Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

The Kölnische Zeitung On the Magyar Struggle

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 398;
Written: by Engels on February 17, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 225, February 18, 1849.

Cologne, February 17.

“I have now the basis found
Wherein my anchor holds for ever”

— sings the brave Schwanbeck from the Protestant hymn-book. The indignant champion of virtue, despite the “Austrian Note” and the “feeling of deepest indignation ‘ finally comes forward in support of Windischgrätz on the front page of the Kölnische Zeitung. Listen to this:

“The so-called democratic press in Germany has sided with the Magyars in the Austro-Hungarian conflict.... Certainly strange enough! The German democrats siding with that aristocratic caste, for which, in spite of the nineteenth century, its own nation has never ceased to be misera contribuens plebs; the German democrats siding with the most arrogant oppressors of the people!”

We do not quite remember whether we have already drawn the attention of the public to one peculiar characteristic of the brave Schwanbeck, namely, that he is accustomed to give only conclusions without any premises. The passage quoted above is just such a conclusion, the premise of which has never seen the light of day.

But even if the Magyars were an “aristocratic caste” of the “most arrogant oppressors of the people”, what does that prove? Does it make Windischgrätz, the murderer of Robert Blum, the slightest bit better? Do the knights of the “united monarchy”, the special enemies of Germany and friends of Schwanbeck-Windischgrätz, Jellachich, Schlick and their like — want perhaps to suppress the “aristocratic caste” and introduce freedom of peasant landownership? Are the Croats and Czechs perhaps fighting for Rhenish parcellation of the land and the Code Napoléon?

In 1830, when the Poles rose against Russia, was it then a question whether merely an “aristocratic caste” was at their head?[335] — At that time it was in the first place a question of driving out the foreigners. The whole of Europe sympathised with the “aristocratic caste”, which certainly started the movement; for the Polish republic of the nobility was at any rate a huge advance compared with Russian despotism. And was not the French suffrage of 1830, which was the monopoly of 250,000 voters, in point of fact just as great a political enslavement of the misera contribuens plebs [poor tax-paying plebians] as the rule of the Polish nobility?

Let us suppose that the March revolution in Hungary was purely a revolution of the nobility. Does that give the Austrian “united” monarchy the right to oppress the Hungarian nobility, and thereby also the Hungarian peasants, in the way it oppressed the Galician nobility and, through the latter, the Galician peasants as well (cf. the Proceedings of the Lemberg Provincial Diet of 1818)? But the great Schwanbeck, of course, is not obliged to know that the greater part of the Hungarian nobility, just like the greater part of the Polish nobility, consists of mere proletarians, whose aristocratic privileges are confined to the fact that they cannot be subjected to corporal punishment.

The great Schwanbeck, of course, is even less obliged to know that Hungary is the only country in which since the March revolution feudal burdens on the peasants have legally and in fact totally ceased to exist. The great Schwanbeck declares the Magyars to be an “aristocratic caste”, “most arrogant oppressors of the people”, “aristocrats” — and this same great Schwanbeck does not know, or does not want to know, that the Magyar magnates; the Esterházys etc., deserted at the very beginning of the war and came to Olmütz to pay homage, and that it is precisely the “aristocratic” officers of the Magyar army who from the beginning of the struggle until now have every day carried out a fresh betrayal of their national cause! Otherwise, how is it that today the majority of the Chamber of Deputies is still with Kossuth in Debreczin, whereas only eleven magnates are to be found there ?[336]

This is the Schwanbeck of the front page, the Schwanbeck of the dithyrambs in the leading article. But the Schwanbeck of the third page, the man who stormed Leopoldstadt six times, captured Eszék four times, and several times crossed the Theiss, Schwanbeck the strategist had after all to have his revenge.

“But then the war took a lamentable, truly pitiable course. Continually, almost without a struggle, the Magyars abandoned all their positions; without any resistance they evacuated even their fortified royal city, and faced with Jellachich’s Croats retreated beyond the Theiss.”

“Almost without a struggle” — i.e. after they had held back the Austrians for two whole months between the Leitha and the Theiss — they retreated “almost without a struggle”. Gallant Schwanbeck, who judges the greatness of a general not by the material results he achieves but by how many men he has allowed to be killed!

“Without any resistance, they evacuated their fortified royal city"! But one should know that Ofen is indeed fortified on the western side, but not on the eastern side. The Danube was ice-bound, so the Austrians could march across it with cavalry and carts, occupy Pest and from there bombard defenceless Ofen.

If Deutz had not been fortified and the Rhine had been frozen over and if, in view of that, a French army had marched across the Rhine in the neighbourhood of Wesseling and Worringen, and at Deutz had trained 100 cannon on Cologne, then gallant Schwanbeck would surely have advised Colonel Engels to defend Cologne to the last man. — Brave Schwanbeck!

The Magyars, “faced with Jellachich’s Croats retreated beyond the Theiss”. And will the great Schwanbeck deny that these “Croats” totalled 250,000-300,000 men, including the corps of Windischgrätz, Jellachich, Götz, Csorich, Simunich, Nugent, Todorovich, Puchner etc., etc., and the irregular troops at the River Drava and in the Banat? And all those are “Jellachich’s Croats"? Incidentally, that a Schwanbeck, himself a kinsman of the Croats and not much in his element in history and geography, should be enthusiastic about the Croats is easy to understand.

