Hello and welcome to part 2 of fascism in Hungary, where we will be covering the ideology and short reign of Gyula Combos. Part 1 of the series can be found here: Exploration of Fascism: Hungary Part 1
Gyula Combos (born 26/12/1886) was a career military man (rising to the rank of staff captain) of German and Hungarian (some nobility) descent, a Lutheran and fierce nationalist; his influences while maturing included H.S. Chamberlain (Hitler’s “John the Baptist”) and the influential Hungarian writer Dezso Szabo. Szabo could be described as proto-fascist in some of his views; having a strong antisemitic streak, a belief in the need for social dogma and education, extoling disciplinary division within the populace and that the peasantry “where the best characteristic of the people” who needed to be persevered and protected as “only they remained true to the values of the culture.”
The loss of Hungarian territories from world war 1 greatly upset Combos and the Bolshevik takeover over no less, prompting him to establish, in 1919, the Hungarian national defense forces association (Magyar Országos Véderő Egylet in Hungarian [thus known as MOVE]); a paramilitary organisation that participated in the anti-communist counter-revolution under Horthy and provided the foundation for the new national army in the aftermath. MOVE’s ideology was a further evolution of the proto-fascist ideas Combos had grown into, somewhat informally codified as the “Szeged idea”; so named as the counter-revolution was based out of the city of Szeged. It promoted Hungarian nationalism, a strong state, an economic “third way” (a Christian socialist economic policy), land reform for peasants, resistance to judeo-bolshevism and “To regenerate Hungary in the name of the protection of the Hungarian race and Hungary’s position in world politics in accordance with its historical vocation In Eastern Europe.” MOVE was supportive of Hungarian independence, participating in the resistance to the Hapsburgs attempted to retake the thrown in 1921; not to say they were anti-monarchy, simply that they wished only a native Hungarian for king on Hungary.
Despite his rank, Combos was known as a man of the people, showing a fondness of the working class and the peasantry and was popular with the right-wing nationalist/traditionalist student youth groups that began to form over the next decade.Once things had settled to some type of normalcy within the country, he joined the agrarian focused smallholders party that quickly merged with the prominent Unity Party in 1922. The Unity Party ruled Hungary as authoritarian Christian conservatives from 1921 to 1931 under prime minister Istvan Bethlen, a close associate of regent Horthy, it brought stability to the country by absorbing allot of far-right energy that was boiling under the surface; for example in paying-off many of the anti-communist “whites” to stop their attacks on Jews and leftists by giving them government positions.
The ruling elite however had no interest in any type of land reform for the peasantry, were resistant to social change (labour reform/minimum wages), suppressed overly right-wing criticism of society through social policy, allowed liberal middle class parties to operate, joined the league of nations and shied away from overt antisemitism; not only due to their aristocratic conservative ideology but also in a desire to make Hungary attractive to jewish big capital in an attempt to alleviate it’s poor economic position. Combos was not impressed by this at all, stating in 1922 “After the defeat of the red terror, Christian Hungary awoke. . . We pulled down liberalism and the mask of Bolshevism to see clearly the aspirations of Judaism.” By 1924 he had enough of the current government and broke right to form the Hungarian National Independence Party, generally know as the Race Protection Party (yes you read that right). This party advocated for: state and social cohesion to improve the Hungarian race and administrative restriction of Jews within the economy and professional life. It had contact with the far right in Germany and Combos displayed a like of Mussolini, who had risen to power by that time.
The race protection party however never really made much of a headway in popularity; despite the factors mentioned in the first part, only marginal economic results from the conservatives and the growing youth groups (such as the Turul Association who held Combos in very high regard) it appears things weren’t quite bad enough for the people to go “fashy” and in 1928 the party was disbanded and Combos was back to the unity party; making a required conciliatory announcement to the leaders of the jewish community that he would “revise his position.”
