March 25-31, 1919. The Red Army

Torma Galina

The Hungarian Soviet Republic's most important and urging task was to build a self-conscious, combat-worthy proletarian army to fight the invading Western capitalism.

On March 25, the Revolutionary Governing Council ordered to build a Red Army of already serving soldiers and laborers, who were given full board, clothing, equipment and a monthly 450 Krone salary. Each of their family members also received 50 Krones family allowance, their rent was also covered, and after 6 months of impeccable service soldiers were rewarded and promised more clothing and mission surcharge. The army was controlled and organized by the military forces, lead by Commissar József Pogány until April 2. He appointed all the company- and regimental commanders. Platoons had to elect a trusted man who would also serve as their commander, a welfare trusted man to supervise economic affairs and squad leaders. The Red Army did not differentiate between classes and ranks. Reservist laborers' battalion and troops were also part of the army, and discipline was upheld by the revolutionary court. Recruitment started immediately after the order was issued and newspapers informed locals of the Budapest region where to apply.

On March 27 Commissar József Pogány issued a regulation on renaming the barracks, as they were previously named after emperors, princes and generals in the past. They were renamed after idols of the new order: the Franz Joseph barrack became Marx, Prince Joseph became Lenin and the Albrecht became Trotsky barrack.

Recruitment at barrack 32

Barrack 32, called Maria Theresa stood on the corner of Üllői út and Ferenc körút and was renamed to Martinovics barrack. Recruitment was going fast both here and at the three other Budapest barracks, and according to the March 30 issue of Népszava, battalions were lining up at the gigantic courtyard waiting for the order to leave to the front. There were also two lines waiting there to get into the ground floor recruitment offices. First, everyone had to prove that they are in fact laborers. Then they had to get a check up and if they proved to be competent they received an ID. Successful candidates had to sign the „Red soldier's compulsory" by which they agreed that„wherever the Soviet Republic and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat sends you, you will always carry out your duties fearlessly”. Lastly they had to pledge their allegiance: „We solemnly swear to be loyal to the Hungarian Soviet Republic and protect its independence; we will obey the government and every official appointed by them, respect and protect them and follow their orders under all circumstances; we will care about our subordinates, and serve the benefit, freedom and prosperity of the Hungarian Soviet Republic!"

Soldiers ready to leave Martinovics barrack

Corps sent to the demarcation line sent letters or telegrams to the most popular newspapers. In the Est's April 5 issue a large red heart was published which was outlined by the soldiers' signatures and accompanied the following lines: „Our hearts remained in Pest — girls of Pest, give them back! Sincerely, the always cheerful comrades of the 32nd."

The first days the army was recruiting soldiers for the infantry, artillery and cavalry, and people could also join to be telegraphers or sappers to build trenches on the defense line. Foreign soldiers who previously served with the Russian Red Guards were also recruited. They were part of the first international regiment of the Red Army with 1500 members, stationed at the Bebel barracks in Kelenföld.

 Ex-war prisoners enter the recruitment offices 

Recruitment in the Castle

After the first couple days new recruitment offices were opened. The international Red Army's recruitment office was in the Castle at the Lovarda utca 1 barrack. Russian ex-war prisoners who previously served with the Russian Red Guards and Hungarian soldiers who served in Russia were to apply here. Az Est advertised it for them with the following lines - written in a rhetoric typical of that system: „Our soldiers who languished on the endless Siberian snowfields, who ate the bread of bitter captivity for ages to protect militarism and imperialism; the young Hungarian Soviet Republics asks you to use the triumphant revolutionary spirit which you adapted during the victorious Russian revolution to protect the young Hungarian revolution's success. We are surrounded by thieving Western imperialist armies, who want to put you back in chains. Every soldier who served in Russia has to join the Red Army today. Soldiers returning from Russia! Apply for recruitment at I., Vár, Lovarda-utca 1. between 09:00 and 14:00.” On the 1st of April the new paper, Vörös Katona published an advert for Székely soldiers. They had to apply to the international Red Army at the same address. By the second week of recruitment the army had their second international regiment. The two regiments held a parade at the Parliament's square on April 7, Monday morning with German, Austrian, Romanian, Slovakian, Czech, Polish, Serbian and Russian battalions, Entente officers, Western journalists, Vilmos Böhm and Béla Szántó Military Commissars and members of the Governing Council.

