Along with Gramscian factoryism, the Austro-marxist form of councilism seems to be approaching the zenith of a posthumous ‘marxist’ glory. Until recently, apart from the surviving veterans of the old Social-Democracy, few remembered or spoke of Austro-marxism and its ambitious project to form a ‘two-and-a-half’ International in opposition to the Comintern. But during the past few years a whole plethora of historians have set about instructing us on this subject, which is presented as an attempt to strike a balance between reformist opportunism and Bolshevik ‘extremism’, the latter representing a wholly Russian, and thus Asiatic, deformation of marxism.
Naturally, these professional historians have all the facts at their fingertips, and are moreover able to see them, they claim, in the clear light of ‘objectivity’. But for revolutionaries, who lay no false claims to ‘objectivity’, Austro-marxism can only be seen from the viewpoint of a militant involvement in the class struggle. From this point of view Austro-marxism is revealed as a particularly malignant form of reformism, and as a capitulation in the face of the tasks of revolutionaries. This is clearly illustrated by the careers of the various leaders of Austro-marxism like Victor, Max and Fritz Adler, Renner, Hilferding and Bauer who all developed the thesis, in different fields, of the adaptation of radical socialism to the complex conditions in multi-racial, multi-religious, age-old Austria. And it is no accident that they were among the first to elaborate the thesis of a gradual and peaceful passage to socialism, through ways and means adapted to the particular national conditions in Austria.
In fact, the annals of history reveal Austro-marxism as a movement which, from the time of the great struggles in 1918, never deviated from the path of the counterrevolution. No amount of university theses can eradicate the infamous achievement of Austro-marxism; and this was, with the help of the Catholic church, to have suppressed the revolutionary movement of the Austrian proletariat, the vital link between the Russian Revolution and the German Spartacist movement. We are convinced that without the restoration of order in Austria, it would have been much more difficult for the bourgeoisie to crush the Hungarian soviets in the summer of 1919. Our disgust can only increase when we remember that Austro-marxism, the same movement which led the proletariat onto the imperialist battleground in World War 1, justified its counter-revolutionary actions in 1919 by claiming to have saved the proletariat from the unspeakable calamities which would have resulted from the ‘civil war’.
What a magnificent parallel we could draw between Gramsci dissuading workers in Turin and Milan from seizing political power and Bauer warning the masses that any ‘excesses’ might threaten the honorable peace and the republic, In Italy, it was the mystification of ‘workers control’ which allowed the Giolotti government to contain the wave of factory occupations in September 1920. In Austria, during negotiations for the peace of Brest-Litovsk, when workers were taking to the streets in Vienna and Linz, the leaders of Austrian Social-Democracy were discussing with government representatives the possibility of a return to legality in exchange for a few small concessions. Austro-marxism and its Italian counterpart have another characteristic in common; they were both terribly afraid that “impatience might lead to premature actions and the futile loss of working class blood”. They both insisted that the fall of the bourgeoisie would occur through a kind of capillary action which would not require the intervention of a general strike, let alone that of that antiquated blanquist conception, the insurrection. Thus from both sides of the Adige came the watchwords ‘slowly but surely’.
Austrian Social Democracy claimed that it was acting in the interests of international solidarity. And, after the holocaust, it bestowed on itself the undeserved honour of having correctly applied the principles of internationalism. But this is just another legend which doesn’t stand up to a serious examination of the facts, and collapses like a house of cards when one realizes how the workers’ movement organized itself in the old Empire. In Austria, one saw the disastrous triumph of separatism and federalism, which are so antithetical to proletarian solidarity. A centralized party was certainly what was hoped for...as long as national autonomy was respected within it. Far from being based on the common interests of all workers, the ‘Gesantpartei’ looked like a Harlequin’s coat of different little national parties. One stressed its ‘Germanness’, another it’s ‘Italianness’, another it’s ‘Ruthenianness’. In the Reichsrat, it was common practice for a group of Czech socialist deputies to vote against whatever the German comrades voted for. The less the party was concerned with forging the proletariat into a compact army fighting for its class interests, the more it fixated the workers’ attention on the ‘fact’ of nationality, and the quicker it began to fall apart. From the 1890’s onwards the separatist crisis broke the unity of the workers. The unions were reorganized to satisfy the separatist tendencies, so that by the end of the century, Austrian trade unionism was fragmented into as many federations as there were national groups.
A jurist by profession, and a political advocate of cultural and territorial autonomy, Renner’s conception of the state was entirely within a bourgeois framework. His idea of a socialist Austria of the future was one where all the nationalities within the Empire had their own governments, and their own form of administration, determined by specific national conditions. As a model he used the mediaeval Carolingien Empire which ruled over ten different nationalities, each with its own language and its own legal code. According to his conception the class struggle should have the function of regulating inter-community relations; social relations for him were relations of ‘Right’; society an association of individuals. On this basis, the struggle for the realization of Right necessitated that each group of workers -- Slovaks, Italians, Germans, Hungarians -- should have the freedom to create their own cultural, trade union and other organizations. From this analysis of Austria, Renner thus put forward what ought to be the mode of operation of the 11nd International, and the political principle of nationality within a future socialist community.
