Pioneers’ Spirit

Politicians who want to improve life for young people should look to the Hungarian example

by Zsuzsanna Clark

The Guardian, Sunday 25 February 2007

Twenty million Scouts around the world last week marked Founder’s Day, and with it the 100th anniversary of the Scout movement. Their celebrations offer a powerful reminder of the ability of youth movements to bring young people together in a spirit of friendship and solidarity – qualities that have become all too rare in modern Britain. “Isn’t there more we can do to enable young people to come together and give service to their country?” asks David Cameron. Well yes, David, there is, and we did it in “backward” socialist Hungary more than 30 years ago.

Unlike those brought up in Margaret Thatcher’s devil-take-the-hindmost Britain, I was fortunate to be raised in a society where solidarity and togetherness were officially encouraged from an early age. The Pioneer movement, of which I was a member, was not about indoctrinating young people with the tenets of Marxist-Leninism, as many believe, but engendering a sense of community among the nation’s youth.

Many of the Pioneers’ activities were similar to the Scouts’, but the values were more collective and they involved all children and teenagers in the country, not just a minority. Pioneer membership was an integral part of school life, not just in Hungary, but throughout the socialist bloc.

Young Pioneers pin; inscribed “Always Ready.”

Our motto as Pioneers was Together for Each Other. It was not an empty slogan: it was how we were encouraged to think. Being a Pioneer meant taking special care of the weak and vulnerable. We helped the elderly with their shopping and cleaning; we chopped up firewood for them and carried their coal in and out from the cellar. There were competitions, too: for collecting waste paper and waste metal, for sports activities and for other acts of good citizenship. But, reflecting the collective ethos of the movement, the prizes were nearly always for groups, not for individuals.

Each class had different duties which were rotated week by week. When we were on cleaning duty we had to go to school half an hour earlier and sweep the pavement outside the school. But no one ever seemed to mind: we carried out our tasks willingly.

The highlight of our year as Pioneers was our annual excursion. Every class went to the country for two or three days. When I was 13 I spent two weeks at Csilleberc, a camp near Budapest, with other Pioneers from all over Hungary. We travelled there on the famous Pioneer railway in Budapest. Opened in 1948, the railway was, with the exception of the drivers, staffed entirely by children and connected the previously inaccessible Buda Hills. The children worked the signals, changed the points and sold tickets. At Pioneer camp, we shared both tents and duties – just as it was at home, except we didn’t know each other as well. But by working and socialising together we soon made friends. Rabid anti-communists and adherents of the view that “there is no such thing as society” will no doubt sneer at what I have just described, but the Pioneer movement did create a real feeling of togetherness. Hungarians of my generation almost all look back at their Pioneer days with great affection, regardless of their views on other aspects of the socialist system.

“If we are unable to ensure young people the opportunities for positive, creative deeds, then in some cases a gang will serve this purpose instead.” So warned Gyorgy Aczel, Hungary’s minister of culture in the 1970s. When I compare my childhood to the atomised lives of so many young people in Britain today, one in which violent and antisocial gang culture seems ever more to predominate, I believe Aczel’s words to be as relevant as ever.

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Goulash and Solidarity

Zsuzsanna Clark compares growing up in communist Hungary with life there, and in Britain, today

Saturday 2 November 2002
The Guardian

When people ask me what it was like growing up in Hungary in the 1970s and 80s, most expect to hear tales of secret police, bread queues and other nasty manifestations of life in a one-party state. They are invariably disappointed when I tell them that the reality was quite different and that communist Hungary, far from being hell on earth, was in fact rather a good place to live.Victor Orban, the recently defeated rightwing Hungarian prime minister, described my generation – those whose fate was sealed by the “failure” of the 1956 uprising – as “the lost generation”.

But Hungarians like myself, who grew up in the years of “goulash communism”, were actually the lucky ones. The shockwaves of 1956 bought home to the communist leadership that they could only consolidate their position by making our lives more tolerable. Stalinism was out and “Kadarism” – a unique brand of liberal communism (named after its architect, Janos Kadar) from which Mikhail Gorbachev would later draw inspiration for perestroika – was in.

Instead of a list of achievements in health, education, transport and welfare, let me offer some personal observations on what living under goulash communism was really like.

What I remember most was the overriding sense of community and solidarity, a spirit I find totally lacking in my adopted Britain and indeed whenever I go back to Hungary today. With minimal differences in income and material goods, people really were judged on what they were like as individuals and not on what they owned.

Western liberals may sneer at such movements as the Young Pioneers, which sought to involve young people in a wide range of community activities, but they reflected an ambition to build a cohesive society – in contrast to the atomisation of most “advanced” nations today. I was proud to be a Pioneer; contrary to popular belief, we did not spend all our time sitting round campfires singing songs in praise of Lenin, but instead learned valuable life skills in social interraction and building friendships.

