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Chapter 7
Counterrevolutionary Movements in
Austria and Szeged

With each failed attempt to overthrow the Kun regime the counterrevolutionary groups in Austria and in the French-occupied region around Szeged were reinforced by new refugees from Soviet Hungary. It was a highly mixed group that gathered in Vienna and Szeged. Virtually every stratum of old Hungarian society was represented: aristocrats, the gentry, politicians, landowners, some members of the non-noble middle classes, and even some workers and peasants. Nearly every shade of political opinion and every region of Hungary had representatives, archconservatives, liberals, and socialists from widely scattered parts of Hungary. Perhaps as many as 100,000 Hungarian refugees fled to Austria, most to Vienna, including between ten and fifteen thousand officers.[1] The vast majority were members of the prewar middle and upper classes of whom the aristocrats and the officers of the old Imperial Army were the most conspicuous.[2]

It was impossible to unite such a diverse group into a homogeneous counterrevolutionary movement. Personal jealousies, constant dissension, and passivity of the majority of the refugees prevented establishment of an effective organization. The Vienna refugee group was suffering from typical maladies of refugees.

All of these refugees were traumatized and radicalized by their experiences; yet. there were degrees in their radicalism. The degree of radicalization of a refugee was determined. aside from the natural variations between individual experiences and personal psychological makeup, mostly by his social and regional origins.

Members of aristocracy were generally less radicalized by their physical dislocation than those coming from the gentry or gentroid classes. This was especially true for magnates of western Hungary. including those from western Slovakia. Aristocrats of this region were the most cosmopolitan group among the Hungarian ruling classes. They frequently intermarried with the Austrian and Western aristocracy, and. for many of them. Vienna was their second home and German their second. if not their first, language. Many owned estates on both sides of the Leitha/Laita River. consequently taking refuge in Austria did not mean even a change in their life style. They were wealthy, Catholic, and generally loyal supporters of the Habsburg dynasty. In the past, many were supporters of the aristocratic, conservative Constitution Party of Gyula Andrássy, Jr.: others were totally apolitical, and even during the revolutions some of them remained aloof from politics.

Aristocrats of Transylvania and eastern Hungary were poorer, traditionally lived on their estates, and intermarried with the lesser nobility. Many were Calvinists, some Unitarians, always more liberal. Historically, many of them were open foes of the Habsburg dynasty, champions of the idea of an independent Hungary, and some even of an independent Transylvania. Several had deep historical roots in the Transylvanian soil; hence, displacement made a profound impact on them. As a result they were more radical and more active in the counterrevolutionary movement than their fellow aristocrats from western Hungary.

The gentry and the middle classes shared only in part the attitudes of the aristocracy of their particular region. The gentry of western Hungary and the Slovak-inhabited north were also mostly Catholic, generally pro-Habsburg, and, at times, leaned toward a moderate form of Christian Socialism. The gentry of eastern Hungary and Transylvania was mostly Protestant, anti-Habsburg, and followers of what they believed was the liberal tradition of 1848 and Lajos Kossuth. Unlike the aristocracy, the gentry and the non-noble middle classes were not wedded to the idea of a complete restoration of the old regime. For them, to regain control of the state machinery, even if in a drastically different form, was far more important than the preservation of the old socioeconomic system based on the great estates in alliance with largescale capitalism. In fact, many of the gentry were openly hostile to both and were willing to sacrifice the aristocracy's latifundia and the wealth of the capitalists in exchange for a restoration of their own political predominance. Some even harbored socialist ideas. Gyula Gömbös, one of the most prominent figures of the interwar period, offers a good illustration. In the April 2, 1919 issue of his newspaper the Bécsi Magyar Futár (Hungarian Messenger of Vienna), he boasted of his socialist convictions: "Yes, we are socialists, Hungarian national socialists." This socialism was different from that of Marx. To Gömbös it meant a kind of agrarian populism, with redistribution of the nation's wealth, thereby giving an opportunity to the lower classes to raise themselves out of poverty through their own initiative. It did not mean expropriation of all private property, nationalization of the means of production, or establishment of state capitalism. In his mind that was the greatest weakness of the Marxist system, for it sooner or later led to a destruction of national vitality and to dehumanization of man. "Marx,s state." he wrote, "in the final analysis will be nothing but a bureaucratic state, without any dynamismn full of boring people who are nothing but lifeless parts of a great social machine.''[3] He also rejected the Marxist concept of class struggle. Class conflict had to be replaced with class cooperation, where each class was to fulfill the role marked out by history and by the needs of the nation.

