How Anti-Capitalist is the Hungarian Extreme-Right?

A study titled ”The attitude of the Hungarian extreme-right towards capitalism” was presented at the conference on ”Anti-capitalism, anti-Europe and extremism”, recently held by the Free Market Foundation and Political Capital Research Institute. As while we – rightly – debate why it is dangerous that the leading Hungarian far-right party favors a surprisingly close relationship with Moscow, and lobbies for Russian interests also on the European stage, the fact that the party fundamentally questions the norms of the market economy raises less attention. We provide details from this study below.

Since the transition, a number of national and international contrastive studies have noted a growing anti-capitalist sentiment in the Hungarian society. Most Hungarians were disappointed by the market economy after the transition, see only its disadvantages and are basically anti-competitive. That is why even if they do not trust in public institutions, they still require strong state intervention in economic and social processes.

It was the right-wing that built its politics in the most effective way on these often contradictory expectations in Hungary. It stands on clearly anti-liberal grounds and is right-wing collectivist, since it prefers the primacy of the national community to the individual, and thus, by strong state intervention in the economy, it claims the radical transformation of the society. On this basis, the whole Hungarian right-wing can be described as anti-capitalist, if we start from the belief that capitalism is a comprehensive value and theory system that prefers individualism to collectivism, individual responsibility to state responsibility and freedom to bureaucratic order. (…)

The value structure of the Hungarian society does not provide good grounds for capitalist social values to prevail, while at the same time it only seemingly supports egalitarian efforts. The majority would take the high income away from rich people, but it would also deprive the poor of state benefits. Instead of individual responsibility and solidarity, social envy, anti-competitiveness and atomization reflect from the studies. The fact that Hungarians would entrust the role of taking care to the state rather arises from delegating the responsibility than from the trust in public institutions. What is more, this specific Hungarian paternalism is actually the result of distrust: the members of the Hungarian society require the paternalistic role of the state because they do not trust anyone else. (…)

Photo: Wikimedia Commons


Modern anti-Semitism, unfolding from the last third of the 19th century, was closely linked also in Hungary to the rejection of capitalism, the scapegoating after the transformation of the economy and the society and the conspiracy theory thinking. Jews, who played a significant role in the embourgeoisement in Hungary, were seen as major promoters of capitalism, which was considered to be damaging to social development. The Hungarian extreme-right, which became more and more powerful between the First and the Second World War, also shared this idea. What is more, following the transition in 1990, the revived far-right of today’s Hungary – unlike in other European countries – was also characterized by this concept. From the supply-side, the narrative that blames the Jews for all the drawbacks of modernization and capitalism is constantly gaining support.

At the same time, anti-capitalism of the Hungarian extreme-right cannot only be caught in its anti-Semitism regarded as a complex world-explanation, but also in its ideas concerning economic-and social policy. In its ideas and written political programs, the radical planning of the transformation of the society is accompanied by a demand for a strong state which is able to intervene, a wish for the realization of a centrally planned economy and a collectivist approach in a right-wing sense. In the purest sense, these ideas characterized the extreme-right between the two World Wars, but in an implicit, more self-contradictory way, they can also be traced in the concepts of today’s extreme-right, thus in the policy of Jobbik as well.

By comparing the politics of European extreme-right parties, one can find that the differences are not rooted in their priorities in the first place, but in the difference of the political context. The politics of an extreme-right party is mainly determined everywhere by an ethnocentric, introverted world view, but its certain elements appear in an adaptive way in the answers of the parties to specific regional, social questions and demands. Neither is the anti-capitalist nature of the Hungarian far-right rooted only in its own ideas and historical traditions, it is also based on pragmatic considerations. That is why – reacting to social demand – contradictory elements concerning its relation to capitalism often appear in its politics. (…)

Belief in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories is clearly a dividing line in Hungarian politics, it is kind of a political code that separates left-and right-wing parties. Members of Fidesz and Jobbik are more likely to believe that Jews are secretly trying to rule the world (and in line with that, they are also more likely to agree with conspiracy theories claiming that ”secret societies threaten the stability of our society”).

It is clearly related to domestic discourses from the last couple of years which – mainly in the right-wing – were dominated by conspiracy theories concerning the IMF, the EU, the Bilderberg-group, the media, NGOs, etc. Of course, conspiracy theories are generally popular in the society: 26% of them believe in general and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories at the same time. (…)

Ideally, in capitalism, the state has a minimum role, and although state intervention in case of dissatisfaction in market processes is totally accepted in the modern market economy, capitalist values still argue that market mechanisms head towards optimum and stability. Thus, individuals following their self-interest drive the economy towards stability, an equilibrum point. Accordingly, in contrast with the efforts made for unification, considered so important for the extreme-right, free competition is a natural, beneficial, and ultimately a desired process, what is more, it is indispensable for the operation of the capitalist economic system.

Capitalism considers it natural that capital is no longer constrained by the framework of nation states, when protectionism became a barrier to efficiency and yield increase. In this perspective, globalization cannot only be tolerated, but, from an economic point of view, it can also be considered beneficial, by which capital creates greater wealth for countries. (…)

While some examples for accepting capitalism in the ideological mess of the extreme-right can be found at the international level every now and then, in Hungary that would hardly happen, since the Hungarian far-right is traditionally anti-capitalist.

Free Market Foundation