Frederick Engels in Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung 1848

The Beginning of the End in Austria

Source: MECW Volume 6, p. 530;
Written: about January 25, 1848;
First published: in the Deutsche-Brüsseler-Zeitung, January 27, 1848;
Signed: F. E.

“It will endure Metternich and me,” said the late Emperor Franz. If Metternich does not wish to give his emperor the lie, he had better die as soon as possible.

This chequered Austrian monarchy, scraped together by theft and by inheritance, this organised jumble of ten languages and nations, this planless mish-mash of contradictory customs and laws, is at last beginning to disintegrate.

Honest German citizens have for years been fervent admirers of the director of this creaking state machine, the cowardly swindler and assassin — Metternich. Talleyrand, Louis Philippe and Metternich, three most mediocre minds and hence most suitable for our mediocre times, are regarded by German citizens as three gods who for thirty years have manipulated world history as if it were a puppet show. Going by his own daily experience, the honest citizen regards history as a kind of plot hatched in a tavern or as feminine gossip on a somewhat larger scale.

Certainly, there is no country over which the tidal wave of revolution, the triple Napoleonic invasions[285] passed away so completely without trace as Austria. Certainly, there is no country where feudalism, patriarchalism and faint-hearted philistinism defended by the paternal rod, have been maintained so immaculately or harmoniously as in Austria. But is it Metternich’s fault?

On what does the might, the tenacity, the stability, of the House of Austria rest?

When Italy, France, England, Belgium, North and West Germany, one after another extricated themselves from feudal barbarism during the latter half of the Middle Ages, when industry was developing, trade expanding, the towns thriving and the burghers acquired political importance, one part of Germany lagged behind West European development. Bourgeois civilisation followed the sea coasts and the course of the big rivers. The inland, especially the barren and impassable mountainous regions, remained the seat of barbarism and of feudalism. This barbarism was especially concentrated in the South German and South Slav inland areas. Protected by the Alps from Italian civilisation and by the mountains of Bohemia and Moravia from that of North Germany, these inland countries had the additional good fortune of being the basin of the only reactionary river in Europe. The Danube, far from linking them with civilisation, brought them into contact with a much more vigorous barbarism.

When the great monarchies developed in Western Europe in the wake of bourgeois civilisation, the inland countries of the Upper Danube likewise had to unite in a great monarchy. This was required if only for the needs of defence. Here, in the centre of Europe, the barbarians of all tongues and of all nations associated under the sceptre of the House of Hapsburg. Here they found in Hungary a mainstay of solid barbarism.

The Danube, the Alps, the rocky breastworks of Bohemia — these are the bases for the existence of Austrian barbarism and of the Austrian monarchy.

The House of Hapsburg supported the burghers against the aristocracy and the towns against the princes because this was the only condition on which a great monarchy was possible. When, later on, it again supported the petty bourgeoisie, this was because the petty bourgeoisie in the rest of Europe had become reactionary themselves with regard to the big bourgeoisie. On both occasions it supported the petty bourgeois for decidedly reactionary purposes. But now this method has miscarried.

The House of Austria was thus from the first the representative of barbarism, of reactionary stability in Europe. Its power rested on the foolishness of the patriarchalism entrenched behind the impassable mountains, on the inaccessible brutality of barbarism. A dozen nations whose customs, character, and institutions were flagrantly opposed to one another clung together on the strength of their common dislike for civilisation.

Hence the House of Austria was invincible as long as the barbarous character of its subjects remained untouched. Hence it was threatened by only one danger — the penetration of bourgeois civilisation.

But this sole danger was not to be averted. Bourgeois civilisation could be warded off for a time, it could be temporarily adapted and subordinated to Austrian barbarism. But it was bound to overcome feudal barbarism sooner or later, and shatter the only link which had held the most variegated provinces together.

This explains Austria’s passive, hesitant, cowardly, sordid and underhand policy. Austria can no longer act, as before, in an openly brutal, thoroughly barbarous way because it must make concessions to civilisation every year, and because its own subjects become less reliable every year. Every decisive step would lead to a change at home or in the neighbouring countries, every change would mean a breach in the dam behind which Austria laboriously protects itself against the rising tides of modern civilisation. The first victim of any change would be the House of Austria itself which stands or falls with barbarism. Although Austria was still able to disperse the 9

Piedmontese, Neapolitan and Romagnese rebels with cannon fire in 1823 and 1831, it was forced to set in motion a still undeveloped revolutionary element — the peasantry — in 1846 in Galicia; it had to stop the advance of its troops near Ferrara in 1847 and resort to conspiracy in Rome.[286] Counter-revolutionary Austria uses revolutionary means — this is the surest sign that its end is approaching.

