The Molnár Debate of 1950: Hungarian Communist Historical Politics and the Problem of the Soviet Model

in East Central Europe
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By tracing the developments that led to a historical debate in 1950, this article questions some assumptions concerning the Stalinization of Hungarian history writing, in particular the notion of a predetermined continuity between the national-communist line followed by Hungarian communists before and after 1949. Contrary to the understanding of the Sovietization of historiography in Hungary as a straightforward process, guided by a firmly-established ideological line, this article shows that the period between early 1949 and 1950 was characterized by a certain level of uncertainty, caused, on the one hand, by the ideological and institutional changes brought about by Sovietization, and, on the other, by a temporary lack of firm interpretative guidance from the Party leadership. A closer look into the efforts to elaborate a new periodization of Hungarian history reveals not only the existence of competing Marxist interpretations (a “national” state-oriented and an “internationalist” one with a focus on socioeconomic phenomena), but also that for a while it was unclear which of them would emerge as the basis of the Stalinist canon. Although the question was ultimately settled by a political intervention in favor of the more national line, the Hungarian case shows that it was far from evident what the Soviet model was supposed to mean when transferred to local contexts—and that adaptation depended on numerous factors, the ambitions of the interpreters being one of them. This contingency, and the relative plurality of “useable pasts”—which is also reflected in the lack of uniformity in the ways Soviet Bloc regimes treated their respective national histories—cautions against treating the historical representations these regimes produced as self-explanatory outcomes of Stalinization: the examination of the dilemmas that marked the process of creating these canons should be given just as much consideration as the analysis of the end products themselves.

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