As for Bauer, his thesis of nationalities is hardly any better. He links the victory of socialism to the eternal principle of nationality. Under socialism, the nation, whether large or small, is able to build its own national economy on the basis of the global division of labour. Thus socialism is created in the image of existing capitalist structures: the International Telegraphic Union or the railway system. For Renner and Bauer, inheritors of the liberal thesis of the state as an abstract category existing above class relationships, capitalism remains a sealed book: for them the state is not a creation of the exploiting class with the function of protecting national industry and markets. Their state does not exist to cultivate a taste within the oppressed class for the political panaceas of trade protectionism, indirect taxes and blood; it does not serve as an instrument of imperialist conquest. It simply pursues the ideals of Justice and Right.
Within the International, neither Pannekoek nor Strasser, the leader of the Austrian left, was able to stomach such poison. They intransigently denounced the Austrian school. Strasser’s pamphlet The Worker and the Nation warned against the penetration of nationalist ideology within the proletarian movement. It advocated revolutionary defeatism in the event of a war between two countries and concluded that socialism could no longer have any concurrence of interests with nationalism. This pamphlet was sold out within two weeks of its publication in May 1912. Beginning from the same marxist vision, Strasser and Pannekoek were to arrive at identical conclusions: contrary to what Bauer claimed, there could be no common national destiny and culture between the proletariat, crushed by the weight of capitalist domination, and the bourgeoisie. There could only be an intransigent struggle between the two. This would lead to a unity based on the common interests of humanity as a whole.
Thanks to Count Sturgkh, who had just put Parliament into recess, the Austrian Social Democratic deputies did not even have to vote for war credits. But the Centre saluted its German ‘brothers’ in an article in the Arbeiter Zeitung of 5 August, 1914, entitled ‘The Day of the German Nation’, which was a veritable hymn to nationalism.
All the leading figures in the party -- from the right-wing Renner to the left-wing Bauer -- were traditionally pan-German, often to the point of lyricism: “Patience! The day will come when all German territory is forged into a single nation”. The ‘majority’ gave their seal of approval to the ultimatum sent by Germany to Serbia, and did not hesitate to join the chorus of interventionists calling on the workers to turn their faces towards the blast of war. Thus our militant materialists pray to the god of Mars to give victory to the “Holy cause of the German people, a united people impelled by a single powerful will. The failure of the German people to accomplish their mission would be a setback for world history”.
“0, bands of Smerdiakovs,” exclaimed Trotsky, who could no longer swallow the filthy air of Austrian Social Democracy. Was there any real opposition to the political line pursued by these villains? Yes, if one is prepared to include the ‘Karl Marx Circle’ which was formed within the party alongside ‘the youngsters’ (Hilferding, Bauer, M Adler), and which condemned the ‘majority’ for having violated the undertakings of the Basle International Congress; yes, if one thinks that the proletariat can be awakened from its torpor by an ‘exemplary’ act of individual terrorism. No, if one considers that one can never build revolutionary politics on the basis of a terrorist act; no, if one thinks that the only possible task of a revolutionary opposition is the formation of a fraction. This is why the shot with which F Alder killed Count Sturgkh could bring no salvation.
Certainly, it would be an exaggeration to claim that Austro-Marxism went to the same lengths as Noskeism. All the same, with the liquidation of the monarchy on 12 November 1918, it had every opportunity to fulfill its promises. A modest achievement: Renner, who during the conflict defended the idea of a ‘single, Great German Central Europe’ had his hour of glory with his nomination as Chancellor of the coalition government of the very first Austrian republic. Victor Adler, the uncontested historical authority of the ‘Gesamtpartei’ was appointed Secretary of State for foreign affairs. Seitz was elected Vice President of the Reichsrat, not to mention the innumerable sinecures distributed to party officers.
Those who were considered the pillars of marxism, the distinguished representatives of ‘culture’, the ‘Schongeist’ (great minds) no longer met each evening in the bar of the celebrated politico-literary ‘Cafe Central’ to philosophize on everything from Kant to Marx. Their new haunt was the baroque palace in the Ballhausplaez, where they occupied armchairs still warm from their previous occupants, ex-premiers Aherental and Beck. They prepared for the union of Germany and Austria, but never achieved their peaceful ‘Anshluss’ – an objective only realized, violently, by Nazism a few years later. The only difference was that the Nazis did it in a centralist manner, whereas the Austro-marxist project was a federalist one.
It is Trotsky, who lived in Austria for seven years after the defeat of the 1905 revolution, who has given us the best picture of Austrian Social Democracy: its scarcely concealed methods of collaboration with the monarchist state, its members’ way of life in the capital, the classic example of ‘municipal socialism’:
“I listened with the keenest interest, one might almost say with respect, to their discourse in the Cafe Central. But soon doubts came to me. These people were not revolutionaries. This was abundantly clear ... one could almost smell the philistinism in them”.
