Nagy, Imre (1896–1958)

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Nagy, Imre (1896–1958)

Nagy, Imre (1896–1958), Hungarian politician. Imre Nagy served as prime minister of Hungary between 1953 and 1955, then again in 1956 during the revolution. He was tried and executed in 1958.

Imre Nagy was born into a peasant family at Kaposvar on July 6, 1896. As a young man he was an engineering apprentice, then a worker in Budapest. He was sent to the Russian front during World War I. Taken prisoner, he joined the Red Army in 1917 and the Bolshevik Party in 1918. He returned to Hungary in the early 1920s and joined the then illegal Communist Party. He organized the peasants in a movement calling for agrarian reform. He was in charge of Communist Party work in the countryside, concentrating on agrarian questions. Politically very active, he was tried and sentenced several times by the Hungarian government.

In 1928 Nagy left the country and settled in Vienna. In March 1930 he joined the staff of the International Agronomy Institute in Moscow. He published several articles in the Hungarian emigre journal Sarló es Kalapács (Sickle and Hammer). In 1932, commissioned by the Comintern, he drafted the Communist program of action on agrarian problems. He never joined any of the emigre Hungarian Communist factions, which may be one of the reasons why he escaped the Stalinist purges of the 1930s.

In 1941 he became assistant editor, then editor-in-chief, of Radio Kossuth, which broadcast programs directed to Hungary. In 1944 Nagy drew up a plan for Hungarian agrarian reform. At the end of the year he returned to Hungary and was appointed minister for agriculture in the provisional government at Debrecen. In April 1945, following the World War II liberation of the country by the Red Army, the government moved to Budapest, where life began to resume its normal course. The agrarian reform implemented in Hungary was based on Nagy's plan and carried out under his direction. This made him very popular among the peasants.

In the elections held on November 4, 1945, the conservative Smallholders Party won 57.7 percent of the votes, the Social Democratic Party 17.4 percent, the Communist Party 17 percent, and the National Peasant Party 8 percent. These parties formed a coalition government. Imre Nagy became minister of the interior. On March 12, 1946, the Communist, Social Democrat, and National Peasant parties formed a "left block" inside the government coalition and organized demonstrations against the deputies from the right wing of the Smallholders Party. Under pressure, the Smallholders Party expelled 23 deputies. Later in March 1946 the Communist Party charged Imre Nagy with "lack of vigor" and relieved him of his post. It appointed Laszlo Rajk as his successor.

In order to force further nationalization, the Communist Party in February 1947 launched fresh attacks on the Smallholders Party. The secretary general of the party was arrested by the Soviet Control Commission and charged with anti-Soviet activities. He was tried and condemned to death, together with other party leaders.

In May the three largest banks were nationalized. New elections were held in August, in which 60 percent of the votes were won by the government coalition. Imre Nagy was elected president of the Parliament, a largely ceremonial office.

In March 1948, under pressure from the Communist Party, which was seeking a merger with the Social Democrats, the latter expelled some of its leading members who were opposed to such a union. Later that month businesses with more than 100 employees were nationalized. In June the Communist and Social Democratic parties decided to unite; for all practical purposes, the Social Democratic Party was absorbed by the Communists. A large-scale purge began in September, leading to the expulsion of some 100,000 members from the Communist Party: "former Social Democrats or unreliable elements."

Nagy had serious disputes with Matyas Rákosi, the Communist Party leader, from 1948. Nagy disagreed with the "personality cult" and the forced pace of collectivization, pointing out the dangers of this policy. In 1949 he was forced to withdraw from political life, having been removed from the politboro. He became director of the University of Agronomy and devoted himself to the study of agrarian questions.

A show trial of Rajk took place in September 1949; it was designed to justify the attacks on Yugoslavia. Rajk was sentenced to death. By December the nationalization of industry was completed. In the beginning of 1950 the first Five Year Plan took effect. It concentrated on the development of heavy industry and on intensified collectivization.

In 1951 Nagy was allowed to return to political life. He was again elected to the politboro and was made a member of the secretariat. In 1952 he was made minister for farm deliveries, and later, when Rákosi became president of the council, he was appointed as his second deputy.

In 1953, three months after Stalin's death, the new leaders of the Soviet Communist Party made a vigorous attack on the Hungarian party leaders and forced them to adopt a new line and to appoint Imre Nagy as prime minister. In his new post he introduced a series of measures. In addition to a reorganization of the economy, he announced measures of political liberalization. The peasants were allowed to withdraw from the cooperatives and were promised tax relief. Agricultural credit was eased. The deportations were ended. A new Patriotic People's Front was formed. In October 1954 Nagy announced intensified democratization. In December Rákosi attacked the line of policy adopted by Nagy. New instructions from Moscow strengthened Rákosi's position. In March 1955 the Central Committee condemned Imre Nagy's course, and in April he was expelled from the Central Committee and relieved of all his offices. At the end of 1955 he was expelled from the party.

After the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in 1956 it was important to rehabilitate Nagy's policy. In July Rákosi was removed; in October Nagy was readmitted to the party. On October 23 and 24 workers went on strike; there were demonstrations in the streets against occupying Soviet troops; and the demand was raised for the return to power of Nagy. Nagy delivered a radio address calling for an end to the fighting. On October 26 delegations from all over the country urged Nagy to take new measures to liberate the country. During the following days a new government was formed and discussions began concerning the complete withdrawal of the Soviet troops. But more Soviet troops entered the country. The Hungarian government denounced the Warsaw Pact and declared the country neutral. Soviet forces launched a general offensive against Hungary, crushing the uprising. Nagy took refuge at the Yugoslav embassy (some 200,000 Hungarians fled the country).

Nagy remained under the protection of the embassy until November 22, when he was duped into leaving it. On his way home he was captured. He was tried, sentenced to death, and executed in 1958.