Paris Peace Conf. 184.00101/115

Minutes of the Meetings of the Commissioners Plenipotentiary, July 17, 1919

  • Present:
    • Mr. White
    • General Bliss
    • Mr. L. Harrison
The Commissioners approved Memorandum No. 478 regarding the assignment of additional field clerks to the Commission. Six Additional Field Clerks
The Commissioners heard Mr. Henry James on the situation in Hungary. Mr. James presented the following memorandum:

Memorandum Concerning Possible Action at Budapest

There would seem to be two ways of loosening the knot at Budapest which now ties up all normal communication in southeastern Europe. Both proceed on the basis that Bela Kun’s Government cannot be taken at its word—that mere promises by that Government cannot be accepted.

  • First. The Bela Kun Government can be upset by force and another government may be set up under the auspices of an Allied army of occupation with which treaties and engagements can be made. This is military interference in the internal affairs of Hungary.
  • Second. Another alternative is to proceed to police the Danube River and the vital railway lines which pass through Hungarian territory and which are essential to the normal economic life of the surrounding countries which the Allies have already made immense sacrifices to liberate. This need not involve the dictation of a form of government to the people of Hungary and is susceptible of being handled in such a manner that it will be rightly recognized by the public opinion of the world as a police measure. It should be handled as just such a police measure as the League of Nations is devised to countenance [Page 313] and encourage as an alternative to warfare. To elaborate this alternative:

The first step should be taken in the name of peaceful commerce. The Interallied Danube River Commission, on which America, Great Britain, France and Italy are the only countries now represented, has already been requested by agents of the Bela Kun Government to arrange for the resumption of traffic on the Danube. This Commission could open negotiations for the resumption of traffic and could insist that in return for permitting the Hungarian interest to trade by river and railway the following conditions shall be accepted:

  • First. Assurances shall be [given?] that railway traffic and navigation will be guaranteed uninterrupted passage, such assurance to take the form of the admission of an Allied police force to such parts of Budapest and such points on the Hungarian railway and river systems as may seem necessary to preserve order.
  • Second. Bela Kun shall immediately arrange for the inclusion of a moderate element in his Government.

If this is done it should be announced immediately that the action does not imply political recognition to the Bela Kun Government, nor even an attempt to interfere with the internal politics of Hungary. Consistent with this action the people within the territory held by Bela Kun’s Government will still be able to determine whether they will continue to support his Government or to change it. In this manner, the way will be opened for a moderate and peaceful change of government, if the people so desire. This kind of change is greatly to be preferred to that change which will ultimately occur by counter-revolution unless a police force is introduced into Hungary soon. Should Bela Kun refuse compliance with this program, the Allied High Command acting on the advice of Admiral Troubridge, the Chairman of the Interallied Danube River Commission, and without further reference to Paris should issue the necessary orders to such Allied or Associated military forces as may now be in this territory to establish the above outlined police protection of traffic and thus guarantee to Czecho-Slovakia, Austria, Yugo-Slavia and Roumania direct communication and through traffic which they need for their economic life, and of which they are now deprived.

If it were decided to deal with the Budapest situation in this manner something like the following procedure would have to be adopted. The Council of Ten would announce that it was acting in view of the serious embarrassment which the Hungarian situation causes to the neighboring countries and to the efforts of the Allied and Associated Powers to assist these countries to resume their normal economic life.

It would empower the Interallied Danube River Commission, acting through its Chairman, Admiral Sir Ernest C. T. Troubridge, to offer to lift the blockade of Hungary upon the condition above mentioned.

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It would instruct the Commander of the Armée de l’Orient to supply such troops as may be required to guarantee safe and uninterrupted passage to railway and river transport through Hungarian territory including Budapest.

Such troops would be ordered to act under the command of a British or French officer of general rank to be designated by the Allied High Command. So far as the Danube River is concerned, such officer, if not Admiral Troubridge shall act in close co-operation with Admiral Troubridge who shall be charged with the special mission of securing traffic conditions on the Danube.

The forces detailed to this police work should be adequate to deal with local disorders but should strictly limit their activity to securing transport and communication for relief supplies and bona fide commercial traffic of any nation or of the nationals of any nation, including Hungary. Except so far as may be necessary to the performance of this police service, they shall avoid interfering in any manner with local institutions or officials.

