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The New International, July 1934


A. Max

The Legend of the Vienna Commune

From New International, Vol. I No. 1, July 1934, pp. 14–15.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THE Austrian working class, especially the workers of Vienna, displayed in the February armed struggles a magnificent courage, the grim determination of their class, heroic self-abnegation. Whereas in Germany the bloody Fascist regime of Hitler was able to take over full power, the state apparatus, the press, the army, the police and immediately pounce upon the working class with unexampled bestiality without the working class offering any resistance; whereas in Germany the numerically strong Communist party and certainly the numerically even stronger Social Democratic party did not show a single sign of their existence when the firing of the German Reichstag gave the signal for the well-prepared Fascist campaign of terror against all labor organizations – the Austrian workers turned with arms in hand against the trail-blazers of open Fascism, against Dollfuss, whose function consisted in enforcing an equilibrium “above the parties” between the Nazis driving towards power and the social democrats already driven out of even any semblance of power, an equilibrium which crumbled tinder the cannon balls of Floridsdorf, of Ottakring, of Simmering.

The Austrian working class, by rising with arms in hand against the bloody, burlesque hangman Dollfuss, showed the workers of the whole world how mighty, how invincible the working class could be would it but bethink itself in time of its own strength, and if this strength possessed a political leadership and a revolutionary organization. The Austrian working class suffered a heavy, a sanguinary defeat in its struggle. But the defeat of the class was not determined and sealed by the military defeat in the brief civil war of those February days – the defeat of the Austrian working class was only outwardly revealed by the sanguinary crushing of the February uprising. And this revelation, this defeat in struggle provides the working class of the whole world with a great lesson. The defeat was sealed by the policy of the Austrian social democracy, which furnished the clearest proof that a working class which follows the reformists and opportunists organizes its own defeats. The historical sense of the defeat of the Austrian workers is: the “strongest”, the “most radical”, the most influential Social - Democracy led the working class which followed it almost without exception into the heaviest of defeats.

In Austria, the working class was not “split”: the Communist party never played any role in Austria, least of all in 1933 and 1934. The blame for the defeat can, thus, be ascribed by nobody to the “unfortunate splitting” of the proletariat, as is always the sentimental argument above all of the professional splitters and disorganizers of the working class, the reformists, the leaders of the Second International. Nowhere else on the globe was the Social Democratic party so large, in specific weight, as in Austria. This Austrian Social Democracy, with its “Austro-Marxian” theory, was considered the elite section of the Second International.

And that is just why the valorous struggle of the Austrian workers, who were defeated because they followed the Social Democracy, must under no circumstances be falsified by a Social Democratic legend.

If the heads of the Third International make the attempt, after the event, to present the struggle of the Austrian workers as a struggle under the “leadership” and under the “slogans” of the Austrian Communists, that is one of the customary empty bluffs of wretched bureaucrats who for years have known only how to limp behind all the workers' struggles, but likewise after the event to take the credit in all the struggles for having “led” them.

Far more dangerous, however, is it that the heroism of the workers of Austria and Vienna, whose struggle can create a tradition despite the defeat, should be exploited by the Second International which has been dead as an International since August 1914, and by the bankrupt Austrian Social Democracy with its Austro-“Marxism”, for the purpose of galvanizing the corpse and of veiling the historic crime of the Austro-Marxists. This lies in the tact that matters could even come to such a pass as the defeat.

As a means of veiling their crime, the men of the Second International employ the traditional memory of the Paris Commune. “Long live the Commune of Vienna,” cries the chorus of the “sons of the Communards”, from Leon Blum to Frossard, and the royal Belgian minister Vandervelde joins in the cry only to lament, a few-days later, in heart-rending terms and with far more feeling, the “tragic decease” of “his” king. The Second International comes forward again as the International of ghouls. Don't they shed tears over Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg too? Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg were murdered by Noske, Ebert,. Scheidemann. The “Vienna Commune”? And the Austro-Marxist leaders as the new Communards? The same leaders who disarmed the Austrian workers, who “battled” Dollfuss just as the German Social Democrats battled against Brüning and Schleicher?

The shabby legerdemain of the leaders of the Second International must not be permitted. It ill becomes them, the theorists and practitioners of the coalition and toleration policy and of the disarming of the Austrian proletariat, to credit themselves with the desperate attempts at a final resistance by the Austrian workers. The dead victims of the Vienna bombardment must not galvanize and refurbish the Second International.

But there is still another and at least just as important a reason: why the catchword of the “Commune of Vienna” is to be rejected: this catchword is false.

For in the Paris Commune it is not the defeat of the Paris workers that is important. It is not the massacres of the bourgeoisie of France under the protectorate of the Prussian army that gave the Commune of Paris its historical significance, but exactly the contrary. That the Parisian workers were beaten in 1871, that was not historically new. That they were beaten, however, after they had attempted to create in the Commune of Paris a new type of state, that it was the first attempt at the dictatorship of the proletariatthat is the significance of the Paris Commune.

