Spontaneous proletarian organization in Hungary, 1918-19.

In the previous 40 years of Stalinist-Kadarist capitalism, the proclamation of the Hungarian Soviet Republic of 21 March, 1919, was considered a holy day. Under the present period of liberal capitalism, we have crossed over to the opposite extreme, so that only with the harshest of invectives does one now refer to this recurrence.

The reality is that both sides represent bourgeois views, regardless of their seemingly contrasting opinions. One group explains the series of events according to the actions of historical figures, while the other does not see a process, but only sharply distinct periods. They declare that a civil democratic republic came into being on 31 October, 1918, while the 21st of March represents the beginning of communist society. Through this they wish to tear asunder from history the proletariat’s permanent class struggle and thereby maintain their existence. The fact that the proletariat continued waging war against the bourgeois system after that date divests the anniversary of any significance. The above-mentioned insignificant events did not bring about any positive result for the proletarian movement, but precisely the opposite.

What then happened on that day? On the night of the 20th of March, some leaders of the MSzDP (the Hungarian Social Democratic Party) visited Bélá Kun, the MKP (Hungarian Communist Party) secretary, in his prison cell. They invited him to become part of a unified leadership. The bourgeoisie had another ace up their sleeve before the eruption of the revolution. However, this young so-called communist party had not yet lost the confidence of the proletariat.

The aim was simple: to cut down the global revolutionary wave which was sweeping Hungary as well. Up until the last moment, the communist party was to stand for the proletariat, centralize the struggle, and stymie the development of the workers’ autonomous revolutionary leadership. They were to organize workers into a party and destroy the capitalist system, democracy, and workers’ society with the use of a violent dictatorship of the proletariat. The 21st of March thereby turned into a special day in that the proletariat apparently had fulfilled the aim of achieving a communist society. The term sounds good, the workers might have thought, but what were the imperatives and decrees of the “revolutionary communist leadership” ?

Anyone who steals or loots is to receive the death penalty
The retail, trafficking, and consumption of alcoholic products is forbidden
Weapons of any sort will only be carried by the military, the police, the gendarme, the guards, the people’s guard and other legitimate entities, as well as members of factory- and worker-guards
Work! Order!

These decrees speak of the protection of property, order, work; they cannot be called revolutionary communist in the least. The workers’ movement could not be struck down so easily, though. The proletariat still possessed formidable force, which unfortunately took up the cudgels of bourgeois counterrevolutionary leadership (as a consequence of a lack of independent leadership).

Regardless of bourgeois leadership, they accomplished much that was revolutionary: they sabotaged workplaces, they looted, and destroyed any bourgeois elements they saw without mercy or any idiotically limiting humanistic principles. But without any autonomous centralization they could not destroy the state, which proclaimed itself as the repository of communal property. Thus, instead of the dictatorship of the revolutionary workers’ party, a political party played the role of the proletariat through Leninist means.

The state became stronger and intensified the reduction of worker power. After 133 days, social democracy played out its directed role and a raging Horthyist terror annihilated the handful of revolutionary minorities that remained active. The political history of the Soviet Republic was nothing but the continuation of the social-democratic bourgeois clique’s attempts to isolate the anarchist-communist movement, which in spite of its radicalism reaped the unfortunate lesson of its compromised ability ().

I. The Zöld Gárda (Green Guard)
What follows is an article entitled “About the Green Guard”, which appeared in Szociális Forradalom (Social Revolution), 28th of September, 1918. It originates from an article entitled “Revolutionary ‘bands’ in Croatia”.

