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Capital and workers struggles in Hungary from the 1950's to today

category hungary / romania | economy | feature author Friday April 29, 2005 23:53author by ? - Barricade Collective Report this post to the editors

Hungarian anarchists on the transformation from state capital to the EU

A detailed study of the transformation of the Hungarian economy from the perspective of the Hungarian working class from the 1950's to today. Also sketches out the oppositional proletarian movements that existed in the post 1956 period. Ends with a description of the agricultural struggle that EU excession has given rise to.

A detailed study of the transformation of the Hungarian economy from the perspective of the Hungarian working class from the 1950's to today. Also sketches out the oppositional proletarian movements that existed in the post 1956 period.

This translation has been modified for for to make it more readable. The original can be found at Explanations in [ ] have been added to this version.

Progress report Beyond the Carpathians, the nightmare begins

by Barricade Collective*, March of 2005

The position of the Hungarian working class is rather bad. Bad, because a big part of the Hungarian wage-workers - a big part of the exploited working class is fooled by democratic illusions; bad, because the working class can be divided by nationalism and manipulated by conflicts of interests. Everybody defends his/her sovereign territory separately, defends his/her alienated and impoverished life, defends his/her everyday existence with its illusions in reality, all that leads to the acceptance of the ideology of the bourgeois political forces.

The Kadar system played a decisive role in the process which has led to what we regard as such a pessimistic situation. [Janos Kadar became the Russian approved head of the state after Russian tanks had crushed the reforming regime of Imre Nagy in 1956. He resigned as leader of the Hungarian Communist Party in 1988]

It's paradoxical but true that more and more people weep back to Kadar's capitalism, under which the working class applied the 'order of self-censorship' to itself. Though its gray and boring totalitarianism, in which the proletariat lost its autonomous character and the Bolshevik party regarded it as a 3-years-old stupid child, the Kadar epoch had its specific logic: 'keep your trap shut, then we'll give you bread and butter, beer and medicine, party membership card and relative certainty of existence, cheap opportunity for education'. And they also gave prohibitive zones which became taboos, and if somebody crossed into them, then he/she could easily find himself/herself beaten up and in a mental hospital. They provided both physical and intellectual poverty, and a 'proletarian-killer' view on the future, which seemed to be perfect and lulled the workers to sleep. Kadarian capitalism tried to leach away every really human desire, and once more: it gave us everything which it could give: poverty, opportunity of integration and knout [a whip used for lashing prisoners]. Well, here is the 'merriest barrack'.

After the workers uprising in Eastern Berlin [1953] there were also workers protests in Hungary (this was before Kadar). In Csepel (a southern workers' suburb in Budapest) there was a strike of 200-300 metal workers, against the bad living conditions. There were also 'disturbances' in Ozd, Diosgyor and in several places in the Great Plain. In the summer of 1954 there were again sporadic strikes. After 1956, the real working-class movement was cut down, turned into a museum object and was expelled by the state to the 'blank' pages of the censored course books. The resistance ranged as far as 1956, but after that it was defeated and became isolated. But, of course, it didn't cease to exist, although after 1956 the dumb and defeated working class in Hungary not only went back to the 'death factories' and workshops, but it also subordinated itself to a 'higher will': the party which could calmly sit in the power so far as the more modern and active form of capitalism didn't move to this area. The conflicts of the fifties calmed down at the end of the spring of 1957. The repressions and executions had begun, a revolutionary of the Tuzolto street group (one of the most important militant groups in 1956), Istvan Angyal was executed by the bolsheviks in 1958.

We enumerate some examples from the history of the proletarian protest movements, which show that it wasn't possible to silence fully the voices of discontent. There was an amnesty in 1960, this 'limited pardon' was given also to those who were imprisoned for '56, but not to all of them. In the jail of Vac the political prisoners started a hunger strike, but they stopped this activicity because of its pointlessness. In 1966, the Vietnam Solidarity Committee (which was organized under the aegis of KISZ, the official bolshevik youth organisation) held an illegal demonstration on May Day. At the end of the year, the organisation was dissolved. In 1967, young 'new left' activists organized demonstrations again at the embassies of the western countries. Maoists were arrested in 1968: they were accused of organizing an illegal party. In 1970 at the Lenin-centenarium in a commemoration, the students, organizing the programme, highlighted 'improper citates' from Lenin's texts. On the 21st of March (the day of the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919), 1971, 'new left university students' wanted to organize a demonstration with red cockades - because of this, they had to abandon their studies. (An excellent revolutionary film about 1919, entitled 'Agitators', has been kept in a box by the authorities for 30 years.) In 1971, on the 6th of October, several young people gathered together in the Museum garden (a place in Budapest where the revolution in 1848 had begun) and talked about 'those living in misery in basement flats'.

