The brief communist revolution in Hungary 1919 part 1

An initial nucleus of a Hungarian Communist Party had been organized in a hotel on 4 November 1918, when a group of Hungarian prisoners of war and other communist proponents formed a Central Committee in Moscow. Led by Béla Kun. Béla Kun, was born on 20 February 1886 in the village of Lele. His father, Samu Kohn was a lapsed Jewish village notary as well as his mother.In March 1918, in Moscow, Kun co-founded the Hungarian Group of the Russian Communist Party (the predecessor to the Hungarian Communist Party) with other former Hungarian POWs. He travelled widely, including to Petrograd and Moscow. He came to know Vladimir Lenin there, but inside the party he promoted ultra-radical left-wing political opposition to Lenin and the mainstream Bolsheviks. Kun and his fellow Jewish revolutionaires, Umberto Terracini and  Mátyás Rákosi, formed a group with prominant jewsh communists ,Grigory Zinoviev and Karl Radek . Whereas Lenin advocated making peace with the Central Powers, despite the harsh conditions they imposed, in order to “save the revolution”, Kun and his group took the side of Nikolai Bukharin, who wanted to continue and expand the war to transform it into an international revolutionary struggle to impose Communism on the rest of Europe.In the Russian Civil War in 1918, Kun fought for the Bolsheviks.

During this time, he first started to make detailed plans for a Communist revolution in Hungary. In November 1918, with at least several hundred other Hungarian Communists and with a large sum of money provided by the Soviets, he returned to Hungary. He immediately began a highly energetic propaganda campaign against the government of President Mihály Károlyi, and his Social Democratic allies, accusing them of betraying the working class, of lack of class consciousness, of not wanting to continue the expropriation of large domains and the big capital.

He immediately began a highly energetic propaganda campaign against the government of President Mihály Károlyi, and his Social Democratic allies, accusing them of betraying the working class, of lack of class consciousness, of not wanting to continue the expropriation of large domains and the big capital. His aim was to copy the tactics Lenin had used so successfully, which included pandering to the demands of all the discontented in society: unemployed, pensioners, veterans, employees; relentlessly denouncing the Government and the parties that supported it; as well as infiltrating the trade unions, discrediting their executives, and undermining the Socialist Party by dividing the more moderate leaders from the more extreme ones.

In addition, the Communists held frequent marches and rallies and organised strikes. Desiring to achieve a revolution in Hungary, he communicated by telegraph with Vladimir Lenin to garner support from the Bolsheviks, which would ultimately not materialise.
Despite Kun’s efforts, by February 1919 the Communists had fewer than 30,000 members, compared with the 700,000 of the Social Democrats. Kun knew that if the upcoming elections went ahead, they would be a disaster for the Communists. Therefore, the Communist press launched a campaign against a fictitious “reactionary conspiracy” which they claimed the Károlyi government was either unaware of, or unwilling to crush. On 20 February 1919 the Communists invaded and pillaged the headquarters of the Socialist daily newspaper. The attack left a few dead and many injured, primarily policemen who had tried to stop the Communist aggression. Kun and 67 other Communist leaders were arrested.

However, despite the apparent failure of this adventure, there were two factors that worked to Kun’s advantage. First, the press, even the non-socialist press, claimed that the imprisoned Communists had been mistreated by some members of the police force that supposedly wanted to avenge the death of their colleagues, and also publicised the supposedly courageous attitude of prisoner Béla Kun, a man previously little known outside his circle of followers. This greatly increased the popularity of Kun and sympathy toward the Communists among the general public. Concerned by this unintended shift in public opinion, the government gave orders that while in prison Kun be allowed to carry out any political activity he wished, which meant he was able to continue directing the Hungarian Communist Party from his cell. There were days in which Kun received up to four hundred visitors, mainly far-left Social Democrats who now considered Kun, whose stature was already increased by the prestige of participating in the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, a martyr.

