The sources of Viktor Orbán’s ideas on the world economy

Practically everything that has aroused my interest in the last couple of days is connected in one way or the other to Tusnádfürdő/Baile Tusnad or, as the organizers call it, the “free university” Tusványos. It is a made-up word. Originally, these gatherings were held in Bálványos/Cetăţile Păgânilor, but the festivities over the years have grown so much that they had to move to Tusnádfürdő. Hence the name.

I wrote a couple of times about a commentator who calls himself Elek Tokfalvi, a mirror translation of Alexis de Toqueville. He is an erudite fellow and a sharp-eyed observer of political developments. This time Tokfalvi found a sentence in Viktor Orbán’s speech at Tusványos that prompted him to do a little research. The sentence followed Orbán’s running commentary about the great powers and their exploitation of the smaller ones on the periphery. The sentence reads: “Jenő Szűcs, an author who was very much in vogue about twenty or twenty-five years ago, wrote about this very clearly when he put together a popular treatise on the centers of the world economy and their peripheries.”

I myself didn’t catch this particular sentence when I listened to Orbán’s speech but I sure got a shock when I saw it in print. First, Jenő Szűcs was a historian of Hungarian medieval history who didn’t “put together” popular works. In fact, I clearly remember when I bought one of his works in Hungary and showed it to my father. His first reaction was that Szűcs’s style was so “scientific” that it took mental effort even for a well read and intelligent man like my father to comprehend what the slim volume was all about. I think the title itself is telling: A nemzet historikuma és a történetszemlélet nemzeti látószöge (hozzászólás egy vitához) (History of the nation and the national vision of the view of history, remarks to a debate). His works were appreciated by his colleagues but “in vogue” he was not.

Then there is the problem of dates. Jenő Szűcs died in November 1988, so he couldn’t have written anything twenty or twenty-five years ago. Orbán might conceivably have referenced an article Szűcs wrote in 1980 in the samizdat volume published in honor of István Bibó. The title of the article was “Vázlat Európa három történeti régiójáról.” A year later it also appeared in Történelmi Szemle. But the “Sketch of the three historical regions of Europe” had nothing to do with great centers of the world economy or their peripheries. It was an attempt to portray the region lying between Eastern and Western Europe as a distinct entity that has been different for at least the last thousand years. I for one don’t think that this was a revolutionary discovery, but Hungarian historical circles were impressed.

So, if Jenő Szűcs wasn’t Orbán’s source, who was? Tokfalvi suggests Immanuel Wallerstein, an American Marxist “sociologist, historical social scientist and world-systems analyst.” Apparently in the 1970s Wallerstein was not only translated into Hungarian but very much appreciated by the party leadership. He called the satellite countries “half peripheral” because he saw their centralized planned economic policies as vehicles of true convergence. Thus Wallerstein gave his stamp of approval to the totally mistaken economic policies of the socialist countries. Tokfalvi thinks that Wallerstein is the most likely candidate for Viktor Orbán’s Jenő Szűcs “in vogue.”

Over his career Wallerstein adopted some basic Marxist doctrines: the dichotomy between capital and labor and the view that world economic development is a dialectical process that goes through such stages as feudalism and capitalism. He believes in something called “dependency theory,” which leads straight to the notion that resources flow from a periphery of poor and underdeveloped countries to a “core” of wealthy states, enriching them at the expense of the poor countries. He is one of the leading figures of the anti-globalist movement.

Source: wikipedia.org

Source: wikipedia.org

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Viktor Orbán and his college friends are truly the children of the late Kádár period, together with all its ideological baggage. Orbán, when he espoused Wallerstein’s theories at Tusványos, must have noticed that he was flirting with Marxist clichés and felt compelled to preface this particular passage about “the core and the periphery” with the claim that he is not a “vulgar Marxist.” Even his stress on the value of labor that produces only tangible products is suspect. It might be a less than a perfect understanding of Marx’s labor theory. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if that were the case because I know from personal experience as well as from the stories of others that Hungarian college students didn’t take their compulsory course on “political economy” very seriously.

