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41 three Metallic Socialism If by some miraculous time machine you could go back to the Hungary of the 1950s and walk around Budapest, you would keep bumping into dingy little shops with large orange signs proclaiming ‘‘MÉH,’’ which in Hungarian means ‘‘bee.’’ Yet if you decided to peek into one of these shops, you would not find bees or honey, but rather piles of dog-eared books, newspapers, metal scraps, and textiles, pails of grease, and bags of feathers, bones, and human hair. That’s when you would look at the sign more closely and realize that MÉH was an acronym that stood for the By-Product and Waste Utilization Company (Melléktermék -és Hulladékhasznosító Vállalat). Still dizzy from the sight of such a chaotic stockpile, you might hop on a truck with the same orange sign heading for a factory. You would know this was no ordinary industrial site when, instead of finding workers absorbed in a manufacturing process, you would encounter them buzzing around like bees in the factory yard, scavenging among metal and wood scraps and then sorting and carting the scraps to another end of the plant. Going inside the plant, you would spot women sewing together pieces of leather fished out from a huge container, and every once in a while, when the foreman wasn’t watching, you would see some of these same workers escaping to the changing rooms, concealing small or large scraps. discipline and recycle (1948 – 1974) 42 On the walls, you would see posters (such as figures 3.1–3.7) and intricate tables indicating which brigade collected how much waste and who had the best idea to reuse it. If you stumbled into the office of a manager, you’d most likely find his desk covered with various pieces of legislation prescribing waste quotas, which wastes were to be delivered to which company , how to calculate the price of wastes, what to do with still unregulated waste materials, and how much material reward could be given to those who collected wastes beyond the planned amount. You might also find treatises on the economics of waste reuse and on waste statistics and accounting that were published in scholarly journals. Just then a young lad would reach over you to deposit a slip in a box labeled ‘‘Gazda idea box.’’ Since ‘‘Gazda’’ means ‘‘caretaker,’’ you might wonder, ‘‘the caretaker of what?’’ Then suddenly you notice the cover page of the daily Szabad Nép (Free People), featuring a photo of a middle-aged man and the caption ‘‘Comrade Gazda.’’ Reading on, you would find out about the waste reuse movement he started and the popularity of his campaign. Skimming through past issues of the daily, you would find at least one article on the Gazda movement every day. This is what it would be like to experience the cult of waste in Budapest in the summer of 1951. Yet, this is not the image of state socialism those in the West have. It’s not that works on the political economy of state socialism have ignored waste; in fact several authors identified waste as a rather essential concomitant of central planning (see chapter 2). They also haven’t ignored Stalinism’s production movements, that is, contests or competitions to mobilize workers for improving their performance (Filtzer 1986). In fact, Iván Pető and Sándor Szakács (1985) provide an exhausting if not exhaustive list of such campaigns.1 Rather, what stands to be revised in these accounts is, first, the lack of recognition that, while state socialism did produce wastefully in certain senses, the party-state had a rather explicit interest in solving the ‘‘waste problem’’; and second, that up until now socialism has been treated as a vacuous political and economic structure independent of and even subordinating to itself the very materiality it created, mobilized, and came to be dependent on. In order to make sense of the manifestations of the cult of waste described above, and especially to make them jibe with the poor environmental record of state socialism, we must first understand how the official discourse constructed this waste problem. Then, we must comprehend how, in return, the materiality of production and of wastes shaped social institutions we have come to associate with the regime. In this chapter , I will analyze ethnographic and historical records to disclose what Metallic Socialism 43 Figure 3.1. ‘‘With the Gazda movement...


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