So long as this police service is not interrupted by armed Hungarian force, no Roumanian, Czecho-Slovakian or Jugo-Slavian troops shall be employed in this service.

In the event that this peaceful solution of the present reciprocal blockade is opposed by armed Hungarian forces, the Armée de l’Orient should be instructed to take such measures as may be necessary to occupy and police the river and railway communications passing through Hungary, and in that event to impose all restrictions upon Hungarian traffic as it may deem necessary to the reduction of resistance.

Lieutenant Emory Pottle and Dr. E. Dana Durand were heard of [on] the subject of existing conditions in Hungary. Mr. A. W. Dulles was also present.

Lieutenant Pottle and Dr. Durand submitted the following memorandum:

Memorandum Regarding Conditions in Hungary

Prepared by Lieut. Emory Pottle and E. Dana Durand of the American Relief Administration

We visited Budapest during the three days July 6th to the 9th, and as the first Americans holding official status, other than Captain Weiss, to visit that city for more than a month, we consider it our duty to report the conditions as we found them and to submit our views regarding the possible methods of improving the situation.

Capt. Weiss is an American citizen and member of our army who was born in Hungary and has spent a considerable part of his life [Page 315] there. He was interpreter and assistant to the Coolidge Commission and since its departure from Budapest he has continued to go there from time to time by automobile from Vienna and to report to Capt. Gregory of the American Relief Administration and to Mr. Halstead at Vienna. He was of the greatest assistance to us in our visit, and the information which he furnished us supplemented that which we obtained directly and confirmed it in every particular.

We interviewed during our stay at least twenty persons representing all classes of society and all shades of opinion. Some of them came at our invitation, but more of their own initiative, having learned in various ways that we were in the city. They included labor leaders, members of the former aristocracy and land owning classes, one of the leading former bankers, Jewish merchants, professors of economics and other subjects in universities and various others. Several representatives of the foreign press and of the local press also contributed much information. For obvious reasons we consider it preferable not to mention names in this memorandum.

We made it clear to those with whom we talked that we had no authority to represent our government politically and did not know at all what plans were contemplated by our Government or by the Allies. However, as it at once became evident that the universal sentiment was in favor of some allied intervention, we formulated various hypothetical methods of intervention which we discussed with our visitors. As a result we found a large measure of uniformity in their views as to the precise method which could be most efficient and involve the least danger of bloodshed.

The leaders of certain of the labor unions desired to confer with us, but decided that it was scarcely safe for them to do so. We were informed, however, regarding their attitude by others who had talked with them.

We also had a long interview with Bela Kuhn. We naturally did not discuss with him at all the subject of allied intervention, but sought rather to ascertain his views as to what would happen in the absence of such intervention.

Our conclusion as to the facts of the present situation were strengthened by various items and editorials appearing in the Budapest papers, notably the Pester Lloyd. There is absolutely no freedom of the press and the only newspapers are government organs which do not, of course, represent public opinion of the majority or of the different classes. Nevertheless they themselves reveal a great deal regarding the desperateness of the situation and the conflict between different factions. Walks and drives through the city also directly reveal a great deal.

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Food and Economic Situation.

The weakness of the present government, while it arises largely from recognition of its unsound principles, and from resentment at the criminal acts of many of its representatives, rest chiefly in the desperate economic situation and the hardships due to lack of supplies of all sorts. This economic situation, while partly attributable to the blockade and the inability to obtain necessary products from outside, is just as much due to internal disorganization of industry. The people have lost the desire to work. The production even of those industries which have necessary materials has fallen off greatly. Bela Kuhn is forced constantly to appeal for greater production and for greater patience in enduring the openly-admitted hardships. The coal production, partly by reason of the occupation of important mining regions by the other national states, and partly because of internal conditions, is exceedingly small and suffices barely to operate a limited number of trains and to operate those factories which are engaged in manufacturing munitions; the production even of munitions, we are informed, is very small.

There is probably sufficient food in the country as a whole, but the peasants are unwilling to give it up, both because of their opposition to the system of government and because the Bolshevists’ money, with which they are paid, is virtually worthless and there are no goods which the peasant desires on which to spend it. A large part of the food supply of Budapest at present is extorted from the peasants by sheer violence.

