of proletarian struggles…
– Report about the Hungarian situation1 –
The permanent crisis of capitalism delivers one good turn after another for the working class of the world: right now the money markets have collapsed, the volume of production is falling back everywhere in the world, there are continuous lockouts. The recession is also taking its toll in Hungary. However, the situation here differs from that in Western Europe in the fact that the Hungarian bourgeoisie started its frontal attack against the working class’ conditions of existence much earlier than the bourgeoisie of Western Europe. During the summer of 2006, brutal increases in taxes and prices began; almost everything – from food, gas, electricity and fuel up to public transport – became much more expensive, since the Hungarian bourgeois did everything in order to maintain their competitiveness in front of the other bourgeois groups of the region, and the processes of the world market also pushed them in this direction.2
In spite of the continuous attacks against the working class’ conditions of existence they still face serious problems: the budget deficit is extremely high and the foreign public debt is constantly rising, while the world-wide recession can be felt more and more in Hungary as well. And financial stability would be very important for them – first of all, in order to pump more and more money into their companies and in order to keep the state up and running since the bourgeoisie still needs police, army and the functioning of the public administration. And, of course, they must throw some titbits to the working class, too, which is crying out and which still goes like a flock of sheep every four years to vote. Secondly, the economic situation of the country should be stabilized also in order to stimulate the flow of capital from abroad, to be able to heat up production (since from now on, one can count on a serious economic recession), and in the long run, to introduce the Euro – they expect that this will provide more predictable, more secure conditions for revelry on their little rubbish-shoot.
So, the capitalists already tried to tap the working class in 2006. As a result of this bloodsucking, the level of the working class’ living standards fell considerably over the following year, which the bourgeois in power crowned by introducing – within the framework of the so-called “public health reform” – medical examination fees, a daily charge in hospitals and the firing of several thousand workers from the state sector. The situation was worsened by the fact that the world-wide price explosion for foodstuffs caused a considerable rise in prices here as well – during the second half of 2007, the price of flour had risen by 60 per cent from the previous year and bread and eggs were more expensive by over 20 per cent. All this led to a perceptible increase in discontent among the working class, but also this time there was nothing more than the usual reformist practice of stirring up shit.
Of course, the trade unions used this occasion to call upon the stupefied workers to strike, to order them onto the streets and to protest against the “public health reform”, the raising of the retirement age and the liquidation of some railway lines.3 On 21st November 2007, within the framework of the “Day of Social Solidarity”, the railways stopped work for six hours, a section of educators also went on strike, work stopped for two hours at Malév (airline company), at some services of Volán (autobus company) and some other big companies. Throughout the country, several tens of thousands of workers were striking, and in the evening, they marched to the Parliament to beg at least some small concessions from the bourgeois – who, of course, shit on them. From a bourgeois point of view, everything was working perfectly: there was no significant interruption in production, trade union control was functioning well and the workers could express their discontent within the framework of democratic rights. Social peace was confirmed.
The bourgeoisie could therefore calmly continue its shock therapy against the working class. The government piled it on in 2008 too. During the year, it raised the price of gas four times, altogether by more than 27 per cent. Food prices also continued to increase, besides; the effects of the world-wide economic recession reached Hungary in the second half of the year. Many factories were closed or decreased their production, mainly in the car industry and among electronic assembly plants. Since autumn 2008, more than 20 thousand workers have been fired, the number of registered unemployed has reached 470 thousand. And we haven’t reached the end yet, since further lay-offs are being announced almost every day. This year, a further ten thousand workers may be sacked. In the meantime, the state almost went bankrupt in October because of the crash in the world’s banking system and the considerable weakening of the Forint. In order to avoid total collapse, the government asked for a credit limit of 20 billion Euro from the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union, which will be pumped into the banks, to fill the state reserves and stop the weakening of the Forint. All this, of course, is at the cost of the working class. The money is to be paid back within 3-5 years – by us…
In the midst of the working class’ impoverishment and its running into debt, the trade unions conducted some completely defensive strikes also in 2008, which had nothing to do with proletarian struggles – of which there were almost no examples over the past year. The general absence of proletarian self-organization has many causes. First, there is the baleful inheritance from the past, the destructive effect of which can be felt even today: during the Kádár era, Bolshevik power pacified the working class by maintaining a relative security of existence, it liquidated every kind of proletarian self-organization and expropriated even the terminology of the communist movement. On the other hand, since the “transition”, the working class has been atomized by the sharpening competition of the workers, unemployment, the winding up of the former relatively steady workplaces, and the mobility of the labour market. Today, the workers act exclusively according to their individual interests, workplace communities have essentially disappeared, class solidarity is almost non-existent, and many of the stupid Hungarian workers are not even aware of the fact that they are members of a social class. And these egoistic, nihilist workers with their false consciousness can be easily manipulated by the various bourgeois media, which serve up counter-revolutionary propaganda in bigger and bigger doses every day, thanks to the achievements of the so-called “information society”.
This is the reason why the workers – who are worried about their jobs, who are discontented due to continuously falling living standards, who are imbued with various bourgeois ideologies – follow the trade unions like well-trained animals. On 7th April 2008, the workers at BKV (Budapest Transport Company) went on strike from dawn until 1 p.m. They were demanding more state support for the company, in order to prevent future lay-offs. At the end of November, workers employed in the public sector also went to the streets, protesting against the repeal of the “salary for the 13th month” (an extra month’s pay as bonus) and massive lay-offs, and demanding a wage increase of 4 per cent which had been promised earlier. They held out the prospect of a strike in January if their demands were not fulfilled. Some 10 thousand firemen, teachers, policemen, public health workers etc. gathered in front of the Parliament, and after handing their petitions over, all these well-mannered citizens peacefully went home. And the trade unions performed their duty, they soon came to an agreement with the government, by which in 2009, workers will receive the “salary for the 13th month” by means of monthly instalments. In exchange, the unions won’t call a strike until September 2009.
