Hello and welcome to part 3 of fascism in Hungary, where we turn to the meatier subject of the origin of Ferenc Szalasi as a political force and the doctrine of his particular 3rd position: Hungarianism.
Part 1 of the series can be found here: Setting the stage
Part 2 can be found here: Gyula Combos
Born 1897 with an ancestry including Armenian, German and Slovakian blood, Ferenc Szalasi was brought up in a strong Greek Catholic tradition due to his mother’s deep religiousness. To paraphrase a written reflection of his “I absorbed the power and conviction of the faith of God in breast milk. I drank in the faith”. His faith in god with an orientation to higher purposes served as the cornerstones of his whole bearing and world view, from his habitually sombre, serious dress and simple living conditions (displaying his anti-materialistic attitude), to his sense of comradery with the less fortunate and his fixation on the Hungarian people’s mission of expanding its civilisation (in a fashion much like imperial Rome) as part of Gods plan: “The Thought of God in Hungarian Edition”.
His family had a military tradition, though were not well off because of it, which he followed; serving in WW1 and rising to the rank of staff general by the age of 36 in 1933 (he was not involved with the short term communist revolution and it’s fall on either side, though it does not appear to be for any reason beyond circumstance). Szalasi was a skilled solider and leader, well regarded by both his subordinates and superiors, the men appreciated his honesty and truthfulness and his commanders his dedication and thoroughness, he even came to the notice of our previous subject, Gyula Combos (then minister of war), such that there was talk of Szalasi succeeding that position after Combos. Overt politicising as a military officer was illegal during the years of his career but nevertheless Szalasi produced some nationalistic socialistic writings over the 20’s and early 30’s (developing his views into his brand of Hungarianism), which were low-key enough to avoid censor and actually endeared him to Combos even more. His sense of comradery with the people shone through not just in those writings but in his actions, It is said: at one-point while overseeing Budapest police during a riot by workers over poor conditions he would not allow the workers to be fired upon because they were “his brothers” and on another occasion, he was so disgusted with the wage inequality between the workers and their engineer overseer at a quarry he was touring that he asked that overseer what he would do when the workers decided to crush his skull rather than rocks.
The politicizing caught up with him the same year of his promotion with the publishing of “The Plan for the Structure of the Hungarian State” (A magyar állam felépítésének terve). This small booklet of 46 pages, detailing a reconstruction of the Hungarian social order under the principles of Hungarianism, caused enough of a stir that he received 20 days in prison and was removed from the general staff. Szalasi lasted two more years in the army before requesting retirement to purse politics full time. With his leaving of the army Combos offered him a seat with the Party of National Will but he rejected it due to the compromising positions Combos had taken with the conservative leadership; nor was he interested in any other conservative or Jacobin style nationalist party that, while he applauded any desire to up lift the peasantry and workers, had the cancer of liberalism and susceptibility to Semitism at their cores: “The enemy within is always more cunning, hateful, and bloodthirsty than the enemy outside. He hides his true face using religion, nationalism, patriotism, friendship to achieve his goals” and “Our nation will be great, strong and happy when, thanks to the hustle and bustle of our children, we will no longer be able to listen to the promises of demo-liberal politicians”. On March 4th, 1935 he announced the formation of the Party of the Will of the Nation (Nemzet Akaratának Pártja, thus NAP) that would purse popular support for Hungarianist principles, a “leftist fascism” (with many similarities to Codreanu’s Iron guard) that took up the ideological space left empty by both the populaces disillusionment with Combos and there being no real left to speak of.
While Szalasi is the greatest and most well know proponent of it, to date, the term Hungarianism was coined by the Roman Catholic priest Ottokár Prohászka who was highly influential in Hungary during the 1920’s. His political and economic views are best described as Christian socialist (earning him the honorary of “The Bishop of the poor”), modernist, anti-Marxist and very strongly anti-Semitic; he also appears to have been something of a racialist, quoted as saying “The Aryan peoples inherited the fortunate balance of reason and heart, so that neither the mind suppresses the heart nor the heart proliferates at the expense of reason. Man, in the noble sense of the word, the universal man who is a scientist, an artist and a saint, is only of this blood”. The base conception of Hungarianism is a form of Hungarian Turanism, with the focus naturally being on the indigenous people of Hungary, the Magyars (Magyarok). Turanism itself is a counter point to the pan-Germanic and Pan-Slavic conceptions that arose during the late 19th century; it recognises the people of central-inner Asia (the Ural region) as a distinct racial/civilisational grouping, being first politically articulated by Finnish nationalists and including Turks, Mongols and even Japanese and Koreans in some versions. Szalasi’s particular formation showed a desire to reach out east for friends after being betrayed by western powers and envisioned a Pax Hungarica: where the Magyars would have a dominant position in a greater Hungary but with other ethnicities enjoying administrative and cultural autonomy within. Furthermore, Szalasi felt that this greater Hungary could play an even more important role in a reforged European order than Germany, a bridge between east and west with he himself replacing Hitler as the prime architect of that new order (dream big kid!).