The result is that even for the favored adherents of the government life in Budapest is one of very great hardship. Everyone gets a fair quantity of poor bread. As regards other foods, so far as they exist at all, the cards of the soldiers and munition workers and similar protégés of the government are honored before those of other people and the latter get practically nothing in the recognized distribution, though a few are fortunate enough to get food by illicit trading, in which exchange of goods for goods has almost superseded the use of money. There is a great shortage of fats even for the most favored classes. Clothing, boots and shoes, and fuel, are scarcely obtainable at all by anyone.

It is obvious that the conditions in these respects will become far worse during the winter and everyone looks forward to a period of frightful destitution. This foresight of the situation to come is one of the chief reasons why the people want to change the government.

Unrepresentative Character of Government.

It must be perfectly clear that the present government is in no sense democratic. It does not rest on the consent of a majority of the people, nor even of a very considerable minority. It rests on armed force [Page 317] exclusively. While some of the leaders may be actuated by idealistic motives the control has fallen into the hands of a compact group of adventurers who seek only their own power and gain, but who, because they are compact, have been so far able to hold down the opposite element. It is useless for the entente to address itself to Bela Kuhn’s government and tell it that it must reform itself. The opponents of the government are in a state of moral lassitude and of abject fear. It is useless for the entente to appeal to them to overthrow the government either by peaceful or by violent methods unless it offers them the promise of effective support.

The Attitude of Bela Kuhn.

We are unable to form a definite judgment as to the mental and moral character of Bela Kuhn. If it be conceded that he has ideal motives and believes that he is working for the benefit of the people, it is nevertheless certain that he is powerless to control the violent and self-seeking elements among his associates.

Bela Kuhn himself says that communism is an ideal which can be realized only after a long period of education. To a large extent the present economic system in Budapest is communistic, but Kuhn wishes to go back to a socialistic system, a fact which is well worth bearing in mind considering any reconstruction of the government, since a new government must inevitably partake of a socialistic character. He has already caused arguments in favor of socialism as against communism to be published, and is trying to initiate some specific measures, such as trying to introduce virtually a wage system according to what the worker produces instead of paying every one alike. The trouble is that Bela Kuhn, even if sincere, is not going to be able to effect these changes in the face of the armed power of the little clique of adventurers. The only way in which any material change in present methods can be effected, unless by Allied intervention, is by violent counter revolution, and the prospects of the prompt success of such a counter revolution are none too good. In fact, counter revolution is likely to mean prolonged anarchy, continuous armed conflict between the different groups of Reds and Whites.

The Attitude of the Working Classes.

The majority of the working classes, especially of the more skilled, have never favored such radical economic measures as are now in force, and have become bitterly opposed to them in recent weeks because of the hardships they have suffered. On the other hand, the great majority of these classes are socialistic and it would be quite impossible to get their support for a return to the old form of government and the old inequality in income. They will insist on universal equal suffrage, the freest of political institutions and a large measure of socialization of industry. Only fear keeps them [Page 318] from taking immediate steps to overthrow the present government, and they will welcome any intervention that will help them do so and support it with arms if necessary.

It is needless to mention the attitude of the former bourgeoisie which constituted a very large factor in the population and whose opposition to the present government is inconceivably bitter. On the other hand we are convinced that most of them will take fairly kindly to a regime acceptable to the working classes, and will not attempt to intrigue in favor of a royalist regime.

Attitude of the Peasants.

Before the war about two-thirds of the land of Hungary was owned and operated by small peasants, the remainder being in large estates worked by hired labor, the laborers, however, having small tracts assigned to them for their family use, keeping a cow, pig, etc. The government has seized these large estates and the already planted crops are being harvested by them collectively. The land owning peasants are violently opposed to the present government, partly because they fear that their land itself may ultimately be taken away from them, but chiefly on immediately practical grounds. The peasants think very little about systems of government at all, but they object to having to sell their crops for worthless paper money or to being absolutely robbed of them. Within the few days before we were in Budapest there had been several massacres of peasants who had attempted to resist the requisitioning of their supplies. Where such resistance arose the Terrorist troops shot down many of the peasants, made prisoners of the people of entire villages, condemned selected persons to be hung, levied huge money fines on the people and carried off all of their grain and livestock. With the slightest opportunity this class of peasants would rise as a mass. The peasants on the large estates are said by most of our informants to feel almost as hostile to the government, but Bela Kuhn himself claims to the contrary, and says that he expects to be able to feed Budapest chiefly by the products of the cooperative large estates, amounting to about six and one half million joch (about ten million acres). There is no reason whatever to anticipate that this class of peasants would lend any effective military or political support to the present government in the event of a counter revolution or of intervention by the Allies.

