Autobiography ǀ Task: Revolution – Friday

by time news

After the First World War, the Habsburg Empire fell apart. A time of upheaval begins for the former multi-ethnic state of Austria-Hungary. Hungary breaks away from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. In November 1918, following the “aster revolution”, the democratic republic of Hungary was proclaimed, which just disappointed the socialist milieu – and ultimately gave it popularity – because the massive social injustices were not combated. Oriented towards the Bolshevik Russian Revolution, Hungary became a Soviet republic for 133 days from March 21 to August 1, 1919 under the leadership of the Bolshevik Béla Kun. So far there is little literature in German on the subject. The present autobiographical report by a contemporary fills a gap.

Great importance was attached to art and culture in the Hungarian Soviet Republic. In this context, Lajos Kassák (1887-1967), little known in Germany, plays an important role. As early as 1915 Kassák founded a revolutionary newspaper with the writer and art critic Emil Szittya. The Tett (The act) is anarchist-avant-garde and is banned in 1916 after 17 issues, since it was modeled on Franz Pfemferts The action published sheet in World War I also published contributions by “hostile” foreign artists. Programmatically, Kassák, whose profound disgust for all nationalism, racism and militarism, campaigned for the liberation of literature from “isms”. In 1916 Kassák founded a new, now politically less confrontational newspaper project, the avant-garde magazine that was published until 1925 MA (Today).

Kassák wrote a comprehensive, multi-volume autobiography early on. For the first time, the eighth volume of Kassák’s memoirs, which includes the Hungarian Soviet Republic, appears in German. Kassák, who positioned himself politically on the left, gives a very critical description of this short period in Hungarian history. He was at the same time a participating observer and an active contributor to the events. His memories are accordingly haunting, intense and immediate.

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Staged as a culture war

Kassák writes of short-term considerations, his MA to give up in favor of a more direct commitment to the revolution, which he regards as a “serious task”, but which he nevertheless does not fulfill with enthusiasm. Kassák was anything but a communist party soldier: “I am not bound by party discipline, but by the morality of the movement.” The realization of comprehensive justice was a concern to which he subordinated his skepticism about a proletarian dictatorship, which had existed from the beginning. Providing the population with decent living space is a matter of concern to him. As a contemporary witness, he vividly reproduces the debates in deliberations, meetings and personal conversations, the endless council meetings, the lengthy discussions.

With an alert, always critical eye, Kassák brings the marches on May 1st past the bust of Lenin to life, reports on the changes in the cultural scene, the theater during the revolution, of “crippled soldiers and counter-revolutionaries disguised as crippled soldiers”, by the intellectuals “in the bottomless swamp of obsession”. Kassák openly describes the deep, insoluble rift with orthodox communists such as the director and poet Béla Balázs and the literary critic and philosopher Georg Lukács.

Sobering, Kassák has to realize that many people do not want to be freed from their hamster wheel and are fearful or even hostile to the innovations. He defends socialism against widespread fears: “The socialists do not want everyone to become poor, that all channels should be cleaned, but the exact opposite. We are already so culturally educated and have the technical skills that people can free themselves from the yoke of hard work, the curse of the capitalist institutions of the 19th century. ”And yet there is always the nagging doubt:“ It is unreasonable that as a socialist I am dissatisfied with the effects of the revolution? ”For Kassák, socialist and artist, this is less the result of a conscious, free decision, but rather a“ fateful way of life ”.

Kassák is asked early on to put himself in the service of the Education Commission of the Soviet Republic, he is pressed for his MA to transform it into the official literary newspaper of the republic and to carry out propaganda for the “cause”. It is becoming more and more difficult to fight off the “sloppy talkers”. Kassák is ambivalent about how the revolution brings with it achievements that are immediately threatened by opportunistic forces. Since Kassák refuses to MA To bring the magazine on the party line, the magazine is banned without further ado, which is why he finally leaves the country and publishes his magazine from Vienna.

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Since Kassák went into exile at an early stage, there are no reflections on, for example, Miklós Horthy, the deeply anti-Semitic defense minister of the conservative counter-government and later an ally of Hitler. In 1919, Horthy led the finally successful fight against the council government, which began a comprehensive phase of white terror against socialists, communists and Jews. Today, Hungary’s Prime Minister Orbán, with his authoritarian regime, whose actions he stages as a culture war, repeatedly refers positively to Horthy.

At present in Hungary under Viktor Orbán, not only are freedom of the press and academic freedom restricted – research on gender issues, for example, has been declared undesirable – the autonomy of art is also threatened. An online petition was initiated by people from the cultural sector in 2019 against a law that more closely controls theaters and other cultural institutions. “The government is in the process of systematically destroying cultural life in our country,” it says. In the same year the Hungarian Soviet Republic celebrated its 100th anniversary. The event was not celebrated in Hungary. That is hardly surprising. From the former respect for art and culture, beyond their nationalistic appropriation, nothing remains.

A human life VIII. Book – Commune. Soviet Republic of Hungary 1919 Lajos Kassák Tibor Silló (Übers.), Edition AV 2021, 217 S., 18 €


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