|Peter Pastor: Hungary Between Wilson and Lenin...|
The communists, deploring the Western orientation of the socialists, mounted ever sharper attacks against them and against the government of which they were a member. Following the Leninist blueprint for revolution, the Hungarian communists aimed to weaken the position of the government by agitating for a system of dual authority. This meant the adoption of the Russian slogan: "All power to the councils!,' The government crisis early in January spurred on the introduction of such formulae and on January 8 the ten-man communist faction in the Budapest Workers, Council demanded the transformation of the council from a Social Democratic Party institution into a class organ of the proletariat. They also demanded the organization of a congress of workers, councils and the arming of the workers. [1.]
The socialist compromise, intended to strengthen Karolyi's position, was vehemently attacked by the communists as another example of the betrayal of Marxism by the socialists, "who now use their power to support the crumbling structure of the bourgeoisie." [2.] The communists also condemned the National Council's appointment of Karolyi as president of the republic. On January 15, Voros Ujsag declared that Karolyi's policy was bankrupt and his rise to the presidency signaled the end of the first phase of the revolution. His appointment was considered to be an act of the petite bourgeoisie, aimed at the protection of private property but disguised as a revolutionary move.
On the day Berinkey was sworn in as prime minister, the communists published the first of three installments of "Lenin's Article for Voros Ujsag." In the article Lenin attacked all socialists, "from Scheidemann to Kautsky," who favored constitutional assemblies over the power of the soviets and who justified their position by claiming to be defending democracy against dictatorship. Lenin concluded that the workers and peasants of Germany, Austria and Hungary ''will soon understand the betrayal of the Scheidemanns and Kautskies":
As the rule of the above mentioned leaders becomes stronger, the proletariat will very soon become aware that the bourgeois state can only be changed into a system like that of the Paris Commune through the rise of a soviet state. Only through the councils can the road to socialism be opened. The dictatorship of the soviet will save humanity from the yoke of capital and war. [3.]
The Hungarian socialists, who considered the communists' agitation for council power to be dangerous, decided to move. At the January 28 meeting of the Workers' Council Jakab Weltner introduced a resolution demanding the censure of the communist movement and the expulsion of communists from the Workers' Councils and labor unions. The resolution was given nearly unanimous support. Sandor Garbai called for a direct confrontation with the communists, who were jeopardizing the socialists' unity: "We must turn our guns against them! No one should be allowed to attempt to break the unity of the workers except at his mortal peril. " [4.] The communists present at the meeting declared in turn that they would not abandon their fight. Thereupon all thirteen were physically ejected from the council chamber.
The socialists thus showed their continued determination to support Karolyi's The communists reacted with a violent indictment of the socialists in a pamphlet in which they declared:
The lackeys of the bourgeoisie, the government socialists, after selling out the proletariat of Hungary, have made a bordello out of the Workers' Council of Budapest. The denunciation accused the socialists of denying the solidarity of the Hungarian workers with the revolutionary proletariat of Russia and claimed that the socialists were responsible for "bringing in French troops to suppress revolutionary activities in Hungary." lt ended: "We stand before them and announce to these lackeys of the capitalists: 'Terror for Terror.' This is our message to the government's socialist mafia." [6.]
The response to the communist call for revolutionary violence was swift and on February 9 at the Socialist Party Congress the socialists decided to expel the communists from the labor unions. [7.] The communist leadership, fearing that the socialists, reaction could deprive them of labor support. decided to change tactics. [8.] New instructions were given to the membership, now 2000 to 4000, to refrain from inciting violence because it might jeopardize the existence of communist cells in the labor unions. This appeal was all the more urgent because, even without communist agitation , the severe economic situation was creating an atmosphere amenable to mob violence.
Apparently, the communists were afraid of a repetition of Russia's July Days of 1917, which had forced the Bolsheviks underground. lt may be assumed that the failure of the Spartacists in Berlin and the brutal murder of their leaders in prison just days before, also contributed to their decision. [9.]
