Ecology and the World-System

By Walter L. Goldfrank; David Goodman et al. | Go to book overview

9
Wastelands in Transition: Forms and Concepts of Waste in Hungary Since 1948

Zsuzsa Gille


WESTERN IMAGES OF SOCIALISM

Basic understandings of former socialist societies have long included the topic of waste. Most observers treated waste as a characteristic by-product of the low productivity and immense "inefficiency" of centrally planned economies, but a few others (including East European fiction writers and filmmakers) went beyond that and, for the purposes of social critique, designated waste as a metaphoric encapsulation of the essence of these societies. Yet another group emphasized the positive products of socialism (massive industrial and infrastructural investments, and the significant increase of living standards for large segments of the population, and so forth) and minimized the occurrence and amount of waste. 1

Now, after the collapse of state socialism in Eastern Europe, its achievements are downplayed again, while destruction is stressed. A representation of socialism as a landscape littered with unwanted, low quality goods, garbage and dirt is juxtaposed with the images of the naturalness and purity of capitalism. Here the metaphor of waste plays a new ideological role. Waste reflects the irrationality of socialist economies, an irrationality understood as an absence of Western economic and technical rationality. Thus the impression is created that with Westernization, that is, with the rationalization of the economy, waste will be reduced, and thus the transition to capitalism will automatically benefit the environment. As the Christian Science Monitor said, "Many of the worst polluters . . . are being gradually shut down. More will certainly follow as obsolete and uncompetitive state-run enterprises in Eastern Europe continue to collapse as market economies take over" (Steichen 1991). Meanwhile The Wall Street Journal argued explicitly that "[n]ow all this [environmental pollution] is being swept away by democracy and economic rationality" ( Solomon 1990). 2

Nevertheless, waste in the literal sense, especially ongoing industrial waste, receives much less attention in these laudatory scenarios of the transition to mar-

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