I was also privileged to be bought up in a society where the government understood the value of education and culture. Before the war, in the Hungary idolised by snobbish, reactionary writers like Sandor Marai, secondary education was the preserve of the wealthy classes. My mother and father had to leave school at 11; under the Kadar regime, they were given a second chance to resume their studies as adults. Communism opened up new opportunities for people of my background and led to a huge increase in social mobility.

A corollary of the government’s education policy was its commitment to the arts. Again, the emphasis was on bringing the maximum benefit to the largest number of people, and not just the wealthy in Budapest. Theatres, opera houses and concert halls were all heavily subsidised, bringing prices down to a level everyone could afford. The government opened up “cultural houses” in every town and village, so that provincially based working class people, like my parents, could have easy access to the arts.

Book publishing was similarly supported, so that prices remained low and bookshops proliferated. With 1 forint (1.5p) editions of a wide range of classic works available, reading became a national obsession. For those who believe a rigorous censorship existed, I can tell you that among the most popular published foreign writers were PG Wodehouse, Aldous Huxley and W Somerset Maugham, hardly Marxian propagandists.

Now, 13 years after “regime change”, much of this cultural heritage has been destroyed. Museums, theatres and galleries have had to sink or swim in the new economic “realism”. As ticket subsidies have been withdrawn, once again it is only the rich (and German tourists) who can afford to go to the opera. Hundreds of smaller art cinemas have been forced to close, while the big Hollywood multiplexes move in. Television has dramatically dumbed down, too. When I was a teenager, Saturday night prime time meant a Jules Verne adventure, a poetry recital and a Chekhov drama; now it means the same dreary diet of game shows and American action movies as in Britain.

Reform politicans sarcastically refer to Kadar’s “velvet prison”, yet they have surely created a prison of their own, where large sections of the population have been sold to the foreign-owned multinationals, which control 70% of the nation’s production and threaten to pull out of the country if wages or workers’ rights are improved. My best friend’s husband works for such a company, and tells how visits to the toilet are strictly timed and taking a full lunch break is seen as showing lack of commitment to the firm. It’s all a far cry from the paternalistic state-owned companies of 20 years ago, with their nurseries, subsidised canteens, holiday homes and free sports facilities.

Communism in Hungary certainly had a downside. While trips to other socialist countries were unrestricted, travel to the west was problematic and only allowed every second year. Few Hungarians (myself included) enjoyed the compulsory Russian lessons. There were petty restrictions and needless layers of bureaucracy and, of course, we were living in a one-party system where freedom to criticise the government was limited. Yet despite all of this, I firmly believe that, taken as a whole, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Today Hungarians have the theoretical right to travel to the west whenever they like, yet the fall in real wages has been so dramatic that few of them can now afford even to go to Lake Balaton. The “patriotic” politicans who shouted so loudly about Hungary’s “occupation” by a foreign power under communism, are now strangely silent when the country is effectively controlled by New York financial institutions and unelected bureaucrats in Brussels.

As a young adult in Hungary, I grew accustomed to a diet of news stories about the “imperialist” west and its wicked plans for global domination and control of the world’s resources. We were all aware that this was the official party line and so its effectiveness as propaganda was limited.

Now, more than 10 years on, with the US (and Germany) having connived in the breakup of Yugoslavia, colonised Afghanistan and now planning to invade Iraq for control of the world’s oil supply, it is surely obvious that what we were told about western intentions was true.

I have seen both communist and western news management and know which is the more devious – and therefore the more effective. I witnessed the way media manipulation works in the “free world”, when we were told the Stop the War march I went on in London recently was attended by just 150,000 people and in the dismissive coverage Britain’s biggest-ever peace demonstration was given in most newspapers.

Education, or rather the denial of it, is the key to all attempts at social control. Gorbachev said that education, in his view the greatest achievement of 70 years of communism, also paradoxically helped bring about its downfall. Put simply, the communist regimes educated their people to such an extent that they developed the critical faculty to challenge, and eventually overthrew the system. After three years of living in Britain, I see no danger of that happening here.

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Western Leaders Fear-Monger to Mobilize Support for Air-Strikes on Syria

Originally posted on what's left:

By Stephen Gowans

One of the roles of leading politicians and top officials of the state is to enlist public support for policies which serve the goals of the upper stratum of the population from whose ranks they sometimes come and whose interests they almost invariably promote. When these policies are at odds with the interests of the majority, as they often are, the mobilization of public consent is possible only through deception. The deception is carried out through prevarication, equivocation, and fear-mongering, crystallized into misleading narratives which the mass media can be reliably counted on to amplify. So it is that Western officials have ramped up a campaign of deception to provide a pretext for military intervention in Syria to combat ISIS but which may very well serve as a Trojan horse to escalate the war on the Syrian government.

The foundations of the campaign were laid in March…

View original 1,185 more words

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Washington Rules

In the mid to late nineties there was apparently leaked a list of “Washington Rules” as a training tool for new staff members in Congress. These rules, if applied, were sure to lead one on to a successful career in politics (and later in business). A similar list of rules are undoubtedly still circulating the “Hill.”