If the communists decided to moderate their revolutionary agitation, this did not mean that they were relinquishing their attack on the foreign policy of the government. They still aimed to show that Karolyi was selling Hungary to Allied anti-Bolshevism. Colonel Vix, incensed by the communist press attacks insisted that the Hungarians must introduce press censorship. [10.] The exasperated Karolyi replied that democracy in Hungary included the freedom of the press for shades of political opinion. [11.] Thus the communist publications continued to attack the Karolyi government and the Vix mission.
On February 11 the communists claimed that the French and Hungarian armistice commissions were colluding to channel requisitioned German arms in Hungary to the Poles fighting Russian communist forces. The arms were being shipped to Poland in sealed railroad cars marked with French signs, they maintained. In return, the French military mission was supposed to have promised coal deliveries to the Hungarians. Each wagonload of arms was said to be repaid with eight wagonloads of coal to Hungary. [12.]
Hungarian immobility against the communists was also motivated by the fact that from the middle of December the government was negotiating with the representatives of the Russian Red Cross in Budapest for the mutual repatriation of prisoners of war. Karolyi expected that, with Western cooperation, the Russians would allow the Hungarian prisoners of war to return through Yladivostok. [13.] Colonel Vix, however, regarded the Russian mission with suspicion and when in January new Russian envoys arrived in Budapest, the French representative considered the event the beginning of an international conspiracy. Though the avowed purpose of the Russians was to continue negotiations for the exchange of prisoners of war, Vix claimed that, according to an informer, the Russians brought money and propaganda material to the Hungarian and Austrian communists. Bowing to charges of international conspiracy, the Hungarian police arrested the mission on January 7, with plans for their expulsion as undesirable aliens. Before such action could be carried through, two officers of the French mission called at police headquarters and demanded transfer of custody of the Russians. The following evening the Russian Red Cross delegation was taken to the railway station under French military escort and, despite the Russians, vehement protests, they were sent to Salonica for French internment. [14.]
On January 20, Vix was able to report that since the arrest of the Russians, there had been a detente in the communist movement in Hungary. He attributed the slack to the communists, lack of money and to the defeat of the Spartacist revolution in Berlin. This view was accepted by Paris with great satisfaction. [15.] Though the arrest may have been seen in such salutary light by Vix, the Hungarian authorities were not able to establish any positive connections between the Hungarian communists and the Russian Red Cross mission. [16.]
The arrest of the Russians had great significance in another respect, as it could be regarded as an act that made Vix a military dictator in Hungary. Apparently, the great conflict of the period forced him to abandon his neutral position and he acted without first consulting his superiors. The international standing of Hungary also became tarnished as a consequence of the incident. The arrest of foreign nationals on Hungarian soil seemed to affirm the Bolshevik propaganda line that Ka'rolyi was a lackey of Entente imperialism directed against Russia. The Soviet Foreign Minister Gregorii Chicherin indignantly telegraphed to Budapest demanding information on the whereabouts of the Russians and called for their release. Chicherin further threatened the suspension of all negotiations with the Hungarian Red Cross representatives in Russia and their expulsion. [17.] The president of the Russian Red Cross used even more ominous threats. After branding Karolyi as an Entente stooge, Veniamin Sverdlov warned the Hungarian government that the Hungarian Red Cross envoys would be imprisoned in Russia in reprisal. [18.]
These open threats caused the Hungarian Armistice Commission to turn to Vix repeatedly with requests to have the Russians sent back to Moscow. The Hungarians warned the French that the fate of one hundred thousand Hungarian prisoners of war was in the balance. They claimed that the French action that prevented repatriation might mean death for many, while others would be "pushed into the arms of Bolshevism." [19.] The Hungarians received no reply to their requests, most likely because the arrest of the Russians was considered by the French military as part of a broader policy aimed at stemming Bolshevism. The Soviet threat of severing the exchange of prisoners of war was exactly what the French wanted. The supreme commander of the Allies, Marshal Foch, wanted to prevent the return of Russian prisoners to communist controlled Russia. In his note of January 11, 1919, Foch advised the Allies to retain the Russian prisoners of war found in the defeated countries. He argued that such a policy would prevent the Red Army from reinforcing its regiments. He called for the repatriation of only those Russians who were antiBolshevik and who were willing to fight against the communist forces in Poland and in southern Russia. [20.] Thus it was in the interest of the French military planners to prevent a deal between the representatives of the Soviets and Hungary which would have allowed Russian prisoners of war to return to the Bolshevik side.