But of course: “... we, too, are far from regarding the official reports from the Austrian army headquarters as gospel truth.” On the contrary, Schwanbeck at times finds in reports, for example Schlick’s,

a gap which the reader has to fill in with all kinds of suppositions and in the end it is not surprising (!!) that these suppositions turn out to be more doubtful than they ought to be (!!!). We suspect that Puchner, too, is accustomed to draw up his bulletins in somewhat too rosy colours. According to them, he is having a most splendid triumphal march against the ‘rebel general’. Then suddenly to our very great astonishment (!) we read an appeal from him in which he implores the Saxons and Wallachians at all costs not to lose heart, and then we suddenly learn that the defeated Bem is in front of Hermannstadt in the middle of Saxony, and the poor Germans (!!) finally can think of no better resort than to look to the Russians for protection. There is a slight contradiction here between the official reports and the events, a contradiction for which only the inaccuracy (!!) of the former can he blamed.”

Citizen Schwanbeck confesses that the Austrian bulletins, and following them the Kölnische Zeitung, lied most shamelessly about the alleged progress of the Austrians; when later on it is no longer possible to deny that it was a lie, truth-loving Schwanbeck calls it “a slight contradiction between the official reports and the events"!

“But if we by no means regard the Austrian army reports as oracles, that still does not mean the Magyar victory bulletins have gained the least bit in our eyes” (which have been busy with the above “slight contradiction”). “They are the products of fantasy, and would be quite pleasant reading if only they were not so dreadfully ludicrous.”

These “bulletins” are so “dreadfully ludicrous” that up to now they have asserted nothing but what the great Schwanbeck himself has to admit is in accordance with the facts. Or is Tokaj in the hands of Schlick? Has a single Austrian crossed the Theiss at Szolnok? Have the imperial troops advanced a single step in the last 14 days?

The 22nd Austrian Bulletin, which we have just received (see below) saves Citizen Schwanbeck the trouble of replying. It makes it clear to us that the Austrians are not yet even as far as was asserted in the 20th and 21st bulletins.

“After all there is no change: the war in Hungary is approaching its end by giant strides.”

That is clear. Schwanbeck already said so 14 days ago: “The war in Hungary is coming to an end. Parturiunt montes, nascetur ridiculus mus.” [The mountains are in labour and a ridiculous mouse will be born — Horace] That was on the very day when Schwanbeck announced for the first time that the Austrians had victoriously entered Debreczin. Since then 14 days have elapsed and in spite of the Magyars having “terribly exaggerated”, the Austrians have still not crossed the Theiss, much less entered Debreczin.

“It cannot surprise anyone that Bem’s crowd which is being joined from all sides by fleeing bands of Hungarians, has swollen into an army for which the numerically small imperial forces in Transylvania are no match.”

It certainly does not! But what can surprise us is how it is possible to speak about “being joined from all sides by fleeing bands of Hungarians” so long as the Hungarians occupy the line of the Theiss and Maros and Citizen Schwanbeck, despite his most ardent prayers, is unable to smuggle a single imperial soldier across it; further, it surprises us that the “fleeing bands” suddenly form an army, without the armies which are pursuing them being at once at hand to drive them from each of their new positions. But, of course, the great Schwanbeck believes that the Hungarians, having been beaten in his nebulous fantasy, would immediately flee from the Danube as far as the Aluta, without looking back to see whether they were being pursued or not.

Citizen Schwanbeck has made himself the Carnot of the nineteenth century by discovering the new manoeuvre by which fleeing bands coming from all sides can suddenly form a victorious army.

This new victorious army could, of course, cause serious complications. However, says Schwanbeck:

“We shall see in what way Russia here will pronounce its veto.”

The brave Schwanbeck, who here calls on Russia for help against the Magyars, is the same Schwanbeck who on March 22 of last year published an article full of moral indignation against the Russian Tsar’ and declared that if Russia interfered in our affairs (and after all the Magyar affair is certainly our affair), then he, Schwanbeck, would issue a call that would make the Tsar’s throne tremble. This is the same Schwanbeck who from the beginning has had the duty in the Kölnische Zeitung of salvaging the liberal reputation of the newspaper in the safe countries of Eastern Europe by timely manifestations of hatred against the Russians and obligatory shrewd expression of free-thinking. But the East-European complications seem to annoy him and in order to be able to devote himself wholly to his “feeling of deepest indignation” at the Austrian Note,[337] he calls on the Russians to come to Transylvania to end the struggle.

The best reply to the whole of this moralising and Windischgrätz — like blustering article is the 22nd Austrian Army Bulletin, which the readers will find below. In order to explain to Schwanbeck, who right up to the last sentence of his article reveals partly boundless ignorance of geography and strategy, and partly dependence on Neue Rheinische Zeitung, where he stands with this Bulletin, we are simultaneously giving our own comments on it.