It is 90 years since the death of the Hungarian Communist Jenö Landler.
His is not a name that will evoke much response today. He did not leave a written legacy but he was one of those who work tirelessly behind the scenes and never occupy the spotlight. Without him and countless thousands of other unsung activists where would we be today? They too should be remembered and honoured along with the “big names”.
Landler was born in Gelse in Hungary in 1875, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He trained in early life as a lawyer but quickly attached himself, to the rapidly growing Hungarian workers movement. In 1906 he helped organise a tram workers strike and in the same year he joined the Hungarian Social Democratic Party (MSzDP) – the Hungarian section of the Second International – soon identifying with its left wing. When the First World War broke out Landler resisted the chauvinism of the MSzDP leadership, who supported the war, and organised demonstrations and strikes against the rampant militarism. He was arrested in 1918 although he was soon freed by the political developments attendant upon the end of the war. He became People’s Commissar of Trade in the new revolutionary government of the short-lived Republic of Soviets in 1919. With the collapse of the Republic he fled to Vienna, where he was to spend most of the rest of his life.
He impressed the intellectual György Lukács, also an exile in Vienna, who joined his faction to combat the sectarian, ultra-leftist policies of Béla Kun. Late in life Lukács was to remark in an interview that Landler “... simply concerned himself with the practical possibilities of reviving the Hungarian movement. That made a great impression on me, and from then on I supported him enthusiastically”. “The idiot Kun” as he was once described by Lenin, wanted the Hungarian Party to be run from exile. He was opposed by Landler who argued that the party must be based on what was going on in Hungary, however difficult that might be, the exile party’s role was to help and advise those still in Hungary who had been forced underground by the right-wing Hungarian government, but the exiles shouldn’t control the party.
Quietly and effectively Landler built his support and was able to defeat most of Kun’s schemes despite the latter having the support of Zinoviev in the Comintern. He attended the third, fourth and fifth congresses of the Communist International as part of the Hungarian delegation.
Unfortunately, Landler died before the big confrontation between the Kun faction and the opposition in 1929. Lukács argued for his so-called “Blum Theses” (a plan for the party’s orientation and political platform – so-called after Lukács’ party name) without Landler’s help. Lukács was defeated. Minus Landler, the opposition disintegrated and many otherwise able members went over to Kun. The Hungarian Communist Party in exile became a byword for sectarian infighting and Lukács retreated to the margins.
Landler died on the French south coast. Possibly he was there for health reasons. His body was taken to Moscow and, to this day, his ashes are still interred in the walls of the Kremlin.