Some ten years after the 1848 revolution, Count Imre Mikó recorded his assessment of the long-term consequences of that watershed in Hungarian history, 'When the foundations of society change, and when the public interest takes on a new complexion, relations among social strata — and between each social stratum and society as a whole — will necessarily change as well: new types of rights, new laws and social conventions, new patriotic and moral obligations are born.'[15]15. I. Mikó, Irányeszmék (Pest, 1861), p. 44.

As noted earlier, the abolition of the feudal order fundamentally changed the legal status and prospects of the various social strata. The emancipated villeins became freeholders, while the nobility, despite the loss of feudal services and some of their land, managed to preserve their estates in the new order. Tens of thousands of the lower nobility were deprived of privileges that in any case had been illusory for a long time; countless cotters were separated from the land they had tilled, or were faced with the difficult challenge of redeeming the land. The pattern of the distribution of property by nationalities also changed, for the former Romanian villeins acquired the land they once held in socage, and much of land previously reserved for the borderguard also passed into the hands of Romanian peasants. The role of the middle class was enhanced and altered, and industrialization gave birth to a working class severed from its agrarian roots.

These changes did not alter the fact that the position of social classes and strata was determined by their relationship to property, and more generally to power. The virtual correspondence between property and power, a characteristic of feudalism, was undermined by the liberal revolution. New and broader social strata gained {3-565.} access to property, but they were either wholly devoid of political power, or could exercise it only indirectly. The course of further development would reveal whether they could translate their potential into real political power.

The fundamental changes wrought by the revolution were most visible in the sphere of economic development; the scope for change in the social structure and in the prospects of the various strata was more limited. As in the rest of central and eastern Europe, economic development was spurred less by domestic investment and initiatives than by foreign demand and resources. Much of the agriculture remained untouched by the broader market, and the part that did produce for this market could be considered capitalist only by virtue of its participation, and not because of its inherent social order. The linkage to external markets did not automatically alter the distribution of power in the country, because for decades to come there would be no new social group with which power could be shared. Until the turn of the century, power remained in the hands of an elite that did not descend from the capitalist class, and it was this elite that assumed the task of modernization. Only later did the middle classes gain significant influence.

In historical Transylvania, social status was based primarily on property and pedigree. This was a legacy of the traditional structure of authority as well as a consequence of the country's agrarian character. (Most people continued to depend on agriculture for their livelihood; in 1848, peasants accounted for nearly 90 percent of the population, and, as late as 1910, the proportion remained over 70 percent.) There was another important contributing factor: land did not become private property in the modern sense of the term, which distinguishes capitalism from feudalism. The rigid structure of landed property and the weakness of the new middle classes allowed the traditional landowning classes to defend their status during the entire period of transition.


Table 25: Distribution of the landed property in Hungary according to types of possession in 1895

Region Estate State estate Community and common estates Small estates
medium big ecclesiastical, foundational total
Great Hungarian Plain 14.29 21.25 6.51 42.05 2.62 10.10 45.23
Transdanubia 7.86 31.88 7.62 47.36 1.51 9.21 41.92
the South 7.54 12.19 3.09 22.82 6.57 13.67 56.94
the North 10.59 22.00 4.84 37.43 4.61 17.08 40.88
the North-East 5.01 22.66 1.51 29.18 23.07 15.27 32.48
the East 7.16 19.57 12.13 38.86 8.18 17.40 35.56
Transylvania 6.27 9.92 2.91 19.10 5.33 31.14 44.34
average 8.56 20.29 5.73 34.58 5.81 17.23 42.38

Source: Die Agrarfrage in der Österreichisch - Ungarischen Monarchie 1900-1918 (Bukarest, 1965, p. 160) (Calculated by Tibor KOLOSSA)

{3-567.} The pattern of land ownership in the first few decades after 1848 has yet to be fully investigated. It seems, however, that in the mid-1860s, when property relations were regulated, the peasantry paid taxes on more than two thirds of the arable land. More reliable data became available in 1895, when statistics were produced for the most important indicators in agriculture, such as farm size and livestock. These showed that out of Transylvania's total arable land of 5.6 million hectares, over 2.3 million hectares were owned by peasants; in addition, according to the calculations of Ákos Egyed, peasants owned 1.5 million hectares in the form of village or jointly-held property (if all properties of less than 57 hectares, or 100 cadastral acres, are counted as belonging to peasants). Thus a total of 3.9 million hectares were in peasant ownership. Some five thousand medium and large estates (i.e. over 57 hectares), belonging to the state, the churches and private landowners, accounted for the remaining 1.7 million hectares (see table 25).

