Paris Peace Conf. 184.01102/375

Professor Philip M. Brown to Professor A. C. Coolidge19

No. 31

Subject: Conversation with Bela Kun.

I enclose herewith a rough abstract of a conversation which I had with Bela Kun on Tuesday, April 15, here in this hotel; Professor Marszalli of the university here, being present as a friend of Bela Kun’s, and Lieutenant Weiss assisting as an interpreter.
As will be seen, the subjects treated in this conversation were of considerable importance, and the views expressed by Bela Kun are naturally to be given considerable weight. It is obvious, of course, that his answers are not at all to be accepted as entirely in accordance with the facts, as for example in the matter of propaganda. His statement that the government did not approve of propaganda in foreign countries, and that it maintained connections merely with the proletariat of other lands, is not to be taken seriously. The distinction between conveying messages and carrying on propaganda is a distinction without a difference. As a matter of fact, I am perfectly well aware that every effort is being put forth here to stimulate the, proletariat in other countries to rise in revolt. This morning’s paper, for example, alludes to the sending of propaganda literature over the Roumanian lines in occupied territory in Hungary by airplane.
I desire to say a few words in regard to the personality of Bela Kun, as I have been able to observe him in this and in a former interview. Though not endowed with what we are accustomed to denote as “presence”, and at first glance rather unimpressive, and even repellent, Bela Kun ends by making a decided impression of immense vitality, resourcefulness and a certain self-mastery and poise that is quite extraordinary when one thinks of his utter lack of preparation for the position of dictator of a nation. It is only a few short weeks ago that he was imprisoned, and, as a matter of fact, after the frightful beating he received at the hands of the police, he was released from the hospital to assume the virtual direction of this revolutionary government. His head still shows the wounds he received.
I was greatly impressed, first of all, by the clearness as well as the readiness with which he answered my questions. It is evident that he has a perfectly clear sense of direction and has laid down a line of policy which he is determined to carry out,—not at all costs,—but by the most effective means available. Though I believe him to be a sincere socialist, he is not a fanatic nor an impractical dreamer, but is shrewd and practical, and ready to seize any and every opportunity [Page 438] to accomplish his aims. In other words, he is a good deal of a strategist, an opportunist who, like a good general, keeps his main end in view without faltering.
It seems to be quite clear that Bela Kun’s policy is one of moderation, and that he earnestly desires to establish socialism. To accomplish this end, he must steer carefully between the extremists among the Socialists, and naturally the so-called Bourgeoisie, on the other hand. If he should succeed in establishing a fairly conservative socialistic regime, it is possible that he may succeed in not provoking the Bourgeoisie to open conflict, provided of course that at the same time he shows himself a good nationalist. On the other hand, it will require consummate skill for him to suppress the extremists and yet maintain power. Thus far he has shown immense ability in the measures he has taken to eliminate the extremists and mitigate the rigors of the new regime. So long as he maintains his ascendancy, I think we may confidently expect that Hungary will not witness the terrorism and the excesses of Russian Bolshevism.
In conclusion I desire to emphasize this point: That if wisely dealt with and properly cultivated, Bela Kun might even prove to be, in these troublesome times, a means of effecting a fairly satisfactory adjustment of the problems not only of Hungary, but of this part of the world. If encouraged in his policy of conservatism, the Entente might find him a check against Russian Bolshevism. If antagonized, however, and handled in a crude, rough way, Bela Kun might easily prove a dangerous enemy.
Philip Brown

Memorandum of a Conversation With Kun Bela, Tuesday, April 15

Kun Bela referred to the question of the resumption of the economic life of Hungary, and stated that he would welcome any move in this direction, alluding to a conversation I had with Professor Marszalli on the subject. I stated that I had discussed the whole matter with certain Americans in Vienna, but that of course our discussions were not in any way formal or official, and that I was not authorized to make any propositions whatever. The question interested me very much, and I desired to inform myself as to the attitude of Kun Bela’s government. It seemed to me of the utmost importance that, without regard to the solution of the political questions here, steps should be taken at once to try to restore the circulation of a country whose forces are at a very low ebb. I referred to the great quantities of Roumanian oil awaiting shipment; to the need of Silesian coke in Hungary, and to the general industrial and trade relations of this part of the world. I remarked that I had noticed several hundred freight cars lying idle in the neighborhood of Biscke, including many [Page 439] oil tank cars. It seemed to me most regrettable that all this rolling stock should be idle and deteriorating.

