Hungarian Soviet Republic

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The Hungarian Soviet Republic was the political regime in Hungary from March 21, 1919 until the beginning of August of the same year. It lasted four months, and it was the second communist (or Soviet) government in world history, after the one in Russia (1917).


[edit] Birth of the Soviet Republic

The immediate cause of the formation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic was the failure of Count Mihály Károlyi's government of the re-born state of Hungary to reorganize the country's social and economic life on the shambles left over after the lost war and the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After less than six months in power, Károlyi was dismissed by a coalition of Socialist Democrats and Communists.

The Hungarian Communist Party was very small at this time, but its members were very active and it grew rapidly. It had a meteoric, if precocious, rise to political power. An initial nucleus of the party had been organized just a few months earlier, in a Moscow hotel on November 4 1918, when a group of Hungarian prisoners of war and some other communist sympathizers formed a Central Committee. Led by Béla Kun, they soon left for Hungary and started to recruit new members and propagate the party's ideas, radicalizing many of the Social Democrats. By February 1919, the party numbered 30,000 to 40,000 members, including many unemployed ex-soldiers, young intellectuals and ethnic minorities.

Kun founded a communist newspaper, called Vörös Újság (Red News), and concentrated on attacking Károlyi's government. During the following months, the power and influence of the Communist Party grew very quickly. Their supporters began to stage aggressive demonstrations against, among other things, hostile newspapers. In one crucial incident, a demonstration turned violent on February 20 and the protesters attacked the editorial office of the Socialist Democrats' official paper, called Népszava (People's Word). In the ensuing chaos, 7 people - including policemen - were killed. The government used this incident as a reason to arrest the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party, ban the Red News and close down the party's buildings. The arrests were particularly violent, with police officers openly beating the communists. This resulted in a wave of public sympathy for the Communist Party. On March 1, the Red News was given permission to publish again, and the Communist Party's premises were re-opened. The leaders were permitted to receive guests in their prison, which allowed them to keep up with political affairs.

After receiving the Vix Ultimatum or Vyx Note (demanding more territorial concessions) on March 20, Károlyi announced that the Dénes Berinkey government would resign. On March 21 he informed the Council of Ministers that only the Socialist Democrats could form a new government, as they were the party with the highest public support. In order to form a governing coalition, the Socialist Democrats started negotiations with the Communist leaders - who were still imprisoned - and decided to unite their two parties under the name of Hungarian Socialist Party. President Károlyi, who was an outspoken anti-communist, was not informed about this fusion. Thus, while believing to have appointed a Socialist government, he found himself faced with a coalition dominated by Communists instead.

The Social-Democrats were not overjoyed about war with the Entente, but saw no choice and allied Hungary with Soviet Russia.

[edit] Communist policies

Leaders of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Tibor Szamuely, Béla Kun, Jenő Landler. Monument in Budapest.

Following the model laid out by Lenin, Kun - the Commissar for Foreign Affairs, which was in effect the most powerful position in the country - created a government called the Revolutionary Governing Council, which proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic and dismissed President Károlyi on March 21. Initially, this government consisted of a Socialist-Communist coalition led by Sándor Garbai, but the Communists leaped into action and managed to dismiss the Socialist ministers within days. Afterwards, the new Communist government decreed the abolition of aristocratic titles and privileges, the separation of church and state, and guaranteed the freedom of speech and assembly, free education, language and cultural rights to minorities.

The Communist government also nationalized industrial and commercial enterprises, and socialized housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 40 hectares. While undertaking these domestic measures, Kun also kept in mind the fact that his communists were heavily dependent on popular support for his foreign policy of restoring Hungary's borders.

In a radio dispatch to the Russian SFSR, Kun informed Lenin that a "dictatorship of the proletariat" had been established in Hungary and asked for a treaty of alliance with the Russian SFSR, to defend against the inevitable hostile reaction from the Entente. The Russian SFSR was willing, but unable to lend a helping hand to the fledgling Hungarian republic, because it was itself tied down in the Russian Civil War. The Hungarian government was thus left on its own, and a Red Guard was established under the command of Mátyás Rákosi. In addition, a group of 200 armed men - known as the "Lenin Boys" - formed a mobile detachment under the leadership of Cserny József. This detachment was deployed at various locations around the country where counter-revolutionary movements were suspected to operate. The Lenin Boys, as well as other similar groups and agitators, refused to follow traditional religious customs (for example, they blasphemed openly), even when they traveled to areas of the countryside that were traditionally conservative and highly religious. This caused a number of conflicts with the local population, some of which turned violent.

