In 1956, Hungarian workers joined students on the streets to protest years of wage and benefit cuts enacted by the Communist regime. Although quickly suppressed by Soviet forces, the uprising led to changes in party leadership and conciliatory measures that would influence labor politics for the next thirty years.
In The Workers’ State, Mark Pittaway presents a groundbreaking study of the complexities of the Hungarian working class, its relationship to the Communist Party, and its major political role during the foundational period of socialism (1944-1958). Through case studies of three industrial centers—Ujpest, Tatabanya, and Zala County—Pittaway analyzes the dynamics of gender, class, generation, skill level, and rural versus urban location, to reveal the embedded hierarchies within Hungarian labor. He further demonstrates how industries themselves, from oil and mining to armaments and textiles, possessed their own unique labor subcultures. From the outset, the socialist state won favor with many workers, as they had grown weary of the disparity and oppression of class systems under fascism. By the early 1950s, however, a gap between the aspirations of labor and the goals of the state began to widen. In the Stalinist drive toward industrialization, stepped up production measures, shortages of goods and housing, wage and benefit cuts, and suppression became widespread. Many histories of this period have focused on Communist terror tactics and the brutal suppression of a pliant population. In contrast, Pittaway’s social chronicle sheds new light on working-class structures and the determination of labor to pursue its own interests and affect change in the face of oppression. It also offers new understandings of the role of labor and the importance of local histories in Eastern Europe under communism.
A profoundly important contribution. The implications of Pittaway's work are far-reaching. His reconceptualization of legitimacy as a complex, contested state is the best explanation yet for how early communist regimes interacted with their subjects at the grassroots level.
Apart from making a strong argument thoroughly grounded in archival sources and full command of the secondary literature, Pittaway's work is a refreshing reinterpretation of a crucial period in the making of socialist Hungary.
Based upon an extraordinary amount of research, The Workers' State argues for the pivotal importance of industrial workers in the ultimate establishment of 'stable socialist rule in twentieth-century Hungary.
East European historians have been waiting eagerly for this book for a long time. . . .Appearing two years after Mark Pittaway's untimely death at just thirty-nine, 'The Workers' State' proves to have been worth the wait. . . . Pittaway has produced a definitive social history of Communist Hungary, one that takes politics and economics seriously. Nigel Swain, who shepherded the work of his former student over the last hurdles to publication, deserves our thanks. 'The Workers' State' will be required reading for all students of the establishment of Communism in Eastern Europe.
In this imaginatively conceived and meticulously researched book, the late Mark Pittaway masterfully reconstructs the history of Hungary's working class in the early years of Communist rule. Fiercely committed to a 'history from below' in all its messy complexity, Pittaway uncovers the strategies of negotiation, bargaining, and resistance with which Hungarian workers made a place for themselves in the newly created workers' state. This is social history at its finest, theoretically sophisticated, lucidly argued, and provocative in its claims. It will be essential reading for all historians of East-Central Europe.
Mark Pittaway makes a powerful argument for the necessity of studying industrial communities to understand the dynamics of early socialist state formation in Hungary. Pittaway takes full advantage of the rich archival materials he has carefully studied, giving us a nuanced sense of everyday life, as well as indicating how poor our conception of Hungarian industrial working class experience in the 1950s has been.
Occupies a place of distinction not only in the scholarship on the political engagement of the industrial workers in Hungary, but in the research on the history of the industrial workers in Europe. It situates the attempt to create Socialism in Hungary in an international context and thus provides a point of departure for further comparative study. Pittaway's research, work that spanned a decade and a half, has revitalized scholarship on the subject, which had been increasingly marginalized in the historiography. In all likelihood his monograph will influence research on the lives and experiences of industrial workers, who represented the largest social bloc and whose living coniditions should therefore be in the forefront of scholarship on the era, for decades.
Path-breaking . . . sheds new light on the social origins of 1956 by exploring the reasons for the workers' mounting discontent and the deeply seated disappointment with 'their' regime. A landmark in the writing of twentieth-century Hungarian history.
Mark Pittaway was senior lecturer in European Studies at The Open University, London, and the author of Eastern Europe, 1939Ð2000.learn more