This discussion will be a good introduction to a book review I have been planning to write on a new book by János Kornai called “Gondolatok a kapitalizmusról” (Thoughts on Capitalism). Included in this volume is an essay entitled “Marx egy kelet-európai értelmiségi szemével” (Marx through the eyes of an Eastern European intellectual.” The very last sub-chapter’s title is “Ami tovább él Marx tanaiból” (What still lives from the teachings of Marx).  Certainly not what Viktor Orbán is talking about.

Advertisements

38 comments

  1. Does it matter? Viktor is a con-artist, shyster, grand fibber. He’s got a smattering of grab-bag ideas which he stitches together to fit his populist nationalism. ‘Examining’ Viktor’s so-called ideas is a trip down a black-hole of distraction.

  2. Here’s something worthy of study: how about someone comparing the cost of governing during Gyurcsany and Orban? Number of advisors; pay of advisors; no. of government officials; pay of govt officials; expense account allowances….etc. etc.

  3. How much does it cost for Hungary to reject the IMF stand-by agreement?

    We can give a rough estimate by observing the spreads for IMF-phil Romania and IMF-phob Hungary

    At this instant, interest rates are at their historical low worldwide, so the difference is small, around 1%.

    5-year CDS spreads
    Romania 2.04%
    Hungary 3.06%, as of July 30th

    10-year government bond rates
    Romania 5.30%
    Hungary 6.47%, as of July 30th

    That would give an extra 50 million euro expense a year for Hungary, provided the interest rates stay this low for a year and Hungary has to roll over around 5 billion euros a year.
    [check the actual number]

    But we can expect a global interest rate increase in the future, so the gap between Hungary and Romania will grow.

  4. Well, he declared in public, that he “did’t fought against the system, but his leaders”, so it isn’t strange a bit, that he using the teachings and methods of the very same political system, what he intimately familiar with.

    Long live the one and only anti-communist bolshevik, comrade Orbán..!

  5. @spectator

    I have to disagree with those who think the Orban system is the same as the Communist system was.

    In methods or aggressiveness, you can find a lot of similarities between Rakosi and Orban.

    But Orban wants to re-privatize things into friendly & familial hands, he is motivated by money or “capitalism”.

    Yes, Rakosi or Kadar lived in houses in nice neighborhoods, but they could not and Kadar definitely did not want to amass fortunes.

    So the tools can be similar, but the goals are different.

    Of course, dictatorship of any sort is always detrimental to a country in the LONG run.
    Lest we forget the Romans of old – they elected a dictator for only six months to tackle a specific problem.

  6. tappanch :
    @spectator
    I have to disagree with those who think the Orban system is the same as the Communist system was.

    Well, Kadar was a better person then Orban. Ok, he was the leader of a puppet government and sold out his country for decades and should have been hanged. True …

    But … Kadar didn’t try to make the life of the less fortunate even harder so the rich can get richer. Also Kadar was no thief.

    Neither Kadar or Orban seem to be a fan of capitalism. Kadar wanted socialism Orban wants feudalism.

  7. Jeno Szucs? thats a funny way for Orban to cover his tracks. I can’t think of anyone more unlike Immanuel Wallerstein. His World Systems theory is very interesting, but he was really more interested in the situation of Africa, East Asia, and South America. Hungary didn’t really fit in his paradigm. Its part of Europe, so its part of the core, albeit a relatively impoverished neighborhood in the core.

  8. There is no disagreement here, none a bit!
    As I see it, while the Kádár – era qualifies for dictatorship, Kádár wasn’t dictator – as opposed to dear Viktor. Now we have a full out dictator without proper dictatorship – yet.

    Above I tried to refer to the methods and the use of theoretical references in his ideological patchwork, sold like “unorthodox” with a generous amount of nationalist bullshit as disguise.
    As the intellectual level of his supporters ensure, this crap goes home wonderfully – Viktor performs better..!

