Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung February 1849

The Russians in Transylvania[353]

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 432;
Written: by Engels on February 26, 1849;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 232, February 27, 1849.

Cologne, February 26. Ten thousand Russians are in Transylvania.

It can no longer be denied, all concealment and obfuscation has become impossible, the facts are there, the official Wiener Zeitung itself has admitted it.

So these were the tremendous victories of the imperial hired soldiery, this is the result of all the pompous bulletins of Welden, Windischgrätz, Schlick and Puchner: the great-power Austria had to call in Russian help to get the better of four and a half million Magyars.

At this new turning-point in Hungarian affairs let us survey once more the course of the war as the most recent news reflects it.

The territory which at this moment is occupied by the Magyars under Kossuth forms a large rectangle, 70-90 miles long and 30-40 miles wide, bounded in the north and the west by the Theiss, in the east by the Carpathians and in the south by the Maros. It embraces in an area of 2,500 square miles the central Hungarian plain and the mountainous regions of Transylvania. In addition Komorn on the Upper Danube is also in the hands of the Hungarians.

In the south, where the Magyars were always weakest, the Austrians, Slovenes and Austrian Serbs succeeded with the help of Turkish Serbs and disguised Russians [a mistake by Engels: Russians did not take part in the battle at Arad] to push the Magyars beyond the Maros. There fighting took place near Arad, in which the Austrians advanced to the northern (right) bank of the Maros.

According to their own assertion they gained a victory and captured fifteen pieces of siege artillery trained on Arad, but, equally according to their own statement, withdrew again across the Maros. As far as we know, up to now they have not yet succeeded in breaking through the line of the Maros and as long as that does not happen there can be no question of the great expedition which Rukavina is supposed to undertake against Grosswardein and Transylvania.

In the west and the north-west the Theiss with its extensive floods and boundless marshes ‘provides the Magyars with an almost impregnable line of cover. As long as the Russians did not take part in the fighting this was the decisive centre of the theatre of war. Once Windischgrätz was in Debreczin the war would have dissolved into mere guerilla fighting. The Magyars knew this and therefore their main army did not offer serious resistance anywhere up to the Theiss. They were only concerned to hold out until the end of the cold weather which enabled the imperial forces to pass all rivers and marshes like firm ground, and which delivered Pest and Ofen into their hands with hardly a chance of resistance. While the main army thus withdrew slowly, the two wings remained in advanced positions, in the north in the Slovak comitats and in the south between the Drava and the Danube, held out as long as they could, forced the enemy army to divide and in the end withdrew, the one through the Carpathians towards the Theiss, the other across the Danube back to the Banat army.

Only the inane ignorance of German hack journalists who had sold themselves to Austria and had never had a map in their hands or followed a strategic operation, could see in this masterly plan, based on detailed knowledge and survey of the terrain, nothing else than cowardice, sheer cowardice, on the part of the Magyars. People of any sense and knowledge would at least have lied and boasted less absurdly than the mass of the German common liars, who had gone grey under censorship, corruption and gross ignorance.

Success has demonstrated the operational skill of the Magyars. It took six weeks for the first imperial soldier of the main army to see the Theiss, and while the river was then still frozen over, the battles of Szolnok, Czegléd, Tarczal and Tokaj showed the Austrians how Hungarians fight when offering serious resistance. Ottinger thrown back beyond Czegléd, Schlick to Boldogköváralya and a general lament over the Magyars’ sudden and unexpected resistance from all the martial-law papers, hitherto delirious with victory — those were the first results of the “victorious” advance of the Austrians to the Theiss. Then followed the thaw, the Magyars withdrew over the Theiss and the ice-drift prevented the imperial troops from following them. The ice-drift ceased, but not the inundations and swamping of both banks to a breadth of several miles. The imperial troops stood helpless facing the swamps and the torrential river and no one dared to cross although Windischgrätz sent reinforcement after reinforcement from Pest. But the Magyars dared to cross, because a short time ago we suddenly heard that Miskolcz, four miles this side of the Theiss, was again in their hands and, as we shall see later, the official royal imperial reports have done more than confirm this.

