The Educational Policy of the Soviet Dictatorship in Hungary

Civic Review, Vol. 13, Special Issue, 2017, 335–356, DOI: 10.24307/psz.2017.0320

Dr Attila Horváth, head of institute, professor, National University of Public Service, judge, Justice of the Constitutional Court of Hungary (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).


In a dictatorship of the kind built by the Soviets, power was exercised in every sector in the form of brutal, blatant and uncontrolled governance. The ideology termed, in most places, Marxism–Leninism was imposed on the people as a kind of a “state religion”. From nurseries to universities, from adult education to the media, the official doctrines were hammered into people’s heads and claimed to give answers to just about any question. The Communist Party wished to use schools to create obedient citizens. The 1950 curriculum set the objective of “teaching pupils to become conscious, disciplined citizens of the People’s Republic, who are loyal to the working class and build Socialism.”

Keywords: ideological education, Moscow, communism, Marxism–Leninism

The concept of Soviet-type dictatorship

Soviet-type dictatorship is a stand-alone, legally definitive public law-based regime rather than a state of emergency which, under the provisions of the constitution, is only installed in case of war or some other emergency, and as soon as such an emergency ceases to exist, constitutional order is restored (Búza, 1936). Soviet-type dictatorship was, therefore, a new, independent category of public law which, during its 70-year and 40-year rule in the Soviet Union and Hungary respectively, allowed no inherent trends to evolve that were aimed at radical change of the regime.1 Totalitarian dictatorship is a closed system unyielding to any reform, a fact that is sufficiently attested to by failed attempts to carry out such reform (Vajda, 1989:15). A consistent rejection of reforms was not a political mistake but, rather, it followed precisely from the logic of the regime.2

A narrow political elite was able to establish totalitarian dictatorship by applying a modern 20th century administrative technique. A type of social regime evolved that resisted all kinds of restrictions as it intended to rule and assume control over all aspects of life.3 The exercise of power manifested itself in the form of brutal, blatant and uncontrolled authoritarian rule in all spheres of the political system. This exclusivity led to the elimination of any political leeway in society through a simplified technique of exercising political power. A hierarchically structured, extremely centralised oneparty state evolved which refused to observe the principle of separation of powers, and which, therefore, centralised legislative, executive and judicial powers. As a result, state and party functions became inextricably interwoven.

The state wanted to rule all aspects of life, even those that were not formerly even remotely related to politics.4 Headed by a “secretary-general”, a dictator with unlimited power, a narrow elite decided on all political, economic, social and cultural issues.5 The post of secretary-general was not even put to vote at the 17th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party (16 January – 10 February 1934).6

The Bolshevik party became an organisation that functioned as a means of safeguarding the concentration of power and totalitarianism. The party, as a body above the law imposed by the state, ruled and exercised control over the entire system of the state and all spheres of society. The secret police used methods of terror to exercise total control over society, the state and even the party, and executed, in addition to enemies proper, potential rivals selected arbitrarily. Politics was criminalised and anybody (even the highest ranking officials) could be held accountable for anything at any time and even sentenced to death.7

The ruling elite managed nearly all aspects of the economy including the production and distribution of goods. There has been no other regime in history that has employed such a broad array of financial rewards and sanctions. The ruling elite enjoyed a monopoly on news and information and had a hold over mass communication and party propaganda.

The ideology mostly referred to as Marxism–Leninism, which functioned as a kind of a quasi-state religion, was imposed on the population.8 This ideology claimed that the Communist Party was the vanguard of the proletariat, and that the communist (socialist) régime would build a perfect society in accordance with the tenets of Marx and Lenin where the principle “from each according to ability to each according to need” prevailed. In fact, it was not the proletariat, but the party elite that exercised power. Even if one believed that party leaders governed in the interest of the proletariat, it could only have taken the same mythological form as “God ruled France through Louis XIV”.

The totalitarian dictatorship not only terrorised society, it also tried to transform it according to its own needs. It militarised and atomised the population9 and sought to crush civil society and the bottom-up self-organisation and independence of society, weaken the family, traditions and old customs, sever attachment to the homeland and suppress national sentiment. It attempted to eliminate the churches and religion; it banned political parties, associations and civil society movements and organisations.

It follows from all of this that Soviet-type dictatorship was unable to create social conditions befitting human dignity during its 70-year existence. Individuals were subjected to all kinds of constraints in the home, at work, at school and even in their private life. Authorities and their “voluntary” helpers kept an eye on them continuously. The opinion of Zbigniew Brzezinski, advisor to the US president, sheds light on the impact that this regime exerted on individual initiatives.10 According to him, during its 74-year existence, the mighty Soviet Union was unable to come up with one single invention that was competitive in the global market (the only exception being a few instances of innovation in military technology).

Marxism–Leninism as compulsory ideology

The meaning of the word “ideology” in socialist countries differed from what it meant in democracies. Marxism–Leninism, as an official theory and a set of principles of a weltanschauung character mediated by a central will, was used to justify power directly. All other theories were together declared erroneous, harmful to society and hostile to the state. What the leaders of totalitarian states became aware of was that violence alone was unable to create integrated societies. Marxism–Leninism was used as some sort of “replacement for religion” (Aron, 2006:5), which the Jacobins missed so badly during the French revolution. This ideology was expected to win the masses over.11 Under this theory, Marxism–Leninism was “God”, Moscow “the ecclesiastical seat”, the revolution the “second coming of Jesus Christ”, “Hell” is punishment administered to capitalists, Trotsky was the embodiment of “Evil” and the communist state “the future kingdom of God” (Nisbet, 2003; H. Szilágyi, 2003; Jászi, 1989).

Marxism–Leninism may have looked attractive for those who would otherwise have perceived their fate as hopeless. It mostly played on the animosity of the poor against the rich (Bibó, 1986:181). Its main tenets can be mastered with ease. Nevertheless, Marx’s main works, including Das Kapital, often proved opaque and intricate, and the wording was usually ambiguous. A separate department of ideologists was established to analyse long and complicated works. The opinions thus formulated were irrefutable. Sentences lending themselves to multiple interpretations gave reviewers a headache. The man in the street opted for simple ideas and did not bother to decipher intricate details. The dissemination of the tenets of Marxism–Leninism was facilitated by the fact that socialist countries were closed societies exposed to no influences other than the official ideology. Furthermore, elaborated linguistic clichés also helped to simplify reality and depict all “bourgeois ideologies” as harmful.

