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Hungary-Democratic Centralism

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According to the Party Rules, the "HSWP is built on the principle of democratic centralism." In theory, democratic centralism calls for the democratic election of all members of leading organs by secret ballot, subordination of lower party organs to higher party organs, and the obligation of the leading organs to report regularly on their activities to their party organization.

In practice, intraparty democracy functioned within narrowly circumscribed limits set by party leaders, who were the only officials able to change party policies. In addition, when the party made a decision, members possessed only the information provided to them by the party hierarchy. Based on that information, the leadership expected the rank and file to endorse its decisions. Delegates sent to meetings at the next highest level were, in fact, chosen by the leaders they ostensibly elected. Moreover, the central party apparatus controlled personnel appointments and ensured that only "trustworthy" members were appointed to positions of authority.

In the late 1980s, party leaders have acknowledged problems with this form of decision making. For example, a party document argued that "if democracy is narrowed down, then issues are solved only by the leadership and a group of experts." This document maintained that greater participation of the rank and file would ensure wider responsibility and decisions of higher quality.

Indeed, in 1988 the party loosened some of democratic centralism's traditional precepts. For example, in June 1988 the Budapest party committee chose among two candidates--Mihaly Jasso and Pal Ivanyi--for the position of first secretary of the Budapest party committee. An eight-person nominating committee selected the candidates based on consultations with party committee members, department heads, district first secretaries, and other activists. In the first two votes, neither candidate received the required 50 percent plus one of the valid votes. On the third vote, Jasso received a majority. Later in 1988, the party loosened other strictures, thus allowing party members to join organizations, movements, and associations considered by the party to be its "potential or actual allies."

In July 1988, more evidence appeared that the party was loosening the norms of democratic centralism. The Central Committee approved a resolution reducing the party's nomenklatura authority over a number of party, government, and economic positions. In 1973 approximately 1,700 such positions existed, of which more than 800 could be filled by Central Committee secretaries (see Party Structure , this ch.). In 1985 the Central Committee reduced the number of such positions to 1,241. A Central Committee resolution of July 13-14, 1988, further lowered the number of these positions to 435. However, in 1988 Istvan Petrovszki, the head of the Central Committee's Party and Mass Organizations Department, reported that the party would not completely halt the practice of recommending personnel for key positions. When these appointments concerned staff in such bodies as the National Assembly, the PPF, and the National Council of Trade Unions, each of which had the right to nominate and elect its own officials, the party would make recommendations. However, if these organizations selected their own nominees, the party would oppose the selection, according to Petrovszki, only if it questioned the person's "political reliability."

Despite some changes in the procedures of democratic centralism, in the late 1980s participation in decision making remained low in the HSWP. Party studies continued to show that the level of activity and the quality of party work among the rank and file were poor. Individuals or, at most, small committees selected nominees for party offices. Indeed, Sandor Lakos, editor in chief of Partelet (Party Life), wrote in the late 1980s that the most important question facing the party was how to create greater party democracy.

Data as of September 1989

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