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>>

I remember an incident that took place in Vienna at about this time. In one of the demonstrations that took place near the Rathaus (i.e. the Town Hall where the Mayor holds his office,) one of the Heimwehr leaders pointing to the Rathaus said that he hoped that the day would soon come when the Government would turn out the Bolsheviks (meaning the Socialists) from the building and purge Vienna of their party. When I read the other day that the Government and Heimwehr forces had forcibly taken possession of the Rathaus and had made a prisoner of the Socialist Mayor, the speech of the Heimwehr leader appeared to me almost prophetic.

After the September ceremonies, the Government felt strong enough to proceed ruthlessly with its task of suppressing the oppositionist parties. The first few months were devoted to the suppression of the Nazis and when this was almost complete, the Government, with the advent of the new year, prepared for the assault on the Socialists. Looking at recent events in their proper perspective, it seems clear that the Socialists were fighting a losing game. Though they controlled the administration of the Vienna municipality and of the Vienna province, their position was always weak. Abroad they had hardly any international support, while the ignominious failure of the Social Democrats in Germany had produced a demoralizing effect on Austria. The Catholic Church was dead against them and recent events have demonstrated what a strong hold the Catholic Church still has in Austria. Within Austria, they had to fight two powerful enemies, the Nazis on the one side and Christian Socials and Heimwehr on the other. In these circumstances, could they have done more?

It is quite true, as the Manchester Guardian reported, that the Socialists of Austria, unlike their comrades in Germany, have gone down fighting. It is a tragedy of history that a party with such a glorious record of public and social service as the Austrian Socialist Party should be overthrown and crushed in this manner. The only consolation is that they have created history. As Mr Harold Laski wrote in the London Daily Herald the other day, in the history of the socialist struggle, Vienna will rank alongside of the Paris Commune and of the Russian Revolution of 1905. While admitting all that, I cannot at the same time help thinking that if the Socialist leadership had shown greater political sagacity, events might have taken a different course. From admission made in Socialist circles now, it appears that till the very last, the Socialist leaders were negotiating for a compromise with the Government. There can be no complaint about the character of the Socialist rank and file, because, at the bidding of their leaders, they have shown of what stuff they are made. But were the leaders justified in lulling the party into a sense of security and in putting off the final struggle till the eleventh hour had struck?

While the Socialist Party has ceased to exist in Austria, the same cannot be said of the Nazis. As long as National Socialism rules in Germany, the Nazis will exist in Austria. Germany is putting the fullest economic pressure on Austria in order to bring about the downfall of the present Government. Will the present Government be able to solve the economic problem of the Austrian people? And will the Allied Powers, who are so anxious to keep Austria away from Germany, render adequate financial assistance to the present Austrian Government? If history answers both these questions in the affirmative, then undoubtedly the present Government will have a long lease of life. Otherwise there are only two alternatives for the Austrian people - a federation with Germany or with Hungary.

One of the conclusions to be drawn from the February events is that a comparatively small but well-disciplined armed force as the Austrian Government had, can overpower with the aid of artillery, any well-armed force that may be pitched against it.

Things are quiet now in Austria and will remain so for some time at least. The work of transformation is going on briskly. The green-and-white flag of the Heimwehr is flying on the top of Rathaus in order to proclaim the expulsion of the Socialist regime. The triple busts of the leaders who founded the Austrian Republic have been removed and the busts of Herr Dolfuss, Prince Starhemberg and Major Fey (Heimwehr Leader) have been substituted instead. The palatial building built by the Socialist municipality for the workers and named as Marxhof has been renamed as Dolfusshof. As a substitute for the Horned Cross or Swastika of the Nazis, Herr Dolfuss has designed a new cross as a symbol for his party. All the tactics, methods and devices employed in countries like Russia, Italy and Germany will be introduced in Austria as well. But the main problem on which will depend the future of Austrian politics is the economic problem. Till this problem is solved, there can be no peace in Austria.

A lot of speculation is going on now as to what course Herr Dolfuss will follow hereafter. Will he be able to maintain his independence or will he surrender completely to the Heimwehr? When his party - the Christian Socials-has been dissolved, where does he stand now? What kind of Constitution will he force on Austria? Will it be an imitation of the Italian Constitution or a modification of it?

In an exceedingly well-written article in the February (1934) number of the Nineteenth  Century Elizabeth Wiskemann has pleaded passionately for a rapprochement between the Catholic Church and Socialism in Austria in order to save the country from going over to the National Socialists. In view of the virtual extinction of the Socialist Party after the February events, the appeal is a belated one. To any outside observer it will appear clear that the Heimwehr have now got the upper hand and it will not be possible for Herr Dolfuss to maintain his independence as against them. The inner politics of the Heimwehr Party will determine the future of Austrian politics. Within the Heimwehr there has been a pro-Nazi group and also a monarchist group. The pro-Nazi section have, for the time being, been suppressed but the monarchist group have gained in importance. The latest news from Vienna goes to show that members of the Royal family are now openly identifying themselves with the Heimwehr Party and that the monarchists in Austria and in Hungary have not only become active but have been holding deliberations jointly. Interesting developments may therefore take place at any time. But whatever happens, there is no doubt that for some time at least, the Allied Powers will be able to do much in the way of influencing the trend of Austrian politics. Austria still continues to be the storm-centre of European politics, though outwardly she may appear to be calm. The Vienna correspondent of the London Times seems to think that the best course for the outside Powers would be to back Herr Dolfuss and his Government and he also seems to think that the Constitution which he will give Austria will have only a "Fascist leaven." But in view of the influence of the Heimwehr in Austria today and the relations between the party and Italy, it seems more probable that the future constitution will be based on the Italian model. No doubt the earlier declarations of Herr Dolfuss referred to "a Christian Corporative" State but he was then really under the influence of the Catholic Church and he was probably drawing his inspiration from the Papal Encyclical of 1931 which laid down the views of the Catholic Church on the question of social reorganisation. But today it is well-nigh impossible for Herr Dolfuss to do anything in opposition to the Heimwehr and it is extremely doubtful if the latter would go as far as the Prime Minister in following the directions of the Catholic Church. Whatever happens in Austria hereafter will be of interest to the outside world and will have far-reaching repercussions throughout Europe.