  9. Dear Dr Balogh,
    I hope that we agree that 25 years ago means 1988. You point out that Szucs died that year so he couldn’t haue written anything.
    But Szucs wrote from the grave a volume published in Szeged ‘A magyar nemzeti tudat kialakulasa’ in 1992 just 21 years ago

  10. Dear Some1,
    On state capitalism

    GDP % State Expenditure

    Iran 87.3
    Slovakia 66.2
    Romania 65.5
    France 66.1
    Hungary 59.1
    Czech 58.8
    Sweden 58.1
    Denmark 58.1
    Iceland 58.1

  11. May I respectfully disagree with this post, except of course for Orbán’s gaffe?

    Firstly, two of Szűcs’ texts, the Three Europes (let’s shorten the title) and parts of Nation and History (idem) had been translated in France and West Germany between 1981 an 1986, and by the end of the decade they certainly were en vogue there – and are still regularly quoted by continental European historians and political scientists.

    I have also little doubt that he was en vogue among certain students and academic circles in Hungary. For a medievalist he was, yet pretty much aware of what impact his reflexions could have on current political issues.

    Second, in the Three Europes, Szűcs explicitly refers on several occasions to Wallerstein’s centre-semiperipheral-peripheral model. But only as a conceptual model, certainly not in the economic field, certainly not in terms of domination. That’s the big gaffe. It’s as if someone was presenting a philosopher as Max Planck because he referred to the quantum theory (note than in my opinion, Wallenstein is far from being Planck).

    Last but not least, and I’ll second Petofi1 here this is another example of the man’s chutzpah, the very idea of Orbán paraphrasing Szűcs is grotesque. Actually, Szűcs referred to Wallerstein’s model to give a geog-historical view of the the rise of the Western world in the pre-modern era. To simplify, Hungary became part of the semi-peripheral zone not because it was doomed nor dominated, not because the ideals of the West didn’t develop but because of the resistance of, among others, its aristocracy.

    Few Hungarian scholars spent more time and energy developing material to anchor Hungary to the West, and advocating civil society and change from the bottom, not the top-down, than Szűcs (and Bibó). The opposite of Fidesz ideology.

  12. In a way it’s funny – but really sad:

    All the neighbouring countries try to be “more European”, but Fidesz Hungary wants to disassociate itself from “Decadent Western Europe” – whatever that means.

    I remember very well how Slovenians proudly told me that Slovenia was considered to be “the Switzerland of the Balkan” and also those Croat IT people and bankers that I was in contact with when I did some work for a German bank in Zagreb – they all spoke fluent English and some German at least and were very proud of their old connection to Venice …

    But Orbán wants Hungary to look to the East ???

    At the same time he and his minions talk about “Christian family values” from two hundred years ago – do they find these in the East too ?

    Their “philosophy” is really a very strange mixture of crazy ideas – now even Marx is included …

  13. Even the US government manipulates the data:

    The US gov’t changed the way it calculates the GDP yesterday. It resulted in an instant jump of 3% in the GDP and a smaller debt/GDP number.

    http://blog.bea.gov/2013/07/23/gdp_changes/

    —————–

    This is why Slovaks and Romanian breathe easier – their government is less suffocating:

    Government expenditure as % of GDP, 2012

    Hungary 48.6%

    Slovakia 37.4%
    Romania 36.4%

    Source: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do?dvsc=9

  14. Even the US government manipulates the data:

    The US gov’t changed the way it calculates the GDP yesterday. It resulted in an instant jump of 3% in the GDP and a smaller debt/GDP number.

    http://blog.bea.gov/2013/07/23/gdp_changes/

    —————–

    This is why Slovaks and Romanian breathe easier – their government is less suffocating:

    Government expenditure as % of GDP, 2012

    Hungary 48.6%

    Slovakia 37.4%
    Romania 36.4%

    Source: http://appsso.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/nui/submitViewTableAction.do?dvsc=9

    tappanch

  15. @tappanch
    “Lest we forget the Romans of old – they elected a dictator for only six months to tackle a specific problem.”