The end of the year was somewhat more eventful. Early in December, the workers at Malév once again went on strike. They were demanding a new collective agreement, the cessation of outsourcing, and the payment of those wages which the company was behind with. The bourgeoisie brought in scabs from Greece and therefore the strike gradually ran out of steam till the second half of December, when the trade union suspended it. During the year, railway workers went on strike several times. The last strike on 14th December was called by the VDSZSZ (Free Union of Railway Workers) which openly flirts with Fidesz, the main opposition force. The demand was the same as earlier: a single allowance of 250 thousand Forints for each railway worker and a wage increase of 10 per cent for outsourced workers. The strike was finally suspended out of respect for Christmas – on this “sacred holiday” class struggle also takes a pause… Later all the trade unions except VDSZSZ accepted a wage increase of 4.1 per cent – the company’s offer – but a continuation of the strike can be expected this year.
The growing discontent of the working class is continuously exploited – besides the trade unions – by the right wing, which campaigns with anti-capitalist slogans, crying out against “foreign” capital and promising that the “Hungarian state” under their leadership would take steps against so-called “wild capitalism”, i.e. it will humanize capitalist exploitation. In accordance with this, Fidesz has continuously managed to mobilize those workers who have fallen under the magic spell of Viktor Orbán and the national idea against the “public health reform” started in 2007. It has organized several demonstrations in the countryside against the privatization of hospitals, then started a campaign for enough signatures in order to be able to hold a referendum. The campaign set a huge mass in motion. Finally, as a result of the referendum on 9th March 2008 (in which around 4 million people participated), the government was forced to cancel the medical examination charge, the daily charge in hospitals and tuition fees in universities. Obviously, this action led to a further growth in Fidesz’s popularity, so it’s almost sure that in 2010 the Christian-national jerks will get their hands on the rudder once again.
This is all the more probable since a considerable part of the working class in Hungary is ordinarily a nationalist brute, anti-Semitic and strongly anti-Gypsy.4 Under the circumstances of the continuous fall in working-class living standards and the general discontent, the tendency to look for a scapegoat grows stronger, and some groups of workers are organizing themselves into fascist lynch mobs. An expressive example of this is the Hungarian Guard which was organized back in 2007. The organization was founded by Jobbik [Ed. note: the “Movement for a Better Hungary”], one of the fascist parties. One of its main aims is “the strengthening of national self-defence”, and in the long run, the setting up of a “National Guard”. Since then, the recruiting of members is permanent, regional organizations also have been created, the number of members is now more than 2,000. Moreover, lately they have been initiating children as well, thus looking after the continuation of this noble affair. Their groups, which march with fascist symbols, have organized several demonstrations in the settlements of the countryside against “gypsy crime”, and recently they even held target-practice sessions. If necessary, they will obviously go to war against rebellious proletarians and assist the police, just like their Greek counterparts did not long ago…
Apart from the Hungarian Guard, the fascists are active in general. Last year, there were several attacks with Molotov cocktails, grenades and arms on the houses of working-class members of Gypsy origin. As is their custom, the fascists also came onto the streets on 23rd October. Although there were only several hundred of them, they tried to organize themselves in a more serious way. They distributed hoods, they brought a lot of Molotov-cocktails which had been prepared beforehand, even a home-made bomb was found in a car by police, who this time easily caught the ringleaders and kept the fascist groups under control.
So, one can feel strongly the effects of the latest developments of capitalism’s world-wide crisis also in Hungary. In spite of the credit limit of 20 billion Euro, further economic recession is to be expected in the country and, in addition, the Forint is weakening again. Accordingly, the bourgeoisie is continuing to tighten the screws: the condition for obtaining some sort of benefits will be the performance of communal work, there is the prospect of new tax increases, further restrictive measures, and massive lay-offs. But because of increasing unemployment, the restrictions and the weakening of the Forint, it will be more difficult to pay back loans in foreign currency and imports are becoming more expensive. This means that the living standards of the working class will continue to fall, there will be less new investment and consumption will diminish, thus deepening the recession. It is a vicious circle, and in the short run it won’t be changed essentially, either by the change of cabinet expected in 2010, or by the further expansion of the fascists. The Hungarian bourgeoisie is in a fluster; they are in such a mess that they have even been forced to admit that they don’t know what to expect in the near future.
Their forecasts are not too good: the world-wide recession will wreck the working class even more – the same will happen in Hungary. In the long run, the workers’ discontent will probably increase further, and the government will play the ideological card calling upon national unity and sacrifice for the sake of the country. The trade unions will also try to perform their reformist shows again. Among the nationalist masses and those under trade union control, these manoeuvres may be successful for a while. But if the working class all over the world finally understands, as a result of the continuous decline in its conditions of existence, that there’s no place to withdraw to, and gets rid of its democratic illusions, then the proletariat which organizes itself into a class must sooner or later sweep away the bourgeoisie everywhere – here, too – and create the world-wide human community: communism.
1 The present report is a part of a series of articles which began in 2005 and in which we analyze the changes in the economic and political situation in Hungary from the Kádár era up to the present. The former pieces of the series in chronological order: Progress Report, The Reality of the Nightmare, Spend Your Blood!, Rouse?!, Connections…
2 We wrote in more detail about this in the article entitled Spend Your Blood!
3 One can find a more detailed account of the counter-revolutionary activity of the Hungarian trade unions after the “transition” in the report entitled The Reality of the Nightmare.
4 About the roots of Hungarian nationalism and its forms of expression we wrote more in the article entitled Connections…