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9-08-2015, 21:15

THE LAST DECADES OF THE MULTINATIONAL RUSSIAN AND HABSBURG EMPIRES

The First World War doomed the efforts of these two empires to reform their institutions, modernise and solve tensions within. The outcome of war was revolution not evolution. For half a century their rivalry and conflicts in the Balkan cauldron had, at times by a narrow margin, been adjusted without resort to force until the breakdown of 1914. The circle of conflict in this one region of Europe then spread to engulf the whole continent. As the world entered the twentieth century there was a big question mark over the largest Western state, the Russian Empire. The total size of Russia’s population remained ahead of the US. But in industrial development Russia lagged behind the Western world. It was what would be termed today a vast underdeveloped country, stretching from the European frontiers with Germany and Austria-Hungary through the Middle East and Asia to the shores of the Pacific Ocean. The only nation larger than Russia was China, which in 1900 seemed on the verge of disintegration. Would Russia also disintegrate in the new century? Would revolution sweep away the Romanov dynasty, or would Russian autocracy prevail and continue to send the largest army in the world to conquer more and more territory and continue to incorporate more and more nationalities into the Russian Empire? Russia possessed all the resources of iron and coal to turn it into a major industrial power. How would its neighbours be able to resist Russian expansion as it modernised? Russia’s potential threat to the interests and security of the countries surrounding it hung over them all, and increased in proportion to the actual growth of Russian power in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. By 1914 around 100 distinct national peoples had been incorporated into Russia. This made it the largest and most varied multinational empire. Government was highly centralised and absolute loyalty to the tsar was demanded of every national group. The predominant Russian people, the largest single population group by far, believed in the superiority of their culture, their orthodox form of Christianity and the superiority of Slavs. The tsar sought to impose Russification on the other peoples and to suppress other religions. The Orthodox Church also formed a pillar of the tsar’s autocracy and justified it as ordained by God. The most persistently persecuted minority were the Jews, who were deliberately made scapegoats for the ills besetting Russia. Anti-Semitism and discrimination, and even persecution of Jews, were endemic throughout Europe, but most virulent in Russia. Liberal and progressive European opinion was shocked and offended by the tsarist regime’s treatment of the Jews. It is difficult to look objectively at the history of Russia during the period of the last tsar’s rule, 1894 to 1917, knowing what followed. Was the development of Russia in the reign of Nicholas II a kind of blind alley bound to lead to collapse and revolution and the triumph of the Bolsheviks, or was it already on the road to reform and change before the outbreak of the First World War? An affirmative answer to the question of fundamental change can most confidently be given when industrialisation is considered. Rapid acceleration in the growth of the Russian economy began some forty years later than in the US. Growth was uneven during the period 1890 to 1914, rapid in the 1890s when it more than doubled, was checked by a serious depression during the early years of the twentieth century, then from 1910 onwards resumed rapid expansion until the war. Not before 1928 would the Soviet Union again reach that level of production and so recover from war, revolution and civil war. Industrialisation was purposefully promoted by the state and masterminded in the 1890s by Sergei Witte, the minister of finance. He recognised that to maintain its status as a great power, Russia must break with past traditions and catch up with its rapidly industrialising European neighbours. A protective tariff (1891), a stable currency linked to gold, and high interest rates attracted massive foreign capital, especially from France, and encouraged capital formation in Russia. The expansion of railways had a widespread and stimulating effect on industrial growth. Besides the small workshops, which in 1915 still employed two-thirds of all those employed in industry, there had also developed large-scale and modern industry. The statistics set out in the table below give some indication of Russian economic growth. It must also be remembered that population growth was very rapid during these years so that the increase calculated per head of population was much less impressive. But because Russia was so large, its total production ranked it in world terms by 1913 the fifth industrial power after the US, Germany, Great Britain and France. In 1913, in comparison with the US, Russia still lagged far behind. It was also behind Germany and Britain, but Russian output became comparable to that of France and Austria- Hungary in a number of leading industries. With a population four times as large as that of France, Russia only achieved roughly the same total industrial production. All these figures on the one hand show Russia’s great progress since 1890 compared with earlier decades, while on the other hand they reveal that in comparison with the US, Germany and Britain, it remained backward and the gap was still wide. Even in 1914 Russian society remained overwhelmingly rural. Precise classification is extremely difficult as many workers in factories retained their ties with their village and returned seasonally at harvest time. But not less than 50 per cent of the population were peasants, or muzhiki, who led a hard life, close to subsistence and dependent on weather and harvests. Religion was their solace but was less a reasoned Christianity than ritual and superstition. More than half the peasantry were illiterate. Oppressed, the muzhiki