The Army.

The army consists of soldiers of three classes: first, a small minority who are thoroughly Red, mostly mere adventurers and cutthroats; second, those who have joined the army because of the pay and the food, since they find it difficult to support themselves as well in any way; third, those who are actuated by strictly nationalist motives and [Page 319] who are willing to fight to preserve the sacred soil of Hungary, and for no other motive.

The soldiers of the second and third classes, who are in the great majority, would, if they dared, immediately either throw down their arms, or actually attack the present government, provided they were assured that the territory of Hungary was safe from further aggression. Boehm, the commander-in-chief of the army, is himself, according to our best information, a moderate socialist and opposed to the more violent element. He has recently issued a proclamation against the Terrorist troops, who appear to be largely under the control of one of the other peoples’ commissaries, a desperado by the name of Samueli.

The general mobilization, which as indicated by dispatches was ordered by the government a few weeks ago, was the result of discontent on the part of many of the troops in the field. They asked why they should fight when others stayed at home. The actual effect of the order in increasing the strength of the army is almost nil; the mobilization is, for all practical purposes, on paper only.

We are informed from credible sources that the munition works are producing only two or three hundred rifles per week and one battery of field artillery per week, and very little ammunition.

Szegedin Government.

All elements in Budapest are united in disowning and despising the Szegedin government, and insist that any participation of that government in an attempt to overthrow the Bela Kuhn government would be a great mistake. It is considered to represent essentially the old aristocratic and landlord class, and can get no support from the working or middle classes.

Summary.—The Necessity of Interallied Intervention.

The problem of Hungary is twofold; and on its solution depends not only the welfare of the country itself, and all that that implies, but also the welfare of the surrounding countries. An adjustment of this desperate situation would have an immediate and salutary effect upon the vicious Bolshevistic tendencies only too apparent in German-Austria, Bohemia, Italy and various other localities. In this connection it is only necessary to recall to your minds the unflagging efforts which the Hungarian Bolshevists are making to propagate their cause throughout Europe. In fact, in newspapers throughout Europe, even those not of socialist or Bolshevik tendencies, much of the news that appears in regard to the present Hungarian government is paid for out of that government’s pocket.

Entente intervention in Hungary must keep vividly in mind the fact that it must proceed with the extremest tact and caution lest in attacking Bolshevism it affront the national spirit, or in combating [Page 320] the national spirit it unite with it the Bolshevist forces. From what has been said above it is clear that the great majority of the people of Hungary are eager to overthrow the present government and to do away with Bolshevism, but they are not willing to go back to the old regime of government, or to the gravely unjust distribution of wealth and income which formerly existed.

However, as we have indicated, the people are neither morally, nor from the military standpoint, able to overthrow the present government if left to themselves. They need the moral and, in a small measure, the military support of the Entente. The army is ready for defection and the working classes are eager for a change. The farmers will not feed the Bolshevists except under compulsion by armed force. So strong and universal is the desire for allied intervention that there is not the slightest possibility, in our opinion, of any armed opposition to a properly constituted allied movement. Bela Kuhn himself would not dare to give orders to shoot at allied forces who entered the country under proper declaration of purpose. If he gave such orders it is extremely doubtful if they would be executed, especially in view of the attitude of Boehm.

It is impossible to overstate the undesirability of intervention which takes the form of an advance by the troops of the countries surrounding Hungary. Whatever might be proclaimed as to the purpose of such an advance, it would immediately be construed by the masses of the Hungarian people as an aggression designed to acquire and permanently hold more territory, and they would regard it as the gravest offense to their national rights. Such a movement would at once consolidate the army into a brave and effective fighting force, and would rally all classes of people to the government, the question of Bolshevism being at once sunk from mind.

