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What Would Marx Have Thought?

July 12, 1989

BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) _ Karl Marx University, where President Bush on Wednesday praised Hungarian moves toward a free-market economy, no longer requires that students read ″Das Kapital.″ Indeed, as Bush spoke, the statue of Marx was out of sight - hidden by a press platform.

″History has proved that a free-market economy provides a much higher living standard,″ said Magdolna Sass, 24, one of the thousands of Hungarians who reacted enthusiastically when Bush proclaimed that the Iron Curtain is parting and that ″your great country is leading the way.″

At the rear of the glass-covered courtyard where Bush spoke was the hall’s life-size statue of a seated Marx. The brow was furrowed; the eyes pressed deep in thought; the right hand reaching upward in a type of clawing motion - seemingly trying to keep its grasp on this country of 10 million.

But few saw the statue of the godfather of communism. Towering over it was a press platform crowded with reporters and photographers covering the first visit ever by an American president to Hungary.

Zsuzsanna Szabo, like Ms. Sass a recent graduate of the university, said she found Bush’s speech ″very important.″

″There certainly are steps that must be taken to improve our economy,″ she told a reporter.

Long rounds of applause greeted Bush, who was given an enthusiastic standing ovation when he finished.

At one point, the president praised Hungary’s willingness to break with the past and asked his audience:

″What better example of this could there be than one simple fact - Karl Marx University has dropped ‘Das Kapital’ from its required reading list?″

The 19th-century German genius’ monumental work, along with his other writings, formed the basis for the Communist systems that have spread around the globe.

Yet, despite the students’ growing interest in capitalist proponents from Adam Smith onward, both graduates agree that Hungary will not completely turn its back on Marx any time soon.

″That would only be possible when the old guard politicians die off,″ Ms. Sass said.

″Everyone now says he’s in favor of reforms,″ Ms. Szabo said of the school’s students. ″But I’d say only about 70 percent of them really believe in a free-market economy.″

Bush’s pro-capitalism speech was not the first irony visited on the Karl Marx University of Economic Sciences since its founding in 1951.

The president of the 3,700-student school, Csaba Csaky, said in a recent interview that his institution had been ″the cradle of the reform process″ that began moving Hungary’s economy away from strict Marxism-Leninism two decades ago.

Imre Nagy, the reformist premier abducted by Soviet forces during the 1956 revolt and later executed, once taught agricultural economics at the university.

And, just four months ago, the very hall in which Bush spoke was the site of the founding congress of the Hungarian Democratic Forum, one of the new opposition groups planning for the nation’s first open elections next year.

What would Marx think of such activities in an institution that bears his name?

Graduate Sandor Katona, asked about Bush’s pep talk for capitalism, said with a smile:

″Marx was a philosopher. He would have sat and listened.″

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