symbolised the Russian masses revering the tsar as father and autocrat, yet, when driven by hunger and deprivation, resorting to violence and destruction. Those peasants recently forced by destitution into the crowded tenements or factory barracks of St Petersburg and other industrial centres to work, even lived separated from their families. At the heart of the problem of a Russia seeking to modernise and move into the twentieth century lay this vast peasantry. It was mainly on their heads too that the burden of industrialisation had to be placed, because they provided a cheap labour force and generated the necessary surplus of wealth which made investment in new and expanding industries possible. Exports of agricultural produce had to provide the greater part of capital to pay for all that the state spent on the huge army, on administration and on industry. In the early twentieth century the heavily burdened peasantry was ripe for large-scale violent protests. In town and country sporadic violence was to turn into the explosion of 1905. The year 1905 marks a turning point in the history of Russia. The peasantry looted and burnt the countryside and appropriated the landlords’ land. The immediate reason was the loss of authority suffered by the tsarist autocracy during the Russo-Japanese War. Violence also flared in St Petersburg and the towns. The defeat of the Russian armies in China and the despatch of the Russian fleet to the bottom of the ocean by the Japanese at the battle of Tsushima in May 1905 weakened the hold of the autocratic tsar and his ministers. The capital, St Petersburg, became the scene of violence and brutal repression. It was the enigmatic leadership of a charismatic priest, Father Georgei Gapon, who had initially worked for the tsarist regime, that led to bloodshed. As trade unions were forbidden in Russia the tsarist authorities developed an ingenious scheme to provide a safety valve for industrial grievances and a link with the government workers. Associations, carefully guided in their loyalty to the tsar and led by reliable supporters of autocracy were promoted. One of these associations, formed with the blessings of the Ministry of the Interior, was Gapon’s in St Petersburg. Gapon proved an unreliable supporter. He organised a mass strike and in January 1905 the whole of industrial St Petersburg was shut down by strikes. On what became known as Bloody Sunday, 22 January, he led to the Winter Palace a huge demonstration of workers, their wives and children, perhaps as many as 200,000 in all, dressed in their Sunday best, to seek redress of their grievances from the tsar. At the Narva Gate the head of the procession was met by Cossacks, who charged with drawn sabres at the masses before them, maiming and killing indiscriminately; soldiers fired into the crowd. Killing continued all morning. Several hundred, possibly as many as 1,000, innocent people perished. The spell of a beneficent tsar was broken. The tsar would never entirely recover his authority or the faith and veneration of the masses who had seen him as their ‘little father’. Throughout the borderlands – Poland, the Baltic, Finland and the Caucasus – there followed widespread unrest and insurrection. To the earlier victims of assassination now, in February 1905, was added another illustrious victim, the Grand Duke Sergei, the tsar’s uncle. Terrorism, strikes, student agitation and a rioting peasantry, together with the defeated and demoralised army and navy, added up to a picture of Russian autocracy in complete disarray. The prospect of disaffected armed forces on which autocracy relied was a spectre reinforced in June 1905 by the celebrated mutiny of the battleship Potemkin in Odessa harbour. Russian autocracy had reached a critical point: the tsar could go on shooting and follow a policy of harsh repression or seek to master the situation by some timely concession and reform. He chose the latter, though at heart he remained a convinced, unbending autocrat. Yet, from the low point of his reign in 1905 to the outbreak of the war nine years later the tsar managed better than many would have foretold at the outset. For a short while he placed the able Sergei Witte in charge of the immediate crisis. Witte had a true, if cynical appreciation of the problem of governing the empire. ‘The world should be surprised that we have any government in Russia, not that we have an imperfect government’, he remarked in July 1905. Witte was convinced that chaos would follow if the tsar’s rule was allowed to fail; the nationalities and the conflict of classes would tear Russia apart. Autocracy was the only answer to lawlessness and dissolution. Faced with so much popular opposition, Witte saw clearly enough that the tsar must either now resort to repression far more bloody than any that had preceded or put himself at the head of the ‘reform’ movement and limit its scope. Above all the tsar must stop drifting in a sea of indecision. Witte’s personal inclination was for the maintenance of undiluted autocracy but he recognised that this was not likely to succeed, and the tsar had neither the nerve nor the stomach for total repression. The tsar gave way to those who argued that a form of constitutionalism should be introduced. A renewed wave of strikes in October overcame his final resistance. The outcome was the October Manifesto of 1905. In the previous February, Nicholas had declared that he would call into being a consultative assembly, to be known as the Duma. In August the complicated method of election was announced which allowed as little influence as possible to the disaffected workers. Now the October Manifesto promised to bring to life a genuinely parliamentary body with whom the tsar would share power. No law would be promulgated without the consent of the Duma. These promises made no impression on the workers who had spontaneously formed themselves into soviets, or workers’ councils. In St Petersburg and Moscow they openly called on the army to come to the side of the revolutionary movement. But the loyalty of the army