March 13, 2021



Palme Dutt


Hard on the heels of the victory of Fascism in Germany came the establishment of the Fascist dictatorship of Dollfuss in Austria during 1933-4.

The rising of the Austrian workers in February 1934, against this Fascist dictatorship, opened a new stage in the struggle of the international working class against Fascism, at the same time as it finally completed the German experience in exposing the illusions of “democratic socialism.” The lesson of Austria is even clearer and sharper in many respects than that of Germany.

1. The Significance of the Austrian Experience.

In the first place, Austria revealed a conflict between two rival forces of Fascism, the Heimwehr and the Nazis, openly reflecting the battle for domination of rival imperialist and Fascist Powers over the living body of the Austrian people. There could be no more striking demonstration of the real role of Fascism as the chauvinist predatory policy of particular groupings of finance-capital, belying all the “national,” “popular” and “pacific” pretences. The battle of Fascist Germany and Fascist Italy over the body of  Fascist Austria provides a foretaste of the “majestic peace of World Fascism.” Both these forces were in fact equally united against the working class, but sharply in conflict between themselves for the dominant position. In the initial stage the Clerical-Fascism of Dollfuss, subordinate to Italian Fascism, has conquered; but the further development of events may still bring a change of combinations and the possible ultimate dominance of the Nazis and Pan-German Fascism. In this situation the fatal policy of the working-class organisations under Social Democratic leadership was to endeavour to support one Fascist group against the other, Dollfuss against the Nazis, as the “lesser evil,” and thus to smooth the way at every stage for the advance and victory of Fascism.

Second, the Fascist dictatorship of Dollfuss grew directly out of bourgeois democracy under Dollfuss, even more clearly than the parallel Hindenburg-Hitler process in Germany. Dollfuss was acclaimed throughout Western Europe as the “champion of democracy against Fascism” (i.e., against the German Nazi menace), and on this basis was supported and tolerated by Social Democracy, at the same time as in fact he was carrying through the transition to Fascism. Up to the last, on the very eve of the workers’ rising, Social Democracy was offering to accept and support an emergency dictatorship of Dollfuss, the suspension of the parliamentary regime, and institution of a form of Corporate State, on condition of being permitted to exist under these conditions-the clearest, most conscious expression of the line of Social Fascism. The policy of Social Democracy, of the “lesser evil,” here receives its crushing exposure no less heavily than in Germany.

Third, the Austrian working class was the most highly organised in the capitalist world. In a population of six millions the paying membership of the Social Democratic Party numbered six hundred thousand, and the voting strength one and a half millions, or 70 per cent. of the electorate in Vienna and 40 per cent. of the electorate in the whole country. There was no question of a “split” in organisation. The Communist Party, although playing a role of great significance in the fight (it alone gave the call for the general strike on February 10, which was forced by the workers on the reformist leadership on the 11th), and in the actual launching of the fight (Linz, where the united front of the Communist and Social Democratic workers had been established in defiance of the reformist leadership, and the fight was opened against the express orders of the reformist leadership), was nevertheless extremely weak in 
numbers. The attempt to explain  the  advance  and  victory  of  Fascism  by  the  “split”  in  the  working  class  through  the existence  of  Communism  is  thus exploded  once  and  for all  by the  example  of  Austria.  

Social Democracy boasted of its sole complete control of the working class, and thereby admits its  sole responsibility  for  the  outcome.  “There  was  no  split  in  the  Austrian  Labour  Movement;  the Communists  were  merely  an  insignificant  minority.  The  fact  that  so  powerful  a  party  should have  been  completely  smashed  is  now  naturally  engaging  the  attention  of  Socialists  in  all countries”  (Otto  Bauer  on  “Tactical  Lessons  of  the  Austrian  Catastrophe”).  In  reality,  the Austrian workers were split, and therefore defeated; but the split was within Social Democracy, between  the  workers  and  the  leadership,  and  through  the  action  of  the  leadership.  The  real question of the split in the working class through the existence of a Social Fascist leadership is thus laid bare beyond the possibility of concealment.

