The Anticolonial Solidarity Campaign of 1962 in the Hungarian Countryside: An Attempt to Make Global Connections

By Réka Krizmanics

May Day Procession for 1st of May in Pápa, 1967, with banners and African flags. Credit: Gróf Esterházy Károly Múzeum, Történeti Dokumentumtár

The steadily growing literature on the history of Eastern Europe’s global interconnectedness presents the period of state socialism as more complex than ever before. This research emphasizes both direct and indirect links between Eastern Europe and the Global South without relativizing the restrictive aspects of state socialist mobility regimes.[1] While studies of expert mobilities have given much impetus to the field of globalizing Eastern Europe, the circle of actors that historians study is expanding. A notable example includes workers who participated in technical assistance or worked in joint enterprises established in the Global South.[2] Still, much of what has been written favors educated and elite actors, usually men, and their direct encounters with societies in the Global South. While sources are not always easy to find, it is worth expanding the scope of inquiry further to include additional spaces and actors who were less mobile in order to capture how their sense of connectedness to distant lands developed both as a trickle-down effect of other actors’ encounters (e.g. through the media) and as a result of their own opportunities to experience global interconnectedness. How did different layers of Eastern European societies experience these relations, especially those without direct connections to faraway places?

In what follows, I will discuss a case study of an anticolonial solidarity campaign in the Hungarian countryside based on the archival records of the Hungarian Women’s National Council (HWNC), focusing on spaces and protagonists that are rarely centered in similar investigations. By expanding on this example, I seek to demonstrate some of the difficulties that arose for women in their practical work that underpinned an important anticolonial initiative.

As Eric Burton and others have shown, Eastern European travelers often saw decolonizing peoples as living in the past that their own countries left behind, thus they experienced their journeys as time-traveling.[3] This sense was particularly strong when encountering the distant countryside. Exploring instances in which the remnants of the Eastern European rural countryside met the Global South could test some of the empirical realities of this presumed proximity. I will do this by dissecting the circumstances as well as the administrative and organizational processes surrounding the organization of the anticolonial solidarity campaign of 1962, also known as “action-month,” which was organized by the Hungarian Solidarity Committee.

Harvesting carrots in the Free Life cooperative, Credits: Fortepan / Bojár Sándor

The Drive

State socialist Hungary, alongside other European socialist countries, expanded its relations with countries of the Global South from the mid-1950s onwards.[4] In doing so, Hungary did not only follow Moscow’s line of foreign policy,[5] but it also sought to ease diplomatic isolation, a heritage of the Stalinist years, aggravated by the violent suppression of the Hungarian uprising of 1956. The building and maintenance of these ties was supposed to embody socialist internationalism and solidarity, and on some occasions, these sentiments that allegedly defined “high” foreign relations were expected to unfold in the relations between Hungarians and peoples of the Global South. The apropos of this blogpost, the solidarity drive in 1962, signified such an event. But how did these expectations reach the citizens? As it was characteristic to state socialist societies at the time, the inclusion of ordinary people in politics happened through multiple transmission bands, so-called mass organs, that reached various segments of society defined by age, gender and occupation.

The Hungarian Solidarity Committee, itself a composite organ, oversaw and coordinated the solidarity activities of Hungarian mass organizations at home and across the globe.[6] It issued a call in March 1962 for a one-month joint solidarity action to support African and Asian people’s struggle for independence. This call was made into a resolution by the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party. This call was addressed to all mass organizations that sent delegates to the Solidarity Committee, including the Hungarian Women’s National Council. The list of participating organizations in the solidarity drive of 1962 included the Pioneer’s Association, the Hungarian Red Cross, the National Council of Trade Unions, and many smaller actors.

According to the text of the resolution, this large-scale solidarity action was necessary to respond to the numerous requests that the party had received in the preceding months by various organizations from the Global South, as they sought to stabilize newly decolonized countries or fought for independence.[7] These requests reached the Solidarity Committee through various channels. While the World Federation of Trade Unions urged national trade unions to support Algeria, the Kenyan and Ghanaian women’s organizations contacted the Hungarian National Women’s Council directly. The Solidarity Committee’s appeal also points out that at home “frequently…workers and students would like to express their solidarities in material forms, and even without a call…they collect clothes, school supplies and money…”,[8] hinting at local initiatives.

