Hungary communism WWI
Róbert Berény’s famous “Fegyverbe! Fegyverbe!” (“To Arms! To Arms!”) Hungarian Bolshevik propaganda poster from 1919.

The democratic government that formed in Hungary after its WWI defeat was not able to keep wild Communist propaganda supported by Moscow at bay and after less than 5 months they were overthrown by a well-organised coup d’etat.

People were desperate

However, the world’s second Communist dictatorship did not reign in Budapest for long: despite the unprecedented terror it implemented the regime collapsed precisely 100 years ago on August 1, 1919. 

But how could Communists gain power in Hungary, the land of the 1956 revolution during which adolescents fought against the most enormous army of the world, the Soviet Red Army?

In the final days of WWI Hungary (like other nations taking part in the war) was no longer the land that once grabbed arms with great enthusiasm to punish the Serbs or the Russians. In 1918 fall

millions were starving

at home and on the front, as well, everybody wanted to finish the war, return home and punish those they thought are responsible for the 4-year-long bloodshed. They found their leader first in Mihály Károlyi who promised to put an end to the massacre, to democratise Hungary and preserve its territorial unity against Romanian, Serbian or Czech demands.

However, Károlyi and his governments failed to meet the exaggerated expectations of the people. The First People’s Republic of Hungary was unable to defend the borders against the invading neighbours helped by the entente powers, and they were also incapable of

implementing crucial reforms like the distribution of land or organising a general election.

On the other hand; however, since they regarded themselves as democrats, they did not step up against wild Communist propaganda promising almost everything and winning the support of more and more people as the time passed. The parties of the government were like political clubs without real membership except for the social democrats who had almost 1 million party members. By March 1919 Károlyi thought that only the social democrats and their many supporters could stop foreign forces and save Hungary from the destruction. Therefore, he appointed a full social democratic government, but he was not aware of the fact that the Social Democrats already made a pact with the Hungarian Bolsheviks and gave power into their hands.

Hungary Communism Lenin
Communists celebrating after the successful coup d’etat.

On March 21, 1919, the Revolutionary Governing Council was formed which proclaimed the Hungarian Soviet Republic and dismissed Károlyi. 

To tell the truth; however, anti-clerical and anti-peasantry Communists were extremely unpopular in the countryside so their

base was mostly the working class of the large industrial centres

like Budapest, Miskolc or Pécs and some intellectuals who, in the beginning, thought that Lenin’s Hungarian apprentices are the only ones who can finally reform the archaic Hungarian state and society and modernise the country.

Communists, however, also failed to meet the expectations though they implemented many radical reforms. For example, they abolished the aristocratic titles and privileges,  separated the church from the state, meaning that they forbid members of the cleric to teach in schools. They nationalised industrial and commercial enterprises and socialised housing, transport, banking, medicine, cultural institutions, and all landholdings of more than 40 hectares.

Hungary History Communism Lenin
Béla Kun, de facto leader of the Soviet Republic of Hungary.

However, they were not able to improve the conditions of the industrial workers, so their support decreased every day even in that group. Therefore, Communists used unprecedented terror to remain in power; for example, the Lenin Boys lead by József Cserny were deployed where counter-revolutionary movements were suspected of operating. They, as well as other similar groups, terrorised and killed many people during the 133 days of the Communist rule in Hungary.

Béla Kun, the real leader of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, announced that the Communists would retake the lost territories of Hungary and asked for help from Soviet-Russia but

Lenin could not send any troops

because of the Russian Civil War. Therefore, the Hungarian Red Army attacked and crushed Czech forces and retook much of NE-Hungary. The reason for their success was that many former soldiers and officers of the WWI army joined the ranks of the Communists not because they agreed with Communist ideas but because they wanted to retake the lost territories.

Hungary History Communism
The Lenin Boys.

However, Kun ordered the victorious troops to retreat because he was promised to be internationally recognised if he did so (of course, that was a lie). The result was total disintegration and the evaporation of the last bits of trust in the Communist government. Thus, Romanian troops could easily defeat the Red Army and capture even Budapest while Béla Kun and his comrades escaped to Vienna. Later most of them repatriated to the Soviet Union and many of them including

Kun were executed during Stalin’s great purge in the 1930s. 

Mátyás Rákosi, leader of the Red Guard in 1919, managed to survive the 1930s and he returned to create the second Communist state in Hungary after WWII and the Soviet occupation of the country.

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