to the tsar was never seriously in doubt, the soviets were dispersed, their leaders arrested, and gradually during 1906 in town and country the tide of revolution passed. With the need for compromise pressing, the tsar soon showed his true colours. There were four meetings of the parliamentary assembly: the Duma of 1906, the second Duma of 1907, the third from 1907 to 1912, and the last from 1912 to 1917. In the first Duma, a new party emerged, the Constitutional Democratic Party, or Kadets as they were known. They were moderate and liberal and hoped on the basis of the October Manifesto to transform Russian autocracy into a genuine Western parliamentary constitutional government. Together with the moderate left, they outnumbered the revolutionary socialists, who had mostly boycotted the Duma, and the ultraconservatives. But the tsar would have nothing to do with a constitutional party or their leader Pavel Miliukov. After the short second Duma, which saw a strengthening of revolutionary socialists, the tsar simply changed the electoral rules, ensuring tame conservative majorities in the third and fourth Dumas. The opportunity of transforming Russia into a genuinely constitutional state by collaborating with moderate liberal opinion was spurned by the tsar. As long as Nicholas II reigned, genuine constitutional change on the Western model was blocked. In 1917 the liberals as well as autocracy would be swept away by the forces of revolution. Yet, before the war the actual hold of the various revolutionary socialist parties over the urban workers and the peasants was tenuous. Therein lies the extent of the lost opportunity to modernise and transform Russia while avoiding the terrible violence which after 1917 accompanied that process. Despite the undoubted political repression and reactionary policies of the tsar and his ministers, there was also a genuine effort made to tackle some of Russia’s basic problems and so to cut the ground from under the widespread discontent. In 1906 the tsar entrusted power to a ruthless but able man, Peter Stolypin, as chairman of the Council of Ministers, a position he held until his assassination in 1911. Stolypin lived up to his reputation as a ‘strongman’, and through draconian measures such as military court martials executed hundreds and smothered revolutionary agitation. There were also, of course, revolutionary attacks on government officials whose victims equally ran into many hundreds killed and wounded. Stolypin launched a war on terrorism. He suppressed the rights of the nationalists; the Jews again particularly suffered, associated as they were in the tsar’s mind with sedition and socialism. It took no great discernment to recognise that something needed to be done to help the peasantry. In November 1905 the peasants’ redemption payments for the land they farmed were cancelled (as from 1907). This made it possible for a peasant to become the legal proprietor of the land. But as most of the land was held within the organisation of a village commune (mir), his freedom was still heavily circumscribed. The change Stolypin aimed at was a transformation of the existing communes into a whole new class of peasant proprietors, each farming his own land, not in strips as before, but consolidated into one viable farm. The independent well-to-do peasant proprietors were already a phenomenon, especially in western Russia. The purpose of the land reform associated with Stolypin’s name was to increase their number in all parts of Russia. Legislation passed in 1906, 1910 and 1911 facilitated the redistribution of land within the commune and gave the right to the peasant to secede from the commune and claim the land he farmed. How successful did these reforms prove? The problem of Russian agriculture was gigantic, due to overpopulation, lack of capital, lack of knowledge and simple peasant resistance to change. It has been calculated that by 1916 about 2 million households had left the communes and set up their own farms. It was no more than a beginning, but a significant one. But since by 1916 more than 80 per cent of the land was already being farmed by peasants, redistribution of land by taking it away from the larger landlords and the Church could no longer solve the continuing problem of land hunger caused by overpopulation. The peasantry was being divided between the richer, the poorer and the landless peasants driven into the towns to swell discontent there. Rapid industrialisation promoted by the state, the spread of education, political agitation and the continuing increase of the population all produced severe social tensions. Nicholas II was quite unequal to the Herculean task of ruling Russia. He was more and more dominated by his wife, Empress Alexandra, devoted but equally narrow-minded, and she in turn was influenced by the ‘magic’ of Rasputin, whose spiritual healing was alleviating the agonies of their son, the sick tsarevitch. Yet, by the eve of the 1914 war a succession of energetic ministers such as Witte and Stolypin had brought about some change. Higher agricultural prices and reforms did benefit rural Russia and pacify the peasants, but in the towns the standard of living of the workers did not improve. Workers had gained limited rights to form trade unions. Bad conditions and an increasing political awareness that change was necessary and possible led after 1900 to strikes. The only answer the government knew was repression, which reached its horrifying peak in the Lena goldfields in 1912 when the troops killed 170 miners striking for higher wages. The years 1913 and 1914 saw a renewal of massive strikes especially in St Petersburg and Moscow and, significantly, they became increasingly political. Faced with these internal disorders, the tsar and his ministers had to weigh, during that fateful July of 1914, the question of war and peace. Would war release a patriotic spirit that would drown the voice of revolution or would it spark off the great upheaval? The tsar’s agonising over the fateful mobilisation order indicates vividly how he was fully