ESR 1 Blog March 2021: Gabor Erlich


A month has passed since my first entry here, a rather dense one, really. Far, far away from the village in Hungary, I am now in Birmingham, writing this from the apartment I’ll be calling home for the next six months. I will not get into details about what it takes to move countries in the middle of the current situation, best described as an ugly long drink that gives you the worst interminable hangover (co.BREX/vid); neither will I tell you why this is the seventh time I moved within the last seven months; instead I share my excitement about being able to settle and dedicate my attention to the research, full blast. Sliding back to daily routines of productivity (even establishing new parts of the routines) tickles my brain. That, coupled with the rumours being whispered that the University library is soon to be reopened, it is safe to say that I feel I’ve arrived.

On my way here I was listening to a podcast where the acclaimed Hungarian researcher Márk Áron Éber[1] was discussing the local semi-peripheral contexts of one of today’s most talked-about phenomena, the Professional Managerial Class (PMO). He recently translated Barbara and John Ehrenreich’s foundational essays[2] into Hungarian and published edited versions of them in the journal Eszmélet[3] with a foreword that is actually the most interesting part for me, in which Márk draws the historical context of the issue at hand, focusing on the semi-peripheral region of the ‘post-socialist’ Central Eastern Europe (CEE). The fact that the PMOs in the CEE region are vastly different than those in the ‘core countries’[4] is a critical distinction, although not surprising, distinction to make. The more fascinating point Éber’s study reveals is that this differentiation has been present, clear, and articulate from the onset of the discussion- yet another confirmation of how the compradors of Western-supremacy, and their constant chorus of ‘catching-up’, is terribly wrong. One core distinction: in the former Soviet-bloc, the PMO was always part of state institutions (employed by the state), which is evident if we consider the very nature of that system; while in the core countries the PMOs are employed by private capital. One of Éber’s core sources is an infamous[5] book written by two Hungarian authors in 1973-74: The Intellectuals on the Road to Class Power[6], a Leftist critique of the so-called communist system, with the crucial claim that the communist system failed to carry out the redistribution of the means of production for all the people. Rather it channeled them under state ownership; and therefore, Konrád and Szelényi use the term ‘state-socialism’ to describe its character.

The reason I am talking about this at length is that, as you may have figured out from my first post, I am come from the working class in Hungary, but since I am talking to you on this very platform, I am, for sure, no longer one of it. (Talking about social mobility, some background info: my grandparents only had very basic education, ‘four grades’, meaning they joined the ‘labor market’ at their age of 11; both my parents though managed to finish high school, so did my brother; and I am still in the process. These roads of social mobility are narrowing if not even closing down for many in Hungary nowadays Hungary)[7].  It is, therefore, a vital issue that I am always aware of my class position so that I do not fall into the troubling deep well of the PMOs, which are often rightfully criticized for using the working class as a shield under which their class interests are actually not only different but sometimes even in conflict with the working class.

It is, I believe, even more significant when one is scrutinizing socially engaged artistic practices. The recurring questions of representation and the right of the artist/activist/researcher to talk in the name of a certain socio-political group, or class are impossible to avoid in a thoroughly embedded/engaged practice (work, project, etc.). You will get to see my attempts to address such issues along the way.

I think I will use the opportunity of this blog to share and briefly discuss the work of scholars and artists from my region, work that I have been learning from and referencing in the dissertation. There is a vivid scene of radical thinkers around covering an exceptionally wide field of studies; and all worthy of a little more publicity. (The order of this does not represent a ranking in how important I think they are, I will just include the ones that are producing knowledge on the issues I will be grappling with.)

On a less personal level, I hope you had the chance to catch the two public lectures organized by the FEINART project. The first one was delivered by my director of studies Prof. John Roberts and can be understood as the official theoretical launch of the platform, and the second was by an artist/activist/scholar Gregory Sholette. You can find links to the recorded presentations here on this site, go check them out if you missed the live events.

Now I need to go and catch some royal sunshine.

[1] Márk Áron Éber is an assistant professor at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest (Dept. of Sociology, Institute of Sociology), you can find a collection of his publications (in English and Hungarian) here:árkÉber

[2] Ehrenreich, Barbara – Ehrenreich, John 1977: The Professional-Managerial Class. Radical America, 11 (2), 7-31. & The New Left: A Case Study in Professional-Managerial Class Radicalism. Radical America, 11 (3), 7-22.


[4] (this is just the first briefing, I will be talking about this in (more) depth all along the process, so be prepared for more specific literature to come!)

[5] As the authors were certain from the beginning of their collaboration, they were expelled from Hungary by the state as a result of their work.

[6] György Konrád and Iván Szelényi (New York, 1979), originally in Hungarian: Az értelmiség útja az osztályhatalomhoz.


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