Gömbös's nationalist, agrarian social radicalism had wide appeal among the dispossessed officers and gentry officials, especially to those coming from the central and eastern regions of Hungary. These ideas, of course, could not be reconciled with the interests of the aristocracy. Nevertheless, for the moment at least, in face of the great common objective, that is, the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat in Budapest, the ideological differences were blurred between the aristocracy and the gentry. Thus, in spite of the differences, it was possible to establish a common base for cooperation between the various refugee groups.

Conservative, radical Christian and radical nationalist points of view were well represented in both Vienna and Szeged. Vienna was overflowing with refugees of every nationality from all parts of the former monarchy, but according to Pónay, ". . . the largest contingent of these stateless persons was still made up of members of the Hungarian aristocracy, then of the landed gentry and of high-ranking officers, who had earlier fled from the red terror and communism in Hungary.[4]

These proportions hold true if we measure the weight of each group not by numbers, but according to political influence. Of the various refugee groups in the old imperial city, middle-class refugees from Slovakia were most numerous. In Szeged, on the other hand, the gentry and the refugees from Transylvania and from the Great Hungarian Plain formed the dominant groups. In Vienna counterrevolutionary leadership was in the hands of the aristocracy and the gentry from northern Hungary; in Szeged the radical-right gentry and the Transylvanian lesser nobility were most powerful.

An umbrella organization, which was to coordinate from Vienna all counterrevolutionary activities both within and outside Hungary, the Comite de l'ordre et antibolsheviste hongrois, the so-called Antibolshevik comité, or ABC, was formed on April 12, 1919, under the direction of Count István Bethlen. The organization found a home in the palace of Count Karl Schönborn-Bucheim who, though an Austrian aristocra,. was interested in the victory of the counterrevolution because of his vast estates in Hungary. The ABC claimed to be the legal successor to the Bourgeois Bloc, a coalition of all nonsocialist. nationalist, center and right-wing parties that was formed before the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic, to run a single slate of candidates in the postponed national elections. Thus, the ABC claimed to represent not only the individual members present in Vienna but a broad spectrum of Hungarian society.[5]

The ABC was dominated by the refugee aristocrats and by the Catholic gentry or non-noble middle class refugees from Slovakia. Among them Counts István Bethlen, Pál Teleki. Kuno Klebelsberg, Zoltán Bánffy were Transylvanian magnates, Counts Gyula Andrássy, Jr., Aladár Zichy, János Zichy, and Géza Zichy were born on their estates in territories ceded to Czechoslovakia. Count Lászlo Szapáry was the wealthiest magnate from areas populated by Slovenes, including the Muraköz, lost to Yugoslavia; Count Antal Sigray and Count Zsigmond Batthyány were magnates of western Hungary; Count Gedeon Ráday and Margrave György Pallavicini came from central Hungary. The ABC's most prominent gentry or non-noble middle-class leaders were almost exclusively born in territories lost to Czechoslovakia. Among these, the best-known figures were György Szmrecsányi, Odön Beniczky, Gusztáv Gratz, Sándor Ernszt, István Haller, and Elemér Huszár. In the past most had belonged either to Andrássy's Constitution Party, or to the Catholic People's Party, both opposing István Tisza. The Catholic People's Party was especially strongly represented among ABC leaders.

The ABC leadership's aristocratic wing had few illusions about their own strength. They realized that only with the aid of the Western Powers could they ever hope to regain control of Hungary. Bethlen, therefore, concentrated most of his energies on the establishment of contacts with the Western governments through either resident diplomats in Vienna, or through the extensive international contacts of some of his fellow aristocrats.[6]

Bethlen was most anxious to find out the attitudes of the Western Allies toward a possible counterrevolutionary government, set up on foreign soil, or in the Allied-occupied territories of Hungary. With this object in mind, Pallavicini contacted Colonel Thomas Cuninghame, the head of the British Mission in Vienna. Gratz approached the French representative Henri Allizé, others cautiously opened a dialogue with the Italian and American representatives; Bethlen submitted a memorandum directly to the Paris Peace Conference and to General Berthelot in Bucharest, urging the Allies to halt the Romanian advance at the line of the Tisza River and suggesting that the Great Powers overthrow the Kun regime. He also expressed his willingness to form a counterrevolutionary coalition government, in which one or two posts were to be reserved for members of the Social Democratic Party. He would exclude from this government only the Communists. The government, he proposed. would take over control of the country after the fall of the Communist regime, and immediately would hold elections based on universal suffrage. Finally, he requested a loan of between twenty and thirty million crowns that was to be used to maintain the counterrevolutionary government and to establish a small army.

