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Red Terror (Hungary)

The Red Terror in Hungary (Hungarian: vörösterror) was a series of atrocities aimed at crushing political rivals during the four-month regime of the Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919. It was so named because of its similarity to the Red Terror in Soviet Russia in both purpose and effect. It was soon to be followed by the White Terror against communists.

In March 1919, Communists, in collusion with Social Democrats, took control of the Hungarian government, after president Mihály Károlyi stepped aside. Soon after, the communists, led by Béla Kun, staged a coup and seized absolute power, proclaiming the establishment of the Hungarian Soviet Republic.

Committed ideologues within the party, such as Georg Lukács[not in citation given][1] and Tibor Szamuely,[2] argued for the necessity of "revolutionary terror." Tibor Szamuely wrote in the pages of the Vörös Újság (Red News): "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!"[3] With their support, József Cserny organized a detachment of some 200 agents known as "Lenin Boys" (Lenin-fiúk), who sought out and crushed "counter-revolutionary" activities in the Hungarian countryside. Similar groups operated within Budapest.

Within two months of taking power, the Communist leadership tried to restore Hungary to its pre-World War I boundaries, first by recapturing parts of present-day Slovakia, and when that invasion dissolved, turning their troops against the Romanian army to recapture Transylvania. These unsuccessful recapture adventures, as well as a string of failed domestic reforms, dampened popular support for the Communists, and on June 24 the Social Democrats attempted to regain control of the government. This attempted coup failed, and in its wake the Communist leadership carried out a string of terror reprisals to quash opposition and eliminate the strongest opponents to their regime. "Requisition patrols" looted homes. The paramilitary groups arrested putative or real enemies. Numerous atrocities, executions and crimes have been recorded.[4][5]

Revolutionary tribunals carried out 590 executions, some of which were for "crimes against the revolution",[6] but the numbers included also common criminals and regular offenders;[7] other sources have placed the number of dead between 370 and 587.[8]

The Hungarian Soviet Republic fell in the first week of August 1919, when Romanian forces deployed to fend off the Hungarian invasion pushed all the way into Budapest. Kun escaped into Russia; Szamuely fled to Austria but was caught and killed there. József Cserny was arrested and tried in November 1919; the Hungarian Bar Association refused to defend him at trial, so a lawyer was appointed by the court.[9] He was executed in December.

As was common in the political unrest of the 20th century, the Red Terror was answered by a wave of counter-reprisals once the Communist leadership fled. These attacks on leftists, remaining revolutionaries and Jews are known as the "White Terror."[10]


  1. ^ Lukács: Social Hinterland of White Terror; Lukács: Article in Népszava, 15. apr. 1919.: "The lordship of police power means that we have the occasion for liquidating the ruling classes. The second is here, but we must use it up!"
  2. ^ Szamuely Tibor in 20th of April 1919. said on a speech in Győr: "Now the power is in our hands. Who wants the old reign to come back, they should be hanged quickly. The one of this kind must be neck-bitten. The victory of Hungarian proletariat till this time required no serious numbers of victims. But now there is the need of bloodshed. We mustn't be afraid of blood, the blood is like steel: strengthens the hearth and strengthens the proletarian class. Blood will make us gigantean. [...] We will exterminate the whole bourgeoisie, if we have to."[citation needed]
  3. ^ Vörös Újság, 11 February 1919
  4. ^ Honismeret 2003
  5. ^ [dead link]A modernizacia kora 2003
  6. ^ U.S. Library of Congress. Hungarian Soviet Republic. Country study
  7. ^ Tibor Hajdu. The Hungarian Soviet Republic. Studia Historica. Vol. 131. Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae. Budapest, 1979
  8. ^ Sorensen: "Did Hungary Become Fascist?"; see Leslie Eliason - Lene Bogh Sorensen: Fascism, Liberalism, and Social Democracy in Central Europe: Past and Present, Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 2002, ISBN 87-7288-719-2
  9. ^ "Magyar Reds On Trial," New York Times, November 27, 1919
  10. ^ Bodo, Bela, Paramilitary Violence in Hungary after the First World War, East European Quarterly, Vol. 38, 2004

See also