Kun Bela stated that his government would be glad to cooperate in any measures for the purpose of stimulating the economic life of these countries, and that these freight cars would, of course, be available for use under some general agreement.

I stated that I presumed that if anything of this sort were attempted, there would have to be some central control or management, and that under the present strained relations a control of this character could only be exercised by disinterested officials, such as the American Food Representatives.

I asked Kun Bela a hypothetical question as to whether in case anything was done in this matter his government would be prepared to allow American representatives to take charge of the transportation and distribution of food and raw materials.

Kun Bela stated that this would be acceptable so long as there were no soldiers in uniform.

I then pointed to Dr. Weiss, as he was in uniform, and Kun Bela said that he had no objection if the Food Representatives preferred to wear a uniform. I then said that of course he must understand that it was far from my own thoughts to suggest anything of the nature of intervention, disguised or otherwise. He said he quite realized that.

Kun Bela stated that they were negotiating with the Czecho-Slovaks in regard to the idle cars and were planning to turn some cars over to them, and to get oil and coal in their place. He is also expecting Roumanian delegates to take up the question of oil, etc. Kun Bela also stated that an American Economic Study Commission would be welcome in Hungary.


I raised the question of finances, and the probable attitude of a Socialistic government in regard to international finance. Kun Bela admitted that the time might come when there would be some other form of currency, referring I assume, to the Marxian idea of a medium of exchange based on actual labor.

Kun Bela said that in the meantime they had gold and foreign securities with which to meet obligations; furthermore, they would have grain to export. He stated that 85% of the available land has been sown, which is one-third more than during the war.

He stated they would have wine, beer and liquor to export, in view of the fact that Hungary had gone dry under a Bolshevist regime, and that they would have horses to export also. He added they would have to effect a small loan from abroad, and expected to offer good securities. I did not attempt to ascertain the nature of these securities.

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I stated to Kun Bela that I was constantly hearing rumors of an alarming sort, and that in order not to be misled, I would ask the privilege of putting some direct questions to him. I said that I had heard that there had been a large number of arrests recently of members of the Bourgeoisie, prominent under the old regime, and if this were true, I desired to know on what grounds these arrests were made.

Kun Bela replied that it was true, that there had been a number of arrests, although naturally he could not give me the exact names and numbers at the moment, but that there had been forty-three arrests the night before. He stated that these arrests for the most part were due to a widespread counter-revolutionary plot, organized in Vienna and Switzerland, and that it was necessary to take measures to prevent any of these gentlemen from giving trouble. He said that most of the cases were really under detention, rather than in strict confinement. He also stated that this was a sort of prophylactic measure, taken in order to prevent the mob from taking matters into their own hands, and committing excesses against the bourgeoisie.

Kun Bela went on to state that he was absolutely against any baiting of the bourgeoisie, that if they behave themselves and accepted the new order of things they would have as much chance to live as anyone else, that it was merely a question of each man living by his own labor. He said that he had no intention of going either to’ the left or to the right,—that he was trying to steer a course straight ahead, avoiding extreme measures on the one hand, and reaction on the other.


I stated that I had been informed that very active propaganda was going on from here, directed against foreign countries. I desired information on this point. Kun Bela replied that it was quite false. He was opposed to this sort of thing, and that there would be no propaganda. I stated that I had noticed that there had been appeals made to the proletariat of other countries.

He replied that these appeals were merely to their comrades in other countries not to take up arms against each other. He said they had organized a propaganda for the education of the people of Hungary.

