “Big Lie” of the past century. We reveal that contrary to the stories about its violent character, the transition from the People’s Republic to the Hungarian Republic of Councils on March 21, 1919, was remarkably peaceful and non-violent (if we discount the March 20 ultimatum and the threat of violence by the Western Imperialist Powers which resulted in the collapse of the Károlyi regime). No shots rang out in the streets of Budapest on March 21, 1919, there was no rushing of Parliament by an angry mob, or by a squadron of rebellious soldiers. The number of casualties during the first few weeks of the revolution were less than the number of people that die from car accidents on a long weekend.  The dictatorship of the proletariat came to Budapest on little cats’ feet like the fog in Carl Sandburg’s unforgettable 1916 poem and left more or less the same way as it came. Béla Kun and his colleagues hopped on a chartered train for Vienna on August 1. It wasn’t the Hungarian masses, the restless bourgeoisie or the sleepy aristocracy that chased them out of town but the troops of the Romanian monarchy, who were armed, financed, and put up to the task by the imperialist great powers. 

We also lay to rest the lie that portrays the Commune as the product of a Bolshevik coup, an act of state sanctioned Red Terror, and demonstrate that it was a massive and spontaneous social uprising that rejected terror as a legitimate policy instrument of the proletarian state. The samples that we gathered revealed that the 1919 Commune possessed the same revolutionary DNA as the one that occurred in Hungary in 1848 and then in 1956. We have concluded from all of this that the time has arrived to reclaim our heroes in the seaweed, our children in the morning, who are leaning out for love, and will lean that way forever… 

Peter Csundelik’s opening chapter provided irrefutable evidence to support not Karl Marx’s, but the reigning European Conservative politician’s, Lloyd George’s assessment of the situation that existed in Hungary in 1919: There are few countries in the world so much in need of a revolution as Hungary. Lajos Csoma’s chapter on the workers’, peasants’ and soldiers’ councils of 1919 provides unassailable evidence of the unmatched luminosity, the broad, popular base of the massive social upheaval that produced the Budapest Commune. The contrast with the German, Austrian and Russian revolutions has never been as clearly revealed until now, thanks among others to Professors Marie-Josée Lavallée, Kari Polanyi Levitt, Raquel Varela (with a little help from myself). Professor Susan Zimmermann’s exposure of Magda Aranyossi’s long hidden historical document on the role working women played in the Commune is a gem. Thanks to another historian, Dr. Christopher Adam, we now also have an authentic recording of the soundwaves produced by that imploding Red Dwarf in the sky upon the distant shores of Canada, the place where Ilona Duczynska herself sought final refuge from the counterrevolutionary waves sweeping through the land of her ancestors.

We have proven that the conventional narrative that identifies Béla Kun and his Soviet trained colleagues—working hand in glove with the Kremlin—guided by Lenin’s blueprints and working within a cohesive and well-structured institutional setting, which ostensibly provided them with preferential treatment inside the walls of the new Hungarian state, is pure fiction. It is as false as that fairy tale by the Grimm Brothers, which totally misrepresented what really happened to Sleeping Beauty when a predatory prince came upon her in the middle of the night while she was fast asleep. 

HFP: What then is the real story? 

Look up the original, 12th century version: Sleeping Beauty was not liberated but raped by the prince that jumped her in the middle of the night. She was liberated by her children in the morning, who were leaning out for love and will lean that way forever… 

The Forgotten Revolution reveals the ingenuity of Hungary’s working men and women to rise spontaneously, without a vanguard, and to organize themselves into self-governing, autonomous local councils of workers, peasants’, and soldiers’ deputies in pursuit of the path towards justice, equal rights, and ecologically sustainable communal well-being. This is the first book about 1919 that tells its audience that it has nothing to be ashamed of and a lot to celebrate about 1919. It returns the stolen dignity of millions of working men and women and will fill them with pride and a sense of solidarity for each other at a time when their sense of solidarity has been virtually extinguished by the fortune hunters who rule over them. 

HFP: How is it that historians until now have generally accepted “The Big Lie” about 1919 and instead of refuting it, they have propagated it? 

