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The Austrian Republic: An Obituary

ISSUE:  Summer 1938

A ustria was dead long before she was declared so on

March 11, 1938. One might even say the Austrian republic was finished before it was created. Like the classical tragedy, almost following its strict rules, the drama of the Austrian republic passed through five acts-each dominated by one outstanding man—moving from one decisive step to the next one toward its almost inevitable end.

The first period, the liquidation of the War, the time of transition lasting from 1918 until 1922 (a war after the War, more than a peace settlement), set the scene and brought out the major conflicts. It was characterized by the breakdown of the empire and the beginning of a social revolution personified in Karl Renner, the Socialist chancellor. The constitution decided upon in 1920 as the basis of the young republic, was not a settlement at all, but a temporary compromise between antagonistic forces that used it as a battlefield for future achievements.

The second act, a near-peace period and one of economic recovery all over Europe, meant for the little republic a return to a Catholic conservative Austria and an attempt at a resurrection of Austrian patriotism. Prelate Ignaz Seipel, the Christian statesman, was the commanding figure of this time. This period opened with his greatest achievement, the Lausann protocol which saved Austria. Its approaching end was indicated by the burning of the court building in Vienna in 1927, a striking symbol of the failure to settle internal conflicts.

The third period made this failure obvious, throwing into the open the internal conflict. It brought the entrenchment of private armies. Characteristically enough, it found its personification in Johannes Schober, the police president and chancellor. Its major events, the reform of the constitution of 1929—a hopeless attempt at a new formula—and the ill-fated Austro-German tariff union, finally led to an impasse. It was the end of parliamentarian possibilities and of a genuinely Austrian solution. Its close was marked by the deaths of four great Austrian figures during the same year, 1932: Seipel, Schober, Cardinal Archbishop von Piffl, and Anton Wildgans, the poetic herald of the Austrian idea.

The fourth period, its hero being Dollfuss the little chancellor, showed the tragedy of a small nation. It illustrated, in addition to the insoluble internal conflicts, Austria’s desperate international entanglements. The conflicts in these two spheres were so closely interwoven that the struggles of the final and fifth act, from the death of Dollfuss to March 11, 1938, could not be attributed to one source alone. Austria had tried out all possibilities—and had failed.

This great drama, played against the background of European politics, echoes the great themes of post-War Europe. Yet it was Austrian up to its last minute, in all its sympathetic human appeal, its thousandfold contradictions, its pathetic morbidity. Looking backwards, it seems strange that this little republic could have lived for almost twenty years. It seemed marked for death in its birth hour, but there were always possibilities of avoiding this apparently unavoidable fate, because it was Austrian reality and not Greek tragedy.


The first days of the Austrian republic reflected, in its two governments (from October 30 until November 12, 1918), the old antagonism of Germanism and Austrianism. The Lammasch-Seipel government, the last imperial government, appointed by the emperor in order to cover Andra’ssy’s offer of a separate peace, had as its guiding principle the idea of saving Austria by throwing her into the arms of the Entente. On the other side stood the political council elected by the national assembly, the first republican government. It was a coalition of the Social Democratic working class and the German national bourgeoisie. The Socialists, predominant in this first government, had even before the War fought for the idea of national self-determination. Karl Renner, now the first chancellor of the republic, had enunciated it in his pre-War studies of the question of nationalities. The idea of union with Germany was therefore regarded as the natural solution of the Austrian question after the end of the Hapsburg empire. The Socialist party became the standard-bearer of the idea of Anschluss. On November 12 the national assembly, following the Socialist proposal, declared Austria a republic and in the same legislative enactment stated: “German Austria is a constituent part of the German republic.” The same decision was made in Germany by the Weimar assembly of 1919. But Anschluss was prohibited by the Allies and explicitly forbidden in the peace treaties.

It is vain to speculate as to what a unification with Germany at that time might have meant. Undoubtedly it would have strengthened the confederative tendencies in the Reich. It would have made Germany richer in tensions, but Austria, the great mediator, would have had at the same time a softening and balancing effect. The centralizing, and eventually totalitarian, tendencies in the Reich made it more and more difficult for Austria to accept whole-heartedly this union with the big neighbor. In 1918 such a unification would have brought to Austria an immediate solution. Since this became impossible, the little republic had to try to build its own house and to win a genuine function within the society of nations. However, it should never be forgotten that the beginning of this independent Austria was marked, not by an independent decision of the people of Austria, but by a decision of its enemies. Throughout all her existence she suffered the handicap of her birth hour—a handicap that made it almost impossible to create a true Austrian patriotism. The declaration of the provisional government most certainly reflected the wishes of the majority of Austria, as the Anschluss plebiscites of 1921 in several Austrian provinces proved (Tyrol: 146,488 to 1,794; Salzburg: 103,000 to 800). Indeed, the declaration for Anschluss followed the gihly basic principle of the Paris Treaty system, the idea of national self-determination. That this principle was declared inapplicable for the vanquished nations meant its moral capitulation before the system was erected. It is an irony of history that the Paris treaties were finally destroyed by the selfsame conception that had been regarded as the guiding principle for a new world order, used now as a weapon in the hand of Hitler.