Ideological education started early at the age of 3. A subject called the Foundations of Our World View was taught at secondary schools, and Dialectical Materialism was a compulsory course at universities and colleges, with a number of institutions even prescribed a final examination in it. Party organisations at work were responsible for the ideological education of workers. Legions of official ideologists produced teaching materials, party propaganda documents, brochures and catechisms in accordance with daily political expectations. Ideology had to cover all aspects of life including arts, literature, music and linguistics lest there should be aspects of life left where interpretations other than the official one could evolve.

Marxism–Leninism was also incorporated into the Constitution as an official ideology. Pursuant to Section 3 of the amended Constitution of 1972 (Act I of 1972 on the amendment of Act XX of 1949 and the consolidated text of the Constitution of the People`s Republic of Hungary), the leading force of society is the Marxist–Leninist party of the working class. Party leaders could not have been too happy with the results, as the following was reiterated at the 11th Congress of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (17–22 March 1975): more effort must be made to convince the population to accept the ideology of socialism. The fight against ideologies challenging Marxism–Leninism must resume. “Socialist ethics” must prevail (Rákosné Szőke, 1975).

The exclusivity of the interpretation of the doctrine of Marxism–Leninism was a prerogative of the secretary-general. This was how Marxism permeated Stalin’s “ground-breaking” linguistic studies (Stalin, 1950a; Fogarasi, 1952) and economic “approaches” (Stalin, 1950b) Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev’s programme aimed at bringing virgin land under cultivation12 and Brezhnev’s ideological doctrine on “developed socialism”13 (Brezhnev, 1979). As history reveals, Khrushchev was to condemn Stalin, Brezhnev was to deny Khrushchev, Andropov was to disavow Brezhnev and Gorbachev was to disown all his predecessors. Each ideological change entailed the rewriting or replacement of the now no longer topical textbooks and related literature. No reference was to be made to failed secretaries-general any longer. One of the most typical examples of the above is the case of István Dolmányos, one of the most disciplined advocates of Soviet-type dictatorship. His book entitled The History of the Soviet Union was banned because Khrushchev was removed after the book had been finished. After Dolmányos had submitted the manuscript, he could no longer update his story in accordance with the daily unfolding of political events.14 Soviet secretariesgeneral passed down their various theories as feudal rights to their local stewards for “national adaptation”. This is how Marxism translated into the methodical destruction of villages in Romania and Castro’s rather idiosyncratic dictatorship in Cuba.

Following the Stalinist pattern, Mátyás Rákosi used extensive ideological propaganda not so much to convince, but rather to mobilise society in a repressive way. Events organised daily for propaganda purposes, including the so-called 30-minute Szabad Nép sessions etc., were meant to wear down potential opposition and its resistance at work, at school, at the cinema, at the theatre and at party rallies. Whenever Rákos’s or Stalin’s name was spoken, enthusiastic applause had to follow. This broke down even passive resistance immediately, because only very few dared to remain seated and not to applaud (Pokol, 1989:416–417).

The Kádár régime used a manipulative rather than a confrontative form of ideological persuasion. It became obvious that the leaders themselves had lost faith in the official ideology, and Marxism–Leninism was relegated to being a mere means of exercising power. György Aczél15 judged Kádár thus: “One of his characteristics is that he despises ideologies. Although he chaired meetings about the importance of ideologies and he himself stressed their significance, deep inside he did not think much of them and, in fact, he thought they were harmful... Ideologies were more like decorations that had to be worn, but hundreds of his notes attest to the fact that he despised them.” He also despised Marxist teachers “and thought of them as persons who are paid without their doing anything worth mentioning.”16

The theories of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels served the purposes above because the classics of Marxism, as they were referred to, were intended to formulate definitive opinions at all times about anything that human civilisation and the human mind invented or discovered (H. Szilágyi, 2003).

The issue of “free” schooling

Pursuant to Section 70/F of Act XX of 1949 on the Constitution of the Hungarian People’s Republic, the Republic of Hungary guarantees the right of education to its citizens. Pursuant to Sub-section (2), “The Republic of Hungary shall implement this right through the dissemination and general access to culture, through free compulsory primary schooling,17 through secondary and higher education available to all persons on the basis of their ability, and furthermore through financial support for students.”

Economic, social and cultural rights, which also included the right to education and free schooling, are the least interpretable categories of human rights. The acknowledgement of such rights was no more than wishful thinking in most cases, because neither the budgetary funds nor the intention on the part of the government was available (Szamel, 1993:27; Tóth, 1994:54; Menyhárt, 2004:470; Lőrincz 1963:43). Citizens entitled to social rights could not have gone to court to claim those rights as their inalienable rights, because the extent to which such rights were truly granted depended on the state’s discretion. Exercising these rights would have imposed a greater burden on the state than would civil or political rights. In order for social rights to be exercised, the state should have worked out a financial and procedural system in relation with these rights, identified the needs of the most vulnerable social groups, established cooperation with civil society organisations, installed early warning systems and checked the exercising of these rights. Soviet-type dictatorship was completely unsuitable for that.

Soviet-type dictatorship brought general poverty. In addition, the state budget could not finance the exercising of the economic, social and cultural rights granted in the Constitution (Sajó, 1986; Andorka, 1989). Civil society was practically banned. Thus, for instance, neither the churches, nor associations, nor private individuals were allowed to support the further education of even the most underprivileged.18

Nevertheless, socialist countries gave high priority to these rights, thereby striving to justify the superiority of socialism over capitalism19 because, for reasons of propaganda, they entered a competition with affluent Western countries that could not be won. They did so despite the fact that not only the absolute but also the relative share of social benefits in expenses was lower than in Western Europe. The same held true for education.