For similar reasons, the French were equally averse to seeing the return of the Magyar prisoners of war from Siberia. According to French and British military reports from Russia, a great number of the Hungarian prisoners of war joined the Bolsheviks and contributed to their military successes. [21.] Their repatriation to Budapest would have weakened the Bolshevik effort in Siberia but it could also have aided the communist cause in Hungary at the exact time when Vix noted an eclipse of communist agitation. Their return through Vladivostok via a long sea voyage could have been the solution to the dilemma but, as Clemenceau noted, there were no available ships to do the job. The French alternative was an attempt to pressure the counter-revolutionary government in Omsk to keep the prisoners of war in their camps. When this policy failed, the Allies accepted the British solution which called for improving camp conditions as a way to keep the prisoners where they were. [22.]
The declining appeal of the cornrnunist threat in Hungary was a false observation. The economic difficulties of Hungary were exploited by the communists. On February 20, the Association of the Unemployed held a communist sponsored demonstration in front of the editorial offices of the socialist newspaper Nepszava. The aim of the demonstrators was to pressure the socialist members of the cabinet to improve the economic situation. No doubt, the communists expected to profit from the bad publicity of the socialists who could do little to ameliorate the situation.
The socialists, fearing mob violence, decided to ask police protection for their buildings. The expected violence materialized when, for reasons still unclear, the demonstrators clashed with the police. In the ensuing fight four uniformed policemen were shot to death.
This violent episode finally gave the police the pretext they needed to arrest the communist leaders. Unbeknownst to the government, they had closely watched the activities of the communists. Agents had infiltrated the party and furnished detailed reports for a confidential file on party leaders. A certain Laszlo Nanassy was in charge of these activities. Reports on the communists' activities were also sent to the Ministry of the Interior.
As early as January the commanders of the Budapest police, Captain Karoly Dietz and Gyorgy Pal1, began considering a police crackdown on the communists in the old Buda section of the capital. There a group known as the "sailors," because they wore sailors' uniforms, had reportedly stocked arms for use in the revolution. Dietz and Pall decided to see Karolyi to get his approval for a raid. They went to the presidential office where Ka'rolyi was in the midst of a cabinet meeting. In view of the urgency of the situation Karolyi was called out and given all the details. When the police chiefs asked permission to arrest the "sailors" Karolyi, however, refused, dropping into a chair and exclaiming dejectedly: "But gentlemen, what will the world say if blood is spilt in the streets of Budapest?"
The events of February 20 now gave the police an excuse to proceed since the communists had clearly violated existing laws. The authorities handled the case as a routine process: arrest for incitement to riot and murder. As soon as news of violence reached headquarters, Dr. Gyorgy Pall sent the dossiers on the communist leaders to the chief prosecutor for examination. The next day they were returned with the chief prosecutor's approval for a police arrest warrant. [23.] While the police were moving according to established procedures, an emergency cabinet meeting was held. At the meeting the minister of the interior, Vince Nagy, proposed that the communists be arrested. his proposal was accepted without demur by the whole cabinet. [24.]
On February 21 the arrests began. Within two days 48 communists were rounded up, including Bela Kun, Jozsef Rabinovics and Otto Korvin. The party's central offices and its printing facilities were seized, while the prosecutor confiscated a freshly printed issue of Voros Ujsag and a number of pamphlets.
The sympathy of the masses at this point was with the government and the martyred policemen, and a new demonstration under socialist sponsorship was organized to display the workers' solidarity.
The police quickly succeeded in alienating the public. After the arrests, a group of police officers decided to take justice into their own hands. In the courtyard of the detention house, where the communists were being held, Bela Kun was brutally beaten. Rumors began to circulate immediately in Budapest that Kun was dead. When these reached police headquarters, Pall and another police chief, Bela Szentkiralyi, set off at once for the detention house to see for themselves what had happened. They were accompanied by Vilmos Tarjan, a reporter for Az Est, an evening tabloid, who opportunity happened to be there. He offered to go with the police in the hope of getting a scoop story. Pall was only too pleased to have a member of the fourth estate present, as he wanted to make it clear that any manhandling of Kun had not been done with official sanction.