Thus Austria became a nation against her own will, but this is not the only reaspn why she might be regarded as the most unfortunate nation in post-War Europe. The liquidation of war was a tremendous burden on the whole world, which was too exhausted to tackle the difficulties that grew out of the world conflict. It was many times more desperate for the defeated countries, frustrated in all hopes, paying dearly for having been the loser, and shaken by internal revolutions. However, Germany managed to hold her own. In spite of all the losses inflicted upon her, the core of her existence was not destroyed. “A nation of seventy million suffers but it cannot die”—thus could the German representative speak when the unconditional terms of the Armistice were handed over to him.

Austria could not raise any hopes for the future. What was left of a proud empire, after the national revolutions had cut off its rich provinces, was a nation of six million people without balance: Vienna and no hinterland. This city of two million, the lively capital of more than fifty million people, the banking and commercial center of all central and southern Europe, the clearing house of continental trade, the pearl of luxury industries in a peaceful world of abundance, suddenly woke up to its role of the “Wasserkopf” of an impoverished country. It was cut off from all international trade routes, surrounded by a sea of succession states driven to the high pitch of economic nationalism and intransigent selfishness. There was no genuine solution for an isolated Vienna which had been essential in the life of the Danube monarchy and which needed the Danube basin for its very existence.

Constructive planning — not to be expected after four years of slaughter—might have found a new function for this great traditional and cosmopolitan center of the world. It had been called the key to Europe. It was most certainly European par excellence. There was no city in the world as well fitted as Vienna to become the hostess to the world, The Congress of Vienna had proved that the atmosphere of this gay city could break the sober and all too serious spirit of the diplomats. A little more light-heartedness for a Europe who took herself far too seriously would have helped in creating a real spirit of co-operation in the world. Vienna had all the facilities of such a world center: the historic patina of the Hofburg, the seat of the oldest European dynasty, the Burgtheater of theatrical fame, and last but not least, the cafe houses. Rich in traditions and conciliatory in its manners, it was the ideal meeting ground of the world. Instead of that, Geneva, that sober and narrow-minded city of Calvin, took Vienna’s place, and Austria, the historical mediator of clashing forces, became a powder magazine. The heart of Europe became Europe’s bad conscience, a warning of her unaccomplished tasks. Instead of representing Europe, Austria became the mirror of her entanglements.

Having become a pawn in European power politics, her independence being of great importance for the balance of power, Austria cannot be blamed for having used this only asset of hers and having herself tried betting in the international poker game. Even blackmail was not foreign to her policy. Austria most certainly did not live an independent life. Even outwardly she could not appear as a sovereign power. Her story was the history of European interventions.


All these difficulties were tremendously accentuated by the conflicts within the little republic. -When the unifying bond of the Hapsburg monarchy was broken, the disintegrating forces of local patriotism in every province heavily overbalanced the loyalty to the new republic. More than that, there was a deep antagonism between “the parochial Germans of the Alpine valleys and the Weltburger of Vienna.” This was aggravated by the divergent economic interests of the agricultural and the industrial classes. Even religious differences—of great importance for this traditional pillar of the Catholic church—became apparent in the clashes between a deeply pious peasantry and the sceptical bourgeoisie and the anti-religious proletariat of Vienna. The conflict found its expression in political parties that — stiffened in their ideological world view—were wholly incapable of playing the shifting game of parliamentary democracy.

