The Hungarian government shifted towards a more conservative direction in the last year of the world war and sought to moderate the strengthening labour movement. Inspite of this, in the spring of 1918, the central paper of the Social Democrat party, Népszava managed to achieve a change in the exchange of fat tickets, since the previous routine led to an unsustainable situation, queuing at night and at dawn, and even the armed forces were deployed against women “queuing for fat”.
“The capital’s council scattered the ones queuing for fat with police forces, and managed to achieve the great reform of replacing queuing at night with queuing at dawn. Thereby the poor, in need of fat, do not dare to stand in front of the fat distribution stands for fear from the police, but walk around farther away, as being doomed to damnation, around nearby houses and street corners, so that others cannot get ahead of them when exchanging the fat ticket.” – as written by Népszava on May 24, 1918.
This all shows: the situation of fat ticket distribution was unsustainable in the last spring of the First World War, and the capital even deployed armed forces against queuing people instead of finding a real solution. On the one hand, this would have been the acquisition of a sufficient amount of fat – this was promised at the end of April, with the use of Budapest’s own pig stock (pursuant to Népszava news on the first of May), but based on the events in May, it seems to have been unsuccessful. On the other hand, the distribution order should have been changed: for example, in several articles, Népszava recommended the use of serial numbers or territorial divisions, i.e. that residents of a given district may only be given fat for their tickets at local distribution places. However, the capital did not listen to the left-wing paper and this is when even the police was deployed against queuers. However, swording did not result in more fat and did not eliminate queuing either, since the poorest people could not solve their privation by any other means but queuing.
Meanwhile, pursuant to Népszava’s article on May 24, the capital expressed indignation even on the fact that people waiting for fat were circulating nearby, in spite of the ban on queuing. Budapest’s municipal council made an announcement stating that, one the one hand, there was no shortage in fat, and on the other hand, for this reason, queuing was completely unnecessary. In their opinion, “queuing for fat” only arose from the fact that many sought to exchange fat tickets well before their expiration, on the first possible day. Of course, the authorities were not right, which has turned out from several articles published previously and at that time, and when eventually a solution was offered, it became really obvious how much the shortage of fat was present – but let us not rush that much!
Pursuant to Népszava, statements of the Budapest leadership were completely out of question (though not that sarcastically), meaning that women “were not only heated by the issue of primacy“, and it was not mere chance that they wanted to exchange the fat ticket “already on the very first days of its validity“. Though the council extended the validity of 10-day fat tickets for a month after the publication of the first protesting article (19 May), it also started to deploy armed forces against the queuing masses, primarily consisting of women.
The fat ticket, when expired, lost its validity, and at this time, according to the papers, it indeed occurred that the ones who went for the fat later, around the 10th day, did not get anything for the ticket. All this led to enormous dissatisfaction, and women and children often started to gather around fat distribution places often at around 10-11 p.m. on the evening before the 6 a.m. opening, and kept awake all night, gathering into rows of four by the morning.
While the capital used violence, the government also had some clear-sighted members as well. They did not only make their voice heard, but took measures as well. Even the Office of Public Food of the Cabinet “was convinced that whatever magic tool the police sword is, fat would not come from the Council’s confusion, and Ferenc Nagy, State Secretary for Public Food, visited the capital’s fat distribution sites at dawn on Thursday. The state secretary found that Népszava’s statements were true to reality, contrary to the Counxil’s allegations” – this is how the Social Democrat paper wrote about the central official intervention. The state secretary for public food found that “the majority of the audience had to leave without fat indeed, after lengthy queuing”. In addition, it was not even the first two days, people could not exchange their ticket even on the first 3-4 days of validity. The reason, pursuant to Nagy, was that the poor rush to the distribution places so early because “they are in greater need and they do not really have hidden stocks”. So it was not about black market misuse – this could be found by the government leader.
Afterwards Népszava wrote as follows: “Even more, marvellously, the state secretary for public food did not deploy armed police forces for the example of the capital’s council, equipped with such an excellent social sentiment, but rather wishes to implement the rules demanded by Népszava too.” Thereby the state secretary promised more fat for distribution sites and the territory system recommended by the Social Democrat paper was introduced. Ferenc Nagy made the following statement regarding the new distribution order: “This is implemented through simple territorial divisioning. From now on, fat tickets may only be exchanged at distribution sites within the district of their residence.” Thereby in his view it is also easier to calculate (based on issued tickets) how much fat is required at a specific site.
