Courtesy Reuters

Hungary's Agrarian Revolution

HUNGARY'S agrarian revolution began with the introduction of the Land Reform bill on the Ides of March, 1945. It involved splitting up into tiny parcels the several thousand huge or large estates owned for centuries by a small coterie of Hungarian nobles or by Church orders or organizations. Despite the magnitude and complexity of the task, the land reform was virtually completed by September 1946. Within 18 months one of Europe's chief strongholds of mediaeval feudalism had been liquidated. "Landlordism" could never be restored. Had a new day dawned for more than 4,000,000 Hungarian peasants and their families?

In any case, the physical foundations of Hungary's predominantly agricultural economy had been utterly transformed. The total of tillable land in the country is estimated at approximately 13,793,000 American acres. By the first of last September more than 4,633,000 of these acres -- precisely one-third of all the arable soil -- had been redistributed. In addition, another 3,300,000 acres, chiefly forest lands plus some pastures and barren country, had been either confiscated from Hungarian Nazi collaborators and German-speaking residents or expropriated. Most of these areas reverted to state, municipal or communal ownership or have been set aside for public purposes.

But the most striking feature of the land reform is the fact that allotments have been made to more than 642,000 individuals -- tenant farmers, farm laborers, small farmers with inadequate soil and others. Since Hungarian peasants average four or five children to a family, this means that a revolutionary change has been effected in the lives of well over 4,000,000 persons. More than half of Hungary's entire population, then, is directly concerned with the sweeping redistribution of tillable land. These humble people, for so many generations the landless or sublanded underdogs of an anachronistic feudal system, now stand to reap certain benefits long dreamed of -- or to relapse into new quagmires of thwarted hopes. Their only certainty is this: Hungary can never go back into the tight monopoly of the now-dispossessed big landowners. Where the newly "capitalized" Hungarian peasants --

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