July 8-14, 1919. Commander-in-Chief Böhm leaves the Red Army

Torma Galina

After accepting the Entente's order, the Red Army was forced to withdraw from most of the territories they occupied during the Northern Campaign, which had a dramatic effect on the soldiers and the officers as well.

Vilmos Böhm bids farewell to the red soldiers

While in early July Communist leaders were distracted by celebrating the defeat and bloody retaliation of the June 24 counter-revolution, crucial changes were happening in the Red Army's leadership. The following article was published in Népszava on July 15:

„Comrade Commander-in-Chief Vilmos Böhm fell ill. Comrade Jenő Landler will be replacing him as Commander-in-Chief.  The news that comrade Vilmos Böhm's illness forced him to give up his post and duties left us numb. For the past eight months comrade Vilmos Böhm was always present at the most crucial events, where he had to use all his muscles and nerves to protect the proletariat and the revolution's achievements. As Military Commissar, he was responsible for building the Red Army, and when the enemies' ambush forced the proletarian army to protect the country with arms, comrade Vilmos Böhm became Commander-in-Chief. He had a major role in achieving the young Soviet Republic's military triumphs that revived the passion and thirst for revolution in all the proletarians of the world, and baffled the bourgeoisie.
But the job and the excitement it comes with took a toll on comrade Vilmos Böhm's health. He's become weary from eight months of constant work, been sick for weeks now and had to make an effort to carry out his duties in the Red Army.
His illness became so serious in the past days that now he is under constant medical supervision and has to give up his role as Commander-in-Chief for the Red Army while being treated. The Revolutionary Governing Council appointed comrade Jenő Landler, Commander of the III. corps to take over as Commander-in-Chief and carry out his duties. Thanks to comrade Jenő Landler's vigor and enthusiasm, his men were victorious in most battles fought against Czech imperialists. We strongly believe that his wonderful traits will continue to shine through while temporarily taking the post of Commander-in-Chief, and will serve the proletariat's interest represented by the Hungarian Soviet Republic's Red Army.”

Vilmos Böhm was born on January 6, 1880. After graduating from high school, he studied to be a mechanic and worked as a technical officer. He joined the Workers' Movement at an early age and became a secretary to the Vasas Union. In 1913 he was elected as a leading member of the Hungarian Social-Democratic Party, became first lieutenant during World War I. and took part in the Aster Revolution. He served as State Secretary of Defense in the Károlyi Government, and Defense Minister in the Berinkey Government. Prior to the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, he also negotiated with the Hungarian Communists' Party on behalf of the Social Democrats, when the two parties merged into the Hungarian Socialist Party. First he became Social- then Military Commissar in the Revolutionary Governing Council. After the April 16 Romanian attack he was appointed Commander of the Tiszántúl army, and from May 6 he led the Red Army against the Czechs on the Northern front as Commander-in-Chief, during which time he won several battles along with his Chief-of-Staff Aurél Stromfeld. So the article did not misspoke, when it said he did „eight months of constant work”, but it was not the reason why Vilmos Böhm made the decision to step down.

Since accepting Clemenceau's June 7 memo, the army's battle-readiness was on a downhill and soldiers were becoming disorderly. Although the battles continued until June 23 on the Northern front, soldiers were fighting with much less enthusiasm than in the beginning of the Northern Campaign. The uncertainty and half-heartedness within the army intensified when in mid-June, the territories they occupied were declared part of the Slovakian Republic, which decision was supported by the Hungarian proletarian leaders. Vilmos Böhm finally accepted the Entente's order on June 23, ceased the attacks and started organizing the army's withdrawal from Northern territories according to the armistice. He appointed Aurél Stromfeld to carry out the ungrateful task without even asking his opinion on said issue, so it came as no surprise, that the Chief-of-Staff immediately handed in his resignation, and after leading out the troops, he was still angry at the Commander-in-Chief. Although even Béla Kun was urging to accept the Entente's orders in mid-June at the Councils' National Rally, he wrote the following statement in 1932about accepting the armistice: „It was wrong to halt military actions and withdraw our troops without any prior negotiations. Our foreign policy failed when we did not answer Clemenceau's maneuver with a counter-maneuver and did not try to win ourselves some time by urging negotiations.” 

After that, Vilmos Böhm's main focus as Commander-in-Chief became to unite Social Democratic members of the party and chase out the Communists by declaring a military dictatorship with the Entente's support, but some Social Democrats, such as József Pogány and Jenő Landler were against his idea. However, Böhm never gave up on his goal, which he desired to achieve not as Commander-in-Chief, but as a diplomat serving as an ambassador in Vienna.

Vilmos Böhm

The counter-revolutionist Szegedi Friss Ujság made the following comment on the Red Army's new leadership:

„The Vörös Ujság wrote that Vilmos Böhm stood down as Commander-in-Chief and the government appointed Interior Affairs Commissar Jenő Landler to take his post. Such leadership changes are further proof that the Soviet government lost control over the Red Army, where professional competence is no longer valued, and political terror, represented by Landler is taking over. Dezső Bokányi's appointment as corps commander is yet another move on their behalf to be concerned of.”

The Governing Council approved Vilmos Böhm's delegacy on July 17, who arrived to Vienna on the 21st, but Entente agents were not as keen on his arrival as he would have expected, and negotiations did end with the desired result, as there were two factors Böhm did not take into account: he was no longer supported by the Red Army, so his mere self was not enough to guarantee anything, and in the Entente's eyes, the Social Democrats were unreliable because of their "Bolshevist past", and for them the idea of a ruling Social Democratic party was just one of several options. The Entente agents' promises made to Böhm triggered the Social Democratic leaders' disruption of the Red Army and full capitulation. The Commune's days were coming to an end.