March 18-24, 1919. We enter the Dictatorship of the Proletariat

Torma Galina

English warship in Budapest, cannons on the Danube shore at Lágymányos, launching the Hungarian Socialist Party and their first meeting at the parliament on March 23, 300 gypsy musicians play the Marseillaise, and this week's joke: the war millionaire, one of Hungary's first ever animations.

English on the Danube - the Czechs' demands

In 1919 late January the Hungarian capital received the news that an American-English-French-German delegation was meeting in Belgrade to discuss the reintroduction of traffic on the river Danube. The commission was led by English admiral, Sir Ernest Charles Thomas Troubridge. The Entente thought the decision should not be up to states connected to the river, as it would cause unfairness and constant battles. Instead they'd need an internationally accepted solution, also accepted by the aforementioned states, arguing they should never have the urge to jump at each others' throat if they would have an international shipping company supervised by the Entente. The United States was seemingly willing to lend 100 million US dollars for vehicles and construction.

English warship on the Danube

A couple days later on January 27, an English pinnace arrived to Budapest from the sea through the Lower Danube, accompanied by steamer, Gizella dressed in English war flags, which - alongside other Danube Steamer Company ships - gone under the Entente's supervision around November/December as part of the armistice deal. Government Commissioner Emil Zerkovitz ordered the ships to be stationed at Eötvös tér.

A month later papers were reporting about the opposite, saying the Czech government managed to make a separate deal with the allies' military commander, which allowed them to travel freely on the Danube. The Czechoslovakian Ministry of Trade started acting on this matter in early January in Paris then made a deal with admiral Troubridge. They signed the agreement on February 18.

The sailors' protest


But that was not enough for the Czechs and a couple weeks later they came up with new demands. They wanted Czechoslovakian ships to be the only ones on the Danube's Komárom-Baja route - where Hungarian ships were still allowed at the time -, and asked to confiscate all Hungarian ships. The Hungarian government was against the idea and sailors (and other folks) organized a protest for March 13 to the National Museum. But while Government Commissioner Emil Zerkovitz was trying to negotiate with admiral Troubridge about Hungary's needs, his deputy, English Colonel General Stead issued a regulation in the Czechs' favor, bypassing the Hungarian government and the armistice commission. So now shipping from Pozsony to Baja became the Czechoslovakian government's privilege, and the Hungarian River- and Sea Shipping Ltd and Danuber Streamer Ltd were forced to hand over all their ships, ports and warehouses to the Czech government. The fleet needed at least 16 towing steamers and 460 barges. The Czechoslovakian government's shipping commission immediately travelled to Budapest to start negotiations.

While Czech newspapers were filled with the wonderful news, that the Entente wants to hand the entire Danube over for them, Hungarian newspapers were furious. They published Government Commissioner Zerkovitz's letter he wrote to admiral Troubridge, in which he declined to act according to the new regulation, and offered the Hungarian shipping issue for the United Kingdom and United States of America to deal with. He also warned about a possible strike by Hungarian sailors, which would seize all transportation on the Danube, as only Hungarian sailors knew the entire river and any other foreign sailors would get lost.

Meanwhile, the Entente was brewing up an even more radical plan. A couple days later on March 20 at 11:00 Lieutenant-Colonel Vix and members of the Budapest Allies' Military Mission visited the Hungarian People's Republic's Interim President Mihály Károlyi to deliver the Entente's declaration, which was signed a day earlier in Belgrade. The Lieutenant-Colonel emphasized that they no longer view the demarcation line as an armistice-, but a political border. They marked neutral zones in territories East from Tisza and ordered Hungarian troops to retreat from those areas and Transylvania starting March 23. They were waiting for an answer by 18:00 the next day. Mihály Károlyi called for a cabinet meeting on the 20th at 17:00 to share the news with other cabinet members. This is how the government replied:

„Mr. Lieutenant-Colonel,

You were kind to hand me a memo in General de Lobit's name, addressed to the Hungarian government about a neutral zone discussed at the peace conference on February 23, 1919.
The government received your memo, and they are not in a position to acknowledge the peace conference's decision and can not act accordingly. This regulation goes against the November 13, 1918 armistice military convention, ignores the country's essential needs, prevents the country's future progression and could possibly end peace. As the Hungarian government can not be held responsible to execute the regulation, — as we were not invited to the peace conference so did not have a say in the wording of said regulation — we found no other solution but to stand down. I would like to ask you, Mr. Lieutenant-Colonel to do all necessary steps, so that the peace conference could get familiar with the Hungarian government's position as soon as possible.


Károlyi s. k.”

The proletariat takes over and the Hungarian Socialist Party gathers at the Parliament

At the March 20 cabinet meeting members agreed they can no longer be responsible for the country being in the mercy of the Entente, therefore they shall hand in their resignation. They also agreed they should join forces with Soviet Russia, the Entente's biggest enemy, as Entente governments cannot be expected to be reasonable.

Sándor Garbai


Social democrats wanted to join forces with the Communist Party to establish connections with the Soviet government. Leaders of the Social Democratic Party contacted Béla Kun in jail, where he was kept since the last communist riot, to start negotiations. Communist leaders were set free on March 21 on the city commander's order. At 18:00 at the old House of Representatives on Sándor utca, at the Communist Party's weekly meeting the social democratic and communist coalition officially declared the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.


After the cabinet meeting Károlyi still envisioned a social democratic government where he could remain president. He received the news about the social democratic and communist coalition and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat when they wanted him to sign his resignation, which was already published by Népszava and appeared on posters all around the city.


The Laborers' Council held a meeting on the 21st at 19:00, where they announced that the Hungarian Social Democratic Party and the Hungarian Communist Party will merge into the Hungarian Socialist Party and take over in the name of the proletariat. The Laborers' Council set up an Interim Revolutionary Governing Council led by President Sándor Garbai, and elected commissars to lead government offices. The President stated that their main tasks would include territory issues, building a Red Army, and announced a state of siege in Budapest to get ready to defend the country against any marauders and possible counter-revolutionary powers.


Sándor Garbai and Béla Kun on March 23

Before all that, on March 18 an appeal appeared in the Communist Party's paper Vörös Újság, calling their followers to join them on March 23 at a protest against the Berinkey government, and demand the immediate release of communist leaders. Although by then it was unnecessary to go out on the streets for these issues, the protest was still held and became the first ever public gathering of the Hungarian Socialist Party. Almost a hundred thousand people gathered at the Parliament to listen to the country's new leaders, Sándor Garbai, Béla Kun and Dezső Bokányi. The Est news added a quote to their report from Sándor Garbai's speech he gave the next day to the officers' delegation.  

Proletarians against war millionaires

By the end of World War I a new social group emerged, the war millionaires - manufacturers and traders who became rich during war and who's interest were thereby staying at war, such as arms manufacturers and leather traders who delivered boots for the troops. This group of people was already disliked back in the war as they were responsible for price increases, and for overpricing goods the country was short on. Unsurprisingly, they became the Dictatorship's main target, besides other representatives of the capitalist regime, such as landowners, bakers and houseowners. Countless cartoons imagined them taking a knock with the new regime. Marcell Vértes' chalk drawing about the fat millionaire became part of our film history, just like his „Angel of Peace” caricature, as the country's first animations. 


The war millionaire gets banished from Paradise