Special interview by soL with Gyula Thürmer, leader of the Hungarian Workers' Party (Munkaspart).
ICP, 5 September 2018
A delegation from the Hungarian Workers' Party (Munkaspart), leaded by President Gyula Thürmer, paid a visit to Turkey in August on the invitation of the Communist Party of Turkey (TKP). Bilateral meetings were held regarding various matters such as the struggle in workplaces, youth works and anti-communism. Thürmer answered the questions of soL HD. Thirty years after the dissolution of socialism in Hungary, Thürmer asserts that the time is working for us at this stage of capitalist crisis.
soL: Welcome to İstanbul. We hope you had a nice time here. First of all, what was the purpose of your visit?
Gyula Thürmer: Thank you very much for your question. It is my third or fourth visit to İstanbul. We represent here, the Hungarian Workers’ Party. We, in Hungary, are living very similar situation like you do in Turkey. We know much about the activity of the Communist Party of Turkey and we arrived at İstanbul to study your experience to learn a lot from your party and to use your experience in our fight against capitalism in Hungary.
soL: The elections of this year in Hungary resulted in the right-wing authoritarian prime minister Victor Orban being reelected and his party Fidesz gained a significant majority of the seats in the parliament. How is the current political scene in Hungary a couple of months after the elections?
GT: I think it is useful to explain to all those people who are now looking at our interview that Hungary is now a capitalist country. Thirty years ago, we were a socialist country but the system has changed, and now we are living in capitalism as you. There is, naturally, one Hungarian capitalist class, they are from different groups. There are conservatives, liberals, social democrats… There was a balance of power between these groups until 2008-2010. What happened then? You remember that the economic and social crisis started in the United States of America and this crisis immediately concerned also Hungary. We had a very high unemployment, inflation and other social problems at that time in Hungary. And it was clear that liberal and social democratic forces cannot secure the stability of capitalism without using force. In the European Union, it is very difficult to use military and police force. That’s why they decided to change the government. And that is the reason that since 2010, we have a conservative government. But I should explain one more thing, the conservative government and conservative party headed by the prime minister; is using our slogans, the communists', the left wings' slogans. We declared that we should raise the minimum salary, they’ve done it. We said that the government should support the young families, they’ve decided to support the young families. They’ve won the election with our political slogans. Practically, they told the people what people wanted to hear.
This year, there was an additional question. You know that now Europe is suffering from the immigration problem, immigrants are coming to Europe. It’s an existing problem but Europe should solve it in any way. But prime minister Organ used the immigration question for an electoral slogan. He declared that we can save Hungary from the immigration only if you vote for the conservative party. And, you know, people don’t want immigrants, don’t want immigration. And even those people who normally would vote for our party, in this case voted for the conservative party. But things change, and I think that also the political scene will change in Hungary.
soL: Now, that it is thirty years after the resolution of the Socialist Hungarian People’s Republic. How is the class consciousness of Hungarian workers or politicization of people’s in general?
GT: Thirty years is a big period. Those generations who lived under the socialism are now old and the young generation do not remember. And what the younger generation learned about socialism in school is terrible. It is mystification and falsification of the history of the socialism. But, nevertheless, people generally didn’t forget socialism. And as far as we are getting more difficulties in our social lives, as far as we are losing illusions concerning capitalism, we begin to put up question. Those who are at the age of 40-50, who have some memories about socialism begin to say the followings: “Now I understand that my parents in the socialism lived better than I do in now.” And some of them are already saying some other thing: “We will never live as well as our parents lived.” And when they come to this conclusion, they come to our party, we begin to cooperate and begin to fight against the capitalism.
soL: Hungary’s role in the European Union is a matter of debate in European politics regarding the political moves of Orban. He is considered, by the European central institutions, as a symbol of the far-right populist trend. Do you think there is a real conflict between conventional EU politics and far-right populist lines like Orban’s party offers? And what is your position on the tension between Brussels and the so-called anti-EU politics of Orban?
