Saturday, 19 April 2014

Sándor Márai, from Hallgatni akartam
I Wanted to Keep Quiet

Admiral Horthy enters Budapest on a white horse, November 1919

Márai laments lost opportunities after the failure of the 1919 Bolshevik revolution. The country not only missed the chance of land-reform but of developing a modern form of democracy. The new regime simply turned the clock back to the feudal order as it existed before the revolution. He blames the rise of nazi ideas on this failure. Here he paints a picture of feudal society under Admiral Horthy, the Regent.

The brighter sparks among the various right wing organisations had guessed that there was a side-road down which they could drive the crowds. Their cries were Christianity, patriotism, order and anti-bolshevism but at the same time they began ('Hungarian style"), craftily, as if in disguise, to raise the barricades for the next revolution...

This revolution started on the right and merged seamlessly with the Bolshevik one that followed. It wasn't something we suspected on the day whose memory I am trying to conjure. Under it all it lay the lost opportunity of land-reform - this missed opportunity meant that it wasn't only the life of the powerful that was artificially maintained by force, but  that it produced within the overt official hierarchy an invisible hierarchy that was more real than the official version. Beyond the formal historical regalia, such as the Crown of St Stephen, in the shadow of the monarchless constitution there rose a panopticum of ever small kings: so we saw the Regent in his admiral's uniform on his white horse, the higher ranking clergy, the top military, statesmen and, proceeding downwards, the various representatives of state and security each neatly turned out in his particular smart uniform, ministers, mayors, the head of the fire-brigade. [But behind all these representatives of the feudal state] there followed the second rank of civic order: the local magistrate, the notary, the gendarme, the station-master, the janitor, everyone who relied on the help and protection of the local landowner for the provision of a train to carry the products of pig-rearing, fruit-picking, corn-gathering or simply firewood.


In this passage, written after the war and having read of Attlee’s reforms in the UK, Márai is arguing for what he capitalises as The Third Way, a Gaitskellite, Blairite centre-left position, the way we have in fact adopted to a greater or lesser extent since the war. Is Márai a Blairite then or more of a One-Nation Tory like RAB Butler, or, perhaps, Kenneth Clarke? He is what he is, a man of conscience desperate to know if he is of any use to the world around him.

Are the English and Scandinavian experiments with socialism - a human-scale, non-dictatorial socialist project -  convincing enough for us to hope that a humanist-minded middle-class might adopt it?… I have arrived at the conviction that the only way the capitalist mode of production might be able to address a world of crowded individuals and masses is by making a humane accommodation with socialism... The English experiment strengthens this hope in me…. What I have learned in the last ten years is that the one true heroic path in human affairs is always the one most hated by the fanatical tyrants of social change, that is the Third Way.

...I was brought up in the middle class and continue to be of it. I have had to put on my glasses and while the world was burning try to work out an answer to the necessary questions: do I still have a right to live and to work? Do I, as a man of my class, have a role in the world… I know I wasn’t alone in putting these questions to myself. In the last decade of revolutions, both at home and in the outside world, the same questions arose: does the middle-class form of life, does its concept of humanist order mean anything any more? I couldn’t answer the question but it kept burning away inside me.

1 comment:

Gwil W said...

I think Giggs will turn them round if they give a chance. If not, maybe to Rovers and emulate some of Mark Hughes, maybe the last quality manager the Rovers had. Building a team around a star can sometimes work but I don't think Rooney is the man.