At the detention house they saw Kun in the infirmary where he had been taken after the beating. Kun was much relieved to see such high officials and asked for protection because his life was in danger. While Kun was recounting what had happened, a group of police burst into the room. They were led by an officer whose brother had been killed in the Nepszava riot. Shouting threats, they proceeded to batter Kun with rifle butts. Pall and Szentkiralyi attempted to eject them, afraid that they would surely kill Kun. Finally Szentkiralyi succeeded in clearing the room. Surprisingly Kun was not only still alive but had not even lost consciousness. The terrified man must have been seeing the ghosts of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg, the two Spartacist leaders Iynched in Berlin, for he implored Pall and Szentkiralyi to save him. [25.] On February 22 Az Est published an eyewitness account of the events, [26.] arousing much sympathy for the communists. [27.]
The savage treatment of the communist chief occasioned a new cabinet meeting at which Ka'rolyi voiced his utmost disapproval. He emphasized that no man could be prosecuted just for belonging to a particular party, only for committing criminal acts. The socialist, Kunfi, echoed his position, but opposed the request of the policemen's association to drop any investigation of the perpetrators of the beatings because he feared that this would only increase public sympathy for the communists. [28.] Ka'rolyi saw to it personally that there was no repetition of the beatings and that the prisoners were humanely treated. [29.]
The arrest had international repercussions. Shortly after he was seized, Bela Kun managed to slip a note written on a piece of cigarette paper to a free comrade, Lajos Nemeti. Nemeti was ordered to go to Moscow and report to Lenin what had occurred. Hearing of Nemeti's report, however, Lenin showed no sign of alarm or concern. [30.] Perhaps he saw events in Hungary developing according to the blueprint of the Russian revolution. To him Karolyi was another Kerensky and the imprisonment of the Hungarian communists was parallel to the arrest of the Russian Bolsheviks following the disturbances in Petrograd in July 1917. The course of events in Hungary could only make Lenin even more confident about the outcome of the situation. The possibility that Kun and the other communist leaders might be murdered in prison, however, compelled the Russians to put pressure on the Hungarians to stop the maltreatment. High-ranking Hungarian officers who were still in Russian prisoner-of-war camps were taken as hostages for the arrested communists. Russia warned the Hungarian government that if the life or health of the communists suffered, equal retribution would be meted out to the Hungarian officers in Russian custody. The Russians also moved against the Hungarian Red Cross mission, arresting its members in reprisal for the arrest of Kun. [31.]
The Russians, forceful protest led Karolyi to call another cabinet meeting. As a result, 29 communists were freed from jail and charges of incitement to murder were dropped against the rest, including Bela Kun. Those still detained were ordered to be treated with traditional deference due political prisoners. The government also issued a statement which ruled out prosecution for membership in the Communist Party. [32.]
While the Russians pressured the Hungarians to release the prisoners, Karolyi aimed to woo Allied support by publicizing their arrest in the West. In confidential instructions to Szilassy, he instructed his ambassador to announce the imprisonment of the Hungarian Bolsheviks in the Swiss papers. [33.] Since most information from East Central Europe reached the Allies through Switzerland [34.] Karolyi's purpose was clearly to generate the widest possible confidence. In the same directive, however, Karolyi also warned his Berne representative not to draw analogies between the communists in Hungary and Russia and to refrain from verbal attacks on the Russian communists. Karolyi seemed to avoid having Hungary identified as anti-Russian: "I see it more useful not to direct the attention of the Soviet government to us." [35.]
Kirolyi's advice to his ambassador about Russia seemed very significant as it implied that the Hungarian leader was beginning to reconsider his one-track pro-Allies policy, and was looking for accommodation with the Russians. This policy reflected a current of opinion that was becoming more general in Hungary. By the end of February there was widespread resignation to the fact that the Allies were ignoring Hungary's pleas for help. As a result, the nation was ready to turn to the East and, for the first time in Hungarian history, ally itself with Russia.