Fourth,  Austrian  Social  Democracy  was,  despite  the  smallness  of  the  country,  in  its theoretical  role  and  in  the  high  degree  of  organisation  and  supposed  “practical  results,”  the leading party and the “model party” of international Social Democracy, and in particular of Left Social Democracy. Where German Social Democracy or British Labourism was far more glaring and shameless in its virtual or specific repudiation of Marxism and acceptance of capitalism, the corruption of the Austrian Social Democratic leadership was covered under the subtle sophistries of “Austro-Marxism.” Further, many of the leaders were obviously “sincere” in their democratic- pacifist  betrayal  of  the  struggle;  even  though  by  their  policy they did  everything  to  assist  the strengthening of capitalism and the advance of Fascism, even though by their policy they made the defeat of the struggle certain, though they failed to prepare it, to organise it or to lead it, and did everything to prevent it, nevertheless, when the workers launched it in spite of them, some of them  took  part  and  suffered.  This  is  commonly  accounted  to  the  Austrian  Social  Democratic leadership for virtue and for rebuttal of the charge of “Social Fascism.” On the contrary, just this makes the real role of political treachery of the whole line of Social Democracy far more clear and  unmistakable.  The  question  of  politics  is  not  a  simple  question  of  subjective  “sincerity.” Long ago, at the Second Congress of the Communist International, when Serrati endeavoured to defend the reformist Turati as “sincere,” and argued against the Twenty-one Conditions on the grounds that it was impossible to produce a “sincerometer “ or test of sincerity, Lenin replied: “We have no need of such an instrument as a ‘sincerometer’; what we have is an instrument to test  political  directions.”  And  it  is in  this  sense  that  the  role of  Austrian  Social  Democracy is revealed with unexampled clearness, with a completeness and relative absence of complicating factors unequalled elsewhere, as a role of direct service and assistance to the victory of Fascism.

Fifth, the armed rising of the Austrian workers, both in its strength and in its weaknesses, has marked  out  and  lit  up  the  future  line  of  the  fight  of  the  international  working  class  against Fascism. To the experiences and lessons of this struggle, alike political, strategic and tactical, it will be constantly necessary to recur in every country in the further development of the struggle against Fascism.

The Second International endeavours to draw two lessons from the Austrian events. On the one hand, they endeavour to exploit the fight of the Austrian workers, launched in the face of the express warnings and prohibitions of the Social Democratic leadership, as a vindication of the “honour” of Social Democracy after the German exposure, and a proof that Social Democracy can and does fight. On the other hand, they endeavour simultaneously to prove that the Austrian outcome has shown the policy of armed struggle to be impossible and foredoomed to failure; that against  modern  artillery  nothing  can  avail,  and  that  the  Austrian  rising  was  only  a  “heroic gesture,” nothing more (“No one doubted that the military forces of the Government were much stronger  than  the  power  of  the  workers,  and  that  the  workers  could  not  succeed  in  struggle against the Government” – Bauer).

Thus Social Democracy seeks to prove two opposite conclusions. They wish simultaneously to cover  their real policy of surrender with the stolen glory of the rising which they prohibited, and  in  the  next  breath  to  prove  the  correctness  of  their  policy  of  surrender,  that  struggle  is impossible, and that the victory of Fascism is consequently inevitable.

Both  conclusions  are  false.  The  Austrian  workers  fought,  not  through  the  initiative  and leadership of Social Democracy, but against the express instructions of Social Democracy. The victory of the workers is not impossible. The lesson of Austria shows the exact opposite, how  closely victory was within reach of the workers, had there been leadership and Organisation, had the full forces of the working class been brought into play, had there not been division and chaos at every strategic point of the leadership, and had the struggle been entered on at the right time,  with  clear  political  aims  and  with  the  tactics  of  the  offensive.  Victory  was  only  made impossible  by  the  policy  of  Social  Democracy.   It  can  be,  and  will  be,  achieved  under revolutionary leadership.

