The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2019

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OCT 2019 Issue
Field Notes In Conversation

"All These Things Are Connected"

G.M. TAMÁS with Pavlos Roufos

Protest against Overtime Act in Budapest, December 8, 2018. Translation of sign
Protest against Overtime Act in Budapest, December 8, 2018. Translation of sign "Worker's fist hits iron fist wherever he spends". Photo: Dohi Gabriella

“Communism is seen as insensitive to the Home.
Yes, it is, as it is concerned about the homeless.”
—G.M. Tamás, “Words from Budapest,”
New Left Review, 2013

G.M. Tamás was born in 1948 in Transylvania, in a city which Hungarians call Kolozsvár and Romanians Cluj. Coming from a family of communists who were quickly disenchanted with the socialist regime, Tamás developed into a dissident in both Romania and Hungary, where he lived. Following a brief liberal turn in the aftermath of the collapse of the Eastern bloc, Tamás re-identified with critical Marxist thought. His theoretical work betrays fruitful influences from Italian operaismo, German Neue Marx-Lektüre, US political Marxism and many others. Among his most widely acclaimed essays are “On Post-Fascism” (2000, Boston Review) and “Telling the truth about class” (2006, Socialist Register).

In August 2019, a radical group in Hamburg invited G.M. Tamás and Pavlos Roufos to have a public discussion about nationalism, sovereignty, and post-fascism. After the talk, Roufos sat down with Tamás and had the following conversation.

Pavlos Roufos (Rail): Monday, August 19 marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the border between Hungary and Austria. In interviews conducted recently, many Hungarian participants in that event declared their support for the 1989 action while also defending today’s anti-migrant policies in openly white supremacist terms (“When we let the DDR people go to Austria, we did that to help our common Europe. Now, when we are stopping the hordes of people on the Serbian border, we are also helping our united Europe” ).

G.M. Tamás: I wrote an article in Open Democracy about an aspect of the refugee question that is often ignored and which seemed to surprise many Western observers, although it was simply stating the obvious: namely, that there is a competition for Western jobs between Eastern Europeans and migrants from Africa and the Middle East. It is not the only one, but it is one of the reasons why Eastern European states are opposed to migration from the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia: they want these Western jobs for their own citizens. They see that as the only solution for the deep crisis of Eastern Europe. If the “cohesion funds,”—the bribes from the EU—don’t flow in, and if millions of Eastern Europeans cannot work in Western Europe, then the Eastern European states might just as well post “business closed” on their doors.

That’s one of the reasons, a very pragmatic and prosaic reason, for being opposed to the accommodation of refugees. The second is of course more well known, easier to understand: racism. A racism that is nowadays mingled with what one could call “culturalism,” visible in the discourse of the right everywhere in the West, as well as in East European countries. The cultural argument is identical with the racial argument found in the dominant theory of the right—that there are permanent, inherited traits of some populations such that cultures are as rigid as racial traits that are biologically and genetically inherited. So, when people say that “our European Christian culture” (which is, in reality, not Christian and has not been such for centuries) should be defended against Muslim fanaticism, terrorism, and jihadism, etc., this is based on the presupposition that peoples’ differences are rigid, inherited, and that the abyss between West and East is permanent.

This cultural/racial hatred is very serious, and is the result of the failure of modern (or post-modern) political communities to establish any kind of reasonable identity beyond race or cultural heritage, inherited attitudes, and so on. In Eastern Europe, for example, when people talk about the “spread of homosexuality” (a ridiculous notion in itself), what they mean is that it is more visible, something perceived as “multiplying.” This is seen as unnatural, and hence the result of political indoctrination, an attack from the liberal West against our ancestral values. They are talking about “homosexual propaganda” (this type of discourse exists in the West too, of course), but in Hungary this idea is combined with the notion of a “Western liberal onslaught on our ancestral culture” which, of course, nobody can define.

Rail: Back in 2000 you wrote “On Post-Fascism,” in which you described how the post-fascist tendency “finds its niche easily in the new world of global capitalism without upsetting the dominant political forms of electoral democracy and representative government.” You were, unfortunately, proven right. Almost 20 years later, your descriptions seem fitting for a whole range of governments around the world: from Hungary to Turkey, and from the US to India. How do you evaluate that ominous prediction today?

