Interview: Hungary – “Where we went wrong”

Issue: 123

GM Tamás

GM Tamás, a prominent Hungarian dissident and now professor of philosophy in Budapest, spoke to Chris Harman about developments in Eastern Europe since the fall of Stalinism.

This is the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Hungary and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It is also a year in which the world economic crisis has hit Eastern Europe with devastating effect. You were one of the dissidents before 1989.

The dissident movement here in Hungary was not very large. I was one of the leading figures in it and played a part in the resistance from the end of the 1970s. When I decided to take on the regime fully I was still a left wing person, a libertarian socialist. I and my friends in the dissident movement practically all came from the left and as a body became liberals. Some went quite far in that direction, including myself, others less so. The intellectual and sociological origins of these groups almost everywhere in Eastern Europe had been on the left. Our first quarrel had not been with socialism as such but with the Stalinist regimes.

Two ideological figures here were quite characteristic, János Kis and myself. János Kis was a second generation pupil of György Lukács and produced Marxist works of a high quality (which unfortunately are not generally translated).1 I was less of a Marxist but a libertarian socialist and very much on the left. We all went in a liberal direction, together with our Polish and other brothers and sisters in arms. And by the time we reached the watershed—it was 1988 in Hungary—we were quite committed to a liberal human rights programme. This happened to practically everyone.

Miklós Haraszti, who wrote the book A Worker in a Workers’ State,2 which had a big impact on the left in Britain, went the same way.

Absolutely. He was originally a Guevarist and saw himself as a consistent communist. He is now press freedom commissioner of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and I saw him in a picture of a meeting of “coalition of the willing” types in Slovakia with George W Bush when he visited that country. Haraszti is a fighting liberal as far as press freedom is concerned and a fighting neoconservative as far as social and economic issues are concerned. Eventually I went a different way, but until the mid-1990s I was not different from the rest of my generation.

During more than 15 years of dissidence I was unemployed and lived by doing translations under other people’s names and black-market language teaching work to support myself. I was a dissident intellectual, writing theory, political essays and political journalism in samizdat.3 We did illegal seminars on historical, political, economic and sociological topics. Then from 1986 on I was allowed to teach abroad, in the US, Britain and France, and did some research at Oxford. Beginning in 1988, I participated in the increasingly organised and formalised resistance movement against the regime. I spoke at demonstrations and took an active part in protest actions. There was a flowering of civil society, thousands of new groups, discussion forums and clubs. It was a beautiful time. We didn’t sleep very much—I didn’t sleep much from 1988 to 1992. It was talk, talk, talk, talk among many, many people. It was a period of social imagination out of which nothing much came but it was a moment of perceived and hoped for freedom. I was at the centre of all that, later elected an MP for the Free Democratic Alliance, which was then the party of the dissidents and the second largest party in parliament. It was a liberal party and I was quite on the right wing of it.

“Liberal” in the European rather than the British or North American sense?

Both, actually. It was rather left wing as regards human rights, minority rights, cultural freedom, equal rights for gays and lesbians and so forth—in this respect very much like American liberalism. But economically it was neoconservative. And I, too, proposed a mixture of this kind.

We were immediately, unexpectedly, embroiled in a fight with the conservative right. Our first election campaign was designed to be directed against the main enemy, which was the post-Stalinist party. But that party apparently vanished and did not play any role for a while. A few of its members made it to parliament but they largely kept silent. And all of a sudden we were confronted with the conservative right with their talk of a “Jewish conspiracy”, of “enemies to our breed” and so on. It was already the old conflict between “Westernisers” and “nationalists”, “cosmopolitans” and “patriots”—and a very quaint expression on the Hungarian right, “the foreign-hearted” and the “well-rooted”. This was in 1990, and it still goes on, boring and barren as it is. In 1988-9 we still had some threats from the old Stalinist guard—”You’ll hang” and that sort of stuff. We expected more of that. Instead we got attacked by the nationalist right. All my posters were disfigured with the Star of David and the swastika. But at that time such attitudes were rejected by the majority of the electorate.

