Austrian Workers Show Proletarian
Will in War Against Fascism

(February 1934)

From The Militant, Vol. VII No. 8, 17 February 1934, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The eleventh hour has struck in Austria.

With a superb heroism which has evoked the grudging admiration of even the capitalist press abroad, the Austrian proletariat is fighting desperately for its life. And what deathless pages it is writing with its own blood! What a thrilling spirit of selfless sacrifice, fearlessness and determination it is displaying! What militant in the ranks of the working class all over the world does not feel his blood pound furiously, and bis pride rise at the thought of being a soldier in that international army whose vanguard battle the Austrian workers are now fighting!

The honor of the proletariat, besmirched by its established leaders in Germany who last year dragged it in the mud of capitulation and needless defeat, is being retrieved by the nameless immortals on Austria’s blood-soaked barricades.

Where are they now, those who sneered at the working class for its defeat in Germany, who would not see that it was only a bitter episode in the ceaseless battle that will end only with the emancipation of all the oppressed? The proletariat of Austria is revealing her fathom, when once they begin to draw from them, what immense reservoirs of courage and endurance are theirs to tap, how lofty are the heights of heroism they can scale.

Clad in “old rubber jackets, ragged trousers and broken shoes”, the revolutionary proletariat has nevertheless held out till now with only “rusty rifles, some hand grenades and a few score machine guns”. Their fortresses are their homes of brick and glass. Their trenches are hastily thrown up barricades. Their auxiliary troops are their women and children.

Arrayed against them are all the forces of reaction. Field pieces, howitzers and even naval ordinance have been moved up to demolish in brief and merciless bombardments the model apartment; buildings which the Viennese workers were taught to regard as imperishable monuments to an unmolested growing over into socialism.” At the Brenner Pass, the artillery of Mussolini’s legions points down menacingly upon the civil war in Austria, ready at a moment’s notice to tire into the ranks of the proletariat. At the North it is threatened by the Hitler bands. From the West looms the threat of Berenger: an army of the international counter-revolution to occupy any part of Austria over which the red flag will float.

Drunk with the knowledge of the resources upon which he can draw – not so much for his own preservation as for the crushing of the rebels – the repulsive dwarf who is momentarily clothed with the authority of the Chancellorship is seeking to escape obscurity by infamy. To the laurels of a miniature Napoleon he must needs add the reputation of a Gallifet. Blinded by an exaggerated sense of his own permanence he does not realize that when the horrible massacre he has ordered is ended, and if he succeeds in exterminating the party whose leaders’ toleration made possible his tenure of office from the outset, the moment will have arrived when the name of Dollfuss will disappear into the same oblivion as that of von Papen and Schleicher who enjoyed a similarly brief notoriety.

Hemmed in though they are by greater numbers, the socialist masses are fighting with au obduracy and defiance which is without equal in recent times. Driven from one position, they appear the next moment in another. In many places their machine guns, rifles and pistols are proving the equal and even the superior of the enemy’s artillery because of the limitless courage and solidarity with which they are fighting. Without the superior military equipment of the reaction, Dollfuss and the mercenaries of the Heimwehr, who march much better on a ration of beer than on a ration of bullets, would have proved a sorry match for the serried ranks of Austria’s proletariat. And even as matters stand, the outcome of the titanic battle is by no means determined in advance at this writing.

That the embattled workers have stood their ground even for so long a time is still more impressive in consideration of the tremendous handicap under which they launched their revolt.

Austria is not Germany. Here no one need go far afield in seeking the Achilles heel. No need here to spend time in mathematical computations which are to establish the ratio of responsibility respectively borne by social democrats and Stalinists. Here the caricature of Communism represented by the latter reached that limit of absurdity which was equivalent to its total disappearance from the political scene, unaccompanied by the slightest convulsion.

For good or evil, the social democracy was tantamount to the political expression of the working class of Austria. Upon its leaders, and exclusively upon their shoulders, rests the responsibility for the course pursued in the past. They must be judged accordingly.

The international social democracy, which experienced its second catastrophic historical bankruptcy in the capitulation to Hitler which, with the aid of the no less ignoble conduct of the Stalinist leadership, left the German proletariat paralyzed with bewilderment and prostrate, – is now trying to refurbish its arms in the light of the flares of Austria’s civil war. The eternally discredited 2nd international, which nineteen years after the first one, inflicted a second 1914 upon the German working class, is now seeking to restore its exploded prestige by a parasitic association with the heroism of the Austrian rebels.

In vain! History will never permit it!

What is there in common between the machine gunners of the Karl Marx apartments mowed down by Dollfuss’ artillery, and the high priests of the social democracy who begged for months to be made partners of the same Dollfuss. What is there in common between the heroes of the socialist Schutzbund who emerged from illegality to smash Dollfuss, and the Bauers and Renners who lamented impotently but raised no finger when the same Dollfuss ordered the dissolution of the Schutzbund? What is there in common between the barricade fighters of Fioridsdorf, Linz and Steyr who refuse with bulleted emphasis to tolerate for another day the encroachments upon their lives by the Dollfuss regime, and the Seitzes and Deutsches whose policy of toleration alone made it possible for Dollfuss to bear down, step by step, upon the organized working class? What is there in common between the fignters whose battle song is the International, and those leaders who not so long ago sat by silently while the Austrian Imperial and Royal Hymn, outlawed by the revolution of 1918, was legally restored? What is there in common between the court-martialled insurrectionary who cried “I shall fight Dollfuss to the end!” as the hangman’s noose was slipped around his neck, and the whole party leadership which hung pathetically at the coat-tails of Dollfuss until they were contemptuously kicked away? – But nevertheless called the general strike! They are nevertheless leading the masses on the barricades!

