New publication by Susan Zimmermann in European Review of History: Revue européenne d'histoire

December 21, 2017

The agrarian working class put somewhat centre stage: an often neglected group of workers in the historiography of labour in state-socialist Hungary

This study discusses a body of scholarship which is little-known internationally, written in Hungary in the period between 1949 and 1989: the historiography on agrarian labour from the eighteenth century to the Second World War. This historiography was conceptually inclusive in that it explored the history of many groups of agrarian workers, the varied types of labour in which they were involved, including long-term contracts, day and servant labour, seasonal migration and non-agricultural forms of labour, the role of agrarian labour in socio-economic development, and the political movement of ‘agrarian socialism’. This historiography for a large part remained embedded in three adjacent research clusters: peasant studies, local and regional history, and the history of the labour movement. This study argues that scholarly approaches and interests, and institutional framings specific to each of these clusters, were of key importance in generating the extensive scholarship that is reviewed. The fact that Hungary had been a dominantly agrarian country before 1945, the Leninist vision of the ‘alliance of the workers and the peasants’ that was to bring about socialism in Eastern Europe and the state-condoned interest in the history of the labour movement and labour more generally were other important factors conducive to, and to various degrees putting their stamp on, this research. Given its findings within a Marxian or classical social-history framing, and its focus on an often neglected group of workers, the historiography on agrarian labour written in state-socialist Hungary deserves to be integrated into the historiographical canon. This study discusses this scholarship against the backdrop of present-day global labour history. In pointing to some of its area-, time- and context-specific characteristics, the study aims to contribute to a global dialogue in labour history that is sensitive to and critically appreciative of different historiographical trajectories and traditions across world regions.