Jorg Hirsch / Kim Travnor (translation)

     Excerpt from the book A HISTORY OF MODERN HUNGARY,

     Longman, London and New York 1996


     Andrew Andersen (map editor for web version)







From Károlyi's Baurgeois-Democratic Revolution to Kun's Soviet Republic

The Kádrolyi's government's last-minute attempt to persuade the Entente Powers to conclude a separate peace with an independent Hungary and make generous concessions to persuade the non-Magyar peoples to remain within Hungary failed during the first days of November 1918. Despite the agreement of the Allies to leave a final settlement of the new east central European frontiers until after the Paris Peace Conference the Czechs, Slovaks, Ruthenes, Rumanians, Croats, Serbs and Slovenes, helped by the French military, now seized those parts of Hungary to which they laid claim. Ignoring the armistice signed by the commander of the French Balkan army, Franchet D'Esperey, and the Károlyi government in Belgrade on 7 November 1918, the Rumanian National Council in Arad notified the Hungarian authorities on 10 November of the takeover of the administration in twenty-three counties and parts of three other counties. Rumanian troops advanced into Transylvania whose annexation was unilaterally proclaimed by the Bucharest government on 11 January 1919. The Serbs had already taken over the administration of the Bácska, the Baranya and the western Banat on 24 November 1918, presenting the Hungarians with a well-nigh irreversible fait accompli. Czech troops advanced into Slovakia, or 'Upper Hungary' as it was formerly called, and were poised to occupy the districts of Ung, Ugosca, Bereg and Máramaros with their Ruthenian population, to which the Rumanians also laid claim. On 3 and 23 December 1918, the Allied Supreme Command agreed to the takeover of the civilian administration by the Czech authorities. On 29 October, the diet of the Kingdom of Croatia and Slavonia had announced an end to its ties with Hungary and the Habsburg monarchy and joined Serbia. In view of the realities of the situation the Hungarians were unable to take any effective measures to prevent the break-up of their country.


Hungarian poster reflecting territorial claims of Hungary’s neighbours after her voluntary disarmament 


This dismemberment of the Monarchy, which the Hungarians were powerless to resist, caused a growing sense of bitterness among the Hungarian population and increasingly undermined the prime minister's prestige. Károlyi was regarded as relatively pro-Entente and a politician who enjoyed good relations with western statesmen. As early as 1914 in the USA and again in neutral Switzerland in the autumn of 1917 he had argued for his belief in the need for an evolutionary change in Hungary's socio-economic and political conditions. The tough actions taken by the emerging nation states, tolerated, though not always approved of by the allied governments, showed that, contrary to expectations, Hungary could not hope for more considerate treatment. The Károlyi government was particularly disappointed by the Entente Powers' growing readiness to depart from the principles set out in Wilson's Fourteen Points, which those groups willing to introduce reforms had been in the end prepared to use as a basis for the necessary restructuring of an independent Hungary. The argument that Hungary's premier, István Tisza, like the Hungarian population in general, had opposed the unleashing of the First World War in the summer of 1914 failed to persuade the Allies to grant more favourable peace terms.

With the growing willingness of the Allied governments to allow a ring of territorially well-endowed successor states to emerge, confining Hungary to a relatively narrow area of Magyar settlement, the progressive idea of the new minister for nationalities, Oszkár Jászi, to make Hungary a kind of 'eastern Switzerland', became untenable. As well as analysing and condemning former policies towards the nationalities, Jászi proposed working towards a new form of coexistence between the nations in the Danube Basin on the basis of extensive political and cultural autonomy. However, during the course of the discussions with Slovak and Rumanian representatives it soon became clear that even the most generous concessions could not overcome their desire to join their conationals in the new or already existing nation states which had been greatly enlarged by the acquisition of new territories. The I ncreasingly obvious impossibility of breaking out of Hungary's foreign policy isolation and preventing the country's territorial disintegration prior to the terms of the Paris Peace Conference being made known also increasingly limited Károlyi's room for manoeuvre in domestic politics.

The first new government measures were infused with a progressive spirit and met with broad approval. A new electoral law extended the franchise to all men and the majority of women over 21 who had been Hungarian citizens for a period of at least six years. Future elections were to be conducted by secret ballot. In a similar liberal and generous spirit the government guaranteed by law freedom of the press, assembly and speech. The Ruthenian population was granted autonomy and preparations made to introduce a land reform. The workers won the acceptance of their demand for an eight-hour working day, first raised a decade previously, although there was still insufficient work available and food shortages. The effects of the Allied blockade, the disruption to Hungary's close economic ties with Austria, together with the military occupation of major territories in the north, south and east of the country, all contributed to a general situation which brought factory production to a standstill. Shortages of raw materials and fuel, together with the disruption to freight traffic, produced maximum economic chaos. The unemployment figures rose daily. Returning prisoners of war and demobilised soldiers swelled the flood of refugees from the occupied territories who were often homeless and incapable of making ends meet. The country's finances had been completely ruined by the war and could not be used to alleviate the widespread distress. Appeals for voluntary donations showed people's willingness to help, but donations of clothes and money were inadequate to provide effective long-term relief. A feeling of growing bitterness spread among people facing basic food shortages in the urban areas, since they suspected landowners and wealthy peasants of deliberately holding back deliveries to the starving towns. The refusal of many landowners to cultivate their fields in view of the impending land reform and the growing impatience of the rural proletariat, which saw no sign of the promised redistribution of cultivable land, heightened tensions and created an explosive atmosphere.

