Max Shachtman


Fatal Admissions

(July 1934)

From New International, Vol.1 No.1, July 1934, pp.27-28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

32 pp. Prague. Publishing House of the German Social Democratic Workers Party in the Czechoslovakian Republic. 25c.
[In German.]

THE CIVIL WAR IN AUSTRIA. A Description by Combatants and Eyewitnesses
100 pp. Karlsbad. Graphia Publishing House. $1.
[In German.]

The unforgettable February events in Austria are in many respects of greater significance than those which preceded them by a year in Germany. There both social democrats and Stalinists excused their impotent capitulation by accusing each other: Ah, if only there had been no Communists ! Ah, if only the workers hadn’t supported the Socialists! we would have given a better account of ourselves. As it was, we ...

In Austria, however, writes Bauer, “the social democracy represented, after the results of the last election, 90% of the workers, two-thirds of the people of Vienna, the overwhelming majority of the urban and industrial population of Austria as a whole, 41 percent of the entire Austrian people. And this mighty party, with its 600,000 members and a million and a half voters, became completely impotent at a single blow after March 7, 1933, after the establishment of the governmental dictatorship”. In other words, a united working class, and no Communists to blame for the calamity.

The second leader of the party and head of the workers’ Schutzbund, Deutsch, reveals that the relationship of military forces was not at all unfavorable. The federal army had a maximum of 25,000 men and the federal gendarmes another 10,0000. The Heimwehr (“it was always a more politically than militarily effective force”), plus the Eastern Marches Storm Troops, plus the Freedom League, plus the Christian-German Turners’ League, could muster a maximum of 17,000 men of varied quality and equipment. Even if the 10,000 police of the Vienna Socialist municipality are added, and all of them counted as unqualifiedly disposed in favor of the reaction, the total of 60,000 would still not measure up to the 80,000 well-organized men of the Republican Schutzbund.

How then account for the stupefying outcome of the civil war? The two chiefs of the Austrian working class have an answer: They were caught by surprise, they were deceived by assurances of perfidious friends in the government, unfair advantage was taken of their pacific protestations, they were betrayed.

Dollfuss charges the “Bolshevik elements” (Oof!) with having undertaken an insurrection, which had to be surpressed. Bauer and Deutsch are not one whit less outraged at this accusation that a pious Hindu would be if he were charged with doing violence to a sacred cow. “Did the workers ever make use of these weapons before February 12, 1934 ? Didn’t these weapons remain in their hiding places for fifteen years, even in times of greatest excitement – even at the time of the 1918-1919 overturn, even after the bloody massacre of July 15, 1927?” cries Bauer. “Nothing is more ridiculous”, adds Deutsch indignantly, “than the assertion that the Austrian social democrats were ‘Bolsheviks’, who aspired to a dictatorship of the proletariat”.

No, not the Socialist leaders are responsible for the struggle of the Austrian working class. Both Bauer and Deutsch devote page after page to prove (and they succeed, too!) that a struggle was literally the last thing they ever thought of or prepared for. They depended, not on the masses, but on Dollfuss and Miklas. “Our comrades outside of Vienna who sat together with Christian-Socialists and Land Leaguers in the provincial governments, used their personal connections with the Christian-Socialist provincial chiefs ... The League of Religious Socialists and several Catholic democrats not belonging to the party, invoked the mediation of the Church” – in vain. They were, do you understand? betrayed. “The most wretched role in this whole era of breaches of the constitution,” continues Bauer’s plaint, “was played by the federal president, Miklas. After his election as president of the republic he had taken a solemn religious oath on the constitution before the federal assembly.” Deutsch thunders still louder against this amazing bourgeois who broke an oath: “Were Miklas the man of justice and constitutional fidelity he would like to seem to be, the Dollfuss dictatorship would not have been possible.” As for Dollfuss, “he is of a mendacious nature. He lies in everyone’s face, friend and foe alike.” Is it their fault that Dollfuss and Miklas turned out to be liars and betrayed them?