All these brilliant advocates of ‘possibilism’, these honorable citizens, who took an active part in the legislature of the Reichsrat, had ‘accomplished’ much. Not for the world would they allow their hands to be tied by ‘abstract principles’. From the viewpoint of ‘realpolitik’ the leader of the first St. Petersburg Soviet appeared to them as the kind of ‘declasse’ element, motivated by a ‘Don Quixote-like attachment to principles’. Two visions of the world confronted one another, and this was well understood by the Viennese workers. Let us once again quote Trotsky: “At the same time I found, without any difficulty, a common language with the Social Democratic workers whom I met at meetings or on 1st of May demonstrations”. Each year at these demonstrations, the leadership pleaded fervently with the workers not to turn the demonstration into a riot, or let it ‘degenerate’ into street battles as happened in 1890, when workers demanded the release of V. Adler, then in prison for ‘high treason’.
The Vienna, where Trotsky and Bukharin lived, was nearing the end of the long reign of Ferdinand, an epoch of stability and economic growth. The Viennese bourgeoisie was personified by ‘Biedermayer’, an incarnation of the good bourgeois, whose good humour was never ruffled, eternally satisfied with the good progress of his business. Our Austro-marxists were also ‘Biedermayers’, intoxicated not by the music of the waltz, but by the hou-ha celebrating the rising electoral strength of the party. Thus the party itself increasingly took on the bureaucratic, militaristic and absolutist characteristics of the dual monarchy. And since the party had abandoned the theory of the catastrophic collapse of capitalism, it was left to the expressionists, Trakl, Krans and Musil, to foresee the imminent catastrophes which would befall the madhouse which Austria had become, and the end of Austrian civilization in a sea of blood.
Just as in Bismarck’s Germany, the reputation of Austrian Social Democracy was enhanced by a period of illegality, from 1885-91, when it was declared illegal under the ‘exceptional’ laws of the Taafe government. During this testing time socialist publications were confiscated, socialist militants arrested, and the party involved in interminable legal battles. It came out of this period with its head high, determined to unify the whole of the workers’ movement behind the indispensable struggle for universal suffrage. The left, following the example of the left in Belgium, advocated the use of the general strike, but continuously came up against the tactical subtlety which maintained that “while it is advantageous to mislead the adversary about the strength of our forces, woe betide the party if it misleads itself about the strength of its own forces”. Such an argument could only lead to the paralysis of the living forces of the proletariat, by forever putting off ‘until tomorrow’ the struggle which was in fact already on the agenda. And the solution of the left proved to be the correct one, since universal suffrage was only achieved by the general strike of 28 November, 1905. But not only by the general strike: the Russian Revolution was also an extremely important factor. The two movements, the general strike in Petrograd for the eight hour day, and the general strike in Vienna for universal suffrage, complemented each other organically, since they both expressed the needs of the class.
From the moment when power was divided between the monarchy and parliament, the party threw itself headfirst into the constitutional breach. The possibility of concessions created a favourable climate for the growth of reformism and opportunism, which finally triumphed at the Brno Congress of September 1899. This congress declared itself in favour of the peaceful transformation of the state, and the gradual elimination of classes: the spirit of Lassalle hovered over the Congress. Basically it was a question of ‘applying pressure’, with the aim of curbing Austrian imperialism and replacing the monarchic regime and its rule by decree with complete parliamentary democracy.
In electoral terms, the Social Democratic Party was to prove the most powerful in Austria. In the elections of 1911, the last before the collapse of the Empire, the Social Democrats made tremendous gains and obtained 25 per cent of the vote. In Vienna they carried twenty out of thirty-three seats. This was the crowning achievement of the party’s ‘vulgar-democratic’ orientation, which itself could only lead the party further along the same road. It became clear that the party had become typically ‘ministerialist’ during the political crisis of 1906, even though it allowed itself the luxury of refusing to enter the Beck cabinet. In principle it was prepared to accept any alliance between its elected representatives and the leaders of the capitalist class. When the International, meeting at its Amsterdam Congress of 1906, raised the question of the ‘Millerand experience’ (Millerand was a socialist who had entered the Waldek-Rosseau government of ‘republican defence’ in Belgium), the Austrian delegation spoke in support of socialist participation in bourgeois governments. V. Alder, in good company with Jaures and Vanderville, proposed an amendment supporting the fundamental validity of ‘ministerialism’.
One need only look at the evidence provided by almost half a century of work in parliament and the municipalities by Austrian Social. Democracy to see that in the end, it helped to make the proletariat more susceptible to bourgeois propaganda when the war-clouds began to gather overhead.