Because its proposals for a democratic reform of society were increasingly criticised and condemned by the political Right as too radical and partisan, the Károlyi government felt obliged to take steps to prevent developments taking a more radical direction. The minister of defence, Bartha, who had been behind the setting up of special armed units to defend the government and the property of the state, was forced to resign from his post as a result of public pressure. But the minister of the interior, Count Tivadar Batthyány, also resigned on the grounds that the measures taken against the threats from the Left were too lax. Government officials were very hesitant about pushing through laws which ran counter to their own political beliefs. Members of the army officer corps founded secret organisations committed to the defence of the fatherland which Gyula Gömbös, a general staff captain and future prime minister, tried to unite in the Hungarian Militia Association.

The political Left was also in the process of organising itself. A small nucleus of political activists had been formed from among the half a million or so Hungarian soldiers who had ended up in Russian captivity and had in many cases been influenced by Marxist-Leninist ideology. After their release from captivity they had spread the message of Socialist revolution and had made their mark as organisers and speakers at mass demonstrations both before and after the revolution of 1918. Some, like Béla Kun, had also taken an active part in the Russian revolution and had fought in the ranks of the Red Guard. On his return to Budapest Kun, who derived great authority from being one of Lenin's former colleagues, had immediately made contact with the Social Democratic Party's left wing and the Revolutionary Socialists. The latter had played a major part in the preparation and execution of the 'Chrysanthemum revolution', but were dissatisfied with the official line of their parties who were content with a bourgeois democratic revolution. The Soldiers' and Workers' Councils which had appeared spontaneously in both the capital and the provinces, had not grown as dynamically as had been hoped. It was felt that it would be impossible to implement a political programme or gain a say in government without first developing a strict party organisation. On 24 November 1918, therefore, the Communist Party of Hungary (Kommunisták Magyarországi Pártja) was founded and soon published its own newspaper theVörös Újság (Red News).

The new party, which at first concentrated its activities on the big factories in Budapest and the soldiers garrisoned in the capital, soon tried to whip up support for its programme in the provinces too. Its aims were varied, Its propaganda concentrated on crushing the 'counter-revolution', exposing the betrayal perpetrated by the 'right-wing' leaders of the Social Democratic Party and creating a system of Soviets on the Bolshevik model. It also put forward concrete demands for a 'complete break with the remnants of feudalism', an end to cooperation with the bourgeoisie and its corrupt politicians and a change in Hungarian foreign policy away from the Entente and towards an alliance with the new Soviet Russia. Although the nucleus of the Communist Party remained relatively small in size, Communist slogans had an effective appeal in a situation of growing social distress and widespread dissatisfaction. They helped weaken popular support for the Social Democrats and thus for the government coalition. Revolutionary Soldiers', Workers' and Peasants' Councils were now also formed in the provincial towns and pursued policies very close to the Communist Party programme. As early as late December demonstrators organised by the Communist Party demanded the proclamation of a Hungarian Soviet Republic. The entire country was engulfed by a wave of strikes as infuriated workers took over their factories and seized transport and communications installations. When the government sent in the army to restore order numerous factories were occupied between the 1 and 5 January 1919 and control of production passed to the Communist-dominated Soviets.

The government turned out to be no match for this deeply motivated revolt. After lengthy discussions the internal argument within the Social Democratic Party, whether, in view of the masses' action and the Communists' growing influence, it would not make more sense to withdraw from participation in the government in order to retain some of their influence with the workers, or whether the Social Democrats could better defend their positions in the crisis by assuming an even more prominent role in government, was decided in favour of those who supported continuing the policy of shared governmental responsibility. The party's National Council hoped that Count Mihály Karolyi's appointment as President of the Republic on 11 January 1919 and the entrusting of the former minister of justice, DU +00E9nes Berinkey, with the formation of a new government would bring about greater stability. The Social Democrats occupied five posts in the new government, including Vilmos Böhm as minister of defence. The Smallholders' Party nominated the popular István Nagyatádi Szábo for the new government as a man who could be expected to speed up the land reform for which the peasants were becoming more impatient. The Social Democrats tried to tame the left wing of their own party at first. After an emergency party conference had approved tough measures on 28 January 1919 the Budapest Workers' Council expelled the Communists from its membership and that of the trade unions. Following the dissolution of the spontaneously elected workers' councils, which had proved impossible to control, workers' participation was to be guaranteed by elected shop-floor committees in all factories with more than 25 employees. The Law for the Protection of the Republic gave the minister of the interior the power to order the internment of persons considered dangerous to the state. However, it was members of the right-wing opposition who proved to be the first victims of the preventive measure. The government undertook a thorough purge of the bureaucracy, dismissing the lord-lieutenants of the county administrations. The dissolved county commissions were replaced by elected People's Councils. The Militia Association was banned and measures carried out against the conservative elements around the president's older brother, Count józsef Kádrolyi, and Count István Bethlen, who tried to unite their supporters in the county administrations in a new right-wing opposition party. By announcing the law on land reform on 16 February 1919 the government hoped to calm the revolutionary mood in the countryside. All estates of over 300 hectares were to be expropriated and compensation paid to their owners. These were then to be parcelled out with the aim of creating a new economic structure based on small peasant farms allocated to the small and dwarf-holding peasantry. The new president, Mihály Károlyi began personally to redistribute the land on his great estates in Kálkápolna on 23 February.

