„We don’t say this today out of dogmatism,
but rather because in a democracy
every offense against the spirit of democracy
demands revenge and must be avenged.“

Bruno Kreisky

nov 1918
The Habsburg Monarchy collapsed at the end of the First World War and the Republic of German Austria was created on November 12th.
feb 1919
The Constitutive National Assembly voted to give free and equal voting rights to men and women for the first time.
oct 1920
The first parliamentary election in the history of the Austrian Republic took place on October 17th. On November 10th the Federal Constitution went into effect.
nov 1922
Austria got a loan worth millions from the League of Nations. The required budget cuts led to severe reductions in social benefits and that provoked fierce protests.
may 1923
Hyperinflation exacerbated social problems. The Republican Defense League was established by the Social Democrats as a counter-weight to the Heimwehr (Homeland Defense Militia) and the army.
nov 1926
The Social Democratic Party’s Linz Program resolved to defend democracy by force if necessary.
jan 1927
Participants returning from a Republican Defense League meeting in Schattendorf were fired on, two were killed and five others were severely wounded.
jul 1927
The Schattendorf murderers were acquitted. When the police tried to break up a mass protest in Vienna there was a riot, the police fired on protestors and the Palace of Justice was burned down.
oct 1929
Black Friday at the New York Stock Exchange set off a worldwide economic crisis.
dec 1929
The Constitution was revised to weaken the power of Parliament and to increase the power of the President.
may 1930
With the Korneuburger Oath the members of the Heimwehr militia swore to fight against democracy and the “party state.”
may 1931
The collapse of the Creditanstalt bank set off a banking crisis in Austria. The government stepped in to rescue the bank because of its importance for Austrian industry.
mar 1933
Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß took advantage of a procedural debate to dissolve the parliament. When the members of parliament attempted to meet anyway he had the police prevent them from doing so.
may 1933
Chancellor Dollfuß founded a “Fatherland Front” aimed to replace Austria’s parliamentary democracy.

The State that the Elite Didn’t Want

After the First World War Austria was divided between friends and enemies of democracy,
but even the conservatives opted for a democratic republic—mostly out of fear of a working class uprising if it were denied them.

Until 1920 the Social Democrats worked together with the Christian Socials in the provisional national assembly to create a government. Despite the difficult conditions they were able to set many milestones for working people. But Austria’s much desired merger with the larger democratic Germany was prohibited by the peace treaty at St. Germain. Above all, the miserable economic condition of rump Austria after the disruption of the economic ties of the Austro-Hungarian Empire sharpened social conflicts in the new republic.

Further information ...


The State that the Elite Didn’t Want

Finding a solution to “the State that nobody wanted,” combined with the problems facing the young republic in 1919, was an issue that constantly forced its way into political discussions during the inter-war period.

But if one looks at pictures from the day when the First Republic was established one gets an entirely different impression. Thousands of people celebrated the newly founded republic in Vienna. That was because the end of the monarchy eliminated an essential basis for the continued privileges of the aristocracy and the grand bourgeoisie versus the majority population of workers and small farmers. The short term power vacuum that ensued allowed the Social Democrats to win political and social reforms against the formerly privileged strata in Austria - starting with the establishment of free and equal voting rights in 1918 that abolished the previous system of giving greater weight to the votes of large scale property owners. They also gave women the right to vote and hold office for the first time. Beyond “mere” political reforms, they also established the eight hour working day, created an unemployment insurance system, guaranteed vacations for employees, required employers to allow the establishment of employee councils, a major school reform, and the founding of the Chamber of Labor to represent the interests of employees.

During the short interregnum of the provisional republic, the Social Democracy, in particular, fought for democracy as the most powerful party in the coalition with the Christian Socialists, regarding it as an essential prerequisite for peacefully reaching a free and equitable society. In 1920 a new constitution, which was strongly influenced by Hans Kelsen, was adopted for the First Austrian Republic.
It is true that the much-cited desire for a merger with Germany existed at the beginning of the First Republic, but the political motivations for this couldn’t have been more different: while the Social Democrats hoped that a merger with Germany would strengthen the labor movement, for rightists the desire sprang from nationalist and racist motives. But the treaty of Versailles imposed by the victorious powers ended any hope of a merger with a democratic Germany.

The revolutionary tide that Austria experienced in those years rapidly ebbed in rural regions and the Social Democrats lost the support of the agricultural workers, and with that their plurality as well. Early in the First Republic the Social Democrats decided on a strategy of concentrating on the voter potential of the cities. They passed up on the opportunity to organize large numbers of agricultural workers by promoting rural land reform. That decision cost the Social Democrats a lot of votes in the 1920 election. Small and middle-sized farm owners who had supported the Social Democrats at first also turned against the party that they felt had abandoned their interests. These had hoped, above all, that the Republic would free them from the war-time confiscation of their produce. But in the midst of the severe economic crisis years after 1918 the official government, and not just the Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils, repeatedly resorted to confiscations in order to supply the urban population with food.