    And human nature transformed the temporary dictatorship into a permanent one.

  16. Obviously Tappanch’s figures don’t agree with Pok’s figures – but Pok in typical troll-style doesn’t give a source, of course …

    Well at least he (she ?) is a funny creature unlike Johnny or Simon – now we wait with bated breath for new figures which will prove us wrong and show again the obvious superiority of the Fidesz way of government …

  17. Po’K :

    Dear Dr Balogh,
    I hope that we agree that 25 years ago means 1988. You point out that Szucs died that year so he couldn’t haue written anything.
    But Szucs wrote from the grave a volume published in Szeged ‘A magyar nemzeti tudat kialakulasa’ in 1992 just 21 years ago

    You want to say that he actually wrote this volume after his death? Perhaps you should have mentioned that this collection of essays was edited by István Zombori. In brief it was a volume of collected essays, some published, some unpublished but written naturally before 1988. Let’s not start that kind of nonsensical and ridiculous nitpicking.

  18. Po’K’s source is indeed phony (some blogger who didn’t realize he was aggregating different indicators).

    OECD’s data is slightly different than Eurostat’s (the latest is for year 2009, see ‘Government at a glance 2011’), and you won’t find figures for Romania, but it’s fairly coherent with the Eurostat figures the same year. No way Hungary can be above Denmark or Sweden, or under Slovakia, or so close to the Czech Republic.

    However I assume the point was to have us notice that actually, in a lot of ‘free economies’, government spending is much higher than in, say, China (23% of GDP 2009 / OECD).

    If I’m correct, then I’d just like to remind Po’K than since a huge part of Govt spending in Europe has to do with infrastructure, regulation, redistribution and social protection systems, it has little to do with what is called ‘state capitalism’.

  19. Eva S. Balogh :

    Po’K :
    Dear Dr Balogh,
    I hope that we agree that 25 years ago means 1988. You point out that Szucs died that year so he couldn’t haue written anything.
    But Szucs wrote from the grave a volume published in Szeged ‘A magyar nemzeti tudat kialakulasa’ in 1992 just 21 years ago

    You want to say that he actually wrote this volume after his death? Perhaps you should have mentioned that this collection of essays was edited by István Zombori. In brief it was a volume of collected essays, some published, some unpublished but written naturally before 1988. Let’s not start that kind of nonsensical and ridiculous nitpicking.

    I hate to interfere, then again… Szűcs’ Three Europes was translated in Czech and in Polish in the early 90s, another reason why that part of OV’s remark is in my opinion quite acceptable. But that’s the only part that is. 🙂

    His little true/false paraphrase is actually – at least in my opinion – a sign that OV has betrayed the ideals of his youth. And not for realpolitik, but for an old Hungarian passion.

  20. Dear Tappanch, Wolfi, and Marcel,
    Thank you for your criticisms. I prefer booze to cheers.
    I have a concern to construct a mindset that would interest a bystander….to provide independent numerical evaluations. I am without a Self; yours for the taking.
    Now one strand is that the Hungarian economy is headed for the rocks Then convince me. On measures of trade balance, budget deficit Hungary fits in with other EU countries. A time series would show a trend whose explanation would be ‘open’.
    512 out of space

  21. Next there is a claim that Mr Orban is a dictator, whatever that means as P. Charles said.
    So numbers please in an international context: political assassinations, death squads, disaparados, torture, censorship etc etc
    like
    2011 index of economic freedom
    Wall Street Journal Heritage Foundation

    18 Sweden
    19 Germany
    25 Austria

    48 Hungary
    83 Italy

    137 China

    168 Iran

    177 North Korea

  22. Po’K :
    Dear Tappanch, Wolfi, and Marcel,
    Thank you for your criticisms. I prefer booze to cheers.
    I have a concern to construct a mindset that would interest a bystander….to provide independent numerical evaluations. I am without a Self; yours for the taking.
    Now one strand is that the Hungarian economy is headed for the rocks Then convince me. On measures of trade balance, budget deficit Hungary fits in with other EU countries. A time series would show a trend whose explanation would be ‘open’.
    512 out of space

    This makes zero sense.