2. The Betrayal of the Central-European Revolution.

As in Germany, so in Austria the issue of the workers’ struggle cannot be judged solely on the basis of the final stage of the Fascist coup, of the days of February 1934, but must be seen in relation  to  the  whole  line  of  development  of  1918-1934.  just  as  the  strangling  of  the  1918 revolution in Germany by Social Democracy laid the basis for the ultimate victory of Fascism, so also in Austria.

The victory of the proletarian revolution in Austria was fully in the grasp of the workers in 1918-19, and was only prevented by Social Democracy. This is common ground, and is admitted by the Social Democratic leaders themselves. Otto Bauer describes the situation at the end of the war in his book The Austrian Revolution of 1918:
“There was  deep  ferment in the  barracks of the  people’s army.  The people’s army felt that it was the bearer of the revolution, the vanguard of the proletariat.... The soldiers with arms in hand hoped for a victory of the proletariat.... “Dictatorship of the proletariat!” “All Power to the Soviets!” was all that could be beard in the streets.”
He continues:
“No  bourgeois  government  could  have  coped  with  such  a  task.  It  would  have  been disarmed  by the  distrust  and  contempt  of  the  masses.  It  would  have been  overthrown  in  a week by a street uprising and disarmed by its own soldiers. Only the Social Democrats could have safely handled such an unprecedentedly difficult situation,  because  they  enjoyed  the  confidence  of  the  working  masses....  Only  the  Social Democrats  could  have  stopped  peacefully  the  stormy  demonstrations  by  negotiation  and persuasion. 

Only the Social Democrats could have guided the people’s army and curbed the revolutionary adventures of the working masses.... The profound shake-up of the bourgeois social  order  was  expressed  in  that  a  bourgeois  government,  a  government  without  the participation in it of the Social Democrats, had simply become unthinkable.”
The  role  of  Austrian  Social  Democracy  was  thus  in  fact  exactly  parallel  to  that  of  the German. The power of the workers’ revolution was deliberately destroyed by Social Democracy in  the  name  of  bourgeois  “democracy.”  The  bourgeois  order  was  only saved  by the  Coalition Government from 1918 to 1920 of Austrian Social Democracy and the bourgeois parties, with
Bauer as Foreign Minister and Deutsch as Minister for War. This is the background which lies behind 
the victory of Fascism.*

Austrian  Social  Democracy  argued  at  the  time  in  defence  of  its  policy  that,  although  the proletarian revolution was certainly and easily possible in Austria in 1918-19, it could not hope to  maintain  itself  in  so  small,  dependent  and  isolated  a  state,  in  the  face  of  the  forces  of imperialism. Yet in fact the Soviet Republic was achieved in Hungary and Bavaria; the drive was strong  throughout  Germany  and  Italy.  Had  Soviet  Austria  stood  in  with  Soviet  Hungary  and Bavaria, an unshakable power could have been built up in Central Europe; the whole history of post-war  Europe  would  have  been  different.  Instead,  Austrian  Social  Democracy  abandoned Soviet Hungary to its fate, and then, when the White Terror raged in Hungary, pointed to it to prove the fate from which it claimed to have saved the Austrian workers. To-day the event has proved that the Austrian workers were not saved from White Terror; they were only robbed of the possibility of victory when it was in their grasp.

But  at  the  time  Austrian  Social  Democracy  held  out  before  the  workers,  not  the  real alternative which  events  were to demonstrate, but an imaginary golden  alternative of peaceful advance   to   socialism   through   “democracy.”   Bauer   wrote   in   his   Bolshevism   or   Social Democracy? (1921):
“In a modem highly-civilised society, where all classes take part in public life, no other form of class-rule is any longer durably possible save one which permits the subject classes freedom to influence “public opinion,” participation in the formation of the collective will of the State, and control over its working: a class-rule, therefore, whose basis rests on the social factors  of  influence  of  the  ruling  class,  and  not  on  the  use  of  mechanical  instruments  of force” (p. 116).
Such was the bourgeois-liberal wisdom of “Austro-Marxism,” now mercilessly exposed by the   event,   when   Bauer   and   Deutsch   have   themselves   had   the   opportunity  to   make   the acquaintance at first hand of the “mechanical instruments of force” of the ruling class.

