János Kádár ([ˈjaːnoʃ ˈkaːdaːr]; 26 May 1912 – 6 July 1989) was a Hungarian communist leader and the General Secretary of the Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party, presiding over the country from 1956 until his retirement in 1988. His 32-year term as General Secretary covered most of the period the People's Republic of Hungary existed. Due to Kádár's age, declining health, and declining political mastery, he retired as General Secretary of the party in 1988, and a younger generation consisting mostly of reformers took over.
Role in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956
Imre Nagy began a process of liberalisation, removing state controls over the press, releasing many political prisoners, and expressing wishes to withdraw Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. He formed a coalition government. Although the Soviet leaders issued a statement that they strove to establish a new relationship with Hungary on the basis of mutual respect and equality, in the first days of November, the Presidium of the Soviet Communist Party took a decision to crush the revolution by force.
In the meantime, the Hungarian Working People's Party decided to dissolve itself and to reorganize the party under the name of Hungarian Socialist Workers' Party. On 25 October 1956, Kádár was elected General Secretary. He was also a member of the Imre Nagy Government as Minister of State. On 1 November 1956, Kádár, together with Ferenc Münnich, left Hungary for Moscow with the support of the Soviet Embassy in Budapest. There the Soviet leaders tried to convince him that a "counter-revolution" was unfolding in Hungary that must be put to an end at any cost. He only agreed to change sides when the Soviet leaders informed him that the decision had already been taken to crush the revolution with the help of the Soviet troops stationed in Hungary. He was also told that unless he accepted the offer to become prime minister in the new government, the Rákosi-Gerő leadership would be reinstalled. Although he was under duress, he did not, by his own admission, resist as much as he could have. In a speech given on 12 April 1989, he confessed to having played a role in the execution of Imre Nagy, calling it his "own personal tragedy. (Paul Lendvai The Hungarians: 1000 Years of Victory in Defeat Princeton University Press) Writing in 1961, American journalist John Gunther said that "Kadar today looks like a man pursued by shadows, a walking corpse." cJohn Gunther, Inside Europe Today, Harper & Brothers, New York, page 337).
The Soviet tank divisions moved into Budapest with the purpose of crushing the revolution at dawn on 4 November 1956. The proclamation of the so-called Revolutionary Workers'-Peasants' Government of Hungary, headed by Kádár, was broadcast from Szolnok the same day.
He announced a "Fifteen Point Programme" for this new government:
- To secure Hungary's national independence and sovereignty
- To protect the people's democratic and socialist system from all attacks
- To end fratricidal fighting and to restore order
- To establish close fraternal relations with other socialist countries on the basis of complete equality and non-interference
- To cooperate peacefully with all nations irrespective of form of government
- To quickly and substantially raise the standard of living for all in Hungary
- Modification of the Five Year Plan, to allow for this increase in the standard of living
- Elimination of bureaucracy and the broadening of democracy, in the workers' interest
- On the basis of the broadened democracy, management by the workers must be implemented in factories and enterprises
- To develop agricultural production, abolish compulsory deliveries and grant assistance to individual farmers
- To guarantee democratic elections in the already existing administrative bodies and Revolutionary Councils
- Support for artisans and retail trade
- Development of Hungarian culture in the spirit of Hungary's progressive traditions
- The Hungarian Revolutionary Worker-Peasant Government, acting in the interest of our people, requested the Red Army to help our nation smash the sinister forces of reaction and restore order and calm in Hungary
- To negotiate with the forces of the Warsaw Pact on the withdrawal of troops from Hungary following the end of the crisis
The 15th point was withdrawn after pressure from the USSR that a 200,000 strong Soviet detachment be garrisoned in Hungary. This development allowed Kádár to divert huge defence funds to welfare.
Nagy, along with Georg Lukács, Géza Losonczy and László Rajk's widow, Júlia, fled to the Yugoslav Embassy. Kádár promised them safe return home at their request but failed to keep this promise as the Soviet party leaders decided that Imre Nagy and the other members of the government who had sought asylum at the Yugoslav Embassy should be deported to Romania. Later on, a trial was instituted to establish the responsibility of the Imre Nagy Government in the 1956 events. Although it was adjourned several times, the defendants were eventually convicted of treason and conspiracy to overthrow the "democratic state order". Imre Nagy, Pál Maléter and Miklós Gimes were sentenced to death and executed on 16 June 1958. Géza Losonczy and Attila Szigethy both died in prison under suspicious circumstances during the court proceedings.
Kádár assumed power in a critical situation. The country was under Soviet military administration for several months. The fallen leaders of the Communist Party took refuge in the Soviet Union and were planning to regain power in Hungary. The Chinese, East German, and Czechoslovak leaders demanded severe reprisals against the perpetrators of the "counter-revolution". Despite the distrust surrounding the new leadership and the economic difficulties, Kádár was able to normalize the situation in a remarkably short time. This was due to the realization that, under the circumstances, it was impossible to break away from the Communist bloc. The Hungarian people realized that the promises of the West to help the Hungarian revolution were unfounded and that the logic of the Cold War determined the outcome. Hungary remained part of the Soviet sphere of influence with the tacit agreement of the West. Though influenced strongly by the Soviet Union, Kádár enacted a policy slightly contrary to that of Moscow, for example, allowing considerably large private plots for farmers of collective farms.