In the constituent Austrian parliament or Reichstag, about a quarter of the deput ies were peasants. The elections to the Reichstag, held in June 1848, were based on a very wide franchise that excluded from active and passive participation only the poorest elements of the society (among them, however, landless peasants, the so-called Häusler and Inleute). Given the great distrust that peasants at that time felt towards representatives of the gentry and towards the educated classes generally, many peasants cast their votes for fellow peasants to represent their interests. Ninety-seven peasants were elected; even after two peasant mandates were nullified and one peasant deputy was expelled, the peasants accounted for a sizable proportion of the total of 383 deputies to the Reichstag.
The crownland of Galicia sent the largest number of peasants to parliament -- 35 (17 Poles, 16 Ukrainians, 1 German, 1 undetermined); Upper Austria sent 13; Lower Austria -- 12; Bohemia -- 10 (7 Czechs, 3 Germans); Moravia -- 8 (5 Czechs, 3 German s); Bukovina -- 7 (5 Ukrainians, 2 Romanians); Carinthia and Carniola -- 6 (4 Germans, 2 Slovenes); Styria -- 3 (1 of whom may have been a Slovene); Silesia -- 3 (all Germans).
The peasant deputies remained a distinct group within the Reichstag. Many anecdotes circulated about their rustic ways, but they were serious politicians who pursued distinctive political goals. Their primary concern was an agrarian reform in which peasant interests were protected. They opposed the payment of an indemnification to landlords for the abolition of compulsory labor on the estates (Robot) and of other feudal rents and obligations. They defended against the landlords' pretensions the traditional rights of peasant communities to forests and pastures (the so-called "servitudes"). They also demanded that the Josephinian land cadaster of 1786 be used to settle property disputes between peasants and landlords, since landlords had appropriated so much peasant ("rustical") land in the inter vening decades. These issues were primary for the peasant deputies, but they also raised a number of other matters: abolition of the gentry's exclusive hunting and fishing rights, abolition of various payments to the clergy, expansion of elementary education. The peasant deputies were unable to achieve a favorable settlement of any of these issues.
The peasant deputies were hindered in their efforts by their lack of education; some of the non-German deputies could not follow the proceedings, since they did not know German. Still, the deputies left little doubt as to where they stood on the issues that concerned them the most. The Ukrainian peasant deputy Ivan Kapushchak delivered a stirring speech against indemnification that was reported in several European newspapers, including the Neue Rheinische Zeitung edited by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
Perhaps the most famous of the peasant deputies was Lukian Kobylytsia, a Ukrainian from Bukovina who had led a peasant uprising in 184 3-44; he resumed the uprising when the Reichstag was temporarily dispersed in October 1848.
Rodolsky, Roman. Die Bauernabgeordnten im konstituierenden österreichischen Reichstag 1848-1849. Ludwig Boltzman Institut für Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, Materilien zur Arbeiterbewegung, 5. Vienna: Europaverlag, 1976.
Holly Johnston revised this file (http://www.cats.ohiou.edu/~chastain/ac/austreip.htm) on May 30, 1997.
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© 1997 James Chastain.