Let's stop for a minute here! It is important to mention that during the Kadar regime, on 15th of March and 23rd of October there were always larger or smaller demonstrations and protests 'in the name of liberty and independence', in the depth of which there was hidden the desire of breaking out from the helpless and impoverished worker's position. These demonstrations continued also after the change of power, but now with the logos and slogans of nationalism. In 1973, new leftist Lukacsists - who had close relationships to the Praxis Circle in Yugoslavia - were kicked out of their jobs and from the party, because of their critical activity. The party constantly fights against the leftist intellectuals, it is enough to point out the rows around the study 'Piece rate' of Miklos Haraszti or the book of Konrad and Szelenyi about the new ruling class. In the summer of 1979 there was a raising of prices on foodstuffs.

The workers of the Csepel Iron and Steel Works put a slice of bread-and-dripping (typical proletarian food of those times) into the hand of the Lenin statue in front of the factory. After the 1980 strike in Gdansk, information circulated in Budapest which said, that 'there was an action also in Csepel'. Another rumor talked about a strike which lasted 3 days - Kadar also went there to establish order. After a month, the planned raising of prices (again on foodstuffs) was cancelled, as a worker said: 'they were afraid that here also something can happen'. In October of 1980 there was a wage-strike in the china factory of Hodmezovasarhely and the officials quickly distributed 1000-1000 forints among the workers. On the 3rd of October 1980 on a building in Kispest, an oil-fired stove exploded. The workers had already long grambled about the poor circumstances. From 190 workers 34 (!) went on strike.

We pick out some jokes from that period:
"It is 40 kilogramms and eats grass. What is it?
- We will be it next year."
"The skeletons meet in 1980. One asks the another: 'Did you die before or after the raising of prices?'
- Me? I am still alive."
And for the last one: "They raised the prices of bread, meet and milk. What will be raised next time?
- Barricades!"

In 1981, 52 working women in a poultry processing factory in Szabolcs refused to do overtime which wasn't reported earlier. In the spring of this year meetings were held in several universities in Hungary, and there was some talk of establishing independent students organizations - this could also flirt with the memories of 1956 and 1968.

In the September in 1982, when the new tarifs of the public transport came into effect, the workers of the Taurus Tyre Factory in Szeged refused to work. The biqwigs again intervened and they promised wage-increase.

From the sixties, the class struggle, the fight agains alienation is unambiguously present in the films and literature and in the bolder and bolder sociographies and political writings. We could illustrate this with a lot of films, poems, essays, but we citate only one sentence from a writing of Zoltan Zsille from the seventies, which speaks for itself: "The workers state monopolized the right for itself, to impose the costs of the maintenance and the development of the society to the working class."

In a 1982 issue of the Beszelo samizdat (illegal newspaper), a proletarian was asked whether it is possible to have in Hungary such events as in Poland.
He said: "If the economic situation is getting worse in such a tempo then yes." And it DID get worse (but instead of the uprising, came the change of power and the era of modernization of capital), and this process was accompanied by the law about 'work-shyness': if somebody was caught in the act of 'idling' then he found himself behind bars. The ashes of 'comrade Trotsky' laughed as they saw this late bolshevik realization of the 'militarization of labour', about which he wrote so poetically. The real class-fighter literature was harassed by the authorities. It wasn't possible to read the analyses about 1956: you didn't have access to them neither in the bookshops nor in the libraries. But an underground left opposition emerged, which - although it was democratic - propagated the history of the Eastern European proletarian struggles. This way a few people could read the non-censored writings on these struggles.

Here are some examples of the writings which were published within that framework:

  • the book of Bill Lomax about 1956,
  • the 'Kronstadt Diary' of Alexander Berkman,
  • the documents of the workers' uprisings in Poland
  • a publication about the proletarian action in Berlin in 1953.

In 1988 there was a demonstration of 10000 people on 15th of March in which a speaker cheered the Polish Solidarity and the 'friendship of the peoples around the Danube'.