The right won the election but it was its moderate wing that was representative of majority opinion. And so this problem diminished for a while. By 1994 when I left professional politics—in utter confusion—the elections were won by a combination of social democrats and liberals, the mood was completely different and the right wing nationalist danger seemed to disappear.

What was important in hindsight was that in the first two years I spent in the highest chamber of my country as a lawmaker two million jobs were lost—and I don’t think I noticed. That is one of the greatest shames of my life. I don’t think it figured in political debates at that time. There were important debates concerning constitutional rights and republican versus monarchist symbols, fights over control of state radio and television. I won’t say political conflicts were not important but compared to the economic disaster they were of less importance, and we did not see the interdependence between the two. Why did the ruling class need the centralisation of media power? Because it was losing majority support from the population that were getting impoverished. We were totally naive and our discourse at the time was that of classic liberalism and pretty ineffective. This liberal party will probably now, and quite deservedly, disappear from parliament.

I began to realise what was going on around me by the time that legislature came to an end and I decided not to stand again for parliament. It was not only a Hungarian problem. From Siberia to Prague and from Alma Ata to East Berlin there was the same problem. What happened was not the transformation of the economy but the destruction of the economy. We did not come up simply with a new capitalism but with a black hole. It was one of the great demonstrations of the destructive power of capitalism.

The methods were the same you can witness in other parts of the world—downsizing and outsourcing, privatisation and social dumping. Foreign capital arrived in search of consumer markets, closing down manufacturing industry it had bought for a song—but the difference was in the dimensions. Everywhere there has been a great loss in workforce, especially in manufacturing, but here a total way of life was lost. The quite successful cooperative agriculture practically disappeared; the new family farms did not prove commercially viable. Unemployment in the countryside is endemic. I remember well during the miners’ strike in Britain, when people all of a sudden realised it was not only the mining industry that was going to go but the culture of hundreds of mining villages, so that Wales could never be the same afterwards. But here we have had a qualitative change, a situation in which a whole culture is gone. From the 1920s the Stalinist system—however monstrous, tyrannical and state capitalist it was—had through urbanisation and industrialisation created the livelihoods and life forms of hundreds of millions of people. They may have been disappointed and dissatisfied with the way of life but nevertheless it was theirs. And nobody had prepared them for what was to replace it. It was not something better, not something we might call “change”, but instead the end to economy as such.

In large parts of Eastern Europe and the Eurasian landmass there was the loss of what we knew of as civilisation, which was very much dependent on the state. The state has barely started to function again in Putin’s Russia—in a very unpleasant way—but it is starting to work regularly, making records, collecting revenue, paying civil servants, answering letters, receiving citizens with complaints. But in the early 1990s even that was not available: it was a total disaster. Meanwhile we, the froth at the top of it, were celebrating the triumph of freedom and openness and plurality and fantasy and pleasure and all that. That was frivolous, and I am deeply ashamed.

Somehow I knew there was trouble. This was reflected in my writings. But the analysis I offered was of a superficial political kind. There were signs—for instance, American policies towards the Balkans, the Gulf War, general dissatisfaction that things were not going well. But these were viewed as transitory phenomena: the transition was difficult but in the end everything would be all right—just the same approach as the “right believing” Communists had had to Stalinism. Terrible sacrifices for now—and then the radiant future, “les lendemains qui chantent”.4

But everything was not and was not going to be all right. As someone as it were professionally engaged in theoretical research, I felt I had to understand it. So I started to read and re-read theory and economic science, and empirical sociology and history, and tried to understand what was going on, trying to find out what was wrong in the foundations of our thought and trying to find some way out. I even had a detour in conservative literature critical of liberalism and from there was a leap to Marxism. (Funnily enough, conservative criticism of liberal pieties such as that of Michael Oakeshott and of Leo Strauss eased my way towards Marxism.) So I spent long years in learning—rather than re-learning, for I had never been before a really knowledgeable Marx reader—and went back to school. I tried very slowly and thoroughly to understand the character of the former regime, why the transition to the market was the way it was and why market forms were not sufficient either in general or for the local endemic problems of East European state capitalism.