All these facets of the problem have to be seen to evaluate the tremendous task that lay before the republican leaders. They had not asked for this heritage; they were made responsible for the results of a defeated system that they had fought all their lives. Some day these “November criminals” will be given the credit they deserve. They performed a desperate task as well as they could, and nobody thanked them for it. This holds especially true of the Austrian Marxists. They were the driving force of the first Renner government which, though a coalition cabinet of the two major parties, the proletarian Socialists and the bourgeois Christian Social party, could almost be called a class alliance of the workers with the peasants. The statesmanlike activities of Karl Renner, Otto Bauer, Julius Deutsch, and Karl Seitz mastered the chaos of the breakdown and dammed the flood of Bolshevism which the neighboring countries, Hungary and Bavaria, experienced at that time. It is interesting, however, to note that it was the repercussions of these neighboring upheavals and the victory of their counter-revolutions which strengthened the conservative middle class in Austria and, accelerated by the prosperity of 1920, restored her self-confidence. The October elections of 1920 already revealed the turn of the tide. Not only did the Christian Social party become the largest party, but it also changed its character. The strong democratic impetus of the early revolutionary days had lost out against clerical and conservative influences. The soldier in whom the “revolution of war” had awakened a new social consciousness, making him even somewhat a radical, had found his home. He had again become a peasant. Prelate Seipel took the helm of the party.

These years, from 1919 to 1922, have been called in the classical “Austrian Revolution,” by Otto Bauer, “a period of the balance of class power.” After the October elections of 1920 the power was divided in a very peculiar way. A bourgeois government and parliamentary majority was balanced by the Socialists who, strongly entrenched inside and outside parliament, effectively curbed and controlled the government. The result was that the people’s republic was neither bourgeois nor proletarian, but a result of the balance of class power. Its very structure was partly a compromise. , The elevation of Vienna to the position of an independent province made it a bulwark of the working class within the federal state. This weakened at the same time the provincial tendency to rebel against the central power. As soon as provincial particularism became a weapon in the hand of the proletarian government of Vienna, this device became distasteful to the bourgeoisie itself.

In the meantime, however, the strategic position of the Socialists had completely changed in the balance of forces.

The defeat of international Socialism in 1920 and 1921 forced the proletariat to the defensive everywhere. The battle of Warsaw, definitely blocking the Bolshevist avalanche, defeated Austrian Marxism too. It retreated into the walls of Vienna. Here it controlled the municipality and created one of the most interesting and outstanding examples of modern housing.

The vast tenement blocks erected by the Socialist administration became the pride of the Socialist community and a well-deserved credit to its constructive policy. From 1920 to 1930 Socialist Vienna re-housed ten per cent of its population (170,000) at one-twelfth of its cost (covering ordinary costs of maintenance). It goes without saying that the remaining eleven-twelfths had to be paid from other pockets by a housing tax graduated from two per cent and steeply rising. These methods of finance and the political-military implications, which the political opposition regarded as the essential purpose of these community buildings, made the great experiment the most controversial issue in Austria’s internal politics. The fortress-like municipal buildings, a ring around Vienna covering all main avenues on its outskirts (probably the result of accident rather than design), became the battleground of the decaying republic in 1934.

Already in the early ‘twenties there were signs of the entrenchment of the political fronts in Austria, a bad omen for her second period, the short-lived era of recovery and reconstruction. This second period, lasting from 1922 until 1929, was the great chance given to the little republic and, one might add, to Europe as a whole. All the troubles following this post-War period go back to the decisive failure of great diplomacy in these years of European understanding.

The beginning of this second period in Austria was marked by the Geneva agreement of 1922. It was, above all, the work of Seipel, the most adroit statesman in postwar Austria. Undoubtedly Seipel’s chancellorship opened a new chapter in the story of post-War Austria. He was “the first Austrian public man to make Austria really count in the eyes of Europe.” True, by this time much of the chauvinism of the years immediately following the War had died down, and the succession states had come to realize that central Europe could not be divided up into “water-tight compartments, each sufficient unto itself.” More than that, the enthusiasm for the idea of national self-determination was waning. At the same time, the breakdown of the eco-’ nomic unity of the Danubian empire was viewed with less approbation and more and more regarded as a great loss.

It was the good fortune of Austria that she could put at her helm at that time the brilliant Ignaz Seipel. The time was ripe for Seipel’s appeal to the League to help Austria. It was not hard to prove that her desperate economic situation was not her own fault but was due to a peace treaty that had destroyed a well-functioning economic unit. Neither was it difficult to convince France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, and Great Britain that the preservation of an independent Austria was worth the price. They signed the Geneva protocol on October 4, 1922, guaranteeing a large international loan (thirty million dollars) paid on condition of a balanced budget and strict financial control by a commissioner-general appointed by the League. It saved Austria from threatening currency catastrophe and economic collapse. It was a new start for the republic—but it was dearly bought. It meant the sacrifice of economic, and even more of political, sovereignty, nicely phrased in the clause that bound Austria “to enter into no obligations which would endanger her independence toward any other state.” It was this term of the agreement against which the Socialist opposition centered its bitter denunciation. The decisive meeting of the Austrian parliament on September 14, 1922, sharply illustrated the critical internal situation that became apparent during the next years of Seipel’s government. His defense of the agreement was answered by the intellectual leader of the Socialists, Otto Bauer, with the following: “There is no polemic possible against high treason. It is despised as long as it is not dangerous. As soon as it becomes threatening, it must be destroyed.” And his colleague, Dr. Renner, added: “You all know that German Austria has no chance of existing among the present constellations. The only thing we can do is to remain alive until the hour of liberation comes, until we as Germans can decide to join the state to which by the nature of things we belong.”

