Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute




How Did Left-Wing Print Culture Experiment with Capitalism? Mapping Working-Class Readers of Techno-Optimist Avant-Garde Media in Hungarian Communities Across the Atlantic
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Location Note

1219 International Affairs Building
420 W 118th St, 12th floor

This event is in-person for CUID card holders only. In-person attendees must be in compliance with Columbia University’s health protocols for returning to campus. Pre-registration, valid CUID card, and valid green pass are required for admittance. All other attendees may participate virtually on Zoom or YouTube.


Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a lecture by Gábor Dobó, moderated by ECEC co-directors Aleksandar Bošković and Christopher Caes.

While many avant-garde periodicals enthusiastically embraced various aspects of the booming post-WWI economy and technology of the core countries, their imagined readership remained the proletariat or “the masses.” Although the predominantly left-wing avant-garde outlets were overflowing with articles exploring the perspectives opened up by Fordism, Taylorism, standardization, and rationalization, not only did their intended working-class readership experience the everyday regime of “scientific management,” but many of them, especially Hungarian organized workers in the industrial centers of the East Coast, actively fought it.

Adopting the approaches of periodical studies, book history, and the cultural history of social life, this presentation has a twofold ambition. First, to understand what kind of political economy was envisioned by the avant-garde journals of the 1920s, especially concerning their interpretation of the distinguishing characteristics of the capitalist economic order. Second, to explore how working-class readers—either trade unionist social democrats or revolutionary communists—understood, re-created, or performed some of the techniques promoted by avant-garde journals: using tactics like speaking choirs, “living journals,” political collages, and workers’ photography to critique that same economic reality of post-WWI capitalism.

Through the study of hitherto largely unexplored primary sources, including avant-garde periodicals and leaflets, editorial material, secret police accounts, Comintern documents, and annotated pages of avant-garde and labor movement publications, this lecture investigates how the avant-garde radical imagination about capitalism resonated in the larger ecosystem of workers’ culture. It also explores the significant role of centers like New York City—a global hub of avant-garde periodicals, the heart of surging Fordist capitalism, and a battlefield for multi-ethnic organized workers, including a large number of Hungarian immigrants—played in the formation of a Hungarian-language counter-hegemonic public sphere.


Gábor Dobó, PhD, is a literary historian, researching periodicals of the avant-garde. Currently, he is a Fulbright visiting scholar at the Harriman Institute of Columbia University, and principal investigator of the OTKA FK-139325 research project. Hosted at the Kassák Museum, Budapest, the objective of this undertaking is to produce the digital critical edition of the correspondence of avant-garde artists Lajos Kassák and Jolán Simon. He is a committee member of the European Society for Periodical Research (ESPRit). Previously, he studied at universities in Budapest, Florence, and Angers.



Event Video


Featured Image: Ferenc Haár’s photomontage from the volume entitled “A mi életünkből” [From our life], a photobook published by Lajos Kassák’s Munka [Work] journal in 1932.