aware that he might be signing the death warrant of his autocratic rule, perhaps his dynasty. Certainly, during these last critical weeks, decisions which required the utmost coolness of judgement were being taken under the daily tensions of unrest much more immediate and severe than those facing the kaiser in Berlin. How had the tsar allowed Russia to be brought to so dangerous an international position in 1914 when what Russia most needed was peace? Despite facing enormous problems at home, Russia’s ambitions to expand did not slacken. Having reached the borders of China, Russia made a bid to dominate Manchuria. China was at the mercy of the European powers who acquired strategic outposts and dominated its trade, Britain first and foremost. The disastrous Boxer rising of 1900 gave another blow to the ramshackle structure to which the Manchu dynasty had declined and further opportunities to the Europeans to seize more of its land. This time the Russians took the largest bite, seeking to detach Manchuria. This brought it into conflict with the growing Japanese power and alarmed Britain. Japan and Britain drew together in an alliance in 1902 and Britain paid the price of agreeing to support Japanese ambitions in Korea. The outcome was war between Japan and Russia in 1904 which the Japanese famously won the following year, a giant step in the growth of a new power in the Pacific. Russia was checked in eastern Asia and turned its interests back to the Balkans. To free its hand it reached an imperial settlement, in the Middle East and on the frontiers of India, with Britain in 1907. Russia’s statesmen tried to act in cooperation with the Habsburg Empire, at first carving up their spheres of interest. But in 1908 cooperation broke down. The Austrians owned two Turkish provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina which they had already occupied since 1878. In 1908 the Balkan fire was lit. The ‘Bosnian crisis’ marks a turning point in the relations of the powers before 1914. Slav Serbia, resenting the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, appealed to Russia for support; Austria relied on Germany. No one was ready to fight but good relations between Austria and Russia were at an end. Also ended was the Austro-Russian understanding to settle their imperial rivalries in the Balkans. Now they intrigued against each other and the fuse leading to war in 1914 was lit. Other European nations with their own ambitions added to the breakdown of stability in the Balkans. The Ottoman Empire was attempting to reform itself after the Young Turk revolution of 1908. But Turkey was weak. Italy attacked Turkey in 1911 and annexed Tripoli. The small Balkan states, equally greedy, wanted Turkish territory in Europe and were ready to fight each other over the spoils. Turkish weakness, Balkan nationalism and the rivalry of Austria and Russia destabilised southeast Europe. At first the Balkan states went to war against Turkey. The Balkan League of Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece and Montenegro attacked the Turks in October 1912 and defeated them. As a result of the war Serbia greatly increased its territory, to the alarm of Austria. All the great European powers stepped in to supervise the peace and Russia had to agree to Austrian demands limiting Serbia’s gains. But hardly had the question been settled in London in May 1913 when the members of the Balkan League fought each other. Bulgaria now attacked Serbia and Greece; Montenegro, Romania and Turkey joined Serbia and Greece in attacking Bulgaria. Bulgaria was forced to make peace and yield many of its gains from the first Balkan war. The conflicts of the Balkan states would have mattered comparatively little outside their own region of the world, but for the effects on Austria- Hungary and on Russia. There was little consistency about Russian policy in the Balkans. Strong Pan-Slav feelings motivated Russia’s ambassadors in the Balkans and these were backed by sections of public opinion within Russia. But the official line taken by Sergei Sazonov, Izvolsky’s successor at the Foreign Ministry in St Petersburg, was caution. The result of the Balkan wars was to weaken Russia’s position as well as Austria’s. For Russia the future appeared full of uncertainties in the Balkans. The eventual alignment of the individual Balkan states, with Austria-Hungary and Germany on the one side and Russia and France on the other, was unpredictable. Only Serbia was still Russia’s firm ally and that was not for love of Russia but due to its enmity of Austria-Hungary. These uncertainties made the Russians much more nervous about the future of the Straits of Constantinople. They were not only vital strategically but, with the upsurge of the Russian economy, they also formed an increasingly important link in the chain of Russia’s trade with the rest of the world. Three-quarters of its grain exports were shipped from the Black Sea through the Straits, and grain constituted some 40 per cent of Russia’s total export trade. The Russians wished the Turks to remain the guardians as long as they did not fall under hostile influence until the Russians were strong enough to control them. Germany now had become a double threat: as Austria-Hungary’s ally and, since 1909, as Turkey’s ‘friend’. The appointment of a German general, Liman von Sanders in November 1913 to command the army corps stationed in Constantinople greatly alarmed St Petersburg. Russian protests this time worked. General von Sanders was promoted to the rank of field marshal, which made him too grand merely to command troops in Constantinople. On the plus side for the Russians was the attitude of the French who in 1912 strongly revived the Franco-Russian alliance. But Russian policy would in the end be dictated by Russian interests. Until Russia’s military reorganisation was completed, and while still faced with strikes and unrest at home, Russia wanted to avoid war. That was still the view of the Council of Ministers called to debate the question in January 1914, just a few months before