8: Revolution in Hungary: From Michael Károlyi to Béla Kun
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Revolution in Hungary: From Michael Károlyi to Béla Kun
The phenomena of disintegration in the Austro-Hungarian fleet described in the
preceding chapter were only a part of the great upheaval. It radiated from the Empire of
the Tsars since 1917, which gripped the Central Powers and led to the overthrow of the
monarchy in Austria-Hungary, Germany and Turkey, and to the abdication of King Ferdinand
in Bulgaria. The forces of nationalist and social revolution, nurtured by the
tribulations, hunger and privations of the war years, had been working partly in the same
and partly in opposed directions. Hungary, the target for underground propaganda levelled
by the Allied Powers at the various nationalities, was heavily involved. I refer
particularly to the report, already mentioned, drawn up by Count Tisza after his journey
to Bosnia. The Rumanians and the Serbs also wished to break away and found a greater
Rumania and a pan-South Slav state respectively. Meanwhile, the Czechs were planning to
incorporate the Slovaks into a Czechoslovak state. The efforts of His Majesty,
Emperor-and-King Charles to extricate his realm from the war as soon as possible must be
considered against this background, as must also his proposed reforms in home politics.
For Hungary, His Majesty insisted that Count Tisza, the Prime Minister, should
introduce a far-reaching extension of the parliamentary franchise. The difficulties which
arose over that reform proved insurmountable. In consequence, in May, 1917, Tisza handed
in his resignation and thereby introduced the era of short-lived Cabinets. After the fall
of Tisza, first Count Moritz Esterházy(1) and then
Alexander Wekerle(2), an experienced politician, became
Premier. But though, in his manifesto of October 17th, 1918, His Majesty granted Hungary
full political independence and empowered Premier Wekerle to announce that the union de
facto of Austria and Hungary would be replaced by a union in nomine in which
there would no longer be joint Ministries, the Wekerle Government could not withstand the
pressure of events. After the resignation of Wekerle, His Majesty entrusted Count Hadik(3) with the formation of a coalition government. It never
came into being, however, as power had already been seized by the 'National Council'.
This National Council was composed of Count Michael Károlyi(4),
his adherents and a number of extra-parliamentary left-wing radicals. On bad advice, His
Majesty decided to appoint Károlyi Prime Minister, not realizing that he had no intention
of opposing the revolution but regarded himself as its protagonist.
By the time the old Emperor died, Károlyi had become the leader of the rapidly growing
party of defeatists in Hungary whose aims he hoped, as Prime Minister, to realize.
Soon after his appointment to the Premiership, Count Károlyi, wishing to have a free
hand, asked His Majesty to accept his resignation and that of his Cabinet. His request was
granted and the revolution, led by unscrupulous left-wing radicals and socialists of every
shade, hastened on its unchecked career. King Charles even went so far as to agree that
the Hungarian troops should be released from their oath of loyalty. Károlyi immediately
made them swear a new oath of fealty to the National Council. On the Russian model, they
organized themselves into Soldiers' Councils, i.e. Soviets, furthering the forces of
disorder and anarchy. One of the first victims of this rule of anarchy was Count Tisza.
With complete distortion of the truth, for in July, 1914, he had emphatically pronounced
against a declaration of war, he was now decried throughout the country as an instigator
of the war. Loyal to his monarch, Count Tisza had remained silent; in silence he now
submitted to the accusations made against him and fearlessly faced four revolutionary
soldiers who, on October 31st, entered his villa. Though fully aware of his danger, he
confronted his murderers unarmed. His wife and Countess Almássy(5)
were spectators of the scene and later wrote down what was said, words that a dramatist
could use unchanged for the overpowering climax of a tragedy. Count Tisza's death was the
symbol of defeat.
Michael Károlyi, however, continued to follow the path he had chosen, or rather to
slide down the slope to Bolshevist chaos, a process that was impossible to halt.
