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Austria—Progress of the Revolution

Frederick Engels

London, Dec. 24, 1860

The revolution in Austria gets along at a racing pace. Only two months ago, Francis Joseph acknowledged by his diploma of the 20th October[356], that his empire was in a state of revolution, and tried to remedy it by bribing Hungary by a promise that her ancient Constitution, in some curtailed shape or other, was to be restored. The diploma, although a concession to the revolutionary movement, was in its conception one of those master-strokes of treacherous policy which form such a prominent part in Austrian diplomacy. Hungary was to be bought by concessions apparently very great, and made to appear still greater by being placed side by side with the scanty allowance allotted to the German and Slavonic provinces, as well as with the mockery of an Imperial Parliament which the diploma proposed to establish. But in the details of the work the cloven foot of treachery was apparent enough to turn the contemplated master-stroke into a piece of-egregious folly and a pledge given to the revolutionary movement of the helpless weakness of the Government. Not only was the voting of supplies and soldiers to be taken from the Hungarian Diet and to be transferred to the Central Parliament and partly even to the Emperor alone—as if a Government just compelled to eat all the political leek it had grown during the last ten years, was still strong enough to withhold such rights from its very conquerors—but the scanty and vague nature of the rights conferred on the other portions of the empire and on the central representation at once proved, by contrast, the insincerity of the whole affair. And when the provincial constitutions for Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, and Tyrol[357] were published—constitutions giving the lion's share of representation to the nobility and clergy, and maintaining the old distinction of estates—when the old Ministry remained in office, there could be no longer any doubt as to what was intended. Hungary was to be soothed, and then to be made the cat's-paw to help absolutist Austria out of her troubles; and absolutist Austria once strong again, Hungary knew well enough from experience what her fate would be. The very fact of the unlimited and indiscriminate establishment of the Hungarian language as the only official language in Hungary, was intended for nothing else but to excite the Slavonians, Roumans, and Germans of Hungary against the Magyar race. The Hungarian old Conservatives (vulgo, Aristocrats), who had concluded this bargain with the Emperor, lost all standing at home by it; they had attempted to barter away the two most essential rights of the Diet. In fact, the Imperial diploma deceived nobody. While in the German provinces public opinion at once compelled the old municipal councils (appointed by the Emperor after the Revolution) to give way before new men, who are now being chosen by popular election, the Hungarians began to reestablish their old county officers and county assemblies which, before 1849, formed all the local authorities in the country[358], In either case, it is a good sign that the opposition party at once secured local and communal power, instead of merely clamoring for an ephemeral change of Ministry and neglecting to secure the important positions left open to it in more modest spheres of action. In Hungary, the forms of the ancient local administration, as reorganized in 1848, at once placed all the civil power in the hands of the people, and left to the Vienna Government no other alternative but to cede or to have recourse at once to military force. Here, then, the movement naturally went on most rapidly. The demand for the full restoration of the Constitution, as amended in 1848, and including all the laws agreed upon in that year between the Diet and the King, arose from one end of the land to the other. Not satisfied with that, the immediate repeal of the tobacco monopoly (introduced illegally since 1848), and of all other laws imposed without the consent of the Diet, was asked for. The levying of taxes was openly declared illegal, until the Diet should have voted them; not one-third of the taxes due were paid; the young men called out to serve in the army were called upon to resist enrolment, or to abscond; and Imperial eagles were pulled down, and, worst of all, in this transition state the Government had no means to resist this agitation. Wherever the county assemblies were convoked they pronounced themselves unanimously in this sense; and the Conference of Hungarian notables assembled at Gran[a], under the Presidency of the Primate of Hungary[b], in order to propose to the Government a basis for the election of a Diet, without deliberation almost, and unanimously, declared the democratic electoral law of 1848 to be still in force.

That was more than the old Conservatives had expected when they made the compromise with the Emperor. They were completely débordés."[c] The revolutionary waves threatened to drown them. The Government itself saw that something must be done. But what could the Cabinet of Vienna do?