the outbreak of war. The Habsburg Empire had been a formidable European power for more than four centuries. Was its disintegration in the twentieth century the inevitable consequence of the two most powerful currents of modern history: nationalism and industrialisation? These threatened, respectively, the common bond of loyalty which the nationalities composing the Dual Monarchy felt for the dynasty and the acceptance of an existing social order. In many ways industrialisation and nationalism were contradictory forces in Austria- Hungary. The large market of the empire and free trade within it helped industrial progress; socialism, which grew with industrial expansion, also called for an allegiance that cut across the ethnic differences of nationality. Nationalism, on the other hand, was divisive and threatened to break up the empire. But nationalism contained the seeds of conflict within itself. There could be no easy agreement in a part of Europe where the nationalities were so intermingled as to what precise national frontiers should be drawn, or who should form the majority in a state or which peoples must acquiesce in remaining a minority. There would be conflicts and tensions however matters were arranged and the majority of the emperor’s subjects felt ‘better the devil we know’. There was much to be said for the supranational solution which the Habsburg Monarchy represented. Multinational states break apart when the central power is weakened beyond the point of recovery. This did not happen in the Habsburg Empire until 1915. In defeated Russia, Lenin and Trotsky were able to restore the authority of the central power through civil war, but no such Habsburg recovery was possible in 1918. Nevertheless, it took four years of devastating war to break Habsburg power and the cohesion of the Monarchy. It has frequently been claimed that central power had been eroded half a century earlier with the constitutional settlement of 1867. But the settlement stood the test of time when judged by central European standards. The greatest threat to the Monarchy was Hungarian independence. After 1867 there was no longer a serious possibility of this. The extensive rights which the Magyars were granted in the historic kingdom of Hungary reconciled them to the unity of the empire under the personal link of the emperorking. For the Magyars the continuation of the empire meant that the entire power of the Monarchy was available to defend their position against external and internal enemies. The settlement of 1867 granted to each half of the empire its own government with control of internal affairs; this included, importantly, powers to decide what rights were to be conceded to the other nationalities living within the jurisdiction of the kingdom of Hungary and Cis-Leithania, as the Austrian half of the empire was officially called. But the central power of the empire remained strong and real after 1867. Finance, foreign affairs and military matters remained the responsibility of the imperial ministries in Vienna, whose ministers were chosen by the emperor. The emperor was commander-in-chief of the imperial army. In another important way this unique imperial constitution actually strengthened central power. The democratic constitutional trend of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could not be entirely halted in the empire. But franchise concessions were granted for the separate parliaments sitting in Vienna and Budapest. In Austria the year 1907 saw the introduction of manhood suffrage. The Magyars refused to accept any substantial reforms. But the Hungarian parliament exercised much more real power over the Hungarian government than the Austrian over the Austrian government. There existed no parliament for the empire as a whole that could influence or control the crucially important joint imperial ministries. Indirect parliamentary influence was in theory provided for by the system of the ‘delegations’, representatives of the Austrian and Hungarian parliaments meeting separately and together (in theory) to deal with questions affecting the joint ministries. In practice, what concerned the delegations mainly was finance, customs, commercial policy and the contributions to the common budget to be paid by Austria and by Hungary. These questions were settled, after much wrangling based on obvious self-interest, for ten years at a time. The emperor’s ‘reserved’ powers in foreign and military affairs remained virtually absolute through his choice of ministers and refusal to take notice of any parliamentary disapproval. His power would not have been so completely preserved in the twentieth century, and with it a strong central power, but for the dualism of the empire and, therefore, the absence of a single imperial parliament. Consequently, imperial policies in war and foreign affairs were conducted by just a handful of men. These included the heads of the three joint ministries, with the minister of foreign affairs presiding; on important occasions the prime minister of Hungary, who had a constitutional right to be consulted on questions of foreign policy, and other ministers were invited to join in the discussion. Among some of the Slavs, dualism was seen as a device for excluding the Slav majority from their rightful and equal place in the empire. By dividing the empire, the Magyars and Germans constituted the majority, each in their own half. The majority of the 21 million Slavs (approximate 1910 figures) in the empire as a whole were thus turned into minorities. The ‘Slavs’ were not unified in religion, social structure or tradition. The rivalries and hostilities between them were at least as important as their supposedly common interests. The Magyar– German compromise of 1867 led to parallel small compromises within each half of the empire. In Austria, the Polish gentry were given privileges at the expense of the Ruthenes; the Czechs were from time to time allowed special rights; but Serb, Croat and Slovene cultural development was restricted. The struggle between Germanspeaking Habsburg