Join the ITH
ith logo
János Jemnitz (1930-2014)

The irreplaceable chronicler of the history of the Hungarian and international working class movement died on 20 July 2014 in Budapest. János Jemnitz was an outstanding personality – virtually impossible to be classified. His father worked as music critic at the social democratic daily newspaper Népszava; his foster-father and mentor – the economist Imre Vajda – was an important figure in the Hungarian social democracy. János Jemnitz finished his studies of history at the Faculty of Humanities at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. His professional career started at the “Institute of Party History” in Budapest, which had been an ITH member institute for decades. (Today the ITH membership is assumed by its successor, the “Institute of Political History”). Later he became research associate and then senior research associate at the Institute of History of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA).

Jemnitz wrote his habilitation thesis and then his doctoral thesis at the MTA (1974) on the basis of extended research work in Hungarian and foreign institutions. These workings deal with the field of topics of labour movements in the years before World War I and during the years of war on a global scale. János Jemitz’s publications did significantly contribute to make known life and work of several labour leaders of the 19th and 20th century – including Wilhelm Weitling, Louis-Auguste Blanqui, Keir Hardie, Jean Jaurès, Léon Blum and Alexandra Kollontai. As co-author of Leo van Rossum, colleague at the department for Eastern Europe of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, Jemnitz participated in the publication of the correspondence of Karl Kautsky with Eastern European social democrats. Also the Hungarian translation and publication of the minutes of the congresses of the Second International is owed to him. János Jemnitz was the one of the organisers of the conferences in Budapest on the occasion of different anniversaries of the era of the popular front. He also took actively and vividly participated in the yearly Linz Conferences of the ITH. His contribution to the 5th Conference, “Die internationale Arbeiterbewegung nach dem Kriegsausbruch 1914”, deserves particular recognition. Jemnitz was initiator and leading editor of the yearbook “On the History of the International Labour Movement” (“A Nemzetközi Munkásmozgalom Történetébol”) published in Hungary since 1974 that provided of forum for several of his partners he met in Linz. The accident that should eventually end his life happened in his apartment while he edited the 41st volume of the yearbook. János Jemnitz continued his work as an author and editor also in the last decade of his life, although his eyesight continuously deteriorated and he finally totally lost his sight. Until his death he kept in touch with important representatives of the historical profession – from Western Europe to the United States; from Russia to the Far East. Intellectuals and scientists like Eric Hobsbawn, Tony Benn, István Mészáros, Ferenc Fejto, Madeleine Rebérioux, Ralph Miliband, Gerd Callesen, Nikolai Buharin (the meanwhile deceased grandson of Nikolai Iwanowitsch Bucharin; historian at the Russian Academy of Sciences), Robert Jevzerov, Aldo Agosti or Narihiko Ito, chairman of the International Rosa Luxemburg Society, bestowed him the honour to send him their workings. “He always attended the ITH Conferences until he could no longer do so due to his health”, writes Margreet Schevel from the Netherlands on the occasion of his death. “And he spoke in detail on new insights in social history and his views in general, starting with the sentence: ‘I would like to make some remarks and raise a few questions.’ (One can still hear his sonorous voice).

Defending his convictions he often accepted rough controversies and thus in the course of his life suffered from many injuries, he could however overcome. His profound commitment to social democracy was combined with his conviction that it is not only about adapting to the existing capitalist social order with its more or less significant achievements and that it is not justified to give up those actions that point towards the possibility of a more human society. He fiercely criticised the vision of a “third way” according to the paradigms of Blair and Schröder that got influential within the West European left in the 1990s. With vivid interest János Jemnitz followed the search for a path towards socialism and the revival of Marxist research wheresoever in the world: from North and South America to Japan, South Korea and India.

Iván Harsányi (Budapest)