The Social Democrats approached Kun on the subject of a coalition government, hoping he would be able to use his Bolshevik connections to bring the Red Army to Hungary’s aid. So desperate were they for support from Moscow that it was Kun, a captive, who dictated the terms to his captors. This was despite the Red Army’s full involvement in the Russian Civil War and the unlikelihood that it could be of any direct military assistance. Kun proposed the merger of the Social Democrat and Communist parties, the establishment of a Soviet Republic and several other radical measures, which the Social Democrats agreed to.On 21 March 1919, the Hungarian Soviet Republic, the second Communist regime in Europe after Russia itself, was proclaimed; the Social Democrats and the Communists merged under the interim name Hungarian Socialist Party, and Béla Kun was released from prison and sworn into office.
The nominal head of the Soviet Republic was a Socialist leader, Sándor Garbai, but in practice power rested with Kun,jewish revolutionaries usually hid their identities or had a gentile as a front man,although officially he was only People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, and from April 1919 also People’s Commissar for Defence.

Given the disparity in power between Hungary and the Allies, Hungarian chances for victory were slim at best. To buy time, Kun tried to negotiate with the Allies, meeting the South African General Jan Smuts at a summit in Budapest in April. Agreement proved impossible, and Hungary was soon at war later in April with the Kingdom of Romania (as part of the Hungarian–Romanian War) and Czechoslovakia, both aided by France.The “dictatorship of the proletariat” was characterised from almost the beginning by harsh measures not only against the old ruling classes, but also against the peasants.The first action of the new government was the nationalization of the large majority of private property in Hungary. Despite their promises, Béla Kun’s government chose not to redistribute land to the peasantry. Instead, all land was to be converted into collective farms and former estate owners, managers, and bailiffs were to be retained as the new collective farm managers. The Communists remained highly unpopular in the Hungarian countryside, where they had little to no actual authority.This indiscriminate terror, in which Kun’s jewish friends, Tibor Szamuely and Ottó Korvin, proved especially bloodthirsty, attracted protests from the sole representative of the Allied governments in Budapest, Italian lieutenant colonel Guido Romanelli, which Kun rejected. It also had the effect of splitting the government and dividing the Communists themselves, some of whom doubted the usefulness of the atrocities committed. Kun proved unable to control his more extreme followers, particularly Jancsik, Münnich, Szamuely, and Mátyás Rákosi. Members of the government demanded Kun either stop the atrocities committed by his men, or face the hostility of organised workers and unions. In response Kun sent his friends as political commissars to the front where, however, the situation was not much better.

The domestic situation was rapidly worsening as a result of the regime’s actions, with not only former army officers and Catholic and Protestant clergy but urban workers, the Communist’s primary base of support, becoming increasingly disaffected. On 24 June, an uprising against the regime in Budapest was suppressed after twenty hours of fighting in the streets. At the same time an anarchist conspiracy was uncovered and suppressed (its members shot) in Budapest and other cities.The government retaliated with secret police, revolutionary tribunals and semiregular detachments such as Tibor Szamuely’s bodyguards, the Lenin Boys; this renewed campaign of repression became known as the Red Terror. Of those arrested, an estimated 370 to about 600 were killed;others place the number at 590.The only hope for saving the Hungarian Soviet Republic had been “the military intervention of the Red Army or a revolution in one or more other European countries.” Both these hopes had now failed. On the 1st of August, Kun gave his last speech in Hungary, stating:
The Hungarian proletariat betrayed not their leaders but itself. […] If there had been in Hungary a proletariat with the consciousness of the dictatorship of the proletariat it would not collapse in this way […] I would have liked to see the proletariat fighting on the barricades declaring that it would rather die than give up power. […] The proletariat which continued to shout in factories, ‘Down with the dictatorship of the proletariat’, will be even less satisfied with any future government.”
He fled to Austria a few hours after, and the Romanian forces took Budapest three days later.

Sources 1. Béla Kun Internet Archive at Marxists Internet Archive.

2.Wireless Message to Béla Kun, 23 March 1919 3.Andrew C. Janos and William Slottman (eds.),

3. Revolution in perspective: essays on the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 1919: Published for the University of California, Berkeley, Center for Slavic and East European Studies, Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1971.

4.Iván Völgyes, (ed.), Hungary in Revolution, 1918–19: nine essays Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1971.

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