From the beginning of the war the press constantly reported about the social engagement of the hinterland. War Hospitals were created and emergency funds were raised by parties and charities to support the disabled and families left without manpower. When winter came they collected packs for soldiers on the Front: boots, warm clothes and consumer goods such as cigarettes. At Christmas time, a movement put standard Christmas packages together to be sent to the Front. It seemed that the country stood behind the Front as one.
Besides helping, the main purpose of these movements was to demonstrate that the country is solid and everyone is taking part in the war efforts. The hardship didn’t discourage Hungary, but made it stronger. It strengthened solidarity and everyone could rely on help if needed. The strength of the united nation was confronted by an external threat. It was not surprising that these charities and movements represented every level of the society. Parties, women playing their traditional roles, craft unions, churches, local authorities, rich businessmen, famous people and even the workers took part, although the latter’s actions were only part of these big movements. The message was clear: not only the soldiers fought this war, but the hinterland as well.
This was only one part of the change in the social structure caused by the war. Mobilization of the society was crucial for a successful warfare. But the process set off irreversible changes in the relationship of state and society in every war faring country. The effects of these changes though were different depending on win or lose. The war’s most spectacular side effect was statism (price control, restriction of the strategically important materials’ trading, military forestalling, taking alien properties, etc.) but the growing state could not accomplish all tasks. In reality they were absolutely unprepared for anything that happened in the hinterland.
It is a cliché, that the war faring countries expected a short war. As a result they underestimated the expected losses and how long they had to keep on enlisting. There were laws for giving out revenues for soldiers’ families, but it wasn’t budgeted for enough people and especially not for a long time. There were also other issues that were unsought as the shortages of labour that made life even harder for citizens.
Soon it turned out, that problems not only occurred in the hinterland. None of the war faring countries prepared for issues such as to reinstate the disabled soldiers, establish orphanage and health care that would attend injured soldiers and stop new epidemics. They had to deal with price control and with the increasing black market of weapons and inappropriate goods. For these social institutions in order to function they needed proper law and national capacity, but governments lacked of all these. While the state failed to ensure these areas, the national engagement stepped in for the rescue.
Although every war faring country struggled with the abovementioned issue, but their political system, the situation of certain governments or their state organization influenced the area and degree of the participation of their social organizations. In Russia for example after the first couple of months of the war the government was under military control, the function of the state collapsed and the reorganisation was done by professional or national organisations by-passing the government. For example at train stations the medical corps inspected the travellers to stop any kind of epidemics and to get medical help for the ill.
In Hungary, the government tried to get control over the military as well but at least to stop the military taking over the public administration. This was not unsuccessful. (Prime Minister István Tisza’s strong actions had a major role in this, who pleaded the local causes with Vienna.) The growing number of friendly societies, war hospitals indicated that society had to take more and more part.
In the Austrian part of the Monarchy, the situation wasn’t simple. The articulated public administration and political installation, the system of the crown provinces with their own law system and the institutionalization of the national movements made things worse. Many social institutions were organized by national activists rather than the state, applying their own national ideas. The orphanage care was entirely organized by them, raising the children in the “right” national way and many times even the reliefs came with national „training”.
All this changed the relationship of state and society on the long run by helping the latter to gain power in some areas, and also helping the state to expand its influence in other areas to extreme measures. The dysfunctions of the state were more and more noticeable – this increased by the total mobilization in 1916 that forced the state and the society under the control of the military – and resulted in crashes. In Russia the Tsar was unable to deal with the challenges and failed to govern a war state. After he missed the moment to reorganize the empire through a new government, the revolution had no other alternatives. In the Monarchy, Charles IV had similar problems and was also unable to take actions. As a result the empire collapsed. The new social participation helped this change greatly. Where the state failed, only the society left to count on.
Joshua Sanborn: Imperial Apocalypse: The Great War and the Destruction of the Russian Empire. Oxford University Press, 2014.
Tara Zahra: Kidnapped Souls. National Indifference and the Battle for the Children in the Bohemian Lands 1900–1948. University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Pieter M. Judson: Guardians of the Nation. Activists on the Language Frontiers of Imperial Austria. Harvard University Press, 2006.
Bihari Péter: Lövészárkok a hátországban. Középosztály, zsidókérdés, antiszemitizmus az első világháború Magyarországán. Napvilág, 2008.
Created by: Gábor Egry