The general strike of 18 January
The monarchy ruled over 51 million subjects of which 40 million made up the population of the Empire, divided into a dozen nationalities in a territory covering almost 700,000 sq km. As the European nations prepared for war, Austria was inevitably drawn into the conflict. A small group of Serbian nationalists, by the assassination of the Hapsburg heir, sparked off a chain of events with unimaginable consequences: world war and world revolution. For several years Austria had been waiting for the chance to neutralize the Serbian forces, and the outrage at Sarajevo provided the opportunity. With the support of its powerful ally, Germany, which had given Austria a free hand in the Balkans, Austria seized the opportunity to break what Count Czernin called “the encirclement of the monarchy by the new Balkan League, inspired and controlled by the Russians”.
On 14 July, William 11 wrote to Franz Joseph:
“I am thus prepared to support as much as I can the effort of your government to prevent the formation, under the patronage of Russia, of a new Balkan alliance aimed against you, and to provoke Bulgaria into joining the Triple Alliance to parry this threat”.
Until then Austria had emerged victorious from every war in its history, but this time the wind had turned. It was defeated at Sadowa by Prussian soldiers armed with breech-loading rifles. Instead of reinforcing the Serbian border in next to no time, as the Austrians had foreseen, they found themselves having to repel Russian forces from Galicia, and it was a year before Germany was able to come to their aid. By the time Italy came on the scene, the Austrian army was close to defeat. Hungary, seeing that defeat was near, attempted to secede from the dual monarchy to avoid having to pay the tributes arising from the disaster, and also to regain its independence. All this was very different from what the Austrians had expected! Austria was forced to cede immense territories: Bohemia-Moravia, Silesia, Galicia, Bukovinia, Hungary, Bosnia-Herzegovinia, Croatia, Dalmatia, Carniole, Istria, Tyrol and Southern Carinthia. All that was left was German Austria, reduced in size to 120,000 sq.km., populated by a mere 12 million souls, making Vienna ‘a monstrous hydracephalus, a huge head on a shrunken body’.
For several months after the military debacle, conditions of life became daily more intolerable. People suffered terribly from hunger and cold. What proletariat could accept this aftermath of war, now that there was the example of Russia to follow? When at the beginning of January 1918, Hofer, the Minister of Food, decided to reduce the already inadequate bread ration by half, there was an immediate response from the class in Vienna. Under the impetus of the Workers’ Councils, the action spread throughout High Austria, Styria, and as far as Hungary. This was a unique opportunity to bring an end to the war, and a real possibility to come to the aid of the beleaguered Russian Revolution.
And so, our learned Austro-marxists, who understood things so much better than everyone else, these false friends of the Russian proletariat who just two months earlier had declared the necessity of supporting the Bolsheviks, issued .the following declaration in their publication the Arbeiter Zeitung of 17 January, 1918:
“In the interests of the population, we earnestly ask all workers in service industries, miners, railway, tramway and other transport workers, gas and electricity workers not to stop work (...) To avoid unneccessary casualties, we demand that workers stay calm and avoid any street confrontations”.
It is because they rapidly understood “that the outcome of negotiations will not be determined at Brest, but in the streets of Vienna and Berlin”, that the Social Democracy placed itself at the head of the movement, to crush, undercover of defending it, the ‘sacred cause’ of the workers. They set out to bring an end to the strike which had become general in less than four days. Social Democratic representatives addressed the Workers’ Assemblies with a programme of demands already approved by the President of the Council, von Seider, and Count Czernin. All the workers obtained were some fine-sounding promises bearing the hallmark of social democratic craftmanship: apparently radical, in fact hollow and empty.
Instinctively the workers sensed that they had been sold out by their leaders and at the last moment refused to go back to work. To definitively put an end to the last pockets of resistance, the Social Democratic leadership made use of their shop stewards to expel the ‘irreducibles’ from the assemblies. And for good measure they threatened uncooperative workers with police repression. These ‘irresponsible extremists’ branded as heretics, were the elements who were soon to found the Communist Party. At the end of the strike they issued a proclamation: ‘Betrayed and Sold Out!’
“The magnificent struggle for an immediate general peace, begun by the proletariat of lower Austria, and joined by the working class in other parts of the kingdom and in Hungary itself, has been betrayed by the leadership of the party which has shamefully sold out to the government of the capitalist state, and by a so-called ‘Workers’ Council’. Instead of pushing the movement forward, following the example of our Russian brothers, instead of the formation of a real Workers’ Council to assume all power, these leeches have begun negotiations with the government. Down with the discipline of the corpse! Enough of empty talk of responsibility and unity! Each one of us must carry within him the consciousness of proletarian solidarity”. (From Programme Communiste no. 31)
The revolt in the army
During the strike movement the prefect of Vienna noted that at first the authorities were outflanked, without any effective means of intervening in the situation, adding that he needed ten thousand men at his disposal. Colonel Klose, the Minister of War, in his military report dated 28 January, emphasized that the workers were all well armed and had access to the arsenal. But even without this testimony Bauer destroyed his own thesis that the fate of an attempted general strike would be ‘isolation and repression’.