Thus, the Committee decided that a solidarity drive should take place in May 1962, focusing on the sale of solidarity stamps[9] and cheques. The call was issued in March and preparations intensified in early April. All participating mass organizations were responsible for distributing them. The Committee envisioned a large media campaign, and an additional call was issued to organize solidarity events in Budapest and in the county seats. The authors of the call also stressed the importance of involving African and Asian students in various activities. In accordance with the solidarity call’s propositions, 30% of the collected money went to Algeria, but no other target countries were set in advance. Unfortunately, I could not retrieve any reports about further beneficiaries.

The Solidarity Committee often did not send aid to specific organizations in its own name. Instead, individual member organizations stepped forward, depending on what relations the Ministry of Foreign Affairs deemed more important politically. In this way, the women’s organization, although only one of several participating organizations, could claim credit for sending funds to other women’s organizations. Technically, they were not in charge of the money transfers. For reasons of cost efficiency, when it came to sending material aid, the women’s organization sought to coordinate shipments with the post of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As a particularly involved organization, the women’s organization had its own set of tasks in the drive: to participate in drafting propaganda materials, to decide on the distribution of stamps throughout the country, to ensure there were enough cultural events in the second half of the action month, and to prepare two or three high-profile cultural events in support of anticolonial struggles.[10] A series of exchanges began between the leadership of the Solidarity Committee and the women’s organization about the details of these tasks and their possible schedule. In this correspondence, the HWNC’s agenda becomes much clearer. In their propaganda work their goal was to focus on women and organize meetings for them in workplaces throughout the country while securing the greatest possible media coverage (television, radio, press). To raise money, they had to closely collaborate with the Patriotic People’s Front[11] in Budapest and beyond; both individual and collective collections were encouraged.

There is some evidence of the progress of the women’s organization’s solidarity work in the county seats, thanks to an interim report that recorded their total donations, further plans, and possible conflicts. The document is broken down into segments according to counties – some sections only include notes on work at the county seats while others mention other towns and villages. Where cooperation with other organs went well, the report emphasized it. The report also highlighted where people showed particular enthusiasm (a rare occurrence, e.g. in the case of Szolnok). The report outlined outreach work to the countryside and discussed events specifically aimed at peasant women in a concise manner.[12]

The women’s organization was very flexible in its approach. Since May was high season for agricultural work, the women’s organization found that the county authorities were less than enthusiastic about allowing them to organize large events among peasants. To bypass this reluctance, the members of the women’s organization recruited group leaders within cooperatives or spoke directly to women involved in the cooperatives. They also visited families to collect donations in some of the rural areas, which was done in southeastern and northeastern Hungary.

After the “action-month” concluded, in early June the HWNC prepared a list of problems that they had encountered during the drive. These issues related to three main areas. First, the coordination with other organizations: the different organizations kept crossing each other’s territory in their efforts to sell stamps. Second, the lack of political preparation: the women found it worrying that despite the previous guarantees they had received, there was little awareness of anticolonial struggles among agricultural workers, and this meant that the purchase of solidarity stamps was sometimes rather mechanical, rather than stemming from deep political convictions. The third problem was closely related to the first: the number of stamps sold registered by the organizations did not in fact reflect their level of hard work and efficiency.[13]

The Solidarity Committee discussed the conclusion of the solidarity campaign at a meeting in July. Financially, the drive was successful, but the tone of the minutes was not overtly optimistic, echoing many of the concerns raised by the women’s organization. In its critical assessment, the committee put more emphasis on the lack of political preparation rather than on organizational issues. Some of the main points included the importance of learning from mistakes made in the countryside, especially the timing of the solidarity action and overestimating local people’s awareness of anticolonial struggles.[14]