Political Change and economic crises in the 1920s

The Social Democrats lost their majority in the 1920 parliamentary election and went into opposition. The conservative government was confronted with great economic and social challenges: For one thing reparations payments were a heavy burden on the budget, for another all of Europe was suffering from an economic downturn. In Austria that led to rapid inflation, which reached a peak in 1922.

In order “To curb inflation as well as to rehabilitate the state budget and thus the Austrian economy,” as conservative Chancellor Seipel put it, a strict restructuring plan was enforced: Austria's economic and financial policies were put under the supervision of the League of Nations and the foreign credits provided by the "Geneva Restructuring" were subject to strict conditions. That led to a balanced budget within a year, but the social consequences of this conservative economic regime were devastating – resembling those of the recent austerity regimes forced on several EU countries faced with economic crises. The dismissal of tens of thousands of civil servants and the introduction of new taxes, which particularly affected those with lower incomes, resulted in a rapid impoverishment of broad population strata.

At the same time the government began to "Clear away the social debris" (Seipel), which meant eliminating the social policy measures that the Social Democracy had promoted in the first two years of the republic. These policies to “protect the economy” brought inflation under control and stabilized the currency, but it was the working population that paid the price for this “success.” Social distress reached ever greater tragic heights in Austria as a result of these policies.

When Wall Street’s “Black Friday” threw the entire world economy into a crisis in 1929 and the crucial financial institution in Austria, the Creditanstalt bank, had to be rescued at great cost and the ever increasing social distress led to greater radicalization among the people. The crisis peaked in Austria in May 1931. The gross national product fell by a quarter from 1929 to 1933 and wage levels declined by 30 percent. In the worst time period of the crisis there were more than 550,000 unemployed. Long term unemployment combined with little or no government aid became a mass phenomenon and devastated the positon of working people—and that weakened the power of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) and the Free Trade Unions as well.

Two Camps Under Arms

After the First World War the returning soldiers from the Austro-Hungarian army kept their weapons. In the power vacuum immediately after the war ended local militias were established to protect property owners from bands of hungry ex-soldiers and others—and to promote the territorial claims of “German Austria” against non-German speaking ethnic groups and neighboring states—they were similar to the German Freikorps and Italian Fascist militias of the time.

The local militias soon joined together in a national organization called the Heimwher, the Home Defense Militia. In 1930 the Heimwher members took a so-called Korneuburger Oath that committed them to opposing parliamentary democracy and to promote an authoritarian fascist corporate state on the model of fascist Italy. Not surprisingly, they got organizational and financial support from the fascist government of Italy under Benito Mussolini. The new Austrian army was originally set up by the Social Democrats to defend the democratic republic, but after the Christian Socials took power they purged the army of its democratic elements. In response the Social democrats established their own Republican Defense League militia in 1923 which was understood to be the defenders of the republic in the sense of the later Linz Program.

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Two Camps Under Arms

The development of these militias has to be understood in the context of the political balance of power that developed in the power vacuum at the end of WWI. The Austro-Hungarian army had dissolved into its constituent parts and after the surrender soldiers simply headed home while there was no official power ready to organize the turning in of their weapons.

In first months of the Republic workers-and-soldiers councils responded to the dearth of supplies in the cities and towns, and the lack of government response, by organizing armed foraging expeditions to seize animals and grain from the countryside. To protect their property under these circumstances property owners throughout Austria (industrialists, nobles and, above all, farmers and traders in rural regions) organized so-called field and meadow guards. In the towns and cities property owners organized similar citizens’ guards, supported above all by demobilized veterans and students.

The role of the Army
The Social Democratic minister of defense, Julius Deutsch, created a "national army" out of remnants of the old army that would support the republic without reservation. It was intended to defuse the precarious political situation and to ward off possible attempts at seizing power by force by armed leftists or rightists. The goal was to establish a democratic army without the “servile obedience” that characterized the Habsburg’s Imperial army.
In the 1920s, many former officers and soldiers from the Imperial army who were unwilling to accept the principles of the new army as loyal to a republic turned to the reactionary militias organized with foreign support from the field and meadow guards. When the Social Democrats went into opposition in 1920 the Christian Socials took over the army ministry and under the slogan of “depoliticizing the army” minister Carl Vaugoin began a purge designed to politicize the army in a different direction. As in the executive branch generally, the apparatus was systematically purged of Social Democrats, the democratic rights of the members of the army were eroded, and parliamentary controls were abolished. The army was thus turned into an instrument that could be used against a portion of its own population and an organization that the workers had helped create was turned into an institution hostile to them.