I stated that when I was in Prague, I had heard that Hungarian airplanes were dropping propaganda over the city. Kun Bela laughed and said that this propaganda was literature of a nationalistic sort, published in the Karolyi regime. They are in touch with the proletariat of foreign countries in order to transmit messages, but they will refrain from carrying on propaganda provided foreign countries will not interfere here.

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I referred to the proposition made by Kun Bela several weeks ago that this mission should act as an intermediary between Lenin and the Entente, and asked him to define exactly what he had in mind.

He stated that although Lenin had a strong army, he would be glad to come to an understanding with the Entente, based on the simple proposition of leaving Russia alone, letting them import food and raw products, and they would meet Russian financial obligations properly. Kun Bela laid great emphasis on this matter, and asked me if I would be good enough to take it up again.

I asked him if this proposition of Lenin included Ukrainia. He said no: that Ukrainia was independent. When asked about General Petlura, he replied that Petlura was operating in a portion of Ukrainia and that the movement in the Ukraine was really a counterrevolution by Ukrainian Bolshevists who desired a separate Ukraine. Ukrainia is independent of Russia and Paderewski’s troops are fighting Ukrainian Bolshevists and not Russian Bolshevists. Kun Bela disclosed the interesting fact that he was attempting to mediate between the Polish troops and the Ukrainian troops fighting in Galicia.


Kun Bela referred to the proposal made to General Smuts for a conference between the former portions of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and also with Roumania. He stated that he thought this conference was of the utmost importance to determine the economic relations of these countries, and would have nothing to do with politics.

I replied that the reasons why this proposal was received with little enthusiasm was due probably to memories of Brest-Litovsk, where Trotsky, instead of talking business, preached Bolshevism to the delegates. Kun Bela replied that he would confine himself strictly to business.

Smuts’ Mission.

Referring to many rumours that have been freely circulated recently, I asked Kun Bela as to the status of the negotiations since the departure of General Smuts. He said there had been no change, although delegates had been sent down to Arad by airplane to discuss the question of the demarcation line. He said that the airplane was fired on, and that when it landed the delegates were treated so roughly by the French representatives that they were glad to get away and return to Budapest, and that he was not at all anxious to send down any more delegates. I did not gather from what he said that this government had received anything of the nature of an ultimatum.

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Telegraph and Telephone for Food Mission.

While we were conversing, a telephone message came from Vienna from the Food Mission, stating that they had difficulty in arranging through communication to Bucharest via Budapest and Belgrade, owing to interruption at Presbourg.

I raised the matter in a casual way, and Kun Bela said of course that there would be no objection whatever to through communication across Hungary, but that naturally the government could not undertake anything at Presbourg, which was actually in the hands of the Czecho-Slovaks. As far as Hungary is concerned, Dr. Weiss might take the matter up in detail with Landler, the Commissioner of the Interior.

In closing the interview, Kun Bela said that he would give me complete data on the subject of arrests and would also like to take up again with me the matter of economic relations. I made clear to Kun Bela I had no representative capacity whatever, and was not authorized to undertake anything of the nature of negotiations, and that the purpose of all my inquiries and conferences was to obtain information to transmit to Paris. I was always grateful for any information that he or his government would feel inclined to furnish.

I also took occasion to express my concern lest the talk of class hatred here might lead to extremely regrettable events, and endeavored to suggest the necessity of moderation. I stated that long ago I had formed views more or less sympathetic to Socialism in its economic aspect, but that I had always been alarmed by the spirit of hatred that animated the socialistic leaders. I could not see that any good ever came into the world through hatred, and that in the necessary adjustments between human beings, who honestly differed with each other, the only spirit that accomplished anything was a spirit of consideration and charity. It would be quite impossible for us to understand each other always, but it was never impossible for us to have respect and consideration. Kun Bela assured me that although he and his followers received no consideration in the past, he would endeavor to carry out his policy without this spirit of hatred. He said that when he was being beaten over the head by the police he merely remarked that they did not know what they were doing, and that he hoped that when they were getting blows on their heads that they would take them as philosophically as he took his.

  1. Transmitted to the Commission by Professor Coolidge under covering letter No. 232, April 18; received April 21.