Please do not get me started. How is it that until recently the children of Canada’s first nations did not figure in Canada’s history books, the sexually abused children of the Catholic church have not been heard of, the ten million children of God who perished in the Congo, to satisfy King Leopold’s greed have not tarnished his image in the annals of Western Civilization, or limited the cash flow of the Harvard and Oxford historians (sic) who have portrayed the rape of the world outside the shores of Europe, as white men’s burden? Fairy tales sell. The fortune hunters have cornered the market everywhere and have gotten away with murder. It’s a complex story, this fascination of Sapiens with fiction, rather than faction. Harari has a good handle on it. It will lead to the end of us, unless the rebels, the game changers, the people who want to walk on the path of righteousness – the path towards ecologically sustainable communal well being, justice, and equal rights – take matters into their own hands. 

HFP: Unlike you, most historians, not to mention politicians like László Kövér, the President of the Hungarian Parliament today, argue that the use of terror and violence was a consciously chosen policy instrument of the 1919 Commune, that it was ideologically baked into its design from the get-go. What makes you think you are right and everyone else is wrong?

I don’t suppose you want me to say, that it’s due to our possession of a compass that provides us with more accurate readings about the public policy universe of the 1919 Commune than the one in the hands of Mr. Kövér? Unfortunately, or fortunately this in fact has a lot to do with our divergent findings. 

We’re proud to be raising the curtains on one of the great untold stories of the 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils. What our compass had led us to see is that while terror was indeed a highly preferred policy tool in Moscow, and Lenin had frequently exhorted his comrades in Hungary to apply it in their praxis as well, the leading actors of the Hungarian Proletarian State frowned upon its use.  A Soviet trained minority, the so-called “Lenin-Boys” of Szamuely and Cserny, along with some others, most definitely wanted it to become a state sanctioned policy tool but they were never able to secure the majority of their colleagues’ support for the use of terror as the propellant of working men and women to the center stage of Hungarian history. 

Before Mr. Kövér accuses us of being possessed by nostalgia for the acts of terror committed during the 1919 Republic of Councils, we are compelled to repeat: Our analysis does not overlook or excuse the inhuman actions committed during the 133 days of the Commune by some of its “bad boys” (the term is consciously borrowed from the title of the most recent book on the 1919 Republic of Councils by Pál Hatos: Rosszfiúk világforradalma (The World Revolution of the Bad Boys), Budapest, 2021). We do not minimize the suffering of the innocent victims who were murdered, held hostage, or were made to fear for their lives by the vigilantes, the “low-riders” of the revolution. We have not come to praise terror, but to bury those parts of it that do not belong in the public policy universe of the 1919 proletarian state. 

HFP: Why did the revolution fail?

There is a short and a long answer for why the movement of Hungary’s working men and women to the center of their political arena in 1919 ended in failure. The short answer is this: they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. For the longer answer, you should look at our book. I’ll try to summarize the main argument as briefly as I can. 

The 1919 Commune could not survive because every one of Hungary’s neighbors wanted it to fail and none more so than the Great Powers that had just defeated Hungary on the battlefield. The neighbors that the communards looked upon as their natural allies (Germany, Austria, and Russia) were unable to or unwilling to offer the kind of help that was needed at the time.  

It would be incorrect to put all the blame on external forces for the failure of the revolution. There were plenty of internal variables at play to bring about the downfall Dictatorship of the Proletariat. The country was bleeding from far too many wounds of its own making well before it transformed itself into a Commune as a last, desperate effort to survive. It was not only the neighbouring bloodhounds, but the total absence of a commonly shared vision of the revolutionary state by its self-appointed vanguard – the politicians that operated the bureaucratic apparatus of the proletarian state – that sank the good ship Lollipop. 

The new political party that emerged out of the fusion of the powerful Social Democratic Party and the much smaller Communist Party (the latter had virtually no roots within the Hungarian labour movement) was a sharply divided entity. Far from being united, the Bolshevik minority within this new party (that could not even agree on what to call itself until the 3rd month of its existence) was also split into three incessantly feuding factions. It was not by chance but as a sign of my acknowledgement of her wisdom, that I posted the following advice of my old friend, Ilona Duczynska, onto the masthead of the ship that took us on this journey to the policy universe of that forgotten revolution: Without clarity in aim, a political vision of a revolutionary state, there can be no victory over tyranny and oppression. 