Tamás: I think that essay was essentially correct, while some features have sharpened since I wrote it. Already then it was quite clear that totalitarian terror and mass violence (characteristics of classical fascism) are largely absent. And they are absent mainly because the main task of fascism—the annihilation of socialism, has been achieved. There is no socialism in Europe, of any kind, even of the very imperfect state-capitalist version realized in the former Soviet bloc. Fascists know and have always known that the essential task of their action was to prevent European—especially German and Italian—socialism from happening. Hitler saw Jews as the essential ally—according to him, the real leader—of communist revolution, without which the proletariat would lack a Geist or reason. This is why European Jews had to die. Be this as it may, the fact is that there was no Western socialism, and this is the lasting legacy, indeed, the victory of fascism. Contemporary Europe is largely the creation of fascism in a negative sense. The defeat of the Italian, German, Austrian, and Spanish proletariat is a permanent one, we’ll have to live with that for a long time. But by acknowledging defeat, we can also identify the main enemy, who is essentially the same. Since that challenge, that symbol of an alternative to capitalism, has vanished, there is no need today for armed violence.

Nevertheless, the main political technique of fascism also remains: it is about transforming citizenship into a non-universal privilege instead of a universal condition of all human beings, a presupposition of enlightenment, of socialism and, in a non-political way, of Christianity. This break with a such a major tradition by fascism has been very, very radical.

After the Second World War, and especially after 1989, with the containment and then defeat of socialism, the world of liberal capitalism appeared to be able to unite private property and exploitation on one side, and equality and civic rights on the other. The conflict between them was hidden by the absence of political socialism that was always pointing at the impossibility of that unification. But it wasn’t enough. Modern humankind cannot be kept at bay, in an exploitative and repressive society like capitalism, which remains, whichever way you look at it, still rule by a minority. After all, the one percent is just one percent. How can the one percent rule over the ninety-nine percent? For that to happen, they need allies among the ninety-nine percent.

Marx had already discovered this with Napoleon III, in his 18th Brumaire, where he wrote that there was a possibility that capitalism would not be saved by the bourgeoisie winning the class struggle, which is well-nigh impossible, but by a third force—the state made militant and activist and openly oppressive, contravening all the traditional wisdom of liberalism and democracy—and which might even succeed in mobilising parts of the working class, as Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte was doing, and as fascism did and does to this very day. Already in 1852, he saw that there was a possibility that neither the bourgeoisie nor the proletariat would actually win, but that capitalism would be sustained by state power. By “politics.” Well, this is what is happening.

That was the foundation of fascism and national socialism, and this is being repeated to a certain extent today. Racism and xenophobia and heterosexism are mobilizing very important sectors of the population, who become allies of a statehood that is defending and exercising repression. But this is happening without making significant political compromises with the existing liberal bourgeoisie, which is no longer seen as necessary. As long as private property is kept in place, capitalism works smoothly, and the other determinations of bourgeois society are not met. Whether that can really save capitalism remains to be seen. It is by no means certain. Possible, but not certain. For the moment it is, of course, successful.

Nevertheless, liberal capitalism, free trade, and particularly money transformed into a commodity, and other developments that have been in place since the 19th century, were sustained through universal suffrage, by expanding rights and pacifying the population through social reforms. This is why social democracy was such a key player before Hitler in pacifying the bourgeois society, but this peace within the nation-state broke down with the First World War, when the stabilising force of social democracy ceased through the intervention of the October Revolution and the new communist parties. This element is lacking today because the threat of a revolutionary proletariat does not exist any longer. These states today, like Trump’s state, are hoping that they might get away with racist mobilization and suchlike without social reforms and without bribing the working class, which is politically totally disarmed and turns against competitors in the labor market instead of those who are making the labor market what it is: capitalists.

There is genuine competition between various groups in the labor market, a competition for jobs, between native sons and daughters and immigrants, among racial minorities, among regional groups and age groups and generations, among trades and professions. It is a very fractured social picture, especially where labor, earnings, and livelihoods are concerned. And this is very much exploited by these new post-fascist governments, powers, and movements, so that they can present any emancipatory project as a danger for people in a precarious situation on the labor market. What is being suggested to people is that the “leftist elites,” and the remnants of the left and some liberals, are trying to ignore the needs of the native population (economic, social, and identitarian needs) so that the idea of equality, for the first time in history—and paradoxically—is made to appear as an elitist idea. Equality appearing as elitist is, of course, crazy, but this is how it is perceived by the constituency of the post-fascist movement. In this post-fascism is successful, as it was successful in the case of classical fascism. In that respect, nothing has changed. What did Hitler say to German workers? “Your enemy is not capitalism; it is the Jews.” What did Mussolini say to the Italian workers? “Your enemy is not capitalism but the socialists who have betrayed you,” and so on in various versions.

