Hungarian Progressives and the Transylvanian Problem

The progressives, who represented a small but growing political force in Hungary, followed a path that diverged radically from official government policy. Amidst the pervasive nationalism, socialists and radical liberals tried to rally Transylvania's working class and progressive intelligentsia to the cause of democracy. Neither group had a distinctly Transylvanian program, but both, and especially the bourgeois radicals, recognized the importance of the nationality problem in Transylvania.

After the turn of the century, the social democratic movement, internationalist in inspiration, established a presence in several of the larger towns. As early as 1893, Hungary's Social Democratic party sought to establish a regional committee for Transylvania, but it encountered considerable difficulties and failed to implant any of the nine district organizations that had been planned for the region. Still, a police report indicates that by 1897, party adherents could be {3-729.} found in some ten Transylvanian towns. There were eight craft or other workers' associations in Brassó, five in Szászváros, and one in Kolozsvár. Most of the members were craftsmen employed in small enterprises; industrial workers were concentrated in the metalworkers' associations at Brassó and Kolozsvár. In 1899, when several public meetings were held to call for extension of the franchise, the social democrats chose a local leadership, headquartered at Brassó, to build up the party in Transylvania. The following year, Győző Knaller, the party secretary in Brassó, urged the establishment of a committee to recruit Romanian members and of a Romanian-language, socialist newspaper. The paper, Adevĕrul, appeared in 1903, and two years later a Romanian recruitment committee began its activities. Although both newspaper and committee were concerned with Transylvania, their offices remained — apart from a brief stay at Lugos — in Budapest.

By 1903, the center of the Transylvania's social democratic movement had shifted to Kolozsvár, which thus became the site of district party conferences. Eight of the fifteen organizations represented at the 1903 conference had a rural base, but within a year the party gave in to government pressure and limited its organizing activity to the towns. Initially, the social democratic and trade union movements had but a slight impact on the region's working class: according to the report tabled at the Budapest party congress in 1913, there were 3,128 organized workers in Transylvania. To be sure, this was only the tip of the iceberg; after 1905, mass demonstrations became more common, and progress was made in organizinig mine workers. By 1917, the Social Democratic Party was growing rapidly even in Transylvania. The Workers' Insurance Fund had consolidated its autonomy and influence at the turn of the century; it had a sizeable staff and was officially recognized by the government. The future communist leader Béla Kun learned about local and national politics while working for the Fund. It is indicative of the movement's early difficulties that its Transylvanian {3-730.} newspapers (Erdélyi Munkáslap, Erdélyi Munkás, Kolozsvári Munkás, Marosvásárhely's Munkás, and A Munkásotthon Értesítője) appeared at long intervals and were, for the most, short-lived; the local party organs lacked the financial means to guarantee regular publication. In these circumstances, the moral and political support provided by stronger socialist movements, in Budapest as well as at Temesvár, Arad, and Nagyvárad, was invaluable, as was the dissemination of the central party papers, Népszava and Adevĕrul.

The social democrats steadfastly backed the nationalities' grievances, and were therefore accused of being unpatriotic. They assessed Tisza's negotiations in terms of the contemporary notion of a struggle between progressives and reactionaries. The latter, in their view, consisted of a conservative bloc encompassing Tisza as well as the nationalities' political parties. Zsigmond Kunfi, a onetime teacher at Temesvár, published in the journal Szocializmus a series of articles arguing that nationalism in Hungary had lost its revolutionary essence and become a pillar of social conservatism; with the development of capitalism, 'the Hungarians had become a nation of proletarians, and the other ethnic groups, nations of propertied peasants.' According to Kunfi, it was these circumstances that inspired Tisza's initiatives. The social democrats expected that the nationality problem would be solved by the country's democratization and, in the longer term, by the emergence of a new social order; this outlook informed their attempt to organize the working class.

The radical–liberal movement that emerged at the turn of the century, and which included the Huszadik Század circle ('Twentieth Century,' the title of a literary and political journal), reached back to the liberal traditions of Eötvös and Mocsáry. It was the only movement to acknowledge openly that the nationalities represented the central problem of statehood — 'the Archimedes point of democracy,' in the words of its leading theoretician, Oszkár Jászi. {3-731.} The radicals expected that the ethnic problem would be resolved almost automatically by the democratization of what they regarded as a feudal country, and by the liquidation of large estates. In their view, the requisites of a modern economy favoured maintenance of historical Hungary's territorial integrity. The same economic determinism led them to dismiss as anachronistic all demands for territorial autonomy and federalism. They departed from the predominant, nationalistic opinion in believing that the ethnic groups were drawn more to integration than to separation. Although they did not challenge the notion of a 'Hungarian nation-state,' their political activities — notably the consistent defence of minority interests — went beyond the limits conventionally associated with that principle. The radicals enjoyed a certain following in Transylvania proper (Jászi was appointed to a lectureship at Kolozsvár University), but not as much as among the politically more enlightened middle classes of Temesvár, Arad, and Nagyvárad. They maintained contact with representatives of the Romanian National Party in Arad and Nagyvárad, yet failed to establish a close and cooperative relationship. By adopting a partisan view of Tisza's negotiations, they failed to address the nationality issue as a case of non-linear development. The poet Endre Ady penned a parody of the second phase of Tisza's negotiations; nevertheless, political developments in the Balkans made him — along with many Transylvanian Hungarians — increasingly fearful about the future. The spectre of a shattered Hungary had a chilling effect on Ady, who hoped that the country's nationalities would rally under the banner of progress: 'And still the thought of Transylvania moves me, for Transylvania has a distinct soul; the brutal changes to the map that threaten and seem possible would tear twin children, Hungarians and Romanians, from the breasts that feed them.'[87]87. E. Ady, 'S ha Erdélyt elveszik?' Huszadik Század, 2, 1912, pp. 737-8.