Once the Italian insurrections of 1831, and the Polish revolution of 1830 had been suppressed and the French bourgeois had given guarantees of good behaviour, Emperor Franz could go to his grave in peace; the times seemed miserable enough to endure even his feeble-minded offspring. [Ferdinand I]

As yet the realm of the crowned idiot was still safe from revolutions. But who could ensure it against the causes of revolutions?

As long as industry remained domestic industry, as long as every peasant family or :At least every village produced its own industrial products, without putting much on the market, industry itself remained feudal and excellently suited to Austrian barbarism. As long as it remained mere manufactory, rural industry, few products of the inland countries were made available for export and foreign trade was minimal, industry existed in a few districts only and was easily adaptable to the Austrian status quo. If manufacture could only produce relatively few big bourgeois even in England and France, then it could only produce a modest middle class in thinly-populated and remote Austria, and even this only here and there. As long as hand labour existed, Austria was safe.

But machinery was invented and machines ruined hand labour. The prices of industrial products fell so swiftly and so low that first of all manufacture and then, gradually, the old feudal domestic industry went under.

Austria fortified itself against the machines by a consistent system of prohibitive tariffs. But ‘n vain, it was precisely the system of prohibitive tariffs which was responsible for bringing machinery into Austria. Bohemia used machinery in the cotton industry; Lombardy for silk spinning; Vienna even started to produce machinery.

The results were quick to follow. The workers in manufacture became destitute. The entire population of the manufacturing districts was torn out of its hereditary mode of life. The former philistines grew into big bourgeois and lorded it over hundreds of workers Just as their princely and aristocrat’ neighbours lorded it over hundreds of peasant serfs. Through the collapse of the old type of industry, these peasant serfs lost their old occupations and acquired new needs as a result of the new industry. It was no longer possible to carry on feudal agriculture alongside modern industry. The abolition of corvée became a necessity. The feudal position of the peasants in relation to the landowners became untenable. The towns became thriving. The guilds were oppressive for the consumers, useless for those who belonged to them and intolerable for those engaged in industry. Competition had to be permitted surreptitiously. The position of all classes in society was radically changed. The old classes withdrew more and more into the background before the two new classes, the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Agriculture declined in importance compared with industry, the countryside gave way to the towns.

Such were the consequences of machinery in some areas of Austria, especially in Bohemia and Lombardy. They gave rise to a reaction which affected the entire monarchy to a greater or lesser degree; everywhere they undermined the old barbarism, and with it the foundations of the House of Austria.

While in Romagna in 1831 the battered Austrian soldiers replied to cries of Viva l'Italia with grape-shot, in England the first railways were built. Like machinery, railways immediately became a necessity for all European countries. Austria had to have them, willy-nilly. In order not to give increased power to the already growing bourgeoisie, the Government built them itself; but it went from Scylla to Charybdis. It prevented the establishment of powerful bourgeois joint stock companies only by borrowing from the same bourgeois the money to build the railways, by putting itself in pawn to Rothschild, Arnstein, Eskeles, Sina, etc.

Still less did the House of Austria escape the effects of the railways.

The mountain ranges which separated the Austrian monarchy from the outside world, Bohemia from Moravia and Austria, Austria from Styria, Styria from Illyria, Illyria from Lombardy, fell before the railways. The granite walls behind which each province had maintained a separate nationality and a limited local existence, ceased to be a barrier. All of a sudden the products of large-scale industry, of machinery, forced their way, almost free of transport costs, into the most remote corners of the monarchy, destroyed the old hand labour and shattered the feudal barbarism. Trade between the provinces, and with the civilised outside world, acquired an unheard-of importance. The Danube, flowing towards the backward regions, ceased to be the main artery of the Empire; the Alps and the Bohemian forests no longer exist; the new artery now passes from Trieste to Hamburg, Ostend and Le Havre, far beyond the frontiers of the Empire, through the mountain ranges to the remote coasts of the North Sea and the ocean. Participation in the general interests of the State, in what was happening in the outside world became a necessity. The local barbarism began to disappear, particular interests began to diverge here, to merge there. Nationalities separated in one place to link up somewhere else, and out of the confused agglomeration of mutually alien provinces emerged larger and better defined groups with common tendencies and interests.