The transformation of the political class struggle into ethnic, political, and cultural discrimination switched in that direction: to saving the common man from the onslaught of mysterious forces that are always invariantly perceived as “alien.” Today, the friends of the people are not only slandered in these terms by the extreme right as being “alien” as regards ethnicity, race or gender, but widely regarded as elitist and as elites. Increasingly and surprisingly, the left sees itself in that light too. When people on the left today say that you shouldn’t be elitist, that means you should give in to the ethnicism and the xenophobia and the racism of the right because these seem to be the genuine feelings of the working people. Well... shit. In this case, I would rather sympathize with Lenin and Lukács (usually not my heroes), namely in that the empirical consciousness of the working class, what Lenin called the “trade union consciousness,” is not enough for the creation of a genuine left. There are also philosophical and moral and economic and political principles (which Lukács thought were the accurate, the true, the real consciousness of the proletariat), that are not mirrored in the empirical, group psychology of poor and downtrodden groups.

What is called left populism or left nationalism today is a reflection of this paradoxical situation in which the left is no longer accused of wanting to offer supremacy to the “unwashed, uncultured, vulgar” workers. That was the accusation made by the right against leftist intellectuals in the 1910s and the 1920s: that they were betraying the “values of the spirit,” and aligning themselves with the destructive “masses” (to use Ortega’s word). Now, it is the opposite. The left is accused of being out of touch with those masses, the very masses that the right despised so much in the past.

Rail: How is this operationalized in the so-called illiberal democracy of Orbán in Hungary?

Tamás: Orbán was in search of an ideology when he first took power. It was clear for him, as a former liberal, that absolute power cannot be conquered without an ideology and together with the liberal intellectuals. The liberal left would never accept his leadership, for they would not trust him (because he is indeed untrustworthy), and so he discovered, quite mechanically at first, in a cold way, that the only place for him was on the right. And he went to the right without feeling like a rightist. Not at all. In the beginning, in the 1990s, it was a cold calculation and nothing more. And the same goes for the people around him.

Gradually, they discovered two things that were instrumental for getting power: the first was a link to the tradition of the Hungarian right, that was originally alien to them, but which they learned by rote, like going to school. They made a pact with the old middle classes, the ones hankering after the pre-war regimes, old nationalism, hating Romanians and Serbs and all that. This is why the country is full of monuments and officially published books about the “tragedy” of the Trianon peace treaty that robbed us of our ancestral territories.

They second thing they discovered was the anti-liberal right in the West (similar to today’s alt-right). At first there was a classical suggestion: that a surfeit of human rights (leniency, liberal labor law, etc.) was suspected by the middle class in Hungary to be favorable to the criminal classes. The criminal classes being, of course, the Roma minority, a. minority terribly hated, more hated than Arabs or Africans, and not accepted in most opinion polls as being fellow humans. In those polls, with the classical questions such as “who would you accept to live next door to?”, the Roma, who have lived in Hungary for 600 years, are at the bottom of the list. Jews and Muslims and queer people come before them. So that was the usual “law and order” classical conservatism, which was also integrated into a rightist discourse about social protection of the deserving poor, and the patriotic, hard-working, white majority population that has been neglected—a well-known discourse all over the world. But, because the Roma are so destitute, and thus not real competitors in the labor market, this had a very limited mobilizing force and was successful only in some parts of the country. It was not enough for the solid hyper-majority necessary for changing the constitution. But then came the refugee crisis.

The terrain was already prepared: most civil liberties had been seriously curtailed by various amendments to the constitution since 2011, and that resulted in reducing the autonomy of various forces in the state: the constitutional court, the judiciary system, local government saw their powers limited or lost, and of course the media followed, as well as universities, the art world, museums, what have you. Everything has been colonized, while dissenting opinions are not heard, occupying a very little corner of the media landscape. The oligarchic system, known from contemporary Russia, is there, but with only one real oligarch, Mr. Orbán himself. Through middle-men and dummy companies Orbán owns a considerable chunk of the Hungarian economy, becoming one of the richest men in Europe (though nothing is in his own name, of course), while personally supervising a media conglomerate that has 467 media outlets (in a small country like Hungary that essentially means more than 80 percent of all media), not to speak of the state media, which are also controlled by him.