And finally: It was not only the internal disunity of its self-appointed vanguard, its blurred political vision, but its disconnect from the lives of the people that mattered that ate away at the spirit of this desperate, spontaneous leap of Hungary’s working men and women into the unknown. In his first telegram to Lenin from Vienna after he fled Budapest, Kun would blame the working men and women of Hungary and the Social Democrats in his tent for the collapse of the Commune. It showed how far he had moved away from the lives of those that mattered. To conclude: it was not any one thing but the combination of the above forces that enabled the Republic of Councils to be carved up like a live turkey at a thanksgiving dinner by the fortune hunters who operated and operate the movement of those tectonic geopolitical plates that grind against each other along that fault line that runs across Central Europe and Hungary’s body politic to this very day.

HFP: Why did the Social Democrats in Austria or Germany not come to the aid of their comrades in Hungary?  Why were there no International Brigades sent to Hungary in 1919 like in Spain in 1936? Why did Lenin not send in the Red Army? Why was the Budapest Commune left high and dry by its closest friends on the Left? 

The short answer to your question is this: the unity of working men and women around the world has never been more than a twinkle in the eyes of a long-deceased German philosopher, whose works are as accessible to the proletariat as the dark side of the moon. Since the beginning of time, the fortune hunters that live among the workers have always succeeded in mobilizing them to kill their own brothers and sisters. And they have not lost their touch. Those who doubt my words should check out the social stratification of the newest campsite in America where that bible-thumping multi-billionaire Corinthian, the Artificial Blond Bomber (aka Donald Trump) resides. Having said that, I too am interested, especially now, on the eve of our destruction, why the so-called Left is so inept in putting an end to this serial horror show. I will try now to answer your question as best as I can. 

Ideology and realpolitique are equally to blame for the betrayal of the Budapest Commune by those of its neighbors who were best positioned to help it. Though they would pay lip service to it, the leadership of the German Social Democratic Party was bitterly opposed to the idea of allowing spontaneously organized and autonomous Workers’ Councils to exercise executive, legislative and judicial leadership on the path to Socialism. While they arranged surreptitiously the brutal murder of Rosa Luxemburg by the Freikorps in January 1919, their colleagues in Hungary, László Rudas and György Lukács would loudly sing Rosa’s praises throughout the lifetime of the Commune, until they were told to stop doing so by Lenin’s Commintern in 1920. 

The geopolitical equation in the case of Germany can also be summarized in a few words. The German Social Democratic leadership was desperate not to upset the Entente powers that were deliberating over their country’s fate in Paris between 1919-1920. Unlike the Hungarians, they had a bird’s eye view into the kitchen at Versailles. The last thing they wanted to do was to help a country, that was attempting to “make wastepaper of the Entente’s conventions” or to demonstrate to the world that the “Budapest School” was superior to the one in Berlin. 

The Austrians were perhaps even more vulnerable to the blackmail of the Entente than Germany. Not only the country’s boundaries, but the ability of this defeated nation to feed its citizens, to heat their homes, to supply her remaining industries with fuel was entirely dependant on the good will of the victorious Great Powers. Otto Bauer and the Austrian Social Democrats who ran Vienna refused outright to endorse or to assist their brothers and sisters in Hungary when they came to them for help. Austro-Marxism was a staunch advocate of the parliamentary path to Socialism and would have no truck with those who studiously avoided their Parliament building, and wanted to give all power to the workers’, soldiers’, and peasants’ deputies over the process of deciding who got what, when and how in their communities. 

The situation with Russia, the country the Hungarians pinned all their hopes on was strikingly similar. Lenin could not believe his ears, when he heard the news that Béla Kun dissolved his party into the apparatus of the Bolsheviks’ mortal enemy – the Hungarian Social Democratic Party – on the night of March 20th and gave up the leading role of the Hungarian Communist Party on the path to Socialism. He read the draft constitution of the Commune in Moscow and considered it a sick joke. He was also fully aware of the fact that Béla Kun was lying to him in his daily telegraphs, that proclaimed that there were no workers’ councils in Hungary and he (Béla) was leading the Social Democratic Party by the nose. One can say a lot of things about Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. The one thing he was not, is a fool. Lenin and the Russian Bolsheviks rejected the request of the Budapest Communards to join them in an alliance – a request sent to them by non other than the Commune’s Bolshevik Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Béla Kun. Lenin refused to take on the risk of marching on to war on behalf of a suspicious ally and increase the hostility of the Great Powers when the outcome of the Russian civil war was still in limbo.

