Our Homeland is making inroads with the country's working class
It was a gloomy Mayday for Hungary’s Left. For the first time in decades, there were no Mayday events in Budapest’s main city park, Városliget, to talk of. Traditionally, it was always Hungary’s Socialist Party and its various offshoots organising Mayday fairs, where leading politicians were obliged to give their account of what they think should happen to workers’ rights, and what kind of trade union policy they offer.
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But, like elsewhere in the Western world, the influence of Leftist parties in Hungary has rapidly diminished in the 2010s. During this period, the far-Right party Jobbik drew white working class voters away from Left-wing parties by focusing on race and identity politics (anti-roma, anti-immigrant, and anti-LGBT) before eventually being subsumed by Orban’s Fidesz.
But in recent years, a new Right-wing party focused on Hungary’s working class has emerged. On April 3 2022, Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) — led by former Jobbik vice chair László Toroczkai, made it into parliament with nearly 6% of the vote. Together with Fidesz, which has comfortably received another two-thirds majority, they constitute a 71% percent majority in Hungary’s newly formed national assembly.
In recent months, this radical new offshoot of Jobbik has started to focus on labour — not identity — issues. This was on full display at yesterday’s Mayday, in which the Party organised its own trade union forum, which included a discussion featuring Toroczkai.
The participants were union leaders from industrial areas, as well as a firefighter union vice president — all from rural towns. Most of these discussions focused on the predicament of Hungarian industrial workers and public servants, and ways to cooperate without the institutions of the “old Left”.
Invited onto the panel was Gábor Radics, a unionist who described himself as a Leftist, he explained that he participated the Right-wing event simply because Mi Hazánk offered invaluable help for them during their 2018 protests against Hungary’s anti-worker “slave law”. János Lantos, a key member of Our Homeland, insisted that: “our objective is not class war, but labour peace”. Like his political comrades in France and Western Europe, Lantos emphasised that “traditional Left and Right, as we understood it, is no more… A mutually beneficial agreement between capital and labour makes the country better.” He added that in spite of what he calls “20th century understandings” of trade unionism, it should not be an “institution of class war”, but “an organic part of the nation”.
While we may wish to commend the renewed focus on labour over identity issues for the working class, we should treat the far-Right’s entry into this space with caution. There is a long European tradition of far-Right forces attempting to appropriate institutions like those of the traditional workers’ movement and rarely did they end well. But there is also no question that the Left bears its share of the blame; after all, it has been the hollowing out of the movement over the past three decades that has created the space for these parties to emerge. Until it can offer a viable alternative to what is being proposed by Hungary’s Right, it will continue to suffer many more gloomy Maydays.