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Fourth International, May 1942


Underground Austria’s Attitude to The Soviet Union


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.5, May 1942, p.159.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


An extremely interesting description and analysis of the underground movement in Austria has appeared in the April 1942 issue of Left, the centrist British monthly. The entire 32-page issue is devoted to this article by Karl Czernetz.

Unlike so much that has appeared on the “underground” in Europe, Czernetz’ account makes no sensational claims but is, rather, a sober analysis of the extreme limits of underground work.

The principal movement in Austria is that of the organization which calls itself the Revolutionary Socialists. Czernetz appears to have “diplomatic” reasons for not discussing the exact relationship between the RS and the Social Democratic Party of legal days, but his account makes clear that the Social Democratic leaders who fled abroad and who have been claiming to speak for the RS have little right to do so.

Perhaps the most significant differences between the old ideology of Austro-Marxism, which is still held by the leaders abroad, and the ideas of the RS, are on the interrelated questions of the character of the Austrian revolution of 1918, the October revolution In Russia of 1917, and the character and causes of Stalin’s bureaucratic regime. On these key questions, Czernetz’ account makes clear, the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria are tending to the Trotskyist program and are poles apart from the Social Democratic and Stalinist lines. In reading the following quotations from Czernetz, one should keep in mind his “diplomatic” attitude toward the Social Democratic leaders (and the British Labor Party) which tends to blur the precise differences:

“The underground workers are still busy studying the problems of the incomplete, unsuccessful revolution of 1918. They know that the half-measures of that revolution following the World War proved to be one of the decisive and fundamental causes of the Fascists’ rise to power. They have been taught by experience that a Government majority and the administration of a State or a Municipality does not in itself represent actual, substantial power either In the political or In tile economic sense of the word. They have experienced the transformation of the economic and spiritual power wielded by the old ruling classes into a system of brutal compulsion. In February 1934, they saw with horror a great model organization, a strong local majority in the Austrian capital, a unique achievement of social reform, destroyed by a coup d’état within a few hours. They have perceived that it is not enough to be ready to defend one’s freedom; that the offensive is not only the best but the only successful form of resistance ...

“That is the conclusion which the Social-Democratic workers of Austria were compelled to draw from their experiences with their own peaceful, democratic, constructive work. They have learnt their lesson and become Revolutionary Socialists:

“The Austrian Socialists have never ceased to observe the course of the ‘Russian Revolution and of the great Socialist experiment in the Soviet Union with the warmest feelings of sympathy and solidarity. They have, therefore, been the more grievously afflicted by the bureaucratic and authoritarian development of proletarian dictatorship in Russia. They know, however, that the international isolation of the Russian Revolution was the chief cause of its dangerous developments. They are also aware of the fact that their own failure in Central Europe in 1918 >was one of the primary causes of this isolation and of the subsequent d eterioration of the Russian Revolution.” (Our Italics.)

These significant formulations are completely alien to Social Democracy, which rather seeks the cause of Stalinist degeneration within the very concept of proletarian dictatorship. On the other hand the Revolutionary Socialists of Austria have adhered to the conception of proletarian dictatorship as a question of principle for several years.

Holding these essentially internationalist views what, then, is the attitude of the Revolutionary Socialists toward the second imperialist World War? On this question Czernetz is decidedly evasive. He reports that the Revolutionary Socialists are, of course, partisans of the Soviet Union against German imperialism. But what their attitude toward the capitalist “democracies” is he does not directly say.

At one point he writes: “The outbreak of war was welcomed in Socialist circles; it was hailed as the first prospect of a Nazi defeat! But the declaration of war was overshadowed by the Russo-German pact. At that time many workers said: ‘How can we persevere in our faith if such things happen!’ A report dated February 1941, still underlines this feeling. The workers and the underground militants have felt themselves let down by Democrats (i.e., the imperialist powers) and Communist (Stalinists) alike.”

This does make clear one thing: that the universal working class resentment against Stalin’s pact with Hitler was also felt among the “beneficiaries” in Austria. It was a particularly deadly blow to the Communist Party cadres in Austria among whom, writes Czernetz, “The Russo-German Pact increased the confusion and intensified the disorganization. One of our reports informed us about the terrible reaction of Communist prisoners in the Vianna Police jail.”

Fortunately, the resentment against Stalin’s pact did not turn permanently into hostility or indifference toward the Soviet Union. “The heroic resistance of the Russians, the heavy German reverses, have completely altered the outlook. Enthusiasm for Russia is high. The Russian advance of recent months will certainly have brought about a further intensification of pro-Russian sympathies.”

While Czernetz is evasive about the general attitude toward the war, it is significant that he notes enthusiasm for the Soviet Union, but makes no note of any enthusiasm for Britain or the United States, Czernetz himself appears to be a supporter of the “democracies.” All the more notable therefore is his report that, while the Vienna masses openly show their sympathy for the Jews and behave decently and kindly to the prisoners of war, they fear the consequences of a German defeat at the hands of the “democracies.”

One of those consequences will be the dismemberment of Greater Germany. Czernetz quotes a report from Austria:

“‘In spite of their dislike for the “Prussians” the Austrian workers appreciate the fact that they have ceased to he hemmed in and impeded by unnatural frontiers, which have robbed them of the very possibility of existence. Now, at last, it is no longer possible for a Dutch Mayor to decide questions of vital interest for the Austrian people.’ This refers to the League of Nations Commissioner for Austria, Dr. Zlmmermann, Mayor of Rotterdam. He was intensely hated by the workers and the people In general, principally because of his hostile attitude toward the constructive work of the Vienna Socialist Municipality.”

It is clear that the Austrian workers do not identify their support of the Soviet Union with their attitude toward the powers of the League of Nations!

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