After what is called “the decisive year” (1948) teachers’ pay was reduced to 20 per cent of what they earned in 1938 (Balogh–Föglein, 1986). The nationalisation of schools was followed by a shortage of teachers. Often monk teachers had to be replaced with unqualified teachers. Due to low pay such practice persisted for decades (Báthory–Falus, 1997).

The regionalisation of schools was another curse on education and, hence, on the rural population. During the tenure of Gyula Wlassics20 and Kunó Klebelsberg21 as ministers of religion and education, 1100 folk schools, 3500 new classrooms and nearly 2000 teachers’ flats were built between 1920 and 1930 (Nagy, 1977; 1978). By contrast, of the 7440 primary schools operational in the 1945–1946 academic year, only 3526 survived by the 1988–1989 academic year. The highest number of schools, a total of 1731, were closed between 1968 and 1979. This could not be attributed to demographic reasons, because by the time “Ratkó children” (those born during the baby boom of the Ratkó era)22 reached school age, their number had risen to a post-war maximum. Although 1,413,512 primary school age children enrolled for the 1965–1966 academic year, 1404 schools were closed down (Kurucz, 1970:15; Miksa, 2009:77–86).

Although institutions that were classified as institutions of secondary education in Western Europe were reclassified in Hungary as institutions of higher education, Hungary (along with Romania and Albania) had the lowest proportion of students in the 1980s (Tomka, 2009:459).

The nationalisation of church schools

Harassment, showcase trials and vast party propaganda campaigns orchestrated by Communist Party leaders paved the way for the nationalisation of church schools. The State Security Department staged house searches and police raids at church schools hiding “conspirators” during which weapons and prohibited materials planted by detectives were “discovered”. Arrested students were coerced into give incriminating testimonies (Ugró, 2016). The Press launched into diatribes and demanded strict rules against “the pockets of reactionaries” (Kiszely, 2000:101–103).

In order for church schools to be nationalised,23 dozens of showcase trials were started, the most notorious of them being the Pócspetri case.

One of the documents attesting to the mounting of party propaganda campaigns is a decision of the Political Committee of Hungary’s Communist Party: “A delegation of teachers should meet theprime minister on Saturday. The delegation should be headed by Comrade Béki (secretary-general of the Teachers’ Trade Union). However, a priest teacher should be found who will complain about the drawbacks to church schools and demand state employment for teachers and the nationalisation of church schools. In reply, Dinnyés24 should inform them that there will be a 20 per cent pay rise for teachers and that the government will not forget about public servants either. Comrade Mátyás Rákosi should also be present to welcome and address the delegation.25 There should also be a photographer and a few journalists. Dinnyés’s reply should be drawn up by Comrade Horváth26” (Pünkösti, 1996:322).

Another order was addressed to the National Assembly on 4 June 1948: “The bill on the nationalisation of Schools will have to be submitted by 15 June on the understanding that the 3-day committee discussion of the bill be waived. The committee shall be convened at 16:00 on the 15th and finish the discussion on the same day. Parliament should start to discuss the bill on the 16th. Teachers’ meetings should be organised and a large delegation should meet the leaders of the parties and the government at the Parliament.” Even the composition of the delegation was determined. Likewise, contributors were appointed, and what they were expected to say was also determined. “The debate on the bill will have to be finished by midday on Saturday. Preschools and kindergartens should also be nationalised.”

This is how the bill was passed and Act XXXIII of 1948 on the Nationalisation of Schools went into force. The Act ordered the nationalisation of non-state-owned schools (which were, without exception, church schools) and all related students’ hostels, pre-schools and kindergartens with the appliances and equipment in them as well as the assets set aside for funding their operation and maintenance. 6505 schools were nationalised. Of them, 5407 were primary and folk schools, 98 teacher’s training college and lyceums and 113 grammar schools (Table 2). Close to 18,000 teachers became state-employed. According to the calculations of Pál Sárközy, Deputy Archabbot of Pannonhalma, 2689 priest teachers, women teachers and pre-school/kindergarten teachers became unemployed and lost their income.27 In addition to schools, hospitals, orphanages, old people’s homes, foster homes and even cemeteries were nationalised.

These measures did away with the public role of churches completely. The termination of education at church schools was a blow to the churches and also to national culture with repercussions felt even today. The made evangelisation impossible, and ignored parents’ rights to provide religious education for their children by forcing millions of children into atheist schools. Education in nationalised schools had to comply with the tenets of Marxism–Leninism, communism and internationalism.28

As regards the selection of prospective teachers, based on a proposal by György Aczél, the Political Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party passed a resolution to the effect that prospective college or university students should come from trustworthy anticlerical worker or peasant families.29 György Aczél added, “No children from religious families should be admitted to the new teacher’s training college, because the fundamental issue is teachers themselves.”30

At the time of nationalisation of church schools, the ministry of education and culture promised that compulsory religious education would remain part of the syllabus. Naturally, it failed to honour this promise. Law Decree no. 5 of 1949 made religious education “optional”, but only in primary and grammar schools. It was not allowed in other types of schools (vocational and trade schools, etc.) As 50 per cent of the 14–18 year olds went to vocational or trade schools, approximately half of the youths were excluded right from the beginning. Furthermore, no religious education was allowed to be provided for pre-school and kindergarten children, students studying at teacher’s training colleges, universities and kindergarten and preschool teacher’s colleges. After the enactment of the law, huge efforts were made to dissuade parents from enrolling their children for “optional” religious education.

A decree issued on 15 September 1950 (renewed on 24 March 1957) by József Darvas, minister of religion and public education on the rules of procedure for religious education31 by itself made religious education incredibly difficult. Under the decree, religious education classes were allowed only at school32 and only after the last school class. No grade was allowed and failure to visit the classes did not have any disciplinary consequences.

Religious education teachers were employed by county councils or the municipal council of the capital city upon recommendation by the church concerned. Employment could be refused or terminated “if the person in question takes a stand that is hostile to the people’s democracy or its provisions. […] Religious education teachers may not be engaged in any other activities (e.g. substitution or supervision at outings or during breaks, etc.) or providing other types of education. Religious education teachers may not attend the meetings of the teaching staff, and may only stay in the building of the school for the purpose of religious education.” The work, syllabi and lesson plans of religious education teachers were strictly monitored.