However, this land reform sparked off a new internal political conflict. The large-scale landowners showed little inclination to support the passage of the proposed legislation and offered stubborn resistance. The rural proletariat reacted bitterly at the government's completely inadequate upper limit on the size of individual allocations. They also criticised the lengthy and cumbersome process of redistribution which prevented the transfer of ownership in time for the spring planting of crops and complained at the amount of compensation they were expected to pay, sums which the poor rural population could not in fact afford. When the government refused to halt the work of the land distribution committees and satisfy the calls for reform, voiced with increasing bitterness by the intended beneficiaries, the number of land seizures by the peasants began to rise from the beginning of March 1919 onwards as attempts were made to cultivate the land collectively. Even the newly appointed government officials who were supposed to take over the leading positions in the county administrations were not always able to take up office and had to watch helplessly as makeshift committees, dominated by landless peasants and workers, usurped the administration's functions. In some provincial towns such as Szeged the town council was controlled by workers' committees set up by the left-wing Social Democrats and the Communists.

Even the arrest of the Communist Party's leaders on 21 February 1919, which the Social Democrats also agreed to after considerable hesitation, failed to dampen the mood of revolution. The arrests had come about as a result of a demonstration organised by the Communists outside the editorial building of the Social Democratic daily newspaper Népszava(The Voice of the People), where several policemen had been killed the previous day. Since, at Károlyi's request, the fifty or so defendants were granted the status of political prisoners, they were also able to lead the Communists from inside prison and create more difficulties for the government whose image was completely tarnished, not least because of its lack of success in foreign policy.

As early as November 1918 the Károlyi government had tried to establish closer contacts with Italy in the hope of acquiring a spokesman at the Paris Peace Conference. The government's willingness to settle the problem of Hungary's disputed territories and develop economic relations with its neighbours was communicated to the new South Slav kingdom of Yugoslavia. In Vienna and Berne, where the Hungarian diplomats had been accredited without further ado, the opportunity presented itself of establishing the first direct contacts with the western Allies and putting the Hungarian case. An economic mission led by A.E. Taylor, followed by a political mission headed by A.C. Coolidge on 15 January 1919, renewed Hungarian hopes of being included in America's financial aid programme under the direction of Herbert Hoover. It was clear that the country's national economic recovery was bound to have an affect on the government's ability to stabilise the internal political situation. With the Allied military intervention against Bolshevik Russia fully underway, the Hungarians felt they could expect an acceptable settlement of the frontier problem from the Paris Peace Conference, since this appeared to be the only way of avoiding revolution and a takeover of power by the radical Left in Hungary. Thus, the measures taken to curb the influence of the Communists also stemmed from foreign policy considerations.

However, the Peace Conference decision of 26 February 1919, first intimated to the Hungarian government in Budapest on 20 March, effectively swept the Kádrolyi government from office. It proposed creating a neutral zone in the south-east of the country in order to separate the opposing Hungarian and Rumanian forces, which stood ready for battle on the demarcation line, and envisaged sending in more Allied troops. Acceptance of these proposals would have exacerbated Hungary's internal political crisis which had already reached a dangerous level after the Communist Party announced its intention of liberating its imprisoned leaders by holding a mass demonstration on 23 March. The Social Democrats, pressed by Károlyi to take over sole responsibility for the government, intensified their ongoing negotiations with the imprisoned Communist leaders. In view of the external political threat faced by Hungary, the Social Democrats announced their willingness on 21 March to unite with the Hungarian Communist Party to form the United Workers' Party of Hungary ( Magyarországi Szocialista Párt) and to form a new government of both parties pledged to implementing important points in the Communist Party programme. After Károlyi had rejected the Allies' demands as unacceptable he transferred power 'on behalf of the proletarian class' to this new government, the Revolutionary Governing Council ( Forradalmi Kormányzótanćs). Although its chairman was the Social Democratic Centralist, Sándor Garbai, it was effectively led by Béla Kun who had secured his position as head of the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs.

On the 22 March 1919, the new government proclaimed Hungary a republic and announced its declared aim of establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat. Proclaiming its desire to live in peace with all peoples, to maintain relations with the western powers and arrive at a just compromise with the country's nationalities, it announced that the most important tasks facing the new Soviet Republic were the construction of a Socialist society and the forging of an alliance with the Soviet Union. Kun, who soon claimed and received dictatorial powers, placed his faith in the prospect of military help from the Red Army to defend Hungarian territory, interpreted as a struggle against the imperialism of the capitalist powers. The vast majority of the population was at first persuaded by this view and prepared to take up arms to defend Hungary's territorial unity, although most thought little of the Communists' utopian doctrinaire measures in internal politics. There was no opposition, nor protests, at first, since only a completely new political departure appeared to offer Hungary the chance to break out of its foreign policy isolation and take the heat out of the confused internal political situation. Although the number of organised Communists remained few, the majority of Social Democrats, many bourgeois radicals and even reformist liberals supported the change introduced by the new Soviet government. There followed a rapid succession of decrees which in the course of time revealed the dominant influence of the Communists.