“The continuing struggle with the patrols and gendarmes in the monarchy killed time and again with increasing cruelty. As long as the military court executes deserters, as long as orders overstep the law, shooting people down all over the place, pursuing to the wilds those exiled soldiers nauseated by war, the more deserters will persist, the more will people join the “Green Guard”. They get involved in armed conflict with the persecuted but it is not always the case that they become the vanquished. On the contrary, they can just as often mount successful attacks.
These soldiers of the Green Guard are principally situated in Croatia and the Szerémség. True “revolutionary bands” are fighting against the armed slave-drivers of state power, despite the harshness of the struggle. On the 5th of September, such a deserting group attacked the gendarme captain, József Radosevics, and the head of the guards, Pál Androvics, while on patrol in the area of Grabovci. The deserters executed the two gendarmes and destroyed their weapons. On the 6th of September, as the official news stated, “revolutionary bands” executed the gendarme Mile Utyesanovics in Erdevik. The band also destroyed their firearms and weapons. On the eighth of September the same band “with a greater number of men” found two gendarmes in the village of Velika Bastaja. One was headed to patrol the village, while the other remained in the municipal building. There, they executed the gendarme fraction leader, Miksa Deutsch, while they gunned down the night patrolman and the municipal policeman. The band members gathered all the weapons in the municipal building and took them away with them.
The Green Guard “revolutionaries” also made a visit to the small town of Indija, in the Szerémség. They requisitioned 20 000 Crowns worth of wheat flour as tribute from the immensely wealthy Jakab Müller, taking his entire stock of flour. Mihály Motz, a wealthy land owner, and his associates paid the fearsome men 100 000 Crowns worth of goods, knowing full well that the gendarme would not come to their rescue. The armed deserters looted and exacted tribute from every propertied man, clergy, clerk, and wealthy land-owner from Petrovicic, Karlovcic, Dec and Kupinovo. All this within the span of a week.”

So recounts the newspaper Népszava, referring to a report from the Reichspost. It appears clearly from this information, regardless of the censor’s scissors, that the occurrence cannot refer to simple robbery. The article is not referring to a criminal group or a band of thieves, but, as Népszava remarks, to a series of events “judged to be of serious political significance” ().

The armed Szeremség deserters were not merely fighting to their deaths in self-defense against their persecutors. They were obviously surging in armed revolt against the oppressing class-based state, its hangmen, and the bourgeoisie. There in the Szeremség, where the “revolutionary bandits” of the Green Guard instilled fear, lay the first fiery nest of open armed insurrection in the lands of the monarchy …

II. The Lenin Youth
Before the Soviet Republic and within the proletariat, many terror squads were organized (e.g., the Green Guard) aiming towards a dictatorship over capitalist relations and their activities peaked during the ruthless struggle against the bourgeoisie. The most famous among them were the Lenin Youth. This organization, after its spontaneous development, was subordinated to the Political Inspectorate of Interior Security. Yet after a while, the inspectorate was unable to direct the activities of this organization at all. Two communist “leaders”, Tibor Szamuely () and Ottó Korvin (), could manage to influence it in certain actions (but, of course, only when it conformed to their aims as well).

Their appearance onto the scene is already wrapped in legend. They had the following provisions: leather trousers, leather coats, leather boots, service caps, a rifle, a Steyre pistol, a bayonet, and a hand grenade. But the real legend is wrapped in ruthless anti-bourgeois struggle.

Generally, they demolished organizations with the joint forces of the local proletariat, for instance, at Szolnok on the 1st of May, at Hatvan on the 2nd, at Devecser on the 7th, at Dunaföldvár on the 1st of June, at Dömsöd on the 21st, at Szekszárd on the 22nd, etc., and they contributed their share to the defeat of counter-revolutionary organization as well. “The Hungarian Soviet Republic even in its most extreme form of power is always more humane than those governments which bring the horrors of war to humanity”, declared Béla Kun (), and attempted to turn proletarian anger into a purulent humanism. However, Szamuely’s words stood closer to the Lenin Youth: “Everywhere counter-revolutionaries run about and swagger; beat them down! Beat their heads where you find them! If counter-revolutionaries were to gain the upper hand for even a single hour, there will be no mercy for any proletarian. Before they stifle the revolution, suffocate them in their own blood!” (Vörös Újság (Red News), 11th of February, 1919).