Enrolment for religious education was only possible at a pre-determined time and date once a year (and usually at a time when parents had to be at work) and both parents had to be present. Principals had to notify county councils of the number enrolled for religious education and the list of names had to be sent to the competent religious authority.

The local organisations of the party in cities, towns, villages and at schools and the departments of education at local councils instructed the teachers engaged in the administration of enrolment to dissuade parents from enrolling their children for religious education. Attending religious education classes put students at a disadvantage when they wanted to go on to universities, and it was often the case that some of the teachers mocked them (Valuch, 1988:54). The fact that parents had their children enrolled for religious education was recorded on their personnel sheet at work. Head teachers were under pressure to reduce the number of those intending to enrol for religious education.

Court proceedings were launched against religious education teachers under various false pretexts, for instance, indecency. These proceedings ended with the arrest or the suspension from work of the person concerned. After 1957 religious education was provided only by priests, because the religious teachers who had trained before 1949 were now old, and there was no formalised training for religious education teachers in Hungary until the early 1980s.

For a short period after 1956, religious education was available without restrictions. The numbers enrolled were so high that providing for a corresponding number of teachers posed a problem. Not long after the revolution had been crushed, government decree no 21/1957. (III. 24.)33 reintroduced the Rákosi era regulations, which stated rather hypocritically that “Stern measures must be taken against those who seek to influence decisions to participate or not to participate in religious education through force, threat or deception.” The government decree had the broadest possible interpretation and even those encouraging enrolment in religious education during sermons were punished.

After long discussions, the State Office for Church Affairs and the Roman Catholic Church agreed in 1974 that, with effect from 1 January 1957, religious education classes could be held in churches, but not at rectories, twice a week. The maximum number of groups allowed was four and the education of one of them should start after the youth mass. The lists of those receiving religious education had to be sent to the local offices of the State Office for Church Affairs. It is hardly surprising that the number of those receiving religious education started to fall consistently. 80%, 43.2%, 26.4% (1.8% in Budapest), 10%, 6–7% and 3.18% of primary school students enrolled for religious education in September 1949, 1951, 1952, 1965, 1975 and 1987 respectively (Mészáros, 1995).

Socialist educational policy

The Communist Party intended to use schools as a means of training docile citizens. One of the objectives of the 1950 curriculum was “to train students to become disciplined, self-confident citizens of the People’s Republic, the loyal sons of the working people and the builders of socialism” (Tanterv, 1950). The education system stifled any student initiative and persecuted independent thinking. New syllabi and textbooks were designed to spread atheism and Marxism. As a result, the objectives of the individual subjects at school were intertwined with ideological and political aspects, which were reflected in uniform mandatory textbooks. School inspectors, school head teachers and party secretaries all checked compliance, and students at teacher training colleges and universities were also trained to follow suit (Mészáros, 1994b:36; 1995:72; Donáth, 2000:64; 2008:450).

The decision of the Central Leadership of the Hungarian Workers’ Party on public education in 1950 stated that textbooks and curricula “should, as much as practicable, reflect the ideology of Marxism–Leninism”. In addition, it urged resistance against “clericalism” and “bourgeois ideologies”.34

Tankönyvkiadó (Textbook Publishers) was established in 1949 to supply textbooks. Responsibility for regulations governing teaching materials lay with the single party. Old textbooks were scrapped and the teaching materials used at all levels of education were reviewed and revised. The primary objective was to subject both education and sciences to all-pervasive propaganda and manipulation. This is how the teachings of the biologist and agronomist Lysenko became undeniable maxims,35 and how Engels’ dialectical materialism and Marx’s tenets on social changes became irrefutable dogmas.

No school subject was left unaffected by ideological propaganda. History served daily politics. For instance, József Révai was enthusiastic about Lajos Kossuth’s having ordered the officers collaborating with the enemy to be deported from the capital city. There was no event in history that was not made topical. We can read from a school inspector’s report that: “The presentation of Colbert’s system offers an excellent opportunity to familiarise students with the reasonableness of a planned economy. […] One of the weakest points of the class was that although the topic discussed (peasant migrations in the 18th century) offered an excellent opportunity to discuss the current issues of clerical reactionaries, the teacher failed to seize this opportunity” (Szebenyi, 1970:176–177).

The same method was applied even to school subjects that were highly unlikely to lend themselves well to direct political brainwashing. A few excerpts from curriculum objectives:

  • Physics: “Helping a scientific world view to evolve and by so doing laying down the foundation of a dialectical materialist weltanschauung. Fight against idealistic view of life.”36
  • Biology: “Acquiring basic knowledge needed for socialist agricultural production, large scale plant cultivation and animal breeding to an extent that helps prospective teachers use such knowledge at school” (Tanterv, 1951a).
  • Geography: “Teaching the geography of the Soviet Union, people’s democracies and countries subject to capitalist exploitation and, through this, presenting the superiority of the socialist regime and economy... Fight against chauvinism and cosmopolitanism. Nurturing the sentiment of proletarian internationalism, and grooming socialist patriotism” (Tanterv, 1951a). ... As a consequence, geography books read like this: “The economies of socialist countries in South-east Europe, whose structure the planned economy has made much more proportionate, grew faster and, more importantly, more consistently” (Földrajz, 1951b:274). “In capitalist societies [...] mass transport was either neglected or missing.” “The planned development of socialist cities put neglected urban areas on a par with others” (Földrajz, 1951a:196).
  • Arts “Developing a socialist approach to arts” (Tanterv, 1951a).
  • Mathematics: Confident familiarity based on practice of primary school arithmetic and geometry” (Tanterv, 1951a:33). This led to the following exercise in mathematics: “A French factory employed 360 workers. The owner dismissed one-third of the workers because, due to the huge imports of manufactured goods from the USA, he was unable to earn profit on his own goods. How many workers became unemployed?” “There were 16,450 soldiers in a British division forced to go and fight in Korea. 1892 surrendered, 827 died and 1245 were wounded in combat against the Korean army and the Chinese army sent to help the Korean army. How many were left in the division?” “A self-employed farmer sowed 95 of rye. The crop having been harvested and thrashed, 1140 kg of rye remained. How many times more kilos of rye did he have? It was 16 times more in the neighbouring co-operative where the quality of the soil was the same. How many hundredweight is that equal to? Why did they harvest a better crop?”37

Concurrently, nothing was said about a large number of the great cultural achievements of human kind. Either they were scrapped as waste paper or they were not allowed to be distributed in Hungary. Generations grew up without being able to familiarise themselves with the most prominent representatives of the past and the present of culture, with scholars, philosophers and thinkers.

