The Hungarian, Romanian, and Saxon Bourgeoisie

The emergence of the Hungarian bourgeoisie is a well-explored subject, but Transylvania, with its national diversity, offers a distinctive case-study. The region's growing middle class included Saxon notables, Hungarian nobles and intellectuals, Romanian merchants, church officials, as well as Armenian and Jewish traders and entrepreneurs. They were the driving force of Transylvania's modernization and economic integration, as well as of economic development within their diverse and often mutually antagonistic ethnic communities.

{3-606.} Intellectual leaders of all three principal ethnic groups considered that a strong middle class was vital for their national survival. The Saxons could adapt most readily to modernization, for they had the most mature, quasi-urban social structure. The Romanian intelligentsia had been promoting the development of a Romanian middle class ever since the Reform Era, and with the abolition of villeinage, this class came to acquire landed property. After the revolution, Hungarians continued to nurture the ideas that had been propounded by the liberal noble reformers. Zsigmond Kemény hoped that the landowning nobility, which had been the political champion of a new civil order, would merge with other enlightened social forces, join the middle class by virtue of its economic activity, and serve to promote the country's modernization. He wrote, 'Hungary will find that the foundations of its might lie in a strong bourgeois order.'[35]35. Quoted in S. Galamb, 'Kemény Zsigmond történeti és publicisztikai eszméi,' Huszadik Század (1914), p. 749.

The picture depicting the life of the Hungarian bourgeoisie, well-known from literature and historiography, can only be varied by few Transylvanian characteristics. A strong bourgeois consciousness was already in evidence during the Reform Era. It was articulated for the most part by intellectuals of noble origin, who rather prematurely claimed to represent the political interests of a middle class that scarcely existed in the economic realm. There is some symbolic significance in the name adopted in 1857 by Kolozsvár's most reputable newspaper, Magyar Polgár (Hungarian Bourgeois). The early bourgeoisie, which was already represented in parliament, had become almost fossilized by the time businessmen from central Hungary joined local entrepreneurs to initiate a major transformation of economy and society.

The industrial bourgeoisie emerged in much the same fashion as in the rest of the country, although perhaps the food industry and food trade played a lesser role in the accumulation of capital. The case of Péter Rajka, noted earlier, is illustrative. The former craftsman's apprentice became a jack-of-all-trades but had neither the knowledge nor the money to launch a business. Wholly absorbed in {3-607.} technology, he lived among his excellent inventions and simple machines until the Dietrich Company, a successful commercial enterprise, took over his workshop and turned it into a momentarily thriving business.

Few noble landowners became entrepreneurs. One of them was Elek Sigmond, who owned a factory at Kolozsvár, and became known as 'Transylvania's leading industrialist.' A former civil servant, Sigmond began to amass his fortune during the Reform Era, trading in goods between Transylvania and the capital. His estate and home were wrecked during the War of Independence, and he was virtually bankrupt when he moved to Kolozsvár. There, in 1851, he established Transylvania's first large distillery; it was followed by a steam mill, a brewery, a bakery, and his enterprises contributed to one another's development. He built an oil refinery in Romania and prospected for oil in Máramaros. His mills and distilleries fattened large numbers of cattle and hogs for the markets of Vienna and Budapest. By the time Sigmond retired, in 1875, his well-educated sons were ready to follow in his footsteps. One of them, an engineer, drew aristocrats into a project to build warehouses at Kolozsvár. Wherever prospect existed for industrial development, the family acquired mines or shares, notably in the coal districts of Egeres and the Zsil Valley, and in the iron district of Hunyad County. Family members were to be found in all economic institutions, such as the chambers of industry and commerce. The second generation served not only in an entrepreneurial capacity, as managers, presidents of institutions, and board members; it also produced members of parliament and authors of technical treatises who helped to fashion economic policy in legislative committees and industrial commissions. A contemporary chronicler claimed fulsomely that 'the House of Sigmond introduced the aristocrats to democratic work.'[36]36. M. Gelléri, A magyar ipar úttörői, (Budapest, 1887), p. 17. Another noble family prominently involved in industrial enterprises was that of Sándor Lántszky; they owned the mine at Szentkeresztbánya and were also active in politics.