The revolutionary movement for union with Germany was liquidated. Incidentally, the Geneva protocol meant a dam against Socialist advances in internal politics. The debate in parliament showed the bitterness on both sides in the internal battle—a bad start for an attempt at a constructive appeasement in the following period of general European recovery. Seipel, embittered against the Socialists “who were not ready for constructive collaboration,” was denounced by the leftists as a reactionary priest. Such a harsh judgment, understandable in the midst of the political battles, was undoubtedly not fair to his real conceptions, intentions, and achievements. He was, above all, a Christian statesman, and that made him a symbol to the opposing camps. He was of humble origin. His father had been a coachman (and not even an imperial one, as Masaryk’s father had been) and by the end of his life, a doorkeeper at a Prater theater. The young Seipel spent his childhood in Vienna’s outskirts and in the Prater. The “prelate without clemency,” as his enemies called him, often proved in his life to have the proverbial “heart of a Viennese,” though he may have lacked the disarming charm and geniality of his chosen successor, the little chancellor Dollfuss. At the age of twenty-three Seipel was ordained a priest. Quietly and modestly he lived in a monastery in the middle of Vienna. Even at the time of his premiership he followed the strict rules of a semi-monastic regulation. All his life he proved to be a Franciscan, living up to this ideal to the limit of selfdenial. His first publication was a study of the economic and ethical doctrines of the early church fathers, and as once St. Francis of Assisi, in another great social crisis at the beginning of the rise of the money economy, had tried to solve the burning question with his heart, not as a fanatic but as a social Christian, so did Seipel try to realize the social mission of the Church according to the ideas of Leo XIII’s “Rerum novarum” and of the great Catholic social reformers, Ketteler, Vogelsang, Pesch, and Nell-Breuning. With Pius XI, he saw the rise of a new social and economic order, and he deeply regretted that some of his partisans in Austria and in the Reich, were too dogmatic in their adherence to forms which had been right in the past. “One-sidedness is never catholic, fanaticism is definitely uncatholie.” What the Roman called “ordo” and the medieval period praised as “maze,” to keep proportions and to use moderation — this was the principle that Seipel praised as Austrian and as the great mission of a Catholic nation.

Here perhaps lies his most important contribution to postwar Austria. Not only was it Seipel’s great merit to make the Austrian problem a European one. This was only the negative side of his position. Even more relevant was his realization of the Austrian mission for Europe. It was this idea of Austria on which he based his attempts at a resurrection of Austrian patriotism and a rediscovery of a proper Austrian function in the world. Austria became Europe par excellence, its spearhead and defense, its missionary force and bridge to a non-European world. For such a conception of the Austrian, Seipel could find a long and proud tradition, and he gladly accepted it. Austria had withstood the storm of the Asiatic hordes. It was the Holy Roman Empire that carried over the Roman idea of a supernational state into the middle ages. After centuries of preparatory stages, it was under Maria Theresa and Joseph II, who did much to cultivate an Austrian ethos of the state, that this ideal became real in army and bureaucracy.

True, this idea stood against the rising tide of national and democratic states. Three times in modern history it was repulsed, in great part for having failed its function: 1806 marked the end of the Holy Roman Empire; in 1866 Austria was separated from the Reich; 1918 finally destroyed the living body of this Austria. But now, after the breakdown, seemingly the end of a long and proud history, it was tested anew. The political situation in the post-War era, with the apparently absolute victory of the national state, made it the more necessary to have a people who could build a bridge from nation to nation, who were supernational.

Characteristically enough, this great vision of a new Austria found its classic formulation and most powerful presentation in the addresses of Austria’s greatest literary men, Anton Wildgans and Hugo von Hofmannsthal. In 1930 Anton Wildgans, the great poet and director of the Burgtheater, restated it in his “Speech on Austria.” According to Wildgans, the Austrian living in the midst of different nationalities had learned to think and feel with other and strange people. He had become a man who knew human affairs and the human soul, a true psychologist, tolerant, urbane, European, and world-wide in his outlook. His fighting spirit became obvious only when he was suffering in despair. The great and specifically Austrian contribution lay in the ability to avoid sharp corners, to soften discrepancies, to compromise and to adjust the German spirit with the civilization of the world at large, to build a bridge between civilizations. This Austria is a spiritual concept as Europe is, filled with Europe’s great historical experiences: Roman traditions, the Christian Church, feudal conceptions, the ideas of the enlightenment, the great music of Handel, Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss, the middle-class world of the Biedermeier and Alt-Wien.

