Letter: No socialist content in Hungary

Submitted by Matthew on 4 May, 2016 - 11:22 Author: John Cunningham

Gemma Short is quite right in her comments on Steve Bloom’s review of The Two Trotskyisms (Solidarity 402): the nationalisations in Eastern Europe had no socialist content.

I lived in Hungary from 1991 to 2000 and in this time became acquainted with the giant Ózd steelworks complex near the border with Slovakia. I hasten to add that I never, unfortunately, visited the steelworks, but I knew a documentary filmmaker, Tamás Almási, who made a series of films on the workers there and their experience of going through privatisation and finally the closure of the works.

In all Almási made eight films from 1987 to 1998 — never once adding a voice-over commentary but allowing the workers (and others) to speak for themselves. It was both fascinating and utterly depressing. The steelworkers’ union was a sham and worked hand in glove with management and was, putting it mildly, distrusted by the workers. Their pay was miserable, barely enough to live on, and most of the workers lived in cramped apartments in tower blocks, their work was dirty, physically demanding and dangerous. Eventually part of the huge site was sold to a local “entrepreneur”, János Petrenkó, but he soon went bust.

In the last film (with the poignant title ‘Helpless’) the whole site was closed and fenced off, all the workers were made redundant, and the only visitors were members of the local Gypsy population who raided the site for scrap metal. Significantly, in the 11 years covered by the films, the workers only once protested against the closure. They organised a rally in the town centre and that was it. When Almási asked them why they never went on strike or took other action, they replied that they had never been on strike and didn’t know what to do! It was as if their initiative, their self-reliance, had been drained out of them by years of top-down, bureaucratic control and lies. Almási told me that visiting Ózd was like going back 25 years to the old Soviet Union – they still had worker brigades and awards for “star” workers and other such quasi-Stalinist/Stakhanovite paraphernalia. If there was any socialism here, in any form, it certainly escaped me.

John Cunningham, Adlington, Lancashire