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(en) Media, Book review: Anarchism in Hungary

Date Fri, 15 Dec 2006 09:16:47 +0200


On one of the evening television news programs recently a Hungarian police spokesperson repeatedly used the term "anarchists" when referring to rioters on the streets of Budapest. He was using the term in the loose, typical but
misleading sense of "troublemakers."
While there have indeed been anarchist mischief-makers and even bomb-throwers, anarchism itself can lay claim to a respected philosophical/political tradition, albeit one which is often forgotten or underplayed. And yet -- anarchism in Hungary?
Bozóki and Sükösd write that the history of anarchism in Hungary, with a few small exceptions, is "a blank spot in the literatures of history and historical sociology." How right they are! And yet -- here is a book on the very subject. Usefully, the authors begin with a lengthy section covering the varieties of anarchist social philosophy, which essentially focuses on the issue of power and "who controls whom," with classical anarchism concentrating on questions of state power.

Next comes the "meat" of the book, namely the anarchist
tradition in Hungary. This section is mainly devoted to the
period from the 1880s to 1919 and the Hungarian Council
Republic, in which not only communists and social democrats
participated, but also anarchists.

INTRIGUING

We learn of intriguing characters who are relatively
unknown, even to most Hungarians -- the peasant movement
leader István Várkony, for example, or the Tolstoy-like Jenô
Henrick Schmitt.

But there are also some names which might appear familiar.
Count Ervin, a member of the famous Batthyány family,
astounded his relatives and his contemporaries by his
attraction to anarchism. Amidst much public protest, led by
local clergy, in 1905 he established a free school in the
west Hungarian village of Bögöte. Then there is Ervin Szabó,
after whom the Budapest municipal libraries are named.

Szabó was a noted librarian and scholar, but he was also an
active advocate of the radical, grass-roots trade unionism
known as anarcho-syndicalism. Perhaps most intriguingly, the
book's third section deals with anarchism's "unfinished
past," its links with contemporary social movements in
Hungary and abroad, including feminism, the green movement
and citizens' democracy campaigns.

The work concludes with an extensive bibliography, including
publications in both English and Hungarian.

With the apparent demise of Marxism and given the elite
gridlock that much of "western democracy" has become,
anarchism as an alternative way of looking at political
reality is certainly due for a fresh overhaul.

Despite some sloppy editing, resulting in too many
grammatical and spelling mistakes, the book is extremely
valuable if viewed as a mine of unusual and interesting
information on a theme which (not only in Hungary) is
usually misunderstood (and not only by the police).

Bob Dent is the author of Budapest 1956 -- Locations of
Drama (Európa, 2006).

INFOBOX

Anarchism in Hungary: Theory, History, Legacies

András Bozóki and Miklós Sükösd

(Center for Hungarian Studies and Publications/Institute of
Habsburg History, Hardback, 366pp, Ft8,100 at Bestsellers
Bookshop)
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