Hugo von Hofmannsthal was another eminent champion of the Austrian idea, proclaiming it in numerous speeches and in his writings. His comparisons between the Austrian and Prussian throw light on the gulf between Austrian and Prussian mentalities; Vienna is malleable where Berlin is harsh, tolerant where Berlin thinks only in terms of iron uniformity. These qualities are at once its weakness and its strength. But Austria always has confessed to being German, too. Indeed, she has been a happy complement to her harsher northern kinfolk. This eastern mark has been not only the historical defense line of the greater German nation, but even more its door opening into the world. Austrian Anschluss always was aimed at a confederative Reich, a concert of German people, never at a totalitarian unification. Austria wanted Anschluss, not annexation.

Seipel fought for the revival of this Austria in numerous speeches and in all his political activities. He presented it in his pre-War work, “State and Nation,” and during the War in his “Thoughts on the Austrian Constitutional Reform.” As a minister in the last imperial cabinet, he collaborated with Lammasch, the world-famous professor of public law, who had discovered his young colleague, Seipel, and had urged him to go into politics. They could not save the empire. But after the War, Seipel stood for the same conception in his fight for the federal structure of Austria. The spiritual weapons of his successors were made of these conceptions of Seipel.

It is the tragedy of this Austria—temperate in her climate and spirit—that she did not even succeed in appeasing her internal strife. The period of balance of class powers slowly turned into one of open internal warfare. The burning of the court building in Vienna in July, 1927, made this obvious even to its most peaceful citizens. The story of this fire is not in itself important. Neither is the question of guilt. What mattered was the effect. The immediate cause was a political incident near Vienna in which two members of the Socialist Schutzbund were killed. Arrested political opponents were acquitted by the jury, and a demonstration in Vienna against this verdict got out of the hands of the Socialist organizers and led to the burning of the Vienna law court by the mob. Rioting in the city followed for two days. Eighty people were killed and four hundred wounded. This riot meant a definite turning point in the internal history of Austria. It brought out the underlying crisis of Austrian parliamentarism and gave a strong impetus to the extra-parliamentarian forces, and especially stimulated the sudden rise of the Heimwehr movement.

The ability to compromise has always been the test for a workable parliamentary system. That such compromise became impossible was not only the fault of the antagonistic fervour of the bourgeois parties but was also due to the character of Austrian Marxism. What seemed to be its strength finally turned out to be its basic weakness. Under the able leadership of Renner and Bauer it had succeeded in uniting the proletarian front. In post-War Germany the separation between Socialism and Communism brought an open split between the pre-War factions of revisionist and revolutionary Socialism; but in Austria the Communist party could not win a foothold. Thus Austria was saved from the internal revolts which her neighbors had experienced in the immediate post-War years. This gave more revolutionary elan to the Austrian Socialists, but it also led to deficient readiness to accept compromise and parliamentary coalition. The party could be either in or out; it was never in a position of tolerating a government and backing a genuine coalition. The various—though half-hearted—proposals of coalition made by Seipel in the late ‘twenties and then repeated by his successors, found no acceptance with the Socialist leaders. They could not meet them half-way. This intransigent attitude reflected the weakness of its virtues. It had succeeded in uniting the workers in one single organization, but the tension that had split the labor movement elsewhere was now fought out within the same party and often led to a weakening of its power to make decisions in crucial situations. This lack of decision on both sides of the fence is perhaps the most important single factor leading to the internal breakdown of the Austrian republic.

Already in this second period, the Seipel era, the extra-parliamentarian forces came into the forefront: the rightist Heimwehr and the Socialist Schutzbund. To some extent they were, of course, the children of the revolution of war and of the immediate post-War troubles. The workers who had the arms in their hands kept them to defend their revolution and to stem the rising anarchy. On the other hand, the soldiers who returned from the battlefields and had not found home were the backbone of all the private armies of the right. The excitements of the early post-War period, especially the inflation, prepared the right climate for the growth of such movements. The July storm in 1927 and the succeeding political awakening of the burgher gave a great impetus to the Heimwehr. Local successes brought its first reputation and importance. It became a threatening force in the civil war situation. However, as long as Seipel was the leading spirit, he could hold the rising Heimwehr movement, using it as a balancing power against the Socialist Schutzbund and as a corrective against the parties within the framework of the democratic system. At the end of 1928 he could still say: “The longing for real democracy is one of the most powerful driving forces of the Heimwehr.” He could direct it into the quieter channels of a movement to amend the constitution. While in power, he prevented the rise of an independent Heimwehr party, but all this meant only a postponement. The threatening storm broke out in 1929. By then economic prosperity was definitely ended. The first great crash of the Bodenkredit Anstalt fore- shadowed the breakdown of the Austrian Kredit Anstalt in the spring of 1931. 1929 also marked the first major armed conflict between Heimwehr and Schutzbund in St. Lorenzen in Styria.