The Republican Defense League
After the Social Democrats lost their influence over the army they had to reconsider their position on defense. In 1923 various organizations, including some factory and worker’s militias, were brought together in a new Republican Defense League that was committed by its constitution to the “protection” and “securing” of the Republic. The Republican Defense League had thereby a fundamentally defensive character. On a tactical level it competed with the same military methods against two far stronger opponents: the national army under the control of the Social Christian army ministry and the Heimwehr which influenced the Christian Socials from the right and had close ties to them.
Der Schutzbund konkurrierte somit auf derselben taktischen Ebene mit denselben militärischen Mitteln mit zwei gegnerischen Armeen: dem Bundesheer in der Hand des christlichsozialen Heeresministers und den die Christlichsozialen von außen treibenden, mit ihr in enger personeller Verflechtung stehenden Heimwehren.

The Rise of the Heimwehr
The Heimwehr was also supported by forces outside Austria. After the burning of the Palace of Justice and the demonstrations of July 1927 the reactionary militia was put under the protection of the government and provided with money and weapons by powerful capitalist groups at home and abroad. The weapons came mostly from fascist Italy and authoritarian Hungaryand the Heimwehr became a melting pot for a motly crew of all sorts of militant fascists. In 1930 a mass meeting of the Heimwehr made taking the “Korneuburger Oath” a fundamental Heimwehr ritual. The oath was taken by all the Heimwehr members present, but also by leading Christian Social political figures who were present. The oath identified the multi-party state, western parliamentarism, and Marxist class conflict as the Heimwehr’s enemies and proclaimed that the oath takers aimed to establish an authoritarian corporate state (like that of fascist Italy).

All of the conservative coalition governments since 1920 had worked against democratic parliamentarism and the Social Democrats but the growing influence of the Heimwehr became apparent in 1932 when the Vienna Heimwehr leader Emil Fey was made State Secretary for Security in the cabinet of Chancellor Dollfuß.

Escalation to Civil War

After the closing of Parlament in 1933 the conflict between the Dollfuß Regime and the Social Democrats continued and increased in intensity.

Claiming to be looking for weapons workers’ halls and private homes were searched—generally in provocative and harassing ways (including the home of the famously pacifist Stephan Zweig, who took the hint and fled into exile). Papers were confiscated and Social Democratic functionaries were jailed for short periods. This was particularly demoralizing for Republican Defense League members as the SDAP leadership repeatedly rejected their pleas to be allowed to act and ordered them to remain passive. By the beginning of February 1934 practically the entire leadership of the Republican Defese League was in jail. The final provocation came from Vice-Chancellor and Vienna Heimwehr chief Emil Fey on February 11th when he announced: "We'll go to work tomorrow and we'll finish the job." At that point the Linz section of the Republican Defense Leage gave the party leadership an ultimatum and announced that it would oppose the government move with armed resistance.

The Social-Democrats in Opposition, the Conservatives at the helm

Starting in 1920 trench warfare between the political camps intensified, with the supporters of the new democratic republic on one side and its opponents on the other.

When the Christian Socials won the election of 1920 they challenged the social achievements of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) and tried to revive the economy at the expense of the workers with a devastating austerity. At the same time the calls for an authoritarian state became ever louder and the paramilitary militias became more important.

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The Social-Democrats in Opposition,
the Conservatives at the helm

Roughly speaking, we find two political milieus in Austria between 1920 and 1933: the social democratic and the bourgeois camps. While the Social Democracy was interested in securing parliamentary democracy and further developing the social achievements of the first coalition government, the bourgeois camp - Christian Social and German nationalist - had a dubious relationship to the democratic form of government. The initially Christian-democratic line of the Christian Socials became increasingly antidemocratic and authoritarian in orientation.

Power Shift
In the first two years of the First Republic the Social Democrats were able to put through wide ranging social reforms while they shared power in a grand coalition with the Christian Socials. The decision to go into opposition after the 1920 election was closely tied to the declining revolutionary power in Europe. The revolutionary wave spreading across Europe in the wake of the October Revolution in Russia (1917) impelled the bourgeois camp to make compromises and concessions in order to defuse the revolutionary potential building in Austria, but as the Russian revolution turned into a unique phenomenon and bloody counter-revolutions triumphed in Hungary and Bavaria the position of the SDAP weakened. The SDAP’s conservative bourgeois coalition partners regretted their earlier concessions and increased their desire to roll them back. The decision of the Social-Democrats to go into opposition has often been criticized, but it was driven by their leader’s fear of a possible splintering of the party like the one that had taken place in Germany.

After taking office in 1920 the conservatives attempted to resolve the country’s economic problems with a strict austerity program. This austerity was especially hard on the working class population. Wages declined steadily and after 1926 the dismantling of many social benefits, including cutting unemployment payments, reduced demand further and thus worsened the recession. These developments also weakened the labor movement.

