Final Issue Neue Rheinische Zeitung May 1849

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung


by Frederick Engels

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 301
Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by, 1994

Cologne, May 18. At a moment when the actual entry of Russian troops turns the Magyar war into a European war, we are compelled to discontinue our reports on its further development. We can only once more present for our readers the course of this grand East European revolutionary war in a brief survey.

It will be remembered that in the autumn of 1847, even before the February revolution, the Diet at Pressburg, under the leadership of Kossuth, adopted a number of revolutionary decisions, such as those providing for the salability of landed property, the peasants' right to choose their own domicile, the commutation of feudal services, the emancipation of the Jews and equal taxation of all classes. On the very day the February revolution began in Paris (February 22) the Diet permitted Croats and Slavonians when dealing with their internal affairs to use their own language for official purposes and finally, by demanding a separate responsible ministry for Hungary, it made the first step towards a separate Hungary.

The February revolution broke out, and with it collapsed the resistance of the Viennese government to the demands of the Hungarians. On March 16, one day after the Viennese revolution, consent was given for the formation of an independent Hungarian government thereby reducing the association between Hungary and Austria to a mere personal union.

The now independent Magyar revolution made rapid progress. It abolished all political privileges, introduced universal suffrage, did away with all feudal dues, labor services and tithes -- compensations being payable by the State -- brought about the union with Transylvania and succeeded in securing the appointment of Kossuth as Minister of Finance and the dismissal of the rebellious Ban Jellachich.

Meanwhile the Austrian government recovered from the blow. While the pseudo-responsible ministry at Vienna remained powerless, the camarilla at the Innsbruck Court grew steadily more powerful. It relied on the imperial army in Italy, on the national appetite of the Czechs, Croats and Serbs and on the stubborn narrow-mindedness of the Ruthenian peasants.

The Serbian insurrection, instigated with the help of money and emissaries from the Court, started in the Banat and Bacska on June 17. On the 20th Jellachich had an audience with the Emperor at Innsbruck and was reappointed Ban. Jellachich returned to Croatia, renounced allegiance to the Hungarian ministry and on August 25 declared war against it.

The treachery of the Hapsburg camarilla was plainly evident. The Hungarians tried once more to persuade the Emperor to return to constitutional methods. They sent a deputation of 200 members of the Imperial Diet to Vienna; the Emperor was evasive. Feeling ran high. The people demanded guarantees and brought about changes in the government. Traitors, who sat in the Pest ministry too, were removed, and on September 20 Kossuth was appointed Prime Minister. But only four days later the Palatine Archduke Stephan, the representative of the Emperor, escaped to Vienna and on the 26th the Emperor issued the well-known manifesto to the Hungarians in which he declared that the government was rebellious and dismissed it, appointing the Magyarophobe Jellachich governor of Hungary and encroaching on the most important revolutionary gains of Hungary.

The manifesto, not having been countersigned by an Hungarian minister, was declared null and void by Kossuth.

Meanwhile Jellachich, taking advantage of the disorganization and treachery prevalent among the nominally Hungarian, but in reality old imperial, officers and general staff, advanced to Stuhlweissenburg. There he was defeated by the Hungarian army, despite its treacherous leaders, and driven back into Austrian territory to the very walls of Vienna. The Emperor and the old traitor Latour then decided to send reinforcements to Jellachich and to reconquer Hungary with the aid of German and Slav troops. But the revolution broke out in Vienna on October 6, and for the time being put an end to the royal and imperial schemes.

Kossuth immediately marched with a Magyar corps to the assistance of the Viennese people. At the Leitha he was prevented from moving immediately on Vienna by the indecision of the Viennese Diet, the treachery of his own officers and the bad organization of his army, which consisted for the most part of local militia. He was finally obliged to arrest more than a hundred officers, send them to Pest and have a number of them shot. Only after this did he dare to attack. But it was too late-Vienna had already fallen, and his undisciplined local militia was thrown back at Schwechat by the regular Austrian troops.

The truce between the imperial troops and the Magyars lasted six weeks. While both armies did their utmost to strengthen their forces, the Olmiltz camarilla carried out a coup which it had been preparing for a long time. It forced the idiot Ferdinand-who had compromised himself by concessions to the revolution and was now useless-to abdicate, and placed on the throne Sophia's son, the boy Francis. Joseph, whom it intended to use as its tool. On the basis of the Hungarian constitution the Pest Diet rejected this change of sovereigns.

Finally in the middle of December the war started. Hungary by then was practically surrounded by the imperial army. The offensive was launched from all sides.