subjects and the other nationalities was bitter at the local level and in parliament, but it was not, as in Hungary, systematic government policy. In Hungary, the Magyars allowed a special status to the Croats but excluded the Slovaks and Serbs and Romanians from any share of power or from exercising autonomous rights. The politics of ‘Austria’ and of Hungary also diverged in other respects in the twentieth century. In Austria one striking development was the emergence of a socialist party led by Victor Adler which gained a sizeable parliamentary following in 1907. Austrian politics were marred by the antics of the German nationalists and the anti-Semitic Christian Socialists inspired by Karl Lueger. Conflicts between nationalists in Austria frequently paralysed parliament. The industrialised and prosperous Czechs demanded autonomy. The Germans in Bohemia sought to keep the Czechs in an inferior national status. The focus of the struggle was over the official use of language. When the emperor’s ministers made concessions with the Czechs, the Germans refused cooperation with the government and when concessions were made to the Germans the Czechs went into bitter opposition. In any case parliament was regarded by the emperor as no more than an ‘advisory body’. The introduction of manhood suffrage in Austria in 1907 was intended to break the nationality deadlock. For a brief time the Social Democrats sat together, irrespective of national origin, whether German or Czech. It did not last. From 1908 to 1914 the old nationality conflict reasserted itself with as much vehemence as before. The conflict of the national parties reduced the parliament in its splendid and imposing building in Vienna to impotence. With such a record, parliamentary government could win little respect among the population as a whole. In Hungary, extensive franchise reforms were blocked by the Magyar gentry as likely to undermine Magyar predominance. Relations with the non-Magyar nationalities remained bad down to 1914. Repression was the only policy consistently adopted. Hungarian politics revolved around largely unsuccessful attempts to modify the compromise of 1867 so that the Magyars could gain greater control over the army. But this was fiercely resisted by Franz Josef, who threatened force against any Hungarian government or parliament seeking to tamper with the royal prerogatives. When now we marvel at the continued resilience of the Habsburg Empire, despite national and constitutional conflicts, which seemed to increase rather than diminish during the last years of peace, we tend to overlook one question. Who had anything to gain from driving the conflict to extremes and threatening the Habsburg Empire with disintegration? Not the Magyars, not the Germans, nor the Poles, who enjoyed greater liberties under Austrian than Russian and German rule; not the Jews, whose talents transformed cultural Vienna; not the Czechs who believed their own security necessitated the empire; not even the majority of Serbs and Croats in the annexed provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Everywhere the mass of the peasantry was attached to the Habsburg dynasty. Agitation for independence, whether of Czech or southern Slavs, was largely the work of a minority among the more educated. The great majority of Franz Josef’s subjects wanted the empire to continue even though they differed so bitterly on the kind of empire they wanted. Meanwhile the dynasty and its central power, the imperial civil service and administration, and the imperial army all carried out their duties sustained by the common consent of the great majority of the people. Franz Josef had won the affection of his subjects simply by always having been there. His family misfortunes bravely borne, his simplicity and honesty, and pride in his robustness in very old age combined to make him the most respected and venerated monarch in Europe. And all this despite the fact that he had made war on his own subjects in 1849 (Hungary) and had lost all the wars in which Austria had engaged since his accession against Italy, France and Prussia. It was a remarkable achievement. During the last years of the nineteenth and during the early twentieth century, the empire emerged as a modern state. In Hungary the administration was virtually Magyarised. This applied also to the judicial administration. But the country enjoyed a high reputation for justice, with admittedly the important exception of what were seen as ‘political’ offences. The kingdom of Hungary was Magyar: patriotism meant Magyar patriotism; dissent from this view was treated harshly. But, despite this fierce attempt to Magyarise the nationalities on the peripheries of the kingdom, the policy met with little success; the nationalities preserved their identities. In the Austrian half of the empire the governments sought to arrive at settlements between Germans, Czechs and Poles acceptable to all sides. That the empire was, largely, so well governed was in no small part due to an incorruptible and, on the whole, intelligent and fair-minded bureaucracy of civil servants and jurists. It is true that in the Austrian half of the empire the Germans constituted some 80 per cent of the civil servants though by population they were entitled only to a third. The much better education of the Germans accounts for some of this predominance. In Hungary deliberate Magyarisation led to more than 19 per cent of government service being in Hungarian-speaking hands. In the central imperial administration the Germans also played the major role, with more than half the civil servants German-speaking. But one can certainly not speak of a totally German-dominated imperial administration. In the principal joint ministries of the empire, Franz Josef ensured that the three common ministers never came from the same half of the Monarchy. The senior Foreign Ministry was held in turn by a Saxon German, a Hungarian, an Austrian German, a Pole, a Hungarian and an Austrian German. The economic development of the empire that was disappointingly slow in