Four years later though things were not so rosy for the unity party, the radical right had continued to grow (it is important to note things like reform for conditions of workers and peasants were part of both the radical “right” and left in Europe at the time and with the strong anti-communist feeling of the people in Hungary it was really just the “far-right” who could promote these positions with any seriousness) and the economic improvements offered by conservatives were still only marginal, with high unemployment and strikes over conditions increasing.
In this climate Horthy made the calculated move to remove Bethlan* from the prime ministership and install Combos (who was then minister for defence) in a hope of further placating the people.Combos was not given free reign (even within the normal limits of a parliamentary democracy) in his new capacity: Bethlan remained head of the party (though it was renamed the “National Unity party” to symbolise a supposed new way) and apparently the three (Combos, Horthy and Bethlan) came to secret agreement on unofficial restrictions Combos would have during his time in office so as not to move the country too far right (particularly no land reform and on the make-up of his staff), Combos also made an official statement recanting of his former positions on Jews.
The old autocracy looked down on Combos (the first prime minister not of nobility since the country had reformed) and thought they could control him and by extension the people of a similar mindset.Combos, however, hit the ground running, envisioning a modernised autocratic unitary (no great class distinctions) Christian national authoritarian state with he began addressing the people by radio in the fashion of Mussolini (something not really done until then) and became the first prime minister to fully publicly set out his government program. The national work plan, also called the 95 points (in homage to Luther’s 95 theses), was to “secure our national civilization based upon our own special racial peculiarities and upon Christian moral principles” with an overarching goal of strengthening the nation and ensuring its moral and material well-being through unifying the Hungarian world view from which all other goals then extended; it so was heavily inspired by Mussolini such that Combos acquired the nickname of Gombolini, it set out provisions such as:-a 48 hours work week and increased social benefits-moratorium on debt for farmers and the tax burden on the peasantry-voting reform and extension of civil liberties, such as rights to assembly and association-economic protectionism, state intervention and infrastructure development-freedom of the press and removal of intellectually stifling cultural policy-rights to private property-the formations of chambers of workers and employers (very much like the corporatism of Fascism proper).
The plan had some internal contradictions and was admittedly demagogic in nature but it did inspire great confidence in the people, at least initially, being praised by both the radical right, the small radical left, the burgeoning new middle class and the intelligentsia. In accordance with his mindset he also strengthened the military, abolished Hungary’s war reparations and helped establish the Rome-Berlin axis, he was even the first European head to visit uncle A in 1933. Combos also had plans beyond those revealed, he wanted a transition to a true one-party state that would take total control of Hungary’s social and economic life; he even apparently told uncle as much on their meeting. Unfortunately, beyond the reduction of censorship little of the 95 points came to fruition due to constant stymying by conservative forces and resistance by private capital to corporatisation.
Such little progress had been made by 1934 (except the beginnings of a mass party via the establishment of party organisations throughout the country) that Combos was beginning to lose the confidence of his supporters from all sectors. Seeking to escape the conservative “deep state” he forced new elections in 1935 and through propaganda and, to be honest, quite a-bit of voter intimidation managed to not only increase the number of seats of the party but change over many of the entrenched Bethlan supporters for his own men. But it was all too little too late; the far-right had lost its confidence in him, more radical men were appearing and gaining notice (next week); such that Combos even finally promising actual land reform and reiterating the previous points on labour and social reform didn’t sway them back.
On the other side despite Combo’s new parliamentary power Horthy was still very much a constitutional conservative and a power bloc of trade unionists and Christian conservatives against the idea of a one-party state had formed. Horthy would have removed him from power in early 1936 if not for the fact that he developed chronic kidney disease. He died 6th of October that year.On that rather flat note we finish with Hungary’s first flirtation with a 3rd position, next week we get into the true meat of the matter with the Ferenc Szalasi and the arrow cross party.
*There was in fact another prime minister for about a year between these two, but it was half hearted attempt to deflect from Bethlan’s failures before turning to the “far-right” so it is better explained as above, in my opinion.