HUNGARIAN SOVIET REPUBLIC
Excerpt from “The Black Book of Communism”
(Harward / 1997)
Map: Andras Bereznai
The most famous example of these revolutionary movements was in Hungary. In defeat, Hungary had found the forced loss of Transylvania, decreed by the victors of the war, a hard pill to swallow. It became the first genuine instance of the Bolsheviks' exporting their revolution.
Beginning in early 1918 the Bolshevik Party collected all non-Russian Communist sympathizers into a group called the Federation of Foreign Communist Groups. As a result, there existed a Hungarian group in Moscow made up, for the most part, of former prisoners of war.
In October 1918 this group sent some 20 members back to Hungary. On 4 November the Hungarian Workers' (Communist) Party (HCP) was established in Budapest under the leadership of Bela Kun. Kun had been a prisoner of war and had quickly rallied to the Bolshevik revolution, becoming president of the Federation of Foreign Communist Groups in April 1918. He arrived in Hungary in November, accompanied by 80 activists, and was immediately elected Party leader. It has been estimated that in late 1918 and early 1919 another 250 to 300 "agitators" and revolutionaries arrived in Hungary.
With financial support provided by the Bolsheviks, the Hungarian Communists set about spreading propaganda, and their influence soon began to grow.
The official newspaper of the Social Democrats, the Nepszava (The voice of the people), which was firmly opposed to the Bolsheviks, was attacked on 18 February 1919 by a group of soldiers and unemployed workers who had been mobilized by the Communists. Their aim was either to take control of the printing press or to destroy it. The police intervened, and in the ensuing conflict 8 people died and 100 were injured. The same night, Bela Kun and his collaborators were arrested. At the police headquarters many of the prisoners were beaten by the police in revenge for their colleagues who had died in the attempt to break up the attack on the Nepszava. Hungary's president, Mihaly Karolyi, sent his secretary to inquire after the health of the Communist leader, who was subsequently granted extremely liberal custodial restrictions and allowed to pursue his activities, and was soon able to reverse the setback despite his detention. On 21 March, while still in prison, he achieved a major success by bringing about the merger of the HCP and the Social Democratic Party. At the same time, President Karolyi's resignation opened the way for the establishment of a ''republic of Soviets," the freeing of all imprisoned Communists, and the organization on the Bolshevik model of a Revolutionary Council of State modeled on the Soviet People's Commissars. This republic lasted 133 days, from 21 March until 1 August 1919.
At their first meeting the commissars decided to establish revolutionary courts with judges chosen from among the people. Lenin, whom Bela Kun had hailed as the leader of the world proletariat, was in regular contact by telegram with Budapest after 22 March (218 messages were exchanged), and he advised shooting the Social Democrats and "petits-bourgeois." In his message to the Hungarian workers on 27 May 1919, he justified this recourse to terror: “The dictatorship of the proletariat requires the use of swift, implacable, and resolute violence to crush the resistance of exploiters, capitalists, great landowners, and their minions. Anyone who does not understand this is not a revolutionary."
Soon the commissars of commerce, Matyas Rakosi, and of economic affairs, Eugen Varga, and the head of the new courts had alienated all businessmen, industrial employees, and lawyers. One proclamation posted on the walls summed up the mood of the moment: "In the proletarian state, only the workers are allowed to live!" Work became obligatory, and all businesses employing more than twenty workers were immediately nationalized, followed by businesses employing more than ten, and soon the rest as well.
The army and the police force were dissolved, and a new army was created, composed exclusively of revolutionary volunteers. Soon a Terror Group of the Revolutionary Council of the Government was formed and quickly became known as "Lenin's Boys." The Terror Group murdered about ten people, including a young naval ensign, Ladislas Dobsa; a former first secretary of state and his son, who was the chief of the railways; and three police officers. "Lenin's Boys" answered to a retired sailor named Jozsef
Czerny, who recruited them from among the most radical Communists, particularly former prisoners of war who had taken part in the Russian Revolution.
The “Lenin’s Boys’
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Czerny was politically closer to Tibor Szamuely, the most radical of the Communist leaders, than he was to Bela Kun, who at one point proposed dissolving "Lenin's Boys." In response Szamuely gathered together his troops and marched on the House of Soviets. Kun received the support of the Social Democrat Jozsef Haubrich, joint people's commissar of war. Finally negotiations began, and Czerny's men agreed to join forces with the People's Commissariat of the Interior or to enlist in the army, which in fact most of them did.
With some twenty of "Lenin's Boys, 11 Szamuely then went to Solnok, the first city to be taken by the Hungarian Red Army, where he executed several locals accused of collaborating with the Romanians, who were considered national enemies because of their takeover of Transylvania and political enemies because of their regime's opposition to the Bolsheviks. One Jewish schoolboy who tried to plead for his father's life was killed for calling Szamuely a "wild beast." The chief of the Red Army tried in vain to put a brake on Szamuely's appetite for terror. Szamuely had requisitioned a train, and was traveling around the country hanging any peasants opposed to collectivization measures. Accused of having killed more than 150 people, his assistant Jozsef Kerekes admitted to having shot 5 and having hanged 13 others with his own hands.
Although the exact number of people killed has never been established, Arthur Koestler claimed that there were perhaps slightly fewer than 500, but went on to note: "I have no doubt that Communism in Hungary would have followed the same path as its Russian model, and soon degenerated into a totalitarian police state. But that certitude, which came only much later, does nothing to dim the glorious days of hope of the early days of the revolution." Historians attribute some 80 of the 129 recorded deaths to "Lenin's Boys," but it is likely that the real number was at least several hundred.
Faced with mounting opposition and a worsening of the threat posed by the Romanian troops, the revolutionary government drew upon popular antisemitism. One poster denounced Jews who refused to fight at the front: "Exterminate them, if they won't give their lives to the sacred cause of the dictatorship of the proletariat!" Bela Kun ordered the arrest of 5,000 Polish Jews who had come looking for food; he then confiscated their goods and had them expelled. The HCP radicals demanded that Szamuely take charge of the situation, and called for a "Red St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre," thinking for whatever reason that this was the only means of halting the decline of the Republic of Councils. Czerny tried to reorganize "Lenin's Boys," and in mid-July an appeal appeared in Nepszava: "All previous members of the Terror
Group, who were demobilized when the group was broken up, are requested to turn up at Jozsef Czerny's office to reenlist." The following day an official denial was published: "Notice is hereby given that no reestablishment of the 'Lenin's Boys' group can possibly be envisaged. Such great atrocities against the honor of the proletariat were committed by the group as to preclude any future role played by them in the service of the Republic of Councils."
The last weeks of the Budapest Commune were chaotic. Bela Kun faced an attempted coup against his leadership, possibly led by Szamuely. On 1 August 1919 he left Budapest under the protection of the Italian military. In the summer of 1920 he took refuge in the U.S.S.R. and was immediately named a political commissar of the Red Army on the southern front. There he distinguished himself by executing officers from Wrangel's army who had agreed to surrender if their lives would be spared. Szamuely attempted to flee to Austria but was arrested on 2 August and committed suicide soon afterward
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