Marx scrupulously analyzed the Paris Commune. The Civil War in France contains that, analysis. The Commune of Paris was above all a government of the working class, it arose out of the struggle of the working class against the exploiting class, it was finally the political form under which the emancipation of the working class was realizable. In the type of state which the Paris Commune created, it created the model of the proletarian state; the bourgeois state apparatus was not “taken over”, but smashed.

In State and Revolution, Lenin carried this Marxian analysis of the Paris Commune further and deepened it by means of the experiences of the Russian revolution. When the working class studies the lessons of the Paris Commune, it is this side that it studies. Indeed do we commemorates the valor of the Parisian Communards, indeed do we keep alive the memory of the brutish fury of the soldateska of the French bourgeoisie and the joy of this class over the massacres, but that alone far from constitutes the significance of the Commune. Its significance is: to have realized the concrete state form of the proletarian dictatorship, imperfectly, feebly, provisionally, but still in such a manner that Marx and Lenin were able to unfold out of this experience of the living struggle one of the greatest lessons of scientific socialism.

And this is precisely the lesson which is rejected by all the reformists, including the Austro-“Marxists”.

Just because the Austro-“Marxists” did not transmit this lesson to the Austrian workers, just because they persuaded them since 1918 (no differently than the Noskes and Eberts, the Welses and Breitscheids, the Hilferdings and Kautskys, the Vanderveldes and de Mans, the Blums and Frossards, in brief: all the reformists, all the supporters of the Second International who expressed opinions on this question politically or theoretically), just because all of them trained up the Austrian workers in the illusion that all that is necessary in order to get “into power” is to take over the bourgeois state apparatus only in the good democratic way, with the aid of the ballot – the Austrian proletariat was defeated, just as the German proletariat was. Confused and undeveloped though the leaders of the Paris Commune were, it is precisely on this score that they were superior to all the Austro-Marxists: they did not stand up against the spontaneous action of the Parisian workers (like the Austro-Marxists in 1918) when they smashed the bourgeois state apparatus and created a new one, the Commune.

With the overpowering of the Viennese workers in February 1934, a balance sheet is brought to an end which must not be hidden under the phrase of the “Vienna Commune”. It is a question of the balance sheet of the whole post-war policy of the Second International and its elite section, the Austro-“Marxists”. But it is a question of something more. The lessons of this struggle in Austria affect the world's working class not only as a “theoretical” dispute with reformism.

With the crushing of the Austrian working class by the Heimwehr, the pseudo-equilibrium there is destroyed. The dispute in Austria transcends the frontiers of that state. Already all the European cabinets are uneasy, the war which everybody knows to be inevitable (and it cannot be averted unless the working class prevents it internationally by its revolution) is approaching. Who is to prevent the war? The open antagonisms and contradictions of the individual states among each other as well as within their national boundaries, the imperialist contradictions and antagonisms as well as the social, are growing and at any moment may explode the framework within which they are barely held together. Fifteen years after the conclusion of the first imperialist world war, we stand on the threshold of a cycle of new imperialist wars. Little Austria has suddenly become one of the junctions around which the war may break out. And after the German defeat of 1933, after the tremendous defeat of the German working class, which can be denied only by the most impudent, the defeat of the Austrian workers in February 1934 shows plainly enough just what the working class of Central Europe has lost. That is what makes the Austrian experiences so important, that is why the developments must be known which led to the February struggle. Not in order to lament the neglected, not in order to wail after the event, no, but in order to learn for the future – the working class of the world must visualize the theory and practise of Austro-Marxism and grasp the lessons of this development and this defeat.

The revolutionary upsurge produced at the end of the first imperialist war in 1917, 1918, 1919, brought into being but one state of the type of the Paris Commune, the republic of the Soviets. Historical experience since 1871 has shown that only this type of state corresponds to the taking over of power by the proletariat. All the attempts to transform the bourgeois democracy into a proletarian state in a bourgeois-democratic way, peacefully, by avoiding “unnecessary sacrifices”, all the reformist panaceas, Utopian from start to finish (for the most part, moreover, deliberately nothing but the salvation of the capitalist system and its ruling class), all these attempts which were sincerely accepted by many workers as valid attempts, only led to a thousandfold more victims, to a hundredfold more misery, to the defeat of the working class and to bringing on a new round of wars. The international proletariat must, in a certain sense, begin again at the point where it should have begun twenty years ago. Had Vienna really become a Commune in 1918, 1919, 1927 or even 1933 – the history of the world would have taken a different course. But Vienna did not.

That is why the Austrian experiences are so likely to contribute to an acceleration of the clarification process – that is why they must be studied.

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