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Labor Action, 16 June 1947


World Politics

Will Austria Be Next?


From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 25, 23 June 1947, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


In the current offensive of Stalinist Russia to consolidate its position in Europe against the inroads which the United States may make through the Truman Doctrine, the next victim of Stalinist expansion has been clearly marked: Austria. The cynical declaration of the Austrian Stalinist leader, Ernst Fischer, that Russia will not sign a peace treaty with an “unfriendly government” – which means that it will maintain its occupation troops in Austria indefinitely – was the beginning of the “war of nerves” which the Kremlin is waging against the Austrian regime.

We are quite aware of the differences in social character between Hitlerite Germany and Stalinist Russia, but there is no denying a marked similarity in political techniques – the similarity which led Trotsky to speak of the two regimes as “symmetrical.” While there are differences in social structure between Hitlerite Germany and Stalinist Russia, both are totalitarian political regimes. The means by which the Russians extend their imperialist domination is therefore similar in many respects to that which the Nazis used: the discovery of “plots,” the use of fifth-columns, the blatant disregard of the wishes of the people whose country they enter and rule.

Having for some years been subjected to Nazi rule, Austria is now in danger of being caught in the Stalinist net and becoming a second Hungary. From a number of points of view, the situation is favorable for the Russians. Austria is near economic collapse, its calory level has been one of the very lowest in Europe and there is a general sense of despair among its people. Such an atmosphere makes it easy for a country to be cut up by a large imperialist power.

Hence Fischer’s statement and his report that he had negotiated with Prime Minister Figi, of the Catholic People’s Party, indicates that the Russians will try to pressure the Austrians into setting up a government “oriented toward the east,” as the polite phrase goes. It is unlikely that they will try to pull quite as crude a stunt as they did in Hungary, for the Austrian Stalinists have even less mass support than their Hungarian cronies and in Austria the powerful Social Democracy is not pro-Stalinist as is its Hungarian counterpart.

Background of the Situation

A review of the background of the Austrian crisis clarifies the present situation. After the end of the war in Europe, the victorious powers pledged at the Moscow Conference that a free and independent Austria would be established. In the case of Austria there was less of a pretext possible for military occupation than in the other European countries; for she was not an Axis power but rather a country which had herself been overrun by the Nazis.

However, the scramble for positions in Europe between the Anglo-American and Stalinist blocs of imperialism, could not allow such humane considerations to play any role – and Vienna was and remains a crucial point in Europe. Hence, the tiny country which had suffered terribly under its own native fascism (the Dolfuss regime which had destroyed the Socialists in 1936) and then under Nazi occupation and then during the War (21 per cent of Vienna was destroyed by bombing!) was now cut up info four zones, each of them ruled as a petty principality by one of the four occupying powers. Vienna, the heart of Austria, was likewise sliced into quarters. Obviously no economic recovery or reorganization was possible so long as four separate zones, each of them with separate and conflicting regulations, were maintained in Austria. And no recovery has taken place!

In November 1946 there was an election for a Chamber of Deputies. The conservative Catholic Peoples Party won a majority with 85 seats; the Social Democrats gained 76 seats; and the Stalinists got merely four. This was a terrific blow to the Stalinists – though wherever in eastern Europe there have been reasonably free elections, the Stalinists have been similarly defeated. The Peoples Party thereupon took the lead in forming a cabinet.

Russians Take Oil Flelds

The Russians worked with fierce concentration to lift everything they could from their zone in eastern Austria. This zone is in some ways a key area: its control by the Stalinists means that they would thereby completely control the Danube and means as well that they would have at their disposal the largest oil fields in Europe, the Zisterdorf fields. The Russians proceeded to grant themselves extraterritorial rights in their zone and gradually took over the Zisterdorf fields. They drove out the Austrian authorities and tried to bribe the workers with a sharp wage increase at this field – something they did nowhere else in Europe.

Simultaneously they applied every sort of pressure on the Austrians. They asked in February 1946 for 70,000 acres of land, one-fifth of Austria’s arable land, in order to feed their army of 75,000 occupation troops. After a refusal by the Austrian government, the Russians took over In March 1946 some 104,000 acres in Lower Austria. Afterwards they cut this down to 80,000 acres which they still exploit for their own use.

The Russians broadly interpreted the provision of the Potsdam Agreement which allowed victorious nations to take over property of German nationals and they thereby assumed control Of most industries in their area. When the Austrian Parliament passed a bill for the nationalization of most basic industries, the Russians in the occupation council vetoed the bill because it would have cut into their economic loot.

Simultaneously the other occupying powers either milked Austria or by their behavior made the minimum degree of economic recovery impossible. (Imagine a country the size of one of our smaller states cut up into four Conflicting economic zones!) This is the price which the Austrian people have paid for the imperialist occupation of their country.

The situation has gotten so bad that the Austrian Parliament recently passed a resolution requesting all of the occupying powers to get out of the country. ONLY THE STALINISTS OPPOSED THIS RESOLUTION.

Now Austria faces the Current offensive from Russia. The question must therefore be asked of all those in the revolutionary movement who have scoffed at the idea of Stalinist imperialism: if what the Stalinist regime has done in Hungary and is trying to do in Austria is not imperialist, then what is it? We eagerly await clarification.

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