Recruitment office on Lovarda utca

 Sándor Garbai at the Székelys'

A month after Mihály Károlyi visited Szatmárnémeti and the Transylvanian demarcation line, the new President, Sándor Garbai also found it important to visit the Székely troops. He arrived to Szatmárnémeti on March 31 morning and spent a day there, just like Károlyi. He was accompanied by Jenő Kalmár, a trustee of the council, József Büchler, secretary of the Hungarian Socialist party, Sári-Szabó and Béla Nagy officers and Imre Nagy press secretary, Mihály Révész, editor of Népszava, Jenő Darvas, editor of Vörös Újság and Mihály Bíró, illustrator for Vörös Katona, who all arrived on the President's private train. The President was welcomed by brigadier Pál Nagy and the Székely soldiers' company at the train station. Soldiers of the 12th Red Regiment of Szatmár lined up and a band was playing the Marseillaise. After the usual speeches, the guests were driven to the Laborers' and Soldiers Council of Szatmár's session, which began at 10:00 at the city hall's ceremonial hall. The Council's trusted men told the President they will help him strengthen the proletarian dominance, and Garbai talked about the historical significance of this new era. Then he left to Vigadó with the trusted men to a meeting, where he shared the new system's principles in a one and a half hour speech. He talked about the importance of socialization - as in nationalization -, and asked everyone to join the Red Army.

Sándor Garbai with Székely soldiers

At 14:00 the guests took the train to Szinérváralja. Sándor Garbai granted the Székely soldiers serving at the demarcation line with the Red Army's support and saluted the company. He also visited the gun battery and machine gun squad with Pál Nagy brigadier. A line of cars brought the President and his escorts to the gathering at Korona hotel in Szinérváralja, where Garbai shared the Soviet Republic's agenda with the hundreds of attendees, and also mentioned how important the Red Army was. On the way back at Apa station another delegation of soldiers were waiting for the President who stopped and talked to them. The train arrived back to Szatmár at 19:30 and headed back to Budapest at 22:00.


Marcell Vértes and Alajos Dezső's cartoon: „Who are the reds protecting? And who did the grays protect?”

On Thursday April 3 cinemas organized a Red Soldier's Day to advertise recruitment. Between shows, actors, members of the Hungarian Socialist Party and Béla Paulik political commissioner and Russian ex-war prisoner urged the audience to join the Red Army. They were screening propaganda movies and slides "to share the sins of the old capitalist system and advertise the hopes of a new era”.

The movies were directed by Mihály Kertész, Márton Garas and Oszkár Damó and the leading characters were played by the most famous actors of the time. The first Vörös Riport Film news also appeared at cinemas, which included a cartoon by Marcell Vértes and his fellow cartoonist, the left-handed Alajos Dezső. Their illustrations showing the difference between the Red Army and the Monarchy's army were obviously made with propaganda purposes. Although the title refers to the two army's different uniforms, the Red Army's soldiers wore the same grey garments, as those were the only ones available. Demobilized soldiers were ordered to give back their uniforms, which were then handed over to new recruits. But people knew that these new soldiers were part of the Red Army as no one else was allowed to wear them. Several cartoons appeared in papers at the time, similar to the one Vértes and Dezső drew.

The cartoon segment included in the end of Est Film news was not included in Vörös Riport Films. This was Marcell Vértes' last animation that we know of. A little later, just like Alajos Dezső did, he moved to Vienna and Paris, where he launched his international carrier.