Pedagogical principles and teaching methods and materials were treated as a pure objective discipline fashioned after Soviet pedagogy (Nagy, 1958:75). The Theory of Education edited by Sándor Nagy, Head of the Education Department at the Faculty of Arts of Loránd Eötvös University and his colleague Lajos Horváth shaped teacher’s training in Hungary for a long time. The chapter on Communist Education reads like this: “Just as social development will enter communism after a socialist stage, so education will be transformed into communist education, the highest quality ever known in history.” The objective of education is to groom communists. “The profile of communists is summed up in the programme of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R. According to this, communists embody mental development, are morally integral and physically perfect” (Nagy et al., 1965). Published in the Szabad Nép, an article by Tibor Erdey-Grúz read as follows, “socialism sets the same goal for both parents and schools. The responsibility of communist education is the responsibility of both parents and schools. Communist ethics is inseparable from the love of socialist patriotism and the Soviet Union.”38

Teacher training also served this goal. Curricula fashioned exclusively on Soviet pedagogy before 1961 stated that the aim of pedagogy was “to raise awareness of the fact that school is an important means of class struggle and a strong weapon of cultural revolution and the building of socialism” (Tanterv, 1951:15). “Nursery and primary teacher training should become workshops of communist pedagogy. A dialectical materialist world view must be established there. Simultaneously, students must be taught how to behave themselves in a manner prescribed by communist ethic and to adopt Bolshevik mentality and characteristics. We need to train teachers who can teach in nurseries, and primary schools in the spirit of our party.” “Teachers should stand out with their rock solid communist views and convictions, and steadfast and unbending behaviour becoming of a party member. They should familiarise themselves with and live in accordance with the tenets of Marxism. […] They should be encouraged to have a fair share of participation in the class struggle. Without open and unrelenting combat against religious world views our work is only half done” (Bizó, 1955:457–459; Jóború et al., 1984:383).

Curricula at all levels of education contained instructions and guidance in accordance with topical issues. The contemporaneous official standpoint of the time was explained by Gyula Ortutay, Minister of Religion and Public Education at the time, “...politics sets great store by the issue of schools from primary to higher education, because students are taught, either explicitly or implicitly, at both primary schools and universities how to behave themselves and how to lead the country in the various corridors of power, economics, politics and governance in the interest of power. […] The issue of schools enables state administrators to ensure that various ideas are learned and become habits, as it were” (Ortutay, 1949:191–192).

The chapter entitled The Objective of Education at Nursery Schools and Related Tasks of The Programme of Education at Nursery Schools published in 1971 stipulates that teachers at nursery schools should strive “to guide children in the direction of a dialectical materialist world view” (Mészáros, 1994b:111).

The 1950 curriculum for primary schools mentioned the concept of “the socialist man”. In 1960, the following goal was set: “The goal of primary education is to create the makings of the communist man. To this end, it should provide consistent modern basic education for students, and seek to help them develop moral characteristics typical of the communist man…” (Miklósvári, 1963). A committee established to develop education reform also added the following guidance: “When compiling curricula, it is important that priority is given mainly to this tenet rather than the science underlying the subjects taught at schools.”39 A draft on education and training in primary schools published by the Ministry of Education through adopting instruction no. 114/1977 states that “The goal of primary education is to create the makings of the communist man in the context of the unity of knowledge worldview-behaviour. Teachers should cherish Marxism–Leninism as the guiding principle for creating the “human ideal”, and “students should understand the essence and importance of the war of ideas”.

According to the 1950 secondary school curriculum, “secondary schools are responsible for promoting Marxism–Leninism in secondary education and teaching materials, and combating reactionary idealism...”40 The minister of education issued these procedural rules on 2 June 1955. According to these rules, “students must be taught how to become patriotic socialist persons devotedly serving the interests of the party, the working classes and our working people. Accordingly, general education must be provided in the spirit of Marxism–Leninism. Furthermore, students must acquire technical skills and receive comprehensive training. Students’ communist world view and ethics must be fine-tuned” (Mészáros, 1994a:74).

Marxist subjects (e.g. dialectical materialism, scientific socialism and the history of workers’ movements, etc.) grew in importance in the curricula of universities and colleges. Marxism–Leninism had become a compulsory subject: by 1974, 91 departments taught Marxism–Leninism at 55 universities and colleges. According to an educational programme issued in 1950: “The pivotal role of Marxism–Leninism should be reflected in the fact that it is taught in all years. At universities and colleges students should receive an introduction into Hungary’s political economy, the basics of Marxism–Leninism based on the history of the party, complemented with some information on Hungary, and dialectical and historical materialism.”41 Textbooks started with a quotation from Marx, Engels, Lenin or Stalin.

The following explanation was offered in a book entitled Ideological Education Within the Framework of Teaching Internal Medicine: “The goal of this book is ... to more efficiently train young intellectuals to become specialists with a communist ideological background.” (Világnézeti nevelés, 1973). This goal was referred to in one of János Kádár’s speeches: “A few months ago I went to the medical school in Budapest and met the professors and a few other people working there. We discussed a few issues pertaining to the medical profession, including our request that they should train professionals in the communist spirit. Although only a few of the students and professors are communist, that is still feasible. There is no contradiction. I did my best to explain the difference between the present and the past. The state can cooperate with the medical profession despite the fact that some are communists, some are supporters, others are politically neutral, and still others are reactionaries. We can get on with them if they are good at what they do and abide by the laws of the People’s Republic of Hungary. However, it will not suffice in 30 years’ time and one must bear that in mind. Imagine the situation, Comrades, I told them, where a doctor checks a patient’s tongue and chest, writes a prescription and musingly says, ‘You know, after all, Otto von Habsburg is an intelligent man.’ And how does the patient respond? He leaves and that is that. However, in 10 years’ time this society will be a developed socialist society, which we must bear in mind when the education of future generations is at stake. For instance, the now 18–19 year-old students sitting in the auditorium will be working as doctors in 40 years’ time. Now it’s 1961. In 40 years’ time it is 2001. What political regime will there be in Hungary then? A communist one. There will be communism. In 40 years’ time a patient comes along. The doctor checks his chest, writes a prescription and finally says, ‘You know, after all, Otto von Habsburg was not a stupid man.’ What will happen then? It is not the doctor, but the patient who will call the ambulance.”42