In October, 1929, Schober, the Vienna police president, became chancellor. He was hated by the Socialists, who regarded him as responsible for the bloodshed of 1927; and his leadership was that of a bureaucrat, not of a statesman. Though he was a leader of the pan-German party, he could not master the intricacies of politics. He was a civil servant of the old imperial school, loyally serving the Emperor, and, later on, the republic. The creator of a splendid police force, he did not command the cunning of Seipel, who knew how and when to withdraw from the worst conflicts. Seipel left to Schober the amending of the constitution in 1929, but this did not lead to a new start in internal politics. The elections of November 9, 1930, the last general plebiscite in the republic, showed that the impasse in internal politics had not been resolved. The Nazis, in spite of their fervent campaign, could not win any representation. (Their real rise did not come before the second half of 1931, when German Fascism seemed to be at least ante portas.) Even the Heimwehr, which for the first time presented separate lists, attained only six per cent of the votes. This did, however, give the movement a strategic position. By 1930 it had found an important ally in Italy. It was a characteristic sign of the internal weakness of Austria that all her parties at that time were seeking the help of foreign countries. When a faction failed, it did so because it miscalculated the readiness of its foreign ally to step in. One of the mistakes of the Social Democrats was that they overestimated the interest of the western powers and underrated Italy’s stake in Austria.

The ill-fated tariff union with Germany in March, 1931, led to the first united intervention of the guarantors of the peace treaty. By appealing to Geneva and the Hague International Court, they succeeded in breaking this Austrian attempt to solve her economic stalemate. It was the factual end of Austrian independence. The Italian representative, Anzilotti, cast the decisive negative vote. Italy proceeded immediately in the direction of a positive solution by coneluding the treaty of the Semmering, in May, 1931, between Italy, Austria, and Hungary. This forerunner of the Rome Protocols of March, 1934, was overshadowed by the crisis of the Kredit Anstalt in Vienna thirty-six hours later. The treaty, however, became effective in 1932. In the same year the Tardieu plan for economic co-operation among the five Danubian countries was proposed by France. Thus the three competing systems backed by Germany, Italy, and France to reorganize the Danubian countries became apparent. They did not lead to any solution at this time, but they showed that the body politic of Austria was sick and could not live without outside interference.

This became even more obvious in the other great event of the Schober period: the breakdown of the Austrian Kredit Anstalt. It was largely a result of Austria’s attempt at economic independence. This was the official beginning of the economic world crisis. It had its international effects in the German bank crisis in July and in the break of the British pound in August, 1931. The Bank of England, which had heavily financed the Austrian institute, had to withstand a drain on its resources. International power politics, especially French political pressure, played a great part in this economic crisis around Vienna. A second Lausanne loan — another palliative and not a permanent solution—was the definite end of Austria’s economic independence.

The hopeless situation of Austria’s internal politics was reflected in the fight over this Lausanne loan in the summer of 1932. Its fate within parliament was finally decided by one vote. The government owed its “victory” only to the deaths of Seipel and Schober. The latter, who had opposed the government, was succeeded on a joint German-Agrarian list by a representative voting for the government. The deeply religious Dollfuss, now at the helm of the government, saw in that instance divine providence. Thus, two great predecessors saved Dollfuss by their timely deaths, but he inherited an Austria that was a prisoner of international entanglements, and he could not restore a workable parliamentary majority.

The elections to the provincial parliaments of Vienna, Lower Austria, and Salzburg in April, 1932, had shown the almost complete disappearance of the bourgeois middle parties. The pan-German voters went over to the young National Socialism. The Christian Socialists lost their control of the provincial parliaments and the government its majority in the federal council. The Socialists, who kept their own in these tests, asked for a dissolution of the parliament —undoubtedly a tactical blunder under the circumstances. The government resigned. Dollfuss took over the responsibility, which, after the failure of two skilful parliamentarians, Ender and Buresch, no politician was prepared to accept.

