XI. The Vienna Insurrection

Submitted by Reddebrek on February 5, 2017

MARCH 19th, 1852.

WE now come to the decisive event which formed the counter-revolutionary part in Germany to the Parisian insurrection of June, and which, by a single blow, turned the scale in favor of the Counter-Revolutionary party,—the insurrection of October, 1848, in Vienna.

We have seen what the position of the different classes was, in Vienna, after the victory of 12th March. We have also seen how the movement of German-Austria was entangled with and impeded by the events in the non-German provinces of Austria. It only remains for us, then, briefly to survey the causes which led to this last and most formidable rising of German-Austria.

The high aristocracy and the stock-jobbing bourgeoisie, which had formed the principal nonofficial supports of the Metternichian Government, were enabled, even after the events of March, to maintain a predominating influence with the Government, not only by the Court, the army and the bureaucracy, but still more by the horror of "anarchy," which rapidly spread among the middle classes. They very soon ventured a few feelers in the shape of a Press Law, a nondescript Aristocratic Constitution, and an Electoral Law based upon the old division of "estates." The so-called Constitutional ministry, consisting of half Liberal, timid, incapable bureaucrats, on the 14th of May, even ventured a direct attack upon the revolutionary organizations of the masses by dissolving the Central Committee of Delegates of the National Guard and Academic Legion, a body formed for the express purpose of controlling the Government, and calling out against it, in case of need, the popular forces. But this act only provoked the insurrection of the 15th of May, by which the Government was forced to acknowledge the Committee, to repeal the Constitution and the Electoral Law and to grant the power of framing a new Fundamental Law to a Constitutional Diet, elected by universal suffrage. All this was confirmed on the following day by an Imperial proclamation. But the reactionary party, which also had its representatives in the ministry, soon got their "Liberal" colleagues to undertake a new attack upon the popular conquests. The Academic Legion, the stronghold of the movement party, the centre of continuous agitation, had, on this very account, become obnoxious to the more moderate burghers of Vienna; on the 26th a ministerial decree dissolved it. Perhaps this blow might have succeeded, if it had been carried out by a part of the National Guard only, but the Government, not trusting them either, brought the military forward, and at once the National Guard turned round, united with the Academic Legion, and thus frustrated the ministerial project.

In the meantime, however, the Emperor and his Court had, on the 16th of May, left Vienna, and fled to Innspruck. Here surrounded by the bigoted Tyroleans, whose loyalty was roused again by the danger of an invasion of their country by the Sardo-Lombardian army, supported by the vicinity of Radetzky's troops, within shell-range of whom Innspruck lay, here the Counter-Revolutionary party found an asylum, from whence, uncontrolled, unobserved and safe, it might rally its scattered forces, repair and spread again all over the country the network of its plots. Communications were reopened with Radetzky, with Jellachich, and with Windischgratz, as well as with the reliable men in the administrative hierarchy of the different provinces; intrigues were set on foot with the Slavonic chiefs, and thus a real force at the disposal of the Counter-Revolutionary camarilla was formed, while the impotent ministers in Vienna were allowed to wear their short and feeble popularity out in continual bickerings with the revolutionary masses, and in the debates of the forthcoming Constituent Assembly. Thus the policy of leaving the movement of the capital to itself for a time; a policy which must have led to the omnipotence of the movement party in a centralized and homogeneous country like France, here in Austria, in a heterogeneous political conglomerate, was one of the safest means of reorganizing the strength of the reactionists.

In Vienna the middle class, persuaded that after three successive defeats, and in the face of a Constituent Assembly based upon universal suffrage, the Court was no longer an opponent to be dreaded, fell more and more into that weariness and apathy, and that eternal outcry for order and tranquillity, which has everywhere seized this class after violent commotions and consequent derangement of trade. The manufactures of the Austrian capital are almost exclusively limited to articles of luxury, for which, since the Revolution and the flight of the Court, there had necessarily been little demand. The shout for a return to a regular system of government, and for a return of the Court, both of which were expected to bring about a revival of commercial prosperity—this shout became now general among the middle classes. The meeting of the Constituent Assembly in July was hailed with delight as the end of the revolutionary era; so was the return of the Court, which, after the victories of Radetzky in Italy, and after the advent of the reactionary ministry of Doblhoff, considered itself strong enough to brave the popular torrent, and which, at the same time, was wanted in Vienna in order to complete its intrigues with the Slavonic majority of the Diet. While the Constituent Diet discussed the laws on the emancipation of the peasantry from feudal bondage and forced labor for the nobility, the Court completed a master stroke. On the 19th of August the Emperor was made to review the National Guard; the Imperial family, the courtiers, the general officers, outbade each other in flatteries to the armed burghers, who were already intoxicated with pride at thus seeing themselves publicly acknowledged as one of the important bodies of the State; and immediately afterwards a decree, signed by Herr Schwarzer, the only popular minister in the Cabinet, was published, withdrawing the Government aid, given hitherto to the workmen out of employ. The trick succeeded; the working classes got up a demonstration; the middle class National Guards declared for the decree of their minister; they were launched upon the "Anarchists," fell like tigers on the unarmed and unresisting workpeople, and massacred a great number of them on the 23rd of August. Thus the unity and strength of the revolutionary force was broken; the class-struggle between bourgeois and proletarian had come in Vienna, too, to a bloody outbreak, and the counter-revolutionary camarilla saw the day approaching on which it might strike its grand blow.