Before going on, it is important to note that, for the sake of brevity, I discuss Hungarianism as a completed belief set here, but it did evolve overtime, particularly on the issue of race. Initially it was much more like Italian Fascism in this regard, an integrated nationalism (civic but exclusionary) with the binding of the polity stemmed from the shared cultural environment it was born from and sustained by being paramount over any strictly biological reality (though perhaps not quite as deracialised as Italians were in the beginning) and its antisemitism focused on the religion, practices and bourgeoisie attitudes of the tribe as the core problem of Jewish presence in European society. Man is conceived as a four-fold entity: a gross material aspect, a biological/racial aspect, a spiritual aspect and a cultural aspect, each more important than the last. The cultural aspect is that of the Élettér (life space), families coming together under a shared destiny/mission, a bonding of blood and space that transcends both in its totality. Jew’s were considered to be without Élettér and thus could not truly be a people of their own, but nor could they become part of another people while holding to their ways and means. The universalism of Szalasi’s deep Christian influences is obvious here even without the stated goal of the “Conversion of truths of the christian world view into politics” telling us of the conceptual framework he was working from. However, as the geographically closer nazi’s came to power and their ideas flourished (plus possibly the continual and growing part Churches played in resistance to the various fascist projects) Szalasi moved to a more racialist position, never quite becoming as truly rooted in blood as the Germans though, and hungarianism would eventually be described as “The Hungarian practice of the National Socialist worldview and the spirit of the age”. He even coined the term A-Semitism (the complete absence of Jews from European society) as a goal beyond anti-Semitism (the restriction of Jew’s rights) as Jews (and all Arabs) were incompatible with European life.
As we’ve seen with Combos, and I suspect will see more of as we explore other countries, far-right ideas of the fascist era are progressive and modernist, not conservative; They were born from a feeling that Europe was at a great turning point and were presented as an alternative to Marxist projects, not direct opposites. The fascist thinkers were seeking progress and renewal, but denied that all developments are synonymous with progress, particularly the rising cosmopolitanism, bourgeoisie attitudes and profiteering of the upper and middle classes, developments needed to be judged with reference to the past, goals and health of a people. Hungarianism is no different, seeking reform and reorder of state, man’s self-image, education, the economy and the peoples Élettér. Szalasi’s ideal state encapsulates three tenants: religion, nationalism and socialism. Following from the adage of giving to god what is god and Caesar what is Caesar’s, despite his personal faith, he did not advocate for the churches increased role in political affairs, instead, much like with Italy, the church and its doctrine would be the cultural cornerstone of the nation and an ever present aspect in each citizens life but still a separate order from the party and government. Nationalism, as discussed above, was of the Imperial Supranational sort (international nationalism), with recognition that sister movements in their historical lands should be supported in their own expression of their peoples Élettér towards the goal of a connationalist fascist world order (in opposition to Hitlers German centric Europe which would become a point of contention between the two leaders when the Nazi’s occupied Hungary) and within Hungary united ethnicities under a one-party state apparatus as something, again like Fascism proper and in opposition to National Socialism, above ethnic identity. This state would expressly meet the moral, spiritual and material needs of the people, resting on a three pillared society of peasants, workers(soldiers) and intellectuals, in a natural hierarchy but not in conflict; each class given respect and a voice in parliament (through the professional orders) with spiritual values guiding away from materialism and class struggle. Again, like Italy, there was a place for the monarchy in this order, so long as the monarch truly served the higher cause of the nation and its people; in this case to be legitimate Szalazi (like Combos) would only accept a native Hungarian, someone rooted in the same Élettér as the people. The socialism was more “left” than similar ideologies, a greater focus on the rights of workers and the continuing issue of land reform for the peasantry but not so much to move it out of the general sphere and certainly not so collectivist as to become bolshevism.
A very important part of the reordering was to arrive at a full description of man’s identity so that the needs of the people can be properly understood in relation to this. Hungarianism conceives of a person’s identity as layered: first there is the self-image and this must be healthy to be the bedrock of everything else (proper education is a must to ensure the people see themselves well), next is the family, the most basic cell of society (this must be supported with policy), then there is a local patriotism to the community you live and work in everyday (the government must see that these remain economically productive to stop incessant urbanisation), above that is a man’s regional/ethnic identity (ethnic being for those Hungarians of non-Magyar blood who tended to concentrate together anyway), followed by a folk identity of a shared culture as discussed previously, above that a national consciousness of the state as an ideal that transcends not only the ethnicities under it but the folk itself, and finally an imperial consciousness of the peoples great mission. In this you can see again the Fascist conception of a state and empire as an idea with a destiny being above biological reality but also a greater respect for regionality and the small aspects of life than the Italian’s or the German’s might have granted, similar in this regard to the aforementioned Iron guard.
Economically Szalasi, you guessed it, followed an Italian model: envisioning a corporative system of 14 professional orders (ranging from soldiers to mothers [gender roles were still traditional, this is simply part of recognition of their role in the nation]) whose representatives would form an upper-house to manage the economy under the party proper. A lower house was also envisaged that would be made up of deputies from regional constituencies and also others elected from professional orders (unfortunately it is not clear to me here the exact purpose of the lower house, a curse of relying on translated documents). Private property was not to be done away with (though there would necessarily be some initial redistribution in some fashion from the hands it was currently concentrated in) as it was recognised that the practice and possibility of making of oneself instils a drive and dignity with the people and the entrepreneurial spirit is something to be nourished and promoted. Plants (particularly those not part of larger companies) would be continue to be managed hierarchically/individually (here a recognition of the inefficiency of worker councils in day to day matters) and famers independent but cooperatively linked; the professional orders would work to facilitate justice between workers and owners for the good of the whole. Natural monopolies such as utilities and banking would however be nationalised and larger firms (particularly large industry) would have strong limits placed on the social/economic power they could wield and be expected to facilitate the dispersing of their share capital amongst workers.
In part 4 we will see how Szalasi’s politics were greeted by the people and the administration, political repression as the government sought to cap the “far-right” energies it had unleashed with Combos and the rise and fall and rerise of the NAP’s successor, the Arrow Cross party.
Cornelius, Deborah S.. Hungary in World War II : Caught in the Cauldron, Fordham University Press, 2011.
Nagy-Talavera N, The Green Shirts and the Others: A History of Fascism in Hungary and Romania, The Center for Romain Studies, 2001.
Szabó P C, A magyar állam története 1711-2006, Humanities Consortium, 2006.
(The Hungarian State History, published in Hungarian)