Rail: In the recent period there has been a significant wage increase, 8-10 percent. How does the völkisch ideology relate to the Hungarian economy? How is the working class integrated?

Tamás: The answer is: it isn’t. Where is the Hungarian working class? In Austria and in Germany. That is the solution. Most of the skilled workers and members of professions, from teachers to doctors, from technicians to scientists, are emigrating. The remaining ones are employed by multinational, mostly German companies—Mercedes, BMW, etc. There is also a quite modern agricultural sector that employs about 5 percent of the former agricultural population, more mechanized and modernized. The system of large landed estates has come back to Hungary; nobody ever thought that the most reactionary feature of Hungarian history would come back, but this time there are no serfs, only machines. And people on the margins of the large and lucrative agricultural estates, the old peasant population, are starving. For they are not working there or anywhere. It’s the machines that are working.

The working class is very small, so the state can allow itself to raise the minimum wage, and there are quite a few trades—all these parasitical things, construction industry, tourism, restaurants, all these servile jobs, serving foreign tourists. There is some small industry here and there but it is only a small group of people. And what was the greatest employer of all, the state, is not employing people any longer. The railways employ about 30 percent of their former strength (creating a very dangerous situation, because of potential accidents, not to speak of filth, delays, train stations in ruins). City employees, public hygiene, street sweepers, fewer and fewer people are being employed by local government, by the health services, and so on. The relatively few people that are employed are slightly better paid, but of course they are facing the competition of the rest of the countries. Now, the medical chamber asks for a salary for a young doctor that would be some 40 percent of the salary of an Austrian doctor, but that would still be a 20-fold increase in Hungary—which the state cannot afford. So, the hospitals have no physicians. The post offices are empty. Post office branches are closing down. Clinics and surgeries in the villages are closing down. There are no priests or teachers. No priests! Anyone with a degree is trying to leave.

Rail: What is interesting about this is that the economy is officially “growing.” Recently, Tamás Simonyi (senior director and head of CEE Financial Institutions and director at KPMG Advisory) said that “[t]he German economy, so long as it holds up, underpins the Hungarian export sector; credit growth is strong, wage growth is strong and, first and foremost, EU funds are flooding into Hungary … I can’t really recall such extremely advantageous and comfortable external conditions for the Hungarian economy in my lifetime, which didn’t start yesterday.” What is the role of German state and capital in this economic “growth”?

Tamás: What we have is the reestablishment of the situation from before 1914, when German and Austrian capital was the Hungarian capital. The Hungarian economy is being run in the traditional way, and it has always been run like this, from the 1970s, when West Germany started to bankroll the Eastern European countries, especially Hungary, through Ostpolitik and other schemes. Austria too—though otherwise small in the area, it is quite big in Hungary.

It is quite true that money is flowing in. State revenue is quite high, although there are not that many taxpayers. That means that the government can do what it wants. And salaries are only increasing under the impact of emigration. This is what Tamás Simonyi is not saying: if companies want to keep Hungarian workers, they have to pay them more, otherwise people will leave, especially the skilled workers. That also means that unskilled workers don’t get anything. Employment data is a trick. For example: there is no unemployment benefit in Hungary of any kind, you receive money only if you perform so-called “communal work,” such as digging ditches, cleaning the streets, and so on and so forth, especially in the villages. Those people count as “gainfully employed,” although what they are getting is not enough to feed them. But, for the unskilled there is no other possibility, so they are tied to their miserable small villages where there are no services. And they have to go shopping, sometimes 60 kilometers away, with a rotten bus service. A very hard life. But those people don’t really work. Those are state handouts of a very moderate value.

All the wonderful economic flourishing is, of course, only for the upper middle class—that indeed is flourishing: house prices are going up, many rich people (some of them Chinese) are moving to Hungary, which is a regional commercial hub of some sorts. But, inequality is rampant and the isolation of some poor regions from the proper life of capitalist Hungary is unspeakable. You have places in Hungary that look like Belgium and places that look like Bangladesh. That’s quite characteristic for the whole of Eastern Europe, it is not unique to Hungary, there are even worse places than Hungary. But the integration refers to very few people.

Rail: Are export-oriented jobs protected?

Tamás: Not really. In some auto factories, especially in the Japanese ones, workers are very badly treated, trade unions are banned—something which is officially illegal in Hungary but nevertheless done. Suzuki, one of the biggest employers, does not allow trade unions. However, these people earn well and will not emigrate. This auto-industry island, in Hungary, Slovakia, and parts of Austria, begins to look as if it is not a wholly integrated part of Hungary—it is part of a second-class, greater German sphere. And it is resented.