What happened after Béla Kun and his Bolsheviks took the last train out of Budapest for Vienna on August 1, 1919?  

The words of József Berzsák, a simple labourer and a leading member of a rural workers’ council in the county of Szolnok offer perhaps the best summary of how the 1919 attempt by Hungary’s working men and women to move to the center stage of their political arena ended after the fog had lifted in Budapest. They show more clearly than any academic text how the 1919 Republic of Councils became a forgotten revolution. (I’m grateful to my Hungarian colleague Lajos Csoma for allowing me to translate and use this passage from his recent doctoral dissertation) 

We would not have acted any differently even if we could have seen into the future and saw the terrible shadows of the fate that awaited us. What became of us, after the fog had lifted? Who doesn’t know? Crushing defeat and imprisonment, loss of livelihood, hatred, ridicule and unending scorn, the executioners’ ropes and bullets, the bottom of a freshly dug pit awaited countless numbers of our good companions. Those of us who survived have been left behind by time. We are getting older, there are fewer and fewer of us left as time passes by, but we always think back to our honest endeavor, our good-willed, noble constructive intent with a pure heart and proud self-awareness. The past is closed, the present lives, we look to the future with hope.

HFP: You have characterized the past hundred years after the collapse of the 1919 Commune as a Permanent Counterrevolutionary Rhapsody. Don’t you think your liberal friends in Budapest will take offence when they read the 3rd movement of your score – the period between 1990 and 2010, when they were in power? 

I’m not sure which liberal friends you are alluding to now: members of the so-called “Budapest School” of philosophers, sociologists hatched in that incubator that György Lukács put together after the dust settled on post-Stalinist Hungary, or the ones that joined the various newly crafted political parties and engineered the neo-liberal counterrevolution that overwhelmed Hungary in 1990 and ended in 2010? 

Before answering you directly let me make a general comment. Laying the blame for the failure of the post-Communist transition to Democracy in Hungary on the shoulders of that country’s liberals alone would be as foolish as blaming the Bolsheviks alone for the rise and fall of the 1919 Republic of Councils. We would need to drill down much deeper into the political-cultural rabbit holes of my ancestors and into the geo-political plates that constantly rub up against them, before we can come up with a meaningful answer. 

And now to your question: The few liberal or, God help me, conservative friends that I still have left in Budapest understand my position. Our friendship runs deeper than our political views. We have talked over our differences a long time ago. I too was occasionally blinded by the harshness of the light that greeted my friends when they stepped out of that blind-alley in 1990 which many have taken to describing as “Gulyás Communism.” The one who was the truest and closest one to me, László Rajk Jr, who I knew already when we were students in the 1970s, was a very reluctant liberal politician. He gave up his seat in Parliament during the front end of the liberal counterrevolution because it sickened him. He passed just after we began this journey back in time to the 1919 Commune. We were on the same wavelength to the end of his life. Both of us considered Ilona Duczynska as our political grandmother, as a woman of the Left, who never strayed from the path of righteousness. We often lamented the failure of many of our contemporaries to recognize and honour the nobility of the tradition that she represented. 

HFP: Can you say a few words about the part of the Rhapsody that began with Viktor Orbán’s ascent to power in 2010? What are the distinguishing features of this counterrevolutionary finalé? When and how will it likely end? 

I have said a lot about this in the past, and in this book as well, and would not want to repeat myself ad nauseam.  Allow me to respond to the last part of your question first. I am confident that the last segment of this counterrevolutionary rhapsody will be shortly over and that it will end peacefully, with a great show of solidarity between Hungary’s working man and women and their sympathizers among Hungary’s middle and upper classes. The last thing Hungary needs at this stage in its history is the type of violence that racked the American capital on January 6, 2021. 