[edit] Foreign policy

The Hungarian Soviet Republic, in a dangerous strategic position next to hostile Romania and Czechoslovakia, was invaded by Romania in mid-april 1919. Some of Hungary's best agricultural lands were seized, and the Romanian army threatened Budapest. Voting down the Social-Democrats, the Communists fought on, using the motivated Red Guard volunteers to stop the Romanian advance and seize a significant portion of Czechoslovakia. The Hungarian Soviet sought to cut open a corridor through Czechoslovakia to the RSFSR, worsening the Entente's position against the Communists. On June 8 American President Wilson demanded a halt to the Hungarian Red Army's advances and invited the Hungarian government to Paris to discuss Hungary's frontiers. Kun still hoped to link up with Russia and spearhead the worldwide workers' revolution in Southern Europe. A spurious Slovak Soviet Republic was proclaimed on June 16, in the southern and eastern Slovakia.

[edit] Downfall

The situation of the Hungarian Communists began to deteriorate when, after a failed coup by the National Social-Democrats on June 24, the new Communist government of Antal Dovcsák resorted to large-scale reprisals. Revolutionary tribunals ordered 590 executions of people who were suspected of having been involved in the attempted coup. This became known as the "Red Terror", and greatly reduced domestic support for the government.

The Hungarian Soviet found it increasingly difficult to fight two enemies at once with the small volunteer force, and support for both the war and the Communist Party were waning at home, partly due to the most dedicated Communists having gone and volunteered for combat. Kun's government accepted an Entente offer granting Romanian withdrawal from Hungary for Hungarian withdrawal from Czechoslovakia. Soviet Slovakia was abandoned to the Czechoslovak army at the end of June. Instead of withdrawing, Romania fought on and attacked Budapest. The Entente were eventually successful, and Béla Kun fled to Austria on August 1 together with other high-ranking Communists with only a minority remaining in Budapest, including György Lukács, the former Commissar for Culture and noted Marxist philosopher, to organise an underground Communist Party. The Budapest Workers' Soviet elected a new government, headed by Gyula Peidl, which only lasted a few days before the Romanian forces entered Budapest on August 6, putting an end to the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

In the power vacuum created by the fall of the Soviet Republic and the Romanian occupation, the Conservative forces of István Bethlen and Miklós Horthy gradually took control of Western Hungary (which was outside the Romanian occupation zone). Semiregular detachments (formally commanded by Horthy, but mostly independent in practice) initiated a campaign of violence against Communists, leftists and Jews, known as the White Terror. Many supporters of the Hungarian Soviet Republic were executed without trial, others (e.g. Ágoston Péter, Bajáki Ferenc, Bokányi Dezső, Dovcsák Antal, Haubrich József, Kalmár Henrik, Kelen József, Nyisztor György, Szabados Sándor, Vántus Károly) were imprisoned by trial ("comissar suits"). Most of them were later released to the Soviet Union by amnesty during the reign of Horthy, after a prisoner exchange agreement between Hungary and the Russian Soviet government in 1921. In all, about 415 prisoners were released as a result of this agreement. [1]

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Borsanyi, Gyorgy The life of a Communist revolutionary, Bela Kun translated by Mario Fenyo, Boulder, Colorado : Social Science Monographs ; New York: Distributed by Columbia University Press, 1993.
  • Janos, Andrew C. & Slottman, William (editors) 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
  • Menczer, Bela "Bela Kun and the Hungarian Revolution of 1919" pages 299-309 Volume XIX, Issue #5, May 1969, History Today History Today Inc: London, United Kingdom.
  • Pastor, Peter, Hungary between Wilson and Lenin : the Hungarian revolution of 1918-1919 and the Big Three, Boulder, Colorado: East European Quarterly ; New York : distributed by Columbia University Press, 1976
  • Szilassy, Sándor Revolutionary Hungary, 1918-1921, Astor Park. Florida, Danubian Press 1971.
  • Tokes, Rudolf Béla Kun and the Hungarian Soviet Republic : the origins and role of the Communist Party of Hungary in the revolutions of 1918-1919 New York : published for the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace, Stanford, California, by F.A. Praeger, 1967.

es:República Soviética Húngara hu:Tanácsköztársaság pl:Węgierska Republika Rad ru:Венгерская Советская Республика sk:Maďarská republika rád

Hungarian Soviet Republic

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