Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

Military Dictatorship in Austria [98]

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 102;
Written: by Engels on March 17, 1849;
First published in: Marx and Engels, Works, Second Russian Edition, Vol. 43, Moscow 1976.

Cologne, March 17. The year 1848 was the year of disappointment with revolutionary memories, illusions and other phrases. In 1848 the insurgent people of half Europe let themselves be put off with phrases, colourful rags, addresses and processions; and it was quite consistent that the revolution of 1848 should end in universal counter-revolutionary and military dictatorship.

The revolution of 1848 however had at least the result that it not only completely enlightened the people everywhere about the previous phrases, but that it also started a conflagration in the old Europe which all the Cavaignacs and Windischgrätzes in the world will be unable to stamp out.

1849 is the year of disillusion with the omnipotence of military dictatorship.

The military dictatorship comes to grief above all owing to two things: firstly, its inability to solve any of the complications; secondly, its costliness. It collapses as soon as it has to organise or as soon as it has to find regular sources of finance.

The first example of this collapse of military dictatorship is afforded by the “time-honoured” Imperial State of Austria, which could only save its existence by the most violent and extreme rule of the sabre. At the present moment Austria is perishing because of rule by the sabre.

When the revolution was quelled in Vienna with the help of the Slavs, when Pest was captured by the Slav-Austrian army,[99] when the heroes of martial law believed they could easily deal with the remainder of the Magyar revolution, and that within a fortnight they would re-establish the entire old predatory state from the Ticino and Po to the ednieper and the Carpathians, the Olmütz camarilla quickly prepared a plan. It was intended, as soon as the sabre dictatorship had been introduced throughout Hungary, to dissolve the Kremsier Imperial Diet, which had been useful previously on account of the Slavs, to cast aside the Slavs as a worn-out tool, to impose pro forma a Constitution which would never be implemented, and to restore the old Metternich system by the old method, the enslavement of one nation by another.

The defeats of the imperial robber bands at the Theiss delayed the execution of this benevolent project. The Slavs were still needed on the battlefield.

But the rumour of the imminent imposition of this plan spread. The Imperial Diet became apprehensive. The Slav Club[100] became daily more dangerous for the Ministers. Agreement was reached that on March 15 the draft Constitution should be adopted in its entirety, thus forestalling the imposition of a Constitution. No other course remained for the camarilla but to risk a desperate coup, to steal a march on the Imperial Diet, and prematurely, and in spite of the Slavs, to disperse the Imperial Diet and impose the so-called Constitution.[101]

This martial-law Charter burst like a bomb among the medley of Austrian peoples. The wrath previously felt only by the Germans and Magyars at the Austrian habit of gaining victory by cowardly acts of treachery, and after the victory to surpass in barbarity the most brutal bandits, this wrath was now shared by the Slavs as well. They were ensnared by the prospect of a “Slav Austria”, they were made use of to win victory in Italy and Hungary, and by way of thanks they are now being subjected again to the old Metternich whip. Instead of a “Slav Austria” they are being given a so-called “equality of rights of nations”, which denotes here an equal lack of rights of all nations in face of the all-powerful camarilla of the higher nobility, which has no nationality at all. Instead of the much vaunted “freedoms”, they are being given bayonets, an Imperial Diet whose majority consists of Slavs is being dispersed by cudgel blows, and the holy cradle of pan-Slavism, Prague, is threatened with a state of siege.

That is all the benefit the Austrian Slavs, and particularly the Czechs, have derived from allying themselves with the camarilla in order to achieve their national separatist[102] aims instead of joining the German and Magyar revolutions. The Germans and Magyars often enough warned them of what they would gain as a result; but they have chosen this. A province which, on the pretext of wanting to achieve a special freedom for itself, joins in a conspiracy with the counter-revolution against freedom for the whole country, deserves nothing better than that finally it, too, should be cheated by the counter-revolution and cast aside.

Little is yet known of the effect of the new counter-revolutionary coup d'état on the Slavs. No news has yet come from the south or from Galicia. The Moravians are a people too demoralised and enfeebled to be likely to regard the matter otherwise than with fatuous indifference. The Czechs, on the other hand, the spokesmen of the Austrian Slavs and the ones most insultingly swindled, have already expressed their feelings. Their rage knows no bounds. They have been so greatly disappointed that public opinion in Prague has been completely revolutionised. The heads of the Slav alliance with the camarilla, the previous idols of the Czechomaniacs, people such as the Palackys, Strobachs, Brauners, are the object of general imprecation. The German-Bohemian deputies were greeted at the railway station in Prague with loud, jubilant cries. Indeed, Borrosch the Germanophil, whose house in Prague had only shortly before been demolished, made a truly triumphant entry into the capital city of pan-Slavism. The Czech students carried him shoulder high from the railway station, innumerable cries of “hurrah” for the German Lefts in the Imperial Diet were uttered, and the assembled people of Prague sang “Was ist des Deutschen Vaterland”.

Now the Czechs, too, want to elect deputies to Frankfurt, now when it is too late. But the Austrian Government will probably reply by issuing a decree recalling all the Austrian deputies sitting in St. Paul’s Church. [103]

These pronouncements by the Czechs will exert a decisive influence on the way the other Austrian Slavs will react to the martial-law Charter. In spite of all seeming concessions, the Croats and especially the Serbs will grasp the real reason for the imperial gift, and the Galician peasants will pull wry faces when they learn that they must now after all pay compensation for the feudal burdens.

The enthusiasm for Austria and the Emperor, not only of the Slav enthusiasts for nationalism and freedom, but of the Slav peasants as well, will come to an end through this coup d'état. Within fourteen days Austria will be unable to rely to the slightest degree on the Slavs, any more than it can on the Germans and Italians; Austria has now nothing else to depend on than its 600,000 soldiers and — Russia.

It is this coup d'état, which is intended to establish irrevocably the unity and indivisibility of the whole predatory state, that will give the impulse for the overthrow of the Austrian monarchy, and perhaps for European wars and revolutions.

In Hungary, the army has for the second time been thrown back from the Theiss, and the strength of the Magyar revolution is daily growing more formidable; the Serbs are negotiating with the Magyars, and perhaps — even according to Austrian reports — have already gone over to them; in Croatia, dissatisfaction is daily increasing; Vienna is a volcano which can hardly be kept under by 30,000 bayonets; Italy is on the threshold of war, which at this moment has perhaps already broken out, a war in which Radetzky’s demoralised bands will find opponents quite different from those of last year; the financial position is daily growing worse, each month bringing a deficit of more than five million guldens; and in addition there is now the break with the Slavs, who have had a gauntlet flung in their face at a time when they were still urgently needed, precisely as if it were desired to provoke Jellachich to lead his Croats and borderers with drums beating into the Magyar camp!

That is too much for the old Austria. Only the intervention of Russia could save it, and the intervention of Russia, one more step farther than hitherto, means inevitably — a European war.

Such is the pass to which Austria has been brought by the military dictatorship; it has been brought to the verge of collapse, to the most complete dissolution, to the brink of bankruptcy.

The sabre can terrorise, but its power goes no further than that. The terrorism exercised by the sabre is the stupidest and most brainless of all. But the fact that a revolution has been put down by grape-shot does not mean that anything has been accomplished; it is easy to proclaim and put into effect a state of siege, but to emerge from it again, that is after all the chief thing, and that requires more than just a moustache.

Precisely to come out of the exceptional state of siege, to come out of the provisional regime, and in order to “put an end to the revolution”, the aristocratic wielders of the sabre have imposed the Constitution. And precisely this Constitution is the cause that the Austrian revolution is only now really beginning.

“God save Emperor Francis!”