What I would want your readers to be clear about that finalé in my closing chapter is that it focusses only on those measures of Hungary’s Permanent Counterrevolutionary Rhapsody that purposefully restricts that country’s working men and women from the path of justice, equality before the law, and their right to construct a habitat for themselves that is ecologically sustainable. It shows why Orbán considers Admiral Nicholas Horthy, the man who crushed the Commune, as his political role model. Like his political hero, Orbán also took Hungary’s working men and women out of the fast lane when he came to power in 2010. Instead of putting them first, he put them last. This is how he put it: In my head, what one should do is make a deal with the country’s top 8–10 businessmen, no need for more than that. One should develop good personal contacts with these men, bring them into the Prime Minister’s tent by enhancing their competitive market advantages. This is what we must do now. After we have achieved this, the business community will take care of the rest. (This is a quote I translated from a published account written by a conservative friend of mine in Hungary, József Debreczeni, who got it directly from Orbán when they were good buddies. Orbán had never refuted this claim.) 

Instead of enhancing the competitive edge of Hungary’s working men and women in the “new digital economy”, instead of making them smarter than the rest, instead of preparing them to survive and thrive in the age of artificial intelligence, instead of using Europe’s massive subsidies for the construction of ecologically sustainable communities that can survive the relentless pressures of those tectonic, geo-political plates that are colliding against each other in Central Europe, he let all sides have a good bang for their buck in Budapest.

Instead of pushing Hungary’s working men and women towards the center of their country’s political stage, he pushed them to the periphery with an elaborately constructed disinformation campaign that leaves them voiceless, ill-informed, and defenseless as pacified sources of cheap labour for global capital. No wonder Donald Trump, Angela Merkel. Vlad Putin and Xi Jinping are all equally invested in his re-election in 2022. 

I shouldn’t be shoving quotations into this space, especially not ones from someone who is a philosopher of religion (György Gábor), but I think his words captures perfectly the essence of the affinity fraud Orbán had executed upon the minds of Hungary’s citizens: 

What is the worst, most destructive impact of this last performance? It’s not the theft of just about everything they could lay their hands on. We’ve seen that before. With time everything is replaceable. It’s not the sellout of the country to foreign interests, or the carte blanche given to the secret services of Russia. We’ve come back from such betrayals… The greatest, most harmful impact of this last performance is on the minds of our citizens. That cannot be repaired easily, its impact is longue durée… The scar will require generations to heal… The new numerus clausus no longer targets the Jews alone but anyone and everyone who thinks… It has left us saddled with collaborators, enablers for whom everything is for sale, even our souls are treated as commodities.

I will end my response to this question that seeks to plumb the depths of Orbán regime’s counterrevolutionary finalé not with a flurry of empirically verifiable statistics (there is plenty of those in the book itself) but with a reference to a recent study by two of Hungary’s young social scientists, Ákos Huszár and Viktor Berger: “In order to further its political ambitions, this regime uses a variety of policy tools for fomenting fear and transforming that fear into hatred against various publicly created enemies (the homeless, the unemployed, drug addicts, the poor, various ethnic, religious or racial minorities, migrants, the LGBTQ community, etc)… By 2016 Hungary registers the highest levels of hatred against immigrants in all of Europe (64%), our nearest competitor, Russia comes in at 40%… It is clearly visible from the data that while the hatred of immigrants has become the majority view of the middle and upper middle classes, in Hungary it peaks within the ranks of the unskilled and skilled labouring classes… This fully conscious and purposeful policy approach has had a devastating effect on social solidarity in Hungary”.

HFP: What are the lessons of the 1919 Republic of Councils that may not only help us to avoid some of its mistakes today but help working men and women all over the world to follow the path of righteousness towards an ecologically sustainable future for themselves, and for their neighbours? 

Ilona Duczynska would agree with me on this one: We should listen to the poets much more than we do. Dylan’s advice is as good as it gets: we must stop talkin’ falsely now that the hour’s getting late.  Look, we’ve written the score for the termination of Hungary’s 100-year counterrevolutionary rhapsody. It’s only the performance that’s awaiting. 

One of the important take-aways from the 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils and of the counterrevolutionary rhapsody that followed it is that historical changes in one country cannot be divorced from their global context. We began our book by showing that the movement of working men and women towards the central stage of history from the 19th century onwards is a global phenomenon fueled by a fire that cannot be permanently extinguished because its supply of oxygen has always been guaranteed by the fire fighters who are sent out to extinguish it. The pump don’t work ‘cause the vandals took the handle

It’s not the theoreticians of socialism but the practitioners of universal capitalism that cause these fiery eruptions. The 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils was not a failure of Hungary’s workers but of the fortune hunters who put capital first and the workers last. The Commune was not a freak storm but part of a general weather pattern. Change will come when the prioritization of capital over labour is reversed, but that reversal can only be executed via a new linguistic turn and a new cross-class solidarity of the type that swept the fortune hunters off their pedestal in Hungary in 1919 and 1956. 