Of course, the self-styled communist Revolutionary Governing Soviet mounted intense armed attacks against their actions in some places. “Judgments carried out in spite of laws and decrees and primarily unspeakable murders that some have perpetrated without government consent, nor that of free brigades and maximalists of the military or the Red Guard. These criminal activities have been first and foremost against the laws of the revolution. They have stained the purity of the revolution. The revolution and the revolutionaries do not claim responsibility for these acts,” Vilmos Böhm wrote (), the Soviet Government Military Commissar. The maximalists did not for this reason desist. Under the leadership of József Cserny(), they still seized the Batthyány fort, the busiest area of the capital. “The terror squad of the Revolutionary Governing Soviet” was inscribed on the gates of the fort. Government officials recognized the event in astonishment.

They had never given any such standing to such an organization and if any official knew of their activities, he had not expected such an outcome. On the 3rd of May, with Cserny’s knowledge, a pair of steel workers killed István Návay and Béla Kis, a town clerk, and eight other members of the bourgeoisie. Their killing particularly horrified the government because, despite their gentry status, they had extremely democratic feelings and had not taken part in counter-revolutionary activities, or so they claimed. They soon avenged the incident and executed the culprits. They decreed that they would immediately punish any spontaneous maximalist action. They entrusted the social democrat József Haubrich with the duty of distributing punishment as head of city military police.

The other main activity of the maximalists was hostage-taking. This sort of activity is otherwise rather futile, but the Lenin Youth made the crucial mistake of not completely separating themselves from the government, so that they started hostage-taking at the order of the Department of Political Investigation. It is worth mentioning, nevertheless, that on some occasions they overstepped government influence. As a result, the Governing Soviet forbade hostage-taking on the 24th of May. It is an interesting datum that the largest hostage release did not take place through right-wing Social Democratic intervention, but through the efforts of Béla Kun, the leader of the KMP, who saved several aristocrats from the claws of the Lenin Youth.

In early July, the “left-wing” communists began independently organizing for a new compromise-free communist party. This initiative found adherents in the members of the Soviet of Borough I., the Workers’ Soviet of Borough IV., Ferenc Stark, Fülöp Englander, Ottó Demény, two Ukrainian revolutionaries (Jefimov and Jukelson), Ottó Varga and other anarchists, as well as Szamuely and the Lenin Youth detachment faithful to Szamuely. The organization did not mature beyond discussions and planning. Szamuely planned to start a newspaper entitled Kommunista (Communist).

Jefimov and Jukelson were sent officially by Rakowski in order to organize Russian war prisoners for the sake of the Soviet Republic. Having stepped beyond these activities, they entered the country in a special train and agitated against the Governing Soviet. They organized people against the government in the countryside as well, in Abony and Sátoraljaújhely. The “left-wing” communists declared that there was no dictatorship of the proletariat, but rather a capitalist one. They further claimed that it was necessary to distance the revolutionary sub-leadership, the Social Democrats, and the reformatory wing of the KMP from Béla Kun. On the 20th of July, the organizing was suppressed by Kun (who otherwise had stepped up efforts against Szamuely’s radicalism, which had been until then unsuccessful).

Many members were executed, while the two Ukrainians were hurled into the Danube. They tried to push Szamuely’s activism into the background, but they dared not do more than that since he had much influence within the party. The armed section of the Lenin Youth had been part of it, after all. It is worthy of historical note that Kun, setting himself up like the Social Democrats as a consistently firm revolutionary, proclaimed in 1934: “Though tardy, we have nevertheless started the movement which is directed by a new communist party of cadres in secret and illegally towards real integration.”

