Austria's Weakness

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Note from MECW :

This article is the English version of part of Engels’ article “Germany and Pan-Slavism”’, published in full in the Neue Oder-Zeitung in April 1855, and—in content—a sequel to the article “The European Struggle”, which was the English version of another part of “Germany and Pan-Slavism”, published in the New-York Daily Tribune on May 5 of the same year (see this volume, pp. 156-62 and Note 131). The Tribune editors altered Engels’ text considerably. In particular, they added the second paragraph, setting forth the views on Pan-Slavism of the Tribune correspondent,A. Gurowski, which were at variance with those of Marx and Engels. The closing paragraph too contains editorial changes. Marx was incensed by this treatment and even considered ceasing to work for the newspaper. On receipt of the issue containing the article he wrote to Engels (May 18, 1855): “The devil take the Tribune. It is absolutely essential now that it should come out against Pan-Slavism” (see present edition, Vol. 39).

The article was published under the same heading in The Eastern Question.

The great points of weakness in Austria are usually supposed to be her bankrupt treasury and the revolutionary elements of Italy and Hungary. It is true that in a war with France and England those elements might be employed with great effect against her; but in a war with Russia her vulnerable point lies in another quarter. Though this point was always plain to be seen, and, indeed, has been indicated by Austrian statesmen themselves, we had, during the life of the Emperor Nicholas, no menace to show that he had firmly resolved, in any contingency, to take advantage of it. His successor,[1] however, appears to be less scrupulous, or at any rate less reserved. He has clearly announced to Austria that in the event of her finally joining the Allies he shall put himself officially at the head of the great Slavonic brotherhood, and call to his aid all the slumbering sympathies of race or religion which naturally impel the Slavonians of Austria and Turkey to Russia, as well as all the deep-seated animosities they cherish against the nations and governments that now hold them in more or less complete subjugation.

Panslavism as a political theory has had its most lucid and philosophic expression in the writings of Count Gurowski. But that learned and distinguished publicist, while regarding Russia as the natural pivot around which the destinies of this numerous and vigorous branch of the human family can alone find a large historical development, did not conceive of Panslavism as a league against Europe and European civilization. In his view the legitimate outlet for the expansive force of Slavonic energies was Asia. As compared with the stagnant desolation of that old continent, Russia is a civilizing power, and her contact could not be other than beneficial. This manly and imposing generalization has, however, not been accepted by all the inferior minds which have adopted its fundamental idea. Panslavism has assumed a variety of aspects; and now, at last, we find it employed in a new form, and with great apparent effect, as a warlike threat. As such, its use certainly does credit to the boldness and decision of the new Czar. And how just the fear with which the threat has inspired Austria, we now propose to show.

Of the seventy millions of Slavonians living east of the Bohemian forest and the Karnic Alps, about fifteen millions are subject to the Austrian Emperor, comprising representatives of almost every variety of Slavonic speech. The Bohemian, or Tshekh branch (six millions), falls exclusively in the Austrian dominions; the Polish branch is represented by about three millions of Galicians; the Russian by three millions of Malo-Russians (Red Russians, Ruthenes[2]) in Galicia and the north-east of Hungary— the only Russian tribe out of the pale of the Russian Empire; the South Slavonic branch by about three millions of Slovenes (Carinthians and Croats)[3] and Serbians, including some stray Bulgarians. These Austrian Slavonians are of two different kinds. One part of them consists of the remnants of tribes whose history belongs to the past, and whose present historical development is attached to that of nations of different race and speech; and to complete their unfortunate position, these hapless relics of former greatness have not even a national organization within Austria, but are divided among different provinces. Thus the Slovenes, although scarcely 1,500,000 in number, are spread over the different provinces of Krain, Carinthia, Styria, Croatia, and South-western Hungary. The Bohemians (Tshekhs), though the most numerous tribe of Austrian Slavonians, reside partly in Bohemia, partly in Moravia, and partly (the Slovak branch) in North-western Hungary. These tribes, therefore, though living exclusively on Austrian soil, are far from being recognized as constituting separate nations. They are considered as appendages, either to the German or the Hungarian nation, and in reality they are nothing else.

The second portion of Austrian Slavonians is composed of fragments of different tribes, which, in the course of history, have become separated from the great body of their nation, and which, therefore, have their center of gravity out of Austria. Thus the Poles have their natural center of gravity in Russian-Poland; the Ruthenes in the other Malo-Russian provinces united with Russia; the Serbians in the Serbian principality. That these fragments, torn from their respective nationalities, will continue to gravitate, each toward its natural center, is a matter of course, and becomes more and more evident as civilization, and with it the want of historical, national activity, is spread among them. In either case, the Austrian Slavonians are disjecta membra,[4] seeking their reunion either among each other, or with the main body of their separate nationalities.