In  this  way,  while  the  Austrian  workers  suffered  and  went  short  under  the  “democratic republic,” the magnificent apartment buildings erected in Vienna for a portion of their numbers became the “symbol” of reformist “achievement,” of the supposed “alternative” to Bolshevism- in reality, of the temporary buying off of the workers’ revolt, while the bourgeoisie was not yet strong   enough   to   defeat   them,   preliminary  to   smashing   them.   The   Second   International Manifesto on the Austrian events declares:
“The  fate  of  the  wonderful  municipal  houses  of  Vienna  is  a  symbol.  The  constructive work  of  the  Socialists  created  them;  the  guns  of  Fascism  have  reduced  them  to  smoking ruins.”

The “symbol” goes very much further than the Second International appears to realise. It was not only the apartment buildings that were struck by the guns; it was the illusions of reformism, of the “alternative” path to Bolshevism.

The Russian journalist, Ilya Ehrenburg,* has related how in 1928 be visited these municipal buildings  in  all  their  glory,  conducted  by  a  proud  representative  of  Social  Democracy.  He admired these buildings, their planning, their construction, their beauty, their Organisation, even though  he  could  not  fail  to  see  alongside  the  playing  fountain  in  the  beautiful  garden  an unemployed worker, weak with hunger. But he asked his guide: “You have indeed constructed wonderful  houses....  But  have  you  not  the  feeling  that  these  houses  are  built  on  the  land  of another? Has not the example of our country taught that the worker must pay with his blood for every foot of ground that he conquers? We had to destroy much-to destroy in order after victory to construct. You have begun, not with the machine-gun, but with the compass and the rule. With what will you end?” His companion smiled and replied: “We shall end with the pacific victory of socialism. Do not forget that at the last elections seventy per cent. of the population of Vienna voted for us. That was in 1928. In February 1934, Ilya Ehrenburg revisited these buildings. He saw the battered walls, the gaping holes, the debris under which people said corpses still lay, the trembling,  cowering  women  and  children,  hunger  and  misery,  and  the  flags  of  the  Heimwehr flying from the towers. He had witnessed the “pacific victory” of socialism.

Out of the conditions of bourgeois democracy, in Austria as everywhere, Fascism was bred. The bourgeoisie, under the protecting aegis of Social Democracy, under cover of the magnificent apartment buildings, built up its strength anew and prepared its armed forces for the struggle.

But Fascism was not born in a night. It took fifteen years for it to grow to full strength. The workers, seeing what was afoot, insisted on the organisation of their Defence Corps. The leaders promised  that  if  democracy  should  once  be  threatened,  they  would  act;  they  developed  their famous  “defensive  theory  of  violence,”  that  violence  should  only  be  used  by  the  workers  in defence of democracy. Meanwhile they took no action. Fascism grew unchallenged.

In 1927 the anger of the workers at the growth of Fascism and open connivance of the State authorities broke all bounds. Following the acquittal of a Fascist who bad murdered a worker, they rose and stormed the lawcourts of Vienna; Vienna was in their hands, if their leaders had been ready to lead. But  their leadership, in control of the municipal administration of Vienna, sided  with  the  bourgeoisie,  with  the  police,  with  the  State  authorities,  and  thus  in  fact  with Fascism, against the workers. The workers’ rising was crushed in blood, with the connivance of Social Democracy.
“Dr. Deutsch, the commander of the Republican Defence Corps, has reminded the world that  at  the  time  of  the  Vienna  disorders  of  1927,  when  an  excited  mob  burned  down  the Palace  of  justice,  not  one  military  weapon  of  the  many  thousands  at  their  command  wits issued  to  the  Republican  Defence  Corps.  There  are  photograph,;  on  record  showing  that Burgermeister Seitz and other Socialist leaders at the risk of their own lives went out into the midst  of  the  angry mob  to  calm  them.  Ninety-five  men  and  women  were  killed  by police bullets on that occasion, and only five police-figures which speak for themselves. Why did not  these  bloodthirsty revolutionaries  seize  their  opportunity,  when  the  Heimwehr  were  in their infancy, the army largely socialist, democracy unchallenged in Europe, and the Clerical Party comparatively weak?... It is that the Austrian Social Democratic Party has established by its whole history the right to the description of democratic and pacific” ( New Statesman and Nation, February 24, 1934).
Thus the  approval  of the bourgeois-liberal  journal. The working class  will take a different view of 192 7, when Austrian Fascism could have been wiped out in its infancy. The cost of this bourgeois-liberal approval for the “democratic” “pacific” Social Democratic leadership has been the sacrifice of the  lives of the best of the  Austrian workers, the suppression of the organised working-class movement and the victory of Fascism.

