Letter from Vienna

Monday, July 18, 1927.

Source: International Press Correspondence, Vol. 7, No. 42, July 21, 1927, pp. 922-925.
Transcribed: by Zdravko Saveski.
Online Version: 2023.

The Cause of the Bloody Events.

The immediate cause of the events of 15th and 16th July was the acquittal of the two members of the Frontkampferbund (fascist organisation), Tscharmann and Pinter, who, on January 30 [1927], in Schattendorf, fired from an ambush on a detachment of the Republican Schutzbund (a workers' defence corps under socialist leadership) which was peacefully marching past, killing a war invalid and a child and wounding a number of workers.

The Austrian bourgeoisie, after having recently concluded the sameful pact with the leaders of the Social Democratic Party, under which the latter handed over to it the rest of the weapons still in the possession of the working class, believed that it could now safely provoke the workers further by acquitting the two fascist murderers who were brought up for trial before the Schattendorf Court.

The causes which contributed to this incident becoming the occasion for tremendous demonstration's and fights are the following:

1. The Schattendorf murders were the last of a long series of acts of murder committed by fascist against workers, and which murders have remained completely unpunished. The government, the apparatus of justice and the police openly encouraged the fascists and in every way promote all the reactionary organisations, which they are holding in reserve in order to use them when they deem the time ripe for adopting an open fascist policy against the working class.

2. The Vienna proletariat, which feels conscious of increased power since the election victory of April 24, regarded the acquittal as a direct provocation. In addition there is the fact that, in spite of the increased parliamentary representation gained by the social democracy, the workers have not seen the slightest fruits of the election victory. On the contrary, not only has the old age and invalidity insurance which was decided on by the last parliament, not come into force, but the workers, as a result of the rationalisation, are undergoing wage reductions and intensified exploitation. Added to this there is the enormous and chronic unemployment.

The Demonstration on Friday.

When the acquittal of the murderers of workers became known on Friday morning, tremendous excitement seized the workers in the factories and workshops. At 8 o'clock in the morning the workers on the city railway and the tramway workers spontaneously ceased work in order, in the first place, to carry out a one hour protest strike. They were immediately followed by a number of big factories, in the first place the municipal undertakings, the workers of which are all organised in the Social Democratic Party. In the town hall also it was decided to cease work for an hour. But at nine o' clock the workers did not resume work, as the Socialist Party leaders were hoping and praying, but formed themselves into firm ranks from each workshop and factory, and marched to the Ringstrasse and the Parliament buildings in order to protest against bourgeois class justice and against the government. The demonstration gained in size and numbers as it was reinforced by a number of the staffs of other factories en route. Thus in the morning hours tens of thousands of workers proceeded to the Ring. They marched in a perfectly disciplined manner, and were quite unarmed. It was not, as the bourgeois and also the social democratic press maintains, an unorganised rabble which had been joined by all undisciplined elements, but a number of ordered, perfectly disciplined processions, marching according to factory and workplace, which streamed together from all the streets leading to the Ring. Their indignation at the acquittal found partial expression in the shouting in unison of slogans such as: "Down with the murderers of workers". "Down with class justice!" "Down with the Seipel government!"

Even before the first procession came to the Parliament buildings the police began their monstrous provocation. Mounted police charged from the Parliament buildings, and began to ride down the demonstrators who were marching calmly forwards. The police drew their sabres and struck wildly and furiously upon the workers. This sameful attack, ordered by the police officers, let loose the tremendous pent-up indignation of the workers. At the first moment the workers were driven back, but they immediately rallied together again and now forced the police back. In the meantime the demonstrators were reinforced by fresh arrivals from the side streets. In order to check the attacks of the mounted police the workers commenced to build barricades. For this purpose they seized scaffolding, planks and ladders from nearby premises where building operations were being conducted, and placed them across the street. At another place they barred the street with two big motor waggons. The mounted and foot police were compelled to withdraw in face of the hail of stones from the masses whom they had provoked. At this moment the police from an adjacent police station advanced and opened a furious fire. This led to a fierce fight for the police station. The unarmed workers now gave a proof of their extraordinary courage and energy. They conducted a regular pitched battle for the capture of the police station from which the police had fired. The result was a number of dead and wounded. The fight was continued even in the police station itself. Finally, the workers captured the police station and set it on fire, but it was extinguished later in spite of the protest of the workers.