“The general strike had even more serious consequences for the army. The rebellious mood of the troops was manifested in a series of mutinies which followed the January strike. The Slovak troops at Judenburg, the Serbians at Funfkirchen, Czechs at Runburg, and the Hungarians at Budapest, all mutinied”. (see the Special Issue of Critique Communiste)
Where were the Czech, Croation and Slovak troops of old, which had been placed at the disposal of the Windisgratz to crush the democratic revolution in Vienna in 1848? Who was isolated, if not the state which was denied the support of the bayonets of the standing army? Along a front which stretched from the Adriatic to the Polish plains, and ran the length of the formidable barrier of the Alps, the Austrian army had shown no signs of an ‘admirable heroism’. Since the mobilization the moral of the recruits, whom the General Staff had forced to take an oath of bravery, had not been high. In this respect the Austrian army was comparable to the Italian army. In the mud and the snow, the Austrian soldiers had only one desire: the speediest possible end to the butchery. The Austrian soldier deserted or joined the Russians; or he refused, like the ‘Good Soldier Schweik’, to expose himself to danger from whichever side it came.
The Command could find hardly any reliable regular troops with which to oppose the strikers. This was confirmed almost at once by the sailors’ mutiny at Cattaro which was only halted by the intervention of German submarines. Immediately after the outbreak of the January strike, the crew of the Austrian fleet, anchored at Cattaro, began a rebellion which lasted until 6 February. The sailors raised the red flag, formed their own councils, and joined the workers at the arsenal on strike. An anarchist, J. Czerny, who in the future ‘Chrysanthemum Revolution’ in Hungary would serve heroically in the ‘Lenin Guard’ battalion, placed himself at the head of the movement, pressing his comrades forward in the class struggle.
In a word, ‘demoralization’ rendered the army unfit for its imperialist tasks; the insubordination of entire regiments fulfilled the old prediction of the ‘general’, grown grey in the service of the class struggle:
“At this point, the army becomes a popular army; the machine refuses to work: militarism perishes in the dialectic of its own development”. (Engels, Anti Duhring)
Similar movements attained greater proportions in Germany, and above all in Russia, where the Bolshevik Party was able to forge direct links between the Workers’ Councils and the Soldiers' and Sailors’ Soviets. The sailors, because service on board demanded qualities of ingenuity and discipline -- a war ship is a veritable floating factory -- resolutely placed themselves at the head of the movement. Austria, wedged between Imperial Germany and Czarist Russia, had never become a real naval power. Austrian cannon fodder was essentially made up of peasants, a class which by its very nature is disinclined to accept any discipline, even revolutionary discipline. The General Staff showed no mercy towards those who were involved in the rebellion. Szernin, who enjoyed an extremely cordial relationship with the Social Democratic leadership, enforced cruel reprisals against the mutineers who had rebelled against the absurd military discipline and insane conduct of the war. Even after dozens of mutineers had been hung or shot on Szernin’s orders he always continued to receive more support from the Austrian socialists than any previous Austrian statesman. “You and I, how well we get on together”, the Count liked to say to old Adler, who could only reply with the hope that his Excellency would remain true to himself, and not stray away from a policy which had won him the approval of the socialist leadership.
Things went from bad to worse. From 20 December 1917 it became clear to the ruling class that it would, very soon, have to entrust the destiny of the state to a new force more firmly based than the existing government. The choice was not difficult and without hesitation the bourgeoisie turned to Social Democracy, which had administered its party ‘patrimony’ so well during the peace. To an emperor who had ruled for sixty-eight years, Count Czernin telegraphed, with particular foresight: “If we continue to follow the present course, we will undoubtedly soon experience circumstances similar in every respect to those seen in Russia”.
The mandarins of Austrian Social Democracy -- legislators, burgomeisters, or managers of co-operatives -- were finally integrated into the ranks of finance capital. When it became quite clear that the economic demands of the strikers, provoked by the threat of starvation, were assuming an increasingly political character, they infiltrated the proletarian struggle in order to break its ‘e1an’ and divert it away from the struggle for power.
As Trotsky had already discerned, these representatives certainly had nothing in common with revolutionaries, Austrian Social Democracy was in fact representative of “The highly developed Occident, composed of scoundrels who, by remaining passive spectators, will let the Russians bleed to death”. (Rosa Luxemburg)
The struggle against the Communist Party
It was particularly difficult to constitute a Communist Party to accomplish the new tasks which confronted the radical elements who found themselves in a lamentable state of unpreparedness. Even after several years of massacre, there was still no pole around which opposition to the Social Democratic policy of the ‘Union Sacree’ could crystallize. The left could hardly have been more disunited or dispersed.