Scientific research followed a Soviet pattern. The Hungarian Academy of Sciences was designated as the supreme institution. It established its own institutional system. Former research institutions were merged into the Academy system. It was these institutions where research was done. Activities at universities were confined to teaching officially-prescribed teaching materials. Kádár provided the following explanation for the curbing and strict control of research: “Hungarian scientists rush to learn the West’s scientific achievements, their Western counterparts rush to learn the Soviet Union’s. The most recent scientific results have been achieved in the Soviet Union, not in the West. We receive documents in huge numbers. They have not been processed yet. Why do we have to discover or invent something at huge cost that has been in use in the Soviet Union since last year? We draw the attention of the academia in Hungary that the new type of cooperation, i.e. socialist cooperation offers these opportunities. And it is our duty and obligation to seize these opportunities for the benefit of the Hungarian People’s Republic and the entire camp.”43

Admission to university

The aim of introducing a system of entrance examinations was to educate and train loyal cadres. It was government decree no 7.870/1948 that declared that the educational monopoly of the former ruling classes must be broken. Accordingly, candidates from working class or peasant families should be prioritised (Szávai, 1950:2). At the meeting of the directors general of the school districts in the spring of 1950, József Darvas, Minister of Religion and Public Education set a task for head teachers. They were to convene the implementation committees of their respective schools, which were responsible for vetting prospective candidates and preparing the further studies of young people from working class or peasant families.44 Admission boards at universities comprised not only the representatives of the faculty concerned, but also those of the single party, the trade union and the Association of Working Youth.

From the 1949–1950 academic year the single party was responsible for laying down the rules of and implementing entrance examinations. Citizens were discriminated on grounds of origin and trustworthiness. It was mainly the pre-war (1938) employment and social status of the parents that were checked in the admission process. First, there were eleven categories. From 1952, candidates fell into one of the following categories: worker, peasant, intellectual, other, or class enemy. The children of those included in the last category (category X), members of the former ruling class (“exploiters”), kulaks, army officers, etc. stood no chance of admission even if they excelled at school. A central regulation prescribed the proportion of students of worker or peasant origin: 1952–1953: 60–65 per cent, Spring 1956: 58–60 per cent, 1957: 50 per cent. As a result, nearly all the candidates with the right cadre pedigree were admitted. By contrast, there were five times more of those with parents belonging to the professional classes than there were places. This is why 44.2 per cent of those who passed their secondary school leaving examination with excellent grades in the 1956/57 academic year could not secure a place at a university or college.45 The cadres who were admitted despite their poorer performance were not to be flunked at examinations. The lecturers who defied and set requirements for them were accused of “overburdening” them (Kardos, 2003:74–75; Kovács, 1952:493).

Further restrictions were introduced after the fall of the 1956 Revolution. Kádár ordered that the Soviet patterns be followed more closely when class categories were applied. He also recommended that the rules governing the award of stipends be changed: “If it were up to me, I wouldn’t award stipends to students other than those of worker or peasant origin. If people in other categories want to send their children to school, let them make sacrifices. But I’d give more stipends to children of worker origin than children of peasant origin. What makes me say this is class consideration” (Baráth–Ripp, 1994:69).

Order no. 25/1957 of the ME stipulated that applications for further education be reviewed first by class teachers and head teachers, with the applications of those whose parents participated in the 1956 revolution or behaved in a politically reprehensible manner being rejected. In keeping with the party’s instructions, and based on a proposal by József Szigeti46, it was decided that the 1938 categories be applied to parents. The children of party and state functionaries “…must be treated as the children of parents who have achieved outstanding results in building and protecting socialism…” (Baráth–Ripp, 1994:57).

It must be ensured that 50 per cent of those admitted are of worker or peasant origin. György Aczél also recommended that, similarly to Czechoslovakia, candidates should be from demonstrably anti-clerical families.47 Class categories were also applied when stipends were awarded. Only members of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (MSZMP) and the Communist Youth Alliance could be elected to serve on admission boards. The Ministry of Education checked the composition and the operation of these boards (Baráth–Ripp, 1994:70–71).

Open discrimination on grounds of origin was discontinued in 1963, when this type of discrimination also often hit the children of the ruling elite adversely. (Law Decree no 22 of 1962 and Orders nos. 166/1963 and 167/1963. Nevertheless, it was clearly communicated that “However, some of the places will still have to remain reserved for the children of parents in certain categories... furthermore, for the children of workers and peasants.”48 Although B sheets registering “enemies of the ruling classes” were no longer in use, the practice of keeping a cadre record of each student survived. Cadre records were kept in order that the “political loyalty” of students could be checked.

The children of parents included in category F (blue collar workers) continued to receive preferential treatment in education and at entrance examinations even if the former strict categories were no longer in use. Even of those who ranked among the first ten at national study contests only “those with the right attitude” were admitted. The Medal for Hungarian Freedom,49 the Medal for the Rule of Workers and Peasants50 and the Medal for the Socialist Homeland51 came with the privilege that relatives were automatically admitted to university or college irrespective of the results of the entrance examination (Besnyő–Ruda, 1979:28–29, 51–52, 85).

Appointing places of work after graduation was also assigned to an authority. Decree no 137/1961. (VII. 7.) MT (Council of Ministers) was adopted on the scheduled employment of university graduates.


