Posts Tagged ‘democratic socialism’

A deer in the Hungarian headlights

June 18, 2017

Imre Nagy was a politician in post-World War II, Soviet-controlled Hungary. He was a leader in the Communist party, but his interest was not so much in schmoozing within the inner circle of power. Rather, his hope was to provide an impulse for public discussion about the issues that needed to be dealt with in the development of a uniquely Hungarian socialism. Imre advocated a path to collective economic activity that would build upon societal remnants of Hungarian feudal traditions. The retention of certain traditional values and practices could provide an impetus for gradual progress instead of the forced cruelties of the Russian Soviet program. Nagy’s socialism “with a human face” could possibly eliminate, or at least minimize, the violence that would be doubtlessly be imposed  to enforce the dictates of Soviet administration.

The story of Nagy is a tragic saga of a man who tried to steer a safe course between Soviet cruelties and a dangerous impulse toward democratic socialism among the people of his own country.

Nagy

Imre Nagy’s sensitivity to the demands of his people endeared him to the people. They paid attention to him, respected him, actively supported him in a way that was not typical in a communist country.

But his story is a tragedy, because there was a moment in time when Imre Nagy suddenly saw, clearly, the impossibility of his moderate socialist gradualism. Suddenly, in one moment of high drama, his strategies were exposed as being in opposition to the people’s Revolution, even though he was a good Communist.  The revolutionary impulse in Hungary in 1956 was not, you see, the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was a Revolution to dispose of the revolution of Marx, Lenin, and Stalin. It was counter-revolution.

But for the diehard hardline Soviet leadership, counter-revolution was NOT a thing to be tolerated. In fact, it must be stopped, by tanks and guns if necessary.

So Nagy’s unexpected reality-check came at a very dangerous point in time. The realization came at a moment when thousands of his fellow Hungarians were gathered at Kossuth Square in Budapest to hear him speak. He had just been appointed Prime Minister by the leaders of the Communist party. The big wheels of the Party were giving him a chance to do the “right thing”–take this populist bull by the horns and wrestle it down into Communist Party compliance.

On that Tuesday night in 1956, the Soviet head honchos, supported by the local Hungarian Party apparatchiks, were hastily putting together a plan to put down the gathering of the people outside of Parliament. They were planning to send in the heavy guns, the tanks, the Soviet soldiers. This huge populist crowd was gathering steam in Budapest; that very same uprising had been inspired, partly, by Imre Nagy’s leadership style and his tolerant message  of democratic socialism. At that moment, thousands of Hungarians were suddenly expecting to receive Nagy’s signal for a New Course from their new, reform-minded Prime Minister.

Janos M. Rainer describes the scene in his 2009 biography of Imre Nagy. With the thronging crowds gathered in from of him, Nagy stood in an open window ready to deliver a message to the people. It was about 9 p.m. The crowd was so large that some people could not hear him, even with the loudspeakers. Rainer writes:

“As Nagy approached the open window, he saw himself confronted with a completely unfamiliar force. (Nagy later said): ‘Only when I perceived the mood in the square did it become clear to me that what was called for was quite different from what I had prepared.’ “

“Comrades!” he began.

Some answered, “We are not comrades!” and “No more comrades!”

Someone said “All of Budapest is here!” “The nation is here.”

The people had gathered there to receive the leadership of a new, fearless Prime Minister to guide their movement into its destiny. They were seriously ready for a change. They were fed up with those guys from Moscow and their lackeys. As far as they could see, Imre Nagy, who stood ready to address them, could be their man of destiny. He had the courage and the independent spirit to rise to the challenge.

But Imre was unable to accept the mantle. He was too good a Communist Party man. According to Soviet doctrine, the Revolution could not happen here and now because the Revolution had already happened.

In 1917, In Russia. According to Communist doctrine, that Bolshevik event would be the model and the inspiration for all revolutions heretofore.

So the next morning the Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest and put an end to those Hungarian upstarts thinking they could do something without the Communist Party’s approval. Nagy did nothing to stop it because he knew he couldn’t stop it. He was a realist.

But he was an inspired realist.

And certainly it would not be the people of Hungary (or so the Party leaders thought) who would change the course of the working-out of the worldwide Communist revolution.

Hngr56

But ultimately, in the long run, in the big picture, it was the Hungarian people who did  release the spark that would change communist  history.  As subsequent decades rolled by, the Hungarians’ initiation of resistance did get the job done, with a little help from the Poles and the Czechs, and the Germans.

In 1989, it happened. The people of the European Communist lands overthrew the Soviets, and they did it without a violent revolution.

So maybe Imre Nagy was onto to something all along.

He was, when push came to shove, no revolutionary. He passed the baton on that opportunity. But he did have his place in history.

What a moment that must have been in October 1956 when the people demanded a revolutionary leader, but he was like a deer in their headlights. So he just did what he felt he had to do. He stepped into the background. He took the middle path of moderation. Ultimately, though, the people of Eastern Europe did get the freedom that the Hungarians had been demanding on that fateful night in October of 1956. It just took awhile.

