Leon Trotsky

Austria Next in Order!

Austrian Bonapartism

(March 1933)

Written: 23 March 1933.
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 23, 15 April, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Einde O’Callaghan for the Trotsky Internet Archive.
Copyleft: Leon Trotsky Internet Archive (www.marxists.org) 2015. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0.

The situation in Austria is not qualitatively different from the situation in Germany, but only lags behind it in its development. After the political life in Austria had fallen under the press of the Fascist overturn in Germany, the culmination in Austria is drawing closer not by days, but by hours.

Austria is passing through a period that is analogous to the period of Bruening-Papen-Schleicher in Germany, or to the period of Held in Bavaria, that is, the period of semi-Bonapartist dictatorship, which maintains itself by the mutual neutralization of the proletarian and Fascist camps. For Austria too we prefer the term Bonapartism (in contradistinction to all other purely descriptive and absolutely meaningless formulations such as clerical-Fascism, legitimistic Fascism, etc., etc.), as a very clear characterization of the feature of a government that veers in between too irreconcilable camps; a government that is forced to an ever increasing degree to supplant by military and police apparatus the social support that is ebbing away from under its feet. [1] There is expressed in the tendency toward Bonapartism the urge of the possessing classes to escape an open break with legality, a long period of civil war and the bloody Fascist dictatorship by means of military and police measures that are screened by the paragraphs kept in reserve in democratic constitutions.

There obtain historical epochs when the social foundation of the government “above all classes” grows at the expense of the extreme wings – during these periods Bonapartism can place its seal upon an entire historical epoch. But the Austrian “Bonapartism” of today like the German of yesterday, can have only an episodic character, filling in the short interval between the democratic regime and the regime of Fascism.

It is true that the “Bonapartists” in Austria have a much wider parliamentary base and that the Fascists are much weaker than was the case in Germany. But, in the first place, the Christian socialists are melting away while the Nazis afe growing apace; secondly, behind the backs of the Nazis stands Fascist Germany. The question is settled by dynamics. Theoretical analysis, as well as the fresh experience in Germany equally bespeak the fact that the Viennese police and bureaucratic dictatorship cannot long maintain itself. Matters are rapidly coming to a head. The power must be taken either by the Fascists or by the workers.

The Possibility of Postponement

We do not know what is going on back-stage. But there cannot be any doubt that the governments of those countries which surround and oppress Austria have brought into action all the levers. Not a single one of these governments, not even Italy, has any interest in seeing the power in Austria pass into the hands of the Fascists. The leaders of the Austrian social democracy see, indubitably, in this situation the highest trump of the whole game; in their eyes the revolutionary activity of the Austrian proletariat must needs be supplanted by financial and other different sorts of pressure that can be brought by the nations of the former Entente. This reckoning is the most fallacious of all. The hostility on the part of the victor nations toward national socialism was one of the reasons for its explosive growth in Germany. The closer that the Austrian social democracy will link itself with the policies of France and of the little Entente, whose task consists in keeping Austria in the state of “independence”, i.e., isolation and impotence, the greater will be the rate at which Fascism will turn into a party of national liberation in the eyes of petty bourgeois masses. Along this line, only the armed intervention of the Entente, i.e., outright occupation could prevent Fascism from the conquest of power. But in this, the question of Austria merges with the question of Fascist Germany. If Hitler finds a modus vivendi with France – and there is hardly any reason to doubt it – then France will find a modus vivendi with Fascist Austria. In both cases, of course – on the bones of the proletariat, German and Austrian. To think that Fascist Austria would immediately destroy those barriers which separate it from Fascist Germany is to place much too great a significance upon “national” phrases and to undervalue the capacity of Fascism for wagging its tail before those who are stronger than it. It can be said with assurance that of all strategic calculations, the most ill-fated, degrading and ruinous for the proletariat is to bank upon the co-operation of the imperialist governments of the countries surrounding Austria.

Even if we were to allow that because of the traditional flabbiness of all Austrian parties as well as because of the influence of external and temporary causes (the pressure of France and of the little Entente; the apprehension of the Hitlerites to push matters to the end, just now) – allowing it, the culmination even in this case would turn out to be postponed by means of some kind of a moth-eaten Austrian Bonapartist compromise – and a postponement of this kind could have an extremely unreliable and a very temporary character. The process thus checked would burst out, in the course of the next few months or even weeks with a redoubled force and at a tenfold tempo. To build its policies upon checks, masquerades, the plastering up of cracks, and petty political moratoriums would mean for the proletariat to extend more time for the still weak Austrian Fascism in which to achieve its murderous mission.

“The Struggle for Democracy”

Otto Bauer confines himself, to vapid moralizations on the subject of the “superiorities” of bourgeois democracy over Fascist dictatorship. As if the struggle is taking place between two schools of state laws! Engels aptly remarked, that every state is reducible to armed detachments of men with the material appendages in the nature of jails, etc. At present this “essence” of the state has been completely revealed in Austria. The political struggle which has developed in the course of a number of years upon the bases of democracy has been pushed flush up against the clashes between armed detachments. It is necessary to call this fact by its name, clearly and precisely, and to draw from it all the necessary practical conclusions.