Political Radicalization
The extent of political radicalization became evident January 1927 in the small town of Schattendorf in Burgenland. Members of a fascist Front Fighters' Union associated with the right wing Heimwehr (Home Defense) militia opened fire from ambush on a group of participants returning from a (Social Democratic associated) Republican Defense League meeting. They killed a World War I veteran and an eight-year-old boy while severely wounding five others. Three of the shooters were tried in July 1927, but were acquitted after they claimed self-defense. The verdict was outrageous and tens of thousands of protestors demonstrated against it in Vienna. When the police tried to break up the massive protest a riot ensued. The Justice Palace headquarters of the Ministry of Justice was stormed as a symbol of the unfair class justice prevailing in Austria, in the confusion someone started a fire in the Palace and it burned down. The police chief (and later Chancellor) Johann Schober ordered the police to open fire on the demonstrators, leading to the killing of 89 protestors and the wounding of several hundred more in the following two days of street fighting.

The Position of the Social-Democrats
In 1926 the SDAP declared in its Linz Program that it was prepared to defend democracy with force – but until 1934, when the situation had become hopeless, the party refrained from following through on its promise. The radical formulations in the Linz Program were however frequently cited by right wingers and conservatives to stir fears of revolution. In fact, despite many claims to that effect, the Linz Program’s threat of force was not aimed at promoting a dictatorship of the proletariat, it was aimed at discouraging any attempts by the conservative/reactionary camp to destroy Austria’s democracy by saying that the labor movement would defend it with force if necessary.

When the first shots were fired in Linz on February 12, 1934 Austrian democracy had long since been destroyed by the conservative government. On March 4, 1933 Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß took advantage of the resignations of the three National Council presidents during a Procedural debate to dissolve parliament and seize power. Dollfuß governed by issuing executive orders without Parliamentary approval after he closed down the Parliament and the Constitutional Court. When the Social Democratic and Greater Germany Peoples’ Party members of Parliament tried to resume Parliament a few days after Dolfuß’ action, he had the police prevent them from entering the building by force.

The End of the Republic

The violent actions of the police in the course of the Justice Palace fire and the demonstrations of July 15-16 1927 was the most visible sign of the shift in power in Austria.

From then on the Social democrats and their labor unions were steadily loosing strength while the radical right experienced an enormous boom. There was a long contest over power, a “latent civil war,” marked by regular demonstrations of strength by the right in the form of mass marches, violent confrontations, and ever new provocations. The onset of the Great Depression after 1929 further weakened the labor movement as it caused widespread impoverishment and demoralization among its followers. In the summer of 1932 Justice Minister Kurt Schuschnigg and powerful industrialists called for shutting down the Parlament as a necessary step towards “resolving the crisis.” In March 1933 Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss took advantage of a parliamentary still stand over procedural rules in the National Council as an excuse to close down the Parliament. That was followed by a year of bans and humiliations directed against the Social Democrats. Dollfuss cabinet Army Minister Carl Vaugoin was quoted as saying that these salami tactics would “cripple the Sozis one limb at a time.”

Further information ...


The End of the Republic

Even before the outbreak of the Great Depression Austria faced a severe crisis in 1926-1927 because several major banks collapsed. The conservative government wanted to use this to finally bring down their hated Social Democrats, Red Vienna, and the republic.

At first they tried to accomplish this democratically in the election of April 1927 when the Catholic prelate and Chancelor Ignaz Seipel initiarted an electoral “unity list” that included all the anti-socialist parties and their supporters. But the Social Democrats couldn’t be beaten democratically as they remained the party with the most votes and the most seats in parliament. When the party leaders’ stated goal of “50 percent plus one vote” for the SDAP seemed not to be out of reach Seipel and his allies decided on an open struggle against both the SDAP and the democratic republic.

Schattendorf and the Justice Palace Fire
The extent of political radicalization became evident January 1927 in the small town of Schattendorf in Burgenland. Right wing radicals opened fire from ambush on a group of participants returning from a Social Democratic meeting. They killed two and severely wounded five others. When the shooters were tried in July they were acquitted. Even before the verdict there were large protest demonstrations, and on the day after the electric workers shut down the power for the Vienna streetcar network as a signal for a massive workers’ protest. Neither the SDAP nor the Republican Defense League called for the mass protest that followed in Vienna.

When the police tried to break up the massive protest a riot ensued. Although the Republican Defense League tried to calm the crowd the Justice Palace was stormed and burned down as a symbol of the unfair system of class justice that had ignored crimes against the working class for years while regularly subjecting left wing activists to severe punishments. The stormy demonstrations surprised the Social Democrats, while their bourgeois opponents saw them as an opportunity to make teach the left a bitter lesson. The Vienna police chief and later Chancellor Johann Schober armed the police with infantry rifles and even though the crowd in front of the Justice Palace had begun to leave he ordered them to open fire. The result was two days of violent street fighting with the police all over the city, taking 89 lives. The media outside Vienna presented these events as an attempted coup d’etat. That gave a strong impulse to the further growth of the Heimwehr, especially in rural districts, and to a further radicalization of their supporters.

When the Social Democrats responded to the police massacre with a one day general strike and an unlimited strike on public transport the Heimwehr decided their time had come. They attacked the transport strikers with clubs and guns. The weak social-democratic organizations in the states outside Vienna could not defend them and the strike collapsed. The Social Demokrats thus suffered two severe defeats in quick succession and they never recovered between then and their prohibition in 1934. Their bourgeois opponents were no longer satisfied with a partial de-democratization of the constitution, but increasingly demanded a more open dictatorship. 1928 thus began a period of “latent civil war.”

