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Narratives of Social Conflict in the Merstallinger Trial, 1883

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 March 2022

Philip Pajakowski*
Department of History, Saint Anselm College, Goffstown, New Hampshire, USA
Corresponding Author: Philip Pajakowski, Email:


The robbery of Viennese shoe manufacturer Josef Merstallinger on 4 July 1882 led to a political trial of social radicals the following year. When Merstallinger's assailants were arrested, they admitted to the crime and professed to have carried it out to raise funds for the radical socialist movement. In response, the police arrested dozens of radical activists and eventually charged twenty-nine people with crimes including high treason. The authorities, including the chief of the Vienna police and state's attorney, characterized the robbery as part of an international anarchist conspiracy that threatened violent revolution against the basis of Austrian and European civilization. The trial was thus intended to cripple the radical organization and demonstrate the dangers socialist politics posed to the public. A counternarrative for the defendants stressed the relative harmlessness of the radical movement, general harmony of Austrian social relations, and rights of the accused to free speech and to protection from arbitrary treatment by the police. A public jury trial suggested the greater persuasiveness of the latter narrative, as the jury acquitted the defendants of all charges except those directly related to the robbery.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Center for Austrian Studies, University of Minnesota

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Research for this article was funded by a Jeanne D. Smith Research Incentive Fund Grant from the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College. The author thanks Hugh Dubrulle, Charles Grau, and the members of the German Studies Association Law and Legal Cultures reading group for comments on a previous version of this manuscript.


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15 ASW, A11, 474, Teil I, 16.

16 Vienna, Archiv der Republik, Allgemeines Verwaltungsarchiv, Minsterium des Innern (hereafter AV), Präsidiale 22/4378, K. 823, 27 Aug. 1882; NFP, 26 Aug. 1882, nо. 6465.

17 AV, Präsidiale 22/4378, K. 823, 27 Aug. 1882.

18 ASW, A11, 474, Teil II, 31/C.

20 NFP, 26 Aug. 1882, nо. 6465.

21 Neues Wiener Tagblatt (hereafter NWT), 26 Aug. 1882, nо. 234.

22 Konstitutionelle Vorstadt–Zeitung (hereafter KVZ), 26 Aug. 1882, nо. 235.

23 Das Vaterland, 27 Aug. 1882, nо. 236.

24 Fremdenblatt, 25 Aug. 1882, nо. 234; 26 Aug. 1882, nо. 235.

25 NFP, 3 Sept. 1882, nо. 6473.

26 NWT, 27 Aug. 1882, nо. 235; 31 Aug. 1882, nо. 239.

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30 Springer, Geschichte Oesterreichs, 511.

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34 Staudacher, Sozialrevolutionäare und Anarchisten, 17–18; NFP, 8 Nov. 1882, 6539.

35 Grandner, “Conservative Social Politics,” 87–105.

36 On the Vienna high treason trial of 1870, see Herbert Steiner, “Der Wiener Hochverratsprozess 1870,” in Stadler, ed., Sozialistenprozesse, 17–22; Cornwall, Typology of Traitors, 25–30.

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38 Joh. Most, “Taktik” contra “Freiheit”: Ein Wort zum Angriff und zur Abwehr (London, n.d.), 5–8.

39 Ibid., 12–13.

40 Ibid., 28.

41 Ibid., 30.

42 Ibid., 33.

43 Ibid., 20, 34; Freiheit 4, no. 6, 11 Feb. 1882.

44 Most, “Taktik, 55; Freiheit 4, no. 17, 29 Apr. 1882.

45 Freiheit 4, no. 17, 29 Apr. 1882; Most, “Taktik, 38–39.

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49 Peukert, Erinnerungen, 84; Staudacher, Sozialrevolutionäre und Anarchisten, 45–70; Brügel, Geschichte, 29–33.

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52 AV, Ministerium des Innern, Präsidiale, K. 824, 22/5028, 24 Sept. 1882.

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54 Stenographische Protokolle der Sitzungen des Hauses der Abgeordneten des österreichischen Reichsrathes (SPA), Session 7, 18 Feb. 1873, 339; on Glaser's views on juries, Pajakowski, “Free Conviction,” 28–32.

55 Hautmann, “Kampf,” 258–59; S. Mayer, Enstehungsgeschichte der österreichischen Strafprocessordnung von 23. Mai 1873 und der damit zusammenhängende Gesetze (Vienna, 1876), 317–18.

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57 Müller, Hochverraths–Prozess 10–11, 24; Allgemeines Reichs–Gesetz und Regierungs Blatt, 36, 2 June 1852, 507–9.

58 Müller, Hochverraths–Prozess, 14–17, 24.

59 Ibid., 137–38, 141–48.

60 Ibid., 233–35.

61 NWT, 11 Mar. 1883, nо. 68; 22 Mar. 1883, nо. 79.

62 KVZ, 8 Mar. 1883, nо. 65; 9 Mar. 1883, nо. 66.

63 Müller, Hochverraths–Prozess, 46–47, 70, 84, 98.

64 Ibid., 54, 159–60, 177–78.

65 Ibid., 57, 75, 151–52, 173–74.

66 Ibid., 96–98.

67 Ibid., 91, 101, 116–17, 119, 128–29, 192, 215, 219; for the relevant passages of the code of criminal procedure, see Die Strafprocessordnung für die im Reichsrathe vertretenen Königreiche und Länder der österreichisch–ungarischen Monarchie vom 23. Mai 1873 mit Commentar von Julius Mitterbacher (Vienna, 1882), 284–300.

68 Müller, Hochverraths–Prozess, 164–68.

69 On public identity as a factor in trial verdicts, see Burns, Theory of the Trial, 174–77.

70 Müller, Hochverraths–Prozess, 150, 205–7, 220–21.

71 Ibid., 161.

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73 Müller, Hochverrats–Prozess, 90; NFP, 22 Mar. 1883, Morgenblatt, nо. 6669.

74 NFP, 22 Mar. 1883, nо. 6669.

75 KVZ, 22 Mar. 1883, nо. 79.

76 Fremdenblatt, 22 Mar. 1883, nо. 76.

77 Vaterland, 23 Mar. 1883, nо. 80.

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84 Hautmann, “Kampf,” 264–70.

85 Morelon, “Social Conflict,” 656–69. Trials regarding national issues also indicated public faith in the ability of the courts to adjudicate political disputes, see Kelly, T. Mills, “Traitors Everywhere: Political Trials in the Late Habsburg Monarchy,” Nationalities Papers 27, no. 2 (1999): 177–78, 185–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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