the latter part of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries implies a comparison with western and northern Europe. But the empire’s centre was in the Balkans, the grain-producing Hungarian plain. Within the empire lay regions such as the Czech provinces, which achieved a development comparable to the most advanced areas of Europe. The empire provides great contrasts between comparative wealth and stark poverty. Agricultural backwardness and an increasing population condemned the peasants of Galicia to continuous poverty. Large-scale emigration was one consequence. (The empire’s population grew from 46.9 million in 1900 to 52.4 million in 1910.) In Bohemia, and in upper and lower Austria, agriculture, as well as industry, turned these regions into the most prosperous in the empire. In Hungary the owners of the great landed estates led the way to the introduction of better farming methods. The central Hungarian plain became one of the granaries of Europe. The imperial customs union, freeing all trade within the empire, opened up to Hungary’s agriculture the market of the more industrialised Austrian half of the empire. In the twentieth century Austria-Hungary achieved a fast rate of industrial growth in the favoured regions. Nevertheless, the empire as a whole lagged far behind the more advanced western and northern European nations. Regional variations were as marked in industrial as in agricultural development. The most successful agricultural parts of the empire were also the most industrially advanced: upper and lower Austria, Bohemia, Moravia and Silesia and Hungary proper. Industrialisation had made little impact in Galicia, Dalmatia or Transylvania. In 1911, textiles and clothing, tobacco and foodstuffs, together with wood, leather and paper accounted for nearly two-thirds of the Austrian half of the empire’s industrial output. But imperial policies of free trade within the empire tended to maintain these regional differences of progress and backwardness. On the other hand, it needs to be remembered that without state aid in the development of the railways, without good administration and internal peace and security throughout the empire, the economic conditions of the people would have been far worse than they actually were. It is remarkable that the empire, beset by so many problems internally, backward in economic development and also poor, achieved a high reputation in the arts and was acknowledged to be one of the great powers of Europe. The Monarchy’s universities were second to none, the musical, literary and theatrical life of Vienna, Budapest and Prague, and the renown of Freud and Liszt and Strauss, were celebrated throughout the Western world. The Monarchy’s status as a great power had been diminished, it is true, but not extinguished by defeats in the nineteenth-century continental wars that created united Italy and Germany. In 1900 the empire was still considered one of the foremost military powers of Europe, a bulwark against the possibility of the Russian or German dominance of south-eastern Europe. The territorially large Habsburg Empire was thus a major element in the pre-1914 European balance of power whose disappearance, the other powers felt, would create grave new problems. Actually the empire’s military capacity was overrated. The perennial lack of funds was one reason for its weakness. Another unique problem was that it was largely officered by German-speaking Austrians and a smaller number of Hungarians; the troops themselves were composed of all the nationalities and spoke in many languages. Even worse was the incompetence of the general staff. Only in the two years before the war of 1914 was the army increased to a potential wartime strength of 1.5 million men. Military and economic weakness made the Monarchy’s foreign ministers cautious and conservative. There is a shape, logic and consistency to Habsburg foreign policy in the nineteenth century with its emphasis on the importance of tradition and of dynastic rule and its opposition to nationalism. The loss of the Italian provinces was therefore seen as a particularly heavy blow. If the neighbours of the Habsburg Empire, Romania and Serbia, followed the example of Piedmont in the wars of Italian unification, justifying their efforts by an appeal to the right of national self-determination, then the Habsburg Empire must disintegrate altogether. Serbia cast in the role of Piedmont was the nightmare vision that drove the emperor and his ministers to stake the future of the empire on the field of battle in July 1914. But they also recognised that the real threat had not been Piedmont but Piedmont in alliance with France in 1859 and with Prussia in 1866. The real threat in 1914 was felt to be not Serbia but Serbia in alliance with Russia. Security and integrity are basic objectives of any state’s foreign policy. But the great powers of pre-1914 Europe also considered it axiomatic that they should possess spheres of influence and control beyond their own state frontiers. In the nineteenth century the Habsburgs were forced to abandon their traditional role of influence first in the Italian and then in the German states. By the twentieth century the only ‘frontier’ left open was the Balkan. Not to suffer a third defeat on this last frontier was seen as a matter of vital importance for the future of the empire. With the decline of the Ottoman Empire in Europe the future of the Balkan peoples, divided and intermingled in religious beliefs, in tradition, in culture and in socio-economic structure, preoccupied the European great powers. But the Balkan states pursued policies of their own and were locked in rivalry over the disposition of the still Turkish or formerly Turkish lands. Once Russia had recovered from defeat in the Far East, the attention of St Petersburg reverted to the Balkans and a rediscovery of Russia’s Slav mission. A much more active Russian policy now coincided with a new period of Ottoman weakness caused by the internal upheavals of the Young Turk movement (1908 to 1910). It also coincided