{3-608.} The aristocracy's role in industrial development was noted in the account of industrialization, but further research is needed to determine what share of their income was generated by these activities. What is clear is that enterprising aristocrats did not become part of the bourgeoisie. Some marriages crossed the boundaries of class, and there had been signs, in the Reform Era and later, that the two classes might merge. If such a tendency did exist, it was reversed, for the walls of isolation seemed to be rising again.

The local Jewish bourgeoisie, small in number, emerged from the ranks of shopkeepers, distillers and timber merchants. Their rise came at a time when Transylvania's industry was in a transitional state. Mendel Farkas, for instance, was a distiller before moving into the timber business; he began by floating logs to market, then built a sawmill that became the foundation of the furniture industry in Marosvásárhely. Jeremiás Baruch also started out as a distiller, then, in the 1880s, branched out into oil refining. During World War I, his business at Marosvásárhely was converted into a joint-stock company, and the family adopted a more Hungarian-sounding name, Felsőványi. Some Jewish professionals also went into business, men such as Zsigmond Gámán, Henrik Finály (who around 1900 also served as an official at the chamber of commerce), and Mózes Farkas, a one-time lawyer who went to work for the Renner tannery at Kolozsvár and was responsible for its rapid growth after 1913. József Szterényi, a rabbi's son from Lengyeltóti, first worked for the industrial association of Brassó, then became a politician, a state secretary for commerce, a cabinet minister, and a baron. Jews who leased agricultural estates also fall in this general category, for they adopted a bourgeois mentality and lifestyle. Their numbers increased after 1900; the estates were located mainly in the central region and in the Hungarian districts just beyond Transylvania's northwestern boundary. It has been estimated that in 1893, Jewish leaseholders had 152 estates in historical Transylvania, totalling 68,400 hectares (or slightly more than the total area of farmland in {3-609.} Máramaros County); by 1903, the number of estates had risen to 259, encompassing over 114,000 hectares.

Social barriers could be transcended, but the social phenomena of exclusion and self-isolation did not disappear. The Jews had always been excluded from Saxon society, and the incidence of assimilation with the Romanians declined in the 1880s. Their main option was to assimilate in certain strata of Hungarian society. The strict theocratic discipline of Jewish families gradually weakened, but Yiddish continued to be spoken, and Hebrew as well as Zionist papers were published in Kolozsvár. Nevertheless, by the early 1900s, two thirds of the Jews in Transylvania spoke Hungarian as their mother tongue. Many of them found their way into public life, and they devoted a large share of their resources to education and culture; in 1912–13, close to 13 percent of the students at the University of Kolozsvár were of the Jewish faith.

The Armenian middle class had made an early choice for Magyarization. In 1851, nearly 8,000 people counted as Armenians, but by 1910 the Statistical Office acknowledged them only as a nationality that had been absorbed into the Hungarian nation. In the absolutist period, they still played a prominent role in Transylvania's economic life, especially as horse or cattle-dealers, and they also excelled at crafting traditional leather goods such as morocco or cordovan. They gradually lost their preeminence in these ancient trades; many prosperous Armenians moved to Hungary proper, where they became landowners or went into politics; thus Béla Lukács, who was born in the goldmining district of the Érc Mountains, became a cabinet minister, and László Lukács, prime minister. In Transylvania, Armenian traditions continued to be nurtured by patrician landowners, priests, entrepreneurial leaseholders, as well as itinerant vendors who put up their tents at fairs. In Szamosújvár, nicknamed the 'Armenian–Hungarian metropolis,' old customs were still practised at the turn of the century: People wore masks at carnival time, a bridegroom would throw coins to {3-610.} well-wishers outside the church, and some Armenian recipes gained wide popularity. However, the Armenian language fell into disuse, and, by the 1880s, the local newspaper, Arménia, was publishing in Hungarian. Some wealthy merchant families — Ázbej, Gámenczy, Merza — stayed closer to the Armenian community; without denying their origins, others, such as the Korbuly, Gorove, Gajzágó, and Jakabffy families, assimilated into the Hungarian professional and intellectual class, as did the ennobled Lászlóffi and Bogdánffi families.