Koritschoner had struggled vainly against the sabotage of the 18 January strike; now he moved heaven and earth to join together in a single organization all those who took a minority position during the war. His task was made easier by the discussions with Lenin and Radek at Kienthal. He found a favourable terrain among certain elements of the Association of Socialist Students; a group of the semi-anarchist tendency; the revolutionary syndicalists; the extreme left of the Jewish socialist group, ‘Poale Zion’, and of course his own group of ‘Linksradicale’, including J. Strasser, which like the others had ceased to work with Social Democracy after the 1918 general strike.
The personality of F. Adler was, in many ways, the greatest obstacle to the constitution of this new revolutionary formation. It was he who, after the attempted assassination of Count Sturgkh in October 1916, became the symbol of hostility to the war and opposition to the chauvinist position of his party for the whole working class. His courageous attitude during the trial which condemned him to death reinforced his martyr’s image. However, contrary to all expectations, on his release from prison at the beginning of November 1918, instead of serving as a revolutionary herald for the masses, he placed himself at the disposal of the Socialist Party which had described his act as one of a madman. His heroic image thus served to divert the working class from the struggle for power. He was able to unify all the Workers’ Councils into the Zentralratte, an instrument for the hard and difficult struggle against ... ‘communist’ adventurism within the Councils.
There was considerable Social Democratic propaganda against the split which had a profound influence on the workers; it kindled working class opposition to the Communists by appealing to the workers’ worst prejudices. The Communists’ slogan “For a Republic of Workers’ Councils” was denounced as “frantic agitation flying in the face of political and social reality”.
Who were these “fanatics” whose true intention it was claimed was to lead the country into chaos? In Vienna, the Communist Party was supported by the workers in the districts and by the soldiers and demobilized troops organized in armed militia, installed in barracks in the Mariahilferstrasse. In Linz, the Soviet of Soldiers and Workers Deputies was influenced by communist militants. In Salzburg the CP received strong support from the workers and the poor peasants in the highlands.
The old monarchists army was disbanded, the soldiers leaving the barracks and returning home. On their return from Russia the prisoners of war, demobilized troops, were completely won over to the Bolsheviks and they came home bringing with them leaflets, papers and pamphlets. To be sure, the repeated calls to workers, peasants and soldiers of all the belligerent countries had found a profound echo in Austria-Hungary; and more particularly in the ‘Manifesto of the Central Executive Committee and People’s Commissars to the Workers of Austria-Hungary’ of 3 November, 1918. Even Bauer had to admit that in the streets all the talk was of the ‘Dictatorship of the Proletariat’ and ‘Soviet Power’.
Early in November 1918 the Communist Party of German Austria was formed, against the background of the first mass demonstrations, in which the most important element was formed by ‘self-demobilized’ soldiers and repatriated prisoners of war. In the opinion of the energetic militants of the Linksradicale (grouped around Koritschoner) the proclamation of the party was premature, since the whole organization of the party still had to be set up -- from the local sections to the central organs. But they finally joined at the opening of the First Congress on 19 February, 1919.
The Left, which was to lead the Austrian CP until Bolshevikization did its devastating work by installing two mediocrities (Fiala and Koplenig), had very little time to forge a solid and cohesive organization. The Party immediately seized the opportunity presented by the official proclamation of the Republic to call upon proletarians and demoblized soldiers to demonstrate in front of the old Parliament under the slogan ‘For the Socialist Republic’ inscribed on an ocean of banners. A detachment of the Red Guard responded immediately by occupying the Neue Freie Presse and succeeded in printing a two-page edition which proclaimed that the proletarian revolution would soon wipe out he bourgeois Republic.
Within the young Communist organization there was a serious overestimation of the revolutionary possibilities of the situation which, moreover, was compounded by a lack of a common viewpoint. Certain militants, like those of the Linksradicale, even disapproved of the occupation of the newspaper offices. Facilitated by this disunity, a bloody tide of repression engulfed the Party. Almost from the moment of its constitution, the Party was forced to retreat into semi-clandestinity. Militants were hunted down, local sections disbanded, publications banned. The Social Democrats ratified the methods of the police: in Graz , an important Styrian industrial centre, the Social Democrat Resel, military commander of the area, directed a reign of terror against the Communists.
During the first months of 1919, the appalling situation in Austria made revolution the order of the day. In Hungary on the night of 21 March, Bela Kun and his comrades were released from prison by a crowd of demonstrators: workers occupied the nerve centres of Budapest, the Workers’ Councils proclaimed the Red Dictatorship. In Bavaria the Republic of Soviets was established on 7 April. The Party in Austria judged that the time was ripe and, 50,000 members strong, fixed the day of the insurrection for 15 June, to coincide with the date set by the Armistice Commission for the reduction of military forces.
Suspecting the weakness of the Communists the Social Democratic Party quickly embarked on a policy of sabotage. On 13 June F. Adler warned workers to be on their guard against a possible Communist putsch. Bauer put pressure on members of the Inter Allied Commission not to empty the barracks by disbanding the militia at such an inopportune time. As a result, influenced by the propaganda of ex-hero Adler, the Vienna Workers’ Council declared itself against the insurrection, taking refuge in the arms of democracy -- by which it was soon to be crushed.
