This chapter explores the lived experience of workers with the transition from socialism to capitalism. Drawing on the thematic analysis of 82 interviews conducted with workers in four towns in Hungary’s rust belt hit by deindustrialisation (Ajka, Dunaújváros, Salgótarján, Szerencs), the chapter highlights how the multiscalar lived experience of market-centric commodifying reforms violated an implicit social contract and changed workers’ narrative identities. However, this shared experience of class dislocation did not translate into a working-class identity. In the absence of a class-based, shared narrative and lacking a viable political tool to control their fate, working-class neo-nationalism emerged as a new narrative identity to express workers’ anger and outrage.
This chapter is an edited and significantly extended version of an article published in Sociology (Scheiring 2020).
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There are probably more people in the sample who are socially active, or who have acquaintances with a high level of social capital. I did not intend to create a representative sample, but to have a diverse set of people; therefore this composition does not substantially affect the analysis.
The Hungarian Young Communist League (‘Magyar Kommunista Ifjúsági Szövetség’, KISZ) was a youth organisation in state-socialist Hungary, founded in 1957. The members of the last KISZ Central Committee filled strategic positions in the new capitalist economy, including former Socialist PM Ferenc Gyurcsány, who had served as the president of the central committee of the University chapter of KISZ between 1988 and 1989.
The figure shows the frequency of relevant words in paragraphs where interviewees talk about the market transition. I grouped synonyms as well as conjugated forms of the words into one word. For example, the word ‘capitalism’ has several conjugated variants in Hungarian that all show up in the figure as the same word. Grouping synonyms entailed, for example, using one word (‘work) for words like ‘labour’, ‘toil’, ‘slog away’, ‘slave away’. I removed words that occurred less than three times in the interviews, filler words, years, connectives, pronouns, articles, as well as words with general meaning (such as ‘go’).
The word ‘polgár’ in Hungarian refers to bourgeois (‘propertied middle class’) and citizen/burgher (also the civic-minded) at the same time. ‘Polgár’ was the central political identity of the right for a long time, Fidesz changed its name in 1995 and in 2003 incorporating ‘civic’ into its name.
The interviews were conducted at the end of 2016 beginning of 2017. The political situation changed after Fidesz scored its third massive victory in 2018. Opposition parties learned that they have to cooperate otherwise they do not stand a chance.
Neighbouring countries still have large Hungarian minority populations as a result of the Trianon treaty that redrew the country’s map after the First World War. As a consequence, 3.3 million Hungarians found themselves outside the new borders. The issue of Hungarian minority populations is one of the most important political divisions; the political right tries to monopolise the role of true representative of Hungarians beyond the national borders.
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Scheiring, G. (2020). Workers and Neo-nationalism. In: The Retreat of Liberal Democracy. Challenges to Democracy in the 21st Century. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-48752-2_5
Publisher Name: Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
Print ISBN: 978-3-030-48751-5
Online ISBN: 978-3-030-48752-2