By this time the substance of Austrian parliamentary democracy was almost completely exhausted. On March 4, 1933, an open conflict in parliament led to the resignation of three presidents in succession. The government regarded this as a self-exclusion of the national council. The Austrian authoritarian regime began. Dollfuss, however, solemnly declared the following day (the day of the Nazi electoral victory in Germany): “I have always stood for parliamentarism and of course today also I adhere to a house representing sound policies.” But overnight he had become a dictator against his own will.

No doubt he was unlike the traditional conception of a dictator. His fellow students always praised his genius for conciliation, his simplicity, his kindliness, his childlike faith. Pie had nothing of the dictatorial aloofness and remoteness from the people. He was genial and cheerful and an enemy of any pose. His personal charm was the weapon which conquered his adversaries. At heart unpolitical and unbureaucratic, he remained the unsophisticated peasant’s son in his naivete and tenacity, his stubbornness, and even his mistrust. He had started his public career as secretary and later director of the Chamber of Agriculture in Lower Austria, where he proved to be a man of energy and organizing abilities. In March, 1931, he became Minister of Agriculture, and not much more than a year later he was the youngest chancellor in Europe, forty years of age, a man of the War generation. Unlike his contemporaries, Mussolini and Hitler, however, he was at bottom no revolutionary, nor could he rely upon the close comradeship of early and tried conspirators who could become his collaborators after the seizure of power. He was lonely in his pressing responsibility, holding five cabinet positions at a time, scarcely sure of his immediate circle, and he remained lonely even in the hour of death.

It is doubtful whether his political concepts were definitely formed at the time of his meteoric rise to power. Dollfuss did not have a systematic mind. His strength was his capacity to master a situation with sharp intelligence and intuition. He was quick—sometimes too quick—in his decisions, but he was ready to change. In the early post-War times he had spent a happy period in Germany, had married a German girl, and was filled with the hope for a greater Germany. Only slowly—and largely under the impress of the inner German developments—did his idea of a specific Austrian mission arise. By 1932 he had become the executor of Seipel’s political will. The rise of Hitler to power even opened for a short time the vision of a Catholic unification with southern Germany to counteract the centralizing, anti-European tendencies in the Third Reich and to take up the old fight for hegemony over the Germanic people. Austria could have become a new point of crystallization. Maybe such a challenge could have been seized only by a democratic Austria and not by another authoritarian state — a state which did not possess even the popular backing of German National Socialism.

International circumstances again figured decisively in this anti-parlicamentarian development of Austria. However, the final constitution of 1934 corresponded with the conservative and Catholic view of Dollfuss. It was based on the corporative principles laid down in the papal encyclical “Quadragesimo Anno” of Pius XL The preamble of the new constitution declared that “in the name of God the Almighty from whom all right proceeds, the Austrian people receives this constitution for its Christian German Federal State on a co-operative foundation.” The new constitution undoubtedly strengthened the alliance between the Vatican and Austria, making the latter a pillar of political Catholicism in Europe. It also expressed the close collaboration with Fascism, which certainly was influential in its creation.

Italy’s influence by this time had risen almost to a protectorate over Austria. The little republic became dependent in internal affairs on her stronger neighbor. There is no doubt that the numerous attempts at a reconciliation between the Socialist opposition and the Dollfuss government—the only guarantee for a wider popular support to withstand the Nazi onslaught—were hindered by Italian interference. The intransigent Heimwehr, led by Prince Starhemberg (the declared protege of Mussolini), won more and more authority from Dollfuss. It could finally force the government to suppress the Socialists in the fatal February events of 1934. This internal co-ordination with Fascism was the price Dollfuss had to pay in return for Mussolini’s diplomatic and military support against Hitler.

When the government of Austria fired at the Karl Marx Hof in Vienna it destroyed its internal backing and the political morale of the nation. It was an invitation to the Nazis to seize the power. In July, 1934, the Nazis tried their coup d’etat. The Dollfuss murder—the most cruel assassination in the bloody post-War history of Europe—was the last great internal event in the history of Austria. From now on her fate was exclusively decided outside of her own territory: on the battlefields of Ethiopia and Spain, along the Rome-Berlin axis, and on airplane trips of traveling diplomats dealing in compromises. In July, 1934, Austria’s “independence” was saved by an Italian army sent to the Brenner. But only as long as Italy was ready to be the watchman of Austria’s integrity could a Nazi inrush into this political vacuum of central Europe be prevented.