On 25 March 1919, the government officially announced a reorganisation of the armed forces and the creation of the Hungarian Red Army. This was to be recruited from the organised workers with political commissars attached to each unit in order to counteract the influence of the old officer corps and ensure that the troops were successfully re-educated ideologically. The Red Guard, in which Communist supporters occupied all the key positions, was charged with maintaining internal law and order instead of the police and the gendarmerie. The courts were replaced by revolutionary tribunals on which lay-judges, loyal to the party line, were given the final say. On 26 March, mining and transport were nationalised along with industrial concerns with more than twenty employees. These were to be managed in future by production commissars and controlled by elected workers' councils. Banks, insurance companies and home ownership were likewise placed under state control. By placing accommodation under public ownership an attempt was made to overcome the housing shortage caused by the flood of refugees. Social policy measures -- wage increases, sexual equality, the prohibition of child labour, improved educational opportunities -- met with widespread approval, as did the nationalisation of major commercial concerns, the introduction of food and consumer goods rationing and the supervised distribution of food by the trade unions. On 29 March 1919, it was announced that schools and educational institutions were also now the property of the state. Up to 80 per cent of elementary schools and 65 per cent of middle-schools had previously been run by the Church. It was envisaged that members of the Church's teaching orders would continue to be employed on condition that they were prepared to enter the state service. György Lukács, People's Commissar for Education, also proposed a progressive reform of the universities and the entire range of cultural activities, and began a campaign against illiteracy.

The government's most radical measure was the land reform decrees of 3 April. Middle and large-sized estates together with their inventories were expropriated without compensation and taken into state ownership. The Church's landed properties were also subsequently nationalised, although some land was spared in order to support the clergy. The division of land into individual plots was forbidden. Estates were to be collectively managed by agricultural cooperatives, whereby the previous owners, tenants and managers had to take charge as 'production commissars', who would be subject to control by the People's Soviets, comprising former rural labourers and farmhands, i.e. the so-called 'collective farm workers'. In the belief that large-scale enterprises would effectively produce more to cover food requirements than small peasant farms lacking capital, machinery and seed stocks, the rural poor's spontaneous land seizures, hitherto encouraged by the Communists, were now reversed. However, dissatisfaction with this measure was so great in some districts that the government was soon obliged to allow the creation of small plots or allotments.

In order to acquire political legitimacy and popular support for their far-reaching measures, which resulted in considerable social change and unforeseeable changes in the production and administrative apparatus, Soviet elections were held between 7 and 10 April on the basis of the extended suffrage granted by the provisional constitution of 2 April 1919. Since there was only a single list of candidates, the Revolutionary Governing Council could be sure of winning a majority for its programme which was increasingly modelled on Soviet-Russian organisational principles. But in both the Socialist Party and the Revolutionary Governing Council the former Social Democrats, who harboured growing reservations regarding Kun's new direction in foreign policy, began to raise objections to the flagrant violation of existing legal norms and ruthless persecution of both actual or potential opponents.

To increase pressure on the Hungarian Soviet government to change its policies or even resign, the Peace Conference, which perceived the Soviet Republic as a threat, had decided on 28 March to maintain its economic blockade of the country. Hungary could, therefore, cultivate diplomatic and economic contracts only with Austria. Soviet Russia, itself imperilled by civil war and Allied intervention, had immediately recognised the Hungarian Soviet régime, but could not provide effective help. On 24 March, Kun had asked the Peace Conference to help settle the points at issue by sending a diplomatic mission to Hungary and entering into direct negotiations with Soviet government. Since America's President Wilson and Britain's prime minister, Lloyd George, interpreted the radical turn of events in Hungary as primarily a result of protest against the violation of Hungarian national interests and excessive French demands, they argued for the acceptance of Kun's proposal. Afraid that the Hungarian Communist virus might also spread to Austria and Germany, they thought it desirable to show a readiness to make some form of compromise. But Clemenceau's already mooted idea of establishing a cordon sanitaire in east central Europe appeared a better guarantee for holding feared German revanchist designs in check, while at the same time preventing the export of the Russian revolution and isolating Hungary internationally. The decision to withdraw the French interventionist troops from the Ukraine and the Crimea and hand over their weapons to the Rumanian army was motivated by the idea of using Czechoslovakia and Rumania, as directly affected neighbours, to exorcise the red spectre in Hungary. After long discussions the 'Big Four' finally agreed to send General Smuts to Budapest to sound out the Hungarians' willingness to negotiate. The talks, which began on 4 April, failed to produce any concrete results, since the Allies insisted on the creation of a neutral zone, albeit reduced, in south-east Hungary and Kun failed to have his proposal accepted of holding a conference of the powers directly involved to settle the problems of the Danube region.


Map from Hungarian Historical Atlas showing pre-Trianon Hungary, Entente-established demarcation lines, limits of the territory controlled by Hungarian Soviet government as well as Rumanian and  Czechoslovakian military expansion of 1918-19.

Click on the map for higher resolution


The Rumanian Crown Council, in a decree of 10 April 1919, decided, therefore, to insist on a military solution of its territorial claims against Hungary. Although the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes refused to join in any common action, Czechoslovakia also made military preparations. At first the Hungarian Red Army failed to halt the Rumanian advance which began on 16 April, with the result that Hungary had to surrender its territories east of the river Tisza. Earnest appeals and a wave of patriotism did, however, result in a rush of volunteers, especially after Czech units joined the campaign. A Committee of Public Safety, organised by Tibor Szamuely, increased the pressure on the civilian population and soon practised open terror against all suspected sympathisers of the Society for the Liberation of Hungary, founded by Count István Bethlen in Vienna on 13 April 1919. Against the background of a steadily deteriorating military situation and the failure of Hungary's increasingly anxious appeals to the Peace Conference and neighbouring governments, the Social Democratic People's Commissars showed at an emergency sitting of 1 and 2 May 1919 that they were prepared to create the conditions to end the military intervention through the resignation of the Revolutionary Governing Council and the appointment of a transitional government. With the help of the Budapest Soviet, however, Kun was able to drum up a majority in favour of continuing the fighting. The Red Army, which was quickly doubled in strength, began its offensive against the Czech units in Slovakia and Ruthenia in the middle of May. Hoping to create a direct land corridor to Soviet Russia and greatly improve the Soviet Republic's military and political situation, it managed to achieve a series of quick successes and by the beginning of June had already succeeded in driving a wedge between the rather ineffective Czech and Rumanian forces. A short-lived Soviet Republic was even proclaimed in the Slovak town of Kassa.