Illusions! Illusions!

In its moment of crucial need, the Austrian proletariat was left in the lurch just as disgracefully as it was in Germany!

Where were the leaders upon whom rested such a tremendous responsibility – where were they all this time? What were they doing to prepare the workers for that decisive struggle whose inevitability stood out so glaringly and unmistakably, especially after Hitler’s seizure of power? What were they doing to absorb and communicate to the masses the tremendously important lessons of the German tragedy? What were they doing during all the previous, jewelled moments which Dollfuss garnered as they slipped through the shackled hands of the Austrian proletariat in the past year?

NOTHING! Nothing but allowing Dollfuss to grow more arrogant, Starhemberg to grow more peremptory, the Nazis to grow stronger.

True to the worst traditions of Austro-Marxism, whose tinsel of verbal radicalism embellishes a deadening passivity, the party leadership which taught the masses that they could not proclaim Austria a socialist republic because the European “balance of power” did not permit it, kept the masses in check to the very last moment. One by one, they allowed the reaction to deprive the masses of their institutions, their class weapons

Dollfuss was permitted to dissolve the socialist-republican Schutzbund without a tremor. Dollfuss was permitted to suppress the Communist party without the Socialist leadership doing more than mailing him a mild bleat of protest. Dollfuss was permitted to censor, to confiscate issues of the central daily newspaper of the socialists, to force it to print Dollfuss propaganda, without action being taken. Dollfuss was permitted to abrogate the constitution so dear to every socialist statesman, and to rule by despotic emergency decrees, without action being taken. The Heimwehr leaders were permitted to infiltrate one commanding post after another, without action being taken. Those thousand and one steps taken by all the Bonapartist trail-blazers of Fascism to hamstring and paralyze the proletariat before the decisive hour – all of them the socialist leadership allowed Dollfuss to take without themselves taking action.

To cap this characteristic record, the party leaders who apparently issued the general strike call chose a moment not only dictated by the enemy, but one when the means of carrying it out effectively were considerably reduced. The call was issued only after the Arbeiterzeitung headquarters had been seized by the Heimwehr and the paper suspended, automatically depriving the party of its direct contact with the masses as a whole. The result? The newspapers report how severely this defect injured the efficacy of the strike.

— But the leaders are fighting on the barricades!

We permit ourselves, first, to deny the decisive importance of this fact, and second, to express doubts as to the accuracy of the reports and rumors. What is decisive is not the heroic conduct of this or that individual leader, but the policy of the leader which in the fundamental sense determines the course of his party. One has but to recall the tragedy of the recent case of the social democratic police chief of Altona, who helped the Nazis to victory by permitting the notorious raid on that working class quarter in 1931 which ended in a massacre. His conduct then did not prevent him from dying a martyr at the hands of the Fascist dogs a few weeks ago. The personal courage of this or that leader of Austro-Marxism in the present civil war will never absolve the leadership of the responsibility for the policy which played the game of the reaction.

The socialist workers in this country who, disgusted with the record of the social democracy, now cling so hopelessly to the reports of Bauer on this barricade and Deutsch on that one, reveal a sentiment which is more comprehensible than commendable. But it is a sentiment which experience will not tolerate. We have no reason to believe that, as a group, the Austrian Loebes and Brauns and Welses (and let us include the Heckerts and Muenzenbergs!) will have proved to rise to a stature even one inch higher than their German predecessors. They are made not of sterner but of identical political stuff.

If the masses were called upon to act, it was only after they could no longer be restrained. The first half-perspicacious correspondent to come along will and has attested this brutal fact. With the nightmare of Hitlerism, preferring to die fighting if necessary, rather than to live as gagged and driven serfs of Nazidom. They could not aviod the battle, they picked up the gage the minute the straitjacket forced upon them by their leaders was relaxed. The working class, they realised, cannot get a passport for a villa in Switzerland. Individual leaders can ... and do ...

And it is because the workers must remain and fight to the bitter end that the keenest weapons must be in their hands. In Germany, both the socia1 democracy and the official Communist party proved their bankruptcy to the hilt. In the present events in Austria, the proof is given over again. The Stalinist party crumbled away even before it came to the decisive test. The Socialist party proved to be a brake on the working class and not an accelerator. It is now in a state of utter collapse, and in falling this once powerful party merely drives the hulk of the 2nd International deeper into the mire.

Austria stands out as the second great sign-post in one year pointing to the imperative need of new revolutionary parties and a new Communist International!

Tomorrow or the day after, the vanguard of the Austrian proletariat will step forward resolutely on this road.

So it is to these shining champions of the revolutionary proletarian cause, to the barricade fighters of the Austrian working class, that we extend the hand of warmest comradely solidarity. It is before them that we lower our own banner in respect and admiration. It is for them that we cry out to all sections of the working class movement in this country, with all the power at our command:

Forge a united front, now, instantly, for work of solidarity and aid to the Austrian working class! Others have fought as good a battle, as devoted a fight as they are fighting, but none a better one. Others may have fought a more successful tight, but none a nobler one!”

And each hour that brings new reports of the inspiring bravery and tenacity of the workers, and the jackal’s work of their foes, will only deepen the conviction already embedded in our minds that the proletarians of Austria are true sons of the sacred cause that the flash from their firearms lit a flame that will burn in perpetual purity alongside of the beaconlights of the Paris and Russian Communes.


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