Meanwhile the masses gathered afresh round the Courts of Justice which are situated behind the Parliament buildings. In the Courts of Justice there was quartered a strong force of police; but the masses remained in the square fronting this building. Suddenly the police began to fire volleys from the Courts of Justice. In a few moments the square was covered with killed and wounded. But the workers did not allow themselves to be intimidated, but now directed their indignation against the Courts of Justice, the symbol of their suppression and of unrestrained class justice. In spite of fearful sacrifices they stormed the premises in face of the fierce fire of the police. Step by step, the unarmed mass fought their way to the building; entered the windows, forced open the gigantic door, threw the bundles of documents, pictures of the Kaiser, the golden eagles and other symbols of the old monarchy into the street. These were gathered into a heap, and set on fire. The workers now forced their way from room to room and set everything on fire. Bright flames were soon ascending up from the Courts of Justice.

It was at this point that the social democratic leaders, who up to now had left the workers completely in the lurch, came into action. But solely, and against the protest of the masses, to render possible the work of extinguishing the flames. The Republican Schutzbund also now assembled round the Courts of Justice. Of course they were unarmed. The leaders of the Republican Schutzbund, however, did not intervene in order to defend the workers, but in order to help the hard-pressed police, to aid in existinguishing the fire and to restore law and order generally.

Regarding the intervention of the leaders of the Schutzbund the Social Democratic Party, in its first "news-sheet", wrote as follows:

"Only policemen were still in the Courts of Justice. They, who by their firing on the crowd, were the real originators of the disastrous conflagration, had now hidden themselves away in the last corners in order to escape the excited crowd. The members of the Schutzbund, who courageously, and in spite of the terrible smoke and fumes which now filled the stairways and corridors, climbed to the highest stories in order to rescue the lives of the police, were now obliged to use every means in order to bring the police in safety from the burning buildings. The police delivered up their weapons, and these were all piled into a great heap in the hall of the Courts of Justice. These weapons were left in the burning buildings. Some of the police, however, were recognised by the crowd and the Schutzbundler, (members of the Schutzbund) did not always succeed, in view of the fury of those gathered round, in bringing them away with a whole skin. Whilst, however, the Schutzbundler, were endeavouring, at the risk of their lives, to convey the police into safety, some of the police, crazy with fear, suddenly fired from the third story on to the crowd below.

"The sight of the brightly burning Courts of Justice had increased the excitement of the crowd beyond all bounds. They would not allow this huge building, which seemed to them to be the stronghold of fearful class justice, to be saved from destruction. In their mad excitement they now turned against the fire brigade and prevented the barricades from being cleared away. The line of fire-engines had to go back again into the Reichsratstrasse. The Schutzbundler vainly endeavoured to clear the way for the fire engines. They advanced a few steps forward, but were again held up and forced back. Further detachments of Schutzbündler now came to their aid; but it was a vain endeavour. The crowd had not given away a step. Even when Julius Deutsch, member of the Reichstag, appeared at the head of some divisions of the Schutzbund and endeavoured to make the crowd understand that there was no sense in preventing the work of extinguishing the flames, he met with no greater success. The flames rose higher and higher; they had seized the roof and the danger for the neighbouring houses, especially the buildings of the Deutsche Volkstheater, became more and more threatening.

The Lord Mayor, Seitz now appeared. He mounted one of the big fire engines and gave the order, to drive to the burning building. When however, the auto was set in motion, even the regard for the Lord Mayor of Red Vienna was overpowered by the furious indignation at the shameful justice symbolized in the burning building. Furious cries arose and the firemen had to give up the attempt."

It should be added that the Republican Schutzbund not only rescued the police, but even dressed them up in their own tunics and caps in order to bring them safely away from the Courts of Justice and to protect them from the workers on whom they had fired.

In the meantime a portion of the demonstrators had proceeded to Strozzigasse, where are situated the premises of the "Reichspost" (the organ of the governing Christian-Socialist Party, which had taken the fascist murderers under their protection, describing their acquittal as a "Clear judgement") and completely demolished the premises. The "Wiener Neueste Nachrichten", the organ of the Pan-Germans and also the "Dötz" the organ of the fascists, shared the same fate.

The police took a fearful revenge. During the whole of Friday afternoon and Sunday morning they fired on quite harmless people who were standing in groups and discussing events. Such shootings took place at the corner of Bellaria, the Opera, the Parliament, the Museum and in the Gumpendorferstrasse. The police even fired into the Rathaus, which had been converted into a First-Aid station, killing several people. 50 killed were officially reported on the first day. Over 100 killed and over 1,000 wounded are the results of this planned attack of the Reaction on the Austrian working class.