When the parliamentary dispute led to the resignation of the parliamentary presidents on March 4, 1933, Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuß used it as an excuse to shut down Parlament altogether. He claimed that a war economy enabling act from 1917 gave him the legal authority to do so and he proceded to rule by decree. Chancellor Dollfuß said he had no other choice as the Parlament had “dissolved itself.” That was a premature conclusion, but when the Social Democratic and Greater Germany members of Parliament tried to resume sitting and elect new leaders on March 15th they were prevented from doing so by the police.

In the following twelve months Dollfuß and his associates pursued the goal of crippling the Social Democrats step by step. Ever new prohibitions soon reduced the maneuvering room for the Social Democrats, in order to eliminate the ability of the labor movement to defend itself: the Republican Defense League was ordered dissolved. At the same time the Heimwehr members were given emergency police powers and were both armed and paid by the state. In addition to dissolving the Communist Party, the regime also disolved the Freethinkers League, an atheist organization that was particulary hated by the Catholic Church. The labor press was censored and public party meetings were banned, especially the ones celebrating the 1st of May Labor Day and the 12th of February anniversary of the Republic. The Social Democrats weren’t the only ones who supported the disolving democratic Republic. In addition to the Communist Party some individuals in the bourgeois camp also opposed the establishment of an open dictatorship.

LinzUpper AustriaVienna

Interactive Map of the February Fighting in Linz

Interactive Map of the February Fighting in Upper Austria

Interactive Map of the February Fighting in Vienna

Follow the February Fighting in Linz on the interactive map. Violet Figures belong to the Schutzbundes, black are Police and Army, blue is referring to Heimwehr. Click the arrows on the bottom to follow the timeline.

Follow the February Fighting in Linz on the interactive map. Violet Figures belong to the Schutzbundes, black are Police and Army, blue is referring to Heimwehr. Click the arrows on the bottom to follow the timeline.

Follow the February Fighting in Vienna on the interactive map. Violet Figures belong to the Schutzbundes, black are Police and Army, blue is referring to Heimwehr. Click the arrows on the bottom to follow the timeline.

February 11th, afternoon, Linz

Ich bin eine Beschreibung zum Titel die man optional ein- und ausblenden kann ;)







feb 1934
Parts of the Republican Defense League launched an unauthorized attempt to restore democracy by force but were easily crushed by the Heimwehr and the army. The government then banned the Social Democratic Party and all of its affiliated organizations.
May 1934
A new Constitution formally established an authoritarian state modeled on fascist lines.
Mar 1938
Nazi Germany invaded Austria, Austria was dissolved into the Third German Reich, and Nazism replaced Austro-fascism.
Sep 1939
The Second World War began with the German invasion of Poland.
Apr 1945
The Austrian Republic was reestablished with an Austrian declaration of independence and a provisional government was set up under Karl Renner, who had been the first President of the Austrian Republic back in 1919.

The Republic Buried with its Heroes

After the February fighting the regime clamped down: 21 leaders of the fighters for democracy were sentenced to death, nine of whom, including Anton Bulgari, Karl Münichreiter, Georg Weissel and the Styrian Defense Leage commander Koloman Wallisch, were legally hanged.

Thouands of arrested Defense Leaguers and Social Democrats were interned in concentration camps while some Social Democratic leaders like Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch had to flee into exile.

Further information ...


The Republic Buried with its Heroes

The alliance of police, army, and Heimwehr was able to brutally surpressthe February 1934 “uprising” with ease. With ease because the Defense Leaguers were leaderless and the various groups were unable to communicate with each other, but also because they were badly outgunned with their few rifles up against the machine guns, cannons and airplanes of their well equipped opponents (the marks of machine gun bullets and cannon shells on the façade of the Karl Marx Houses in Vienna remained visible for decades afterwards).

Another important reason for their rapid defeat was the result of the failure of the workers to respond to their call for a general strike, a measure that had defeated the Kapp Putsch in Germany in 1920. And the hope that the soldiers in the army would refuse to turn their guns on their own people also proved illusory. The political purge of the army had accomplished its purpose and the army had become a reliable instrument of the dictatorship.

To this day there are no reliable figures on how many people were killed during the February fighting, but there are clear indications that the official claim of the regime that some 200 “rebels” had been killed greatly understates their numbers. Dollfuß had every reason to play down the dimensions of the struggle. The ruthless methods of his troops, the use of heavy weapons in residential neighborhoods, the killing of prisoners, and the official executions generated international outrage. The number of those killed on the government side on the other hand is well established, 128 dead and 409 wounded.

Schuschnigg had already suggested the possibility of installing summary courts in May 1933 and in November 1933 their legal basis was established. When the February fighting broke out martial law was extended to cases of “rebellion.”