While Windischgrätz, Jellachich and Schlick were thus glad to be able to hang on to their positions, Nugent in the south gave battle to Damjanich, and in the north Götz, Simunich and Csorich to Görgey. In the south, where the Hungarian Banat army had already been pushed back, the Austrians succeeded in breaking up Damjanich’s cut-off corps into guerilla forces, which still keep in check a sizeable body of troops in the area between the Drava, the Danube and the forest of Bakony. In the north on the other hand, Görgey, one of the swiftest and most daring insurgent leaders, managed to defend the Slovak comitats for two whole months against three entire army corps by hold large-scale guerilla warfare and a series of brilliant individual actions. Although the royal imperial bulletins annihilated him countless times, he always reappeared on the field of battle, repulsed one Austrian general after another, and prevented their unification through rapid marches and constantly repeated attacks. Only the fall of Leopoldstadt decided his retreat before a three- or fourfold superiority. He retreated into the Upper Carpathians and by that gave the imperial troops such a fright that the whole of Galicia was armed, then thrust forward into the Zips and from there into Eperies and Kaschau. There he stood in the rear of Schlick. The latter, cut off from Windischgrätz by the Magyar corps which had advanced to Miskolcz, and now in danger of being surrounded on three sides, retreated hastily in a north-westerly direction, intending to unite with Götz and his associates in Leutschau. Then suddenly “powerful hostile forces” thrust at Polgár and Tiszafüred across the Theiss, unite with the column from Miskolcz and advance towards Rimaszombat, i.e. between Windischgrätz and Schlick. This forces Schlick to change his entire plan, leave Götz in the Carpathians to his fate and get ahead of the main column of the Magyars through a hasty south-westerly march in the direction of Rimaszombat.

By this masterly devised manoeuvre of the Magyars Schlick is thrown back into Slovakia, Götz is isolated in the Upper Carpathians, the unification of Görgey with the main Magyar army is assured and the whole of North-East Hungary liberated from the imperial troops.

All these events, which occurred between February 10 and 14, are admitted even in the official Wiener Zeitung. Among the rest of the howling Austrian and German press too, a curious lowering of the tone could recently be observed. Not to mention the mourning of our nearest neighbours, the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung is forced today to admit:

“The struggle may be yet a little prolonged. The country is too big and the insurgents have good leaders in the Poles."'

And now even the Constitutionelles Blatt aus Böhmen:

“The reports from Hungary which have arrived here to date vary widely in character. Those from the south are clearly favourable to our forces, those from the north clearly unfavourable.”

And in another article:

“If we glance over the newest facts from Hungary in the various journals of decidedly conservative colour there seems to be a slight up-and-down movement in the successes of the imperial army.

“The occupation of Kaschau by Görgey too is not conducive to a belief in the dissolution of the Hungarian army, its destruction and dispersal and the ending of the war, which was regarded as imminent at the beginning of the year.”

It is “still difficult to explain how, with the well-ordered troop combinations and with geographically correct manoeuvres which we have a right to expect from such an excellently organised and led army, isolated bodies of Magyar troops are in a position to move about with not insignificant forces in the line of operations, or behind it, or to converge again in places from which we believed them to have been dislodged. for the whole duration of the campaign”.

That is how things are in the north-west. It is no longer a case of defending the line of the Theiss against the Austrians; it is the Austrians who must not let themselves be thrown back into Slovakia and behind the Danube. For the last week the Hungarians, not the Austrians, have been the attackers.

And finally in the south-east, in Transylvania? Here the bulletins reported Bem as being defeated again and again by Fuchner, here the “rebels” seemed to be completely defeated. Then suddenly the Wiener Zeitung brings the following official lamentation:

“Since the bloody victory which the commanding general, Baron von Puchner, secured on January 21 against the three times stronger enemy at Hermannstadt, the troops retained for the defence of the town could unfortunately not prevent their communication with the Banat and Karlsburg being severed by the enemy, who had settled in the surrounding area like vandals, confiscating all stores of food and animals ready for slaughter and having them carried away together with other pillaged property to the depot at Klausenburg.

