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|Belá Kun was born to a Jewish family in 1886 at Szilagycseh in Transylvania. He was entered in the Klausenburg University but soon entered politics instead. He joined the Social Democrats and became treasurer to the local chapter. In 1914, he worked for the Laborer's Insurance Company in Klausenburg (Kolozsvár, Cluj). He was accused of stealing funds from the company, but he returned the money and the charges were dropped. Then, he fled Klausenburg to avoid further troubles.
Once he reached Budapest, Kun started a newspaper with Marxist overtones. When the war broke out, Kun served in the army, but was captured by the Russians in the early summer of 1916. He was placed into a prison camp for several years, during which time he became a centre of Marxist indoctrination among fellow prisoners. His energy so impressed the bolsheviks that he was taken to Lenin for a meeting, and thereafter was trained in revolutionary tactics.
By December 1918, he was dispatched to Hungary with Russian funds in order to foment a Red Revolution. Shortly thereafter, he founded a communist newspaper whose sole purpose was to attack President Mihaly Károlyi's government. Kun was arrested and sent to prison, but was allowed to continue his newspaper providing he used his Russian contacts to bring Soviet strength against Rumania and other enemy states who were occupying Hungarian territory.
Finally, after receiving the impossible "Vyx Ultimatum" on 20 March, which effectively allowed the enemy states to annex whatever territory was under their occupation, Károlyi released Kun from prison on 21 March 1919, and basically gave him supreme control.
The "Other" Soviet Republic
The government consisted of a socialist-communist coalition, but Kun's bolsheviks leaped into action and managed to purge their socialist comrades within days.
Kun has been described as being highly energetic and completely dedicated to whatever he put his mind to. However, he was known to be totally pliable and unimaginative. He relied almost exclusively on orders from Moscow to govern his Republic.
A revolutionary red terror was implemented at Lenin's suggestion to bring about a communist society. This was handled by Kun's good friend and fellow bolshevik propagandist Tibor Szamuely, who raged for genuine class warfare. His "Lenin Boys" were an uncontrollable scourge both in the city and out in the countryside.
But Kun endangered his Soviet Hungarian experiment by attempting to spread a world revolution from Budapest. His spurious "Soviet Republic of Slovakia" was formed in the southern and eastern Slovak lands, centred on Kozice (Kássa, Kaschau) and arroused the ire of Prague, which could not decide which was worse: A bolshevik Slovakian government or Czech-claimed lands under Hungarian occupation.
Kun's Red Guards secured a victory over the Czechs in an engagement in early June, but problems along the other frontiers prevented the Reds from securing any more territory for Soviet Slovakia. Indeed, in early July 1919, Kun ordered the withdrawal of the Red Guards from Slovakia and the government there collapsed immediately with the support of their terror apparatus. This alone was a great embarrassment, but more was to follow.
The Rumanians advanced across Hungary all the way to the gates of the capital, and the Red Guards engaged in a pitched battle before Budapest. But the terribly demoralised force was severely defeated, and Kun fled toward Austria with Szamuely and other high-ranking bolsheviks, leaving Hungary to its fate. Once Kun had vanished from the scene, the Workers' Soviet elected a new government headed by Gyula Peidl, which immediately rescinded nearly all of Kun's hated orders. The Rumanians occupied Budapest for five months and looted the city thoroughly.
After the Terror: More Terror, and a Deserving Conclusion
Kun was interned by the Austrians and released. Kun escaped to Soviet Russia following his internment in Austria. Lenin, his “spiritual father” in bolshevism and great friend, arranged a job for him in re-bolshevising those lands formerly controlled by the whites in southern Russia. In late 1920, Kun was dispatched to the Crimea, recently evacuated by General Wrangel, and led a red terror against the population. By some estimates, his insane methods brough about the deaths of 60,000 Crimeans, both Tatars and Russians. After this, Kun’s reputation was thoroughly filthied even for the bolsheviks, and Kun became a propagandist for the internationalist movement, and Trotsky happily supported his endeavours.
Kun returned to Vienna in 1928, with the aim of organising another Red Revolution in Hungary. However, it was easily foiled and he was imprisoned. Shortly thereafter, Kun was exiled back to Russia. This was a bad time to be associated with Trotsky, as Stalin did not support internationalism but rather wanted to focus on socialism within the Soviet Union. Kun was among the many thousands of international communists who were arrested by Stalin's orders during the great purges of 1936-1937. He was executed in 1939.
GWS, 5/02 [rev. 4/05]