Home > BC: Hungary 1919-1945, In English > Working class and proletariat

Working class and proletariat

At the middle of the twenties, more than 20% of the workers worked longer than 10 hours per day, in Kőbánya, 12-13 years old working-class children grubbed 12 hours a day, they carried bricks for a monthly wage of 7 pengos. Because of workplace casualties, approximately 3000 – 4000 workers died or became disabled every year. In 1926, the average rent of a fusty, buggy flat was equal to 217 pengos, hence there were a lot who – in order to be able to pay the rent – had to hire out some sleeping places for night. A lot of worker families starved, in Budapest, 51% of the workers could not eat three times a day. Epidemics ravaged in the working-class districts. Kispest, Ferencváros, Pesterzsébet, Angyalföld… The tainted piped water did its part. There were a lot of suicides, one from every 2000 inhabitants of Budapest committed suicide (the reason was usually the blind-alley life of the working class member). „The radio speaks loudly far and wide, the writers write, the play-actors play, the movie goes on. At the same time, the inhabitants of the house in Visegrádi street 20-24. are sitting in their rooms and kitchens, wearily and bitterly, in most cases, at the light of paraffine lamp, they are sleeping, gaze into space, maybe quarrel with each other. And if they have a lot of free time, they may bethink theirselves of the fact that their fate is much better than that of the Abyssinian natives, because they live in culture, and a well organized bourgeois society keeps guard over their material and spiritual goods. And those who are totally possessed by this beautiful thought, fall asleep earlier than the others, only to go with fresh force to penury labour in the morning.” (György Bálint)

At the end of the twenties, the members of the working class slowly and gradually started to confront the flagrant crisis of capital, they experienced directly that the capitalists shifted their losses upon them once again. In 1929, mainly Bolshevik activists started a hunger strike in the prisons, which was probably organized by the illegal Bolshevik party. Misery and the lack of any perspectives brought the working class to the streets again and again but those were not the real interests of the proletariat which were standing behind the demonstrations and strikes, which had become regular since the spring of 1930 – these were merely the democratic actions of the workers floundering in the train of the social democratic and Bolshevik parties. In 1929, already 75000 industrial workers were jobless. Various movements of the unemployed were formed, with the fuss of the trade unions’ in the background. There were demonstrations in Kispest, Szeged, Debrecen, Gyöngyös, Pécs and other bigger towns. At 26th of January 1930, on a demonstration in Budapest organized by the KMP, the demonstrators confronted the police on the Rákóczi street, one policeman was knocked off. But these demonstrations were quickly disarmed by promising various subsidies and by negotiations. It was time for the working class to face the fact that it can expect absolutely nothing neither from its leftist functionaries, who had been using the masses for the sake of their own ambitions, nor from the government which gave only so much aid which was barely enough to avoid dying of hunger, this way securing the possibility to put them to work at any time. The left-wing parties used tactics and threw their slogans to the masses according to the actual balance of forces. At this time, the 7-hours working day and 40-hours working week was on the agenda of the reformist workers’ movement. These had been borrowed by the social democratic movement from its western relatives in 1931. The organized workers were organized by the reformist left-wing political forces, and the unorganized were often scabs, so capital preferred to employ the latter. Just like today, the bourgeoisie was good in exploiting the division of the working class. The „foreign workers” often confronted the local ones, the right-wing raised his word against the non-Hungarian workers, demanded their firing and deportation (the characteristics of nationalism has been the same up until today). Some social democrats sometimes put forward the same demands (the social democrats from Gyor in 1931, for instance). The jobless often clashed with those employed – there were not even the palest signs of class solidarity.

But still, the proletariat in Hungary was breathing, moving, organizing. At 1st of September 1930, a gigantic demonstration took place in Budapest.

First of September, 1930

„In Pest, on the pavestone,
Flows the blood of the prole,
Noises of machine-guns and rifles
Are not quiet as yesterday
Red Tomorrow is awakening!
Our song about the revolution”

The events in September did not surprise the authorities, the quickly worsening economic conditions during the world-wide economic crisis led to a densification of strikes which showed the growing combative mood of the proletariat. The social democrats called the masses on the streets on 1st of September, but the proletarian-killers wanted to see a silent demonstration of the sneaky mass. The KMP spoke to the masses in a more radical tone, it called for a loud, militant demonstration – which could show the power of the party. A mass of 150 thousand people marched on the Andrássy boulevard and in its surroundings, the army of demonstrators flowed on the streets shouting „Down with Horthy!”, „Down with Bethlen!”. The slogans were still moderate, they demanded „Work and bread!”. On the corner of the Andrássy boulevard, the policemen blocked the road and attacked the mass, which clashed with the hirelings of the state shouting „Long live the dictatorship of the proletariat!” and „Down with the government!” A politician from the opposition tried to soothe the angry proletarians who reacted by burning his car. The social democratic leaders desperately recognized that the hell had broken loose, and that it was only the help of the police which had saved them from having been killed. The revolt had already reached the Városliget (City Park), in the city there were overturned trams, cars, scattered pavestones everywhere. „Let’s beat the policemen to death!” – the cry spread on the squares, but the police volley-firing killed a 22-years old comrade. The empty-stomached proletarians of the street became even angrier. The city center turned into a battlefield, but except of several well-organized actions at which the cordons were broken through, the will of the masses was not uniform in respect to the means of reaching the concrete aims. They clashed with the armed forces of the state, they distributed the leaflets written by the blinding light of the paraffine lamp, the International could be heard several times, but they did not manage to generally revolutionize the working class. The proletarians confronted the armed forces of the ruling class in the countryside, too. The proles of Miskolc, Gyor and other towns fought their street battles separately. The series of events at 1st of September could have been a turning point in the life of the proletariat, since such huge masses had not been on the streets since the proletarian revolution. But the weapon of mass strike and the raising of barricades didn’t prove to be enough to escalate the struggle. The demonstration remained defensive, no concrete program or idea were put forward, also nothing about the question how the struggle had to swing further. The revolt was also not coordinated with the members of the working class living in the neighbouring countries. Some voices of solidarity emerged in the movement press, but generally the Stalinists monopolized the evaluation of the events, the majority of the world proletariat didn’t even hear about what happened.

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