“It will endure Metternich and me.” The French Revolution, Napoleon and the July upheavals had been withstood. But there was no withstanding steam. Steam forced its way through the Alps and the Bohemian forests, steam robbed the Danube of its role, steam tore Austrian barbarism to shreds and thereby pulled the ground from under the feet of the House of Hapsburg.

In Europe and America they now have the pleasure of seeing Metternich and the whole House of Hapsburg crushed between the wheels of the steam-driven machines, and the Austrian monarchy being cut to pieces by its own locomotives. It is an exhilarating sight. The vassals rebel in Italy, and Austria dare not utter a word, the liberal pestilence invades Lombardy and Austria hesitates, vacillates, quakes before its own subjects. In Switzerland the oldest rebels against Austria, the Ur-Swiss, yield to Austrian suzerainty[287]; they are attacked, but Austria shivers at the bold words of Ochsenbein: If only one single Austrian soldier enters Switzerland I will throw twenty thousand men into Lombardy and proclaim the Italian Republic. And Austria goes off to beg in vain for assistance from the despised courts of Munich, Stuttgart and Karlsruhe. In Bohemia, the estates refuse to pay their taxes of fifty thousand guilders; Austria still wants to enforce payment but needs its troops in the Alps so badly that for the first time since the foundation of Austria it has to give way to the estates and do without the fifty thousand guilders. In Hungary, the Diet is preparing revolutionary proposals and is sure of a majority for them. And Austria, which needs the Hungarian Hussars in Milan, Modena and Parma, Austria itself puts forward revolutionary proposals[288] to the Diet although it knows very well that these are its own death warrant. This unshakeable Austria, this eternal bulwark of barbarism, no longer knows where to turn. It is suffering from the most terrible rash; if it scratches itself in front then it itches behind, and if it scratches behind, then it itches in front.

And with these comical scratchings, the House of Austria scratches itself out of existence.

If old Metternich does not follow his “upright” Franz pretty quickly he may live to see the imperial monarchy which he held together at the price of such exertions falling apart and most of it into the hands of the bourgeoisie; he may live to have the unspeakable experience of seeing the “burgher tailors” and “burgher grocers” refusing to doff their hats to him in the Prater[289], and calling him plain Herr Metternich. A few more shocks, one or two more costly mobilisations and Charles Rothschild will buy up the whole Austrian monarchy.

We observe the victory of the bourgeois over the Austrian imperial monarchy with real satisfaction. We only wish that it may be the really vile, really dirty, really Jewish bourgeois who buy up this venerable empire. Such a repulsive, flogging, paternal, lousy government deserves to be under the heel of a really lousy, unkempt stinking adversary. Herr Metternich can depend on us to shear this adversary later as ruthlessly as Metternich will soon be shorn by him.

The fall of Austria has a special significance for us Germans. It is Austria which is responsible for our reputation of being the oppressors of foreign nations, the hirelings of reaction in all countries. Under the Austrian flag Germans have held Poland, Bohemia, Italy in bondage. We have to thank the Austrian monarchy for the Germans being hated as vile mercenaries of despotism from Syracuse to Trento, from Genoa to Venice. Anyone who has seen what deadly hatred, the bloody and completely justified thirst for revenge against the Tedeschi [Germans] reign in Italy must be moved to an undying hatred of Austria and applaud when this bulwark of barbarism, this scourge of Germany collapses.

We have every reason to hope that the Germans will revenge themselves on Austria for the infamy with which it has covered the German name. We have every reason to hope that it will be Germans who will overthrow Austria and clear away the obstacles in the way of freedom for the Slavs and Italians. Everything is ready: the victim lies there awaiting the knife which will cut its throat. May the Germans not lose their chance this time; may they be bold enough to say the words which Napoleon himself did not dare to utter —

The Hapsburg dynasty has ceased to reign