Then the epoch of the power change begun. The economy of the USSR was bankrupted, it became uncompetitive and decomposed. The circulation of the capital with regulation by the state lost the concurrency struggle and the classic but modernized capitalism took its place. The working places were sold out from beneath the feet of the workers. And the - state capitalist bolshevik home of calmness and protection - was succeeded by more violent economic compulsions. The sharks of capital fired the elderly wage-workers who had been socialised in the 'peace period' from their jobs, modernized capitalism changed the structure of production and made it faster, while the institutionalized working class movement, having lost its ground, mourned for its tyrans. In a huge series of documentary films, the so-called Ozd-series - the peak of which is the epoch of the power-change - , the camera recorded the new talk: "How it has happened, why it has happened?" asks the wife of Istvan Andras.

There is no job, no idea, anything...

In spite of being 40 years old, we are here as the very picture of misery. Our lives are stolen._Instead of the Punchinellos decorated with the red star, the mummies of the partystate, the scene of our life is now occupied by the next capitalist company. The chilling cabaret of the 'people's democracies' and the COMECON was changed by the performance of the more classical, but more rational - for the ruling class - model of capitalist production. Between 1989 and 1992 the empire of the Warshaw Pact collapsed, but this was not the process of capitalist restoration, as the Marxist-Leninist like to emphasize, but the rationality of capital fighting its way through. The economy - which was influenced by the bolshevik parties - couldn't bear the competition with the more advanced western currents. It is enough to remember the violent maintenance of the loss-making companies and branches, or of those services, which 'because of ideological reasons' remained free or very cheap. The history of the running into debt is long, and it would be interesting to write a whole chapter about it...

The answers of the disordered working class to the modernized capitalism remained mainly reformist. The deformed 'traditions of the workers councils' revived. These weren't revolutionary at all, and didn't oppose capitalism absolutely. They accepted the framework of the capitalist order, and at every occassion they made pacts with the bourgeoisie. In their cases we cannot speak of real self-organization, because these miserable exhibitions emerged under the supervision of the authorities. The further commercionalisation of the workers' self-management by nationalism and by 'tamed self-consciousness' weakened the working class, which had already been in a pathological state. But it felt that something is very wrong. The fall of its living standard: the gradual decrease of the average salary, the gigantical rise in prices - these processes had to alert the proletariat and bring it round from its state of suspended animation.

The dividing techniques of capitalism usually work, the individualism of 'me and me' can be successful for a time, but the increasing poverty is felt even by the atomized and separated working class, and although a lot of the bigger factories and furnaces were closed, although the unemployment is greater and greater, the ghettos of misery force the proletariat into a common space of living: packed like sardines they live in miserable flats, streets, alleys, squares. You see!

In the November of 1990 as an answer to rising fuel prices the so-called 'taxi drivers' blockade broke out, which went beyond the narrow professional line, and thousands of proletarians joined the wave of protest. And then they stayed on the streets not because of their dissatisfaction with the fuel prices, but because of their common life, the hopelessness and misery of their exploitated proletarian life, their alienated and destroyed everyday life. The euphoria of the power-change and the mystical promise of the 'new and better life' were already smashed by the necrophylic reality of capital.

The proletarian who wanted to protest and tramp enjoyed the blockade which reached the whole country: there were no red lamps, no spiteful car-beasts, no mass misery and controller on the public transport, no being late for the work-place - instead of this, there is the solidarity of the 'people of the streets': workers and working women talking, small and large discussions, with glasses and with beard, the army of those who cook and bring food, the remained conscious glances of the housing estates, from the suburbs and from the hearth of the city, merry and want to live - just like a genre-painting from 1956... The street belongs to us, but not entirely...

The protest hadn't become general and didn't become a revolutionary uprising. We can remember that the minister for home affairs didn't know what to do, and trembling in the window of the parliament, he considered using force against the protesters. Negotiations started for the 'coordination of interests', and with this also the retreat of the working class, which - because of the lack of organisation and further development of consciousness - returned to the home of racks and workbenches... Paralyizing the roads, the protest movement gave only the keynote, but didn't go further, and the suffocated wave of protest started to retreat.

Left-wing and right-wing goverments come and go, the amplifying nationalism brought about fascism and the bourgeoisie are rejoicing over the corpse of the proletariat. No, it is not 1933, or 1921 in Russia when they thought we had been beaten and we capitulated. In the first part of our report we made a draft outline of the attributes of the Kadar regime which are still in effect. The demonstrations and the strikes still exist, but they are accompanied by the capitalist 'solidarity_'(integration) of the left- and right-wing of the parliament. The real manifestations of proletarian discontent are weak and are developing in accordance with the interests of the capitalists. The 'civil movement' is growing stronger and stronger but they are lobbying to the left- or right-wing forces. One can see the realties every day: the wage-workers in the hospitals want to go on strike, the drivers of the BKV (Budapest Transport Company) have just got their wages raised before which they were threatening strike. The bourgeois are pointing to each other and talking bullshit about corruption, golden handshakes, the merging of the power spheres and the maffia

The demonstrations of the working class are organised under the aegis of the trade unions, using mainly democratic and nationalist paroles, about the security of existence, for the worn-out picture of the future and the idle bourgeois are just laughing to themselves.

