Welcome to part 3 of fascism in Hungary, where we turn to the subject of the political origin of Ferenc Szálasi as an ideological force and the doctrine of his particular 3rd position: Hungarism (sometimes translated to English as Hungarianism).
Part 1 of the series can be found here: Setting the stage
Part 2 can be found here: Gyula Gömbös and Szeged Fascism
Born 1897 with an ancestry including Armenian, German and Slovakian blood, Ferenc Szálasi was raised in a strong Greek Catholic tradition due to his mother’s deep religiousness. To paraphrase a later reflection of his: “I absorbed the power and conviction of the faith of God in breast milk. I drank in the faith”. This faith in Gods order with an orientation to higher purposes served as the cornerstone 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 the almighty’s 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 other reason beyond circumstance). Szálasi was a skilled solider and leader, well regarded by both his subordinates and superiors with the men appreciating his truthfulness and forthrightness and his commanders his dedication and thoroughness; he even came to the notice of our previous subject, Gyula Gömbös (then minister of war), such that there was talk of Szálasi succeeding that position after Gömbös. Overt politicising as a military officer was illegal during the years of his career but nevertheless Szálasi produced some nationalistic socialistic writings over the 1920’s and early 30’s (developing the views that would eventually coalesce as Hungarism) which went under the radar enough to avoid government censor but endeared him to Gömbös even more. His sense of comradery with the people shone through not just in those writings but also in his actions: It is said at one-point while overseeing Budapest police during a workers riot 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 that he was touring that he asked the overseer what he would do when those workers decided to crush his skull rather than rocks.
The politicizing caught up with Szálasi the same year of his final promotion with his 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 Hungarism, caused enough of a stir that he received 20 days in prison and was removed from the general staff. He lasted two more years in the army before requesting retirement to purse politics full time, Gömbös offered him a seat with the National Unity Party at the time but he rejected it due to the compromising positions he felt the prime-minister had taken with the conservative leadership up-to that point. Nor was he interested in any joining any other conservative or Jacobin style nationalist party that, while he applauded any desire to up-lift peasants and workers, he felt 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 Hungarist principles, a “leftist fascism” (with many similarities to Codreanu’s Romanian Iron Guard) that took up the ideological space left empty with the populaces disillusionment with Gömbös and there being no real left to speak of.
While Szálasi is the name most associated with the term, Hungarism was actually coined by the Roman Catholic priest Ottokár Prohászka who was highly influential in Hungary during the 1920’s. His political and economic views were best described as Christian socialist (earning him the honorary of “The Bishop of the poor”), modernist, anti-marxist and very strongly antisemitic; 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 core conception of Hungarism 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 ideas that arose during the late 19th century; it recognises the people of central-inner Asia (the Ural region) as a distinct racial/civilisational grouping and was first politically articulated by Finnish nationalists, it includes Turks, Mongols and even Japanese and Koreans in some versions. Szálasi’s particular formation showed a desire for Hungary 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 Szálasi 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!).
On the subject of race Hungarism evolved over time. Initially it was much more like Italian Fascism in this respect, an integrated nationalism (civic but exclusionary) with the binding of the polity stemming from a shared cultural environment and sustained by that being paramount over any strictly biological reality (though perhaps the ideology was not quite as deracialised as the Italians were in the beginning). Its antisemitism focused on the religion, practices and bourgeoisie attitudes of the tribe as the core problem of jewish presence in European society as opposed to strictly racial justifications. Man was conceived of 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 was 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 distinctive ways and means. A racial universalism informed by Szálasi’s deep Christian influences is obvious here even without his stated goal of the “Conversion of truths of the Christian world view into politics”. As the geographically closer (than Italy) Nazi’s came to power and their ideas flourished (plus possibly the growing part Churches played in resistance to the various fascist projects) Szálasi moved to a more racialist position, never quite becoming as truly rooted in blood as the Germans though, and hungarism 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 antisemitism (the restriction of jew’s rights) as jews (and all arabs) were incompatible with European life.
Economically Szálasi followed a mainly an Italian model as well: envisioning a corporative system of 14 professional orders (ranging from soldiers to mothers [gender roles were still traditional, this was simply part of recognition of their part 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 the 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 need to be some fashion of initial redistribution 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 within the people and this entrepreneurial spirit was something to be nourished and promoted. Industrial plants (particularly those not part of larger companies) would continue to be managed hierarchically/individually (here a recognition of the inefficiency of worker councils in day-to-day matters) and famers left independent but cooperatively linked. The professional orders would work to facilitate justice between workers and owners and cooperation between the different orders 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 disperse their share capital amongst employees over time.
Szálasi held that a highly important ingredient necessary to produce an abundant society was to have a full understanding of man’s identity so that the needs of the people could be properly understood in relation to this. Hungarism conceives of that 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: the Élettér 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 again see the Fascist conception of a state and empire as an idea with a destiny above biological reality; but with Hungarism there is also a greater respect for regionality and the small aspects of life than the Italian’s or the German’s might have granted, in this aspect it is similar to the aforementioned Iron Guard.
As we saw first with Szeged Fascism and now with Hungarism, and I suspect will see more of as we explore other countries, far-right ideas of the fascist era are in as many ways as not progressive and modernist, and definetly not conservative; they were born from a feeling that Europe was at a great turning point and presented as an alternative to Marxist projects, not direct opposites. The fascist thinkers were seeking renewal and reformation 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, not simply their material benefit; Hungarism was no different, seeking reform and reorder of the state, man’s self-image, education, the economy and the peoples Élettér towards a greater and healthier society for all than had ever existed. Szálasi’s ideal state encapsulated three tenants, religion, nationalism and socialism: Following from the adage of giving to god what is god’s and Caesar what is Caesar’s, despite his personal faith, Szálasi did not advocate for the churches increased role in political affairs, instead the church and its doctrine would be the cultural cornerstone of the nation and an ever present aspect in each citizens life while 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 particular expression of their peoples Élettér towards the goal of a connationalist fascist world order (in opposition to Hitlers German centric European ideal that would become a point of contention between the two leaders when the Nazi’s occupied Hungary), within Hungary united regional ethnicities would live side-by-side under a one-party state apparatus that was something, again like Fascism proper and in opposition to National Socialism, above ethnic identity. This nationalism would expressly meet the moral, spiritual and material needs of the people by 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 described above) with the spiritual values emanating from the church guiding away from materialism and class struggle. Also like Italy there was a place for the monarchy in this order, so long as it truly served the higher cause of the nation and its people; in this capacity Szálasi (like Gömbös) would only accept a native Hungarian, someone rooted in the same Élettér as the people, for the throne. The socialism of Szálasi was more “left” than similar ideologies, with a greater focus on the rights of workers and the continuing issue of land reform for the peasantry, but not so much as to move it out of the general sphere of 3rd positionist philosophy and certainly not so collectivist as to become bolshevism.
With the origin and ideology of Szálasi’s politics now understood next we will see how it was greeted by the people and the administrations ramping up of political repression in response as the government sought to cap the far-right energies it had unleashed with Gömbös.
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)