Having no solid foundation on a strong wave of class struggle (unlike the Bolshevik insurrection), with insufficient influence within the Councils, and having failed to make use of the critical moment of weakness in the enemy ranks, the insurrection was quickly defeated. The Red Guard, waiting in vain for the signal to attack, failed to coordinate with the other insurrectionary forces. The last minute refusal of party delegates to endorse the insurrection and their delays cost the lives of thirty demonstrators, when troops opened fire on the orders of the Interior Minister, the Social Democrat E.Eldersch. The tragic example of Austria shows us how not to make an insurrection, since in Vienna it took the justifiably feared form of a ‘putsch’.
The theory of defensive violence
In theory, M. Adler and O. Bauer were prepared to conceive of the dictatorship of the proletariat exercised by a system of workers’ and soldiers’ councils. But on one condition: that it didn’t happen in Austria, but in Austria’s more ‘backward’ neighbours. When the dictatorship of the proletariat was proclaimed in Russia, after the violent overthrow of ‘oriental despotism’, or when the same thing occurred in Hungary or Czechoslavakia, that was alright. But for the Austrian workers who had built up, over several generations, a tight network of municipalities, nurseries, sporting clubs and co-operatives, then “Get thee behind me Satan!” :
“We Social Democrats concede to the Communists that in many countries where the bourgeoisie opposes the proletariat with force, the rule of the bourgeoisie can only be destroyed with force. We concede that even in Austria, exceptional circumstances and above all a war, might force the proletariat to use violent means. But if there are no extraordinary circumstances to disturb the peaceful development of the country, the working class will soon come to power by the legal means of democracy: and will be able to exercise its power in a democratic and legal manner”.
This passage, spoken by Bauer in 1924, and revealing a rare wisdom, was just fine words, empty of any real content. When in 1933, the time came to demonstrate in practice the worth of this famous theory of defensive violence, the party led by Bauer refused to fight.
Further ‘left’ within the party, M. Adler took up an identical position:
“For its part the National Assembly should be the organization which decides all political and cultural questions which arise after the economic reorganization; the indispensable instrument of the transitional period, preserving the dictatorship of the proletariat from terrorism, and ensuring a continuous and peaceful development far removed from the storms of the civil war”. (Democracy and Workers’ Councils, Vienna 1919).
Having smashed the old state apparatus, the Paris Commune abolished the bourgeois distinction between the legislature and the executive. Against this lesson of history, Adler wished to express his confidence in parliamentarism, this “talking shop where it is periodically decided which member of the ruling class shall crush the people” (Lenin). What an idea that the Councils should combine legislature and executive! Montesquieu would turn in his grave!
Before World War 1, Austrian Social Democracy justified its ‘defencist’ position by saying that the gains won within capitalism, from the abolition of customs duties to ‘workers’ dispensaries and municipal bakeries, had to be defended, whatever the cost in human lives (!) To this argument, after the war, another was added: that of the ‘balance of forces’.
This argument was based on the basically correct idea that Austria was in a situation of economic dependence and would never be able to satisfy its needs without the support of the victorious powers. Everything depended on their good will. The civil war, by upsetting this ‘balance of forces’ would immediately provoke the intervention of the Entente and this would bring an end to the process of ‘gradual socialization’ which, little by little, was transforming the social relations of production.
As always in such a case, the seizure of political power by the proletariat is reduced to a putschist act of the blanquist variety to be prevented at any price: one shouldn’t run before one can walk. Only if the ruling class attempts to resist being expropriated should the proletariat intervene with ‘defensive violence’.
What then did Austro-marxism undertsand by ‘defensive violence’? To protect the constitution of the Republic against any attack from wherever it came: This is why it was so careful that the reconstituted army should have sufficient arms and material at its disposal. In 1923 this doctrine was put into practice by the formation of the Schutzbund to back up the federal army which was numerically very weak. Thus the Austrian proletariat became the protector of democracy, a democracy which was becoming more and more of a facade.
Socialization or the ‘slow march towards socialism’
Once the January general strike had been crushed, Social Democracy could devote itself to a problem particularly close to its heart: the pursuit of ‘Socialization’, a process begun during the period of the organic development of Austrian capital.
In March 1919, Otto Bauer found himself promoted to head of the ‘Socialization Commission’, alongside Social-Christian economic experts, where he was able to display his enormous talents for administration. Socialists and Social-Christians addressed themselves to the problems of the socialization of the coal and iron mines and heavy industry. The old trusts and cartels created during the war were to be converted into an “Industrial Union” run on the principles of co-management.
O. Bauer was never tired of repeating that they had to do the impossible by reducing costs of production, while developing the methods of rationalization in force in the more advanced countries.