“With the shortages which in consequence had arisen on our side, the complaints and petitions of the flourishing chief cities of the loyal Saxon region, Kronstadt and Hermannstadt, became ever louder and more urgent. Even earlier, when these towns were threatened by the marauding and perfidious Szekler hordes, they appealed in their distress to the Russian commanding general in Wallachia, von Lüders, for possible assistance. When, through the severing of the lines of communication with the main imperial army operating in Hungary, all prospects of an early arrival of reinforcements vanished, when the enemy attracted daily new rebel groups and succeeded through deceitful pretences in inciting all the Szeklers anew to disloyalty and armed insurrections, Lieutenant-Field Marshal von Puchner was stormed on all sides with requests to call for Russian support so that the most prosperous part of the loyal Saxon region should not be abandoned to ruin and the blind destructive fury of blood-thirsty marauders.

“Moved by the imperative need to attack Bem, the chief of the rebels, before the rebel mobs who were converging to his assistance from several sides made him overwhelmingly strong, but at the same time unable with his small forces to face the enemy resolutely and protect the Saxon region from the devastation of the Szeklers, Lieutenant-Field Marshal von Puchner felt impelled to listen to the voice of humanity and to take into consideration the requests for Russian assistance made jointly by the Rumanian and Saxon nations, although he had received no authority for this from the Imperial Government. To this end he assembled a Council of War on February 1 in Hermannstadt. Just at the closure of this assembly a courier brought the official news from Kronstadt that the armed Szekler hordes, 15,000 strong, had crossed the frontiers of their region and that as a result, with the rich trading centre of Kronstadt now threatened with inevitable destruction by these bands, delay created the greatest danger.

A lot could be said about this royal imperial Miserere, but it is not necessary. Every line breathes consciousness of defeat, shame at being unable to tell any more lies and at having to abjure all past boastings.

So that was at the bottom of all the official bulletins and of the Magyar “exaggerations”! The Magyars attacking and advancing on the Theiss, the Austrians halted on the Maros, Transylvania irretrievably lost to the imperial cause unless the Russians intervene!

There is in Germany a literary lumpenproletariat, cowardly and lying stay-at-homes, who dare to revile as cowards these Magyars, this heroic nation of a few millions which so ran to earth the whole great Austria, the entire proud “united monarchy”, that Austria is lost without the Russians.

“This fact,” the official report continues ashamedly,

“this fact conclusively influenced the decision of the Council of War, which eventually called in the help of the Russians for the protection of Hermannstadt and Kronstadt. Consequent on the request made by Lieutenant-Field Marshal von Puchner, 6,000 imperial Russian troops entered Kronstadt on February 1 and 4,000 entered Hermannstadt on February 4 for the period of the threatening danger.”

To know how many Russians are taking part in the fighting against the Magyars we shall have to await the next Magyar “exaggerations”. The further reported successes of Puchner, however insignificant, would never have come about without the Russian auxiliary troops, to judge from all that has happened hitherto.

Let it be known and not forgotten that Bulletin No. 24, which appeared on the previous evening, ascribes the advantages secured from February 4 to 7 solely to the fighting abilities of the imperial troops and is completely silent about the entry of the Russians.

As we know, Bem stood before Stolzenburg. From there Puchner drove him on the 4th to Mühlenbach (where he claims to have captured 16 guns), then on the 6th to Szászváros, and on the 7th to Deva. There Bem still is.

Supposing this is true, Puchner would never have succeeded in pushing back 12 miles in 4 days a commander like Bem, who had crossed Transylvania with the greatest speed several times from one end to the other and who had always proved himself far superior to the constantly defeated Austrian, had it not been due to the most crushing superiority in numbers, due to the Russian auxiliary troops and Russian staff officers who are in any case better soldiers than these old-fashioned Austrians.

