Since Austria was 90 percent Catholic, it did not experience the strenuous Kulturkampf of Germany. However, liberals did fight clerical conservatives over religious issues and forced through bills legalizing civil marriages, quasi- secularized schools, and taxes on church property.
Many liberals were discredited by the financial crash of 1873, during which it was revealed that some of them had accepted bribes, and, as in Germany, anti-Semitism grew as a political force. The working class turned toward socialism after the crash, while the Austrian nobles took little interest in the nation’s problems.
The large size of noble estates was a fundamental reason for the small size of the average peasant holding, and made it necessary even for landowning peasants to seek supplementary employment on a noble’s property. The peasant’s standard of living and level of literacy were extremely low, so that communication and organization for political unity were limited. Furthermore, the Austrian clergy remained loyal to the dynasty and worked on behalf of the nobles against possible peasant uprisings.
The middle class was small. Among the bourgeoisie were many Jews, who generally could not be nobles, bureaucrats, or army officers. Forced to enter trade, the professions, and the arts, where they prospered, the Jewish minority gave Viennese life much of its charm and gaiety, its music, its cafes, its image of “the good life” that was so attractive to western European visitors yet so offensive to peasant and noble in the provinces. Anti-Semitism grew rapidly among the lower middle classes, often unsuccessful competitors in the world of small shop- keeping. One response among the Jews was Zionism— sponsorship of a future Jewish state.
Zionism began as a Jewish minority movement. Many Jewish leaders were convinced that anti-Semitism was a passing phase, a throwback to earlier forms of discrimination and hostility that had largely been outlawed. But as attacks on Jews increased, and as popular stereotypes began to identify them with banking and finance, there was a growing cry for the establishment of a Jewish state. In 1896 Theodor Herzl (1860-1904), a Jew who had experienced anti-Semitism firsthand in France, published a pamphlet, The Jewish State, in which he argued that the “Jewish question” was essentially a national question; soon thereafter he began to organize the Zionist movement.
In the late nineteenth century the stresses and strains inherent in this social structure produced two important new political movements among the Germans of Austria: Pan-Germanism and Christian Socialism. In the early 1880s, moderate Austrian Germans had wanted to hand over the Slavic lands of Austria to the Hungarians to rule, and then to unite economically with Germany.
The Pan-Germans were more radical. They demanded that Austria become Protestant, and agitated for political union with Germany. The Christian Socialists, however, became the most important Austrian political party. Strongly Catholic and loyal to the Habsburgs, they appealed to both the peasant and the small business owner by favoring social legislation and by opposing big business.
The most famous Christian Socialist leader was the mayor of Vienna, Karl Lueger (1844-1910). For years he sponsored public ownership of city utilities, parks, playgrounds, free milk for schoolchildren, and other welfare services, while catering to his followers’ hatred of Jews, Marxists, and Magyars.
To the Pan-Germans and the Christian Socialists, the Austrian Social Democrats, founded in 1888, responded with a Marxist program calling for government ownership of the means of production and for political action organized by class rather than by nationality. But the Austrian Social Democrats were not revolutionaries, and they set as their goals such political and social gains as universal suffrage, fully secular education, and the eight-hour working day.
They were usually led by intellectuals, many of them Jewish, but they were followed by an ever-increasing number of workers. On the nationality question, Social Democratic leaders strongly urged democratic federalism. Each nationality should have control of its own affairs in its own territory; in mixed territories, minorities should be protected; and a central parliament should decide matters of common interest.
Through it all Emperor Francis Joseph thought of himself as the last “monarch of the old school.” He faced bitter personal loss time and again. His son Rudolf committed suicide in a scandal in 1889; his wife Elisabeth was killed by an anarchist at Geneva in 1898; and his nephew’s assassination at Sarajevo in 1914 would trigger a world war. Still, he reigned with determination far longer than any other European monarch, loyal to the Habsburg ideal to the end.
Despite imperial tragedy and divisive politics, Vienna was one of the great cities of Europe in the years between 1870 and 1914. Its cosmopolitan air, its rapid growth, its mixture of frivolity and high seriousness were remarkable. Here controversy over art, literature, dance, music, and sexual morality would explode into revolt against the old norms.
In Hungary the situation was rather different. The great landed nobility, owning half of Hungary in estates of hundreds of thousands of acres apiece and loyal to the dynasty, were a small class numerically. Hungary had a much larger class of country gentlemen whose holdings were far smaller and whose social position was lower, but whose political influence as a group was greater.
After the emancipation of the serfs in 1848 many members of the gentry became civil servants or entered the professions. During the nineteenth century the towns became steadily more Magyar, as members of the gentry and peasantry moved into them. At the bottom of the social pyramid was a class of industrial workers in the cities, mostly in the textile and flour-milling industries.
The Jewish population grew rapidly, mostly by immigration. Many Jews were converted and assimilated and became strongly Magyar in sentiment; but, as in Austria, they were disliked, especially among the poorer city population and in the countryside, where they were associated with money lending and tavern keeping, two
professions that kept the peasant in their debt. Nonetheless, though anti-Semitism existed in Hungary, it never became as important a political movement as in Austria.
The Catholic church was immensely powerful and rich, but it was the faith of only about 60 percent of the population. Some magnate families and many of the gentry had never returned to Catholicism after the Reformation, remaining Calvinists. Several hundred thousand Germans, chiefly in Transylvania, were Lutheran, and
there also were Magyar Unitarians. Clericalism could never become the dominant force in Hungary that it was in Austria.
Thus, because of its differing social and religious structure, Hungary did not produce strong parties like the Austrian Social Democrats and Christian Socialists. Hungary never effectively changed its law of 1874, by which only about 6 percent of the population could vote. The only real source of Magyar political differences was the question of Hungary’s position in the dual monarchy.
Some, followers of Lajos Kossuth (1802-1894), favored complete independence; others, called the Tigers, wished to improve the position of Hungary within the monarchy by securing Hungarian control over its own army, diplomatic service, and finances, and by limiting the tie with Austria to the person of the monarch. While the Tigers were generally victorious, the Kossuthists were able to disrupt the government in 1902, and in 1905 they won a majority.
When Francis Joseph refused to meet the demands of the new majority and appointed a loyal general as premier, the Kossuthists urged patriots not to pay taxes or perform military service, and until 1910 they kept parliament in convulsion. It was in this utterly unstable atmosphere that Hungary received the news on June 8, 1914, that Francis Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the dual monarchy, had been assassinated.