I was able to reconstruct these events based on the archives of the Hungarian Women’s National Council, as a contributing mass organ to activities coordinated by the Hungarian Solidarity Committee. The latter also has its own archival holdings. But there are also overlaps elsewhere. In the case of the HWNC, the records of activities that affected foreign relations are both kept as part of the documentation of the foreign affairs department of the HWNC and in the archives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. When the HWNC happened to cooperate with other mass organizations, as in the case of anticolonial campaign of 1962, there were other parallels I could identify in the archival practice. These overlaps, which are most likely not unique to the Hungarian case, make the archives of state socialist women’s organizations an invaluable resource for anyone who is interested in women’s involvement in solidarity work both at home and abroad. Pioneering scholars of socialist women’s history have already used these archives to explore women’s transnational relations, especially as they participated in the work of the Women’s International Democratic Federation,[15] the largest transnational socialist women’s organization at the time. But these collections could be reexamined as records of women’s mediative roles between Eastern Europe and the Global South that do not privilege hypermobile perspectives. Subsequent studies could explore sites of global (dis)connectivity within state socialist Europe, highlighting women as solidarity workers.

The correspondence and records were mostly written by women, and yet, the Solidarity Committee’s minutes include more references to men’s contributions, due to the gender disparities in other participating organizations and the presence of men in the leadership of the Hungarian Women’s National Council. It was particularly interesting to follow the women’s marginalia and understand the textual evolution of the statements or the resolution itself. While the Solidarity Committee remained an important coordinating body, if we want to understand the mundane practices of socialist solidarity, we should look at the level of the organizations participating in the work of this committee and the activists themselves. My investigation is guided by my interest in the role of women, but similar inquiries can be made to explore the engagement of other often overlooked groups of actors, schoolchildren or trade unionists, for example.

Concluding remarks

Studying this single solidarity action that was carried out in May 1962 provides insight into the institutional structures behind solidarity work in support of the Global South in post-Stalinist Hungary. It also sheds light on an understudied facet of the activities of the Hungarian Women’s National Council. By zooming in on a single solidarity action and the activities that underpinned it, I partially restore the visibility of essential work that was typically done by women, paving the way for a more complex understanding of how solidarity work looked like, how it (re)produced gendered spaces and hierarchies, and what this meant for solidarity work itself.


References

[1] James Mark, Paul Betts, Alena Alamgir, et. al., Socialism Goes Global: The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe in the Age of Decolonization, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2022); Young-Sun Hong, Cold War Germany, the Third World, and the Global Humanitarian Regime, Human Rights in History (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015); James Mark, Artemy M. Kalinovsky, and Steffi Marung, eds. Alternative Globalizations: Eastern Europe and the Postcolonial World, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2020).

[2] There is a smaller but significant body of research that investigates mobility from the Global South to Eastern Europe as well, especially worker and student mobilities. See, for example: Alena K. Alamgir, “The Everyday Space: The Hostel, the Pub, and the Prison—Vietnamese and Cuban Workers in 1980s Czechoslovakia,” in Socialist Internationalism and the Gritty Politics of the Particular Second-Third World Spaces in the Cold War, ed. Kristin Roth-Ey (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), 217–36; Marcia C. Schenck, Remembering African Labor Migration to the Second World: Socialist Mobilities between Angola, Mozambique, and East Germany (Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023).

[3] Eric Burton et al., “The Travelogue: Imagining Spaces of Encounter—Travel Writing Between the Colonial and the Anti-Colonial in Socialist Eastern Europe, 1949–1989,” in Socialist Internationalism and the Gritty Politics of the Particular Second-Third World Spaces in the Cold War, ed. Kristin Roth-Ey (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2023), 237–60. 242–243.

[4] Some relations existed in the early 1950s too, most notably with North Korea. Hungary was among the Eastern bloc states which hosted orphaned children, providing them medical care and education. See: Péter Apor, “The School. Schools as Liminal Spaces: Integrating North Korean Children Within Socialist Eastern Europe, 1951–1959”, in Kristin Roth-Ey (ed.), Second-Third World Spaces in the Cold War: Global Socialism and the Gritty Politics of the Particular (London: Bloomsbury, 2023).

[5] Tobias Rupprecht, Soviet Internationalism after Stalin: Interaction and Exchange between the USSR and Latin America during the Cold War (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 6.