Two decades later, on the eve of World War I, the picture had altered somewhat, but the basic pattern of ownership was the same. Peasants owned nearly 2.6 million hectares directly, and 4.2 million hectares when village property and land held in commonage are included. In the category of medium and large estates, 855,000 hectares were in direct ownership, and close to 570,000 in joint ownership, for a total area of 1.4 million hectares. These statistics indicate shifts in ownership — the peasants' share of directly-owned land rose from 67.3 percent in 1895 to 74.7 percent in 1914 — but further research is necessary before definite conclusions can be drawn.

The assessment of these changes is complicated mainly because of the considerable expansion of common property, which eventually accounted for one third of the total land area. Transylvania's topography must also be taken into consideration. One third of the land was still forested at this time, and less than 60 percent of the land was well-suited to cultivation. A simple categorization of land ownership by size gives a distorted picture, one that {3-568.} must be clarified by reference to land use. József Venczel's analysis indicates that the peasantry owned 83.4 percent of the land fully suited to agricultural cultivation, 22.8 percent of pasture land, and 12.6 percent of woodlands together with other land not suitable for cultivation. Some 60.2 percent of pasture land was in common ownership, as was 68.1 percent of wooded and barren land. In 1895, some 570,000 cattle, 830,000 sheep and 220,000 pigs were grazed on the common pastures. This evidence indicates that while economic development altered some traditional structures, others were preserved. The elements of continuity were found not only in the survival of large estates and the creation of a few entailed properties, but also in the preservation of the peasantry's property relations — for while, ostensibly, the peasants were free and independent, nearly half of their land was effectively sequestered and could not be treated as private property.

The churches owned sizeable landed property only in the counties of Alsó-Fehér and Kis-Küküllő; large state holdings were situated in the counties of Hunyad, Fogaras, Maros-Torda, and Kolozs, but they were not as extensive as those outside Transylvania, in Krassó-Szörény and Máramaros. Church and state estates were, much as village or communal property, seldom bought and sold, a factor that considerably limited the activity of the real estate market. At the turn of the century, there were limitations on the disposal of over 60 percent of the land in Brassó and Szeben counties, where common property alone accounted for around 58 percent of the land.

The estates of the upper classes represented 32.2 percent of all privately owned land in 1895, and 25.3 percent in 1915. This was somewhat higher than in the Banat, but much lower than in the strip stretching from Szatmár through Bihar to Arad, where such estates encompassed over half of all farmlands. In historical Transylvania, large estates were most prevalent in the counties of Maros-Torda, Torda-Aranyos, Kolozs, Szolnok-Doboka, and to a lesser extent in {3-569.} Háromszék and Hunyad counties, but they consisted mainly of woodlands and pastures. In 1914, 10.7 percent of agricultural land narrowly defined (plough-land, vineyards, and orchards) belonged to large and medium estates, as did 17 percent of the pasture land and 20 percent of woodlands. Although in some regions the peasants felt oppressed by the presence of large estates, the fact is that the landed aristocracy did not even have a commanding share of the woodlands. Larger estates were scarce in most the easternmost districts of Transylvania. In the former borderguard districts, over three-quarters of the land was in peasant ownership, and in the Saxon region, small farms accounted for at least 90 percent of privately-owned land.

In 1910, there were 1.4 million smallholders, including family members. Agrarian society also included farm labourers and hired hands, but they were outnumbered three to one by the landed peasants. The number of people engaged in mining, industry, commerce, and transportation, together with their dependents, was less than half a million, of which one third were independent craftsmen. Sixty years of economic development had brought about a shift in the class structure without altering the predominantly agricultural character of the region.

The lifestyle of the ordinary peasant remained the dominant feature of Transylvanian society. The pattern of land ownership in Transylvania was more balanced than in many other parts of Hungary, and in this respect the region resembled the empire's Bohemian, Slovenian, and Dalmatian provinces. During the fifty years following the abolition of feudalism, Transylvania's agrarian society was marked by property relations that were more favourable to the peasantry, as well as by some archaic forms of property and production, and by a low net return on land. Within this dual structure, the market economy was developing slowly, and the more modern forms of business enterprise still rested on 'narrow foundations.' A self-sufficient and — in comparison with its {3-570.} western counterparts — isolated agrarian society was instrumental in preserving these peculiar conditions. The asymmetries that marked the process of economic development were 'the sources of significant and increasing tensions, both social and political, and all the more since they coincided with the principal cleavages of class and ethnicity.'[16]16. Magyarország története, vol. 7, p. 401.