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Austria Disintegrates Under Occupation

(16 December 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 50, 16 December 1946, p. 6.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A great deal of attention has been paid in this column to political developments in Austria because they have now become the classical position of imperialist exploitation and bureaucratic mismanagement by the victorious Allies in post-war Europe. Extraordinary corroboration is given this statement by a dispatch appealing in The Nation of December 7, 1946 and written by G.E.R. Gedye. We urgently recommend to all of our readers interested in an appraisal of the European debacle created by the Big Four occupation, that they read this dispatch.

Gedye begins by painting the social disintegration of Austrian life since the Allies took over and divided that unhappy nation into four occupation zones, each of them with separate and conflicting policies. The Viennese are living on a diet of 1,200 calories a day, which is below a reasonable subsistence level and 300 less than even the Germans have.

“In the last week of October,” he writes, “all train services were suddenly suspended ... All through last winter the authorities struggled to restore gas for cooking; it is still only available for a few hours daily ... For three days in nine every house, office and shop is to be deprived of current from seven a.m. to four p.m.; one never knows when current will be cut off even after dark ... candles of course are unprocurable ... power shortage is causing more factories to work part time ...”

“The Crisis of Confidence”

The Austrian people are thoroughly rid of any illusions they may have had about Allied “liberation.” Gedye writes: “Now nobody believes the Allies are united in seeking any goal; a really ‘free and independent Austria’ seems to be the last thing some of them desire ... The real crisis in. Austria is one of confidence. The Austrians see no reason to believe that the Allies either intend to help them to their feet or will allow them to rebuild the country out of their own resources.”

Accordingly, the Austrian government – a coalition of Social-Democrats, Stalinists and the Catholic Volkspartei – declared its impotence at a secret Parliament session and its readiness to abdicate in favor of direct rule by the military occupations. (It was after this statement that the Austrian parliament passed a resolution requesting immediate withdrawal of occupation troops – excellent sentiments which it did nothing to put into action.)

Gedye has come into possession of information of some of the disclosures made by the cabinet at the secret session of parliament. They provide a damning picture of what imperialist despoilment by all the powers has meant to the people of Austria. Apparently hindered by censorship from naming names directly, Gedye writes by indirection but it requires no special wit to gather his meaning.

He writes:

“Austria is so short of all kinds of textiles that the ordinary citizen can purchase no clothing whatsoever. Yet for eighteen months one of the Allies has been forcing the government to hand over from one province alone an average of 100,000 yards of textiles monthly ... by paying for it in schillings requisitioned from the National Bank for ‘occupation needs’ or by even shadier methods. Payment has never been made in foreign currencies or goods.”

Gedye continues:

“On October 22, General Körner, the Socialist burgomeister of Vienna, announced, ‘The Viennese can have only one pair of boots repaired in twelve months; only one pair of new boots will be available every five years.’ A survey of Vienna school children showed that 13.7 per cent are entirely without shoes; 7.3 per cent are kept from school by the lack of shoes. At the same time one of the Allies takes from, one factory alone from 14,000 to 15,000 pairs a month of its output of 20,000 ... From one rayon factory one Allied power has exported 500 tons of rayon, enough to keep Austrian women in stockings for years.”

The coal crisis in Austria is due to similar outright imperialist looting. “One power” holds large stocks of Austrian coal but refuses to sell it to Austria at less than the world price – exactly twice as much as the domestic price, above which the Allied Commission forbids Austria to buy. And of course the power which asks double the domestic price participated in the decision to prohibit Austria from buying at ... more than the domestic price.

“For months one power has insisted on the export of Austrian power to Germany to feed factories there in which it is interested. One power, because it considers that another is preventing it from obtaining for its zone its due quantities of Austrian oil, holds back Austrian coal and Austrian livestock ...”

Victims of Outright Thievery

The bureaucratic mismanagement, the confusion resulting from four separate and conflicting zones is endless.

“The Viennese feel as baffled and angry when the Americans are unwilling to let UNRRA stores or Austrian livestock enter the Russian zone as they do when the British hold back Austrian steel in Syria, the Russians hold back Austrian oil in Zisterdorff, or the French mulct them of the milk, cheese and butter of Tyrol ...”


Here then are the fruits of victory and if any of you wonder for what you spent years in puptents and foxholes, read Gedye’s dispatch. The situation in Austria at the moment is so tragic and desperate that “hunger strikes and demonstrations may break out at any moment among the enfeebled and despairing workers.”

In this situation, so politically explosive and fluid, the position developed by the Workers Party and expounded in previous issues of Labor Action on the European situation is particularly relevant. We have said that one of the major ways for the tiny isolated revolutionary groups of Europe to make contact with the masses was to become the foremost champions of national independence and liberation in those countries where there remained the slightest degree of imperialist oppression. Such slogans as “Drive Out the Imperialist Occupations” are of tremendous significance in a country like Austria today.

For everyone in Austria can see that it is being robbed and wrecked by all of the occupation powers and that no economic recovery of the slightest kind is possible so long as this kind of imperialist domination continues. That is why it is incumbent upon revolutionary socialists in such situations to take the lead in the democratic struggle for national liberation, which means first and foremost driving out the occupation leeches. It means to make politics dependent upon the reality of the Austrian situation described by Gedye: “Austria is weary of all foreign armies; it considers that they devour its substance and make self-government a mockery ...”

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