Revolution of 1848–49 in Austria

Revolution of 1848–49 in Austria

 

a bourgeois-democratic revolution whose principal objectives were the abolition of the feudal-absolutist system and the resolution of the nationalities question in the Austrian Empire.

The popular masses—workers, the urban petite bourgeoisie, and the peasantry—were the moving force of the revolution. The fledgling proletariat had only just begun to emerge from the general democratic camp, and during the revolutionary struggle it did not make its own specific political demands. The leader of the revolution was the liberal bourgeoisie, whose demands did not go beyond the bounds of a constitutional monarchy.

The immediate impetus to the revolution, whose outbreak was hastened by the economic crisis of 1847, was given by the revolutionary outbreaks in February and March 1848 in France, as well as those in Baden, Hesse-Darmstadt, Bavaria, Württemberg, and other states of the German Confederation.

On Mar. 13, 1848, a popular uprising broke out in Vienna, compelling Austrian Chancellor Metternich to resign and Emperor Ferdinand I to promise a constitution. The government that was formed on March 17 included representatives of the gentry and the liberal bureaucracy (between March and November 1848 the composition of the government changed several times). University students, who were agitating at this time, were allowed to establish their own armed organization—the Academic Legion—and burghers were permitted to form the National Guard. In April the Committee of Public Safety was created as an unofficial organ of the bourgeoisie’s authority. Workers’ organizations, such as the Vienna Labor Union, were also established.

The revolutionary events in Austria occurred amid a powerful upsurge in the revolutionary movement in other parts of the multinational Hapsburg Empire, where a revolution broke out in Hungary and popular uprisings flared up in Milan, Galicia, Voivodina, and Croatia.

On Apr. 25, 1848, the government enacted a constitution that proclaimed various liberties but in fact left power in the hands of the emperor and the Upper Chamber, which was appointed by him. On May 11 an electoral law was promulgated that limited the number of voters by establishing property and residence requirements. Regarding the revolution as finished, the bourgeoisie strove to prevent it from developing further. In order to break up the revolutionary forces, the government on May 14 issued an edict dissolving the Central Political Committee, formed on May 7 by members of the National Guard, and the Student Committee, created on March 20. At the end of May an attempt was also made to dissolve the Academic Legion. The armed populace came to the defense of the Central Committee and the Academic Legion, however, and the government was obliged to yield for the moment. A new electoral law enacted on June 1 and supplemented on June 10 granted the right to vote to all men 24 years of age or older. (On May 16 the emperor had issued an edict establishing a unicameral elected Reichstag.)

The June Days in Paris thoroughly frightened the Austrian bourgeoisie and contributed to its swing to the counterrevolution. In this situation the government, impelled by a court clique, gradually took the offensive. On August 19 it issued an edict reducing the wages of workers employed on public projects. The workers’ protest, which escalated into mass demonstrations, was suppressed on August 23 by the National Guard. On Sept. 7, 1848, an agrarian law was enacted that abolished without compensation only the peasants’ personal obligations; corvée and quitrent were abolished for a redemption payment amounting to 20 times the peasants’ annual dues.

At the beginning of October the imperial court decided to send part of the Vienna garrison to suppress the Hungarian Revolution. In response to this action a popular uprising, the culmination of the Austrian Revolution, began in Vienna on October 6. Artisans, workers, and students blocked the path of the troops who were being sent to the front, and part of the garrison joined the people. However, the representatives of the petite bourgeoisie and radical intelligentsia who headed the uprising did not show the necessary decisiveness and were unable to create a unified organ of authority to direct the uprising. The insurgents failed to receive the necessary support from the democratic forces of the German states. They were opposed by a large army under the command of Field Marshal A. von Windischgrätz, which had been formed by the forces of counterrevolution. The army besieged and bombarded the capital. On October 29 the leaders of the insurgents entered into negotiations with Windischgrätz and agreed to an unconditional surrender. Only the Mobile Guard, formed from among workers during the uprising, continued to resist heroically. The imperial troops entered Vienna on October 31. K. Marx subsequently characterized the October Uprising in Vienna as “the second act of a drama whose first act was played out in Paris under the name of the June Days” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 5, p. 494).

After the defeat of the October Uprising a new government was created in Austria. It was made up of representatives of the feudal-monarchical circles and the big bourgeoisie headed by Prince F. Schwarzenberg. Emperor Franz Joseph, who had acceeded to the throne in December 1848 after the abdication of Ferdinand I, proclaimed a reactionary constitution in March 1849. The Reichstag, which had been in session since July 22, was dissolved.

The revolution in Austria suffered defeat primarily because of betrayal by the bourgeoisie, which went over to the counterrevolution. However, a complete return to the prerevolutionary system was impossible. The liberation of the peasants from feudal obligations, albeit for redemption payments, promoted the country’s capitalist development.

REFERENCES

Marx, K. “Revoliutsiia v Vene.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 5.
Marx, K. “Revoliutsiia v Vene i Kölnische Zeitung.” Ibid.
Marx, K. “Poslednie izvestiia iz Veny, Berlina i Parizha.” Ibid.
Marx, K. “Pobeda kontrrevoliutsii v Vene.” Ibid.
Engels, F. “Nachalo kontsa Avstrii.” Ibid., vol. 4.
Engels, F. “Revoliutsiia i kontrrevoliutsiia v Germanii.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Bakh, M. Istoriia avstriiskoi revoliutsii 1848 g., 2nd ed. Moscow, 1923.
Kan, S. B. Revoliutsiia 1848 goda v Avstrii i Germanii. Moscow, 1948.
Revoliutsii 1848–1849, vols. 1–2. Moscow, 1952.
Averbukh, R. A. “Bor’ba venskoi demokratii protiv aristokraticheskoi konstitutsii (mai 1848).” Izv. AN SSSR: Ser. istorii i filosofii, 1947, no. 4.
Averbukh, R. A. “Oktiabr’skoe vosstanie v Vene v 1848 g.” Voprosy istorii, 1948, no. 10.
Averbukh, R. A. “Rabochee dvizhenie v Vene v avguste 1848 g.” In the collection K stoletiiu revoliutsii 1848 g. Moscow, 1949.
Averbukh, R. A. Revoliutsiia i natsional’no-osvoboditel’naia bor’ba v Vengrii 1848–1849. Moscow, 1965.
Averbukh, R. A. Revoliutsiia v Avstrii (1848–1849 gg). Moscow, 1970.

M. A. POLTAVSKII

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