Hungary: Election highlights lack of Left challenge

Declining vote for ruling Fidész party; neo-fascist Jobbik picks up 20% as false ‘alternative’

Three days before the recent national election in Hungary, Budapest was host to an ‘Alter Summit’ which discussed the threat of the far-right in Europe. This event itself clearly reflected the incapacity of the Hungarian left to put forward an alternative to the right-wing Fidesz and the neo-fascist Jobbik parties.

It was a gathering of mostly older men speaking in quite general terms about the danger of the growing far-right, but not putting forward any concrete strategy to fight them. Amongst the few Hungarian participants were supporters of Kormanyvaltas (‘Government Change’ – an election bloc of five parties or lists that are themselves already the result of splits and mergers of different organisations). Their only argument was about the need to get rid of the right-wing Prime Minister Orbán.

While this is undoubtedly important, Kormanyvaltas is a coalition dominated by the MSzP, the social democratic party which is headed by some of the most hated former premiers. It has no attraction whatsoever for those in society who really want to fight against the dangers of the far right and neo-fascist forces, as well as against the worsening social situation in Hungary.

Even during the election campaign, the MSzP was engulfed in a huge corruption scandal. It was the MSzP government who brought the Troika to Hungary. The measures carried out by the MSzP and the Troika were the main reasons for Orbán coming back to power in 2010 and the Troika was subsequently expelled by him.

Mixed results

The result of the election is not astonishing given this situation: Orbán’s Fidész party will most likely reach a 2/3 majority in parliament with 44.5% of the vote; the neo-fascist Jobbik will get about 20.5%; Kormanyvaltas will end up with 26%; and the green LMP will get into parliament with 5%.

On the surface, it is not a positive result. But there are important details that are worth looking at more closely. Fidész lost about ¼ of its votes (600,000) compared to the last election. This loss is even worse when keeping in mind that Fidész won 95% of the votes from Hungarian minority populations living in neighboring countries that were allowed to vote for the first time. Without these new voters, Fidész’s losses would have been greater.

A series of austerity programmes and widespread corruption are the main reasons for the declining Fidész vote. A small group around Orbán is building a new oligarchy: his old university friends are handed all of the lucrative government contracts and they make millions with them. Orbán himself, who has never worked except as a politician, is now building a football stadium for 35,000 fans and a small airport in his home village (population of about 3,000).

Orbán was elected with 44.5 % but only 61% of the electorate voted at all. With the changes made to the electoral system, the votes of less than 30% of the electorate will most likely guarantee a 2/3 majority in parliament. This reflects that a large number of people do not want to vote for any of the existing parties.

Another feature of the vote is the 20.5% (nearly one million votes) for the neo-fascist Jobbik. Jobbik is an anti-Semitic, racist party that organises the “New Hungarian Guard,” a paramilitary-type structure. Jobbik has strong support among young, educated people. Quite consciously, Jobbik stood a female candidate in Budapest, presenting itself as less aggressive in urban areas than in the countryside.

Although Jobbik is a neo-fascist party, this does not mean that all its voters are fascists. They manage to present themselves as the only real alternative, taking up social problems not only in parliament but also on the streets. As long as no left alternative exists, they are able to get away with this.

Orbán will continue attacks

Orbán has not only changed the electoral system to stay in power, but has also attacked workers and trade union rights. He tries to cover his pro-business politics (like implementing a flat tax) with anti-foreign business rhetoric. And like all governments his unemployment statistics are “creative” to keep the figures low. But the fact is that the rich are getting richer, while unemployment, inflation and debts are rising. Increasingly young people are looking for a future abroad.

His policy of attacking labour rights is, to a certain extent, a testing ground for other bourgeois politicians. In the aftermath of the last Hungarian elections, Orbán’s victory was celebrated by the parties of the European People’s Party (EPP). They praise him for “telling the truth” and say he is “the only politician that can govern Hungary and make the right decisions.”

This shows that his token laws against foreign companies (especially European banks) do not really frighten the bourgeoisie, and they have no problem with his attacks on basic democratic rights. But they do want to maintain control over Hungary. With his economic deals with different countries, Orbán is trying to balance between the imperialist powers.

On the one hand, he is taking millions in EU-subsidies; on the other hand, he is taking billions in loans from China and Russia. As we have seen in the Ukraine, the different imperialist powers may try to win Hungary to their side by outbidding the others with money and business deals. But subsequent events in the Ukraine also show how dangerous this can be for a small country like Hungary.

The recent elections do not change anything fundamentally in Hungary. The main problem continues to be the lack of an organised socialist force that can take the anger of working and poor people in a positive direction.

Independent working class force needed

Previous left projects have more or less failed, such as those of Milla or the more working-class based Szolidaritas – both of which participated in Kormanyvaltas. For a period, Szolidaritas could have played the role of lighting the spark for the formation of a new workers’ party. But its leaders preferred instead to go into coalition with the former MSzP prime minister, Bajnai, and his alliance ‘Together 2014’ which is now part of Kormanyvaltas.

Unfortunately the left forces in Hungary have no programme, no strategy, and no perspectives at the moment. This leaves them weak and ineffective, and also unable to build a new movement into a force for serious change. Given that the period following the election is the most likely time for new austerity programmes, this weakness must be rapidly overcome.

Worsening inflation and rising prices for oil and energy are the biggest problems facing the Hungarian economy. Already 1/3 of Hungarians live below the poverty line and the youth, especially the educated youth, are leaving the country to search for work.

But this is no time for frustration. Events in the Ukraine and Bosnia show how quickly a situation can change. The question then would be in which direction it then moves. The millions of people who did not vote in this election – the strongest “party” of all – represent a massive potential force in the coming period.

Workers who are angry about the slave labour policies that Orbán has implemented, the young people fighting for a future, the Roma who want equal rights and to stand up against the violent racism from Jobbik and Fidesz – all of these forces can and will be part of future protests that can sweep aside the right wing and the neo-fascists.

However, it will not be enough for future movements to concentrate solely on questions of democratic rights, as important as they are. They have to take up the burning social issues and be clearly on the side of working class people. The other way – of a theoretically broad coalition of “progressive” forces has been tested – and failed. This mistake cannot and should not be repeated by new socialist forces in the future.

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April 2014