If they had followed Marx instead of only naming cooperative houses after him, they would recall his sardonic observation:

“It is not enough to say, as the Frenchmen do, that their nation was taken by surprise. A nation, no more than a woman, is excused for the unguarded hour when the first adventurer who comes along can do violence to her. The riddle is not solved by such shifts, it is only formulated in other words. There remains to be explained how a nation of thirty-six millions can be surprised by three swindlers, and taken to prison without resistance.”

Neither Bauer nor Deutsch offers the explanation. Deutsch does not even hint that there was anything particularly wrong with the social democracy, or that any revaluation of values is necessary after the event. “We have been beaten, but not vanquished!” Let that suffice. As for the rest, his brochure is one long, strained effort to prove that Dollfuss started the civil war, that it was forced upon reluctant socialists, that Dollfuss is no democrat, but the Socialists are and always will be.. Through this revolting lawyer’s plea against the truly outrageously unfounded accusation of the Fascists that he is a revolutionist, there pierces from time to time a narrative of rank and file heroism and com-bativity which is epic in grandeur. If only the superb valor and revolutionary spirit of the barricade fighters had been fostered and organized instead of being dampened to the point of suffocation – not Stanek, Wallisch, Weissel and Miinichreiter would have dangled from the gallows, but the Fascist murderers of the proletariat!

Bauer feints an analysis, but nothing more. In the course of it, however, he unwittingly writes such an eternally damning indictment: of social democracy, Austro-Marxism included, that any Communist would be hard put to improve upon it. If only we could circulate it by the tens of thousands of copies, especially among socialist workers! We really owe a great debt to those English socialists who have already translated it; Deutsch should be next on their publishing agenda.

“Fascism or democracy – that was the question!” This is the refrain of Deutsch’s work, and Bauer only sings it a little off key. Not capitalist dictatorship or proletarian dictatorship; not bourgeois exploitation or socialist freedom; but the Fascist rule of capitalism or the “democratic” rule of capitalism! On that alternative social democracy has broken its neck, and alas! the neck of the proletariat. Only once does Bauer involuntarily answer the cowards and rascally defeatists who continue to preach the poisonous doctrine that the Austrian workers couldn’t have won a fight anyhow. When the, parliament was dispersed in March 1933,

“we could have answered that on March 15 with the general strike. Never were the conditions for a successful strike so favorable as on that day. The German counter-revolution, which was just then stormily taking place, had aroused the masses in Austria. The working masses awaited the signal to fight. The railroad men werd at that time not yet so cowed as eleven months later. The military organization of the government was then far weaker than in February 1934. At that time we might have triumphed.”

But the signal was not given. Bauer – to say nothing of Renner and the extreme Right wing of the party – was too concerned with saving democracy. All the party leaders looked on, knees to the floor, hats in hand, tears in their eyes, appealing to nature’s noblemen among a bourgeoisie too occupied with shearing the proletarian Samson of his locks to pay much attention to eloquent and scholarly dissertations on the superiority of democracy over Fascism.

What now? Bauer doesn’t exactly know. The proletariat has tried one policy in Hungary in 1919; another in Italy in 1922; a third in Germany in 1933. “In Austria, we attempted to take a middle path between the Italian-Hungarian and the German extremes – we were beaten just the same.” Bauer led the proletariat to a horrible defeat and he does not know the way out! Or if there is another way, Marx’s and Lenin’s way, it is entirely out of the question. That would be Bolshevism, which, as Bauer or Kautsky could prove, it not “democratic”. What business have such people calling themselves leaders? What business have they in the labor movement?

We feel free to recommend these two social democratic books to every worker – wholeheartedly. They prove to the hilt that there is but one name for such leaders, not a name of arbitrary abuse unjustly hurled in polemical heat, but a name richly deserved: Traitors!


Max Shachtman

Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 12 January 2010