Recollections and reflections

Reminiscences, Rafi Ahmad Kidwai

I first came in contact with Subhas Bose in 1923 at Delhi when the Congress was divided into two groups over the question of what was known as 'Council Entry.'...Subhas Babu, as the favourite lieutenant of Deshabandhu, was playing a prominent part in the controversy. more>>

At the end of the last War it was generally thought that the era of Nationalism had ended in Europe and that of social reconstruction had begun in right earnest. It is now clear, however, that the era of Nationalism has not ended. As long as the principle of self-determination is not consistently applied throughout Europe the nationalist struggle cannot cease. While the Treaty of Versailles did justice to the Czechs, Poles and the Italian-speaking people then under Austrian rule, it did considerable injustice to Germans and Hungarians who were placed under the rule of some other races. This injustice was possible at the time of the Treaty of Versailles because a feeling of extreme vindictiveness inspired the victors at the Peace Conference preceding the Treaty. Until this wrong is righted, the era of nationalist struggle cannot end in Europe nor can the possibility of war be averted.

In spite of a favourable soil for the growth of the Heimwehr Party in Austria, and in spite of the fact that the Heimwehr from the very beginning entrenched themselves on national sentiment and tradition, they could not have achieved much progress without the help of another party in Austria and without international support outside. It is here that the help of an able political leader like Herr Dolfuss proved to be invaluable. Under his leadership, the Federal Government has been formed, commanding the support of the Christian Social, Heimwehr and Agrarian Parties and in opposition to the Socialist and Nazi Parties. Without a militant party like the Heimwehr, Herr Dolfuss would not have been able to cope with the militant Nazis or with the militant Socialists who had their disciplined corps of volunteers, called the Schutzbund. So Herr Dolfuss naturally welcomed the alliance with the militant Heimwehr. The Heimwehr, on their side, stood to gain even more. Through Herr Dolfuss they got the support of an influential party like the Christian Socials and through this party, of the entire Catholic Church. Through Herr Dolfuss again they got the support of the Allied Powers in the struggle against the Austrian Nazis who had the moral support of Germany. Last but not least, the political wisdom and sagacity of Herr Dolfuss was of great help to them. Without his caution and restraint, they would in all probability, have courted disaster by rushing things prematurely.

In 1933 it appeared as if Herr Dolfuss and the Christian Socials were making use of the Heimwehr in their double fight against the Socialists and the Austrian Nazis. And there is no doubt that much of the international support which the Austrian Government had been getting was because of the impression abroad that they were engaged primarily in suppressing the Austrian Nazis. The same international support would not have been forthcoming if it had been then realized that the Austrian Government would soon strike so brutally at the Socialist Party in Austria. The Austrian Socialists had friends in Great Britain and in France and since they had put aside the proposal of the Anschluss or union with Germany, since the Nazis got into power there, there was no reason for Great Britain or France to be enthusiastic in their support of Herr Dolfuss if he was to strike against the Socialists in Austria. Therefore, it was sound tactics for the Austrian Government to attack the Nazi Party in Austria first and rally the fullest measure of international support while doing so. After getting world opinion on their side and checkmating the Nazis in Austria they could safely proceed with the task of dealing with the Socialists. It would have landed them in disaster if they had attempted to deal with the Socialists first. After the overthrow of the Socialists it appears as if the Heimwehr will make use of the Prime Minister Herr Dolfuss more then he will be able to exploit them.