    Are you a trial version of some kind of software?

  23. @Po’K:

    The subject is the theoretical sources for OV’s thinking and his vision for the future of the country’s economy. Eastern, Western… Some1 evoked a Chinese model, you retorted with figures that were 1) of dubious origin and 2) not pertinent anyway.

    Now, do you have any follow-up on the matter?

    Whataboutery will get you nowhere, except in Troll limbo. The subject wasn’t whether the Hungarian economy is doing fine, or whether OV is a dictator. In case you didn’t notice, this isn’t a Pro-Fidesz blog, so devil’s advocates absolutely have to stick to the point.

    PS: otherwise you’re still free to register the domain names orbanviktorisnotadictator.com and hungarianeconomyisdoingbettereveryday.com .

  24. Dear Dr Balogh,
    With all due respect I agree with Marcel De on “in vogue”.
    In 1989 Mr Orban was with Zbigniew Pelczynski; did he leave any impressions of his pupil ?
    As for an electioneering speech delivered in the hot sun…
    The phrase ‘twenty five’ years could have referred to the buzz after the posthumous publication in 1992 or…he could have made a mistake ?
    thank you

  25. I think it works the other way round. Orban has preexisting ideas (which must suit his crazy economic and political agendas, which I contend are simply power related, ie. how can he keep his power the longest) to which he looks for sources or rather his coterie of ideologists (advisors) supply “names” from time to time.

    Now they found (or not) Szűcs. It is an interesting trivia, and Tokfalvi is smart, but Orban was never consistent, never followed any clear ideology (which is part of the reason why he kept power). so not much news here.

    After all he is a supposed conservative actually unlike anybody in Europe (a couple of years ago Fidesz likened itself to the French MP, certainly not CDU or even CSU), perhaps except for Putin’s party.

    Tusnadfurdo is an inconsistent mess theory-wise, but those who attend get exactly that they look for and that is why they return next year.

  26. Dear Marcel De,
    Thanks for the coaching.
    But I did read
    tappanch July31 6:43pm
    “dictatorship of any sort”

    and
    Spectator Aug 12:46
    “Now we have a full out dictator, without a proper dictatorship”

  27. Sorgumatus :
    After all he is a supposed conservative actually unlike anybody in Europe (a couple of years ago Fidesz likened itself to the French MP, certainly not CDU or even CSU), perhaps except for Putin’s party.
    Tusnadfurdo is an inconsistent mess theory-wise, but those who attend get exactly that they look for and that is why they return next year.

    Do you mean the French UMP? Actually this party under Sarkozy’s direction and then mandate went through an ideological conundrum it is still struggling with. Its ‘liberal’ (or ‘orleanist’) wing is quite unhappy with the ‘bonapartist’ wing taking over and drifting to the right closer to the Front National.

    In the meantime, the FN has adopted a seemingly ‘progressive’ (as opposed to reactionary) nationalist stance on values, while promoting a dirigist, protectionist, anti-globalization economic agenda.

    Should Le Pen’s daughter definitely get rid of her father’s old fashioned comrades (like those who attend Jobbik rallies), I think Front National could become a match for Fidesz.

  28. @Po’K You disappoint. You just gave yourself away … I expected more from you.

    There are hundreds of posts in this blog that will explain you why Orban is dictator and why the economy is swirling down the toilet. It will take a while to read them on your Fidesz issue, Flinstone are smart phone … By the way try using a different browser. There are better browsers then Opera Mini.