When the Italo-Ethiopian war was declared the hour of German diplomacy arrived. The League sanctions destroyed the apparent existence of its loan-child. Germany’s neutrality in the conflict had to be paid for by Italy’s promise to stay neutral when Germany seized Austria. Other changing factors in the international scene—the militarization of the Rhineland, the conciliatory moves of British diplomacy toward Germany, France’s internal conflicts-sealed Austria’s fate.


There was not much left to be done to Schuschnigg, the representative of the last period of Austria. His fate was even more tragic than that of Dollfuss, for Dollfuss died but his cause lived. Schuschnigg was left alone when the death-hour of his Austria arrived. His autobiography, “My Austria,” published a year before the very end of Austria, is a revealing and pathetic document. Today it is hard to give a real appraisal of this last Austrian chancellor. Current history is usually harsh in its judgment of its contemporaries who fall short in their aims. Future historians may correct many premature opinions. What seems to be a lack of imagination on his part may be then accounted to the hopeless position which left him no freedom of action in an international game played around and not within Austria. The fifth act of a tragedy does not leave any scope to its figures. They become marionettes of an inevitable finale. It may be that the only thing that matters in such a plight is royal bearing, and Schuschnigg did not lack in that in his hour of despair. This son of an imperial general, who was regarded as a dry schoolmaster in his country, had warmth and courage and held out till the last minute.

Even in this last phase of Austria, the international game went on and the little republic still could keep some hope of a fighting chance. In June, 1936, Mussolini tried again to offer a deal to France. At this time the Popular Front under the leadership of Leon Blum had gained a great electoral victory, thus defeating the forces represented by Pierre Laval, the great champion of an Italo-French understanding. Mussolini warned France in a very outspoken manner that resistance to such a deal would finally lead to action by Germany in the Danubian countries. Blum did not accept this challenge. Then on July 11, 1936, the Austro-German treaty was concluded. The officially known treaty does not say anything else than that Austria is a German nation and Germany recognizes her independence. In April, 1938, Dr. Franz Hueber, the brother-in-law of Marshal Goering and newly appointed Minister of Justice in the German province of Austria, declared with remarkable frankness that the only reason for this German-Austrian accord of July, 1936, was that Germany’s international position was not strong enough at that time “to risk attacking the Austrian problem.” Hitler had to negotiate, he said, until he had built up the army. Numerous remarks of leading statesmen and knowing publicists even suggest that a secret treaty accompanied this understanding, giving full color and sense to the general statement of the open treaty. It is said to have contained a more definite commitment of Schuschnigg guaranteeing Nazi participation in the Austrian federal government within a set period. Schuschnigg, signing this understanding under the pressure of Italy, may have hoped that within the following months the international configuration might change so much that Italy would not press the fulfillment of this signature. When, however, the Rome-Berlin axis proved to survive and Schuschnigg had not given in to the Nazis, they again started their revolutionary activities. On February 4, 1938, the great shake-up of the German Reichswehr and Foreign Office came, thus co-ordinating the last remnants of the more conservative forces within Nazi Germany. From now on Hitler and his dynamic foreign policy had no brakes. The conference of Berchtesgaden, a week later, was the beginning of such a radical movement in foreign affairs. Schuschnigg had to accept the invitation of Hitler. Left alone and defenseless, he also had to accept Hitler’s ultimatum to reshuffle his cabinet and to take in Dr. Seyss-Inquart as Minister of Interior Affairs. He knew that this meant the end of Austria, since the Minister of Interior Affairs controls the police of the country. The infiltration of Nazi Germany and the final Anschluss became a question of time alone. Realizing this inevitable fate, Schuschnigg might well have felt that it was the historical function of the last chancellor to prove to the world that the co-ordination of Austria was done by force and not by the will of the people of Austria. This would explain his sudden call for a plebiscite on March 3, 1938. It was a last desperate gesture of a David who had no stones in his sling when he engaged Goliath. He knew that Germany could not stand this provocation and that it would lead to a seizure of Austria by the Third Reich. But he wanted to destroy the myth of an Austrian nation longing for a union with Nazi Germany. The march of Hitler to Vienna did not symbolize the union of the two German nations but the Prussianization of the remnant of the old Hapsburg Empire.

On Friday, March 11, the Vienna radio station should have been broadcasting a tragedy by one of the greatest Austrian playwrights, Grillparzer. Instead of that, however, another tragedy had to be reported over the air. Every half hour another report surprised the Austrian people. Between these announcements the radio station offered a program that was Austrian in quintessence: Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony,” then Mozart’s “Turkish March” and “Serenade,” and Johann Strauss’s “Vienna Waltzes.” At eleven fifteen P.M. suddenly came the Horst Wessel song, followed by a military march. This was the end of Austria.


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