  • If it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth fighting dirty for.
  • Don’t lie, cheat or steal unnecessarily.
  • There’s always one more son of a bitch than you counted on.
  • An honest answer can get you in a whole lot of trouble.
  • The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.
  • Chicken Little only has to be right once.
  • “No” is only an interim response.
  • You can’t kill a bad idea.
  • If at first you don’t succeed, kill all evidence that you ever tried.
  • The truth is a variable.
  • A porcupine with his quills down is just another fat rodent.
  • You can agree with any concept or notional future option, in principle, but fight implementation every step of the way.
  • A promise is not a guarantee.
  • If you can’t counter the argument, leave the meeting.

Source: Covert Action Quarterly, Summer 1997, Number 61, “Covert Briefs”

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Profile of an Ultra Right-Wing “Libertarian”

The following is a comment I found on Alex Jones’ Info Wars website. It provides a good profile of far right-wing American libertarians who at times attempt to present themselves as populists, but are in fact off the charts ultra-conservative psychos. These are the “gun nuts” and the new world order conspiracy theorists. I have outlined in red certain words and phrases that are quite revealing signs of an ultra right-winger. Whenever you encounter two or three, or more, of these themes you will know that you are dealing with a bona fide fascist. The following example is pretty obvious since he or she uses practically all of the far right themes as well as being quite explicit in message. Others won’t be quite this obvious, especially if you are speaking with them face to face. They will probably be much more calm and polite, and use some populist and fairly progressive language, but if you keep them talking long enough these themes, or memes, will start to leak out. Behold the craziness:

“The fbi are the masters of terror domestically, second only to the cia internationally, the Department of Human Sacrifice* are the new kids on the block – but with much more control into every aspect of We, the People‘s lives. Race War is their ultimate goal to get the unstoppable ball rolling for complete takeover. The time grows nigh. Their plans are terror – to wage a war of terror on US soil. Ferguson is the beginning. The evil satanic powers that be will now begin their reign of terror. Prepare accordingly. They are bringing in their black jungle muscle from all over the country. LE* is being used by dhSTASI*, the fbi and doj* to divide and try and conquer. LE, you had better realize just who your enemies are. It sure as heck AINT your fellow citizen. dhSTASI and the child rapists that control DC and the federal agencies are your enemy, they are our enemy – you, LEO’s* are being played and set up, you will be cannon fodder…”

* LE/O = law enforcement/officer; doj = dept. of justice; dept. of human sacrifice/dhSTASI = dept. of homeland security – PC

Here is my quick and dirty analysis of LoneWolf’s message who no doubt considers himself a “libertarian”:

1) Using the phrase “We, the People” – straight from the U.S. constitution. (Conservatives consider this to literally be a sacred document.) Leftists (not fake leftists or liberals) would use terms like, “the people,” “the masses,” “the workers,” or “proletarians.”

2) The writer invokes the supernatural and religion, and not as a metaphor. The ruling elite is generally described as not only evil (which they clearly are), but as “demonic” or “satanic.”

3) Libertarians seem to deny or else are actually truly baffled by the concept of socioeconomic classes and a struggle between classes. In their view, some rich people are good. Of course, there are exceptions that prove the rule, but most rich people in the sense especially of the power elites who sit on corporate boards and in government are bad guys because of their socioeconomic class position; their wealth is the proof of their wickedness. At any rate, wicked or not (as you like), they clearly use their tremendous wealth to dominate and enslave the rest of us. Libertarians have no real problem with this because they are mostly upper middle class and identify with and benefit from class privilege.

4) Libertarians often reveal their racism in things they say; not necessarily overtly racist slurs, but little things here and there, such as codewords, that will reveal their obsession with “differences” between races and their denunciation of things that are “politically correct” – in other words, basic politeness for the most part. The vast majority of libertarians happen to be white and benefit from their white privilege.

5) Right-wing libertarians are obsessed with conspiracy theories that are completely divorced from reality as well as from a class perspective. These conspiracies are based on jingoism or nationalism and even primitive tribalism and, of course, superstition. In these conspiracies the power of the scheming elites is overwhelming and absolute yet they have been working toward total domination for some time and have yet to accomplish it. In reality, the “takeover” happened a long, long time ago, but that doesn’t mean, even though they (the ruling class) are quite powerful, that they can’t be overthrown.

6) Of course, virulent anti-communism is a mainstay of right-wing “populists” or libertarians. The writer rants about “dhSTASI.” Libertarians constantly scream invective against what they call “collectivism.”

7) Conservatives obsess over horrible things and spend an excessive amount of time and energy worrying about child molesters, muggers, burglars, rapists and violent crimes of all types against themselves, their immediate family or their property. They do not AT ALL concern themselves with their conception of a “legitimate” use of massive state terror to subjugate racial minorities and foreigners who “hate us for our freedom.”

8) These folks are hyper-individualists and “survivalists.” The writer above signs his name as “LoneWolf.” This is a term that signifies a terrorist or resistance fighter who fights alone.

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