  • 1 Neither Imre Nagy’s cabinet programme in 1953 nor the economic reforms of 1968 ran deep enough to affect the very essence of the regime.
  • 2 This is exactly why the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia was possible in 1968. Brezhnev and his advisors were well aware of the consequences that would follow if freedom of the press were granted.
  • 3 Party member responsibilities also included this principle: “...there should be no space left void in the class struggle. Where socialism fails to gain ground, the powers of capitalism will take control. Failure to execute party decrees opens the door for enemies.” See Pató, 1953:165.
  • 4 The Soviet-type dictatorship also made attempts at setting rules even for clothing, hair-styles and fashion.
  • 5 Lenin was cited even on this issue: “The Soviet-type of socialist centralism is not at variance with the principle of one-person dictatorship and rule, because the wish of a class is sometimes fulfilled by a dictator who alone can do more and is needed more.” Cited by Heller–Nekrich, 2003:150.
  • 6 A typical manifestation of Stalin’s one-man rule and terror is that 98 of the members and substitute members elected at the 17th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union met violent deaths. Another 1,108 of 1,225 delegates entitled to vote and 711 entitled to participate in discussions also fell victim to Stalin’s terror. See Takács, 1992:81.
  • 7 For instance, G.G. Yagoda, N.I. Yezhov and L.P. Beria, successive directors of the secret police of the Soviet Union were all shot. Stalin had nearly the entire party leadership from Bukharin to Zhinovev executed. In Hungary terror hit mainly ministers of the interior. László Rajk was executed, and János Kádár was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sándor Zöld committed suicide as his arrest was a foregone conclusion. Mátyás Rákosi was subjected to internal exile in the Soviet Union.
  • 8 According to Leszek Kolakowski, “...not a single society can exists without some form of legitimacy. In a totalitarian society, such legitimacy can only be of an ideological character. Totalitarian regimes and totalitarian ideologies presuppose each other.” Cited by Schmidt, 2008:12–13.
  • 9 Stalin would wear boots and a semi-military tunic. Party leaders copied him in even this. Stalin himself compared the party to an army: “Our party, with the structure of its leadership taken into account, comprises 3,000 to 4,000 leaders at the topmost level. They constitute the top echelon of our party. Another 30,000 to 40,000 mid-level leaders constitute the corps comprising the officers of the party. Below them are 100,000 to 150,000 low-ranking officers of the party. In a certain sense they are our non-commissioned officers.” See the 27 March 1937 issue of the Pravda. It was socialist countries that had the largest armies and military budgets. Military service was compulsory. In addition, they also operated numerous paramilitary organisations and organisations prepping for military service (e.g. the MHK Munkára, harcra kész (“Ready to work and fight”) movement, scouts, pioneers, youth guard and workers’ militia). Education was also subjected to the militarisation of society (e.g. military education became part of the national curriculum).
  • 10 Zbigniew Brzezinski (1928–), a Polish-American political scientist and university professor. See Gati, 2014; publications in Hungarian: Brzezinski, 1982.
  • 11 Sándor Márai voiced his opinion of this as follows: “‘New religion, they say. Bolshevism is the new religion.’ Maybe. But I only met the priests of this religion. I have hardly met any believers.” See Márai, 2008:23.
  • 12 Bringing the virgin land under cultivation was part of Khrushchev’s agricultural campaigns, which turned out to be disastrous. Wind blew soil off the ploughed steppe, which began the desertification of the areas concerned. See Varga, 2013:42.
  • 13 Secretary-General Brezhnev won Marx Award for his contribution to the further development of Marxism–Leninism.
  • 14 In the reviewer’s opinion: “The author overestimates the importance and the beneficial role of the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Khrushchev’s work. […] In light of the review, it is difficult to understand why Khrushchev was removed. Cited by Standeisky, 2004:322.
  • 15 György Aczél (1917–1991), communist politician, the chief architect of Hungary’s cultural life in the Kádár era. See Révész, 1997.
  • 16 Quoted Rácz, 2001:19.
  • 17 Primary schooling is an inalienable right and, at the same time, an obligation of each citizen. Law Decree 15 of 1951, Law Decree 29 of 1959. Act III of 1961.
  • 18 One of the best-known examples: József Mindszenty, as a parish priest of Zalaegerszeg, provided free accommodation and boarding for 34 poor secondary school students each year. See Közi Horváth, 2002.
  • 19 This is all the more incomprehensible as not even Lenin expected communist regimes to be left-wing. See Lenin, 1980:262.
  • 20 Gyula Wlassics (1852–1937) jurist, public writer, member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and Minister of Religion and Education between 1895 and 1903.
  • 21 Kunó Klebelsberg (1875–1932) jurist, Member of Parliament, politician, Minister of the Interior and Minister of Religion and Education for a short period of time.
  • 22 Reference to Anna Ratkó’s tenure between 1949 and 1953 as the Minister of Welfare and Minister of Health as well as being responsible for population policy in the roughly half a decade between 1950 and 1956. The ban on abortion and taxes for childless adults led to an increase in birth rates.
  • 23 Ödön Lénárd was arrested in 1948 and later sentenced to imprisonment because he had warned that it was Hitler who last nationalised schools. See Lénárd, 2008:13.
  • 24 Lajos Dinnyés (1901–1961): politician, member of the Smallholders’ Party, and Prime Minister. He was a willing servant of the political ambitions of the Hungarian Communist Party.
  • 25 Rákosi himself committed this to paper.
  • 26 Márton Horváth (1906–1987): communist politician, member of the Political Committee, editor-inchief of the Szabad Nép.
  • 27 Draft letter by Pál Sárközy, Deputy Archabbot, to the mother superiors of the province. EPL 7480/1948. Abstract of the minutes of the bishops’ meeting on 27 August 1948. Archives of the Kalocsa Archbishopric – School decisions 3879/1948. Abstract of the minutes of the bishops’ meeting on 27 August 1948.