    One thing is interesting though, which is not only a troll strategy. Claiming that all good because the trade balance and the budget deficit is OK. These guys just can’t realize that this whole “government thing” is about making their compatriot’s life bearable. For them it is reaching the 3% budget deficit. 4 million struggling to make ends meet is nothing. Trade balance is all right, they don’t care if you have to bring your own toilet paper to the hospital.

    Go ahead Po’K. Look into the mirror. You are winning … Like Charlie Sheen.

  29. Mutt: “These guys just can’t realize that this whole “government thing” is about making their compatriot’s life bearable. For them it is reaching the 3% budget deficit. 4 million struggling to make ends meet is nothing. Trade balance is all right, they don’t care if you have to bring your own toilet paper to the hospital.”

    Well said. The Orban government has severely impoverished the majority of the population in order to avoid excess budget deficit that would cost the Fidesz mafia the EU-money.

  30. … and it did so by actually trying to install “state capitalism” (or state feudalism – quite unorthodox but in some way “proof” of the “inventive spirit” of Hungarians)

  31. @ Po’K:
    as Marcel Dé (@MarcelD10) pointed out in #24 “Some1 evoked a Chinese model, you retorted with figures that were 1) of dubious origin and 2) not pertinent anyway.”
    Since you indicated with some irrelevant numbers that you have something to say about my suggestion that Hungary is following the model of state capitalism, can you expend with some comprehensive figures, data, or text if you are in support or if you are against this observation.
    Thanks.

  32. One of you rightly pointed out a couple of months ago a highly controversed op-Ed piece in Le Monde whose author compared Orbán with De Gaulle.

    Now the ‘Eastern Europe’ editor for the French weekly Marianne published a weird double-page piece titled: ‘Hungary, the country that destroyed the Left’. Marianne is overall left-of-center, but the author is the former correspondent in Prague for the daily Libération, which was then at the far left. As you’ll see, it doesn’t get old.

    The piece is obviously adressed to readers with a strong leftist sensibility. The usual boxed texts disapproving of the Horthy-Mania etc. are well in place – but the main article is in fact a charge against… The Hungarian opposition, íe MSZP, Gyurcsány and Bajnai. Basically accused to be a bunch of oligarchs ‘pledged to Brussels, that is to say Washington’.

    At first I thought the journalist had inadvertently copy-pasted the latest Fidesz PR kit, but I’m afraid it’s something different. It’s an amazing revival of the sadly famous quote by German communist Ernst Thälmann in the early 30s, “we mustn’t miss the social-democratic forest for the nazi tree*”.

    With Orbán now referring to Wallerstein – who has many fans in World Social Forums – I guess it’s only a matter of a little less hortyculture before the Western far-left jumps on the Felcsút hero’s bandwagon. O tempora, O mores…

    (*) “Und doch gibt es solche Stimmungen, die vor den nationalsozialistischen Bäumen den sozialdemokratischen wald nicht sehen wollen”.

  33. Marcel: sorry, yes, UMP. Even Fidesz realized that they are unlike any ‘normal’ conservative party, especially as the economy was concerned, so they found UMP, but they (I think it was Áder or Szájer, about 3-4 years ago, just before the 2010 elections) only said that Fidesz has the most (whatever that means in absolute terms in practice) in common with UMP.

  34. E C O N O M I C S
    I doubt we can trace a straight line between the grand theories of Szucs/Wallerstein and Barclays comment on Hungary’s exiting after nine years EU monitoring:
    “This a major accomplishment of the Fidesz government”

    P O L I T I C S
    (clustered from Freedom House, Democracy Audit, Global Democracy Ranking, CPI, Yale Law School, Democracy Index etc)
    Press Freedom
    FREE Poland Slovakia Czech
    PARTLY FREE Hungary Romania Bulgaria Croatia
    Serbia
    In ranking Hungary comes about 40 in the world

  35. Dear Marcel De,
    The idea of the Hungarian opposition moving to support globalism popped up in Velemenyvezer with voter registration…my second set of figures better ?

Comments are closed.