Janos Gereben
Janos Gereben

Fellowship Title:

The Secret Revolution

Janos Gereben
December 15, 1969

Fellowship Year

December, 1969
Lerchengasse 28/43,
1080 Wien, Austria

BUDAPEST—Neosocialism is on the march in Hungary.

One is forced to invent an awkward term like that to describe what’s happening in this country. How else can you break the news to the world that Communism (Socialism, in the euphemistic terminology of East Europe) is on its way out here, but nobody knows about it?

Neosocialism means Communist slogans and Capitalist machinery, red flags and Coca Cola, the celebration of the Great October Revolution and SRO performances of “Hair.”

This whole business cannot even be called news. It’s the greatest non-news item of our age from Hungary and it is astonishing.

A nation of 10 million, famous throughout history for its collective big lip and suicidal extremism, has become a Neosocialist country, united by modesty, moderation, and success. And 10 million people, together, keep all this a secret.

After the failure of all the anti-Soviet uprisings in East Europe—East Germany, 1954; Poland and Hungary, 1956; Czechoslovakia, 1968—Hungary today is in the midst of a silent, secret, and successful revolution.

It is an amazing movement, accomplishing all the goals the other Soviet Bloc countries (and Hungary itself in 1956) had hoped and bled for and could never reach. Silently, it is approaching the success of the only victorious assertion of economic and even political independence from Moscow, that of Tito and Yugoslavia.

“REAL ESTATE SPECULATOR”—The signs on the parcels say “for sale.” Private real estate dealing is peculiar to a Neosocialist system.

A measure of national independence, economic success away from the dogmatic Marxist-Stalinist rules, some personal and a good deal of intellectual and artistic freedom—these are some of the results of the Secret Revolution.

Why is it “non-news”?

First, because “news” from East Europe, by definition, must consist of reports of crises, clashes, revolutions. The slow, quiet process described here does not qualify as news, regardless of its significance.

Second, the success of the Secret Revolution is precisely in its silence. Hungary learned the lesson from its own tragic 1956 revolution and from the recent mistakes of Czechoslovakia: if you challenge Moscow publicly (whether on the streets or in Look magazine), the Russians have no choice and must roll the tanks in.

The solution is simple: you can get away with just about anything as long as you don’t talk about it. Thus Janos Kadar, the first secretary of the Hungarian party and the 1956 Benedict Arnold, has secured for his people all the benefits the Czechs had wanted … by not talking about them.


“NOUVEAU RICHE—You have only one swimming pool?”

“CONSERVATIVE HUSBAND—I am beginning to have enough of your modern ideas for interior decoration…”


All cartoons from the Budapest magazine Ludas Matyi

ON THE COVER—The dour man on the left is Santa Claus, starting the big race toward department stores and “big holiday sales.” The smiling man on the right is Party Secretary Janos Kadar who is responsible for the Capitalist affluence of the country celebrating a Red Christmas. Just a few years ago, it was called Day of the Pine Trees or something and nobody had money to buy presents anyway.

The world press has been preoccupied with Czechoslovakia for the past two years and analyzed to death Prague’s attempts to secure a “human face” for its system, to do away with the harsher aspects of a Socialist police state, to trade and talk with the West, to allow the use of the best economic measures from Capitalist systems, to permit artists and journalists relatively free expression.

With all eyes (including Moscow’s) on Prague, Budapest has attained all this and more while singing the praises of the “glorious Soviet Union” and politely but firmly rejecting possibilities of deadly publicity in the West.

Dubcek was busy giving interviews and hundreds of Western journalists flooded Prague; Kadar and the other Hungarian leaders were nowhere to be seen (except in their offices, working, and meeting their Czech colleagues, pleading with them to shut up) while discouraging newsmen from the West to write about Hungary’s “new course.”

Meanwhile, an Intercontinental hotel giant is opening in Budapest, the second Coca Cola plant is starting production, wages are up, quantity and quality of production are steadily increasing—and Czechoslovakia, formerly the richest of East European countries, is in a tragic economic ruin.

The truly strange aspect of all this is in the solidarity and virtual unanimity of the people backing up the Kadar regime. No talking and waving of flags this time—just silence and hard work. It’s almost like a national conspiracy: people know that Moscow must not be provoked…so they don’t.

“STORK IN CHAINS”—Infecundin is one of Hungary’s numerous birthcontrol pills.

“NEW HOUSING DEVELOPMENT—Wave to grandma, horizontal 17, vertical 22…”

Voluntarily, the Hungarian news media kept silent about the real significance of what’s happening in the country, newsmen refrained from even implied criticism of Moscow.

(“We don’t care for the wrong kind of publicity,” the New York Times quoted an unnamed “Hungarian Communist” recently, and went on to explain: “The wrong kind, clearly, is publicity that would portray Hungary as too inclined toward the West—an impression a visitor might form because of a new air of modest prosperity and relative cosmopolitanism that is striking in a country of the Soviet Bloc.”)

