The Austrian Riddle

The world conflagration in 1914 started from Austria. So people everywhere are now asking: "What will the Socialist Revolution of 1934 in Austria lead to?"

The European situation is so complicated today that it is difficult to predict the future. About the middle of 1933 in Vienna, I was discussing the Austrian situation with an exceedingly intelligent and well-informed English journalist who had travelled widely. The atmosphere in Vienna was then full of excitement and people were talking of a coup d'etat "No," he said, "there will be nothing of the kind. The Austrians are a genial-hearted people. I have seen matters approaching a crisis several times but on every occasion the storm blew over. This will happen once again." He was right and yet he was not.

Talking of the events of February, 1934, in Vienna the Manchester Guardian remarked pithily: "The Socialists of Austria have been overthrown but unlike their comrades in Germany they have gone down fighting." The attitude of the Manchester Guardian has been sympathetic towards the Austrian Socialists, whom it regards as the upholders of Parliamentary Democracy and Liberty in Central Europe. The tone of the London Times, on the other hand, has been distinctly sympathetic towards the present Austrian Government. The victory of the Austrian Socialists would undoubtedly have strengthened the Socialists throughout Europe and a Conservative paper like the Times will naturally take up an anti-Socialist attitude. The attitude of the Italian Press has on the whole been in support of the present Austrian Government. It is well known that the Austrian Government are on very friendly terms with the Italian Government and the former are drawing up a Constitution for Austria based on the Italian model. The attitude of the German Press has not been friendly towards the Austrian Government though the latter were engaged in suppressing the Socialists whom the Nazis in Germany regard as their enemies. People say that two factors account for this attitude on the part of the German Press. In the first place, the Austrian Government before attacking the Austrian Socialists, had suppressed the Austrian Nazis and in doing so, had incurred the wrath of the German Press. In the second place, by adopting a friendly attitude towards the Austrian Socialists, the Germans hope to win over to their cause the immense following which the Socialist Party had, and probably still has, in Austria. An additional factor, sometimes suggested, is that since the Austrian Government have been getting the support of France in their effort to suppress the Austrian Nazis, it is but natural that they should antagonize the Germans, even though they may be engaged at the moment in overthrowing the Socialists.

Twelve months ago, I wrote to the Indian papers about a three-cornered fight that had been going on between the Socialists, Nazis and Heimwehr and I stated that the ultimate fate of Austria would greatly influence the future trend of European politics. Today, one of the parties, viz., the Socialist, has gone out of action and the future therefore lies between the other two. If the Nazi Party comes into power then with or without the formal union or Anschluss, Austria will become virtually a part of Germany. This would mean a considerable accession of power to Germany and the three great Powers in Europe are therefore opposed to it. Italy with her population of forty million and odd will not, moreover, like to see a Germany of more than seventy million stretching from her northern frontier right up to the North Sea. And the German-speaking people in the Italian (now Italian, but formerly Austrian) Tyrol may begin to get restless, particularly when Germany has, time and again, broadcast her intention of unifying the German-speaking peoples in Europe. Therefore, while the Austrian Nazis get the moral support of Germany, the Heimwehr Party who are opposed to them, get the moral support of Italy. But whatever the present position in Europe may be, to an impartial student of history it appears inevitable that after the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the German-speaking peoples of Germany and Austria should ultimately be drawn into one political unit. In their extreme vindictiveness, the Allied Powers at the Treaty of Versailles tore up into fragments the old Austro-Hungarian Empire and did not pause for a moment to realize that it was impossible for small countries like Austria and Hungary of today to exist as independent political units. It is only now that thinking men and women in the Allied countries have begun to realize that Austria can exist only as a part of Germany or as a part of a political unit like Austro-Hungary. Nearly a year ago when I was discussing Austrian politics with an American journalist, I ventured the remark that if the Allied Powers really wanted to keep Austria away from Germany, they should encourage, from the point of view of political strategy, a restoration of the Hapsburg Monarchy in Austria and Hungary. I distinctly remember at the time the American journalist looked at me as if I were a political babe - so strange my remark appeared to him. But today when I find that people in different countries are freely discussing the idea of a revival of the Austro-Hungarian Monarch and when I read in the European Press that the supporters of Monarchy in Hungary and in Austria have recently been meeting in Vienna for discussing common problems, I feel satisfied that my conjecture of a year ago was not altogether wrong. Whatever our own political predilections may be, there can be no doubt that if the Allied Powers really wanted to divide the German-speaking peoples of Central Europe, they should have forgotten their prejudice against the Hapsburg Monarchy and after recognising the self-determination of the Czechs, Slovaks and other Slav races, they should have left Austro-Hungary intact. As a student of history, to me at least it appears probable that in the long run Austria will have to join with the German Reich or she will have to join Hungary in one political unit. The present position is in any case an unstable equilibrium and it cannot last. To a superficial observer it will appear that the contrary of what I have just said is the truth. Order has been restored throughout Austria. The Austrian Nazis have been checkmated, while the Austrian Socialists completely suppressed. Great Britain, France and Italy have guaranteed the independence of Austria in a public communique and this move has been rightly interpreted as a determination on the part of these three Powers to keep Austria away from Germany. There is also no doubt that these three Powers would also be willing to help the Austrian Government with loans, etc., in order to help her out of the present financial morass. But will that be enough to satisfy the Austrian people and put them on their legs? To answer that question we shall have to go a little deeper into recent Austrian history.