GT: I think you will agree when I say that the European Union is in crisis. The crisis which started in the United States ten years ago has not finished yet. And the European Union is facing the new elements of the crisis. There are, principally, two basic ways how they try to solve the crisis: one way is what the liberal politicians propose, to open a big market without any borders, any national frameworks, just a big market where the banks, the financial capital are governing all the things. This politics started and we know the consequences of this political line. Practically this political line is represented by the leadership of the European Union. But there is also another one: first of all the representatives of the Eastern European countries like Poland, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Hungary say that we cannot realize the liberal politics in Hungary or in other Eastern European countries. Because we have another history. In Germany, Italy, France, they’ve never seen socialism. But our people have seen it, they remember it. And prime minister Orban is afraid that, if we will have the same situation, like in Greece for example, when thousands of people pour into streets, it can undermine the Hungarian capitalism. Hungary is not Greece, nor France. That's the way they propose another political line; to strengthen the national elements, national market, national enterprises. And behind this political line, we can find the fact that Eastern European capital has gone stronger during this certain years. Now there is a conflict between the Western European capital and the Eastern European capital. European Union tries to solve the problem not only by using liberal politics, but by getting new markets. And they go to Ukraine, go to the East. If you go to the East, you will meet the Russian capital, the Chinese capital. It leads also to an immediate political, economic and even military conflict. This is also a reason of the conflict between the Eastern European and the Western European capital, and naturally, the future of the European Union. The European Union is not a family of good sons and daughters. The European Union is the organisation of the big capitals, the German and the French first of all. And the Eastern European countries, their governments, said that they accept the European Union but they want a bigger share from the common cake of the European Union. But German and French presidents don’t want to give them a bigger part of this cake. This is the real story, everything else is just the story for the newspapers.
soL: How do you consider the class struggle in Hungary today? What is the agenda of the State and capitalist class? What are the specific issues which the working class confronts? Can you list it?
GT: The Hungarian capitalism is based on the following elements: first of all using foreign capital. The Hungarian government declares that Hungary is now one of the leading countries in automobile producing. We have Mercedes, Audi, BMW, and others. But I don’t think these are Hungarian companies, they are German. They are in Hungary. They use the Hungarian labour force, but they are not Hungarian. And if something happens in the European Union, the Germans will leave Hungary, and there will be no industry in Hungary. I think that it’s a big mistake of the Hungarian capitalist that they do not develop the local enterprises. The second one is the faith of the Hungarian agriculture. The capitalist government sacrificed the Hungarian agriculture. At socialist time, we produced everything that we needed in Hungary and even exported it to different countries. If you come to Budapest, you will see that we buy German milk, Slovakian and Polish apples. Hungary used to produce apples for whole Europe. And now the Hungarian food industry fully belongs to the Austrian capital and we have conflicts. And the farmers begin to understand it. The political point of view, the Hungarian capitalist government is having an anti-communist political line, against the socialism. Nationalist and fully religious. The government declared that we defend Christianity, Catholicism all over the world. This is very ideologically based. What do people say? You know, people began to learn and have more life experience. I mentioned to you that thirty years ago people had a lot of illusions. They thought that joining the European Union, we will live like the Germans, Austrians. Now we see that it’s not real. The salaries of the Hungarian people is the 1/3 of the salaries of the Germans or the Austrians. Secondly, you can go to Germany or Austria, but you are considered as a second-class citizen in these countries. People are now, step by step gaining this life experience and begin to understand that we should change the world. As our friends in the Communist Party of Turkey say that people’s alternative should win and step by step we will come to this victory.
soL: What about the workers' movement in Hungary? What is the role and impact of workers' organizations, unions?
GT: Thirty years ago in the socialism we had a united working class. One of the aims of the capitalists was to destroy this instrument, this mass, these institutions what working class had. First of all, they invented a lot of new forms of how to use working people. There are not real big enterprises in Hungary, the Mercedes has 3000 workers. During the socialist time, we had 10,000, 25,000. It means that the working people are working in different places. And not speaking about the small enterprises where there are only two or three. They do not feel that they belong to a working class. They consider themselves as workers, employees. But step by step they will understand that they can work only together. The second one, now only 10% of the Hungarian workers, employees are members of the trade unions. It is nothing, and the trade unions couldn't fight against capitalism. And the third one, capitalism destroyed the political parties of the working class. But, it’s the good news that our party, the Hungarian Workers’ Party, has survived the attacks of capitalism, and we propose a real left alternative, communist alternative for the people. And we explain to them that, yes you can get a better salary in contemporary Hungary, you can get aid and different supports from the government. But they will not change your life, if you want to change your life, you should support our party and we should fight together against the capitalism. We aren’t at that stage, but I think that we are coming closer and closer. And you know things can change outside Hungary, if there will be war in Ukraine, if the European Union collapses, or when President Erdogan says that the Syrian migrants can go to Europe from Turkey – they will change the situation also in Hungary and in this case we should be prepared for leading a revolutionary protesting in Hungary.
soL: What do you think about the Stop Soros campaign and laws which were passed by Hungary’s parliament? Do you think they are functional or do you accept the idea that it is only an anti-immigrant campaign? What is your solution towards the recent migrant flow?