Four death sentences were passed by the courts martial in Upper Austria, two of which were carried through, the ones for Anton Bulgari from Linz (the only person convicted of murder rather than rebellion) and Josef Ahrer from Steyr. The death sentences weren’t a matter of jurisprudence; they were rather designed to set a chilling example by a system of political justice. Nine Republican Defence Leaguers (Josef Ahrer, Anton Bulgari, Johann Hois, Karl Münichreiter, Viktor Rauchenberger, Josef Stanek, Emil Svoboda, Koloman Wallisch, and Georg Weissel) who were executed either in the course of the fighting or by courts martial afterwards. Karl Münichreiter was hanged on the gallows despite his severe wounds, which was actually prohibited by the law at the time.

Ludwig Bernaschek, Ferdinand Hüttner and Arthur Bonyhadi from Linz, like Josef Höller and Ferdinand Fageth, the miners’ leader from the Hausruck coal fields, were sentenced to long prison terms. In Linz alone 943 people were denounced – 374 were charged and 214 were sentenced to prison terms of different lengths.

Resistance Abroad
and Underground

Nach den Februarkämpfen waren tausende SozialdemokratInnen ins Ausland geflüchtet, so auch zahlreiche Führungspersonen um Otto Bauer.

The Austrian Social Democrats created an exile organization centered in Brünn (now Brno in the Czech Republic). It tried to support the internal resistance movement in Austria by collecting money, producing propaganda material, and issuing the Arbeiter-Zeitung (AZ) newspaper — smuggling hunderds of thousands of copies into Austria. Despite its illegal status the AZ was able to learn about important developments and to inform the Austrian people about them. Because it was the only alternative to the propaganda of the Austro-fascist and Nazi regimes, the AZ had more readers between 1934 and 1938 than ever before — or since.
The illegal activists were still able to hold their own against the persecution of the Austrian authorities, but after the 1938 “Anschluss” 1938 they were faced with a much more efficient — and more brutal — opponent: the Gestapo.

Further information ...


Resistance Abroad and Underground

Many Social Democrats continued their resistance even after the failure of the February uprising and the ban on their party. They weren’t deterred by the severe punishments that threatened them in the event of their arrest.

In one of the first leaflets after the 12th of February they said: “We continue to fight! Don’t believe any legal newspapers, they are either government papers or their stooges. Circulate illegal socialist printed materials. Our slogan is stay faithful, fight and promote resistance.”

Underground Political Work
 The first resistance groups to emerge were composed of young people and members of social-democratic affiliated organizations. Gradually they joined together and from the end of 1934 onwards they called themselves Revolutionary Socialists. The Austrian Social Democrats who had fled to Czechoslovakia set up an exile organization that resumed producing the Arbeiter-Zeitung. Working together with the Revolutionary Socialist organization in Austria they smuggled the newspapers across the border by railroad.
Many women activists participated in the Revolutionary Socialists, including Marie Jahoda, Käthe Leichter (who was later murdered by the Nazis), and Rosa Jochmann (who survived a long spell in the concentration camps). In 1935 and 1936 the Austro-Fascist regime tried to smash the Revolutionary Socialists’ organization with a series of trials, culminating in a so-called “Great Socialist Trial” in March 1936.

 A major feature of the resistance was the splitting of the forces on the left — something that Otto Bauer had been able to avoid earlier. Many of those who joined the resistance had been frustrated by the late and feeble resistance of the Social Democrats to the undermining of the democratic republic and the growth of the dictatorship, so they shifted their allegiance to the more militant Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ). Immediately after the February battles, the Communists succeeded in growing to equal strength with the Social Democrats. But by the end of the Austro-Fascist period the KPÖ had lost a large portion of its membership while the Revolutionary Socialists had continually expanded their organization. The KPÖ’s decline resulted from their attempt to open negotiations with the regime — which led to their moderating their criticism of the regime and trying to find common ground with Schuschnigg (in line with the Soviet Union’s desire to promote a united front of all possible forces against Nazi Germany). This was justified by the Austrian Communist theoretician Alfred Klahr based on the idea of Austria as a fundamentally independent nation (which fit in with the Austro-Fascist ideology as well). The Revolutionary Socialists, on the other hand, came out of a political tradition that had promoted union with Germany, so they had little interest in promoting Austrian nationalism and made it clear that they would only negotiate on the basis of the restoration of democracy. Their uncompromising opposition won them increasing support among resisters.

Resistance after the Anschluss
After the collapse of Austro-Fascism and the occupation by the German army the letist underground was faced with a new enemy, the Gestapo was not only more brutal, it was also more efficient than the Austro-Fascist police. With torture, murder and concentration camps the Gestapo had by this time practically destroyed the entire resistance movement in Germany.
The leaders of the Revolutionary Socialists concluded that further resistance at that point would be suicidal and useless. They anticipated the outbreak of a major war in the near future and were convinced that the elimination of Nazi rule could only come from outside when they would suffer a military defeat. In order to have enough of their functionaries survive until such a collapse, they imposed a ban on further operations by their underground cadres.