Germany is perceived as a nasty colonizing lord, because, according to state propaganda, it is forcing multiculturalism and anti-racism and liberalism on Hungary. The official explanation for this is that this is the guilty conscience of the Germans.—an indirect Jewish influence and all that nonsense. That is really successful. According to the polls, the least popular world public figure in Hungary is Angela Merkel. She is hated. There is a general popular passion against her. She is really hated. She seems to be the icon of Wilkommenskultur and acceptance of people of color. The second most hated is Pope Francis, more or less for the same reasons: pro-refugee, against homophobia, which he is in a moderate way. And he is considered to be a Jewish agent, in the pay of the Jews. Aren’t we all?

This is how Mr. Orbán took power in 2010. His regime started in earnest that year and was very much the result of the huge demonstrations against the socialist-liberal coalition government that appealed to the IMF. Many other factors also played a role, various idiocies committed by the socialist-liberal government that made people indignant—such as the Prime Minister admitting that for years he was lying to the Hungarian people. Already from 2006 the right and extreme right were in ascendancy—they could paralyze government power etc. In a sense, they were practically in power before being voted in in 2010. And there was also the idiocy of the Hungarian banks that made loans denominated in Swiss Francs without telling the population that this was, of course, a floating currency, and that they would have to pay back more than what they borrowed. There are still demonstrations today after all these years because tens of thousands of people lost their houses.

In the beginning Mr. Orbán appeared to champion, as the FPO is called in Austria, “die soziale Heimatpartei” (the Social Homeland Party). The social aspect has since vanished, as it usually does, but the debt crisis is more or less resolved, and the economy is going quite well for a middle class that is the single politically active sector of society. Workers don’t vote, and people in the villages tend to vote for the governing party because sometimes they don’t even know there are other political parties due to the media situation. Opposition has formally vanished from the screen, considered to be “le parti de l’étranger,” the party of abroad, as all ideas except those of the far right are deemed foreign.

When Orbán’s power started to consolidate, he was clever enough not to slow down, but to become even more dynamic. This immense work of destruction started: destruction of the political structure, of parties, parliamentarism, and so on. Orbán instigated reform of the judiciary, like in the Polish government, but much more radically in Hungary. An onslaught against civil society, imitating the legislation of Putin and Netanyahu about foreign-funded NGOs, making it quite dangerous to be a member of an NGO today, meaning that you can go to jail. You don’t yet, but the laws are already on the books. They are also attacking the intelligentsia, the universities.

A very grim atmosphere which, for the first time since 1989, goes on without the majority being informed about it because of the media situation. The normal solidarity (which would not be decisive anyway) is simply not available because most people have no idea. And in Hungary the first source of information is still television, not the internet, and that can be controlled very easily.

Rail: There were some mobilizations/demonstrations last December in Hungary that reached an international audience. What was the composition of that movement and what were its demands?

Tamás: That started out as a leftist initiative by members of a student organization called the Free University, who had also founded a students’ trade union of sorts, and they organized (which is in itself very interesting), a demonstration not on their own behalf, but on behalf of the workers who were subjected to the deprivations of the new overtime law, popularly called the “servants’ law.” those demonstrations were initiated by the students, who invited me to speak. For the first time, the Budapest intelligentsia and the workers’ trade unions appeared on the same square. I don’t want to overstress my own role, but it was the first time since 1989 that a leading political figure appeared with a red flag in his hand.

But it was taken over by the mainstream opposition parties in no time at all. They are stronger. They have more people. They joined, at first generously, and then there was an attack on state television and it seemed that there was at least a unity of the resisting forces. But it did not last. For that you would need either an outrage or some success. Neither happened. The government was quite clever, there were no clashes to speak of (very modest clashes and some tear gas) and because of no results, and because of people’s distaste for politics, when political parties joined (understandably in a sense, as they are trying to find an audience), then the social character of the demonstration was lost. This was the first real class-based protest on behalf of, and in the interests of the workers, but it has broken down. Because there is no movement, there is no institutional memory, no continuity, no ideology, no framework within which insurgent recollection could be possible, now it is not even remembered. And that is a great disadvantage in the case of any movement, the lack of a tradition of resistance.