The group designated in official statistics as 'public servants and professionals' was located on the social scale between the upper bourgeoisie and a broad layer of craftsmen and shopkeepers. By 1910, this stratum consisted of 87,000 people (including dependants); 59 percent of them were Hungarian, and 26 percent Romanian (see table 27). Their number had grown in consequence of the expansion of civil administration and of the social division of labour. In the category of technical staff, three quarters of the mining engineers and two thirds of the engineers in heavy industry were Hungarian. Such patterns owed much to ethnic origins and family links. Administrators in state and county offices (as in MÁV, the Hungarian State Railways) bore historic names or issued from bourgeois families; even the few Romanian civil servants established virtual family dynasties. The rural nobleman who acceded to office brought his feudal prejudices along with his experience; he exploited opportunities for arbitrary behaviour (more in county than in urban administration) and, in the words of a contemporary, gained the dubious reputation of a robber baron, a 'Faţia Negra.' This stratum of officialdom kept the doors of the civil service shut to ambitious Romanians. Conscious of the social tensions induced by these tactics, people such as Gusztáv Beksics and Benedek Jancsó devised plans around the turn of the century to offer land to Hungarian civil servants so that they would make room for members of other nationalities.


Table 27: National distribution of the population according to the main division of activities in 1910

Main occupational groups Hungarian Rumanian German Other native language Total population
1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people % 1000 people %
I. Primari production 512 55,8 1245 84,6 134 57,3 30 55,6 1921 71,7
II/A Mining and metallurgy 20 2,2 23 1,6 2 0,9 5 9,2 50 1,9
II/B Industry 172 18,8 89 6,0 52 22,2 15 27,8 328 12,3
II/C Trade and credit 35 3,8 10 0,7 14 60, x x 59 2,2
II/D Transport 39 4,2 10 0,7 3 1,2 x x 52 1,9
II/A+B+C+D 266 20,9 132 90, 71 30,3 20 37,0 489 18,3
III. Civil and ecclesiastical service 52 5,7 23 1,6 12 5,1 x x 87 3,2
IV. Armed forces 11 1,2 9 0,6 4 1,7 x x 24 0,9
V. Day-labourer 17 1,9 26 1,8 2 0,9 4 7,4 49 1,8
VI. Domestic servant 26 2,8 19 1,3 2 0,9 x x 47 1,8
VII. Other, unknown occupation 34 3,6 18 1,1 9 3,8 x x 61 2,3
Total 918 100,0 1472 100,0 234 100,0 54 100,0 2678 100,0
Wage-earner 397 43,2 654 44,4 103 44,0 26 48,0 1180 44,1
Dependent 521 56,8 818 55,6 131 56,0 28 52,0 1498 55,9

Note: x means data under 1000 people or 0.1%.

Source: M. Stat. Közlemények. Új sorozat Vol. 56.

{3-612.} The 34,000-strong intellectual class (the narrowly-defined intelligentsia) was two thirds Hungarian. Their small number was belied by their cultural and political significance. Imre Mikó considered that the intellectuals' firm stand during the absolutist period was one of the principal guarantees of national survival: 'They are the pride of the nation; they stand guard through the long night, calling those who are awake to the task, and those who sleep, to rise. With their brains and their labours, they light the path for others. They are the fiery beacons throughout the land, like that of Israel in the desert, and the meek multitude follows their lead.'[37]37. Mikó, Op. cit., p. 12.