This is the cause which formerly rendered Panslavism so active in Austria. In order to secure the restoration of each Slavonian nationality, the different tribes of Slavonians in Austria long since began to work for a union of all the Slavonic tribes. The first appearance of Austrian Panslavism was merely literary. Dobrowsky, a Bohemian, the founder of the scientific philology of the Slavonic dialects, and Kollâr, a Slovak poet from the Hungarian Carpathians, were its originators. With Dobrowsky it was the enthusiasm of a scientific discoverer; with Kollâr, political ideas soon became predominant; but still he ventured to complain only; the greatness of the past, the disgrace, the misfortune and foreign oppression of the present, were the themes of his poetry. The dream of the Panslavic Empire dictating laws to Europe was at that time hardly hinted at.

But the lamenting period soon passed away, and historical research upon the political, literary and linguistic development of the Slavonic race, made great progress. Safarfk, Kopitar and Miklosich as linguists, Palacky as a historian, took the lead, followed by a host of lesser men like Hanka and Gaj. The glorious epochs of Bohemian and Serbian history were glowingly depicted in their contrast to the present degraded and broken state of those nations. While in Germany philosophy formed the pretext under the protection of which the most revolutionary doctrines in politics or theology were propounded, in Austria, and under the very nose of Metternich, historical and philological science was used by the Panslavists as a cloak to teach the doctrine of Slavonic unity, and to create a political party with the unmistakable aim of upsetting Austria, and instituting a vast Slavonian empire in its place.

Austrian Panslavism was destitute of the most essential elements of success. It wanted both force and unity; force, because the Panslavic party consisted of a portion of the educated classes only, had no hold upon the masses, and withal no strength capable of resisting both the Austrian Government and the German and Hungarian nationalities against which it entered the list; unity, because its uniting principle was a mere ideal one, which, at the very first attempt at realization, was broken up by the fact of diversity of language. Of this diversity, a ludicrous illustration was afforded by the famous Slavonian Congress at Prague, in 1848.[5] There, after various attempts to make out a Slavonic language that should be intelligible to all the members, they were obliged to resort to the tongue most hated by them all—the German.

In fact, so long as the movement was limited to Austria it offered no great danger, but that very center of unity and strength which it wanted, was very soon found for it. The national uprising of the Turkish Serbians, in the beginning of this century,[6] had called the attention of the Russian Government to the fact that there were some seven millions of Slavonians in Turkey, whose speech, of all other Slavonic dialects, most resembled the Russian. Their religion too, and their ecclesiastic language—old Slavonic or Church-Slavonic—were exactly the same as in Russia. It was among these Serbians and Bulgarians that the Czar for the first time began an agitation supported by appeals to his position as the protector of the Eastern Church. It was therefore only natural that as soon as this Panslavist movement in Austria had gained consistency, Russia should extend thither the ramifications of her agencies. Where Roman Catholic Slavonians were met with the religious side of the question was dropped; Russia was merely held up as the proper head of the Slavonic race, and the strong and united people which was to realize the great Slavonic Empire from the Elbe to China, and from the Adriatic to the frozen ocean.

Metternich, in the latter years of his power, very well appreciated the danger and saw through the Russian intrigues. He opposed the movement with all the means in his power. But the only proper means—general freedom of expansion—did not belong to his system of policy. Accordingly, on Metternich’s downfall in 1848, the Slavonic movement broke out stronger than ever, and embraced a large proportion of the population. But here its reactionary character at once came to light. While the German, Hungarian and Italian movements were decidedly progressive and revolutionary, the Slavonic party turned to the conservative side. It was the Slavonians that saved Austria from destruction, and enabled Radetzky to advance on the Mincio, and Windischgrätz to conquer Vienna. And to complete the drama, in 1849 the Russian army had to descend into Hungary and settle the war for Austria there.

While thus driven by her own want of vitality to depend on Slavonic aid for her very existence, Austria seized the first moment of security to react against the Slavonians in her own territory. For this purpose she had to adopt a policy at least partially progressive. The special privileges of the Provinces were broken down; a centralized empire took the place of a federal one; and instead of all the different nationalities a fictitious Austrian nationality was created. Though these changes were in some degree against the German, Italian and Hungarian nationalities, they yet fell with far greater weight on the less compact Slavonian tribes, and more especially gave the German element a considerable preponderance.

But the sentiment of race and of attachment to Russia has been strengthened rather than weakened by this process. Austrian Panslavism possesses, perhaps, at this moment a greater latent force than ever. It represents the only element in Austria which was not broken down in the late revolutionary struggle. The Italians, the Hungarians, the Germans even, all came debilitated and discouraged out of that vehement convulsion. The Slavonians alone felt themselves unconquered and unreduced. Is it surprising that Francis Joseph should hesitate before setting on foot a war in which Russia would find millions of devoted and fanatical allies within his own Empire?

  1. Alexander II.— Ed.
  2. See Note 132.
  3. See Note 133.
  4. Scattered limbs, dismembered parts—paraphrase of Horace's expression "disjecti membra poetae".— Ed
  5. See Note 134
  6. See Note 135.