It took a long time, and an even longer time to formulate this publicly and articulate it politically and to change my discourse, my language, my vocabulary. It was like a long illness and a long recovery. But I think I may be finally at the beginning of a new life.

For me this is fantastically important, not just for you as an individual but because in the whole Eastern bloc tens of thousands of people were dedicated to liberal democratic change and believed it could come about through the market. We visited Poland during the strikes there in 1988 and talked to people who were generally on the left. I remember talking to people in Poznań and for them the transition was going to be towards Scandinavia. There was no understanding that it might be anywhere else in the world that was capitalist. 5 Then early in 1989 I went to Leningrad, as it was known at the time, and talked to courageous people who were producing leaflets typed out individually by hand for the election. They had no understanding of what the Western form of capitalism meant. They assumed it meant liberty and prosperity and so forth.

We were better informed. We came from the left. We were not ignorant of the crimes of modern capitalism. The leaders of the Hungarian opposition movement had all gone to the West in the 1980s and could see for themselves what it meant. We saw what Ronald Reagan meant. We knew what happened in 1973 in Chile and can’t even flatter ourselves with the idea that we were ignorant. We were not. Many of us were enthusiastic readers of the Spectator (I even wrote for it), the Weekly Standard and Commentary. We accepted capitalism with all the blemishes, and our idea of it was not Scandinavia. It was the United States. By that time the welfare state had been unravelling for a long time. We went into that chapter with our eyes wide open. Of course, people in Poland and the Soviet Union were much more cut off from the West than we and the Yugoslavs were. We do not have that excuse.

There were secondary considerations. We could see that the last workers’ movement that made people enthusiastic, the Solidarność workers’ movement in Poland, was abandoned by German social democracy. Herbert Werner and Helmut Schmidt, the leaders of the German SPD, and Bruno Kreisky, the Austrian social democrat leader, were asking, “Why don’t the Russians intervene?” They were afraid it might spread to East Germany and that there might be a working class unrest that would spread. Then there were people in the peace movement who were really engaged in the Cold War on the side of the Soviet Union (cf “unilateral disarmament”), and it seemed to us that the non-Communist left were not interested in the liberation of Eastern Europe from the Stalinist system. I always kept a respect for the anti-Stalinist left traditions and I think the others did as well. I still have a great respect for left communist and council communist traditions. I grew up on the works of Boris Souvarine and Victor Serge—one of the first books I read in French was The Revolution Betrayed. So we never said, “This is the same, every Marxist is a Gulagist, every communist a tankie.” We were not that stupid. But it seemed to us that attempts to overcome the Soviet-style system from the left were doomed and that we had to pay the price of capitalism to put an end to the dictatorship. At first we were saying that it was a price that had to be paid, and then it was, alas, love for it.

But it did not last. My own case is a cause célèbre in Hungary because I was known as a leading dissident and then I was the chairman of the liberal party at one time. I had a high profile as someone who wrote and still writes for large circulation newspapers and who was on television. That does not mean that my case was important but it was visible.

I do not think it would have been possible for me to go back to the sort of confused libertarian leftism I subscribed to in the 1980s.6 I still don’t think either that the partly successful social democratic model of the welfare state can be relaunched. I also don’t think the various models of it are that desirable. I am not inclined to forget that 1968, the most recent revolutionary moment in Western Europe, broke out in protest against the welfare state. We are apt to forget the problems of the welfare state and, even if it were possible to recreate it, they would still exist—the statism, conformism and authoritarian hierarchic models of doing politics. It is bad faith for the neoconservatives to criticise the welfare state in those terms but that does not mean the welfare state version of capitalism is that attractive—although in many ways it was superior to the present day version, was more egalitarian and allowed a modicum of counter-power and counter-hegemony. It was, after all, a system of compromise, while this is a system of complete domination by capital.