[6] Solidarity committees existed all over the Eastern Bloc, and a certain degree of coordination prevailed in their work, although the eventual significance and power dynamics of this are little known.

[7] Hungarian Solidarity Committee, “Előterjesztés szolidaritási akcióra, a függetlenségükért küzdő népek támogatására [Proposal for Solidarity Action to Support the Peoples Who Are Struggling for Their Independence],” March 12, 1962, HU-MNL-OL-XXVIII-M-20-K68.

[8] Hungarian Solidarity Committee, 1.

[9] These postal stamps or solidarity stamps were similar to others sold in the course of fundraising campaigns in the Eastern Bloc. Christina Schwenkel discusses the East German Solimarken in her landmark study on East German-Vietnamese solidarities. Christina Schwenkel, Building Socialism: The Afterlife of East German Architecture in Urban Vietnam (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020), 89.

[10] Hungarian Solidarity Committee, “Javaslat a MNOT feladataira a szolidaritási gyűjtési akcióval kapcsolatban [Task Suggestions for the HWNC with Regard to the Solidarity Action],” April 11, 1962, HU-MNL-OL-XXVIII-M-20-K68.

[11] The Patriotic People’s Front was the successor of the antifascist resistance movement during the Second World War, restructured as a mass organization to unite all other mass organizations and connect them to the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (and the Hungarian Workers’ Party before 1954).

[12] Judit Kósa, “Tájékoztató a vidéki Szolidaritási Akció munkájáról [Report about the Work of the Solidarity Action in the Countryside],” May 10, 1962, HU-MNL-OL-XXVIII-M-20-K68.

[13] Sándorné Tóth, “Feljegyzés az 1962. évi szolidaritási hónap lebonyolítása során felmerült problémákról [Memorandum About the Problems That Arose during the Solidarity Month of 1962),” June 5, 1962, HU-MNL-OL-XXVIII-M-20-K68.

[14] “Feljegyzés a Szolidaritási Bizottság 1962. július 24-i üléséről [Memorandum about the Meeting of the Solidarity Committee on July 24th, 1962),” July 24, 1962, HU-MNL-OL-XXVIII-M-20-K68.

[15] Kristen Ghodsee, Second World, Second Sex: Socialist Women’s Activism and Global Solidarity during the Cold War. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019); Francisca de Haan, “Writing Inter/Transnational History: The Case of Women’s Movements and Feminisms,” in Internationale Geschichte in Theorie und Praxis / International History in Theory and Practice, ed. Barbara Haider-Wilson, William D. Godsey, and Wolfgang Mueller (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 2017), 501–36.


About the author

Réka Krizmanics is a Walter Benjamin Postdoctoral Fellow and Akademische Rätin at Bielefeld University, Germany. She holds a PhD in Comparative History 1500–2000 from the Central European University (Budapest/Vienna). Her work focuses on the history of state socialist Eastern and Southeastern Europe in a global context. Building on her earlier interests in intellectual history and memory politics, she has been exploring how the history of globalizing Eastern Europe might be written as a herstory, centering on solidarities between women from the Global East and the Global South. Her first monograph, entitled Historical Knowledge Production Cultures in Late Socialist Hungary and Croatia: Expertise Unsettled is scheduled to appear in 2024 (Lexington Books). Her most recent article is an introduction to a special issue: Réka Krizmanics and Vedran Duančić (2023), “Eager to (let) know: knowledge production and dissemination in state socialist Eastern Europe,” European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 30:2, 143–156, DOI:10.1080/13507486.2023.2184679.


Citation: Réka Krizmanics, The Anticolonial Solidarity Campaign of 1962 in the Hungarian Countryside: An Attempt to Make Global Connections, in: TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research, 12.12.2023, https://trafo.hypotheses.org/49679



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Forum Transregionale Studien (2023, 12. Dezember). The Anticolonial Solidarity Campaign of 1962 in the Hungarian Countryside: An Attempt to Make Global Connections. TRAFO – Blog for Transregional Research. Abgerufen am 23. Mai 2024, von https://doi.org/10.58079/ut8h

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