The Comintern members were deliriously hopeful because three Soviet Republics—Russia, Hungary, and Bavaria—were already established. But Soviet Hungary lasted only four months, Soviet Bavaria for only three weeks. These failures had their lessons.
The Hungarian Communist Party
Hungary had been among the defeated powers of the First World War, and in the aftermath, its territory was radically truncated, facing occupation by French forces, Romanians, and Czechs. Hungarians reacted with fury, and the nationalist slogan was to be heard in the streets—“No, no, never.”
No mainstream party in Hungary was willing to continue governing, so a power vacuum emerged. In dire straits, the socialists agreed to a fusion with the new Hungarian Communist Party, whose leader Béla Kun, was hauled right from jail to national office.
Kun was Hungarian‐Jewish by origin, from Transylvania, and had been a not very successful journalist and trade union official before the war. During the First World War, he had been drafted into the Austro‐Hungarian army and was captured by the Russians in 1916. As a prisoner of war, he joined the Russian Bolsheviks and got to know Lenin, who dispatched him to his native country to agitate.
Kun suggested to Hungarians that alliance with and help from Soviet Russia could be their salvation, and even nationalist Hungarians could support the new state. Coming to power on March 21, 1919, the new regime pushed back the foreign armies, and undertook quick radical reforms in economics and culture.
Nationalization in Hungary
Instead of trying to coopt the peasantry as Lenin had done, Kun’s government proceeded immediately to collectivization. Noble estates were nationalized rather than being distributed to poor farmers, who became alienated from the new government in Budapest. Instead of the land reform they had hoped for, and private farms for themselves, they now faced the prospect of farming for the state. Food supply broke down.
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The government nationalized banks, safety‐deposit boxes and their contents, apartment buildings, and all branches of trade. Culture and social life were also to be revolutionized, starting with a ban on alcohol. Titles were abolished, which shocked an older generation of Hungarians: one countess is said to have fainted when a bus conductor addressed her as ‘citizeness’.
The Fall of Soviet Hungary
Georg Lukács, the philosopher, was Commissar for Education and Culture. The Commissar of the Interior and Commissar of War, Tibor Szamuely, established a repressive apparatus domestically. Newspapers were shut down, critics of the regime arrested, and brutal gangs of regime supporters who called themselves ‘Lenin Boys’ terrorized the populace. But food shortages, inflation, and rampant corruption were so bad that even government officials criticized their own regime.
All these took their toll, and when Romanian and Czech armies moved on the capital Budapest again, the regime toppled after only 133 days, collapsing in early August 1919. Kun and his associates fled. Given his experience, he was invited to join the coworkers of the Comintern in Moscow.
In Hungary itself, a repressive national conservative regime took power and enacted counterrevolutionary or ‘white’ terror of its own, taking an estimated 5,000 lives. Its leader was Admiral Miklós Horthy, who ruled as regent.
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The Bavarian Soviet Republic
To the west, in southern Germany, the Hungarian uprising inspired radicals in Munich, in Bavaria. That part of defeated Germany had also been a‐swirl with turmoil and violence. With the end of the war, seven centuries of Wittelsbach royal family rule came crashing down. A new socialist republic was declared by Kurt Eisner, but he was assassinated by a radical nationalist student. In the aftermath, Bavaria was declared to be a Soviet republic.
The new rulers included anarchists, writers, and poets. Locals nicknamed the government the ‘regime of the coffeehouse anarchists’. The new regime only had enough time to promise the end of capitalism through the printing of money. Its minister for foreign affairs demanded that Switzerland turn over locomotives to the new state, and when Switzerland refused, he declared war on the Swiss.
These men, however, were soon replaced by more serious and determined revolutionaries. They were led by Eugen Leviné, an adherent of Lenin, who announced that the new Bavaria would be a springboard to revolution throughout Europe.
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The End of the Bavarian Soviet Republic
But the central government in Berlin had had enough, and it sent in the brutal Freikorps mercenaries, who had earlier crushed the Spartacus uprising and murdered Rosa Luxemburg. Blood flowed in the streets of Munich in May 1919, with the shooting of hostages and prisoners on both sides. The Freikorps killing spree was horrific.
Incidentally, an unknown German soldier named Adolf Hitler, was on the scene in Bavaria, observing how to mobilize masses and planning for the future.
So, the Communist dream of a Red Bridge to Europe was thwarted, and the Russian Communists were faced with the prospect that the Revolution had been deferred.
Common Questions about Soviet Hungary and Soviet Bavaria
In the aftermath of the First World War, no mainstream party in Hungary was willing to continue governing, so a power vacuum emerged. The socialists agreed to a fusion with the new Hungarian Communist Party, whose leader Béla Kun became the leader of Soviet Hungary.
Béla Kun had been a journalist and trade union official before the war. As a Russian prisoner of war of the Austro-Hungarian War, he joined the Russian Bolsheviks and got to know Lenin, who dispatched him to his native country to agitate. Eventually, he became the leader of the Hungarian Communist Party and later the actual leader of Soviet Hungary.
Soviet Bavaria came into being after the First World War. A new socialist republic was declared by Kurt Eisner, but he was assassinated by a radical nationalist student. In the aftermath, Bavaria was declared to be a Soviet republic.
The government in Berlin sent in mercenaries to suppress the Republic. The Freikorps undertook a brutal campaign that ended the existence of Soviet Bavaria.