I do not think there are that many more versions of capitalism the system can come up with to hold out even fraudulently as a promise to people who do not own capital and who are not protected by the imperialist state. So if you break with capitalism now, you are likely to have fewer illusions than at any previous instance. We have seen all the compromises now. The old social democratic compromise in 1914, the Stalinist construction of a tyrannical state capitalism, caudillismo on the right and on the left, New Deal, National Socialism, militaristic systems, nationalistic systems, Catholic corporatism à la Seipel/Dollfuss, à la Salazar, neoconservatism. Most imaginable versions have been tried and the problems are resurfacing again and again.

By the time I came to break with the bourgeois mainstream there were no substitutes left, so I had to become a revolutionary Marxist. I did not see any other intelligent and credible solutions. You have to look the facts in the face. It is not a comfortable choice or a majority choice but that does not matter. I think that all the possibilities are exhausted.

It is now visible with the present day crisis. When the masters of the universe are experimenting with various mixes of old solutions and are even less intelligent and less radical than they were in the 1930s or 1950s, who can believe that they can save capitalism in a humanistic way from its worst aspects. It just does not seem possible. If I had broken with liberalism earlier, I might have become a social democrat. But where is social democracy? It is dead. It is a tradition but it is not a living political option. People are still voting Labour and social democrat, because it traditionally seemed to them to be the metaphorical home for working class and lower middle class people and to stand for greater equality. But that is a habit, not an idea, and there is a difference.

A few more questions about Hungary. Through the early 1980s Hungary was presented as the model market socialism, based upon massive foreign loans, and that came unstuck in 1988 and 1989, and you dissidents took over the government.

We never did. We stayed in opposition.

The non-Communist forces took over. But the central structures of the state remained the same—the police chiefs, those running the armed forces, the enterprises?

Yes. But the most important institution of the state was the party, and that was no longer there. So the changes were enormous, even in the state apparatus. The party was the backbone of the state structures both territorially and in all the economic branches (ie horizontally and vertically), so that it created a unity in the state steering of life in all respects. In classical capitalist countries the state bureaucracy remains outside the factory. But the party was the same in the government and in enterprise management, an instrument for keeping order and an instrument for modernising. It was a structure that offered discipline, and culture and leisure, which created the life of so many, offering the means of advancement, indoctrination, a sense of place, a sense of belonging and a seemingly solid project for the future. So you cannot say everything remained the same. We should not underestimate the changes, although the policies of the Communist Party leadership in the 1970s and 1980s were dogmatically pro-market.

At the same time the crucial elements of continuity should not be forgotten. Soviet-type state capitalism was a commodity-producing, wage labour based, unequal, hierarchic, repressive money economy and a class society to outclass all class societies which was extremely efficient in suppressing proletarian resistance. Revolts against that regime have always been socialist revolutions, in 1956 the workers’ councils in Hungary, in 1968 the humanistic socialism in Czechoslovakia. Solidarność was in fact no trade union but a network of territorially organised workers’ councils which initially wanted a self-management proletarian republic of a self-governing people, before repression made it into a bitterly conservative, pessimistic and Catholic movement to disintegrate at the moment of political “victory”. The Central European style of “enlightened absolutism”, of top-down reforms devised by scientifically and philosophically trained elite planners has not changed since the 18th century. “Communist” economic planners were painlessly transmogrified into neoconservative monetarist planners. For them, in a characteristically positivist manner, “socialism” was but an error in economic calculus. Marginal utility seemed more “modern” than the labour theory of value—and bureaucrats go more willingly with the prevailing fashion than couturiers.7

And the people from the Communist Party kept their power?

Yes, especially in the provinces—in the local councils, the police, economic life, the chambers of commerce and the bourgeois parties. One of the difficulties of my former liberal party was that coming from dissidents it did not attract former Communist Party members. So it remained without those roots in local administrations, among local bosses and local cliques.

As regards the economy in the 1980s Hungary had not only depended on foreign loans but had also participated in the well protected trade mechanism of the Comecon.8 So even quite backward technologies and low cost production could be exported to the Soviet Union with its huge internal market. That kept old-fashioned manufacturing industry in place at the same time as attracting investment through Western loans. So the sellers’ market in the Soviet Union and the foreign investment together provided advantages. The market was there for the other “Stalinist” countries, but without the loans.