But let us cite some of the examples of the labour demonstrations nowadays. In the first day of July, 1994 the Cyclon-Berstal factory in Berettyóújfalus was occupied by the workers of the plant, but that experiment of self-management has failed because it has gone for the democracy of capital. There were also demonstrations in the Vasas mines near Pécs before that, and in Biharkeresztes, the workers of the Steel Production Ltd. wanted to occupy the factory in order to hinder privatization - but finally they did not perform the occupation. Also in August, 1994 the proles living under the minimum living standards in Miskolc held a peaceful demostration. In May, 1994 the workers of the Berva factory in Eger held a demonstration in Budapest. In 1995 there were strikes at the electricity companies in Tiszalök and Paks. Also in this year 60 000 public health workers demonstrated at the Parliament, in the 15th of November 70 thousand people marched on the street against the education laws, in 15th of December this was followed by the demonstration of the educators [teachers?] in terms of tolerance.

In the autumn of 1996 the workers of the car parts company 'Hammerstein' wanted to establish a trade union, but the bosses have nosed it out and fired the initiators. Also in 1996 the youth organisations organised a demonstration against the school fees, but soon the truth unveils and the negotiation with power turns out clearly. In 1997 the meat industry workers in Szekszárd held a demonstration. In the same year in Tolnanémedi a blocade was formed against the reduction of the number of hospital beds, but then the rage calms down very soon. In the beginning of 1998 protesting demonstrations are held under the influence of the trade unions (public health, post office, energy industry etc.) In the beginning of April, 1998, Salgótarján the proles waiting for their grants attacked the post office which had refused to pay them - we have no information about other events.

The struggle in the countryside

The farmers demonstration has just ended, and the tractors of the bourgeoisie of the countryside decorated with flattering tricolors are hitting the road again. These vehicles are mainly the monsters of the ruling class forced on the faster. But still generally in the Hungarian proletarian reports there is little information about the life of the working class of the country side. Naturally, the transition here was also accomplished, just like in the cities, but the poverty and the sad hungarian reality remained. The wage-workers of the Hungarian villages lost their foothold as the state coops were abolished, because it had turned out that the collectivised agriculture doesn't meet the requirements of the new era.

According to an agrarian study, there is not enough capital for the reschedulement, the structure is wrong, the technical and technological system is obsolete. The redistribution of private property has begun again, the nationalist political chess games is reinforced, and due to the fresh laws about compensation and the privatizations, the well-known signs saying: 'Private property! Crossing is forbidden!' have appeared on the fields and the forests again. In the Kadar era the lords were organizing big hunts in the forests and closed big forest areas by special squads - this hobby has been continued also in the new era, accompanied by the habit of putting up signs like this. The temporary power of the bourgeoisie has decreased the agricultural grants, the export-import grant system has been transformed, and the ruling class, in spite of its nationalism, in many cases, preferred the 'external product' to the 'home product'. Capital always goes where its interest leads it and the hungarian Fascism still could not understand this clear logic - for its self-defence the 'network of Hungarian products' was established. This 'great' and 'exciting' race theory of theirs has been extended to almost everything, that's how that the phenomena of the Hungarian forest, Hungarian wood, Hungarian milk was created - and this mythology has produced something useful for us, too, because in fact, the authentic Hungarian jerk, the self-conscious Trianon hick has appeared - a charmingly stupid and silly mastodon, an artificially produced operette-archetype, an authentic characteristic of the era.

In 1988 there were 1335 co-operative farms in Hungary. In spite of the transition, their number have increased, but this fact is deceptive: in 1988 they employed 1088 thousand people (most of which were proletarians), a big part of whose lost their jobs until the middle of 1993. Unemployment grew to huge dimensions. The old-new bourgeoisie started to buy up the lands, and the less purchasable land remained, the more the value of land rose. According to a reliable source, the value of the co-operative wealth was 260 billion forints, which was 15 percent of the value of the national-bourgeois property. In 1993 the obligation to provide employment ceased to exist, and suddenly 300 000 people remained without jobs. The household plot became forbidden (the people try to evade the law). In fact, apart from the spectacle of the 'rich Hungarian soil', for the agricultural workers remained only the eternal proletarian lease - misery. The dynasties of small and large farmers - which we can know from the works of the 'peasant writers', who wrote about the Hungarian countryside during the fascist period - returned, and the army of wage-workers, begging for work in order to exist, went from the slave of the state yo become the slave of the 'gentry-bourgeois'.