The Lenin Youth detachment was targeted for dissolution already at the moment of its formation (even by means of armed struggle, if necessary). Böhm gave out an order on the 30th of April, stating that

“It has come repeatedly to my attention that in the name partially of some commanders and partially of some worker and military soviets, groups are being recruited and formed in areas of operation as terror squads, local red squads, and others. They are exploiting the various armed force and revolutionary Governing Soviet decrees for purposes beyond their original intention. No one has the right to recruit groups according to the revolutionary Governing Soviet decrees except the military and interior commissariat. Every other form of recruitment, even in its best intentions, may easily serve the ends of counter-revolution. Hence, I decree that in areas of operation all army or Red Guard organized formations and militarily not formed by a so-called political terror squad or otherwise named functioning group is to be immediately disbanded. All soldiers there standing are to be conscripted into Red Army units. In the future, anyone who forms such maximalist political terror squads or anyone who leads them or anyone that takes part in them is to be immediately and summarily court marshaled… ”

On the 19th of May, the Lenin Youth were officially decommissioned. On the 23rd of May, Böhm was the target of an unsuccessful bombing attempt by the Cserny group.
Böhm held a view of the Soviet dictatorship of the proletariat with a near perfect bourgeois transparency:

“The dictatorship of the proletariat emanating from the will of the majority of workers means that the laws thereby formed are to be applied as the ruling order. Even the most fanatical adherents to the dictatorship acknowledge that only through laws, decrees, and regulations established by the proletariat can the representatives elected legally for the proletariat be put into practice the dictatorship of the proletariat and never against individuals, but against the bourgeoisie as a class. ”

The autonomous forces of the proletariat had already attacked this form of social democratic politics, which only seeks to transform the workers into acquiescent voting citizens:
“The interior minister Vince Nagy (), this impudent child, ordered the pogrom against Red News. His own state secretary, Péter Ágoston, is in Székefehérvár for the counter-revolutionaries that openly wish to bring back the monarchy. He is not phased by this in the slightest. The counter-revolution openly raises its head in a definitely anti-proletarian manner. He does not discern, he does not ask whether this secretary belongs to the social democrats or to the communist party. He does not look at whether he listens to the words of the apostles of class collaboration, whether he wants the workers’, that is, the revolutionary class struggle, and whether he wants to toll the death-bell over the bourgeois class. The mass of the bourgeoisie do not want any collaboration; the democratic state is already teeming with them and it is no secret that they wish to establish their own dictatorship. The counter-revolution displays what democracy leads to. The interior minister orders a pogrom against the communist revolutionaries and the social democratic state secretary returns from Székesfehérvár to Budapest, bringing the beating whip of count Károlyi, the bishop Prohászka, Széchenyi, count Cziráky, the clergy and government officials. Vince Nagy, this impudent child, does not hesitate when necessary to order a pogrom against communist revolutionaries. Yet the state secretary Péter Ágoston returns to Budapest without so much as bringing the head of count József Károlyi in his traveling suitcase. The lesson: the proletariat can only free itself by its own strength and  only the masses themselves can destroy bourgeois counter-revolution. Against the counter-revolution there is only one guarantee: the further continuation of the revolution and the unremitting revolutionary class struggle until the complete destruction of the bourgeoisie and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and beyond that, until all class differences cease to exist, until socialism. The defense of the revolution: only the armed proletarian class struggle. Arm yourselves! Workers, to arms! The counter-revolution, which is already bearing its best fruit, cannot be extinguished in its infancy anymore. Yet cut out its roots as well. Eradicate it without mercy, destroy the counter-revolutionary bourgeoisie because otherwise it destroys you. If you do not wish to have only your own blood spilled, spill the blood of the counter-revolutionary bandits. Workers, arm yourselves! Have Salgótarján (), Tiszadob (), Makó () not yet been sufficient warning signals for you? Lo, in Székesfehérvár they are already openly trying to bring back the old system, relying on the government, which ordered the slaughter of the workers, to protect them against the proletariat. They were not disappointed. In the county hall of Székesfehérvár, the commissioner did not allow a chance to speak for those opposing counts and bishops and the return of the monarchy. The commissioner had the speaker supporting the republic hanged. The minister of the interior, Péter Ágoston, returned to Pest in order to place a report for the pogrom-perpetrating Vince Nagy, the head commissioner of Székesfehérvár. To hell with this system of bourgeois democracy which feeds the counter-revolution. To hell with parliamentary republicanism which render impossible the independent activity of the proletarian masses. Long live the Soviet Republic of the workers, the soldiers, the peasants, and the land-working poor, which alone ensures the empowerment of the exploited. A state of proletarians in arms: this is the limit to the counter-revolution! Workers, in arms: against the counter-revolution and for the sake of the empowerment of the workers, the soldiers, and the poor peasants! Proletarians, in arms!”(Tibor Szamuely, “Proletarians, in arms!”, 6th of February, 1919).
After the counter-revolutionary activities of the 24th of June, Cserny’s voice was heard even more powerfully:
“The dictatorship of the proletariat is in danger! The counter-revolution rages in Budapest and how is the worth of my people to prove triumphant … The last three days have shown that it is necessary to wade through with bloody hands and that the counter-revolution must be drowned in blood. One must organize the gunners detachment of the Red Guard. To this end, I ask out of the the 200 members, 80 investigators, 35 border guards, and 25 staff. These need to be supplied with 16 cannons, 12 machine guns, and other firing weapons. Leave at their disposal an appropriate building. I will take command and choose the men. After the formation of the detachment, hand over to us the Danube flotilla as well. To be or not to be is now the question! Let us not vacillate, take the reins over firmly.”