The Communist leaders, who had fled to the Soviet Union, called on their followers to resist actively (at least after the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, if not during the time of the Nazi-Soviet pact). Over the next few years thousands of Communists, including numerous former Social Democrats, paid with their lives for their heroic, and at first seemingly fultile resistance to the Nazis. In the end, liberation from Nazi rule was (as the Revolutionary Socialists had predicted) only achieved by the victory of Allied troops.

The “Harmony” of Corporate Estates – Authoritarianism versus Class Struggle

The last resistance was ended after five days of fighting. The Social Democratic Party had already been banned as soon as the fighting began.

On May 1, 1934 the Dollfuß regime imposed a new constitution – even on paper Austria had ceased to be a democratic republic and was now an authoritarian state. The new order reorganized society on the basis of corporate estates responsible for eliminating social contradictions. In foreign policy they sought to win the support of Benito Mussolini against the threats from Hitler-Germany. At the same time Dollfuß engaged in an intensive effort to reach an arrangement with the Austrian Nazis.

Further information ...


The “Harmony” of Corporate Estates – Authoritarianism versus Class Struggle

The Social-Democratic Party, the labor unions and all Social Democratic workers’ organizations were banned, their properties were confiscated or turned over to organizations closely linked to the regime.

In order to "finally eradicate socialist thinking" the government devoted itself especially to the educational institutions of the labor movement, especially the many libraries that had been laboriously built over years. Rebellious ideas were to be blotted out and the old order from before 1918 would be retored as the leading social ideals: In the workers’ housing built by the Social Democrats former party locals, youth centers and kindergartens were transformed into hundreds of “emergency chapels.” The Austrian Catholic Church viewed itself as engaged in “a crusade to rescue the West from the ideas of the East.”

Proclamation of the Corporate State
The May Constitution of the Dollfuß regime on May 1, 1934 founded the Austrian Ständestaat, a corporate state based on a romanticized notion of medieval estates. The regime and its closely associated Catholic Church referred to the papal encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno,” whose idea of an order based on occupations was supposedly realized in the new constitution. What Dollfuß and the Austrian Bishops ignored was that the encyclical envisioned the proposed occupational organizations as being based on the voluntary participation of their members. In Austria the workers were literally forced to submit to the new order.
The Fatherland Front was now the only political organization allowed, all other parties were banned. The national leader of the Fatherland Front was Engelbert Dollfuß. The government was supposed to be advised by representatives of the different occupations, but in reality these organizations had practically no influence. Instead Dollfuß ruled as a dictator by decrees.
There were Greater Germany supporters in the Christian Social Party, but it was clear that a merger with Nazi Germany would end the influence (or even existence) of the Fatherland Front. So they promoted the “German culture” of Austria, but put off the goal of actually uniting the two states for some indefinite future. In Germany, on the other hand, the Nazi regime that had taken power in 1933 aimed at Austria being “brought home into the Reich” in short order.

The International Situation
The Austrian regime sought to win the protection of Benito Mussolini’s fascist Italy against the growing pressure from Nazi Germany. The Duce saw Austria as a buffer against an aggressive Germany that claimed to represent all Germans (including those from S. Tyrol who had been incorporated into Italy after WWI). He also saw it as a secure land connection to Hungary and a potential launching point for a future war against Yugoslavia. As the Austrian Social Democrats had never shown the least sympathy for fascism, Mussolini had always been hostile to them in return. Since the 1920s he had given strong support to the Austrian right-wingers and encouraged them to put an end to democracy and shut down the Social Democratic labor movement.

When Hitler took power in Germany the Austrian Nazis also experienced an upsurge in support. The former supporters of the German Nationalist parties in Austria had mostly shifted their support to the Nazis by 1932 and even in the Christian social Party there was a noticeable tendency in that direction. Funktionaries reported that their own youth groups were flocking to the Nazi standard and that in many cases they no longer knew what was going on in the ranks. Dollfuß saw similarities between his goals and those of the Nazis and was willing to work with them, but not at the price of self-disolution. As the negotiations with the Nazis collapsed, they began a terror campaign in the first half of 1933 to increase the pressure on the Dollfuß regime. After numerous attempts to come to an arrangement with the Nazis failed the regime finally decided to ban the Nazis entirely.

In July 1934 the Nazis attempted to seize power in Austria by force. As part of this attempt they occupied the Chancellor’s office and killed Chancellor Dollfuß. The attempted coup failed, but defeating the Nazis involved serious battles with the Nazi Storm Troopers in Styria, Salzburg and Carinthia. Dollfuß’ successor, Kurt Schuschnigg, continued to follow his dictatorial course at home and abroad, but the international framework was beginning to shift to Austria’s disadvantage. Fascist Italy had attempted to expand its empire by attacking Abyssinia (now Ethiopia). The League of Nations responded with an embargo against Italy in order to force it to end its war of aggression. Hitler saw his chance and threw Germany’s support to Mussolini and deliversed needed weapons and raw materials. This new alliance between the two major fascist powers led to Mussolini essentially abandoning Schuschnigg and Italygave Germany a free hand in Austria.