In their blind rage the police slaughtered groups of workers and even passers by. The unheard of brutal action and sole responsibility of the police is even admitted in bourgeois circles. The Courts of Justice are for the greater part burnt down. The Socialist Party of Austria, however, is already comforting itself and others with the announcement that it will be possible to build it up again just as it was before.

During the course of the day, as fast as the news of the happenings in the city became known, the working class everywhere at once downed tools. At midday the street cars and city railways had ceased running. The shops were closed. On Friday afternoon, a general strike prevailed, without the leaders of the S. P. and the trade union Council having issued any order. Towards evening the postal and telegraph employees ceased work.

The further Course of the Events of 16th and 17th July.

On Saturday, July 16, the general strike in Vienna was complete. The railway and transport strike extended to the whole of Austria. Many factories outside of Vienna also joined an the strike. The Social Democratic Party had issued the order that the workers should carry out the general strike as a one-day protest strike,, and should abstain from any further demonstrations and meetings as being "undignified". In spite of this, big gatherings were held on Saturday in the working class quarters, while it came to demonstrations and bloody fights in the open streets. The police, who on the previous day had not ventured to enter the working class quarters surrounding the inner city, sent special troops into these proletarian districts. At the same time the inner districts were barred to the workers by the police, who had been reinforced from the provinces, and by military troops.

In the working class quarters the police drove in patrol waggons through the streets, firing blindly on passers-by. This again resulted in many killed and wounded. In the working class district of Hernals, a police station from which the police held fired was seized by the workers. Similar events took place in the working class districts of Ottakring and Favoriten. In these two districts barricades were set up against the police.

During the whole of Friday and Saturday the entire population was in the streets excitedly discussing the situation, and had demanded the immediate resignation of the government and of the President of the Police, in spite of directions to the contrary by the social democratic party leaders. At the same time very many social democratic workers were filled with rage against the shameful tactics of the S. P. leaders and against the Schutzbündler. It came to fierce collisions between social democratic workers (not, as the social democrat News Sheet of July 11, reports, "communists and rowdies") and Schutzbündler, because the latter had not acted as defence troops of the working class, but as enemies of the working class.

On Sunday, general calm prevailed in Vienna. Acting in accordance with the instructions of the Trade Union Committee, the tramwaymen had resumed work. But in the suburbs, as well as in the city, people were still excitedly discussing events. Little groups gathered in front of the proclamations of the Chancellor which had been posted up. The announcement of the Chancellor has aroused great indignation among the workers; for the government distorts in a shameful manner its own actions and those of the police.

The government is determined to continue its course. It feels itself to be master of the situation in view of the attitude of the Socialist Party leaders. It refuses even to convene Parliament until the transport and railway strike has been ended, let alone to remove the President of the Police.

Today, 18th of July, the workers have returned to the factories in accordance with the instructions of the Trade Union Committee and the Conference of the social democratic Party functionaries of Vienna which was held on Sunday. In many factories there is great indignation at the unconditional calling off of the general strike.

All the Vienna newspapers have appeared again today. They are of course full of stupid calumnies against the workers, the Communist Party and Soviet Russia, for which they were given the cue by the Socialist Party in the news sheets it published during the strike.

Official reports give the number of dead at 82, including 4 policemen, that of the wounded at over 1,000. But these figures are far too low. Up to the present 500 people have been arrested. (Comrade Fiala the secretary of the C. P. of Austria, has not been arrested, but someone else of the same name). The S. P. of Austria has not taken any steps in order to bring about the release of those arrested; its official press does not even mention the fact of these arrests.

The Attitude of the Social Democratic Party of Austria During the Fight.

The S. P. of Austria was taken completely by surprise by the spontaneous demonstrations and fights. Although its leaders, Otto Bauer, Seitz, Deutsch, Clöckl etc. were present in Parliament when the struggle commenced, they did nothing in order to convert the fight into a systematic political struggle up to the overthrow of the government. When they did not succeed in inducing the police to withdraw, in pacifying the crowd, and especially in extinguishing the burning Courts of Justice, they left things to take their own course. In fact they came forward openly to support the police who were threatened by the crowd. Thus, for example, town councillor Speiser protected a motor car filled with police from the fury of the crowd.