Meanwhile Austrian Social Democracy held out to the workers the illusory prospect of the defeat of Fascism by “democracy.” After the 1930 elections had returned the Social Democratic. Party  as  the  largest  party,  with  72  representatives,  against  only  8  representatives  for  the Heimwehr, the party leadership triumphantly reported:
“Democracy has  inflicted  a  crushing defeat  on  the  Heimwehr  and  its  promoters....  The Heimwehr  movement,  which  until  recently  believed  itself  to  be  on  the  eve  of  the  final victory, is in a state of  rapid decline.... The purely political problems have ended with the complete victory of the working class.” (Report of the Austrian Social Democratic Party to the Vienna Congress of the Second International,  July 1931.)
Such was the degree of prevision of the Social Democratic leadership, reposing peacefully in the  supposed  security of  paper  ballots,  while  paralysing  the  real  struggle  of  the  workers.  

The illusions of the Italian reformist leadership, after the success of the elections of May 1921, as having  “submerged  the  Fascist  reaction  under  an  avalanche  of  Red  votes,  or  of  the  German reformist leadership after the elections of November 1932, as marking the “final annihilation of Hitler,” were thus exactly paralleled in Austria. In reality Fascism was preparing its final coup, when  the  issue  would  depend,  not  on  paper  ballots,  but  solely  on  the  mass  struggle  and  the organisation of class force.

3. The Fascist Dictatorship and the February Rising.

It was only as the sequel of the whole above chain of development that came the culminating stage  since  March  7,  1933,  when  Dollfuss  finally  threw  aside  the  mask  and  proclaimed  open dictatorship and the suspension of parliament.

Now, if ever, was the time to act even for the “democrats.” Now was the time for the famous “defensive theory of violence” to demonstrate its meaning in practice. But the Social Democratic leadership still found reasons to put off action. Social Democracy was engaged in the policy of the  “toleration”  of  Dollfuss  as  the  “lesser  evil”  against  German  Nazism,  and  was  seeking  to negotiate an agreement with Dollfuss.
“The  Social  Democratic  Party  did  not  reply  with  forcible  resistance.  On  the  contrary, right  down  to  the  last  it  made  every  effort  to  enter  into  negotiations  with  the  Dollfuss Government....  This  peaceful  and  waiting  attitude  of  the  Social  Democratic  Party  only encouraged  the  Dollfuss-Fey  Government  to  adopt  more  and  more  antagonistic  measures against the working class and against the Social Democratic Party.”(“International Information,” bulletin of the Second International, February 18, 1934.)
Why, after all the loudly repeated declarations over many years concerning the action that would be taken “if” democracy were once attacked, was no action taken when on March 7, 1933, Dollfuss carried through his coup d’état and suspended democratic institutions?

