Between 1918 and 1920 Hungary experienced three revolutions, the first two of which were based in Budapest and the third of which was nation-wide.
As early as June 1918 workers’ councils had been formed in Budapest but it was not until the central powers’ military failures of September and October that Habsburg authority was destroyed. By the end of October the historic kingdom of Hungary was gradually falling to foreign occupiers or indigenous malcontents whilst the armed forces disintegrated under the impact of defeat, mutiny, and the widespread formation of ‘councils’ or ‘soviets’ in the ranks. Terrified of foreign occupation and social revolution, the right, the centre, and the moderate left grouped around a national council under count Mihály Károlyi who was accepted as minister president by King-Emperor Karl on 31 October. The cabinet was made up of members of Károlyi’s own Independence Party, the social democrats, the radicals under Oszkár Jászi, and members of a number of interest groups, including one feminist.
Károlyi himself was a member of an old and extremely wealthy Hungarian family but his social conscience had been roused through his association with the cooperative movement and so great had been his outrage at the political shenanigans of the old rulers that in 1910 he had fought a duel with count Tisza who was then speaker of the Hungarian parliament. It was hoped that Károlyi’s long-standing support of the west would help Hungary in its dealings with the allies, and that his favourable standing with the radicals at home would help to preserve internal order. Károlyi began well. He offered the non-Hungarian peoples self-determination, hoping that they would prefer inclusion in a democratic, Hungarian federation to independence. He appointed Jászi minister for national minorities. The Hungarian government recognised the new states of German Austria, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Ukraine. Károlyi also announced that he would hold an election based on universal and secret suffrage and as a gesture of intent for his social policies parcelled out his own estates amongst his former tenants.