In March, 1933, when I first came to Vienna the Austrian Government had a bare majority of one in the Lower Chamber of the Federal Parliament. That was a precarious position for any Government and could not last indefinitely. So, taking advantage of the resignation of the Speaker, the Government, one fine morning in March, 1933, suspended the Parliament and began to govern the country by decree. Since then, Parliament has been in a state of suspended animation. In March, 1933, the accession of the Nazis to power in Germany had focussed public attention in Europe on Germany. The Austrian Socialists did not therefore realize what was happening in their own home. Moreover, since the Parliamentary opposition consisted of both the Socialists and the Austrian Nazis, many Socialists were foolish enough to think that the Government aimed primarily at the Nazis and not at themselves. After the suspension of Parliament, the Government hurled their attack more against the Nazis than against the Socialists and this was largely responsible for lulling the latter into a sense of security. While this was going on, one could discover a lurking sympathy for Herr Dolfuss in his extra-parliamentary activities against the Nazis, on the part of certain Socialists. In discussing Austrian politics with the Socialist rank and file in those days, one clearly had the impression that they did not realize the gravity of the menace that loomed large in front of them. Any impartial outsider like myself could feel in those days that the time was not far off when the Austrian Government would turn aside and attack the Socialists. It must be said to the credit of Herr Dolfuss that on more occasions than one he made it quite clear that the Government were fighting on a double front, i.e., against the Nazis and the Socialists.

When in March, 1933, the Government suspended Parliament the Speaker who belonged to the oppositionist Party, summoned Parliament in defiance of the Government. Great was the curiosity and excitement of the people and every one was asking - "What will the Government do?" The Government ordered the police to prevent Parliament from assembling, but before they could arrive on the scene, the oppositionist deputies managed to get into Parliament House and at the appointed hour, the proceedings commenced. The ministers and their supporters were not present, of course; nevertheless, the action of the oppositionist deputies was not without value. The only regret that Parliamentarians should have is that the opposition did not follow up their first act of defiance. The entire responsibility for this devolves on the leaders of the Socialist Party. When the Government found that the oppositionist Parties had taken the suspension of Parliamentary Government lying down, they prepared for a further attack on public liberty. The International Labour Day celebration on the first of May was banned. Such an order had not been made even under the rule of the Hapsburg Emperors. Police and military were called out in order to prevent the Socialists from demonstrating within the city though they were allowed to hold a public meeting and a sports exhibition in the municipal stadium. I was able to attend this meeting and was profoundly impressed with what I saw. There were at least sixty thousand people present. Five thousand girls and elderly women gave a demonstration of physical drill. Boys and grown-up men also gave a similar demonstration. The element of youth present on the occasion was very large and it showed clearly that the Socialist Party had a considerable following among the younger generation. The Party leaders spoke with great passion and sincerity; nevertheless it struck me at the time that they were a trifle older than what they should have been. And I remember having remarked to young Socialist friends that their Party should throw up younger leaders. In contrast with the Socialist Party, the Nazi leadership was younger and more virile. On the first of May, the Nazis also had their meeting in a closed arena though they could not demonstrate within the City. Their attendance was nothing like what the Socialists had commanded, but they displayed greater enthusiasm and virility.

After the first of May, the Government did not make any further direct attack on the Socialist Party but directed their attention to the Nazi Party. Thereby they lulled the Socialists into a sense of security and also rallied international support in favour of their anti-Nazi policy. True, the Government banned the Socialist Schutzbund (Volunteers) not long after the May Day affair but the Socialist Party did not appear to be at all excited over the ban. They thought that they could continue to function secretly and they got some consolation in the fact that the Nazi Volunteers had also been banned by the Government. The premier Socialist organ, Arbeiter Zeitung was placed under censorship but it was not suppressed, whereas not long after this, the Nazi papers began to be suppressed one by one. Simultaneously, an order was issued prohibiting the Nazis from wearing any uniform in public. And the climax of the attack was the forcible seizure of the Nazi Headquarters throughout the country. While this attack on the Nazis was going on in Austria, they were not idle, nor did they take things lying down. They continued their demonstrations and their activities in spite of the Government ban. The Socialists during this period continued to grumble about the restrictions placed on some of their activities and also about the seizure of some of the funds of the Socialist municipality by the Government but they did not organise any resistance or opposition. If they had joined hands with the Nazis in a common resistance against the Government of the day, it is difficult to say what would have happened. Unfortunately for them the Nazi menace was looming so large in front of them that they were unable to realize the true dimensions of the Governmental menace. I had sometimes remarked to some Socialist friends that it was not unlikely that the Government was doing for the Austrian Nazis what the Von Papen Government had done for the German Nazis but to that remark no reply was forthcoming. Just as the Socialists had remained quiet while the Government had been attacking the Nazis, so also the Nazis remained quiet when the Government attacked the Socialists this year. The future alone will show whether from the point of view of political strategy the action of the Austrian Nazis was correct. It was idle for the Socialist leaders to have expected last year that the Government would ruthlessly suppress the Nazis but would allow them to exist. Nevertheless there are Nazis who view with perfect equanimity the suppression of the Socialists in Austria this year and who think that the Government have only made their ultimate task much easier for them.