The Western Powers refused to commit their own military resources for the overthrow of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. They were also reluctant to finance a counterrevolutionary government in which the aristocratic element was dominant. They were suspicious of the attitudes of some members of the ABC, especially of the Andrássy group, which was believed to hold strong pro-German sentiments.[8] Additionally, they preferred to alter the composition of the Hungarian government through direct negotiations with the Hungarian Social Democratic Party. Indeed, during July, allied representatives in Vienna discussed the possibility of an all socialist government with Vilmos Böhm and other Socialist leaders.[9]

[]Nevertheless, the Western Powers through Henri Allizé held out a slender thread of hope by indicating their willingness to consider the question of recognition of a counterrevolutionary government if that government was composed of a coalition of the progressive parties, and if it was established on unoccupied Hungarian soil. The area where the non-communist government was to be established, even if it represented only a fraction of the total area of Hungary, had to be controlled exclusively by the counterrevolutionary government. Colonel Cuninghame conveyed essentially the same message to the ABC through his contacts.[10] In other words, the Western governments were willing to support a counterrevolutionary government only after its ability to function and to survive had been demonstrated, but they wished to refrain from overtly imposing a government on Hungary.

It was a clear challenge to the refugees to prove the viability of their movement by organizing a White Army. Bethlen was skeptical about the refugees' ability to establish a military force that was powerful enough to wrest even a small area from the Communist regime. Nevertheless, he urged the creation of a military force, not to use it for an invasion, but to hold it in readiness for the moment when the Kun regime would collapse, which he considered only a matter of time. The radical gentry and officer faction of the ABC, however, were eager to carry out an immediate attack on Hungary. They naively believed that the mere appearance of an anticommunist army, even if small, would have such a tremendous psychological impact on the entire population that it would trigger an immediate uprising all over the country.

In the absence of Western financial support the only alternative that remained open was to organize this counterrevolutionary army from the slender resources of the refugees. In the name of the Bethlen faction, Aurel Egry and Adolf Ullmann negotiated a ten million crown loan from a group of Viennese bankers, using as a collateral some estates of a group of Hungarian magnates. Some additional resources were secured from the thriving smuggling business across the Hungarian frontier under the direction of some of the aristocrats and officers, though the profits were not always used solely for the cause.[11] Most of the money for the counterrevolutionary army came from the famous Bankgasse robbery. On May 2-3, 1919, upon learning about a large shipment of cash from Budapest to the Hungarian Embassy in Vienna located at Bankgasse, the Szmrecsányi group first burglarized, and later, some forty or fifty officers ransacked the premises. The booty was quite substantial: about 140 million crowns in Austro-Hungarian bills plus an undetermined amount in Western currencies. Out of this sum about 69 million crowns were recovered by the Viennese police, but the remainder was divided among the various refugee groups. Szmrecsányi retained for his faction a lion's share, about 50 million crowns, the Szeged group received a mere 3 million; the rest was turned over to the Bethlen group.[l2]

[]This coup made Szmrecsanyi and his followers financially independent of Bethlen. From this point on, friction between the two factions drastically increased. Bethlen still insisted on an essentially diplomatic solution to the problem of Communist Hungary: Szmrecsányi and his officers pinned their hopes on military action. Szmrecsányi opposed any foreign alliance or foreign occupation of Hungary. He persisted in his belief that Hungary could be truly free only if it were liberated by a purely Hungarian counterrevolutionary army. The Western Powers, attitudes actually played into his hands. Their refusal to recognize a government-in-exile gave weight to his argument that it was imperative to invade Hungary with a refugee army first, before any aid from the West could be expected.

The most logical choice for such an invasion seemed to be along the western borders of Hungary, where the staunchly Catholic peasantry could be relied on to side with opponents of communism. Proximity of the area to military sanctuaries in Austria also made this region the favored target of the refugees in Austria.