Basically,  because  all  these  typical  Social  Democratic  asseverations  of  future  action  “if” democracy is attacked, “if” the bourgeoisie attempt, etc., are inherently and inevitably valueless, and  worse  than  valueless,  when  the  present  policy  is  the  policy  of  class-cooperation.  The present policy determines the future action. It is not possible, even if there were the will (and in fact there was not the will) at a moment’s notice to transform a deeply enroutined machine and large-scale  organisation  of  class-co-operation,  pacifism  and  legalism  within  twenty-four  hours into an organ of class struggle and revolution. Only when the united front of struggle has been effectively established in the preceding period, when the leadership and training and practice and Organisation of struggle and militancy on all issues has been already established, only then can there  be  readiness  when  the  Fascist  coup  strikes.  Otherwise  inevitably,  whatever  the  previous promises and threats and boasts, when the time comes, there will be enormous hesitation, sense of  overwhelming  “difficulties,”  yearnings  for  a  “peaceful”  settlement,  prudent  counsels  to postpone the struggle, to save what can be saved of the Organisation and not hazard all upon a single battle, desperate efforts for some “way out” without a struggle, hopes against hopes that it is not yet the final issue.

This is what happened to Austrian Social Democracy. Bauer writes of March 7, 1933, and the following eleven months:
“What was to be done now? The Social Democrats knew very well that it would be very difficult for a general strike to succeed in a period of unprecedentedly severe and prolonged unemployment. The Social Democrats made every imaginable effort to avert a violent issue. Over  a  period  of  eleven  months  we  tried  again  and  again  to  establish  negotiations  with Dollfuss.... Again and again we offered to agree to extensive constitutional reforms and to thegranting of extraordinary powers to the Government for a period of two  years, all that we asked in return being the most elementary legal freedom of action for the Party and the trade unions....

We over-estimated the possibility of reaching a peaceful settlement.” (Bauer, “Tactical Lessons of the Austrian Catastrophe,” International Information, March 8, 1934.)
Thus  “democracy”  went  by  the  board.  just  as  German  Social  Democracy  supported  the Brüning  emergency dictatorship,  and  sought  to  come  to  terms  with  the  Hitler  dictatorship,  so Austrian Social Democracy was fully prepared to support a Dollfuss emergency dictatorship, in return for a permitted existence of its Organisation under the dictatorship (while the Communist Party was  suppressed).  Such  was  the  humiliation  of  “Austro-Marxism”  humiliation  which  did not even attain its object.

The Social  Democratic  leadership  at  the  party conference  in  October 1933,  had  laid  down four  conditions  in  the  event  of  any  one  of  which  to  launch  the  struggle  against  the  Fascist dictatorship: (1) if a Fascist constitution were proclaimed without consulting parliament; (2) if the Vienna municipal administration were superseded; (3) if the Party were suppressed; (4) if the trade unions were suppressed. In fact this widely advertised strategy of the four conditions never came  into  operation  in  practice  to  launch  the  struggle.  The  Fascist  dictatorship  was  steadily engaged in consolidating its position, in disarming the workers, in arresting the local leaders, in arming its forces, and in sapping the workers’ positions in detail, until at last the workers found themselves compelled to resist if they were not to be already completely wiped out before the four conditions came into operation. Thus the four conditions were not a method to prepare the struggle, but in reality a mechanism to paralyse the struggle.

What was the consequence of this whole line of successive surrender and protracted attempts at negotiation? Did it succeed even in “averting a violent issue”? On the contrary. It only ensured that that violent issue should develop under the conditions most favourable to Fascism and most unfavourable to the proletariat. Fascism was able to strengthen and prepare its forces, while the workers were weakened. Bauer continues, in the statement already quoted:

“But during the eleven months that we were trying to secure a peaceful denouement, the military strength of the Government considerably increased, the Heimwehr was supplied with arms, and on the other hand, large sections of the working class – especially the railwaymen– were discouraged, crushed and robbed of their fighting spirit by the oppressive tactics of the Government.”

