Demand Side Abundance

On the Post-1956 Social Contract in Communist Hungary

in East Central Europe
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In this essay, the discussion proceeds from the public image of the functionary at the end of the Rákosi era, through the Kádárist policies of ‘new sobriety’ disciplining the functionary in order not to irritate and provoke the rest of society, to the new contrat sociale established by the mid-1960s in which the party-state apparatus class and the commoners join one another in pursuing shared (consumerist) ideas of good life and happiness, within the constraints and coping with the conditions of demand side abundance (the tension between consumerist aspirations, desires and an economy of sustained shortages). The article draws on archival sources as well as texts from contemporary cabarets and an analysis of the 1964 feature film, Don’t Waste the Gas!, and its manuscript.

Demand Side Abundance

On the Post-1956 Social Contract in Communist Hungary

in East Central Europe



“A politikai funkcionáriusok helyzete anyagi és erkölcsi megbecsülése. Vita-vázlat” [The status of the political functionaries their economic acknowledgement and social prestige] no author and no date are specified. Papers of the mszmp kbTársadalomtudományi Intézet [Institute of Social Research of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party] mol [Hungarian National Archives] 288. f. 2. cs. 97. őe. fol. 29.

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György Cserhalmi secretary of the trade union committee of the National Office of Planning [ot] “Az ot dolgozóinak szociális helyezet a szakszervezet ilyen irányú tevékenysége” [The social situation of ot employees and the relevant activities of the trade union—Report to the Executive Committee of the mszmp at the ot discussed on the latter’s October 23 1974 meeting] October 17 1974 bfl Documents of the mszmp Budapest Committee xxxv/10. f. C 232. őe. pp. 1–4.

Jenő Fock’s speech to the October 14 1957 meeting of the Department of PartyEconomy and Administration mol 288. f. 37/1957/1. őe. fol. 3.

Laczkó P. Mrs. “Tájékoztató jelentés a megyei pártgazdasági és ügykezelési osztályvezetők 1957. május 24-i országos értekezletéről” [Report on the national meeting of the party-economic and administration section leaders from the county party organizations 24 May 1957] mol 288. f. 37/1957/1. őe.

Laczkó P. Mrs. 1957a. “Suggestion to provide for the safety and material needs of the members of the Executive Committee and the Secretariat of the Central Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party” dated 10 May 1957 “Strictly Confidential!” pgo/305 mol 288. f. 37/1957/1. őe. fols. 184–186.

Laczkó P. Mrs. 1957b. sending her speech to be delivered at the national meeting of leaders the party-economic and administration sections of the county party organizations 24 May 1957 to Central Committee Secretary György Marosán mol 288. f. 37/1957/5. őe. fols. 27.

Lakatos Dezső. 1957. Central Committee pgo leader in the course of the meeting of the pgo section of the Budapest Party Committee 7 April 1959 Minutes of the meeting Budapest Capital City Archives (bfl) Papers of the Budapest Committee of the Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party xxxv (1) f. 21. őe. p. 2.

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In 1970two years after the introduction of Hungary’s New Economic Mechanism an institutional regime expected to combine market regulation and planning a representative survey was conducted among industrial firms. Responding to the question whether or not their success depended on advertising half of them answered with a resolute “No” most of them explaining this in terms of a sustained excess demand over what they can deliver (cf. Ravasz and Kaminski 1973: 50–51). Abstaining from advertising then appears to have been a way of coping with demand side abundance.


  • View in gallery

    The contemporary (1965) poster of the film depicts the ornitologist with his preowned Fiat Topolino.

  • View in gallery

    Scene from the film: Volga cars serving the comfortable mobility of the party state’s functionaries.

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    Source: Mária Rédei, Keszthelyiné, Gépkocsi és életmód [The personal car and lifestyle] (“Életszínvonal-füzetek” series, nr. 8), Budapest: Statisztikai Kiadó Vállalat, July 1988. p. 13. Without data for 1984, as the statistical observation of household budget had been made biannually since 1983.

  • View in gallery

    Scene from the film: The Dissuader-Narrator entering his Chevrolet asking the movigoers not to reveal his (their shared) “secret”.


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