The attempt at bribing Hungary was on the eve of signally failing. What, if the Cabinet now tried to bribe the Germans? They never enjoyed such rights as the Hungarians, perhaps less would satisfy them. The Austrian monarchy, to exist, must use the various nationalities among its subjects in turns against each other. The Slavonians could be used in the utmost extremity only; they were too much connected with Russia by Panslavist agitation; be it then for the Germans. Count Goluchowski, the hated Polish aristocrat (a renegade from the Polish cause to that of Austrian service), was sacrificed, and Chevalier von Schmerling was made Minister of the Interior. He had been Minister of the German ephemeral empire in 1848, and afterward of Austria; this post he quitted when the Constitution of 1849 was definitively abolished. He passed for a Constitutionalist. But there was, again, so much hesitation and indecision before he was definitively called in, that the effect was again lost. People asked what good was Schmerling if all the other Ministers remained? There was a cooling down of all hopes, even before he was definitively appointed; and instead of a frank concession, his nomination only appeared as another proof of weakness. But while in the German Provinces the opposition was satisfied with securing local power, and receiving every move of the Government with undisguised distrust, and dissatisfaction, in Hungary the movement went on. Before even Schmerling had been nominated, the old Conservative Hungarians called into office, Szécsen and Vay at their head, acknowledged the impossibility of retaining their positions; and the Ministry of the Emperor had to undergo the humiliation of inviting two Hungarian Ministers of 1848, colleagues up to Autumn of that year of Batthyány, who was shot, of Kossuth and Szemere—of inviting Messrs. Déak and Eötvös, to enter the Ministry of the man who had trodden down Hungary with Russian assistance. They are not appointed yet; the system of hesitation and vacillation, of higgling and haggling about trifles, is in its full glory yet, but if they accept, they are sure to be ultimately appointed.

Thus Francis Joseph is being driven from one concession to another, and if it should come to pass that in January the two Diets should meet, one at Pesth for Hungary, and her annexes, and the other at Vienna for the remaining provinces of the empire, fresh concessions will be wrung from him. But instead of reconciling his subjects, every fresh concession will exasperate them more by the undisguised insincerity with which it is given. And what with the reminiscences of the past—with the maneuvers of the Hungarian emigration in the pay of Louis Napoleon; with the fact that a liberal Austria is impossible, because Austria's foreign policy must always be reactionary, and, therefore, at once create collisions between the Crown and the Parliament, and with Louis Napoleon speculating upon this fact—it is probable enough that 1861 may see the Austrian empire dissolve into its component parts.

Written on December 24, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6152, January 12, 1861


[a] Estergom.—Ed.

[b] János Scitovszky.—Ed.

[c] Overwhelmed.—Ed.

[356] This refers to Emperor Francis Joseph's diploma of October 20, 1860 (das Kaiserliche Diplom vom 20. Oktober 1860) which granted a measure of autonomy to the non-German parts of the Austrian Empire. It was a half-measure designed to placate the advocates of federalism, particularly the Hungarians. However the October diploma was rescinded a few months later by the Patent of February 26, 1861, which reintroduced the centralist system in the Austrian Empire.

[357] The reference is to Austria's provincial constitutions published as a continua lion of the "October Diploma" (Der Kaiserliche Diplom von 20. Oktober 1860)—"Landes-Ordnung und Landtags-Wahlordnung für das Herzogthum Steiermark", "Landes-Ordnung und Landtags-Wahlordnung für das Herzogthum Kärnthen", "Landes-Ordnung und Landtags-Wahlordnung für das Herzogthum Salzburg", "Landes-Ordnung und Landtags-Wahlordnung für die gefürstete Grafschaft Tirol", Verfassung der Oesterreichische Monarchie, Wien, 1861.

[358] The county assemblies, based on the estate principle, were a form of self-government in Hungary. In 1848, as a result of the revolutionary changes in the. country, representatives of the entire population without any estate distinctions were allowed to sit in these assemblies. After the defeat of the 1848-49 revolution the county assemblies were disbanded, and the comitatus as an administrative unit was abolished.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.499-503), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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