The present Austrian Government has been composed mainly of three parties: (1) the Christian Socials, (2) the Heimwehr and (3) the Agrarians. The Heimwehr Party are at the moment the most important element and following the example of Russia, Italy and Germany they are trying to have all the other political parties in Austria forcibly dissolved. The latest news goes to show that Herr Dolfuss, the present Prime Minister of Austria and the leader of the Christian Socials, has agreed to the dissolution of his party. If the Heimwehr succeed in the task of suppressing all the other parties, then the future development of Austrian politics will depend to some extent on the internal politics of the Heimwehr Party.

The Heimwehr are the Austrian brand of Fascists who draw their inspiration from Italy. While the Austrian Nazis dress in brown like their German comrades, the Heimwehr dress in green and white and their flag consists of these two colours. They have much in common with the Nazis in their ideas and in their methods. Both are opposed to parliamentary democracy and believe in dictatorship. To an outsider, it appears strange that two parties having so much in common should be fighting. But the fact is that within the Heimwehr, there was, and still is, an influential section in favour of uniting or cooperating with the Nazis and it is an open secret that till lately, negotiations were being carried on to that effect.

The rapid growth of an Austrian Fascist Party like the Heimwehr can be traced to three factors: (1) Anti-Socialist feeling, (2) National sentiment, (3) International support. At the end of the last War, when the Government of Germany passed into the hands of the Social Democrats, in Austria, though the Federal Government came under the control of the Christian Socials, the administration of Vienna Municipality and of the Vienna province passed into the hands of the Socialists. The Austrian Socialists have all along had the reputation of being the most radical Socialist Party in Europe and the Conservative elements in Austria did not therefore view with favour the idea that such a radical party should be in control of the most strategic position in Austrian public life. The post-War situation in Austria has all along been one of unstable equilibrium. In a country with a population of six and a half millions the Federal Government has been controlled by anti-Socialist Christian Socials but they have been unable to dislodge the militant Austrian Socialists from the administration of the capital city and the major province of the country. On the other hand, the Socialists have been unable to extend their influence further and capture the Federal Government of the country because in the countryside, as distinct from the cities, they have had less influence than the other rival parties. In such a situation the ultimate overthrow of one of the parties was to be expected. To entrench themselves more securely, the Socialists had organised a private army called the Schutzbund. A purely political party like the Christian Socials of Herr Dolfuss stood no chance in an ultimate struggle for power with the Socialists. Therefore, to fight the latter, a militant party like the Heimwehr had to be born. This party was anti-Socialist in its objective from the very beginning and therefore an alliance was at once struck between the Christian Socials and the Heimwehr.

Some other minor considerations made the Heimwehr and the Christian Socials bitterly opposed to the Socialists. The Austrian Socialists have on the whole been anti-religious, or at least against the domination of the Catholic Church and as long as the Socialist Party was ruling in Germany, they were in favour of the Anschluss i.e., the Union with Germany. The anti-religious attitude of the Socialists gave the Christian Socials i.e., the Catholic Party, an immense following among the peasantry, who all the world over are well known for their conservative instincts. And the danger of ultimate absorption in Germany under the auspices of the Socialist Party gave the Heimwehr Party an opportunity of rallying the support of the Austrian aristocracy to their cause. It should be remembered that as an Empire, Austria is much older than Germany and it is Austria that had inherited the halo of the Holy Roman Empire. As long as Austria remained separate from Germany, the Austrian aristocracy would have some position in the country but if Austria were to be absorbed into the German Reich, then they would be nowhere. Therefore a well-known and wealthy aristocrat like Prince Starhemberg came forward to lead the Heimwehr (literally, the defenders of the home) for preserving the integrity of the Austrian State and the power and influence of the old aristocratic families.

History was utilized in order to give an impetus to this party. In June, 1933, when I was in Vienna, the Austrian Government celebrated the 250th anniversary of the victory over the Turks. In 1683, the Turks, after overrunning Eastern Europe, had laid siege to Vienna and one of those responsible for the ultimate defeat of the Turks was Starhemberg, an ancestor of the Prince Starhemberg, the present leader of the Heimwehr. The June celebration naturally had the support of the entire Austrian population but it was so manoeuvred that one important result of it was to enhance the reputation of Prince Starhemberg and therefore of his party. As a part of the celebration, 40,000 Heimwehr volunteers in their green and white uniforms came to Vienna from the country and had a route march through the streets of Vienna. Throughout the route march I heard the supporters of the Heimwehr shouting "Heil Starhemberg" while the Nazis in reply shouted "Heil Hitler" - and were chased by the Police for doing so. At the end of the celebration I congratulated a Heimwehr leader on the fine discipline shown by his volunteers, but he did not seem to be at all enthusiastic about the function and he complained that the Viennese public were not on the whole sympathetic to the Heimwehr and that in the working class quarters they had even been pelted with rotten eggs. That was in June last year. But within the next eight months they improved their public position to such an extent as to render it possible for them to make a direct assault on their enemies, the Austrian Nazis and the Austrian Socialists. To follow the steps taken one after another, for undermining their enemies, will afford an interesting study in political strategy.