One reason the regime collapsed everywhere was that the Communist Party could not survive without its ideology and its sense of identity. However much it was an instrument of power and control, it was very much dependent on the voluntary commitment of party members, and the party tried to castrate the members ideologically. Marxism was uncomfortable for them, because if you kept Marxism flourishing, it produced rebels. So they neutered Marxist research and thinking in various ways—in Hungary through Weberian “modernising” theories and rampant aestheticism, in Poland and Romania through nationalism. Certainly by the 1980s Marxism was a minority worldview confined to old comrades who did not play any role in the socialisation of new party cadres. Those in the socialist parties in Eastern Europe who are in their forties and fifties and come from the old state parties never read a Marxist book in their lives. Everywhere in Eastern Europe, including of course the Soviet Union, the party had lost its ideological core. It functioned without it for a time, totally empty, power being its own justification, but it fell with the first real challenge, a fairly banal one, from human rights liberals and democratic nationalists. They could not say anything. Their attitude was, “We want the same thing (that is, liberal capitalism) but a little more slowly.”

They broke up extremely violently the 16 June 1988 demonstration on the anniversary of the death of Imre Nagy (and beat you up in the front of TV cameras), yet just twelve months later they collapsed when large numbers of East Germans came through Hungary to cross the Austrian border to the West.

To have stopped the East Germans crossing would have required a massive show of force, which they could not do. On the whole, the changes in Eastern Europe were bloodless—with a few exceptions, for instance in Romania. No one would shoot and there was no one in the old “Communist” parties who would give their lives. No one has lifted a little finger in the defence of the system created after all by the October Revolution. There was no real motivation to resist the change. What would have been the raison d’être for the ruling “Communist” parties? The difference between a monetarised and marketised state capitalism and capitalism proper is infinitesimal. They could have chosen the Chinese way (savage capitalism plus one-party rule) but for that they lacked economic autarky and the genuine revolutionary roots of the Chinese Communist Party. The main driving force in East Central Europe was, quite simply, the West. The “Communist” party leaders have not had anything to say and transmogrified themselves insouciantly into “social-liberal” parliamentary panjandrums. These are different from the other parties only because of the past of their members, not because of their present. The political programmes and manifestoes of these former “Communist” parties are no different from those of the rest.

I remember I was elected in a by-election in 1989 to the old parliament as the first opposition member—the only one—and I made a speech calling the “Communist” prime minister a liar to his face, and this was broadcast live on television. This was the first time anyone had said any such thing in public for 40 years and it caused an enormous stir. But then the secretary general of the party walked up to me in the lobby, introduced himself (we had, of course, never met before) and told me to my great surprise that I was absolutely right. The cracks had become visible. Even the façade was crumbling. The number 1 denounced the number 2 to the Enemy of the People…

Tell me some things about Hungary today.

While industry and agriculture were collapsing, the dominant political forces said they were about to transform Hungary into a financial services centre of the world. It was nonsense. After the total collapse of the early 1990s some foreign investment arrived and, cheap labour being copiously available, there was some construction here and there. But the buy-outs were mostly for liquidating competitors and clearing consumer markets for the multinationals. However, as workers lost their jobs, these consumer markets naturally went up into thin air. By now the multinationals are packing up and leaving. On the whole it was still the state that somehow tried to provide for the increasing number of people left without any resources. We have many more pensioners than gainfully employed people in the private sector. Living standards have plummeted, working hours have got longer for those still employed, and unemployment is everywhere, with the dole for only six months. Many people are going hungry and they are not used to it. In the 1970s and 1980s Hungary was prosperous compared to the rest of the region, especially in the 1970s when there were rising living standards. All this is collapsing.

What determines the political conflicts here is a desperate fight for diminishing state resources. It is a fight between the middle class and the rest. This is the basis of the extreme right. There is not enough for everybody. There is a desperate scramble for social assistance, income support, social housing benefits, European grants, etc, and the “socialist” government’s policy of cuts, more cuts and then some cuts opposes the middle class to the “modernisers” representing multinational capital, and thus “foreigners”.

