Frederick Engels 1855

Panslavism and the Crimean War – II

Originally published in Neue Oder-Zeitung, 24 April 1855. From Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul Blackstock and Bert Hoselitz, and published by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1953, pp 86-90. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

The first form of Austrian Panslavism was literary. Dobrovsky, a Bohemian, the founder of the scientific philology of the Slavic dialects, and Kolar, a Slovak poet from the Hungarian Carpathians, were its originators. With Dobrovsky it was the enthusiasm of a scientific discoverer; with Kolar, political ideas soon became predominant. But, as yet, Panslavism was satisfied to wallow only in elegiac moods; the greatness of the past, the disgrace, the misfortune and foreign oppression of the present, were the themes of this poetry. ‘Is there, oh God, no man on earth, who will render the Slavs their due?’ The dream of a Panslavic empire dictating laws to Europe was at that time hardly hinted at.

But the lamenting period soon passed away, and with it the cry merely for ‘Justice for the Slavs!’. Historical research on the political, literary and linguistic development of the Slavonic race made great progress in Austria. Schafarik, Kopitar and Miklosich as linguists, Palacky as an historian, took the lead, followed by a host of men with little or no scientific talent like Hanka and Gaj and others. The glorious epochs of Bohemian and Serbian history were depicted in glowing colours in contrast to the present degraded and broken state of those nations. Just as in Germany ‘philosophy’ formed the pretext under the protection of which politics or theology were subjected to critical analysis, in Austria, and under the very nose of Metternich, philological science was used by the Panslavists as a cloak to preach the doctrine of Slavic unity, and to create a political party with the unmistakable aim of upsetting the relations of all nationalities in Austria, and instituting a vast Slavic empire in its place.

The linguistic confusion which reigns east of Bohemia and Carinthia to the Black Sea is truly astonishing. The process of denationalisation among the Slavs bordering on Germany, the slow but uninterrupted advance of the Germans, the invasion of the Magyars, which separated the North Slavs from the South Slavs by a compact mass of seven million people of Finnish race, the intermixing of Turks, Tatars, Wallachians among the Slavic tribes, produced a linguistic Babel. The language varies from village to village, almost from estate to estate. Out of five million inhabitants, Bohemia alone numbers two million Germans alongside three million Slavs, surrounded, moreover, on three sides by Germans. The same is the case with all Austrian-Slavic tribes. To restore all originally Slavic soil and territory to the Slavs, to convert Austria, with the exception of the Tirol and Lombardy, into a Slavic Empire – the goal of the Panslavists – is to declare null and void the historical development of the last thousand years, is to cut off a third of Germany and all of Hungary, and to change Vienna and Budapest into Slavic cities – a process with which the Germans and Hungarians who own these districts cannot exactly sympathise. Moreover, the difference between the Slavic dialects is so great that, with few exceptions, they are mutually unintelligible. This was demonstrated in a comical fashion at the Slavic Congress in Prague in 1848, where, after various vain attempts to find a language intelligible to all members, they were finally obliged to use the tongue most hated by all of them – the German.

Thus we see that Austrian Panslavism was lacking the most essential elements of success: mass support and unity. It wanted mass support because the Panslavic party consisted only of a portion of the educated classes, and had no hold upon the masses, and hence no strength capable of resisting both the Austrian government and the German and Hungarian nationalities against which it entered the lists. It lacked unity, because its uniting principle was a mere ideal one, which, at the very first attempt at realisation, was broken up by the fact of diversity of language.