  • 28 The following was written about this issue in a teacher’s journal: “Good teachers are both actors and judges to a certain extent. Good history teachers are very much like politicians. […] We read a passage about Greek religion and then I present mythological beliefs regarding gods and especially the world. Naive ideas bring smiles to faces and often cause loud laughter. This is the very moment that has to be made the most of. […] From then on I never once say that there is no God. On the contrary, I go on to prove that there are many. See how many gods the Greeks have? But not only the Greeks, others too. […] A composition exercise: according to Christian legends, Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity was born during the reign of Emperor Augustus. Their attention is caught by “according to Christian legends” and “the founder of Christianity”. This is something new to them requiring an explanation, which is as follows: only Christian sources mention the birth and miracles of Jesus Christ and they are likely to be biased. Is it not strange, by any chance, that the chroniclers of the age who record even trifles fail to record the miracles of Jesus? […] The following idea may run deep: in the course of history, whenever asked to help to defend Christianity against e.g. the expanding Ottoman Empire, popes only blessed soldiers and weapons or prayed for victory, but they never gave any money (despite the wealth in their treasuries) or send any soldiers. I never fail to mention the Battle of Belgrade, where the only contribution of the pope to victory was his ordering church bells to be tolled at noon. […] Anybody directed by their faith only drifts in the world. They are not convinced of anything because their conviction is hindered by their faith. It strikes one as strange that religions have often hindered meditation and prevented believers from doing research into natural and social sciences. Why? Because they must have realised that science and faith are enemies. Reasonable people only accept what they are convinced of. Well, gods are not something you can be convinced of, they are to be believed in. I have never seen any god depicted in religions. I have no experience related to any god. I cannot imagine what one looks like – in short: I cannot believe their existence.” See Győző Torma’s study, Köznevelés, 10 May 1963, 274.
  • 29 Minutes of the meeting of the Political Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party on 10 June 1958 MOL 288. f. 5. cs. 83. ő. e.
  • 30 Cited by Mészáros, 1994b.
  • 31 The text of the decree was published in Magyar Katolikus Almanach II. [Hungarian Roman Catholic Almanac II], 625–627.
  • 32 Religious education preparing for the First Communion once or twice a week lasted two months and for Confirmation for 1 month. Religious education provided outside the church was strictly monitored and punished. For instance, Father György Bulányi was sentenced to life imprisonment on 9 December 1952 for providing religious education in small groups. See Hetényi Varga, 2002:501.
  • 33 The text was published in Magyar Katolikus Almanach II. [Hungarian Roman Catholic Almanac II]. 613–635.
  • 34 A Magyar Dolgozók Pártja Központi Vezetőségének határozata a vallás- és közoktatásügyi minisztériummal kapcsolatos kérdésekről [The decision of the Central Leadership of the Hungarian Workers’ Party on the issues related to the Ministry of Religion and Public Education]. Köznevelés, no. 8, 1950, 210.
  • 35 T. D. Lysenko (1898–1976) led the movement and transformed it into an assault on orthodox genetics and claimed that education could change heredity. He also had extreme ideas on vegetative hybridisation. Major works: A biológiai tudomány állásáról [The Situation in Biological Science]. Bratsztvo-Jedinsztvo Kiadó, Novi Sad, 1949; Agrobiológia [Agrobilogy]. Mezőgazdasági Könyvkiadó, Budapest, 1950; A hőtényező hatása a növényi fejlődésfázisok időtartamára. Kísérletek a pázsitfűfélékkel és gyapottal [The Effects of the Thermal Factor on the Duration of the Phases in Development of Plants. Experiments on cereals and cotton]. Mezőgazdasági Kiadó, Budapest, 1951; Növények szakaszos fejlődése: tanulmányok a mezőgazdasági növények szakaszos fejlődésének és jarovizációjának elmélete köréből. [The Theory of the Staged Development of Plants: Studies into Theories on the Staged Development and Yarovisation of Agricultural Plants]. Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, 1954.
  • 36 Mihály Farkas’s words were to convince fourth graders of the greatness of Prince Ferenc Rákóczi II: “We remember Ferenc Rákóczi as a statesman who led the Hungarian War of Independence. He was the legendary military and political leader of the just war against the Habsburgs.” See Vincze et al. 1951:29; Tanterv, 1951a:20.
  • 37 Általános iskola 4. osztály. [Primary School, Year 4]. Tankönyvkiadó, Budapest, 1952.
  • 38 Szabad Nép, 1 September 1955.
  • 39 Cited by Kovács, 1995:45.
  • 40 Cited by Mészáros, 1994a:73.
  • 41 Cited by Köbel, 19.
  • 42 The speech was published in the 14 May 1960 issue of the Köznevelés.
  • 43 Quoted by Lőcsei, 2008.
  • 44 Köznevelés, no. 9, 1950, 245.
  • 45 In 1961, the following criteria had to be met: “ order for the institutions to be able to deliver the (prescribed) social share, 60 per cent of the candidates of worker origin, 62 per cent of those of peasant origin and 43 per cent from the intellectual classes must be admitted.” See Statistical Bulletin 1961. Quoted by Sáska, 2007:105.
  • 46 József Szigeti (1921–2012) communist politician, Marxist philosopher, university lecturer, ordinary member of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences; Deputy Minister of Education between 1957 and 1959, Director of the Institution of Philosophy of the HAS between 1959 and 1968.
  • 47 MOL M-KS-288. f. 5/83. ő. e.
  • 48 Quoted by Tyekvicska, 2000:252. Cf. Elekes–Pázmándy, 1981:79. Cf. Takács, 2008.
  • 49 The award was founded through the enactment of Act VIII of 1946 and was granted to persons who excelled in fighting for freedom and democracy. Act V of 1953 discontinued, subsequently Law Decree no 61 of 1957 reinstated it for those who participated in crushing the 1956 revolution. Privileges concerning entrance examination were guaranteed in Section 17(2) of Order no 3/1968. (V. 26.) of ME and Order no 105/1966. (MK. 2.) of ME.
  • 50 The Council of Ministers founded it by adopting Decree no 25/1957. (IV. 21.) of CM and awarded it to those participating in the crushing of the 1956 revolution.
  • 51 The decoration awarded to those who excelled in the consolidation of Soviet-type dictatorship was founded through the passing of Law Decree no 29 of 1966. It was awarded by the Presidential Council of the People’s Republic once on 1 May 1967. Cf. Decree no 3/1968. (V. 26.) of ME and Order no 105/1966. (MK 2.) of ME.


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