The opposition to neoliberal globalisation takes in the main nationalistic forms. It is necessary within a more or less democratic country to explain to the nation how and why they dare to deny such resources to the needy. The answer is criminalising and racialising the conflict—to say that all the people who need social assistance are racially different from us, racially inferior in the case of the Roma, or ne’er do wells and lazy, benefit-dependent spongers in the case of the “white trash”. The answer then is to build more prisons, get more police and keep the proletariat, the precariat and the underclass in their place as inferiors. It is quite extraordinary how much the general response to the crisis, to galloping anomie and to spreading poverty is anti-plebeian. The open hatred against old age pensioners, the unemployed and social welfare claimants as “parasites” is counterbalanced by a hatred of the ruling order of capital as “foreign”. Western liberal criticism of East European racism, xenophobia and neo_fascism is perceived as a feint to subdue “national” resistance to rootless cosmopolitan finance capital and life-destroying “political correctness”. The strengthening of the right is not only disgusting quasi-fascist traditions coming back to life but also a response to social collapse and disintegration. The right is promising order, social cohesion and survival for the middle class, especially for young white, gentile, Christian middle class families.

And this is happening at a time when the working class is without any political representation, even of a minority or vanguard type representation that may make a difference in a situation of conflict. There is not even a symbolic representation such as the Labour Party or radical minority representation like yourselves in the Socialist Workers Party. The working class here is silent. It is the slumbering giant. It is the only class in Eastern Europe that is waiting, that is not doing anything, that is politically inexistent. They are neither joining the extreme right in its gallant fight against the underclass nor are they joining any socialist or social democratic opposition because it does not exist. The trade unions are scared out of their wits in case they lose their privileges and their usual bargaining positions.

I do not know how long things will stay like this. For the moment the only visible fight is that of the middle class against the underclass and against the crisis, which is conceived as a conspiracy from abroad, as something imposed on us by the West, by the plutocratic, cosmopolitan, anti-Hungarian, anti-Polish global order. On the one hand, we have the neoconservative parties in power at the moment—representing the global capitalist wing of the dominant forces—and on the other a “national conservative” right that is symbolically representing middle class interests but not declaring itself as such. The tension is enormous but the real political terms are not presented to public opinion. This is what a few of us are combating, but it is an uphill struggle, at the moment just a question of propaganda and enlightenment. We might get there in the end but it may be too late.

You have a small group of people around you and you are involved in an electoral project.

There is an informal group of intellectuals on the left that is trying to help the unions in their work—doing free public relations for them and making them more acceptable for mainstream society, where they are stigmatised. They are the people who are organising May Day festivals with balloons and sausages and beer. They are treated with contempt. People in this society do not keep secret their sheer contempt for those who do physical work, and even so-called centre-left publications will openly make fun of people who have dirty hands. It is like the 1920s: anti-democratic and anti working class, and furiously anti-communist, in the absence of any organised socialist left.

So we do not only say we dislike inequality in principle. We go to railway workers and metal workers and try to help and to talk to them and to learn. I did not form this new electoral group. I was asked by leaders of one of the small orthodox successor groups to the Communist Party plus Greens and feminists to be head of their candidates’ list in the European elections. I hesitated for a long time. It is difficult for me, as an unrepentant fighter against the former system, to align myself with however modest, non-paid, totally innocent heirs to it. Not that they ever had any power—the leader of this party is a young engineer who was 20 when the system ended. I said yes in the end. Meanwhile other groups have joined us—Attac Hungary, leftish “civil society” groups, and we have some small, subdued union support. We are making a shoestring campaign without any expectations; nevertheless, we are attracting some attention. We might make people sit up and listen, and then perhaps take our literature and start something.9

So we are the very beginning of any left wing, socialist, Marxist organising but at least we have begun. It is a slow and uphill struggle but I am more convinced than ever that it is absolutely necessary. There is a sharp upside-down class struggle. There are the bourgeoisie and the middle class, multinational capital and the domestic middle class, with different but partially coinciding interests, attacking the proletariat and the underclass, and there is no answer—but there should be an answer.