“In this way the Industrial Union will considerably reduce initial expenditure and permit cheap production .... If a Union succeeds in significantly reducing the costs of production, the owners’ profit will increase and this increase in profit will accrue to the state.” (The March to Socialism,Vienna 1919)
But the indispensable condition for the success of ‘peoples’ capitalism’ lay in leading the ‘Arbeitratte’ back into the Social Democratic fold. As organizations of struggle the councils had collapsed under the carefully disguised attack of the democratic constitution, and above all, as a result of the fall of the Hungarian Republic of Soviets, at the hands of the French army of d’Espery. They were transformed into mere instruments of co-management for fixing wage rates and stimulating production.
On 15 May 1919 the Workers’ Councils were legalized, as Factory Councils, whose task was to arbitrate conflicts arising in the workplace, to ensure a smooth recovery for Austrian capitalism after the trials of war.
When he was at university O. Bauer had made a great impression on Kautsky, having reminded him on no less a person than Marx: “This is how I picture the young Marx”. But Kautsky was confusing Marx with Lassalle, who himself flirted with Bismarck. Another optical illusion produced by the tinted glasses of opportunism!
The ‘wise men’ of Austro-marxism, leaders of the best organized Social Democratic party in the world congratulated themselves on having led the Austrian proletariat away from the ‘nightmare’ of civil war, and on having brought about a “truly constructive peace destined to last”. In the middle of the revolutionary crisis, to appease the hunger and anger of the masses, they threw them the bone of ‘Sozialpartnerschaft’, or in other words, co-management. In Vienna, the socialists had raised the tactic of neutralizing the proletariat to the level of an art.
Herzen, the great precursor of the Russian revolution, once said of Bakunin that the latter was too inclined to mistake the third month of pregnancy for its final stage. Our “batko” was a rather rustic countryman who had certainly never heard of social obstretics and wielded the social scalpel rather dangerously, as in Lyons in 1871. But our sophisticated doctors of Austro-marxism did worse: having refused to deliver the child, they provided a substitute of their own .... Austro-fascism.
The final act of the Austrian civil war which had begun in 1918 was enacted in the years leading up to 1933. This model Republic, carried to the baptismal font by the leading officials of the ‘peaceful road to socialism’, showed no mercy. Progressively, the legal police were invested with an authority which had formerly been reserved for the priest.
As in Italy, in one final effort, the Austrian proletariat took up arms, not to protect its institutions, but to sell its life as dearly as possible. Hundreds of working class militants sacrificed their blood, in isolated groups, with no central direction, despite the incompetence of the military leaders of the Schutzbund, and above all against the formal orders of the Zentrale who advocated, to the end, confidence in democracy. But despite this, many members of the Socialist Party continued the armed struggle. And it was this that allowed the Social Democratic party as such to appear as a martyr in the cause of anti-fascism.
After the heroic uprising of February 1934, the rhythmic march of the civil guards of the Heimwehren was heard in the streets of Vienna and Linz; workers’ quarters were searched and plundered. The debonair citizen Biedermayer, enraged by the crisis, could now be seen giving chase to Jews and workers. Monseigneur Prince von Stahrenberg and the most devout Monseigneur Seipel installed the Republican mortar-launchers to bombard the last of the strikers. In factories everywhere, ‘Red’ workers were replaced by ‘patriotic’ employees. Democracy was an empty word in a state which defined itself as “totalitarian but not despotic”.
Austro-marxism cried feebly for help, and proposed a pact for united action with the Communists against the fascists. But it was Austrro-marxism, and none other, which had prepared the ground for fascism. Had not the eternal principle of support for the ‘lesser evil’ led the party to attempt an alliance with Dolfuss against Nazism? In 1934, Dolfuss showed his ingratitude by declaring the same party illegal.
Before disappearing, Bauer had time for one more final betrayal. This enemy of all violence gave his support to the sinister theory of ‘socialism in one country’. He exhorted workers of the whole world to follow the example of Stalinism. He called for the ‘workers’ parties in the democratic countries to join in the ‘Union Sacree’ with their governments. “Whoever takes up a position against the USSR during the war is siding with the counter-revolution, and becomes our mortal enemy”.
When the Red Army ‘liberated’ Vienna in April 1945, the aged Renner was given the task of forming the provisional government by the Russians. Stalin praised this “Chancellor of the Operetta”. Renner is certainly one of the rare politicians who, twice in his life, has been called upon to set up a state apparatus at a crucial moment for his own bourgeoisie.
Today, the task of administering the medicine of austerity to the Austrian proletariat has fallen to a man called Kreisky, who is proud to think that he is continuing the work of Austro-marxism. We do not doubt it for a moment....
“We reply to all nationalist slogans and arguments as follows: exploitation, surplus value, class struggle. When they talk about demands for a national education, we will point out miserable education given to the children of workers, who only learn what is needed for them to work for capital later on. When they talk about the costs of administration we will talk about the poverty which forces workers to emigrate. When they talk about the unity of the nation, we will talk about class exploitation and oppression. When they talk about the glory of the nation, we will talk about the solidarity of the workers of the whole world.” (Pannekoek, The Nation and Class Struggle)