, Volume 34, Issue 4, pp 367–380 | Cite as

Controlling the field of academic economics in Hungary, 1953–1976

  • György Péteri
Social Science Under State Socialism


On the basis of these findings, I suggest that the structure and organisation of the field of Hungarian economics under state socialism should be described as a case of “partitioned bureaucracy”.9 The compromise between research economists and the political elite in the New Course era between 1953 and 195510 survived the post-1956 reaction in so far as political economy, with its predominantly legitimatory and ideological functions, remained partitioned from the other sectors in the field through the remainder of the state-socialist period. This secured considerable protection both for Marxist-Leninist political economy—which faced the destabilising effects of exposure to the findings of serious empirical research—and for the other sectors, which were professionally oriented and earnestly interested in the pursuit of unbiased empirical research, free from stifling agitprop interference. Our data concerning the reputational control of the field reflects only one, although very important, aspect of this partitioning. Another and much plainer aspect is that, from the early 1960s, the Agitation and Propaganda Department of the Central Committee no longer exercised control over the field, except in the political economy sector.

The proposition about the “mechanism paradigm” should not be taken seriously as a statement of a Kuhnian type of intellectual organisation of Hungarian economics, with “reform economics” at its “hard theoretical core”. But it should certainly be taken seriously as a reflection of the sociopolitical structure which emerged and developed from the mid-1950s onwards. Neither the politicians nor the economists saw as necessary or even contemplated the integration of Hungarian economic research with Western mainstream economic thought. In exchange for the professional expertise and socio-economic intelligence necessary for the exercise of power, Hungary's state-socialist political class offered their economists relative autonomy and freedom from interference. The price the economists had to pay was partly to refrain from openly and systematically challenging the beliefs perpetuated by the political economy of socialism, and partly to accept in their research the paramountcy of policy orientation. But this burden they assumed willingly since it made them the only group within Hungary's academic intelligentsia—indeed, the only group in Hungarian society outside the political class—with the privilege of being coopted to the institutions with power over some restricted domains of policymaking. After 1989, especially under the conservative Antall government, this proved less than advantageous.11 Although the benevolence of many critics is open to question, it could greatly benefit the field if the economists' expulsion from contemporary politics went hand in hand with provision of the material, intellectual and institutional conditions for a new approach where a fundamentally scientific orientation is paramount.


Political Economy Political Elite Relative Autonomy Political Class Academic Economic 
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  1. 1.
    See the works of László Szamuely, esp. A magyar közgazdasági gondolat fejlödése 1954–1978: A szocialista gazdaság mechanizmusának kutatása (The development of Hungarian economic thought, 1954–1978: Research on the mechanism of the socialist economy) (Budapest: Közgazdasági és Jogi Könyvkiadó, 1986), a volume of documents selected, introduced and edited by Szamuely.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See KovácsJános Mátyás, “Compassionate Doubts about Reform Economics: Economic Science, Ideology, Politics”, in KovácsJános Mátyás and TardosMárton (eds), Reform and Transformation in Eastern Europe: Soviet-type Economics on the Threshold of Change (London and New York: Routledge and Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna, 1992).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Such, György and Tóth, István János, “A magyar közgazdaságtudomány a Közgazdasági Szemle tudománymetriai vizsgálatának tükrében” (Hungarian economics in the mirror of a scientometric analysis of the Közgazdasági Szemle), Közgazdasági Szemle, XXXVI (October 1989).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Ibid., p. 1204.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See data revealing that of all citations in Közgazdasági Szemle between 1963 and 1987, only 22.7 per cent were apparently from sources consulted in English, while up to 65.3 per cent were from sources published in Hungarian. Ibid., pp. 1197–1198.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    KovácsJános Mátyás, “Compassionate Doubts about Reform Economics: Economic Science, Ideology, Politics”, in KovácsJános Mátyás and TardosMárton (eds), Reform and Transformation in Eastern Europe: Soviet-type Economics on the Threshold of Change (London and New York: Routledge and Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen, Vienna, 1992). p. 318.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Such and Tóth came to similar conclusions (“A magyar ...”, op. cit., p. 1236) based on similar findings that members of the state and party administrations (30.7 per cent) and stateowned enterprise managements (4.3 per cent) produced over one third of the articles in Közgazdasági Szemle between 1963 and 1987 (ibid., p. 1182).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Ibid., p. 1217.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    On the idea of science as a reputational work organisation and describing economics as a “partitioned bureaucracy” structure, see WhitleyRichard, The Intellectual and Social Organization of the Sciences (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), and “The Structure and Context of Economics as a Scientific Field”, Research in The History of Economic Thought and Methodology, Vol. IV (1986), pp. 179–209.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    See also PéteriGyörgy, “The Politics of Statistical Information and Economic Research in Communist Hungary, 1949–1956”, Contemporary European History, II (July 1993), pp. 149–167.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    An interesting manifestation of the post-1989 tendency to regard reform economists as morally bankrupt accomplices of their communist rulers is Mátyás Domokos' vitriolic note on “the myth of the omnipotent homo oeconomicus”, in the Budapest periodical Kortars (May 1991), pp. 133–136.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

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  • György Péteri

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