He is accordingly compelled to make the significant admission (italics added):

“If  we  had  launched  our  attack  at  an  earlier  stage,  our  action  would  have  been  on  a greater and more universal scale, and the prospects of victory would have been brighter.
Consequently, if we did make a mistake, our mistake consisted in unduly prolonging our efforts for a peaceful settlement and in unduly postponing the decisive struggle. There is no need  for  us  to  feel  ashamed  of  this  mistake!  We  made  it  because  we  wanted  to  spare  the country and the working class the disaster of a bloody civil war.”
Similarly  in  his  pamphlet  “Der  Aufstand  der  Oesterreichischen  Arbeiter,”  published  in English under the title “Austrian Democracy Under Fire,” Bauer writes  of the critical days of March, 1933:
“The masses of the workers were awaiting the signal for battle. The railwaymen were not yet so crushed as they were eleven months later. The Government’s military organisation was far weaker than in February 1934. At that time we might have won. But we shrank dismayed from the battle. We still believed that we should be able to reach a peaceful settlement by negotiation.  Dollfuss  had  promised  to  negotiate  with  us  at  an  early  date  –  by  the  end  of March  or  the  beginning  of  April  –  concerning  a  reform  of  the  Constitution  and  of  the Parliamentary  agenda,  and  we  were  still  fools  enough  to  trust  a  promise  of  Dollfuss.  We postponed the fight, because we wanted to spare the country the disaster of a bloody civilwar.  The  civil  war,  nevertheless,  broke  out  eleven  months  later,  but  under  conditions  that were considerably less favourable to ourselves.  It was a mistake, the  most fatal of all our mistakes.”
Did they “spare the working class a bloody civil war”? No; they only ensured its defeat. He admits that “the prospects of victory would have been brighter,” “we might have won,” if they had only acted in March 1933, just as 1927 would have been more favourable than 1933, and 1918-19  than  1927.  The  “pacific”  policy  did  not  avert  civil  war  in  the  end:  it  only made  the conditions the most unfavourable for the working class and ensured the heaviest defeat in place of victory. “Austro-Marxism” stands condemned out of its own mouth.

The waiting policy meant  that  Fascism  was  step  by step  able  to  prepare  its  positions.  The Defence Corps was declared illegal. The Communist Party was declared illegal. The Heimwehr was  strengthened  and  fully  equipped  with  arms.  Arms  of  the  workers  were  searched  for  and seized  wherever   they   could   be   found.   Local   leaders   were   arrested.   At   strategic   points, particularly among the railwaymen, militants were removed and “patriotic” agents installed. All this, of decisive importance for the future struggle, went forward without resistance. The workers pressed more and more for resistance, but the Social Democratic leadership held them back, thus performing its indispensable service to Fascism. The “First Report” of “a Leader of the Austrian Social Democratic Party,” published in the Second International bulletin on February 18, 1934, declares:
“The embitterment of the working class regarding the Government’s policy continually increased.... The embitterment of the workers was directed more and more against the policy of the Party Executive, which was to wait and be prepared for agreement. Growing numbers of members of the Party demanded with increasing force that the offensive should be taken....For  months  past  it  has  been  increasingly  difficult  for  the  Party  Executive  to  make  the embittered workers understand the necessity for this waiting policy.”
Here is seen the real split in the Austrian working class between the workers (the united front between the Social Democratic and Communist workers was growing in the localities) and the Social Fascist leadership.

When the final struggle at last broke out on February 11, 1934, it broke out in spite of and against  the  orders  of  the  Social  Democratic  leadership.  The  official  “Report”  already  quoted makes this clear:
“During the last week there were growing signs that the Government was preparing for the decisive blow…. These events caused the workers to take the following view:… “In this situation we can no longer allow ourselves to be disorganised by the arrests of Schutzbund leaders and by the confiscation of stores of arms, unless we are to confront a Fascist coup d’état defenceless and unable to fight within a very few days.”
In spite of this the Party Executive still adhered to its line. It considered it to be necessary for the workers to wait for the results of the negotiations between the Federal Chancellor and the  Provincial  Governments  with  regard  to  the  demands  of  the  Heimwehr,  and  that  they should not take the offensive until one of the four cases should arise in which a defensive struggle for the defence of  the Constitutional order would according to the decision of the Party  be  unavoidable.  On  Sunday  (February,  10)  officers  of  the  Party  Executive  gave instructions on these lines to comrades who reported on the agitation among the workers,and urgently warned them against taking the initiative on their own account.  But the agitation among the masses had reached such a pitch that these warnings fromthe Party Executive were not heeded.”

