Bela Kun

The Development of Revolutionary Forces in Austria

First Published: Pravda May 19, 1918
Source: International Socialist Library No. 15, Revolutionary Essays by Bela Kun, B.S.P., London.
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: Chris Clayton
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2005). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

Everyone waiting impatiently for the international revolution should recall the events previous to the revolution of March, 1917.

In the attitude of the Austrian Government and the Emperor Karl we find an analogy with the state of affairs in Russia at that time. We must not seek such an extent of similarity as to amount to a complete coincidence of circumstances. We ought not to allow ourselves to be misled by the existence of the so-called Austro-Hungarian constitution. As is shown by the manifesto issued by the Austro-German Social-Democratic Party to protest against the postponement of the opening of the Reichsrath, Parliament has become a meaningless thing, inasmuch as the Imperial Government is quite incapable of sustaining Parliamentary criticism in connection with vital questions of Austrian policy, the organisation of the food question, the Imperial message, the resignation of Czernin, the broad questions of policy and finance of the Monarchy.

At the same time there is no bourgeois party which has not protested against the prorogation, of the Reichsrath. Various nationalist groups, amongst them a group of Czech deputies, have unanimously declared that absolutism is being set up, and have issued a protest against the Government. The fraction of German Social-Democrats has reminded the latter of Sturgck, laid low by the bullet of Friedrich Adler. “If they take it into their heads, in order to please the Pan-Germanists who prolong the war, to re-establish absolutism and to govern Austria, by the methods of Störgck, then the working class will be obliged to rise and fight for the people's rights.” The manifesto calls upon all working men and women to remain in fighting order, so that at any moment they will be ready to join in the conflict.

On the other hand, facts are coming to light like the Report of the Commission controlling State debts, which actually deals with “sacred militarism” — the organs of the military system. Apparently the central Government was not able to prevent the appearance of this Report — in Austria, the classic home of the military censorship. Admitting that the issue of credit notes has reached incredible dimensions, the Report states that the feverish work of the bank of issue may awaken the most serious doubts from the financial, banking, and economic standpoint, and that the main reason for the particularly swollen demands of the War Department is constituted by “on the one hand, staff-officers’ pay with war-time increases, which in the rear attains totally disproportionate rates; and, on the other hand, the uneconomical massing of troops behind the front. Finally, contractors are receiving excessive prices for supplies.”

Who will not have recalled, reading this, the speeches in the Duma before the revolution, directed against the monarchical system? The bribery of officers by means of increased pay, as well as the massing of troops in the rear, are “inevitable and necessary” phenomena. The events at Trieste and Cracow show the necessity of collecting troops in the rear. The troops are so unreliable that the Government has to try several regiments before, at last, volunteers can be found to take upon themselves the repulsive “duty” of fratricide. At Trieste the town militia joined the participants in the hunger riots, while at Cracow the mob nearly managed to sack the military food dumps, until the authorities succeeded in bringing armed force to bear. There were even cases of street fighting. The risings take place without organisation, elementally; but from the point of view of the revolution, they have a symptomatic character.

Desertion is developing with gigantic strides in the Army; and it is measurable only by Russian post-revolutionary standards. From an order issued by the general officer commanding at Budapest, it is clear that soldiers in service battalions being sent up to the front desert in masses on the way. The number of men arrested for desertion is so great that the military authorities have to make use of the civil gaols because there is no more room in the military prisons. This “uneconomical massing of troops in the rear” has become still more “uneconomical” as a result of the fact that, during the last brigands’ attack on Russia, whole brigades and divisions had to be disarmed. When a small military detachment is required at least double the number of soldiers has to be sent: an unreliable regiment must be followed by a reliable one, which remains permanently in the rear: on the one hand, the lives of these reliable persons must be spared, while, on the other hand, all the reliability of these detachments would vanish into thin air if they were to be transferred from the rear to the front.

This is what is meant by the “uneconomical massing of troops in the rear,” of which the Report of the Commission controlling State debts speaks. As for the food crisis, it is extremely characteristic that several districts in Austria have to be provisioned by Germany. Hungary is not providing bread for the simple reason that the ruling circles are not disposed to share it with others: the Hungarian well-to-do peasants have plenty of money. They hide their stores from the requisitioning commissions. The small peasant proprietors also defend their little surpluses from the gendarmes. Germany and Austria would only be able to receive food supplies from Hungary if they invaded her. Only by force could the Hungarian peasant be constrained to loyalty to his “Allies.”

In Bohemia, as in Galicia, where hunger-riots have been suppressed only by main force, the ground is completely ready for a rising, in the districts populated not only by Czechs, but by Germans. An Extraordinary Congress of commandants of the German-Bohemian districts states in its resolution: “German Bohemia is at the last gasp.”

The Tyrol lives only on German supplies, stolen in the Ukraine. Austria herself succeeds in stealing very little; and in this respect also Germany increases the degree of vassaldom of the Dual Monarchy.

The official Social-Democratic Party, which, it must be recognised, is at present beginning to drift to the Left, is still not the interpreter of the feeling of the Austrian working class.

From little notes which have escaped the Censor’s eye we can ascertain that every market is a real battlefield — a battlefield in which men and women fight the police and the provisioning authorities. These conflicts are the accustomed daily event in every town. War industry is unstable, thanks to the “idleness” of the workers. Attempts are made — as, for example, on the State railways — to anticipate this form of silent sabotage where raw materials are concerned.

But nothing can be of any avail. In Trieste and in Cracow the workers have already taken up arms. The weakness of the central government in Austria is merely a guarantee that the mass movement of the workers will one day pass, by means of an armed rising, into a victorious revolution.

There is now no lack of activity.