This unexpected recovery by the Hungarians led to various forms of intensified activity which eventually contributed to the fall of the Hungarian Soviet régime. In Szeged, which was under the control of French occupation forces, an anti-Bolshevik Committee was formed in which bourgeois politicians and members of the bureaucracy, together with some aristocrats and ex-servicemen, prepared to set up a rival government on 3 June 1919 under Count Gyula Károlyi's chairmanship. This counter-revolutionary government was to include Count Pál Teleki as foreign minister and the last commander-in-chief of the Austro-Hungarian navy and former aide-de-camp to the Emperor Francis Joseph, Rear Admiral Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya as minister of war. At the same time, Horthy took over the command of the National Army which had been mainly organised by Gyula Gömbös. Dissatisfaction with the Communists expressed itself in revolts in the countryside and refusals to cooperate. In the towns also, tensions were again heightened by the crisis caused by basic fuel and food shortages. The Revolutionary Governing Council tried to blame the peasants for the lack of food, thus exacerbating the already strained relationship between town and country, and increasingly resorted to coercion in order to maintain discipline and keep work going in the unpopular agricultural collectives. A Central Economic Council was eventually put in charge of the country's entire economic life with the task of overcoming the supply situation. However, the discontented rural population increasingly refused to cooperate. Resistance spread and was merely fuelled further by the government's counter-measures. In the western counties, in particular, riots and strikes, organised by ex-army officers and civil servants, flared up repeatedly, especially since the brutality with which the Red Guard units, charged with the maintenance of internal order, tried to crush the disturbances, led to a continual increase in the numbers of those opposing the government.

At the first party congress of the Hungarian Socialist Party, held on 12-13 June 1919, a head-on clash took place between groups who opposed the government's handling of domestic and foreign policy. Many Social Democrats obviously no longer agreed with the partisan direction of the Communists' policies and sharply condemned the radical measures against the population. As a result the party changed its name to the Socialist-Communist Party of Hungarian Workers (Szocialista-Kommunista Munkások Magyarországi) At the opening session of a new kind of parliament, the National Congress of Councils (Soviets) which lasted from 14 to 23 June, the Communists succeeded in passing a draft constitution which was entirely dominated by their ideas. They also demonstrated their controlling influence on the elections to the Central Executive Committee, whose task was to control the work of the Revolutionary Governing Council between the sittings of the National Congress. The deliberations were interrupted by the news that a major uprising involving the rival Szeged government had broken out between the Danube and the Tisza. The unrest spilled over to Budapest on 24 June as ex-servicemen gave their support to the government's opponents. By deploying Red Guard units, the government once more succeeded in crushing the disturbances, not least because the industrial workers refused to join the ranks of insurgents. But, since the workers were also not prepared to continue supporting the Soviet régime, the position of the Revolutionary Governing Council became increasingly precarious.

The actions of the Entente Powers also contributed to the crisis, True, the hastily conceived plan for an Allied military intervention was soon dropped in favour of diplomatic and economic pressure, but this made little impression on the Governing Council. The demand, communicated to the Budapest government on 7 June 1919, to stop the further advance of the Red Army to the north-east in order to begin peace negotiations in Paris with the participation of Hungarian delegates was ignored. On 13 June, an offer arrived from Paris that if the Hungarian troops retreated to the former demarcation line, the Rumanian army would be pulled back from the Tisza to its original positions. In view of the Hungarian army's logistical problems and growing internal resistance this proposal was accepted, though with some reservations. The Red Army began to pull back. Many of its generals and officers, who up until now had fought in order to fulfil their patriotic duty and defend their country, protested at this climb-down. The commander-in-chief, Vilmos Bőhm, and the chief of the general staff, Aurél Stromfeld, joined others in resigning their commissions in protest. It was also announced on 2 July that the Rumanians were refusing to withdraw their troops from the line of the Tisza until the Hungarian army had been completely disarmed.

When Kun wanted to force the evacuation of the territories beyond the Tisza by launching a surprise attack on 20 July 1919, the Red Army managed to achieve some initial victories, but was forced to fall back in disorderly flight when the Rumanians launched their counter-attack. In the final days of July Rumanian troops crossed the Tisza along a broad front. By 31 July, only 100 kilometres separated them from Budapest. Trade unionists and former Social Democrats had already expressed their view more openly that the occupation of the entire country by foreign troops could be prevented only by expelling the Communists from the Governing Council and forming a new government which the Entente Powers would recognise as a negotiating partner. This view was reinforced by reports from Vienna where Entente diplomats had presented the Hungarian negotiator, Vilmos Bőhm, with a list of eight points setting out their conditions for ending the Rumanian advance and beginning peace negotiations. The first condition demanded the voluntary resignation of the Governing Council and the creation of a caretaker government under the leadership of the trade unions. Although the Communists still refused to open the way for a negotiated settlement on 31 July, they had to accept the resignation of the Governing Council which was forced by the Budapest Central Workers' Council on 1 August 1919. After a period of 133 days Hungary's experiment in Soviet dictatorship had collapsed. It had ended, not only because of its total rejection by the Allies and the military superiority of its enemies, but because of internal opposition which had derived its strength from the government's errors of political judgement, economic problems and blind terror. Its leaders fled to Austria where they and their families were granted political asylum. A transitional government, headed by Gyula Peidl, had to try to minimise the damage caused to Hungary by Soviet rule.


