|Depiction of a Deserter Cadre|
While the armed forces of the Dual Monarchy were beginning to lose in the field in 1918 and working-class unrest was convulsing the major urban and industrial centers, revolt was spreading across vast territories of the countryside. Here "Green Cadres" (sometimes called "Green Guards" or "Green Brigades") had coalesced from groups of army deserters and radicalized local peasants. With strongholds in forested and mountainous areas, they violently resisted their reenlistment for the war effort and mounted armed attacks on civilian and military authorities. Strikingly, rural common people near their spheres of action often saw in these forces their emancipators.
First mentioned by the authorities sometime in 1917 in the crown land of Croatia-Slavonia, the Green Cadres likely became the most fearsome opponents of the empire along its "inner front" in the final months of the First World War. Then, as the old monarchy began to collapse, they took the initiative in offering a new socio-political order in the countryside. Yet to many observers, particularly among the propertied and respectable classes, the order imagined by the Green Cadres looked more like the disorder of the revolutionary mob.
They were present in nearly all areas of Austria-Hungary, but particularly large numbers were found in Croatia-Slavonia, Bosnia, western Slovakia, and Moravia, as well as in Galicia. The Green Cadres had no centralized structure and relied on peasants and banditry for food and shelter. In late October and November 1918, the activities of the Green Cadres became indistinguishable from a wave of violence, arson and looting against former officials, landlords and Jews. These disturbances were particularly severe in Croatia-Slavonia, Galicia and western Slovakia, while in other places where Green Cadres had existed, such as Moravia and Slovenia, these bands seemed to disappear altogether.
Instead of open revolt or revolution, [as one historian] emphasizes "the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so on." In this scheme, desertion is a classic form of peasant resistance. Lacking any obvious political or revolutionary content, the act of escaping from the most coercive of state institutions and hiding in one’s home district amounts to a rejection of the state and its authority. Such "everyday forms of resistance" formed the protean building blocks of the Green Cadres, though in the extraordinary circumstances of the First World War they evolved into an organism more complex and with unusually formidable striking power.
The general conditions that facilitated the formation of Green Cadres are well known. These included the steady erosion of morale in the Austro-Hungarian armed forces; the rise of national liberation movements among the empire’s subject peoples, often with the support of the Western Allies; the return of radicalized prisoners of war from Russian internment who had just witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution and were commonly enthusiastic about it; the dire provisioning situation in the hinterland as well as food and clothing shortages among enlisted men; and the disaffection of formerly loyal rural populations through forced requisitioning and war profiteering.
Though apparently short-lived, this movement reshaped rural culture and politics in (post-) Habsburg central Europe during the "age of catastrophe." It combined old scripts—that is, meaningful roles or patterns of behavior understood to be appropriate to certain situations—of peasant recalcitrance with new scripts of national and social revolution, which emerged in the apocalyptic end phase of the war. In this paper, I also consider the materiality of these newer roles that the Green Cadres assumed and how that amplified their impact. For their legacy stretched not only into the immediate postwar years but also into the period of the Second World War when they were resurrected, usually as forest-based anti-Nazi partisans.
Sources: The Birmingham Centre for Modern & Contemporary History: "The Green Cadres and the Collapse of Austria-Hungary in 1918," Past and Present, 31 May 2017