After the Compromise, Hungarian intellectuals retained their liberal and quasi-democratic convictions; they criticized the conservative aspects of the system and aspired to be the driving force of modernization. Intellectuals played a key role in the creation of a university at Kolozsvár in 1872; by the turn of the century, the city had more educational establishments, relative to population, than any other in the country. It did lack a technical university, and local patriots were sorely disappointed when Temesvár was chosen as the location of the second such institution in the country. Even so, Kolozsvár's fifty-two educational establishments were attended by thousands of students, and in 1908 every fourth inhabitant was a student, teacher, or professor. The university, endowed with modern buildings and clinics, may not have matched the high standards of its sister institution in Budapest, but it employed and launched their careers scholars of international repute. A 200,000-volume collection gave it the second largest public library in the country. Thanks to the Transylvanian Museum Association, its university and renowned schools, its press and its rich theatre life, Kolozsvár became one of Hungary's centres for the dissemination of European culture.

Although, by the end of the period, the intelligentsia had become politically fragmented, its members remained bound together by lifestyle and family relationships, as well as by joint {3-613.} activity in various social associations. Even Freemasonry served as a link; at the turn of the century, in the Unió masonic lodge at Kolozsvár, the Calvinist bishop, the professor of ethnography and zoology, the mayor, the theatre director, the school inspector, and the publicist engaged in fraternal debate; and these were people who already belonged to, or would soon join the country's intellectual elite.

The Romanian bourgeoisie developed in a very different way. Of the three nations, it was they who had the loosest links with towns; only towards the end of the century did they begin to turn into an urban class. (The proportion of Romanians in Saxon towns registered a slow increase; by the end of the period, they accounted for a third of Brassó's population and a quarter of Nagyszeben's. The greatest urban concentration of Romanians was found in Vizakna and Naszód.) As opposed to other ethnic group in the region, it was the peasantry that constituted the base of the Romanian middle class since the life of Romanians mostly followed the pattern adopted by the peasantry.

At the beginning of the period, the emerging Romanian middle class consisted of their church leaders and a few hundred well-educated priests, of teachers, a few rich merchants, and a few politically active intellectuals who issued from the large gentry class. Much had been expected of the Romanian merchant bourgeoisie of Brassó, but it began to decline in the 1850s and soon disappeared. After 1849, Romanian leaders were much concerned about the shortage of financially independent, well-educated people; during, and even after the absolutist period, they were unable to field enough candidates for official posts. In 1860, Bariţ estimated that only six hundred people were qualified for political or administrative work. Of the 1848 generation, most of those who stayed in Transylvania initially worked in the civil service, but in the Bach period only three hundred state employees came from their ranks. Thus a few leaders had to look after everything: politics, newspapers, {3-614.} business, paper mills, casinos, language teaching, and cultural associations. In the meantime, the intelligentsia increased in number. Many of them felt that the 1867 Compromise and union jeopardized the national development of Romanians; but their opposition was so fierce that it prevented them from making the best of the dualist system. Over the years, a fair number emigrated to Romania and found work in schools and other cultural spheres, where they were noted for their Latin and Hungarian erudition.

Under the stimulus of a developing agriculture, Romanian banks multiplied throughout Transylvania in the last third of the century. 'National real estate' generated a financial bourgeoisie, and it was around the latter that the growing middle class would cluster. In earlier times, the middle class had been nurtured by institutions inherited from feudalism — the church, denominational schools, merchants' associations. The emergence of a banking elite was a highly important aspect of the Romanians' social and political development. Almost all of their political leaders owned an interest in one of the smaller or larger banking institutions (including the oldest, Albina, founded in 1871, as well as the Victoria and Ardeleana banks). Bariţ participated only in the launching of banks, but P. Cosma, I. Mihu, and later, Aurel Vlad and I. Maniu, became bank directors; the poet-politician Goga 'married into' the biggest bank, the Albina at Nagyszeben, which had extensive interests in Romania as well. The ASTRA cultural association was consolidated with the banks' assistance; it was instrumental in providing schooling for thousands of children and, together with the Gozsdu Foundation, which had a capital of six million crowns, in fostering intellectual life among Romanians. Taking advantage of the liberal ethos, as well as of the decline of noblemen's medium-sized estates and small peasant farms, the banks waged a purposeful, national-economic struggle to generate a Romanian middle class — although this occurred partly at the expense of the poorer Romanian peasants. At the turn of the century, some five hundred families linked {3-615.} to the Romanian banks, together with lawyers who used their professional revenues to acquire estates, represented an embryonic bourgeoisie, known at the time as the middle class, or the intelligentsia.