Nagy, their brand new Prime Minister, passed up his chance to become a revolutionary leader like Lenin or Mao.

I probably would have done the same thing.

King of Soul 

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The American Deal

July 13, 2016

Way back in time, hundred year ago, we was movin’ out across the broad prairie of mid-America, slappin’ them horse teams so’ they would pull them wagon out across the grasslands and the badlands, and then blastin’ our way ‘cross the Rockies and Sierras all the way to Pacific and the promised land of California.

GoGate35

And it was a helluva time gettin’ through all that but we managed to do it, with more than a few tragedies and atrocities along the way, but what can you say, history is full of ’em: travesties.

Troubles, wherever men go– travesties, trials and tribulations. That’s just the way it is in this world. If there’s a way around it, we haven’t found it yet.

  But there has been progress too, if you wanna call it that. Mankind on the upswing, everybody get’n more of whatever there is to get in this life, collectin’ more stuff, more goods, services, and sure ’nuff more money.

Movin’ along toward the greatest flea market in history, is kinda what we were doing.

Taming the land, transforming the planet into our own usages, improving, or so we thought, on God’s original versions.

After that great westward expansion transference/transgression, had been goin’ on for a good while, and a bad while now that you mention it, we Americans found ourselves high up on a bluff overlooking history itself. At Just about that time, them Europeans had a heap of trouble that they’d been brewin’ over there and they dragged us into it on account of we had become by that time quite vigorous, grasping the reins of manifest destiny and ridin’ along, as so it seemed, on the cusp of history, seein’ as how we had been raised up on our daddy’s Britannic colonizing, mercantiling knee.

Then long about 1914, them Europeans dragged us into their big fatally entreched mess over there and we went and fought the first Big War, fought them high and mighty Germans that first time and when we got done with it and got back over here the world was a different place.

I mean the world was a different place, no doubt about it.

For one thing, everybody in the civilized world was so glad to have a little peace in 1920, we just went hog wild.

Everybody got out there a-workin’, roarin’ ’20s zeitgeist, scrapin’ crops out o’ the ground, building great machines, skyscrapers. Edison had electrified us; Bell had sounded the bells of modern communication; Ford had tinkered us into a vast new world of mass production with a horseless carriage in every garage and a chicken in every pot and and we were skippin’ right along like a cricket in the embers.

NewkDev

‘Til ’29, when the big crash came along.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=39RKRelTMWk

Some folks said that Mr. Hoover, great man that he was, was nevertheless clueless, and so the nation turned to Mr. Roosevelt for new answers. FDR, young cousin of Teddy Roosevelt who had been the father, so to speak, of American progressivism– cousin Franklin D., Governor of New York, took the bull by the horns and somehow managed to breed it into a donkey.

So from Teddy’s bullmoose progressivism there arose, through 1930’s-style unemployed populist cluelessness, Americanized Democratic Socialism;  with a little help from FDR’s genteel patriarchal largesse, the New Deal saved Capitalism, or so it is said among the theoreticians and the ivory tower legions who followed, and are still following, in Roosevelt’s wake.

Well, by ‘n by, between Lyndon Johnson’s grand Texas-size vision for a Great Society, Clinton’s good-ole-boy nod to residual crony capitalism, and then the 21st-century-metamorphosing, rose-colored proletarian worldview as seen through Obama’s rainbow glasses, and now the upswell of Bernie’s refurbished wealth redistribution wizardry– we’ve turned this corner into a rising tide of  flat-out Democratic Socialism.

It will be, quite likely, soon inundating the tidal basin inside the beltway as in 2017 we slog  into the mucky backwaters of full-blown Americanized Socialism, dammed up on the other side of the slough by that other guy whose oversimplified version of the nation and the world seems to want to land us in a brave new world of American National Socialism.

And who knows which way this thing will go; only time and the slowly softening sedentary, dependent American electorate can tell.

Looking back on it all, today, my 65th birthday, having lived through Nov22’63, April4’68, 9/11, yesterday’s disruptions wherever they may be, and everything in between, I find myself identifying with all the old folks whose weary outmoded facial expressions bespoke disdain,  while I traipsed errantly along life’s way. Here’s to all them ole folks who I thought were a little out of it, one brick shy of a load, peculiar, decrepit and clueless. Now, I can relate.

How I wish America could be back at real work again, like we were back in the day.

We’ve pushed through vastly extracted frontiers that yielded to massive infrastructure networks punctuated with skyscraping towers of steel and concrete. Now we’re lapsing into solid-state, navel-gazing nano-fantasies, living vicariously through celebrities in our pharma cubicles.

Maybe there’s a new frontier in there somewhere but I’m having a hard time seeing it.

But hey! let me conclude this rant with a hat-tip to the man–he happens to be a Canadian–who best eulogized the essence of that once-and-future great North American work zeitgeist, which seems to be disappearing into the dustbowl of history, because it looks like  there’s nowhere left to go.

  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NjoU1Qkeizs

Well, maybe there is somewhere.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38bHXC8drHc

Glass half-Full