The Imperialist Dogs Bark, But The Communist Graph Goes On
Cartoons showing charts in the service of communist propaganda in Hungary in the 1950s
As a side-project of my doctoral research on the history of information graphics in Hungary, I was curious about how charts were used in humorous cartoons. Therefore this article focuses on just a short episode on the timeline of Hungarian historic information graphics, but hopefully, in the near future, I will write a series of articles about the topic.
The most popular cartoon of the Communist era was the satirical weekly Ludas Matyi, which was re-launched in 1945 after World War II (the first issue was published in 1867). It had a circulation of around 600,000 copies in its heyday. The cartoon was named after the fictitious folk hero Ludas Matyi, who revolted against feudal tyranny sometime in the 18th-Century. The character was created by the poet and botanist Mihály Fazekas in 1804, but the first version of the novel Ludas Matyi was published later, in 1815.
In the beginning, Ludas Matyi was politically ‘independent’ despite the common knowledge that the pamphlet was produced by the communist Hungarian Working People’s Party. By the 1950s, as Mátyás Rákosi’s role as the first secretary of the state (similar position to the president) evolved into a dictatorship, the cartoon became more sectarian. It began to be used as a propaganda tool targeting the enemies of the state (practically everyone outside the world of communism) while celebrating the Communist lifestyle, economy, politics, policies, and politicians. During its existence, most of the best Hungarian cartoonists and caricaturists worked for the magazine. The cartoon was closed in 1993.
What is surprising is that while the general press of the Communist era rarely used graphs and charts in Hungary, Ludas Matyi published cartoons showing charts frequently. One reason might be is that Hungary was obsessed with charts at workplaces and schools due to the directives laid down in the economic “Five-year plan” introduced first in 1950 (before that we had a “Three-year plan”). It’s entertaining to read the naive production reports, memoirs, and narratives on how mandatory it was to hang large tableaus of productivity in every workplace showing the…