It will also be in the interests of some of the middle classes to have an alliance with new proletarian forces, as in the olden times, if they do not want some kind of authoritarian nationalist semi-dictatorship. People will realise this but I fear it might be too late. Because what is threatening us now is an alliance between the conservatives and the extreme right, in which the diktat of global capital will be accepted while veiled by nationalist sloganeering and the racialising and criminalising of proletarian resistance.

You see how this bourgeois establishment is trying to push out everybody who seems to be on the outside. Gay and lesbian clubs, women’s groups attacked—burnt, torched—as well as the Roma. There are tightly knit neo-Nazi terrorist organisations which have already murdered a few Gypsies and tried to assassinate socialist and liberal politicians. “National conservative” politicians on the whole are reluctant to condemn such goings-on. Hungary has the only National Socialist daily newspaper and National Socialist TV station in Europe, perhaps the world. Hundreds of openly anti-Semitic comments are posted daily on the websites of mainstream centre-left newspapers, not to speak of other outlets. Authoritarian education reform is advocated using corporal punishment for children—something forbidden since 1945. There are calls for the re_establishment of the ill-famed gendarmerie whose zeal and cruelty in deporting Hungarian Jews in 1944 surprised even Eichmann. Timorous anti-segregation measures in schools are vociferously opposed and rejected by local authorities. Dark-skinned children have their own miserable “educational” institutions. Modern art is ridiculed in a way that has not happened since the 1930s. The Enlightenment and modernist heritage are again presented as degenerate and diabolical. All these things are seen as having a rebellious potential. All the reactionary clichés are coming out.10 Reaction is teaching East Europeans how these struggles hang together. We are learning our lessons the hard way. We don’t need to be told socialists and feminists, gay and lesbian activists, minority rights campaigners and trade unionists belong together because we all are being clobbered by the same enemy.


1: János Kis was author together with György Bence of the book that appeared under the pseudonym Marc Rakovski-Rakovski, 1978. Bence, Kis and their former teacher, György Márkus, attempted in the 1970s a sytematic critique of Marx’s Capital in an important book, as yet untranslated, which appeared in Hungarian only after 1989.

2: Haraszti, 1977.

3: Samizdat was the Russian name given to uncensored dissident material.

4: “The tomorrows that sing”-a French Communist slogan of the Second World War.

5: The transcript of some of the discussion is contained in Zebrowski and others, 1988.

6: See Tamás, 1985.

7: See Tamás, 2007, pp66-75, and Tamás, 2008, pp61-67.

8: The Comecon was the Russian-led Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

9: Since this interview, the Hungarian Green Left managed to gather the necessary 20,000 signatures to stand but were prevented by bureaucratic shenanigans from taking part. The result was a huge international scandal with the German Die Linke protesting everywhere. The organisation called on sympathisers to invalidate their vote by writing “Green Left” across the ballot papers as a silent protest. There was some solidarity even in the mainstream media.

10: See Tamás, 1989; Tamás, 1996, pp147-190, Tamás, 2000.


Haraszti, Miklós, 1977, A Worker in a Workers’ State (Penguin).

Rakovski, Marc, 1978, Towards an East European Marxism (Macmillan).

Tamás, GM, 1985, L’Oeil et la Main (Editions Noir).

Tamás, GM, 1989, Les Idoles de la Tribu (Editions de l’Arcantère).

Tamás, GM, 1996, “Ethnarchy and Ethno-Anarchism”, Social Research, volume 63, number 1 (Spring 1996).

Tamás, GM, 2000, “On Post-Fascism”, Boston Review (Summer 2000),

Tamás, GM, 2007, “A Capitalism Pure and Simple”, Left Curve 32.

Tamás, GM, 2008, “Counter-Revolution Against A Counter-Revolution”, Left Curve 33.

Zebrowski, Andy, and others, 1988, “Solidarity at the Crossroads”, International Socialism 41 (winter 1988).