Friedrich Adler

Leon Trotsky

Political Profiles

Fritz Adler

(October 1916)

NOW THERE CAN BE no room for any doubt: it was none other than Fritz Adler, the secretary of Austrian Social-Democracy and editor of the theoretical journal of the party Kampf, the son of Victor Adler who has killed the Austrian minister-president, Stürgkh. Among those unexpected coincidences with which our terrible era is so rich this may be one of the most unexpected. When Stürgkh was appointed to replace Binert in the post of Austrian minister-president, old Pernerstorfer presiding at the Innsbruck congress of Austro-German Social-Democracy pronounced in his closing address: “Henceforth the Tartaric Stürgkhian regime is upon us.” But this prediction was not fulfilled. Stürgkh proved to be a representative of that same pure-Austrian bureaucratic school who considered that to rule means to conclude petty pacts, accumulate obstacles and put off the tasks. He did not stand especially close to that imperialist clique which had assumed the mantle of the dead heir Franz-Ferdinand and which propounded that the way out of the external and internal poverty of Austro-Hungary lay on the path of a “tough” policy. But Stürgkh of course did not take up a struggle against this clique but adapted to it, i.e. succumbed to it in practice. Stürgkh’s ministry became a war ministry. The precocious Austrian imperialism which had to overcome all its inner social and national contradictions in practice merely laid them bare. The usual methods of the ruling Vienna bureaucracy had become inadequate. Stürgkh’s ministry completely abolished the constitutional regime throughout the war and collected and expended milliards without any sort of control whilst against the centrifugal national tendencies it brought out the handcuffs and the gallows. In Stürgkh, the characterless and commonplace bureaucrat, there was nothing which made him resemble a dictator or a tyrant. But, adapting automatically to the requirements of the Habsburg machine under the conditions of the European slaughter, the mediocre functionary Stürgkh set up a regime of dictatorship and white terror. Thus, in the very impersonality of his chancellery despotism he was elevated to the level of the representative of an imperialist state in a war of “liberation”. In this sense he perhaps did form a “worthy” object for the terrorist’s bullet.

But Fritz Adler as we knew him was not a terrorist. A social-democrat by family tradition and by personally earned conviction and an all-round educated Marxist he was in no way inclined towards terroristic subjectivism nor towards the naïve belief that a well-aimed bullet can break the knot of the greatest historical problems. This “armchair theorist” as the official and semi-official reports characterized him with a certain superficial truth, was an inflexible exponent of the “idea of the Fourth Estate” in that old all-embracing revolutionary sense with which it is imprinted in the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

It was precisely for this reason that for the first few hours it seemed incredible that Fritz Adler had placed his life, that of an internationalist, on a par with the life of the Habsburgs’ Stürgkh. The telegrams from the French press in Switzerland encouraged this natural disbelief. They on the one hand brought Adler in from German Bohemia calling him the secretary of the Prague Palace of Trade and on the other, evidently confused him with his younger brother and counted him amongst the literary bohemians and the group of “anarchists” of the Vienna cafés like Peter Altenburg, Karl Kraus and others. Now when the telegrams bring the reactions of the German press to the events, including the Vienna Arbeiter-Zeitung, there can be no longer room for doubt; this is definitely Fritz Adler, the editor of Kampf the revolutionary internationalist, our sympathizer and friend who has killed the Austrian minister-president, Stürgkh.

And now our original inner necessity – doubt – is replaced by a new one – explanation – which is more urgent than even a political criticism.

Stürgkh, we have said had, though in no way increasing his stature, been elevated to the level of the finished representative of the system. This would have been sufficient for the doctrinaire of terrorism but not for Fritz Adler. The direct and the most powerful motives for his action must be sought in the condition and the internal relationships of Austrian Social-Democracy itself.

Victor Adler the father of Fritz, the effective creator of the Austrian workers’ party and one of the greatest figures of the Second International emerged on to the political arena during the eighties as a younger friend of Friedrich Engels carrying serious theoretical baggage and the genuine temperament of a revolutionary. And to this day it is still impassible to turn the pages of his then weekly Gleichheit which waged a magnificent fight against the Habsburg censorship, police, monarchy and against class society as a whole without feelings of emotion. This heroic era, a considerable part of which Victor Adler spent in the monarchy’s prisons, encircled his head with the halo of revolution. Skillfully exploiting the impotence of the bureaucracy in the face of the claims of nationalism, Austrian Social-Democracy systematically cleared itself an open stage for political struggle. To his reputation as a revolutionary socialist Victor Adler added that of the fine strategist. The party was going through a period of uninterrupted growth. In this atmosphere of the exclusive political influence and personal attraction of Father Adler the younger generation of Austrian Marxists was formed: Karl Renner, Max Adler, Rudolf Hilferding, Gustav Eckstein, Fritz Adler, Otto Bauer and others.

All of them to a greater or a lesser extent accepted the official party tactic as a gift from above, without criticism restricting their job to the field of theoretical research and Marxist propaganda.