Last year I was of the opinion that the Austrian Government were acting contrary to the laws of political strategy by carrying on the struggle on a double front and that if they wanted to succeed, they should make up with one of the two opposing parties. I must confess that as a student of history, I never expected that they (the Government) would be so successful in overthrowing both the oppositionist parties. The credit for this belongs largely to the political sagacity displayed by Herr Dolfuss. During the last twelve months he has always acted in the fulness of time. He has never shown any weakness in dealing with his political enemies nor has he been guilty of premature rashness in action. I must now refer to two important steps that he took last year in order to prepare for the final knock-out blow that he gave his opponents last year. The first step refers to the arming of the Heimwehr and their absorption in the ranks of the Governmental police. The second step refers to the holding of the Catholic Congress in Vienna last year.

It was said by many people last year in Vienna that while the Government could command an armed force of approximately 30,000 (including soldiers and police), both the Socialists and the Heimwehr could command an armed force of about the same number. The problem for the Government therefore was how to increase the armed forces at the disposal of the Government in preparation for a civil war as took place in February this year. The Government solved this problem by taking over large numbers of the Heimwehr and giving them full military training. The important part which the Heimwehr volunteers were called upon to play in fighting the Socialist Schutzbund this year shows how helpless the Governmental forces would have been without their assistance. This additional force was all the more necessary because of their pro-Nazi sympathies. (It is now an open secret that Nazi propaganda was active in the ranks of the Austrian police and the military.) I have already referred to the want of enthusiasm on the part of the Viennese public which the Heimwehr and the supporters of the Government experienced in June last year. To convert the Viennese public, it was necessary to impress upon them that the Government had a large following. The Heimwehr demonstration of June, 1933 served some useful purpose in that connection but it was not enough. Therefore in September of last year, the Catholic Congress of German-speaking peoples was convened in Vienna. I was fortunate to be present again in Vienna on the occasion. The Government had made elaborate arrangements for Catholic people to visit Vienna from different parts of Austria and of other German-speaking Catholic countries. His Holiness the Pope was prevailed upon to send his Apostolic Delegate on the occasion. At a modest estimate, 200,000 people must have visited Vienna for the occasion. A fair had also been arranged in Vienna at about the same time and special railway facilities had been offered for those who visited Vienna. The additional crowd coming for the Vienna Fair and for the Catholic Congress meant more business for the hotels and the boarding-houses of Vienna and for the business community of Vienna in general. This money put into the pockets of the Viennese people in times of financial stringency helped to buy up their support, though in an unconscious way. Further, the colossal crowds of countryside people who had come to Vienna for the Catholic Congress at the instance of the Government gave every one the impression that the Government had a large following in the country and that the entire Catholic Church, including His Holiness the Pope, supported the Government of Herr Dolfuss. To an outsider like myself who moved in and out of the huge crowds, the religious sincerity of the people was quite evident. But it was equally evident that the Government were making political capital out of the Catholic Congress, though the arrangement was so clever that the ordinary man in the street did not probably realize it. Military demonstrations were also held in connection with the Catholic Congress demonstrations. The net result of the September ceremonies was to give people, and the particularly the Viennese public, the impression that the Government had an extremely strong position, having the support of the Catholic Church, the army and the countryside people of Austria. And the prestige and reputation of Herr Dolfuss stood higher than it had ever done before.