The tactics of the S. P. of Austria were directed solely towards diverting the struggle into "peaceful" channels. This is clearly to be seen from the four News Sheets issued during the time from 16th to 18th July. They could not but recognise the general strike which has been spontaneously carried out by the workers. But they twisted it into a one day's protest strike; and this on a Saturday, which is not a full working day. They called upon the workers to keep perfectly quiet, not to hold any demonstrations but to conduct "a quiet and dignified protest strike". They did not submit any demands to the government, but their "cunning tactics" aimed at obtaining satisfaction from the government. They are only demanding the immediate summoning of Parliament.

Already on Saturday morning the Social Democratic Party, in its appeal, explained to the workers that "hundreds of undisciplined elements have joined the great crowd of demonstrators, to the great misfortune of the latter. These few hundred youths have committed acts which do not count among fighting methods worthy of the working class". And in another part of the paper it was stated that, these undisciplined elements are Communists. This incitement against the Communists was continued in the following numbers, and the bourgeoisie were thereby given the hint to suppress the revolutionary working class: in the first place the Communists but also the revolutionary workers organised in the S. P.

In view of the fearful blood-bath carried out by the police, the S. P. was finally compelled to offer something to the workers, but which at the same time should serve to secure "law and order". It has therefore set up a Municipal Police Force (Gemineindeschutzwache). It will arm 1,000 Schutzbündler, who, as is openly stated in the News-Sheet No. 3, will collaborate with the police of Herr Schober. (Republican Police President.) And what is meant by this collaboration is to be clearly seen from the third appeal of the Social Democratic Party: "Whoever (in this case only the "undisciplined workers" are meant) violently resists this proletarian defence force is to be treated as a violator of discipline and an enemy of the working class". It is clear, therefore, that this new body is only a new edition of the ordinary police, and will proceed against the revolutionary workers.

In order to obtain some sort of sanction from the working class for their bankrupt policy, there was held on Sunday afternoon a Conference of the Vienna functionaries of the Social Democratic Party. At this gathering Otto Bauer repeated the statements given in the News Sheets, and did not fail to attack the Communists. He sharply opposed the slogan of arming the workers, a slogan which, as he himself said, was received enthusiastically by the workers. He warned his hearers of civil war. What is most important however, he put forward no demands, but will wait until order is first restored and the government gives satisfaction.

During the debate there was a strong opposition to the municipal police force, because this body is intended to act together with the ordinary police against the working class. Discontent also showed itself at the tactics of the S. P. and the obvious failure of the leaders. The resolution submitted by Otto Bauer was, however, finally adopted. This resolution did not raise any demands, but only called for the punishment of the responsible heads of the police and a guarantee against the repetition of such behaviour. The Municipal Police Force is promised support.

Friedrich Adler, the secretary of the II. International, also took part in the debate. He had come to Vienna by aeroplane in order to take part in preventing the struggle developing into a political struggle for power and a civil war. During the discussion he declared that there "exists in Europe no possibility of bringing about the real power of the proletariat; therefore, peace and reconciliation are necessary". He stood only for the municipalising of the police.

Thus the action of the Social Democratic Party of Austria is a systematic throttling of the great and powerful movement of the Vienna working class. It would have been possible in this movement, as the workers enjoyed the sympathy of the soldiers who were confined in their barracks, to overthrow the government and to set up a workers and peasants government. The S. P. of Austria, however, has again consolidated the power of the bourgeoisie.

The funeral of the victims of the fighting is fixed for Wednesday the 20th July, at 2 o'clock in the afternoon. According to the social democratic decision, only deputations are to be allowed to attend the funeral ceremonies, while the working class are to remain in the factories and carry out a quarter of an hour's protest strike.

The Attitude of the C. P. of Austria.

The C. P. of Austria, right from the commencement of the demonstration, has, by means of leaflets, a special number of the "Rote Fahne" (the Party organ): and by agitation among the masses, propagated the following slogans:

Disarming and disbanding of all fascist organisations.
Municipalisation of the police and its purging of all reactionary elements.
Arming of the proletariat.
Away with the Seipel government.
Fight for a workers and peasants' government.

The Communist Party declared that the general strike must be continued as being the most important fighting means for realising the demands of the proletariat.

The bourgeois press, which has again appeared today, is already crying with one voice: "Check the C. P.! Stop Moscow!" A persecution of the Communists has already commenced. The premises of the C. P. have been searched by the police.

Tuesday, 19th July 1927.
In accordance with a decision of the Social Democratic Party and the Trade Union Committee, the whole railway, postal and telegraphic service has been resumed this morning; but the government has already announced that Parliament will not meet before the beginning of next week. Meanwhile, the police persecutions and brutalities are being continued. Any worker admitting that he was present at Friday's demonstration is immediately placed under arrest.