To demonstrate the independence of Hungary from Austria, Károlyi, after he had seized
power, wished to conclude a separate Hungarian armistice, though, in North Italy, an
armistice, leaving the Hungarian territorial position unchanged, had been negotiated for
all the parts of the monarchy(6). It was a fateful step for
Károlyi to take. Accompanied by fellow members of the National Council, he travelled to
Belgrade to meet General Franchet d'Esperey, the Commander-in-Chief of the Allied troops
in the Balkans, who had hurried there from Constantinople. When Károlyi presented his
request for an armistice, the General asked him in whose name he was speaking. Károlyi
replied that there had been a total revolution in Hungary, that he was the spokesman of
the National Council and Soldiers' Councils which had taken over the command of the Army.
Franchet d'Esperey's contemptuous response to this has become famous: "Vous ętes,
déjŕ tombés si bas?" (Have you sank that low already?)
The terms of the armistice opened the way for the entry of the Serbs into the Bácska
district and of the Rumanians into Transylvania. The dismemberment of Hungary had begun.
General Field Marshal von Mackensen(7), under whose command
German, Austrian and Hungarian troops had defeated Rumania in 1916 by a series of
brilliant victories(8), was interned upon the orders of
Károlyi, and the return of his army to Germany was prevented. Similarly, Károlyi had the
Hungarian troops which had returned from the front disarmed and disbanded. Instead,
however, of gaining the goodwill of the victors by these measures and by his protestation
of strongly democratic and pacifist views, Károlyi merely succeeded in strengthening the
arrogance of Hungary's neighbours, from which his country was before long to feel the
Turning to domestic policy, Károlyi, to win over the returning soldiery, had Barna
Búza(9), the Minister of Agriculture, announce a radical
policy of agrarian reform, which was destined never to be carried out, for the second wave
of the revolution swept Károlyi himself away.
The first to march into our country were the Czechs. In December, the Hungarian
Government was informed by the military representatives of the Allies in Budapest that the
claims of Masaryk(10) on Pozsony, the Slovak region, Kassa
and Upper Hungary had been allowed. Simultaneously, the Rumanian minority of Transylvania
declared their allegiance to Rumania, and Rumanian troops occupied the country as far as
Kolozsvár(11), which was formally annexed to Rumania on
December 27th. On the strength of the Belgrade Convention which Károlyi had signed, the
Serbs entered the Banat and the Bácska, while Croatia joined the newly created Kingdom of
Serbs, Croats and Slovenes.
The Károlyi Government(12) supinely watched this
vivisection of their country. They even forbade the troops to oppose the Rumanian advance.
Politically, the Government was moving further and further to the left. In January, a new
Cabinet was formed, the Social Democrat members of which were in sympathy with the
radical-wing, Austro-Marxist views of Otto Bauer(13) and
Viktor Adler. On January 11th, 1919, King Charles IV and Queen Zita in their coronation
robes as King and Queen of Hungary, Károlyi was proclaimed President of the Republic of
Hungary. In the newspapers, however, the name of Béla Kun(14)
was appearing with increasing frequency. Béla Kun (Kohn) was a Hungarian Jew who, while
serving in an Austrian regiment, had been convicted of theft from his comrades and had
deserted to the Russians, returning from Moscow to Hungary in November, 1918. He and his
friends were inciting the masses and in their Vörös Ujság ('Red Paper') the armed
intervention of the proletariat was threatened. On Match 19th, 1919, the French Colonel
Vyx(15) demanded, in the name of the Allies, that the
Hungarian troops be withdrawn to the line of the Tisza. Rightly or wrongly the Hungarians
understood that the line was to constitute the definite frontier between Hungary and
Rumania, the price, it was rumoured, for their renunciation of the Tripartite alliance.