They occupied a determined position against the social democrats. In their dull hours in the Batthyány fort they often sang, “Jakab chief editor, we will chop off your head.” Naturally, they did not only live out their anger in such a “humanist” way. They made bombing attempts against various social democratic politicians, such as Kunfi, Erdélyi, Rónai etc. They sent the following letter to the above-named Welter Jakab, the editor-in-chief of the social democratic newspaper Népszava (The People’s Word): “You have two days left. Watch out because your days are numbered. Yous spectacles are fogged; when you really start to see, you will immediately run away.” On one occasion (the source does not furnish the time), the government sent someone by the name of Vadász, who minded the accredited valuables in the Park club. Vadász prevented the workers from redistributing those valuables. The Lenin Youth prevented Vadász from being freed from the fort prison, after a long captivity. Some other stories could be written about him, none of which may be entirely reliable. But this question may be of most importance to historians only.

The crux of the issue is the independent nature of the group’s revolutionary direction. It would be a mistake to list only the positive outcomes of the movement. It is a fact that the proletariat figured prominently as an avant-guard in this revolutionary wave. It is likewise a fact that workers were the most radical of elements. But like the entire global revolutionary wave of 1917-23, they could not completely detach themselves from Bolshevism. In certain cases, they discovered the counter-revolutionary nature of Bolshevism and even stepped beyond it. Yet they could not really identify this internal enemy, so that illusions were integrated within their overall direction. It can be imputed that the Soviet government supported preferentially the (historical) right-wing social democratic section, while they trusted the not very different Kun side.

They allowed space to Bolshevik and Leninist ideology in their ranks. It would be difficult to form an absolute judgment on them, since the Soviet Republic and the Lenin Youth movement were suppressed on the 1st of August, or a mere 133 days later. This is very little time to expect them to realize the counter-revolutionary character of Bolshevism (mainly because many workers believed strongly in Bolshevism).

Although history does not recognize this yet, it can nevertheless be said that Szamuely and the Lenin Youth would have turned away from the politics of the KMP within a few months, and there are examples regarding this tendency. Hence, it is not accidental that after the capitulation, Ottó Korvin, Szamuely, and the Lenin Youth remained in the country for the struggle, while the party leadership fled (Cserny’s group had planned banditry from the Bakony mountains until a more favorable revolutionary situation would arrive). It was in this way that many were killed through the White Terror.

“Everywhere we intensified efforts with strength and determination in defense of proletarian power, wherever the counter-revolutionary hydra raised its head. We continuously suppressed counter-revolutionary attempts, but unfortunately we could not prevent the fall of the first Hungarian Soviet Republic and this was not solely as a result of our actions. Part of the reason for the failure is attributable to the dictatorship of the proletariat not being sufficiently consistent or resolute against the enemy of the people.