GT: I can tell you frankly that I don’t like Mr Soros. I got acquainted with him during the socialism because he began his activity against Hungary not now, he started his activity in the 1980’s, 1990’s and his aim was to destroy the socialism, and he financed those organizations who were against socialism. And he played a very important role in undermining and destroying the socialist system in Hungary. That’s why I consider him as my enemy, that’s absolutely clear. Now he plays another role, he is a fan of the liberal solution of the crisis and against any national forms of capitalism. But I would say that it is his fight and it is the struggle of prime minister Orban and Mr Soros. We don’t interfere in this struggle. He doesn’t want good for the Hungarian people, neither for the working people nor for the intellectuals.
I think that the problem of migration is an existing one. The migrants are victims of capitalism, victims of the wars, victims of the capitalist policy. But the European countries cannot solve these problems. And our party was the first party in Hungary to say that we should stop this wave. Somebody wants to help the migrants, they can go to Syria and stop the war in Syria, take money to Syria to help President Assad to make a new country. But they did not want to do it. You know, you mentioned the law accepted by the Hungarian parliament. Yes, it’s a limitation of the capabilities of the social civil organizations. I will support all civil organizations who make something good for the people. If they collect money for the children who are suffering from different diseases, yes, good and foreign countries can help this activity if they help to build up buildings for the people who need new flats, good, it’s very good. But if they want to take part in the political life in Hungary and to influence the political life, independently where they want, I would say that not. If the Communist Party of Turkey would do the same in Hungary, I would also say that “No, thank you, it’s our question, we can do it, and it’s our case.” This is my opinion about this.
soL: Anti-communism is on the rise in several European countries. There are not only ideologically, but also as direct physical attacks on communists and their parties. We are aware that Hungary is also one of them. Could you tell us about what sort of attacks your party faced in the past and faces today and how do you struggle with anti-communism in your country?
GT: We are living in a country where anti-communism is an official political line. And not only a political line, it is confirmed in the Hungarian constitution. The Hungarian constitution says that the four decades of socialism in the history of Hungary, it’s a period of criminal acts, acts against the Hungarian people, against peace and humanity and so on. And if you say that it is not true, and if you say that the socialism was good, you can be taken to the court and you can be judged for prison because you cannot deny the negative elements of socialism. I think that it is a bad decision. The second one, during the thirty years the symbols of the Hungarian Communist Movement were banned. We cannot use red star, we cannot use the other symbols of the workers' movement. The original name of our party was Hungarian Communist Workers’ Party and we had to change it during the Orban government because no party can use the name “communist”, if we use communist we cannot take part in the elections, it’s absurd. But no problem, everybody knows who we are. There have been some attempts of the government to send some of the former activists, the leaders of the socialist period to prison. They tried to judge a very old politician, who was 90 years old, but he died before saying anything. I think that the government is afraid. They understand that we remember socialism and the time is working for us. Because people seeing these difficulties will remember more and more socialism. And yes, there are some obstacles, there are some limitations, but we will never give up, we will continue fighting.
soL: Your party is participating at the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties, and also a member of the European Communist Initiative. What is your opinion on the current situation and potentials of the International Communist Movement?
GT: Generally, I would say that the International Communist Movement is living in a very difficult period. Some of our difficulties are connected not to present situations, they are coming from the past. Some of the Western European parties started their, I would say, opportunist line not today but in the 1970’s, 1980’s. They continue this political line and it disturbs naturally the strength and the unity of the communist movement. The second is, the general situation of the Eastern European Parties have changed. We don’t have money, we don’t have infrastructure, it’s very difficult to get new members for the parties. But nevertheless, we try to live. And you know, I think that there are big parties in the communist movement, like in Russia. But the future can be decided not by these parties. The future can be decided by those parties who are inventing something new, how to live under these circumstances, how to build up a new building of the cooperation. I think that there are some basic ideas we should be committed to, the ideas of Marxism and Leninism, we should fight against capitalism and not to make any compromises with capitalism. And if we can continue this line, I think that we will overcome the difficulties of the communist movement. And I am very happy to be here in Turkey because I am personally convinced that the Communist Party of Turkey is one of those parties of the world who will decide the future. You are building a new house for the communist movement. You have very good ideas, very good practice, and you don’t give up your original convictions and commitment to Marxism. We try to do the same in Hungary, and I hope that our cooperation can also contribute to the renewing of the communist movement.