The Hungarian Social-Democrats fused with the Communists. Károlyi, in a proclamation
dated March 21st, 1919, turned 'to the world proletariat for justice and help', resigned
from office, and relinquished power 'to the proletariat of the Hungarian peoples'. The
Paris Peace Conference, which opened on February 16th, 1919, and by which it was decided
that almost all Hungarian territory should be occupied by the troops of Hungary's
neighbours, paved the way for the Bolshevik Revolution, in the name of which Béla Kun
launched his bloodthirsty regime of terror.
"Hungary," writes the English author, Owen Rutter, "would
never have gone Bolshevik if the Allies had restrained the Succession States from
pre-empting their rights under the coming peace treaty. Much of the mischief was caused by
the extraordinary influence secured in Paris by the Czech leaders, who not only obtained
the reversion of Slovakia, but also permission to occupy it before the treaty which was to
regulate the cession was either published or signed, while the em>Rumanians and
Yugoslavs secured similar advantages at Hungary's expense." ( Regent of Hungary,
London, 1939, p. 160)
The atrocities of the Bolshevists filled the land with horror. Their agitators
penetrated even into our hitherto peaceful district. The peasants were terrorized by
groups of men who went from village to village, held courts martial, and with sadistic
pleasure hanged all those who in the war had been awarded the gold medal for bravery.(16) "Terror is the principal weapon of our
regime," boasted Tibor Szamuely(17), a close
collaborator of Béla Kun, whose main function was that of an executioner. The Jews who
had long been settled among us were the first to reprobate the crimes of their
co-religionists, in whose hands the new regime almost exclusively(18)
Béla Kun attempted to raise an army. From resentment at the advance of the Czechs,
Rumanians and Serbs, or from sheer distress, a number of demobilized officers joined it,
and these troops fought some successful actions against the Czechs, not so much because
they were activated by loyalty to the Béla Kun regime but because they were fired by
their ancient Hungarian patriotism.
The Rumanians made the Bolshevization of Hungary an excuse to advance yet further with
their well-armed forces, plundering as they went; train-loads of loot rolled eastward. Our
finest breeding cattle were driven off, among them the best stock on my estate. We were
deeply moved a month after this pillage to find three of the brood mares standing outside
the stable door, one with the saddle hanging under her belly, another with a harness
dangling round her neck and the third without even a halter. Where they had come from, how
they had escaped, they could not tell us, but they must have covered at least three
hundred miles to return to their home.
Pressure was bound to set up counter-pressure. The best elements in the land could be
counted on to gather around those determined men who had made up their minds to free the
country from the Bolshevist reign of terror and to appeal to the Great Powers to restrain
the conquering ardour of our victorious neighbours. Soon after the Commune had been
proclaimed in Hungary, Count Stephen Bethlen(19) gathered
around him in Vienna a number of expatriate politicians. At the same time and
independently of Bethlen, for travel was virtually impossible and news spread slowly and
uncertainly, Count Julius Károlyi(20) in the second half
of April was forming an opposition government in Arad, then occupied by French troops,
whose Commander, General de Gondrecourt, promised Károlyi help and support. The
Rumanians, fearing that the excuse for their occupation of Hungary would vanish with the
overthrow of the Communist regime, were perturbed by this development. They advanced on
Arad and Károlyi decided to move to Szeged, whereupon the Rumanians, disregarding the
passes issued by General de Gondrecourt(21) , arrested him
and his colleagues as they passed through Rumanian-occupied territory. They were held
prisoners for several days.
1. Count Moritz Esterházy, 1881-1960. Later he returned to
politics, elected MP in 1931 and 1939. One of the confidential advisors of Horthy during
2. Alexander Wekerle (1848-1921) was finance minister between 1889
and 1895. From 1892 to 1895 he was Hungary's first prime minister without aristocratic
roots. He established modern, sound governmental fiscal policies, balanced budgets,
introduction of gold standard in Hungary. Introduced liberal laws on matters of religion.
3. Count János Hadik (1863-1933). Major landowner, politician,
after 1919 he was active in agrarian organizations.