The 'White Terror' and the Trianon Peace Treaty

In the weeks following the collapse of the Soviet dictatorship Hungary faced complete chaos. On 3 August 1919, Rumanian troops marched unopposed into Budapest where a succession of helpless and impotent governments rapidly wore themselves out.

Peidl's 'government of the trade unions', which was supported only by the Social Democrats, immediately began to repeal and annul the unpopular decrees and measures of Soviet rule. Private property was restored, a functioning state apparatus was re-established and what remained of the 'Red Terror', i.e. the revolutionary tribunals and the Red Guard, was eliminated. On 6 August, however, Peidl's government was overthrown in an armed coup. A new government led by the factory owner, István Friedrich, took over the running of the country. Although the rival Szeged government aknowledged the authority of the new government, the former's war minister and commander of the small counter-revolutionary 'National Army', Miklós Horthy, refused to carry out its instructions. Since the Entente Powers also refused to recognise the new government, its orders carried no weight and could not put an end to the killing and the looting. In the meantime, Horthy's troops had advanced into the areas between the Tisza and the Danube which were not under Rumanian occupation and soon extended their control over areas west of the Danube which were now free of foreign military occupation. Real and alleged Communists were ruthlessly persecuted along with workers and peasants who had played an active part in implementing the Soviet government's programme. The same fate was shared by the Jews who suffered considerable loss of life in punitive actions reminiscent of mediaeval pogroms. The officer detachments responsible for the 'White Terror' were actively supported by such newly formed paramilitary organisations as the Hungarian National Defence Force Association and the Association of Vigilant Hungarians, whose members were drawn mainly from the ranks of the reserve officers, students, civil servants and those Magyars who had been socially and economically uprooted following their expulsion from the former nationality territories now lost to Hungary's new neighbours. This 'White Terror', which raged throughout the countryside until the autumn of 1919 and died away only slowly in the spring of 1920, bore no semblance of legality. It claimed around 5,000 lives, put 70,000 citizens behind bars or crowded them into hastily erected internment camps and forced many suspects to flee abroad.

A mission of the Entente Powers, which arrived in Budapest on 5 August 1919, did little to stop the unbridled persecution and chaos. Whereas the various Hungarian governments tried in vain to maintain internal order and political stability, most of the government commissars in the counties, who were appointed from among the wealthy landowners, had sufficient power and means at heir disposal to restore traditional authority and property relations while at the same time reversing the principles of democratic liberal reform. They were fully supported by those groups in the towns and countryside who were horrified at the extent of the Soviet government's democratisation measures and the 'Red Terror'. These were the aristocracy, civil servants, the military and middle and small-ranking property owners in the towns who had no sympathy for the appeals of the intelligentsia -- itself implicated in the failure of democratic reforms -- not to let Hungary depart from the principles of parliamentary democracy. The visit of the British diplomat Sir George Clerk in October 1919 was evidence of the western Allies' interest in seeing a liberal parliamentary democracy established in Hungary. The Allies also urgently demanded that a general election, based on the secret ballot, should be held for a national assembly, conceived as a single chamber parliament elected bianually. The only reason that the Hungarians reluctantly agreed to these proposals was that they were the only means by which they could secure the withdrawal of the Rumanian troops from Budapest. After 16 November 1919, when Horthy entered the capital at the head of his National Army, now swollen to 25,000 men, a government of national concentration led by the Christian Social leader, Károlyi Huszár, was formed on 25 November. The post of social welfare minister was filled by Károly Peyer, the leader of the Social Democratic Party, newly reorganised in August. But the new government was unable to satisfy expectations that it would bring stability to the woeful political and economic situation. It could not and would not take vigorous action against the 'White Terror' at large throughout the country. As a result, the Social Democrats left the government on 15 January 1920 and decided to boycott the elections due to be held on 25 January. The other political factions displayed a lack of unity and instability. Many influential politicians of the pre-war period like Gyula Andrássy, Albert Apponyi and István Bethlen initially held back from joining any of the parties, but instead created independent dissenting groups. Newly created parties like the National Civic Party, the National Liberal Party or the Democratic Party lacked popular support and primarily represented business interests and high finance. In contrast, the Christian National Unity Party (Keresztény Nemzeti Egyesülgs Pdrtja) which was the result of a merger on 25 October 1919 between the Christian National Party, the Christian Social Economic Party and several smaller groups, was able to rely on the support of both the petty bourgeoisie and the wealthy L andowners who remained loyal to the Habsburgs and supported their restoration. In the meantime the National Smallholders' Party, led by István Nagyatádi Szabó, had become an important political factor. After its merger with the Party of Arable Farmers and Rural Labourers (Országos Kisgazda és Földmüves Párt), founded by Gyula Dann, it could count on the support of the majority of the rural population. Despite the continuation of the 'White Terror' the freest elections in Hungary's history -- free, because they were mainly conducted by secret ballot -- produced a majority for the Smallholders' Party which won 40 per cent of the vote and seventy-nine seats, while the Christian National Union won 35.1 per cent of the vote and seventy-four seats. Three further splinter groups returned ten deputies to the new parliament. The workers, however, still had no represention in the new National Assembly. When, on 15 June 1920, further elections were held in the territories which had been under foreign occupation, the Smallholders' Party succeeded in strengthening its leading position even further.

