Andras Revesz: OBITUARY

Click to follow
In the course of a political career that spanned, intermittently, 50 years, Andras Revesz, the self-described "last of the Mohicans" among Hungary's pre-war social democrats, was closely involved in trying to promote the survival or rebirth of his party on three separate occasions. He and his associates failed each time, through repression at the hands of the Communist regime, disunity in their own ranks or a combination of the two.

Revesz was born into a family of social democrats in Budapest in 1909. His grandfather Gyular was one of the founding members of the Social Democratic Party of Hungary (MSZDP) in 1890; his father, Mihly, was editor of the party newspaper, Nepszava, for 42 years and was the MSZDP's official historian; and his brother, Ferenc, was another party stalwart.

Initially, though, Revesz did not pursue a political career. A graduate of the law faculty at Budapest University, Revesz worked from the late 1920s to the end of the Second World War for the social services department of the city's municipal council. It was the formation of the post-war coalition government - which included the MSZDP - that propelled Revesz into senior posts within the party's Budapest organisation and in local government.

But Revesz's successful career came to an abrupt end in 1948. Unlike his father and brother, he opposed the merger between the MSZDP and the Communist Party, a move that was eventually forced through under pressure from the dominant Communists who then went on to establish a one- party Stalinist state. A month before the merger in March 1948, Revesz - like other prominent centrists and right-wing figures - was expelled from the MSZDP. Within weeks he lost his job at the city council and for the next two years could only earn a precarious living by growing mushrooms.

In 1950 Revesz was arrested, along with many other Social Democrats, including his father. After being convicted on a variety of trumped-up charges, he spent five years in prison. During the 1956 uprising, he became one of the chief organisers of the briefly reconstituted MSZDP as deputy to the Secretary-General, the legendary Anna Tethly, who had just been released from prison. The two of them visited Vienna in early November, when the MSZDP was one of the coalition partners in the revolutionary government. On their return to Hungary, Soviet troops already deployed in putting down the uprising turned Kethly back at the border.

Revesz was allowed to go home, but his political hopes were dashed when the MSZDP and other non-Communist parties were once again banned. Revesz escaped punishment because the new Communist leadership under Jnos Kdr was at the time trying to entice former Social Democrats to collaborate in consolidating the regime.

But Revesz had no intention of supporting the authorities; instead he became an internal exile who stayed away from politics. For the next 30 years he worked as a legal adviser and, after his retirement, as a consultant to a textile plant in Budapest. Throughout this period he was kept under surveillance by the secret police.

Revesz's third attempt at rescuing the MSZDP began in the late 1980s when the Communist regime was on the brink of collapse. As Hungary became the testing ground for the transition from one-party rule to democracy, Revesz relaunched the MSZDP in November 1988. By then nearly 80, he was appointed the party's chairman. He became the star attraction at a gathering of the Socialist International in early 1989 when he was the only party leader from a Communist-ruled country to attend - his other East European colleagues were still leading parties in exile in the West.

There were high hopes that, under the new conditions of freedom, the Social Democrats would return to their successes of the immediate post- war years when they had been Hungary's second or third most popular party. It was not to be. This time Hungary's Communists were leading the way in Eastern Europe by reforming themselves as a Western-style social democratic party. In the process they managed to steal the MSZDP's clothes. Besides, the MSZDP descended into factionalism; the party was badly divided between the older generation and young supporters, between those who had co-operated with the Communists and those who had not.

Revesz was eased out of the post of MSZDP Chairman within months, although he was later reinstated for a while as honorary president. Then the MSZDP suffered the indignity of failing to get into parliament in the multi- party elections during the spring of 1990 because it could not get above the 4 per cent threshold of votes. In the years that followed Revesz tried to keep the torch of social democracy burning, but his inspiration proved insufficient to halt the factional fighting within the MSZDP and its splinter groups. In the meantime, the ex-Communists returned to power on a largely social democratic platform in 1994.

Andras Revesz was known as the grand old man of Hungarian social democracy. An urbane, witty man with no strong political ambitions, he never had any doubts about his political allegiance. As his wife, Katalin, once put it, "We are social democrats and, if things go well, we will die as social democrats." Revesz did.

Andras Revesz, politician: born Budapest, Hungary 3 November 1909; MSZDP leader on Budapest City Council 1945- 47; Deputy Secretary-General, MSZDP October-November 1956; Chairman, MSZDP 1988-89; married (one son, one daughter); died Budapest 29 March 1996.