The Hungarian affairs very soon gave them the opportunity to proclaim openly the principles upon which it intended to act. On the 5th of October an Imperial decree in the Vienna Gazette—a decree countersigned by none of the responsible ministers for Hungary—declared the Hungarian Diet dissolved, and named the Ban Jellachich, of Croatia, civil and military governor of that country—Jellachich, the leader of South Slavonian reaction, a man who was actually at war with the lawful authorities of Hungary. At the same time orders were given to the troops in Vienna to march out and form part of the army which was to enforce Jellachich's authority. This, however, was showing the cloven foot too openly; every man in Vienna felt that war upon Hungary was war upon the principle of constitutional government, which principle was in the very decree trampled upon by the attempt of the emperor to make decrees with legal force, without the countersign of a responsible minister. The people, the Academic Legion, the National Guard of Vienna, on the 6th of October rose in mass, and resisted the departure of the troops; some grenadiers passed over to the people; a short struggle took place between the popular forces and the troops; the minister of war, Latour, was massacred by the people, and in the evening the latter were victors. In the meantime, Ban Jellachich, beaten at Stuhlweissenburg by Perczel, had taken refuge near Vienna on German-Austrian territory; the Viennese troops that were to march to his support now took up an ostensibly hostile and defensive position against him; and the emperor and court had again fled to Olmutz, on semi-Slavonic territory.

But at Olmutz the Court found itself in very different circumstances from what it had been at Innspruck. It was now in a position to open immediately the campaign against the Revolution. It was surrounded by the Slavonian deputies of the Constituent, who flocked in masses to Olmutz, and by the Slavonian enthusiasts from all parts of the monarchy. The campaign, in their eyes, was to be a war of Slavonian restoration and of extermination, against the two intruders, upon what was considered Slavonian soil, against the German and the Magyar. Windischgratz, the conqueror of Prague, now commander of the army that was concentrated around Vienna, became at once the hero of Slavonian nationality. And his army concentrated rapidly from all sides. From Bohemia, Moravia, Styria, Upper Austria, and Italy, marched regiment after regiment on routes that converged at Vienna, to join the troops of Jellachich and the ex-garrison of the capital. Above sixty thousand men were thus united towards the end of October, and soon they commenced hemming in the imperial city on all sides, until, on the 30th of October, they were far enough advanced to venture upon the decisive attack.

In Vienna, in the meantime, confusion and helplessness was prevalent. The middle class, as soon as the victory was gained, became again possessed of their old distrust against the "anarchic" working classes; the working men, mindful of the treatment they had received, six weeks before, at the hands of the armed tradesmen, and of the unsteady, wavering policy of the middle class at large, would not trust to them the defence of the city, and demanded arms and military organization for themselves. The Academic Legion, full of zeal for the struggle against imperial despotism, were entirely incapable of understanding the nature of the estrangement of the two classes, or of otherwise comprehending the necessities of the situation. There was confusion in the public mind, confusion in the ruling councils. The remnant of the German Diet deputies, and a few Slavonians, acting the part of spies for their friends at Olmutz, besides a few of the more revolutionary Polish deputies, sat in permanency; but instead of taking part resolutely, they lost all their time in idle debates upon the possibility of resisting the imperial army without overstepping the bounds of constitutional conventionalities. The committee of safety, composed of deputies from almost all the popular bodies of Vienna, although resolved to resist, was yet dominated by a majority of burghers and petty tradesmen, who never allowed it to follow up any determined, energetic line of action. The council of the Academic Legion passed heroic resolutions, but was in no way able to take the lead. The working classes, distrusted, disarmed, disorganized, hardly emerging from the intellectual bondage of the old regime, hardly awaking, not to a knowledge, but to a mere instinct of their social position and proper political line of action, could only make themselves heard by loud demonstrations, and could not be expected to be up to the difficulties of the moment. But they were ready—as they ever were in Germany during the revolution—to fight to the last, as soon as they obtained arms.

That was the state of things in Vienna. Outside, the reorganized Austrian army flushed with the victories of Radetzky in Italy; sixty or seventy thousand men well armed, well organized, and if not well commanded at least possessing commanders. Inside, confusion, class division, disorganization; a national guard, part of which was resolved not to fight at all, part irresolute, and only the smallest part ready to act; a proletarian mass, powerful by numbers but without leaders, without any political education, subject to panic as well as to fits of fury almost without cause, a prey to every false rumor spread about, quite ready to fight, but unarmed, at least in the beginning, and incompletely armed, and barely organized when at last they were led to battle; a helpless Diet, discussing theoretical quibbles while the roof over their heads was almost burning; a leading committee without impulse or energy. Everything was changed from the days of March and May, when, in the counter-revolutionary camp, all was confusion, and when the only organized force was that created by the revolution. There could hardly be a doubt about the issue of such a struggle, and whatever doubt there might be, was settled by the events of the 30th and 31st of October, and 1st November.

LONDON, March, 1852.