Instead of this, the Austrian social democracy demands an admission on our part that the struggle is being carried on “for democracy”. As if the question lies in this at present! It goes without saying that we are not ready to make any concessions whatsoever to the Austro-Marxists as regards the theoretical and historical appraisal of democracy. And in fact, if democracy was indeed raised above the social regime that engendered it; if it was indeed capable of reconstructing bourgeois society into socialist society, then it should have revealed all its qualities first of all in Austria, where the constitution was created by the social democracy, where the proletariat comprises the decisive force in the nation, and the social democracy represents the decisive force iu the proletariat. And concurrently, what Austria is living through demonstrates in action that democracy is flesh of the flesh of capitalism, and decomposes with it. The Austrian crisis is the expression of the decay of democracy. The gentlemen of democracy need expect no other appraisal on our part.

However, we understand only too well, on the other hand, that theoretical diagnosis alone is altogether insufficient for the purpose of supplanting democracy with the Soviet regime. The matter touches the living consciousness of a class. If in the course of a joint struggle against Fascists the majority of the proletariat understands the need for Soviet dictatorship, there will be no stopping the Communists. But if, despite all the lessons it received, the majority of the worker’s, even after the smashing of the forces of counter-revolution, decides to repeat once more the experiment of formal democracy, then the Communists will be compelled to take to the same ground, in the guise of an opposition.

Today, at any rate, the overwhelming majority of Austrian worker’s follows the social democrats. This means that there cannot even be talk of revolutionary dictatorship as an actual task. What is on the agenda today is not the antithesis of bourgeois and Soviet democracy but the antithesis of bourgeois democracy and Fascism. We accuse the Austro-Marxists not of fighting for democracy but of not fighting for it.

Capitalism resorts to Fascism not out of caprice but because it is driven into an impasse. If social democracy is capable only of criticizing, grumbling, curbing, threatening, and biding time but is incapable of taking into its hands the fate of society, when the matter touches the life and death of the nation and of its culture, then this party, which represents one half of the nation becomes itself the instrument of social decomposition and compels the exploiting classes to seek salvation from Fascism.

Applying the ancient juxtaposition of Ermattungsstrategie and Niederwerfungsstrategie, the strategy of exhaustion, and the strategy of assault, one is compelled to say that the strategy of exhaustion, which was applicable after a fashion in certain situations, is impossible of application today when there remains nothing for capitalism except strategy of assault, the reformist strategy is exhausting at present not the class enemy but its own camp. The policies of Otto Bauer and Co. lead fatally to the victory of the Fascists, imposing least sacrifices and difficulties upon them, and the greatest sacrifices and misfortunes upon the proletariat.

The Austro-Marxists Are Chloroforming the Proletariat

Despite the experience of Italy and Germany, the leaders of Austrian social-democracy do not understand the situation. In order to live and breathe, these people must fool themselves. This they cannot do otherwise than by fooling the proletariat.

Bauer places the blame for the defeat in Germany upon the Communists. We are not the ones to defend German Stalinists! But their chief crime consists in their having given the social democrats the possibility of preserving their influence upon the basic part of the German proletariat and of loading upon it the tactic of debasing and fatal capitulation, despite all the crimes and betrayals committed by the social democracy. In essence Bauer’s policies are no different from the policies of Wels-Stampfer. But there is a distinction Bauer will be unable to shift the responsibility upon the Austrian Stalinists who have managed to doom themselves to complete impotence. The Austrian social democracy is not only the leading party of the proletariat but it is the strongest, as regards the population, social democratic party in the world. The political responsibility lies upon the Austrian social democracy, solely and entirely. All the more fatal will prove to be the consequences of its present policies.

The Austro-Marxists say – If we are deprived of liberty, then we shall fight to “the end”. By such subterfuge they want to “gain” time for their vacillations, when in reality they are losing the most precious time for the preparation of defense. After the enemy deprives them of liberty, it will be a hundred times more difficult to fight, for the liquidation of rights will be accompanied by military and police destruction of the proletarian press and the proletarian apparatus. The enemy prepares and acts while the social democracy bides its time and whines. The Vorwaerts also repeated times innumerable: “Woe to Fascism, if it ventures against us!” The events have demonstrated the value of such rhetoric. The party which proved incapable of giving battle when it held in its hands almost impregnable positions and powerful resources will crumble into dust when it is completely expelled from the legal arena.

(To Be Continued)


1. The Arbeiter Zeitung itself disturbed the ghost of Bonaparte when it wrote about the “19th Brumaire of Dollfuss”; but the social-democratic sheet uses this only as a literary rattle. We would seek in vain from the Austro-Marxists, in general, for the analysis of politics from the class viewpoint. They require Marxism only to explain the past; but they motivate themselves in actual politics by psychologic combinations that are second hand and by the hope that everything will turn out somehow in the end.

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Last updated on: 3 September 2015