By 1914, the expanding Romanian middle class (including those in Hungary proper) encompassed some twenty thousand families, including over a thousand medium landowners, the bank officials noted above, seven thousand clergymen and teachers, a thousand public officials, a few hundred lawyers, physicians, journalists, and a few thousand craftsmen and merchants. The majority was of peasant stock, which made them sensitive to social problems. Middle class spokesmen maintained that while the Romanian nation was the embodiment of pure democracy, priorities had to be set and activists had to be organized; for this, it was commonly argued, 'we need a strong class of middle landowners.' Although the frequently-voiced slogans in defence of the peasantry carried some conviction, the Romanian bourgeoisie did not espouse the cause of popular democracy.

The Romanian bourgeoisie lived in ethnic isolation; the prevailing ideology of nationalism militated against inter-ethnic rapprochement, as did various political animosities, religious differences, and the overweening conceit of the nobility. Romanian intellectuals had difficulty with fitting into Hungarian society. At the end of the century, an unbiased observer complained: 'What place should we, without rank or illustrious ancestors, have in a society where even a minor country squire or an insurance clerk must be addressed as "honourable"?'[38]38. G. Moldován, Magyarok, románok: A nemzetiségi ügy kritikája (Kolozsvár, 1894), p. 69.

Excluded largely from government jobs and even from county administration, Romanian intellectuals had little choice but to find a living in the 'free professions,' or in their national churches, schools, and other institutions; only 25 percent of them held appointments over which the state had direct or indirect authority. Their social life revolved around their own clubs, casinos, and, {3-616.} later, sports associations. In the most fashionable cafés, there was a separate 'Romanian table,' where they could discuss politics over a cup of coffee, and where by the end of the period they would be joined by the odd educated peasant. At their concerts, all kinds of compositions were performed, with the exception of Hungarian ones. There was a tendency towards extreme isolation: 'If someone exposes his mentality to corruption by engaging in daily discourse with our overt or latent enemies, he may serve as a district administrator, but not as a teacher in a Romanian school.'[39]39. 'Isolare desăvîrşită,' Tribuna, 14 January 1912. Pressures from within and without alienated this class from the official structures; their interests were not tied to the 'unity of the Hungarian state.' They were drawn to the state only by tradition, by the heritage of loyalty to the dynasty, and by the awareness of their own weakness. The generation of 1900 acknowledged the Habsburg monarchy as a reality and aspired to effect fundamental or moderate reforms of that system. There is also indication — mainly retrospective — that some nurtured the hope of creating a pan-Romanian state, although this became a concrete political project only with the advent of war.

The Saxon bourgeoisie evolved organically from the proto-bourgeoisie of the feudal period. In the first phase of transformation following the civil war, the old patrician class benefited from the Bach administration's policy of Germanization, which aimed to instil in them the sense of being a Germanic 'eastern outpost.' The Lutheran clergy was generously compensated for the loss of tithes; an observer noted that 'no other class is as well subsidized in Hungary as the Saxon clergy.'[40]40. B. Orbán, A Székelyföld leírása történelmi, régészeti, természetrajzi és népismereti szempontból VI (Budapest, 1873), p. 27. In the highly-developed ecclesiastical and educational systems, the teaching staff and the clergy were closely linked; the latter commonly was educated at German universities, and it contributed to the modernization of the peasantry's productive work. The patricians, a closed class that could be regarded as a 'self-made aristocracy,' were wholly in control of local administration and common property.