The Austrian dictatorship was faced with two possible courses of action: it could attempt to appease Hitler with concessions, or attempt, domestically build a strong front against the threat of annexation. Although the outlawed Social Democrats repeatedly offered to negotiate, Schuschnigg refused to open discussions with them. Instead he tried to appease Germany by legalizing the Nazi party and then integrating them into the ruling regime. An agreement between the two regimes in July 1936 solidified the position of the Austrian Nazis, but that didn’t satisfy the Nazis for long.

Political Persecution
Schuschnigg initiated strong measures to persecute outlawed leftists. He ordered a large scale show trial of arrested activists in 1936 that included the future Austrian President Franz Jonas and the future Chancellor Bruno Kreisky—who were both active in the underground resistance movement. In his speech to the court Kreisky repeated the willingness of the outlawed Social Democrats to join in defending Austria against Nazi Germany. The prerequisite for that, however, was the restoration of democracy: “It is possible that in a serious situation the government will have to call upon the broad masses to defend the borders. But only a democratic Austria would succeed in rallying them because only free citizens will fight.”

 Annexation by Germany
Schuschnigg ignored this offer like all the others despite the ever new concessions he was forced to make under pressure from the Third Reich. When Schuschnigg finally sought to get some relief from the pressure by calling for a March 13, 1938 referendum in favor of continued Austrian independence, Hitler demanded that he cancel the referendum “or else,” and when Schuschnigg refused the German army invaded on March 12. They were greeted by cheering crowds of Nazis and other Austrians while the Austrian army and police stood by or joined in the celebration—many of them were secret members of the Nazi party and now proudly displayed Nazi armbands on their uniforms. Austro-fascism didn’t just collapse in face of external aggression; it imploded at the same time. When later estimates of support for the Schuschnigg-Regime claim that only a third of the population still supported him they are being generous.

The aftermath of the February Fighting in “Victim land” Austria

The "spirit of the concentration camp"was a slogan symbolic of Austria’s political culture after 1945 - one that had learned from history. It was based on the claim of the leading political parties that they had built a new democratic Austria out of their common suffering of Nazi atrocities.

Nevertheless, the experiences of the civil war shaped the relationship between the parties. One consequence was the Social Partnership, “transfering the class struggle to the green table” for negotiation as Bruno Kreisky put it. The Austrian “Proporz” system of proportional representation, that is so often criticized these days, was designed after 1945 to produce produce a finely tuned balance of power that would prevent any of the parties from seizing power. This proportional system applied above all to the holding of public offices and political functions.

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The aftermath of the February Fighting in “Victim land” Austria

After 1945 a major political aim of Austria’s politicians was to prevent the old conflicts from before 1938 from ever again breaking out of their institutional framework. The "spirit of the concentration camp," the joint experience of the Nazi concentration camps by Social democrats and conservatives, Der „Geist der Lagerstrasse“, also das gemeinsame Erleben des Konzentrationslagers von SozialdemokratInnen und Konservativen, became a symbol for building a democratic Austria together.

In their effort to find a common basis on which a democratic policy would be possible, the Social Democrats accepted a tacit compromise: In order to open a future for the Second Republic, the circumstances of the failure of the First Republic were discussed only in commemorative events. In coming to terms with 1934, this was equivalent to an absolution for the conservatives and the reformed Austrian Socialist Party accepted a theory of "shared guilt." Outside of academic studies, and even there until the late 1960s, the dictatorial nature of the Dollfuss regime was not seriously discussed. The subject only entered the realm of open discussion in the 1970s, allowing the February Fighting to finally become discussed as a conflict over democracy in Austria, a formulation which is still contested by many conservatives.

The developing political consensus after the Second World War was strongly marked by the experience of the period between world wars. That also meant that a lot of what happened in the Nazi period was pushed into the background. But it is very clear that the people who carried out the resistance against the Nazis had a great deal of influence on the creation of a free and democratic Austria after 1945. That had been made explicit in the Moscow Declaration, in which the alies had laid out the formula for creating a free and independent Austria in which the resistance would be given a leading role.

Many of those who had already opposed Austro-Fascism as early as 1934 contributed significantly with their commitment against the Nazi regime to the creation of the Republic of Austria after 1945. The other side, however, was that these resistance fighters—along with the victims of the internal civil war—often remained unrecognized after 1945 even as official Austria boasted of their accomplishments.
It is also clear that the Austrian resistance was not a social movement of the entire society. On the contrary, it was a matter of individuals who need to be remembered: over 25,000 people died in the struggle against fascism - including not only resistance fighters in the real sense, but many other opponents of the regime who maintained their resistance against the Nazi regime as well.