Politics in Color and Concrete: Socialist Materialities and the Middle Class in Hungary

By Krisztina Fehérváry | Go to book overview

4 Socialist Generic and the
Branding of State Socialism

IN THE 1960s, economic reforms injected color, diversity, and forms of abundance into a commercial sphere that had been relatively sparse in the 1950s. The Kádár regime placed new emphasis on quality of life, including the provision of more consumer goods, leisure activities, and forms of entertainment. The department store Luxus opened in Budapest and catered to the segment of the population that wanted and could afford the higher quality and more expensive clothing it offered. At the same time, a chain of new self-service stores appeared, playfully called “ABC” (standing for all the letters in the alphabet) that offered consumers a wide variety of things under one roof and allowed them to access goods without going through a salesclerk. The first state-run warehouse for new furniture opened in Budapest in 1974, called Domus after the Italian design academy (Vadas 1992:183) and in 1976 a new department store chain called Skála opened its glass-clad flagship store in Budapest to great fanfare. The Skála was different from existing department stores in that its wares were supplied by new and more independent cooperative workshops (szövetkezet), making for more diverse offerings than previously possible through central planning channels. The Dunaújváros branch of the Skála was housed in a large, windowless set of cubes in a sienna orange. Statesponsored commercial media expanded, including the use of neon signs and television advertising; so did apolitical print media, such as magazines for car aficionados, fisherman, and photographers, as well as for cooking and women’s fashion.

The state production sector also increased the manufacture and promotion of socialist brand-name goods, particularly of things that had developed iconic brands in the West: colas, cigarettes, blue jeans, shampoos, and durable technologies such as radios, cameras, and refrigerators. Some firms began to produce under their own logo, and by the late 1970s a few had entered into joint ventures or became subcontractors for Western multinationals, such as Adidas, Levi’s, or coca-cola.1 The state stepped up the import of Western consumer goods to supplement domestic production and also imported Western machinery to upgrade domestic capacities for production–going into significant foreign debt to do so. while economic reforms emerged in fits and starts, second-economy activities expanded the range and quality of consumer goods as well as services. The legalization of small-scale family-based businesses in the 1970s increased the avail

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