The right-wing social democrats were hand in glove with the ancien regime and foreign imperialists from the very beginning. Böhm, Kunfi, and their comrades saved the counter-revolutionary at every instance and they spoke of humanism whenever such enemies destroyed our lives. They endeavored to keep down the fist of the proletariat with full force so that it could not strike more powerfully. They led in attacks against comrade Szamuely and his group and they were the ardent disseminators of filth against us … Böhm also stayed there and we arranged matters at the town hall. Then Böhm came to us and horrified comrade Tibi with his pessimistic speech. We and Tibi were so much against this speech that afterwards, after a great divide had developed, Böhm also spoke at the subsequent meeting, following Tibi. It looked second-hand to him that Tibi previously had expressed his opinion so well. And when Böhm went away, comrade Tibi added that the workers need whole-hearted simple comrades and not lawyers, who just speak and realize nothing. After this, we continued to confer on the train. Our almost unforgettable comrade Kerekes Árpád () noted that we need to struggle more against these kinds of speeches, just as against the enemy, and that we wait in vain for help from the West. Such so-called proletarian leadership does not strive for struggle because they fear it. And what would happen if they were not to be leaders. To this, comrade Tibi said: ‘We did not go with them to the Soviet Government willingly and the alienation of these leaders from the interests of the workers’ movement is of grave importance” (Antal Gábor’s () memoirs).

III. Another interesting document

“Never look back!” Miskolci Munkás (the Miskolc Worker), 1st of July, 1919 ().

“If there are still small-minded beliefs and if there still exists a hopeful bourgeoisie, let us scream to them a hundred times: ‘There is no more going back!’ Let no one raise for themselves vain hopes and let no one sit up for the beautifully colorful picture of a return, if there still be such people among us. Democracy, whether “bourgeois” or “social”, cannot find any more believers. Let those think of the past who in the absence of revolutionary fire still wish to flirt with a democracy based on humanistic ideals. The most hideous acts of the past, exploitation, the formation of national class-based states, and the imperialist wars between them, all of these happened with the blessings of democracy. Let us be clear, then, that democracy understood in humanistic terms, as the enemies of the proletarian dictatorship would like to proclaim, is nothing but a swindle and a bunch of lies. This is the lesson of the past. But let us stand firm that any return to the past, in whatever form it may take, cannot stand for social democracy, but leads again to the most complete of bourgeois dictatorships. Let us never forget that the most dangerous code-word and minefield hiding counter-revolution today is the notion of social democracy. Let us be on the alert! Those speaking of democracy today, with whatever unctuous blessed words, are the workers’ deadly enemies. And let us watch out for the counter-revolutionary provocateurs because once below their proletarian red mask you can really get to know them for what they really are. The Constitution of the Soviet Republic expresses the principles of the proletariat’s internal democracy.

But we shall not endure the infiltration of this code-word among the ranks of the proletariat and the usurpation of this state of affairs by counter-revolutionaries, who wish to turn the wheels back to democracy, which once captivated the true proletariat and would now be flung anew in front of them. The proletariat itself in its very heart seeks to realize the most complete of democracy. The proletariat accepts anyone to its ranks who, rejecting in spirit the principles of exploitation, becomes proletarianized and places oneself as a worker in society. But woe unto those who live off the generosity of the proletariat, woe unto those who after proclaiming themselves proletarian seek to use the workers’ good faith to continue machinations from within, the failures of which have already been observed from the outside. The workers today are generous and of good faith. It depends on them whether this will continue. However, we especially warn those newcomers who assert the code-word of democracy, even if they speak “only” of the proletariat’s internal democracy. The old, veteran fighters themselves will build up this internal democracy and there is no need for any help that may easily hide a bourgeois intent. There is no and there cannot be any turning back!”


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