Entertainment of such policy may explain why the government reacted so swiftly to correct the injustice committed against the imprisoned communist leaders. Significantly, on February 22 the government promulgated a new law to intern those "who threatened the achievement of the revolution." [36.] This law was directed mainly against right-wing counterrevolutionaries who wanted to reestablish an aristocratic hegemony and renounce all association with the communists. As a result of the new law, about a hundred retired generals and magnates and one Roman Catholic bishop were placed under house arrest. At the same time the socialists decided to make overtures to the communists to heal the rift in the workers, movement. [37.]
It was hoped that this working class unity would parry new injustices against Hungary which, in the mind of the Hungarian leadership, was equivalent of further reductions of the Hungarian perimeter. These fears were justified by continued advances of Rumanian forces which by February 14, 1919 had pushed their front to the line of Maramarossziget (Sighet) through Zilah (Zalau), Csucsa (Cuca) and Nagysebes (Sabe's) to the Szamos (Somesul) river. According to Franchet d,Esperey, their ultimate aim was to occupy lands southeast of the Tisza accorded to them in the Secret Treaty of Bucharest. He saw war between the Rumanians and the Hungarians as being near. The Hungarians fielded 5,000 troops to repel any further advance in the area of Csucsa. To prevent a bloody embroglio, the general requested his superiors to reestablish a demarcation line. To separate the belligerents, he proposed the establishment of a zone occupied by French troops. This was necessary, he reasoned, as the Rumanians' past uncontested advances had whetted their appetite and they were now regarded by the Hungarians as deliberately violating the Belgrade Convention. [38.]
The message of the Commander in Chief of the Balkan forces was transmitted to the Peace Conference's "Commission for the Territorial Questions Relating to Rumania." [39.] The eight member panel of French, British, Italian and American experts was in the process of examining Rumania's claims on her four neighbors. [40.] The members of the committee concurred with Franchet d,Esperey that, in order to avoid conflict before its final decision on the Rumanian-Hungarian frontier, a neutral zone should be set up. The experts of the commission therefore proposed a zone which was to put the Hungarians behind a line running ten kilometers west of Vasarosnameny, the junction of the Kis Koros and Nagy Koros rivers, Algyo and north of Szeged. The Rumanians were to halt their troops ten kilometers east of Szatmarnemeti (Satu-Mare) Nagyvarad (Oradea) and Arad.
Since the proposed zone was occupied by French forces of the Allies, the proposal was transmitted to the Supreme Military Council in Versailles for further comments. During the deliberations of February 19, General Alby, Chief of the French General Staff, reviewed the military aspects of the zone. He said that in the light of the need to re-establish order, it would be wise to renounce the military convention of Belgrade and to draw a new demarcation line between Hungary and Rumania. He observed that the lines proposed by the Rumanian Commission left in the neutral zone such important rail centers as Nagyvarad, Nagykaroly (Carei) and Szatmarnemeti--cities that controlled Transylvania's lifeline. Accepting the standard Rumanian argument that Bolshevism was spreading in Transylvania, Alby argued that the Rumanians must control the communications centers to fight against it. He also claimed that, since French troops were to occupy Arad, they could not occupy the aforementioned cities as Berthelot's troops, who were to do the occupation, would have to be sent to southern Russia. The Rumanian occupation of the rail centers thereby would be necessary. [41.]
It has been argued in the past that the French military view of the shape of the neutral zone was an organic part of the military plans of the Allied Supreme Commander, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, who was intent on destroying Bolshevism in Russia. [42.] Indeed, while the discussions about the neutral zone were taking place, Foch's plan to destroy Bolshevism was also circulated among the peacemakers. The Allied military chief believed that his plan, if put into use, "would end Bolshevism just as 1918 had seen the end of Prussianism." [43.] The first step in this project was to encircle Russia. In the north, this was to be done by organizing a Polish army strengthened by the return of Polish troops from France. In the south, an allied force made up of three French, three Greek, one English, one Italian and two Rumanian divisions would occupy the Ukraine and reconquer the Donets basin from the Bolsheviks. The second step included the organization of a Russian army from prisoners of war found in Germany and from Russian troops in France, Algeria and Macedonia. The last step was to be a general offensive which would enable the White Russian troops to destroy the Red Army before the winter of 1919-1920. The plan concluded with the observation that it was necessary to know how much support the Allied states were willing to give to the venture. [44.]
|Peter Pastor: Hungary Between Wilson and Lenin...|