To assure success of such an invasion careful organization and planning would have been necessary. Instead, after the " great victory " over communism in the Bankgasse raid, the impetuous Szmrecsányi with a small force of radical officers made an attempt at invading Hungary, thus setting off a counterrevolution. From the approximately 10,000 officers and 20,000 war veterans in Vienna only 44 men were willing to risk their lives in such an adventure. In a comic opera scene some of these enthusiastic and foolhardy conspirators rode in taxis to the border town of Bruck, only to be caught in the cross fire of waiting soldiers of the Hungarian Red Army and the Austrian Volkswehr, which returned the Hungarian fire. The counterrevolutionary invasion army was arrested by the Volkswehr without so much as setting a foot on Hungarian soil.[l3]

[]After this fiasco the radical faction of ABC, headed by Szmrecsányi, Beniczky, and József Wild, shifted their headquarters to the politically more hospitable city of Graz, where they hoped to be free from the close watch of Socialist Vienna. From Graz, Szmrecsányi, somewhat sobered by his earlier failures, planned to direct a well-organized and coordinated attack against Hungary. The key elements in his plans were an uprising in border areas and a simultaneous invasion of Hungary from Austria by refugee officers' detachments, in cooperation with Austrian right-wing military groups. Early in May he opened negotiations with Willibald Brodmann, president of the Christian Socialist Party of Styria, and also head of the 1O,O00-man Bauernkommando. In exchange for a payment of five million crowns Brodmann promised that the Bauernbund would aid in the organization of the counterrevolutionary army.[14] In addition, Count Stürgkh, the brother of the murdered Austrian prime minister, promised that the Heimwehr would provide some 7000 weapons to arm refugee officers and peasants.

At the same time, agents of the ABC did everything in their power to encourage a Slovene separatist movement in Hungary. Large sums of money were made available for support of secessionist Slovenes. To an independent Slovenia, foreign aid was promised, also diplomatic and military aid, plus full support of the right-wing officers both in Hungary and in Austria, was guaranteed. In Vilmos Tkalecz, head of the Communist Slovene District Directory and also a Slovene nationalist, a willing local leader was found. Tkalecz, a teacher by profession who served as an officer during the war, was willing to use the aid offered to him by the refugee officers in Austria, but it is not clear what his own plans were and to what degree he was aware of the plans of Szmrecsányi to use the secessionist movement to establish himself on Hungarian territory. There is some indication that with a sudden declaration of independence of the Slovene population he intended to force the intervention of the Belgrade government.[15]

At any event, the ill-disguised preparations for the coup and the large-scale smuggling carried out by Tkalecz and his supporters, as well as some of his other financial abuses, aroused the suspicion of the Kun regime. This forced the conspirators to show their hand prematurely, before all preparations were completed. Thus on May 29, Tkalecz suddenly decided, before he was assured of all the aid that was promised to him to declare the establishment of the independent Mura Republic. Tkalecz became president of the new republic and in this capacity he appealed to the Hungarian Soviet Republic to respect the Slovene people's right to self-determination. He also requested aid from the Hungarian regime to help his people in their efforts to establish a Socialist state. He expressed his desire to live in friendship with the Hungarian Soviet Republic, but also threatened an appeal to the Western powers, should Hungary decide to use military force against the Mura Republic.

This hasty declaration of secession caught the Szmrecsányi group totally unprepared. As a result, the promised military assistance could not be delivered in full, and even those detachments that were dispatched and crossed over to Hungary arrived too late to affect the outcome of the struggle. At the outset Tkalecz had at his disposal a force of some 600 regular troops and 300 mercenaries. [16] It was believed that this force was sufficient to hold the territory until the arrival of reinforcements from Austria. At first, this small unit was indeed successful against local Red Army units; some of which refused to fight, others sided with the rebels; but the unexpectedly swift and violent counterattack by the hastily transferred loyal workers' battalions forced the rebels, after some heavy fighting, to retreat toward Austria. Once in Austria they were disarmed and interned in a prisoners' camp at Feldbach, which soon became a new center for counterrevolutionary activities. Feldbach served as the gathering point for all those officers and men who after the failure of subsequent coup attempts in Hungary managed to escaped to Austria. It became a major recruiting ground, from which Colonel Baron Antal Lehár drew the manpower for his detachments that were to operate in western Hungary after the collapse of the Hungarian Soviet Republic. [l7]

[]Failure of these invasion attempts convinced many that Austria was not the proper place for organization of a counterrevolutionary army. Efforts to create a military force that would be capable of penetrating Hungary never ceased, but no significant new attempts were made after early June. Increasingly the focus of counterrevolutionary activities shifted to Szeged. Many of those officers who were dissatisfied with poor organization in Austria concluded that the next decisive move would not come from the refugee groups in Austria but that it would be made by the Szeged counterrevolutionary government.

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