We should like to call sharply to your attention the fact that the French are hated, root and branch, in Hungary, this being in large measure due to the Vyx13 affair and its echoes. The Italians are viewed with a hostility not equal to that given to the French, but of a very definite character. On the other hand, the popular nation in Hungary today is the American nation, followed closely by the British. Therefore any display of entente force should be composed, if possible, entirely of troops of these two nations. The British and American flags, we are convinced, would be an open sesame to every difficult door in Hungary.

Plan of Intervention.

With the foregoing factors well in hand, and after many conferences and close study of the conditions involved—conditions which not only [Page 321] relate closely to Hungary, but also have a direct bearing on the world in general, especially in regard to the proletariat of the entente countries—we are convinced that a successful and logical entente intervention should proceed along the following lines:

A distribution by aeroplane over the whole of Hungary, and a contemporaneous publication in the press throughout the world, of a manifest clearly setting forth the following points:
The Entente assumes the occupation of certain portion of Hungary, according to the terms of the Armistice.
This occupation is to be construed solely as a peaceful occupation and in no sense a military aggression. Its sole aim is to maintain order and to establish a government which by resting on the will of the people—as the present government does not—will be stable and competent to negotiate a binding peace with the Entente Powers.
Upon the arrival of the Entente forces they will—in consultation with leading citizens of all classes—appoint a temporary directorate which shall proceed as promptly as possible to conduct an election, with universal suffrage, for the choice of a constitutional assembly to determine the future form of government, and to negotiate a final Treaty of Peace with the Entente Powers.
The Entente guarantees to the Hungarian nation a just consideration of the problems of its national borders, and protection against external aggression.
The lives of the present members of the government, as well as those of their families, will be in every case preserved, unless such individuals on the arrival of the entente forces shall be guilty of armed opposition or seditious acts.
The Entente will undertake immediately to provide for the Hungarian people food, coal, clothing and other necessaries of life, and to arrange the necessary credits therefor.
The Entente forbids absolutely any form of revolutionary movement on the part of the Reds, or counter revolutionary movement on the part of the Whites, and demands that the people of Budapest and all Hungary assist in maintaining absolute order throughout the country.
The day following the distribution over all Hungary of the foregoing manifest there should take place in the city of Budapest the arrival of a number of monitors flying the British flag, which monitors should bear a detachment of some four hundred or five hundred men, more or less, who should land and immediately proceed to the Royal Palace where the allied flags should be flown and a post command be established. These troops should be composed chiefly of British and Americans.
The commander of this body of troops should immediately demand the presence of Bela Kuhn and his government associates at the post of command. They would then be kept there, and their families sent for. The city would then be properly policed by the allied troops.
As a guarantee of the good faith of the Allies in the occupation, they should bring with them in person Mr. Garami (now in Switzerland), the well-known leader of the moderate Socialists, who is unquestionably a man of ability, and, most important of all, persona grata with all the factions of Budapest except the extreme Communists. The presence of Garami should be immediately made known to the people by manifest, which should declare that Garami is to head the new directorate.
Garami should immediately proceed to form his directorate in accordance with paragraph “0” of the above manifest.

Notes on Above Plan.

The distribution of the manifest is absolutely imperative as a means of securing the popular support for this intervention and preventing misconstruction on the part of Bela Kuhn as to the Allied aims. More important still, it will disarm the opposition to such intervention on the part of the proletariat of the Allied nations.

The proposal that the troops shall come on monitors is partly based on the greater speed with which they could thus be brought up, and partly on the impressive effect of the monitors themselves and their ability for defense. The monitors which came down the Danube at the time of the recent counter revolution, being controlled by officers familiar with the river, were able to avoid the mines. These same officers, who were Whites, will serve as pilots for monitors bearing the Allied forces. It is practically certain that no further mines have been laid as the one mine layer which the Communists possessed has been destroyed.

If the sending of such a small body of troops is considered to involve too great a military risk, a larger force could enter at the same time or as soon thereafter as possible. It would be well, of course, to have Allied troops massed at the border and to let it be clearly understood by the Hungarian Government and the people that they were massed there ready to march in and avenge any attack on the intervening forces.

We are able to suggest the names of leaders of different factions in Hungary who could be called upon to join with Mr. Garami as a temporary directorate.

  1. Lieutenant Colonel Vyx of the French Army, military representative of the Allied powers in Budapest.