This article explores the middle-class response to life under the early Communist state in Hungary. It is based on an oral history of the Budapest bourgeoisie, and challenges some of the dominant indigenous representations of the central European middle class as persecuted victims who were forced into ‘internal exile’ by the Stalinist state. Despite being officially discriminated against as ‘former exploiters’, large numbers achieved educational and professional success. Their skills were increasingly needed in the rapid modernization of the 1950s, and the state provided them with semi-official opportunities to remake themselves into acceptable Communist citizens. Middle-class testimony revealed how individuals constructed politically appropriate public personas to ensure their own upward mobility; they hid aspects of their pasts, created ‘class conscious’ autobiographies, and learnt how to demonstrate sufficient political loyalty. The ways in which individuals dealt with integrating into a system which officially sought to exclude them and which many disliked ideologically is then examined. In order to ‘cope with success’, respondents in this project invented new stories about themselves to justify the compromises they had made to ensure their achievements. These narratives are analysed as evidence of specifically Communist middle-class identities.
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