From Austria three army corps, no less than 90,000 strong, under the supreme command of Field-Marshal Windischgratz advanced southward from the Danube. Nugent with about 20,000 men marched from Styria along the left bank of the Drave. Dahlen with 10,000 men marched from Croatia along the right bank of the Drave to the Banat. Several frontier regiments, the garrison of Temesvir, the Serbian militia -and the Serbian auxiliary corps of Knica-nin, totaling 30,000 to 40,000 men commanded by Todorovich and Rukavina, fought in the Banat itself. Puchner with 20,000-25,000 men was in Transylvania as was also Malkowski with 10,000-15,000 men, who had invaded it from Bukovina. Finally Schlick with a corps of 20,000-25,000 men moved from Galicia towards the upper Theiss.

The imperial army thus numbered at least 200,000 regular, battle-hardened troops, not counting the Slav, Romance and Saxon local militia and National Guards who took part in the fighting in the south and in Transylvania.

Against this colossal fighting force Hungary could pit an army of perhaps 80,000-90,000 trained soldiers, including 24,000 men who had formerly served in the imperial army, and in addition 50,000 to 60,000 poorly organized Honveds and local militia. This army was commanded largely by traitors similar to the officers Kossuth had had arrested at the Leitha.

But whereas Austria, a country kept down by force, financially ruined and almost moneyless, could not yield another recruit for the time being, the Magyars still had great resources at their disposal. The Magyars' enthusiasm for liberty, reinforced by their national pride, waxed stronger every day, providing Kossuth with eager fighters in numbers unheard-of for such a small nation of 5 million. The Hungarian printing press placed inexhaustible financial resources in the form of banknotes at Kossuth's disposal and every Magyar accepted these national assignats as if they were hard silver coin. Rifle and gun production was in full swing. All the army lacked was weapons, experience and good leaders, and all this could be procured in a few months. It was only necessary to win time, to entice the imperial troops into the heart of the country where they would be worn down by unceasing guerrilla warfare and weakened by having to leave behind strong garrisons and other detachments.

Hence the plan of the Hungarians to withdraw slowly into the interior, to train the recruits in continuous skirmishes and as a last resort to place between themselves and their enemies the Theiss line with its impassable swamps, which form a natural moat around the Magyar lands.

According to all calculations, the Hungarians should have been able to hold the area between Pressburg and Pest for two to three months even against the superior strength of the Austrians. But severe frosts suddenly set in covering all rivers and swamps with a thick layer of ice capable of bearing the weight even of heavy guns. This deprived the terrain of all features favoring defense, and made all fortifications built by the Magyar army useless and liable to be outflanked. And so it happened that before twenty days had passed the Hungarian army was thrown back from Odenburg and Pressburg to Raab, from Raab to Mor, from Mor to Pest, and even had to leave Pest and withdraw beyond the Theiss at the very beginning of the campaign.

The other corps fared no better than the main army. In the south Nugent and Dahlen continued their advance towards Esseg, which was occupied by the Magyars, and the Serbs gradually approached the Maros line; in Transylvania Puchner joined Malkowski at Maros-Vasarhely; in the north Schlick descended from the Carpathians to the Theiss and made junction with Windischgratz at Miskolcz.

The Austrians seemed to have practically finished with the Magyar revolution. They had two-thirds of Hungary and three-fourths of Transylvania in their rear, the Hungarians were attacked in front, on both flanks and in the rear. A further advance of a few miles would have enabled all the corps of the Emperor to make junction and draw the ring tighter until Hungary was crushed in it as in the coils of a boa constrictor.

The thing now -- while the Theiss on the front still formed an insuperable barrier to the enemy -- was to gain some breathing space.

This was done at two points: in Transylvania by Bem, and in Slovakia by Gorgey. Both carried out operations which show that they are the most gifted commanders of our time.

On December 29, Bem arrived at Klausenburg, the only town in Transylvania still held by the Magyars. Here he quickly concentrated the reinforcements he had brought and the remnants of the defeated Magyar and Szekler troops, [169] and marched to Maros-Vasarhely, beat the Austrians and drove Malkowski first across the Carpathians into Bukovina and from there into Galicia, where he pushed on towards Stanislav. Then, swiftly turning back into Transylvania he pursued Puchner to within a few miles of Hermannstadt. After several skirmishes and a few swift drives in various directions, the whole of Transylvania was in his hands apart from two towns, Hermannstadt and Kronstadt, and these too would have been taken if the Russians had not been called in. The 10,000-strong Russian auxiliary troops tipped the scales and forced Bem to fall back on Szeklerland. There he organized an uprising of the Szeklers, and with this achieved, he had the Szekler militia engage Puchner, who had reached Schassburg, while he bypassed Puchner's positions, moved straight on Hermannstadt and drove the Russians out, then defeated Puchner who had followed him, marched on Kronstadt and entered it without firing a shot.