The Smallholders' demand to introduce land reform legislation in the interests of its supporters and the problem of the king were the key issues which the new parliament had to address. All the parties acknowledged that Hungary's 'indivisible and indissoluble' connection with the Habsburg crown lands had been severed; but all agreed that the monarchy should continue to exist beyond the 13 November 1918, although the Crown's prerogatives had been terminated as of that date. A quarrel now broke out between the 'Legitimists', who, drawn mainly from among the ranks of the wealthier magnates and the Catholic episcopacy, considered King Charles IV, who had not yet abdicated, to be the country's legitimate ruler and those who supported an elective monarchy based on popular support, i.e. the middle-ranking landowning nobility and leaders of the Calvinist Church who held that the monarch's claim to the throne had been forfeited and demanded the nation's right to choose a new king on the basis of free elections. Since both sides were unable to reach a compromise on the questions of whether King Charles was still Hungary's rightful ruler or how they should otherwise determine the succession, the government fell back on an institution of the late Middle Ages which Lajos Kossuth had revived in 1849: they proposed appointing a regent for the duration of the interregnum (Law I of 1920). On 1 March 1920, Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya was elected Regent in a parliament building occupied by the military at the time.

As commander-in-chief of the Szeged National Army, which had grown to almost 50,000 men in Transdanubia after joining up with Baron Antal Lehár's units at the beginning of 1920, Horthy, who was not a particularly talented military commander or politician, exhibited an exceptional desire to legitimise his authority. Thanks to his sincere manner in dealing with others, his ability in several languages and the troops under his command, he was able to win the support of the Entente representatives stationed in Budapest. His active tolerance of the 'White Terror' had made him acceptable to the enemies of reform as well as those opposed to revolution. They hoped they could install this reputedly malleable and arrogant professional soldier as a figurehead to help them achieve their own aims. Horthy knew how to give both the legitimists and those who supported an elective monarchy the impression that he supported their respective positions. He also cultivated the image of a leader who, on account of his good personal contacts with leading Entente politicians, could obtain improved peace terms for Hungary. But as soon as he was made Regent, Horthy increasingly pursued his own policy, primarily in the interests of his own family. The result was that the suspicion soon grew that he had his eyes on the crown for himself or his eldest son.

On 10 March 1920, the Huszár government made way for a new cabinet led by Sándor Simonyi-Semadam, whose priority was to seek an improvement in the harsh peace terms. On 25 November 1919, the Hungarian government had been invited to send a delegation to Paris to receive the terms. This delegation, headed by Apponyi, Bethlen and Pál Teleki tried to have the draft of the peace treaty, which was handed to them on 20 January 1920, changed to more favourable terms on the basis of historical, economic and legal arguments. They not only pointed to the geographical unity of the Danube basin up to the natural frontier of the Carpathians in the north and east and to the fact that the territories recently seized by Czechoslovakia and Rumania had for a thousand years, since the beginning of the 11th century, constantly formed part of the crown lands of St Stephen. They also argued that, despite the intermingling of populations of different nationalities it would be difficult, though not impossible, to draw a more equitable frontier. They failed, however, to gain any concessions with their arguments. The Hungarian government also tried in vain to prevent the inclusion of a war-guilt clause by pointing out that the Hungarian population and the prime minister, Tisza, had been opposed to war in the summer of 1914 and suggested changing the proposed terms stipulating a reduction in the size of armed forces to allow a system of conscription for a standing army of 100,000 men in place of the permitted strength of 35,000. When this also was rejected, broad sections of the Hungarian population were already bitterly opposed to the proposed peace treaty even before it was signed in the Trianon on 4 June 1920, believing that a major revision of its terms was inevitable.

The independent 'Kingdom of Hungary', which emerged as a result of the Trianon peace treaty comprised only 92,963 square kilometres compared with the original 325,411 square kilometres of the old pre-war Kingdom of Hungary. According to the 1920 census, its population now numbered 7.62 million inhabitants compared with the earlier figure of 20.9 million. Under the terms of the Treaty the new Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, later named Yugloslavia, received the Bácska, the Baranya and the western Banat, amounting to 20,956 square kilometres, i.e. 6.44 per cent of pre-war Hungary, involving the loss of 1.5 million inhabitants. Hungary was obliged to cede 102,787 square kilometres, i.e. 31.59 per cent of its entire territory and 5,265,000 inhabitants to Rumania, the latter obtaining the whole of Transylvania including the Szekler region, the eastern Banat, most of the counties of Körös and Tisza and the southern part of Máramaros. Of the 62,937 square kilometres or 19.34 per cent of pre-war Hungary ceded to the new Czechoslovakian Republic, Slovakia received 48,994 square kilometres, Ruthenia 12,639. Of the 3,250,000 inhabitants affected by these changes, 2,950,000 were settled in Slovakia and 571,000 in Ruthenia. More than three million Magyars now lived under foreign rule: 1,063,000 in Czechoslovakia, 1,700,000 in Rumania and 558,000 in Yugoslavia.



Thanks to Italy's support, Hungary was at least able to push part of its claim through against the weak Austrian government on the question of the Burgenland when a somewhat dubious plebiscite held on 14 December 1921 resulted in the return to Hungary of the area around Sopron.