In fact, so long as Panslavism was a movement limited to Austria it offered no great danger, but that very centre of unity and mass support which it wanted was very soon found for it. The national uprising of the Turkish Serbs, in the beginning of this century, had called the attention of the Russian government to the fact that there were some seven million Slavs in Turkey, whose speech, of all other Slavic dialects, most resembled the Russian. Their religion too, and their sacred language – old Slavonic or Church Slavonic – were exactly the same as in Russia. It was among these Serbs and Bulgarians that the Tsar for the first time began a Panslavist agitation supported by appeals to his position as the head and protector of the Greek Orthodox Church. It was, therefore, only natural that as soon as this Panslavist movement in Austria had gained consistency, Russia should extend thither on the soil of its ally the ramifications of its agencies. Where Roman Catholic Slavs were met with, the religious side of the question was dropped; Russia was merely held up as the centre of gravity of the Slavic race, as the core around which the regenerated Slavic tribes would range themselves, as the strong and united people which was to realise the great Slavic empire from the Elbe to China, and from the Adriatic to the Polar sea. Precisely here the lacking power and unity were found. Panslavism fell into the trap immediately. It thus pronounced its own judgement on itself. In order newly to restore imaginary nationalities, the Panslavists declared themselves ready to sacrifice 800 years of actual participation in civilisation to Russian-Mongolian barbarism. Was not this the natural result of a movement which began as a decided reaction against the main stream of European civilisation and continued by seeking to reverse the course of world history?

Metternich, in the years of his greatest power, very well recognised the danger and saw through the Russian intrigues. He opposed the movement with all the means in his power. But all the means known to him can be summarised in one word: suppression. But the only proper means – general freedom, of expansion of the German and Hungarian spirit, more than sufficient to scare away the Slavic spectre – did not fit in to his system of petty policy. Accordingly, on Metternich’s downfall in 1848, the Slavic movement broke out stronger than ever, and embraced a larger proportion of the population than ever before. But here its thoroughly reactionary character at once came to light. While the German and Hungarian movements in Austria were decidedly progressive, the Slavs saved the old system from destruction, enabled Radetzky to advance on the Mincio, and Windischgraetz to conquer Vienna. And to complete the drama, and the dependence of Austria on the Slavic race, the Russian army, that great Slavic reserve, had to descend into Hungary in 1849 and settle the war for Austria there by a dictated peace.

But if the adherence of the Panslavic movement to Russia was its own self-condemnation, Austria acknowledged its lack of vitality no less through the acceptance, even the provocation, of this Slavic assistance against the only three nations within its dominions which do possess and show historic vitality – the Germans, Italians and Hungarians. Since 1848 this debt to Panslavism has always held Austria down, and the awareness of it has been the mainspring of Austrian policy. Austria’s first move was to react against the Slavs in its own territory but this required the adoption of an at least partially progressive policy. The special privileges of all provinces were abolished; a centralised administration took the place of a federal one; and, instead of all the different nationalities, an artificial Austrian nationality was alone to be acknowledged. Though these changes were directed in some degree also against the German, Italian and Hungarian nationalities, they yet fell with far greater weight on the less compact Slavic tribes, and gave the German element a considerable preponderance.

The dependence on the Slavs within the realm having been removed, there remained the dependence on Russia; and with it the necessity, at least for a moment and to a certain degree, to break this direct and humiliating dependence. That was the real reason for the wavering, but at least openly professed anti-Russian policy of Austria with respect to the Eastern Question. On the other hand, Panslavism has not disappeared; it has been deeply wounded, it grumbles, pauses, and since the intervention in Hungary looks to the Russian Tsar as its predestined Messiah. It is not our province to determine whether Austria can reply with concessions in Hungary and Poland without endangering its existence if Russia should openly step forward as the head of Panslavism. This much is certain; it is no longer Russia alone, but the Panslavist conspiracy which threatens to build its realm on the ruins of Europe. Through the undeniable strength it possesses and can maintain, the union of all Slavs will soon compel the side which opposes it to appear in a totally different form than theretofore. On this occasion we have spoken neither of Poland (to her honour usually an enemy of Panslavism) nor of the so-called democratic or socialist form of Panslavism, which differs basically only in its phraseology and hypocrisy from the ordinary genuine openly Russian variety. We have said equally little of abstract German speculation, which in sublime ignorance has sunk to becoming an organ of the Russian conspiracy. We shall return in detail to these and other questions relating to Panslavism.