So that movement just petered out. And, because the ideological initiative and supremacy belongs to the post-fascists, 82 percent of the Hungarian population supports the immigration policies of Mr. Orbán, that means the majority of the “opposition” too. Let us not forget that there is not a single solitary refugee in Hungary. This does not stop the refugee problem to be the central political problem of the country—pure ideology, and a triumphant one.

The government has its own biopolitics—which consists in an open call to the white middle class to have more children, because “we will be outnumbered by people of color,” by the Roma.

Rail: By the Roma?

Tamás: They are poor and religious, and in a way the Roma have inherited some cultural traits of the old Hungarian peasantry. They are the people who live now in the Hungarian villages. Most of the people who live in the villages are Roma. Everybody else has left. Everyone who could, took flight from the hopeless agricultural districts. They constitute the great demographic and racial danger: we’ll be outnumbered by the non-white population from without and from within. (Total nonsense.)

Rail: Roma are formally equal citizens, aren’t they?

Tamás: Yes, of course, they have been living there for centuries! Although racial segregation in schools is permitted.

Rail: You describe how they live in the villages and the agricultural parts of the country. Does that mean they are employed in the agricultural sector too?

Tamás: No, they are not employed anywhere. Most of them are jobless. When they were unskilled workers, they would commute to various factories. They lived in the villages, as it was cheaper, and took the bus at dawn to the factories. But all these factories have, of course, been closed down. And they are indeed really persecuted. Those who live in the outskirts of former industrial towns are thrown out from these towns by the local governments through all sorts of tricks: violence, bribery, modernization, gentrification, and demolishing their houses. They are forced towards miserable villages with run-down, empty houses, squatting in various places under terrible conditions, but at least to have a roof over their heads. A leaky roof, but a roof of sorts. But living there means starving because there is nothing to do in these villages, they have been abandoned by necessity. No social services either.

Rail: There are many signs of a new recession; given the position of German capital in the Hungarian economy, what would a slowdown mean for Hungary and Eastern Europe?

Tamás: It might stop emigration. Remittance money is very important, it’s a great source of revenue. The slowdown of the German economy would be a tragedy. If people are forced to come back... this does not bear thinking about. All these things are connected.

Hungary is a radical case, but not so essentially different from what is happening elsewhere in the region. Maybe with regard to various political techniques, repression, and pro-fascist ideology it is worse than the average case, but it’s a difference in degree and not in kind. You can see with the changing politics of the German government, the idea of trying to exercise pressure to keep Eastern European countries within the general framework of liberal constitutionalism has been given up as hopeless. It is quite obvious that the Western establishment bitterly regrets the EU enlargement, and wants only quiet, maybe with the help of all these authoritarian governments they despise.

Rail: What do you see in the immediate future?

Tamás: Those old-fashioned reactionaries who said in the 1980s that there cannot be a Western-style bourgeois society in Eastern Europe and Asia, especially in the former “socialist bloc,” have been proven right. Liberal constitutionalism in Western Europe—however imperfect and fraudulent sometimes—was a reaction to fascism: coup attempts in Italy have been foiled, Gaullism has been tamed, traditional fascist regimes in Spain, Portugal, and Greece have been overturned, although some structural sequels remained. This transformation in Western Europe was guaranteed by the United States and by Britain, who have now turned their backs on Europe and are dominated by the extreme right themselves. But Eastern Europeans are the heirs to Soviet-style, planned, redistributive, egalitarian state capitalism (or “state socialism”). Which was an odd combination of emancipatory and repressive features. Those emancipatory, e. g., cultural features have been destroyed as parts of the “dictatorship.” When people in Eastern Europe resist the pitiful remnants of liberal capitalism from the right (the völkisch right), they are trying to recapture something from that strange combination that has vanished as a result of “foreign interference.” Think of East Germany. Separating the emancipatory from the repressive would be, or should be, the task of the Eastern European left— including the reappraisal of the plebeian pride of an urbanised working class just one step out of the horrible semi-feudal village from which they were saved by a brutal social dictatorship. In 1919, during the abortive Hungarian Council Republic, there was a celebration of the young Red Army volunteers headed for the front at the State Opera House. The Ninth Symphony was played. The people’s commissar for education, an Austro-Marxist called Zsigmond Kunfi, made a solemn address, calling the event a Red Mass. The great-grandchildren of those workers are now watching reality tv and internet pornography and wrestling. They won’t tolerate this abjection for ever.

August 2019


Pavlos Roufos

Pavlos Roufos lives and writes in Berlin. His book, A Happy Future is a Thing of the Past, was published by Reaktion Books last year in the Field Notes series.


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