with the growing ambitions and rivalries of the Balkan states, themselves casting covetous eyes on Macedonia and other territories still ruled by the Turks. The Balkans were becoming a powder barrel. Austro-Russian cooperation might have contained these tensions. Instead, Russia’s ambitious ministers at the various Balkan capitals were adding to the growing turmoil. The turning point came in 1908–9. In the Monarchy, the foreign minister Count Aehrenthal was a well-known advocate of a policy of cooperation and agreement with Russia. He regarded Austria-Hungary as a ‘satiated’ state that needed no more territories and no more Slavs. But as a final step of consolidation – almost a technical consolidation – whose purpose was to regularise and remove all uncertainty, he wished to convert the Monarchy’s position in Bosnia-Herzegovina from that of the permanently occupying power (since 1878) to one of sovereignty. He was prepared to pay compensation to the Turks and to give up the occupation of another Turkish territory, the strategically important land known as Novipazar. This withdrawal would also convince the Russians that Austria-Hungary had abandoned all thought of territorial expansion. Talks were arranged with the Russian foreign minister, Alexander Izvolski. Their famous, and unrecorded, conversation took place at the castle of Buchlau in 1908. From the available evidence it seems clear that the whole basis of these talks was the intention to strengthen Austro-Russian cooperation. Izvolski said that Russia would diplomatically support Austria-Hungary’s wish to annex Bosnia- Herzegovina. In return he asked for, and obtained, Aehrenthal’s promise of diplomatic support for a Russian proposal to the powers to change the rule of the Straits. Aehrenthal soon after, while Izvolski toured Western Europe and had not even time to consult the tsar about the Buchlau ‘bargain’, announced the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Europe. Izvolski was furious. He had no success with his attempt to change the rule of the Straits: Britain rejected the proposal outright. To save face, Izvolski now claimed he had been tricked by Aehrenthal. From here on the threads lead to the catastrophe of 1914. Out of the breakdown of relations between Izvolski and Aehrenthal grew the prolonged Bosnian crisis. Serbia’s nationalist feelings had been wildly aroused by the Monarchy’s annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, inhabited by many Serbs. Russia backed Serbia and was insistent on ‘compensation’ for Serbia and also that the Monarchy should submit the whole question of annexation to a conference of powers. With the German ally’s support, Aehrenthal refused both demands. Russia and Britain and France backed away. Serbia did not. In 1909 Serbia and Austria-Hungary came close to war, with Russia acting as Serbia’s protector. In reality neither Russia nor any of the powers were ready for war in 1909. One cannot help speculating how different a course history might have taken if Austria-Hungary had used its superior strength to defeat Serbia then. As it was, Izvolski drew back. On Germany fell the odium of having threatened Russia with a peremptory note that unless it recognised the annexation at once, Germany would not hold the Monarchy back from attacking Serbia. Izvolski could now claim that the German ‘ultimatum’ forced Russia to give way. More important, the crisis marked the end of tolerably good Austro-Russian relations. Were their Balkan differences really so irreconcilable? The collision of the two empires was due to miscalculation rather than deliberate intent. In 1909 Russia was the more aggressive of the two states. The Russian diplomats in the years after 1909 redoubled their efforts to re-establish Russia’s damaged prestige among the Balkan states. These moves coincided with the intrigues and national ambitions of the Balkan states themselves, whose policies in the end could not be controlled by the Russians. In 1911 the Italians made war on the Ottoman Empire. This started a new period of continuous Balkan tensions. In 1912 the Habsburgs believed that the Russians had inspired a Balkan League of Greece, Serbia, Montenegro and Bulgaria to attack Turkey. These states had temporarily buried their own disputes over Macedonia and other territorial disputes to grab more lands from Turkey. Then they, in turn, fell out over the booty in 1913 when Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece and was itself defeated by a new alliance of Balkan states. Apart from the certainty of Austro-Serb enmity, there were no other certainties in the Balkans during the last years before 1914. Neither Russia nor the Monarchy could be sure at any point of crisis which of the other Balkan states would side with whom. The unhappy consequence for the peace of Europe was that Russia and Austria-Hungary felt equally threatened by the diplomatic intrigues of the other. Russia, with promises of French support, was both fearful and active. The Dual Monarchy could never assume that the German ally would stand behind it. As for Italy, its alliance was nominal. Italy was regarded as a potential enemy. So the Habsburgs felt unsure of the future. Austria-Hungary’s bitter opponent, Serbia, had emerged greatly enlarged from the two Balkan wars. In 1913, by helping to create independent and friendly Albania, Austria-Hungary succeeded in checking Serbia’s further expansion to the Adriatic. This was achieved not so much by the ‘conference of European’ powers as by the Dual Monarchy’s own threats delivered to Serbia. Count Leopold Berchtold, Aehrenthal’s successor at the Foreign Ministry since 1912, learnt from these experiences that Austria-Hungary would have to rely on its own firmness. Behind Serbia stood Russia. But Franz Josef and his ministers believed that firm diplomacy could still break the hostile ring of states and Russia’s manifest design to encircle the Monarchy, provided Germany loyally backed the Habsburg Empire. Sarajevo changed all that.

 

 

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