Transylvania was thus won and the rear of the Magyar army cleared. The natural defense line formed by the Theiss now found its continuation in the Carpathian mountain range and the Transylvanian Alps, from the Zips to the borders of the Banat.

Gorgey at the same time made a similar triumphal march in North-Western Hungary. He set out with a corps from Pest to Slovakia, for two months kept in check the corps of Generals Gotz, Csorich and Simunich operating against him from three directions, and finally, when his position became untenable against their superior forces, fought his way through the Carpathians to Eperies and Kaschau. There he appeared in the rear of Schlick and forced him hurriedly to abandon his position and his whole operational base and retreat to Windischgratz's main army, while he himself was already marching down the Hernad to the Theiss to join the main body of the Magyar army.

This army, which was now commanded by Dembinski, had likewise crossed the Theiss and had repulsed the enemy all along the line. It had reached Hatvan, six miles from Pest, when a stronger concentration of enemy forces compelled it to retreat again. After offering vigorous resistance at Kapolna, Maklar and Poroszlo it recrossed the Theiss just at the moment when Gorgey reached the Theiss at Tokaj. The meeting of the two corps was the signal for a new magnificent advance of the Hungarians. Newly trained recruits arriving from the interior strengthened the Hungarian army in the field. Polish and German Legions were formed, capable leaders had been trained or enlisted, and in place of the leaderless, unorganized mass of December, the imperial troops were suddenly faced by a concentrated, brave, and numerous army which was well organized and excellently led.

The Magyars crossed the Theiss in three columns. The right wing (Gorgey) moved northwards, outflanked the Ramberg division, which had been following it, at Eperies and quickly drove it through Rimaszombat towards the main imperial army. The latter was defeated by Dembinski at Erlau, Gyongyos, Godollo and Hatvan, and hastily retreated to Pest. Finally the left wing (Vetter) dislodged Jellachich from Kecskemet, Szolnok and Czegled, defeated him at Jaszbereny and compelled him, too, to retreat to the walls of Pest. There the imperial forces stood along the Danube from Pest to Waitzen, surrounded in a wide semicircle by the Magyars.

To avoid exposing Pest to bombardment from Ofen, the Hungarians had recourse to their well-tried tactics of dislodging the Austrians from their positions by maneuvers rather than by open frontal attacks. Gorgey captured Waitzen and forced the Austrians to fall back beyond the Gran and Danube; he defeated Wohlgemuth between the Gran and Neutra, thereby relieving Komorn, which was besieged by imperial troops. Since its line of retreat was threatened, the imperial army had to decide on a hurried withdrawal. Welden, the new commander-in-chief, retreated in the direction of Raab and Pressburg, and Jellachich was obliged, in order to pacify his extremely refractory Croats, to hastily retreat with them down the Danube into Slavonia.

During their retreat, which rather resembled a stampede, Welden (and especially his rearguard commanded by Schlick) and Jellachich suffered further considerable reverses. While the latter's hard-pressed corps was slowly fighting its way through the Tolna and Baranya districts, Welden was able at Pressburg to concentrate the remnants of his army which were by no means capable of offering any serious resistance.

Simultaneously with these astonishing victories of the Magyars over the main Austrian army, Moritz Perczel pressed forward from Szegedin and Tolna towards Peterwardein, relieved it, occupied Bacska and moved into the Banat, in order to link up there with Bem who was advancing from Transylvania. Bem had already taken Arad and besieged Temesvar; Perczel stood at Werschetz close to the Turkish frontier; the Banat was thus conquered in a few days. The fortified Transylvanian mountain passes were at the same time held by the Szeklers, the passes in upper Hungary by the local militia, and Gorgey with a considerable army stood at the Jablunka Pass on the Moravian-Galician frontier.

In short, in a few more days the victorious Magyar army, driving the remnants of the mighty Austrian Legions before it, would have entered Vienna in triumph and put an end to the Austrian monarchy for all time.

Hungary's separation from Austria had been decided in Debrecen on April 14; the alliance with Poland, openly proclaimed since the middle of January, was turned into reality by the 20,000-30,000 Poles who joined the Hungarian army. The alliance with the German Austrians, which had existed since the Viennese revolution of October 6 and the battle at Schwechat, was similarly preserved and sustained by the German Legions within the Hungarian army, as well as by the fact that the Magyars were faced with the strategic and political necessity of occupying Vienna and revolutionizing Austria so as to secure recognition of their declaration of independence.