Look. I’m not from Memphis and I’m not the son of a preacher man, but I have to say this to you before we end this conversation: The 21st century came upon us after many decades of investment by the fortune hunters of the world into new technologies for the “Manufacturing of Consent”: the post-Machiavellian cyber-techniques for destroying ordinary citizen’s abilities to distinguish fact from fiction, illusion from reality, right from wrong. Polanyi’s warnings about the rise of fascist power-plants throughout the world with the help of hundreds of millions of ill-informed but enthusiastic working men and women looms large on the global horizon again. Looking at the faces of the working men and women who laid siege to the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, at the behest of a fraudulent fortune hunter, who gave America’s 1% its biggest tax break at the expense of those who could least afford it brings us face to face with this reality. The picture of Chairman Xi Jinping waving to the crowds under a photograph of Joseph Stalin in Tien Mien square is the one that tells a thousand-word about the kind of Socialism that is currently the rage in China. The investments of the 1% are making it not only increasingly difficult for the oppressed to rise but to stay on the path of righteousness once they succeed in breaking the chains that bind them. Notwithstanding the odds that work against them, workable breakout strategies are within the sight of humanity even on the eve of its destruction. The 1%’s initial edge can be overcome through appropriately organized local, national and international coalitions committed to communicative action on behalf of the 99%. The efficacy of communicative action should not be undertaken or evaluated according to its conformity to various ideological labels from the past that divide even their followers and are utterly meaningless to a family living on welfare, (I’m talking about labels such as socialism, liberalism, conservatism, etc.), but on the basis of their ability to restore the sight of those that matter at local, national and international levels. A new, commonly shared universal language, a new linguistic turn that responds to and resonates with the indestructible spirit and desire of ‘the common people’ for social justice, equality under the law, and ecologically sustainable communal life is the only force that can put an end to the false, destructive, and infectious counterrevolutionary rhapsody we have described above. There is universal agreement by now about the meaning of justice, constitutionalism, the rule of law, and the parameters of ecological sustainability. All we’re missing now are the poets, the troubadours, the folks on desolation row, the businessmen who drink our wine, and the solidarity to link our arms together to “walk the talk”. 

We do not have much time before the next high tide breaks upon us. The riders in the distance I see approaching towards our watchtower leave me cautiously optimistic: There must be some kind of way outta here… Our new linguistic turn will master the words Subcomandante Marcos spoke of inside the front jacket of our book, the words that will have meaning to our heroes in the seaweed, the children in the morning, who are leaning out for love, and will lean that way forever…. 

* András B. Göllner is a Hungarian born Canadian (with a PhD in Political Economy from The London School of Economics). One of the Founders of Concordia University’s School of Community and Public Affairs, he is now an Emeritus Associate Professor of Political Science at Concordia, a civil rights advocate, and a writer.  He is the Founder of The Canadian-Hungarian Democratic Charter and served as its International Spokesperson until 2016. In addition to The Forgotten Revolution: The 1919 Hungarian Republic of Councils. (Montreal/Chicago: Black Rose Books/The University of Chicago Press, 2022), Dr Göllner is the author/Editor of four other books, including Social Change and Corporate Strategy (Stamford. IAP 1983), Canada Under Mulroney (With Daniel Salée) (Montreal: Véhicule Press, 1988) and Ilona: Portrait of a Rebel (2022 forthcoming). Dr. Göllner’s writings have appeared in numerous scholarly journals as well as in the mass and on-line media in Europe and North America, including Hungarian Cultural Studies, The Journal of Parliamentary Law and Politics, The Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, The National Post, Social Europe, Élet és Irodalom (Life and Literature) etc., His current research focuses on the political language of cyber-capitalism.

** The text of this interview may be reproduced in part or in its entirety by anyone, as long as they request permission to do so from the Editors of The Hungarian Free Press in writing and acknowledge in writing the source of the original text. 

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