The Russian revolution added a new dimension to the political activity of the Austrian proletariat. Under the direct pressure of our October strike of 1905 which had produced a powerful response on the streets of Vienna and Prague, the monarchy, disorganized by the centrifugal forces of nationalism granted the right to universal suffrage. At a first glance it seemed that the broadest prospects had opened up before the party. The “Austrian” method – of complex manoeuvres, half-threats and half-agreements seemed the more victorious the more obvious became the ebb of the Russian revolution with the “over-simplification” of its mass battles.

But the political reality ran at right angles to the optimistic expectations of the enthusiasts and bureaucrats of the “Austrian” method. Urged on by the rapid development of young Austrian capitalism, the ruling bosses began to seek a way out of their internal difficulties along the path of successes abroad. The politics of imperialism doom more powerful parliaments than the Austrian one to insignificance. Universal suffrage seemed powerless to alter this law. Militarism cut into the living body of the multi-racial population, and of the monarchy, but any rebuff by its still more numerous peasant and petty-bourgeois masses was neutralized without result amid the strife of national clashes. At will ministers summoned parliament and at will they dispersed the deputies back to their homes.

Only an irreconcilable, revolutionary, offensive policy could knit together the multi-racial Austro-Hungarian proletariat, protect it from the infections of provincialism and nationalism and at the same time place the monarchy in a more regularized ‘constitutional’ link with the propertied classes. But the ‘Austrian’ method of temporizing half-measures, backstage moves and of the total substitution of the strategy-planning leaders for the masses had already time to become an ossified tradition and therewith unfolded its demoralizing features.

Around Victor Adler, the first and the greatest victim of his own method, grouped the mediocrities, the lobby politicians, the routinists and the careerists for whom there was no need, as there was for their leader, to blaze out a path through the wearying chaos of Austrian politics from revolutionary conceptions to complete skepticism in order to remain sworn enemies of any revolutionary initiative and of mass action. The miserable prostration of the official bosses of Austrian socialism revealed itself at the outbreak of the war in the form of an unbridled servility towards the Austro-Hungarian state.

In the extensive Manifesto of the Austrian Internationalists, published soon after the Zimmerwald conference in the socialist press, an exhaustive analysis of the internal regime of the monarchy, is given together with an even more deadly analysis of the regime of Austrian Social-Democracy. The author of this manifesto which put forward the demand that, irrespective of the course of the war, the socialist party must remain and operate as the standing army of the social revolution was Fritz Adler, who headed the socialist opposition.

If the younger generation of Austrian Marxists had before the war conducted no independent policy but left this to the domain of Father Adler then now at the moment of that enormous test a sense of political responsibility surged up with colossal force in the breast of Young Adler. He did not live, he flamed. On Austrian soil the conflict between the two generations of socialism found an expression which stunned by its drama. There was now no Bebel in Germany. Mediocre party bureaucrats had taken his place. In France there was no Jaurès. Second-rate epigones led the social-patriotic rot of socialism. In Austria Victor Adler, the embodiment of the whole history of Austrian Social-Democracy, still stood guarding the official social-patriotic policy. So much the harder and so much more dramatic was his son’s task. Amongst the party bosses he met the contemptuously hostile rebuff of the smug parliamentarians without a parliament, journalists who wrote up the events between breakfast and lunch-time, petty careerists and at best out-and-out nationalists. The impersonality of the Philistines who could take nothing seriously must have filled his heart with the greater anger the more limited that the opportunities for a direct appeal to the masses were. The telegrams report that at a recent conference of leading party workers Fritz Adler demanded firm action. “We must organize demonstrations everywhere”, he shouted, “or else the people will lay the responsibility for the war on the leaders of socialism.” He was answered by shrugs of the shoulders. These people took nothing seriously. But he, Fritz, took his socialist duty seriously. He resolved to shout to the proletarian masses with all his might that the road of social-patriotism is the road to slavery and spiritual death. He chose the means for this which seemed to him the most effective. Like the pointsman on the permanent way who opens his own vein and signals the danger ahead with a handkerchief soaked with his own blood, Fritz Adler turned himself and his life into a warning detonator in front of the deceived and sapped masses ...

Which means that the heart of this unhappy mankind is still beating if amongst its sons are such knights to their duty!

Nachalo [1], No.22, October 25, 1916


1. NACHALO (The Start) – Russian Social-Democrat newspaper appearing in Petersburg in 1905. After 16 issues (the first issue came out on November 13) the paper closed down (December 2). The principal collaborators on Nachalo were the leading Menshevik figures of the time: Martov, Potresov, Dan, Martynov and Jordansky as well as Parvus, Trotsky and others not members of the faction. Comrade Trotsky relates the following about the setting up of Nachalo: “The editorial board was in a ‘coalition’ principle. Parvus and myself joined the board of Nachalo on condition that each of our articles was printed over our signatures; we did not enter the Menshevik organization at the same time we put out, quite separately, without the Mensheviks the mass-circulation Russkaya Gazeta. In the end Martov and Dan contributed two or three articles to this on an occasional basis.

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Last updated on: 10.4.2007