Thus, the Magyar war very soon lost the national character it had had in the beginning, and assumed a clearly European character, precisely as a result of what would seem to be a purely national act, as a result of the declaration of independence. Only when Hungary proclaimed her separation from Austria, and thereby the dissolution of the Austrian monarchy, did the alliance with the Poles for the liberation of both countries, and the alliance with the Germans for the revolutionization of Eastern Germany acquire a definite character and a solid basis. If Hungary were independent, Poland restored, German Austria turned into the revolutionary focus of Germany, with Lombardy and Italy winning independence -- these plans, if carried out, would wreck the entire East European political system: Austria would disappear, Prussia would disintegrate and Russia would be forced back to the borders of Asia.

The Holy Alliance, therefore, had to make every effort to stem the impending revolution in Eastern Europe -- the Russian armies rolled towards the Transylvanian and Galician frontiers; Prussia occupied the Bohemian-Silesian frontier and allowed the Russians to pass through her territory towards Prerau, and within a few days the first Russian army corps stood on Moravian soil.

The Magyars, who clearly understood that in a few weeks they would have to deal with numerous fresh troops, did not advance on Vienna as quickly as one expected at the beginning. They could not take Vienna, as they could not take Pest, by a frontal attack without shelling the city, and this they were not prepared to do. Again, as at Pest, they were compelled to resort to outflanking maneuvers, and this required time and the assurance that their own flanks and rear were secure. But it was here that the Russians menaced their rear, while if Vienna were seriously endangered strong detachments of Radetzky's army could be immediately expected from the other direction.

The Hungarians therefore acted very wisely when, instead of advancing swiftly on Vienna, they confined themselves to steadily forcing the imperial armies out of Hungary, enveloping them in a wide arc from the foothills of the Carpathians to the spurs of the Styrian Alps, dispatching a strong corps towards Jablunka, fortifying and covering the Galician mountain passes, attacking Ofen and rapidly proceeding with the recruitment of 250,000 men, especially from the reconquered western districts. In this way they secured their flanks and rear and assembled an army which need no more fear the Russian contingents than the once colossal imperial army. 200,000 soldiers of this glorious Austrian army had invaded Hungary and barely 50,000 of them had returned; the rest were either killed, wounded, sick, taken prisoner or had changed sides.

True, the Russians threaten to send even more gigantic armies. Some speak of 120,000 soldiers, others of 170,000. According to the Triester Freihafen, the mobile army in the field is expected considerably to surpass 500,000 men. But the Russian love of exaggeration is well known: of the figures they give only half are on the nominal rolls, and of the numbers on the nominal roll again less than half are really there. If, after deducting the number of troops required for the occupation of Poland, the effective Russian aid amounts to from 60,000 to 70,000 men, the Austrians can be glad. And the Magyars will be able to deal with that number.

The Magyar war of 1849 has strong points of resemblance with the Polish war of 1830-31. But the great difference is that the factors which were against the Poles at that time now act in favor of the Magyars. Lelewel, as we know, unsuccessfully urged, first, that the mass of the population be bound to the revolution by emancipating the peasants and the Jews, and secondly, that all three partitioning powers be involved in the war and this war turned into a European war, by raising an insurrection throughout the old Polish territories. The Magyars started at the point which the Poles only achieved when it was too late. The Hungarians first of all carried through a social revolution in their country, they abolished feudalism; their second measure was to involve Poland and Germany in the war, thus turning it into a European war. It started with the entry of the first Russian corps into German territory, and will take a decisive turn when the first French battalion steps onto German territory.

By becoming a European war, the Hungarian war is brought into reciprocal interaction with all other factors of the European movement. Its course affects not only Germany, but also France and England. The English bourgeoisie cannot be expected to let Austria become a Russian province and it is certain that the French people will not calmly contemplate the increasing attacks of the counter-revolution on it. Whatever the outcome of the French elections, the army at any rate has declared for the revolution. And the army today is the decisive force. If the army wants war -- and it does want it -- then war it will be.

War will come. Paris is on the threshold of revolution, whether as a result of the elections or of the army's fraternization with the revolutionary party at the ballot-box. While in Southern Germany the core of a revolutionary army is being formed, which prevents Prussia from taking an active part in the Hungarian campaign, France is on the point of having an active role in the struggle. A few weeks, perhaps even a few days, will decide everything, and the French, the Magyar-Polish, and the German revolutionary armies will celebrate their fraternization on the battle-field before the walls of Berlin.