4. Count Mihály Károlyi, 1875-1955, was member of parliament from
1905 on behalf of the Indepencence Party. In the Summer of 1919 he emigrated to France. In
July, 1944, he offered his services to the Soviet embassy in London to organize a
Hungarian brigade from prisoners of war to fight the Nazis. He was refused. (Gosztonyi,
P.: Air Raid, Budapest!, Budapest: Népszava, 1989. P. 37, in Hung.)
5. Tisza's niece, Countess Denise Almássy, 1890-1950.
6. On November 3, 1918, representatives of the High-Command of the
Allied Forces in Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Army Command signed a cease-fire agreement
in Padua. This defined a line of demarcation only along the south-western front, and
allowed the entente forces to cross or occupy any part of the Monarchy.
7. August von Mackensen, 1849-1945.
8. Horthy is too sparse with details. On August 27, 1916, Rumania
attacked Austria-Hungary on the day when Rumanian Premier Bratianu (1864-1927) assured
Ambassador Count Czernin of Rumania's neutrality. A Rumanian force of 440 thousand entered
deep into Transylvania that night. Axis forces counter-attacked on October 4th, under the
command of German general Mackensen. By December 6 Bucharest was taken. An armistice was
signed at Focsani on December 9, 1917. The Peace Treaty of Bucharest was signed on May 7,
1918. Secretly encouraged by the French who promised Transylvania and Eastern Hungary to
the Tisza River after the war, Rumania reentered the war on November 9, 1918. As part of
the Allied Forces, she occupied, and thoroughly looted, eastern Hungary.
9. Barna Buza, politician, 1873-1944.
10. Tomás Garrigue Masaryk (1850-1937), Czech Nationalist writer,
philosopher, and politician, founder and first president of Czechoslovakia.
11. Cluj, in Romanian.
12. One of the ministers of this government was Oscar Jászi.
Horthy did not mention his name specifically. Nevertheless, Jászi's corrosive propaganda
against Hungary is pervasive even today. After the revolution Jászi immigrated to the USA
and became a professor at Oberlin College. His books, particularly his Revolution-Counterrevolution,
are still quoted quite often.
13. Otto Bauer (1881-1938), Viktor Adler (1852-1918);Austrian
14. Béla Kun (1886-1939) in 1914 he worked for the Laborer's
Insurance Company in Kolozsvár. Charged with misappropriating some funds, he returned the
money and the case was dropped. Serving on the Russian front in the spring of 1916 he
became a prisoner of war. He was Lenin's emissary to Hungary. After the 1919 revolution he
spent his life in the Soviet Union. He was ordered shot by Stalin in 1939.
15. Fernand Vix (1876-1941), Mission head of the Allied Forces.
16. There were several peasant rebellions against the Communist
regime during its 133 days. One of the ministers of the 1949 - 1956 Communist reign of
terror, Zoltán Vas, who himself sat in Horthy's prisons for over 16 years, reports that
anti-Communist peasant rebellions had to be suppressed in Trans-Danubia, also in twenty
villages in the Kalocsa region, as well as in Budapest. These counter-revolutionary
rebellions took Szamuely's "Lenin Boys" several days to suppress. (Vas, Zoltán:
Horthy, 3rd ed., Budapest: Szépirodalmi, 1977.)
17. Tibor Szamuely (1890-1919), Communist newspaperman, chairman of
the roving martial law enforcer "Lenin Boys" behind the front.
18. Of the 34 member Hungarian Supreme Soviet, 23 were Jewish.
19. Count István Bethlen (1874-1946), organized the Anti-Bolshevik
Committee in Vienna, he was to became prime minister later, arrested by the KGB in 1945
and died in a Soviet prison.
20. Count Gyula Károlyi (1871-1947), landowner, politician. One of
Horthy's close confidant during the whole period.
21. French general, commander of Allied forces in Hungary in 1919.
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