{3-617.} The relatively smooth development of a market economy helped craftsmen in Saxon towns to adjust gradually to change. As noted, the craftsmen in the textile sector had formed cooperative ventures adapted to the new market, and Saxon crafts took on the outlines of a modern industry. They consolidated their position by responding to market demands and applying European standards in the southeastern region of the monarchy, by applying modern techniques, and by adapting their products to the needs of peasants at home and abroad. To be sure, Saxon industrial entrepreneurs often voiced complaints, for they faced tough competition from Austrian industry and the emerging industry in Wallachia. A decline in the number of master craftsmen began in the 1860s, and some craftsmen chose to move to villages. By the beginning of the century, twenty traditional crafts had ceased to be practised in Brassó, and in Nagyszeben, the number of craftsmen had fallen to a third of the level in the Reform Era. Nagydisznód's 'popular textile industry,' which had employed hundreds of families, slumped in the mid-1870s; its recovery at the turn of the century was due in part to the formation of cooperative associations, an illustrative case of peasants rising to middle-class status.

The Saxon entrepreneurs who came from the ranks of guild craftsmen followed various paths. A former craftsman's apprentice in Brassó, Friedrich Czell, began by making a fortune in the wine trade. In the Reform Era, he began to produce, for export, fine textiles woven on Czech machines. In 1854, he and his brother-in-law, a cooper, established a distillery in Keresztényfalva; he subsequently expanded his business activities to cover many areas, including a refinery, a cattle farm, a match-factory, and in 1874, a coal mine to provide fuel for heating his enterprises. Wilhelm Scherg started off in a guild making shawls. Like Czell, he imported machinery to establish a textile mill, which subsequently became Hungary's second-largest factory. Julius Gmeiner began as an agricultural trader, then became the owner of a flour mill; in {3-618.} 1879, he built an oil refinery that would eventually process twenty tons of Romanian crude per day. A onetime master carpenter, Martin Copony, employed Alsatian machinery and experts to become the leading producer of parquet flooring in Transylvania in 1871. There were many others active in the variegated world of Saxon industry. From the 1870s onwards, they were joined by a new type of entrepreneur whose activities ranged widely over banking, industry, and municipal as well as national politics. An outstanding example is the protean figure of Karl Wolff, who contributed to the creation of village cooperatives, to urban development, to the industrialization of Transylvania, to settlement, and to the facilitation of German investment.

In many respects, tradition was preserved in the Saxon towns. The highly educated clergy collaborated with the dominant patrician class, as did the teachers, who often considered their job to be the stepping-stone to a career in the church. By the end of the century, the patrician class was feeling the pressure from the newly emergent middle class, some three thousand strong, of bankers, lawyers and other professionals. Moreover, Hungarian and Romanian craftsmen — carpenters, cobblers, saddlers — had been moving into the single or two-storey buildings of downtown areas, while the state administration brought an influx of Hungarian civil servants. The number of Hungarians and Romanians grew most rapidly from the 1880s onward, and it continued to rise. On the eve of World War I, most of the biggest taxpayers in Szászváros were Romanian.

The Saxon burghers kept control of their towns and retained German as the official language. The vast property owned by the municipalities brought large revenues — amounting, by the 1880s, to several hundred thousand crowns in the case of Brassó and Nagyszeben — that allowed modernization to proceed with little additional taxation. The Saxon bourgeoisie preserved its position and power thanks to wealth, traditions, industriousness, and some {3-619.} assistance from the state. It resented the dominant nationalistic ideology and attempts at Magyarization, and only at the very end of the period did it seem to come to terms with the dualist system. The closed world of the patricians was characterized by thrift, self-restraint, and a determination to preserve their status; this rather suffocating atmosphere was aptly depicted by the turn-of-the-century novelist Alfred Meschendörfer. Hungarian and Romanian contemporaries admired and envied the Saxons' economic and cultural accomplishments, but they were repelled by a seemingly ascetic way of life, and thus Saxons contributed to the mutual isolation of the ethnic communities.