It was also ordered (which, with some modifications, met Népszava’s demands regarding the issuance of serial numbers) that “for all those whose monthly income does not exceed 400 crowns shall receive separately coloured tickets and on the first 2-3 days of validity only these tickets should be exchanged”. The paper summarized the success as follows: “The story of queuing for fat is the snappiest proof for how important it is to negotiate the issue of public food in front of the public.” For the first time, Népszava’s editorial from 19 May mentioned the unsustainability of queuing for fat. Pursuant to the paper, “the response was the hurry of the capital’s council for police swords and the ordering of the extension of fat tickets”. However, after this it was not only Népszava that protested, but press representatives were also outraged due to the mindless violence. Az Est condemned the deployment of police and armed forces against women: “Why is the police set against the audience? Eventually, no one is a fool to wait for the opening of the fat store without sleep on the street under the sky from eight in the evening till eight in the morning out of pure fun. If there is fat, there is no queuing. And if the audience still decides to queue based on past examples, it should not be scattered with police swords, but good explanatory words.”
Pursuant to Népszava, authorities also took seriously the provision stating that “factories employing more than 50 workers shall distribute the fat themselves for the workers”.
As we have already mentioned, the leadership of the capital lied when stating that there was sufficient fat in Budapest. It was not only found by Népszava in the spring of 1918, but became obvious upon the state intervention too. When the Office of Public Food intervened and fat distribution got controlled centrally, they tried to recourse to a trick. On May 25, Népszava wrote the following: it has turned out “what they meant by having sufficient fat. In order to have sufficient fat, the capital will again market the margarine that has already triggered the expressive protest of the population once”. Though the authorities quickly declared that this margarine would be “made of new ingredients provided for the capital by the Office of Public Food” and that they hoped that its “tasty” quality would not be objectionable this time. They would not make the purchase of margarine mandatory, but “let the audience choose freely from exchanging their fat tickets for fat or margarine”. According to the paper, with this measure, they hoped “they could still find a few margarine buyers, since they provided some benefits for those who purchased margarine. Since they could receive 60 decagram margarine for a fat ticket that enabled the purchase of 40 decagram fat.”
According to Népszava, all this made clear that there is no sufficient fat to supply the capital, and at that time, selling margarine for tickets still encountered significant resistance. There were even disturbances in November 1917, since smelly margarine was delivered to the distribution sites, where queuing people did not even let the smelly margarine barrels and cases be placed. In November 1917, according to the Fővárosi Közlöny (Municipal Gazette), several municipal council members interpellated regarding the issue of margarine. Lajos Nádor interpellated regarding “the release of spoiled margarine into the market“, Ferenc Kassai, dr. “regarding the issue of margarine“, Lajos Herz “regarding settling the (maximum) retail prices of pork, bacon and fat nationally and on a parity basis“, and Árpád Földes, dr. “regarding the negligence of the office of public food in terms of margarine protests and the supply of fat to the population”. This was supplemented by Károly Szilágyi’s interpellation “regarding the control of margarine production”.
Az Est simply wrote the following about margarine in November 1917: “Only a few people can eat this margarine. Women do not accept it for fat tickets, so households are without fat. But flour and fat are the last two shelters of nutrition. And if there is no fat for a longer time, what could happen: we may not even write about that.”
A közönség tiltakozása a margarin ellen = Az Est, 1917. november 4.
A zsírjegy = Az Est, 1917. november 4.
Budapest székesfőváros törvényhatósági bizottságának 1917. évi november 7-én (szerdán) délután ½4órakor tartott rendes közgyűlése = Fővárosi Közlöny, 1917. november 9.
Na most már rend van = Népszava, 1918. május 1.
Lejár a zsírjegy = Népszava, 1918. május 19.
Tehát passzióból ácsorognak = Népszava, 1918. május 22.
Az ácsorgás szenvedélye = Népszava, 1918. május 23.
Zsír és karhatalom = Az Est, 1918. május 23.
A zsírácsorgás tanulságos története = Népszava, 1918. május 24.
Hát úgy lesz zsír, hogy margarint árulnak? = Népszava, 1918. május 25.
Written by: Iván Miklós Szegő