In this situation, those individual producers who work without employing alien labour, are exceptions to some extent. They also demonstrate together with the farmers but for different reasons: they would like to avoid starvation, misery and the coffin. The situation gradually becomes worse and worse. The are stories about a one-legged beggar who had also his second leg cut off, believing that this way people become more charitable. Is this the absurdity of capitalist world? - No, this is the reality of capitalism. The positions of the landowner-bourgeoisie also got worse, and after the entry of Hungary into the EU they will drop behind in the concurrency struggle, and so they protest against the loosing of their footing. That's why the tractors were rumbling on the streets of Budapest. The farmers' demonstrations take place regularly, there was hardly a spring in the past few years, when they could calmly go hunting. The failed 'Small Farmers' Party' dissolved into the various far right parties, the 'peasant king' József Torgyán (the former leader of this party) 'sacrificed his political career' and now he is a lawyer again, leaving the ruling class of the countryside without a chief. The demonstrations of the last year were continued this year in February, the executioners of the working class of villages gasp for breath, they started to feel fear from becoming proletarianized, so they jumped - or let their wage-workers jump - for the tractors.

The army of the millionaire farmers (owing more than 30-35 hectares of land) blames the left-wing government for its position, for the fall of its living standard, for the narrowing of its markets. Of course, they must call the whole of their class to account for all this (this is a typical case of big fish versus small fish), but how could they do this? And even if they would manage to do so - we have nothing to do with this. We are not disturbed by the fact that the hyenas of capital gobble up each other. But first of all we have to pay the prices of bread, of meat and of milk, and we, the proletarians are obliged to pay for the inner quarrels of the bourgeoisie. So the working class must wake up and not demand, but destroy the empire of capital. In the concurrency struggle of the accumulation and distribution of capital, once more the living space of the working class becomes smaller and smaller. The class of the paupers, the landless agricultural proletariat thinks to be tied to its 'masters', and expects help from them. But it's time to come round for our class: we can expect from the capitalists and their system only humiliation, frozen potato and vegetables, plonk and bad tobacco, raising of prices and the rape of proletarian women, high taxes, exorbitant electricity bills, ruined human relations, wasted life, alcoholism, suicide, unemployment, homelessness, alienation and other beautiful life-elixires...

We have already referred to the 'peasant writers': in the realism of their descriptions we can meet also our present reality. The right-wing oppositional parties in the parliament and their fascist squads egg the farmers against the government. The farmers are their puppets, and the propaganda slogans of the next year's elections already loom ahead. The left-wing government stole what it could steal, and 'forgot' to share the juicy titbit with the opposition. Many people think that 'the farmers are the victims of the agrarian politics of the EU'. This is not true, they are the victims of the capitalist system - they lose the concurrency struggle and grow poor, they are the beggars of tomorrow. But once more: we don't have anything to do with the problems of any part of the bourgeoisie. A recent analysis says: "Their production is more expensive, because they are necessarily short in capital, in buildings, in equipment, in expertise. Their characteristics are the big demand on capital, high manufacturing cost, low efficiency, and they aren't capable of producing high quality unified commodities in a big extent. They swallow up the money of the taxpayers just like a bottomless barrel." That's why they demand the EU-subsidies, which is distributed now by the left-wing government. They will receive (or, at least, they seem to receive) 74 billion forints from the EU-source and 92 billions from the governmental budget. It would be urgent for them, but the government ran into debt and pays gradually - in this way it fills in the gap which occured after their stealings...

In our writings we usually called the capitalism of Kadar 'state capitalism'. In the reality, this is not a correct concept, since in the Formula 1 of capitalism the workshops are above the state power, and the state can only try to sit on them and rule the movement of capital. This was the main reason for the collapse of the bolshevik area. The 'domino principle' works: if the economy is not prosperous, we will be the victims. In spite of this, we are not interested - as the social democrats like to tell - in the establishment of the 'welfare system'. But how did the old communist saying go: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains!

Barricade Collective, March of 2005

This translation has been modified for for to make it more readable. The original can be found at Explanations in [ ] have been added to this version.

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