If Bem stands indeed near Deva his plan is obvious. He has withdrawn from Mühlenbach to the Maros and proposes to leave Transylvania for a time to, the Austrians, who have their hands full with the Szekler guerilla bands, and to move down the Maros towards Arad, to push the Serbs back into the Banat and to advance on Kossuth’s left wing. That Puchner should pursue him is out of the question for the present. But Gläser at Arad and Rukavina at Temesvár will soon get to hear of Bem and before a week has passed we shall probably hear how the indefatigable Pole operates against Szegedin and against the right wing of Windischgrätz. At least it is impossible to draw any other conclusions from the direction in which he is moving.

Without the Russians Puchner would have been annihilated and Transylvania subjugated in a few days. The Szeklers and the Magyars of the territory were themselves enough to keep the Saxons and the Wallachians in check. Bem could have followed as the victor the route which he now takes in his retreat, could have joined up with Kossuth and Dembinski and by that means have decided the outcome of the campaign. Victory was assured for their combined forces. Pest would have been taken in a few days and — on March 15 Dembinski was of course in Vienna.

Then the Russians join the fray and throw the weight of the Tsar’s Empire into the scales on Austria’s side. And that, of course, is decisive.

Such indeed are the heroic deeds of these brave knights of martial law, Windischgrätzes, Jellachiches, Nugents and Schlicks. To set upon a small nation of four and a half million from eight sides with all Austria’s might, to call for help from Turkish Croats, Bosnians and Serbs and in the end, as soon as the small nation has gathered its strength and driven out the traitors from its midst, to be soundly and roundly beaten!

These were indeed glorious laurels which the invincible Windischgrätz gained with the help of Russian reinforcements! Wonderful victories won by the alliance of the united European barbarians against the most advanced outpost of European civilisation.

No one could have guessed, however, that the most subtle point in the grandiose campaign plan of Windischgrätz, the last strategic trump of the great general was to be the appeal to the Russians. And yet, one might have known it: Has Austria ever been victorious by other means?

The Magyars, the last indomitable fighters of the revolution of 1848, may well succumb like the heroes of June in Paris or the fighters of October in Vienna, overwhelmed by the superior forces which again surround them on all sides. It will depend on the degree of the Russian participation whether the war against them will come to an end speedily or otherwise. If we West Europeans in the meantime persist in our silent apathy, if we offer only passive resistance and sighs of impotence to the infamous and traitorous attack of the Russians on our Magyar brothers, then the Magyars are lost — and it will be our turn next.

Indeed, the invasion of Transylvania by the Russians is the most infamous betrayal, the most villainous breach of international law in history. What is the open coalition of the despots in 1792, what is the silent connivance of the German powers at Russia in the Polish war, what is the partition of Poland itself [354] in comparison with this cowardly, treacherous strangling of a small heroic nation, carried out underhand and with’ typical Russian perfidy. What are all the infamies of past British, Russian and Austrian policies compared with this unmentionable villainy.

Austria wages a war of oppression against the Magyars, Russia attacks them from behind, and Prussia stands at the border, warrant in hand, to arrest the refugees and hand them over to their ,executioners. One year after the European revolution, on February 21, 1849, the Holy Alliance [355] stands before us resurrected in all its martial-law banditry and police blackguardism.

Thus far have we come. They dare to do such things in front of the whole of Europe and all Europe does not dare to move a finger. The official French Republic quietly rejoices and wishes that it too bordered on Russia so as to exterminate the anarchists the more easily. Why after the revolution in France and in Germany did we show so much generosity, magnanimity, consideration and kind-heartedness, if we did not wish the bourgeoisie again to raise its head and betray us, and the calculating counter-revolution to plant its foot on our neck?

But be patient. The “hydra of revolution” is not yet stilled. Look to Italy — the power of hired bayonets is not the last decisive power of history. Be patient. The day will come, and come soon, when a new revolution will make its bloody round through Europe, a revolution which, instead of bending its knee before mere phrases about the republic or haggling over the paltry “gains of March”, will not sheathe its sword until it has avenged all the betrayal and all the infamy of the last nine months. Then we shall call to account all those who have permitted and supported this disgraceful betrayal of our Magyar fellow fighters. And then, despite the Russians, we shall strike off the shackles of Hungary and Poland!