Although no exact figure was set, Hungary had to agree to pay reparations. The armed forces permitted under the treaty, comprising a professional army of 35,000 men on a long period of service, but minus heavy artillery, armoured corps and an air force, was intended exclusively to maintain internal order and the defence of Hungary's frontiers. An Inter-Allied Control Commission was given the task of seeing that these armament limitations were observed.

Every section of the Hungarian population felt disappointment at the scale of losses demanded by the peace treaty, which came to be regarded as a dictated settlement. The historic Kingdom of Hungary had possessed a geographical unity without parallel in the rest of Europe. In the second half of the nineteenth century the national economy had been a coordinated whole in which the different parts of the country had been mutually dependent on each other and the capital, Budapest. This economic unit had been destroyed by the territorial terms of the peace. The effects of the world economic crisis in 1931-32 made the problems resulting from the destruction of the Habsburg Empire's unified economy very apparent and these proved impossible to overcome satisfactorily in the period before 1938. As a semi-industrialised country with an inadequately developed manufacturing industry Trianon Hungary began to fall behind other countries economically. Since its bauxite and oil resources were yet to be exploited, the government had to give priority to agricultural production. The war and the period of Soviet rule had done little to reduce the social tensions which resulted from the partisan redistribution of landed property, and these played a crucial part in determining the direction taken by Hungary's domestic and foreign policies during the inter-war period. The influx of 350,000 immigrants from the territories of the successor states, comprising mainly civil servants, teachers and soldiers, also added to the problem of achieving social cohesion, since they represented a politically aware group which could not be so quickly and easily accommodated in a country that had been reduced so much in size. The only problem solved by the imposition of the Trianon peace treaty terms was that of the national minorities. According to the 1920 census, only 833,475 people, i.e. 10.4 per cent of the population, including 552,000 Germans (6.9 per cent) and 142,000 Slovaks (1.8 per cent), did not speak Hungarian as their mother tongue. According to the same census, the number of Jews living in Hungary was 473,000.

Despite the sacrifices imposed by the treaty, Hungary's government and people continued to identify their dismembered state firmly with pre-war Hungary. Deliberately shunning any compromise with the new circumstances, they remained absolutely inflexible, rejecting even the possibility of any constructive developments within the new frontiers. They carefully nurtured the Magyars' sense of an historically based national identity, looking back to the founding of the state, the Hungarian Kingdom's thousand years of history and their belief in the Magyar cultural mission of spreading their superior civilisation. They kept alive the sense of humiliation at Hungary's defeat, the experience of economic privation and despair at the injustices of the peace settlement. In an eruption of national patriotism which permeated all social classes they argued for a revision of the peace treaty, invoking the symbol of the crown of St Stephen to argue for the restoration of the territories lost to their despised neighbours. Although differences of opinion soon emerged regarding the extent of the desired revision, the treaty's failings were pilloried. Its unrealistically high reparations demands, war-guilt clause, territorial and military terms and unjust treatment of the Magyar minorities in Hungary's neighbour states all became a focus of resentment. The slogan, 'Nem, nem, soha!' (no, no, never!) summed up the attitude of every Magyar to the peace treaty. Diplomatic, artistic and economic contracts with other countries were cultivated with renewed intensity with a view to revising the treaty's terms eventually. 'The world's conscience' was not to be allowed to rest 'in view of the injustices done to Hungary at the Trianon and the consequent danger to peace'. Whereas at first demands were made to restore to Hungary its pre-war territories, implying a total revision of the treaty, which could not be achieved peacefully but only by a victorious war, from 1930 onwards more enlightened circles worked for a revision of the treaty's territorial terms within the framework of national self-determination: ' Hungary will recover those citizens seized from her whose first language is Magyar, although plebiscites will be held in territories whose inhabitants' native language is not Hungarian'.

Hungary's revisionist policy was, however, primarily intended to divert attention away from the country's internal social and economic problems. The traditional upper classes, the aristocratic representatives of the governments and parties of the period before the Soviet republic, which quickly regained their prominence, were interested only in preserving what remained of feudal rule, in resisting any genuine land reform and in obtaining compensation for their extensive holdings which now lay in the territories seized from Hungary. It was thanks to their influence that a subtle combination of democratic elements was incorporated into the new constitution of 28 February 1920 which did much to perpetuate social injustices. The traditional middle class, recruited mainly from members of declining middle nobility, who had been gentrified and earned their living as civil servants or professional soldiers, tried increasingly to curb the influence of the upper nobility and secure their politicial and economic position. They were able – especially I n their unbridled campaign against the Jews -- to count on the complete support of a petty bourgeoisie which was also imbued with the conviction that it was ordained to rule politically and economically. Despite a large influx of Jewish immigration before the First World War, Hungary's Jews, in fact, formed only 6 per cent of the country's population, but controlled major areas of industry, banking and commerce as well as dominating several liberal professions like medicine, the law and journalism. Although the Jews had not posed a threat to any social class and had created many positions for the first time in their role as a substitute bourgeoisie, they were used as a scapegoat in order to release the pent-up dissatisfaction of the middle classes. Even in the officer corps, which was initially the only stabilising factor in the state and which exerted considerable influence on Horthy during his period as Regent, a groundswell of antisemitism combined with anti-liberal ideals. Above all, it was Hungary's professional soldiers who rejected democratic institutions and a liberal state based on the rule of law. Their growing chauvinism and demands for a complete revision of the peace treaty were accompanied by the call to establish naked authoritarian rule in the form of an overt military dictatorship. Hungary's governments and political parties had to resist these tendencies before they could even begin the long overdue process of consolidation.