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New Left Review I/176, July-August 1989

Nigel Swain

Hungary’s Socialist Project in Crisis

By the early summer of 1989 Hungary had become a de facto multi-party system, albeit still within a one-party structure. [1] My main sources in the writing of the article have been: the periodicals Figyelö (an economic weekly), Heti Világgazdaság (a weekly news magazine with an economic slant), and Magyar Nemzet (the daily of the Patriotic People’s Front with a deserved reputation for independence); such party programmes as were available in May 1989; and discussions with at least one representative of each of the major new political groups. These sources were supplemented by three books published in 1988–89: S. Kurtán, ed., Magyarország Politikai Évkönyve 1988, Budapest 1989; K. Bossányi, Szólampróba, Budapest 1989; and Z. Ács, Kizárt a párt, Budapest 1988. The first is a political yearbook for 1988; the other two contain interviews with central political figures. For reasons of space references have been kept to a minimum. The phrase ‘socialist project’ is used in the title to side-step the irresolvable debate about whether Eastern Europe is or is not socialist in any ‘true’ sense, yet to assert that those who created the Hungary of the past four decades saw themselves as socialist, and, at the outset, strove to implement some policies that radical socialists in the West agree to be necessary prerequisites for socialism. Numerous political forces operated openly, experiencing minimal official harassment, with meaningful if unequal access to the media. Virtually all significant actors, including the reform wing of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party (hswp), [2] The position of the hswp is not clear cut as there is no longer a single party view. agreed that the forthcoming elections would be fought with no built-in majority for any party, and that the hswp should enjoy no privileged status in parliament or any other sphere of social or economic life. All advocated reforms in education and the social services which would offer new possibilities for private initiative. All averred that Hungary’s economic future lay in a ‘mixed economy’, with a large private sector, in which competing insurance companies would play a significant role, in which there would be extensive foreign participation, and in which links with the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) would be weakened, while those with the European Community (Common Market) strengthened.

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