Thus the honour of the Austrian rising rests wholly with the workers, and not with the Social Democratic leadership. The role of the leadership was only to disorganise the struggle at every stage.

The struggle of the Austrian workers was not defeated by the superior forces of the enemy. It was defeated by the disorganising role of the Social Democratic leadership. This was clear in all the events leading up to the struggle. It was no less clear in the actual struggle.

Instead of being able to enter the struggle with the full strength of their organised force on a strategic plan, with the maximum mobilisation of the masses, and with a clear political lead the workers had to enter the struggle by local initiative from below, sporadically, partially, against hampering opposition from above, losing the possibility of the initiative, losing the possibility of the offensive, and thus yielding all the strategic advantage to the enemy.

“Many people believe that the Socialists would have won control in Austria if all sections of the working class had supported them.

In many places the workers were split among themselves and reached decisions too late.

Several  leading  trade  unions  refused  to  give  instructions  to  strike  to  the  factories  they controlled.” (Daily Herald, February 16, 1934.)

The  general  strike  was  first  vetoed,  and,  even  when  the  workers  compelled  the  call  to  be given, after the struggle had already begun, the call never reached the majority of the workers, and  a  great  part  of  the  trade  union  machine  made  no  attempt  to  make  it  effective.  The railwaymen  continued  to  carry  the  Government  troops,  thus  giving  to  them  full  liberty  of movement  and  concentration.  The  struggle  of  the  Defence  Corps  was  fatally cut  off  from  the masses,  instead  of  being  developed  as  a  mass  struggle,  and  even  the  majority of  the  Defence Corps  were never  mobilised  or  brought  into  the  struggle.  There  was  no  political  mass  lead  to positive  aims  of  the  struggle,  but  only  halting  apologetic  explanations  of  “defence  of  the Constitution.” Because the initiative was lost through disorganisation, through the absence of any central leadership beginning and organising the struggle, the possibility of the offensive and of seizing the main public buildings of the centre at the outset was lost; the Government was able to complete  its  cordon  of  the  inner  city  and  artillery  preparations  before  the  struggle  began;  the fight was turned from the first into a defensive fight.

Yet even under all these heaviest disadvantages a position was achieved by the second day in which the Government forces weakened and the issue was in doubt:

“On  the  Government  side  the  troops  are  reported  to  be  exhausted  and  disheartened. According  to  the  Vienna  correspondent  of  the  Berliner  Tageblatt,  sections  of  the  Fifth Infantry  Regiment  have  deserted  to  the  Socialists.  Deprived  of  a  bully’s  “walkover,”  the Fascist  Heimwehr  showed  they had  little  stomach  for a  real  fight.  Many have  flung down their arms, and the rest may be withdrawn to barracks” (Daily Herald, February 14, 1934).

Bauer himself is compelled to admit that, despite all the Government’s artillery, the victory could have been won by the working class, had the struggle been developed as a mass struggle:

“After  four  days’  fighting  the  workers  of  Vienna  were  defeated.  Was  this,  result inevitable? Could they conceivably have won?  After the  experience of  those four days we can say, that if the railways had stopped running, if the general strike had spread throughout the country, if the Schutzbund had carried with it the great mass of the workers throughoutthe country, the Government could hardly have succeeded in suppressing the rising.”(Otto Bauer: Austrian Democracy Under Fire, p. 34.)

The closer  the  analysis  of  the  tactical  conditions  and  Organisation  of  the  struggle,  no  less than of the conditions leading up to the struggle, the clearer stands out the conclusion that the Austrian  rising,  the  greatest  battle  of  the  workers  in  the  post-war  period,  has  not  shown  the impossibility of  the  victory of  the  workers  in  armed  struggle  under  modern  conditions,  as  the Social Democratic leaders in all countries now endeavour to argue. On the contrary, it has shown the certainty of future victory, once the united front is built up, once revolutionary leadership has replaced Social Democratic treachery, once the poison of pacifist-democratic reformism has been replaced by the revolutionary aims, tactics and Organisation of the working-class fight.