Nobody talked publicly about how the New Economic Policy is carried out with its un-Marxist emphasis on incentives and profits and practically anti-Soviet reinstatement of the private sector. Nobody speculated about how this new Hungarian economy is pushing the country further away from the unpleasant and unprofitable embrace of the Russians.

(Actually, all this is beneficial to Moscow: the Hungarian economy, now booming with the aid of Western investment and “Capitalist” methods, is far more helpful to the Russians than the Czech economy—devastated by the invasion and the resulting nationwide sabotage and absenteeism—where Moscow may have to pour aid in instead of being able to exploit it as before.)

Kadar has been so cautious that instead of bragging in the Western press about the country’s new direction and success, he gave an interview denying that anything new is happening at all.





The Soviet leaders, pushed to invasion by news of West German investment in Czechoslovakia, are happily tolerating the same thing (plus a great deal of American money) in Hungary when they hear their good and loyal friend, Kadar, explain it all away.

In a recent interview to L’Unita, the Italian Communist paper (Look gets no break here), Kadar denied that there is any real “reform” in the Hungarian economy (and, in case the Italian paper isn’t followed closely in Moscow, he had the whole text reprinted in Nepszabadsag, the major Hungarian paper):

“There is so much misinformation circulating abroad about Hungarian economic reforms, initiated in January, 1968, that it has become unavoidable to say a few words about their real nature.

“First, I must emphasize that this is not a real reform, but merely the redirection and development of the economy’s mechanism, its Socialist leadership. Our economy is unaltered in its main characteristic: Socialist planning.”

Kadar went on to list measures of this “non-reform” (decentralization, consumer-oriented production, “following those laws of market economy which are valid even in Socialist countries,” etc.), and then spoke directly to the point to silence some ugly speculations:

“We know that certain imperialist circles and their ‘theoreticians’ are hoping that economic reforms will lead to the weakening of our social structure.

“They are hoping in vain. On the contrary, we are certain that economic reforms will strengthen our system, the power of the working class. We are not planning and do not expect changes in the political structure, the continued building of the Party, the realization of the principle of democratic centralism.”



“DIFFICULT BIRTH—We’ll exchange her for a bigger one in a couple of years…”

Now, however confused the folks in the Kremlin may be about all the things going on in the world, they are certainly not completely dumb. They cannot possibly miss the obvious phoniness, contradiction, primitiveness of Kadar’s attempts to explain that black is white.

They know it, but they don’t care. This is the real significance of the Secret Revolution, its power to modify the Brezhnev Doctrine: Moscow’s supremacy need not be taken literally in deed as long as it is upheld loud and clear in words.

Kadar discovered this secret and exploited it fully, but the strange thing is that the whole country got wise right along with him.

Without orders or even public hints, Hungarians took Kadar’s cue and kept things in a low key. Self-censorship (for not calling things by their rightful names) is working admirably and the only indication of something new in the air may be gathered from the “funny papers” which are not very funny, really, but whose topic of humor these days lets a bit of the truth out.

Instead of propagandistic attacks on the decadent West, Hungarian satirical comment now centers on the country’s own newly-accomplished decadence—the alienation and psychological problems stemming from the first winds of near-affluence.

But, beyond this, there is silence.

It’s quite a change. Hungarians distinguished themselves throughout history by “going too far.”


“NEW ASCETICISM—On bread and water, to reach the holy goal…”

“AUTO SALE—Why do you push? I was here first…!”

They had the bloodiest peasant revolution in the 15th Century, followed by the most horrible repression after that (opening the way to the Turks into the devastated country), they went all the way in 1848 (inviting invasion by the Russian Czar), were louder Nazis than the Germans in World War II (again resulting in Russian retribution), and more merciless Communists in the 50’s than Stalin (which brought about the 1956 revolution … ended by yet another Russian invasion).

And now, after the excesses of a thousand years of tragic history, Hungarians are carefully tiptoeing a straight and narrow line—smartly, deviously, quietly.

If the world adopted the theory and practice of Hungary’s Secret Revolution to Neosocialism, all its many problems could be solved overnight.

American troops could return home if Hanoi conceded defeat while taking over Saigon. Peace could come to Nigeria if Biafra told the world of returning to the federation while kicking the federal troops out of the country. Soviet occupation could end if the Czechs declared their love for Moscow.

Hungary is putting a streamlined Carnegie principle of How to Succeed into practice for the first time on an international level: it accomplishes what it wants while saying whatever makes Big Brother feel good.

It works beautifully but, knowing about Hungary’s unlucky history, one wonders if it isn’t too good to last.



Received in New York on December 15, 1969.

Mr. Gereben is an Alicia Patterson Fund award winner, on leave from the Honolulu Star-Bulletin. This article may be published with credit to Janos Gereben, the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and the Alicia Patterson Fund.