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(en) Britain, Anarchist Federation Organise #67 - Pamphlet review - War and revolution: the Hungarian anarchist movement in World War I and the Budapest Commune (1919)

Date Tue, 12 Dec 2006 07:53:32 +0200



Martyn Everett. Kate Sharpley Library. 28 pages, illustrated with portraits of Hungarian anarchists. 3 pounds.
This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. But Hungary had another revolution in 1919 in the aftermath of the First World War.
Martyn Everett describes the emergence of an anarchist movement as a breakaway from the Social Democratic Party. He then goes on to describe other emerging currents and the strong support that anarchism had for a time among Hungarian peasants. Such important figures of Hungarian anarchism and libertarian socialism such as Ervin Szabo, Ervin Batthyany, Sandor Czismadia and Jeno Henrik Schmitt, are discussed. The ideas and activities of these individuals nurtured a movement that was eventually to spark off the revolutionary days of 1918-1919.
An anti-war movement was initiated in 1917 around the Galileo Circle, a study group of students and intellectuals, and workplace activists from the Syndicalist propaganda group that had been initiated by Szabo. Agitation in the factories led to the formation of the first Workers' Council in late December 1917. Meanwhile young anarchists gained entrance into Budapest army barracks to spread anti-war propaganda. A general strike calling for workers' councils broke out in January 1918 in Budapest. Strikes and agitation increased, in spite of the round-up of 50 anarchists, syndicalists and revolutionary socialists.

A secret Government circular reported that: "Women workers not only frequently attempt to disrupt factories by interrupting production, but even deliver inflammatory speeches, take part in demonstrations, marching in the foremost ranks with their babies in their arms, and behaving in an insulting manner towards the representatives of the law."

The government collapsed, whilst strikes, military mutinies and massive demonstrations spread.

By November workers' militias had been formed. By early 1919 estate workers and servants began to occupy the land, whilst workers took over their factories. Soldiers' councils were formed and the unemployed put on mass demonstrations. The coalition government collapsed.

Meanwhile a Communist Party had been formed, initially set up by returning Hungarians like Bela Kun, a former Social Democrat who had become a Bolshevik whilst in Russia. Many anarchists and syndicalists believed at this time that the Bolsheviks were carrying out a libertarian revolution in Russia, and they joined the new Party. These illusions began to be shaken a little when Kun, on the orders of Lenin, engineered a merger of the Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party (a party that had been pro-war, and had attacked the emerging revolutionary movement). The much larger Social Democrats effectively swallowed the Communist Party. Some anarchists left to set up the Anarchist Union and began setting up centres and forming their own militias. Others remained as a libertarian opposition within the merged party.

Meanwhile a Socialist Republic had been formed, followed by the forming of a Revolutionary Council in Budapest - the Budapest Commune. Whilst libertarian influence was demonstrated in its call for the abolition of bureaucracy, and the suppression of the army, Bolshevik influence was equally apparent in the call for land nationalization, where the original owners were appointed as "commissars for production". This disarmed revolution in the countryside and caused resentment among the peasantry. Kun started taking authoritarian measures against the workers, calling for increased production and arresting several syndicalist militants.

Kun's military policies were equally disastrous. Initially revolutionary militias had swept back attacking troops led by the Romanians with the support of the French government. Kun called for a peace treaty with the Czechoslovak government and thus sacrificed Slovak revolutionaries who had also moved to set up a Republic of Councils. This added to growing demoralization. Kun and his Bolshevik core negotiated safe passage out of Hungary, deliberately excluding anarchists and oppositional Communists. The Budapest Commune was drowned in blood and many revolutionaries murdered, some in ways like something out of the Middle Ages.

As Martyn Everett remarks "/The pressure of war, which continued in Hungary long after it had finished elsewhere in Central Europe, also forced anarchists to cooperate with others when in more peaceful circumstances they would have chosen different tactics. As crisis enveloped the Commune and the authoritarianism of the Social Democratic-Communist alliance became more pronounced, members of the Anarchist Union attempted to develop an alternative independent strategy, based on broadening the social base of the revolution, but the pace of events cut this short./"
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