Comment on Hungary’s Enabling Act, passed on 23 March 2020
This article is authored by the Hungarian historian Tamás Krausz. It was originally published on the site of Transform!Europe network on 8 April 2020. Tamás Kraus’ published works focus on the national question and Bolshevism, the Soviet Thermidor, the Holocaust and regime change in the USSR and Eastern Europe. His book “Reconstructing Lenin” was awarded the Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2015.
Globalisation, the expansion of the power of capital, and the political regime of neoliberalism have strengthened the antihuman conditions of social inequality, cultural dissolution, and individualisation in Hungary as elsewhere. The political far-right responses to these social and human challenges – aggravated by the repeated wave of immigration from the Global South to the Global North – has inflamed xenophobic attitudes. Far from being limited to the region, these distorted forms of protest are manifest in Eastern Europe in the renaissance of far-right wing, nationalist-racist, or even neo-fascist ideologies, which appeared to have been long forgotten. However, we have recently witnessed the birth of political forms and ideologies of a new political far right. Hungary is pioneering this process under the leadership of Viktor Orbán.
By now Orbanism has accomplished the destruction of the institutions of liberal democracy, and transformed the multi-party-system into a ‘one and half party-system’ by severely limiting the scope of action and media influence of all other political parties. Orbán – and this is only a slight exaggeration – has himself become the financer of the ‘nation’. Orbanism entrusts above all the Christian churches with the task of strengthening the social and intellectual-cultural base of the regime, and it completes the neo-Horthyst intellectual-political restoration that we could already observe in Hungary between 1998 and 2002. This restoration amounts to the maintenance of semi-peripheral capitalism and the taming and silencing of the working classes – the fundamental condition for the extraction of profit.
Orbán and his party was the first in Europe to openly and unapologetically introduce an authoritarian regime, which, as the preamble to the Enabling Act makes explicit, they even base in ‘Christian fundamental law’. The coronavirus pandemic made possible a still further concentration of his power. It is good preparation for the next parliamentary elections, in which he can reduce to zero the chances of the completely humiliated and powerless political opposition. The Enabling Act (felhatalmazási törvény) passed on 23 March recalls Hitler’s Ermächtigungsgesetz (such a name has never been applied to any act in Hungarian history, even in the Horthy era). The Act – without any time limit – has declared an ‘state of emergency’, which is serving as a good pretext for the government to suspend the functioning of parliament and immediately rewrite many laws: the police can freely use the data of the Tax Office, without the Attorney General’s permission; demonstrations are forbidden and, in principle, the mayors’ authority can be overridden at any time. Orbán has clearly been testing the possibility of transition to dictatorship. The political opposition made a disgraceful showing; although they did not vote the act, they continued to participate in the electoral farce and played the role of loyal opposition to His Majesty.
Orbán’s propaganda has cynically formulated the Act’s legitimacy also in the nationalistic exclusion of the ‘immigrants’. Brussels expresses its usual disapproval, but Orbán nevertheless can do whatever he wants. It is only the big German car-manufacturing capital that is happy with Orbán’s rule because he created a tax paradise for it.
Hungarian society has been in a state of apathy since 2010 but the coronavirus pandemic further atomised society; thus positions of social resistance were eroded still more. On the – otherwise empty – streets policemen and soldiers guarantee an order whose only purpose is the display of power. Big companies and hospitals have been placed under military control. On TV and radio it is not professionals who ‘battle’ the pandemic; rather, policemen and state bureaucrats ‘inform’ people of what is happening. The government’s control of the media is, if this can be imagined, even greater. The Act is at the same time preparation for the solution to the crisis accompanying the pandemic, since the losses of Orbán’s oligarchs (the narrowest circle of relatives, friends, and henchmen) can now be compensated from public funds while profit has been tacitly accumulated in private pockets.
Obviously, Orbán is preparing for the ‘management’ of the crisis, which has worsened as a result of the pandemic: a severe economic and financial crisis, the expected new unemployment, impoverishment, the possible consequences of migration and the crushing of social resistance. That is why he has expanded the authority of the instruments of oppression. This is the real meaning of the Enabling Act.
Thus, the pandemic has reinforced state economic intervention, authoritarianism, and nationalism. The government is using the pandemic to even further block any search for a left-wing alternative, opening the door still wider for the right and radical right. The European political left is busy with its own self-defence, and in this constellation we cannot see any possibility of stopping or controlling the new Eastern European (Polish, Baltic, Ukrainian, etc.) radical right. This is true despite the obvious opportunity offered by the 75th anniversary of the liberation from Nazism and Fascism for anti-fascist resistance now. Instead, the European Parliament passed a resolution last September, which equated the Soviet Union with Nazi Germany, Stalin with Hitler, and communism tout court with fascism. Since it is only mass resistance that can control the (radical) right, liberal movements having proven incapable of countering it, there is no alternative but to go to the root of the problem and formulate a cooperative socialist alternative to capitalism. The pandemic has shown all the contradictions of the capitalist system; the task now is the elimination of these systemic contradictions. There simply is no other way to combat international Orbanism. At least I see none.
In the European Union Orbanism is the embodiment of the new far right, which, while rejecting the old, Nazi-Arrow Cross traditions of the far right has integrated some of its representatives into the mid- and low levels of power, thus stabilising its rule. It is displaying its decisively anti-socialist and ultimately antihuman social character as the representative of one faction of the ruling class, and it renders the regime legally and politically nearly impossible to remove. By doing so, the new populist far right is fulfilling its historical function, since the quasi corporatist regime could be dismantled only through external economic pressure or a popular uprising.
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