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Left Turn, Right Turn – Artistic and Political Radicalism of Late Socialism in Hungary: The Orfeo and the Inconnu Groups

Kristóf Nagy (Central European University, Budapest/Vienna), Márton Szarvas (Central European University, Budapest/Vienna)

Kontradikce. Časopis pro kritické myšlení V, č. 2 (2021): 57–85

Keywords: sociology of intellectuals, sociology of culture, cultural politics and policy, social movements, post-socialism, left history, politics of dissent, art, 1968, transition

This paper compares and contrasts two of the few radical political artistic groups of late socialism in Hungary. Through an analysis of the Orfeo and Inconnu groups we highlight their patterns of politicization and de-politicization to show that the critique of existing socialism was not free floating but was embedded in social structures. By going against the current of individualizing and moralizing artistic biographies, we give a historical materialist account of the two groups. Firstly, the paper shows how the anti-systemic mobilization of the two groups was conditioned by changes in Hungary’s world-economic integration and the subsequent restructuration of its field of cultural production. Secondly, it analyzes the tension between two groups’ critique of the oppressive nature of state-socialism and their politics of everyday life, by paying special attention to their uneven gender-relations. The analysis places the political ideas of the two groups not only in the changing landscape of late-socialist dissent, but we link them to class positions and social biographies. The article also highlights how radical, left-leaning criticisms of the state-socialist regime were co-opted into the competing liberal and nationalist cultural-political-economic complexes of the post-socialist order, and how the ways of incorporation were the products of individual but socially situated biographies of the intellectual actors. By combining class analysis and comparative historical research with a sociology of culture and intellectuals, this article draws attention to the role of determinate and contingent historical processes in the formation of anti-systemic mobilizations in late-socialist Hungary. 

doi: 10.46957/con.2021.2.4

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