Austria Next in Order!

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Author(s) Leon Trotsky
Written 23 March 1933


MIA-bannière.gif
Source: The Militant, Vol. VI No. 23, 15 April, pp. 1 & 4 & Vol. VI No. 24, 29 April 1933, p. 4.
Collection(s): The Militant

Austrian Bonapartism[edit source]

The situation in Austria is not qualitatively different from the situation in Germany, but only lags behind it in its development. After the political life in Austria had fallen under the press of the Fascist overturn in Germany, the culmination in Austria is drawing closer not by days, but by hours.

Austria is passing through a period that is analogous to the period of Bruening-Papen-Schleicher in Germany, or to the period of Held in Bavaria, that is, the period of semi-Bonapartist dictatorship, which maintains itself by the mutual neutralization of the proletarian and Fascist camps. For Austria too we prefer the term Bonapartism (in contradistinction to all other purely descriptive and absolutely meaningless formulations such as clerical-Fascism, legitimistic Fascism, etc., etc.), as a very clear characterization of the feature of a government that veers in between too irreconcilable camps; a government that is forced to an ever increasing degree to supplant by military and police apparatus the social support that is ebbing away from under its feet.[1] There is expressed in the tendency toward Bonapartism the urge of the possessing classes to escape an open break with legality, a long period of civil war and the bloody Fascist dictatorship by means of military and police measures that are screened by the paragraphs kept in reserve in democratic constitutions.

There obtain historical epochs when the social foundation of the government “above all classes” grows at the expense of the extreme wings – during these periods Bonapartism can place its seal upon an entire historical epoch. But the Austrian “Bonapartism” of today like the German of yesterday, can have only an episodic character, filling in the short interval between the democratic regime and the regime of Fascism.

It is true that the “Bonapartists” in Austria have a much wider parliamentary base and that the Fascists are much weaker than was the case in Germany. But, in the first place, the Christian socialists are melting away while the Nazis afe growing apace; secondly, behind the backs of the Nazis stands Fascist Germany. The question is settled by dynamics. Theoretical analysis, as well as the fresh experience in Germany equally bespeak the fact that the Viennese police and bureaucratic dictatorship cannot long maintain itself. Matters are rapidly coming to a head. The power must be taken either by the Fascists or by the workers.

The Possibility of Postponement[edit source]

We do not know what is going on back-stage. But there cannot be any doubt that the governments of those countries which surround and oppress Austria have brought into action all the levers. Not a single one of these governments, not even Italy, has any interest in seeing the power in Austria pass into the hands of the Fascists. The leaders of the Austrian social democracy see, indubitably, in this situation the highest trump of the whole game; in their eyes the revolutionary activity of the Austrian proletariat must needs be supplanted by financial and other different sorts of pressure that can be brought by the nations of the former Entente. This reckoning is the most fallacious of all. The hostility on the part of the victor nations toward national socialism was one of the reasons for its explosive growth in Germany. The closer that the Austrian social democracy will link itself with the policies of France and of the little Entente, whose task consists in keeping Austria in the state of “independence”, i.e., isolation and impotence, the greater will be the rate at which Fascism will turn into a party of national liberation in the eyes of petty bourgeois masses. Along this line, only the armed intervention of the Entente, i.e., outright occupation could prevent Fascism from the conquest of power. But in this, the question of Austria merges with the question of Fascist Germany. If Hitler finds a modus vivendi with France – and there is hardly any reason to doubt it – then France will find a modus vivendi with Fascist Austria. In both cases, of course – on the bones of the proletariat, German and Austrian. To think that Fascist Austria would immediately destroy those barriers which separate it from Fascist Germany is to place much too great a significance upon “national” phrases and to undervalue the capacity of Fascism for wagging its tail before those who are stronger than it. It can be said with assurance that of all strategic calculations, the most ill-fated, degrading and ruinous for the proletariat is to bank upon the co-operation of the imperialist governments of the countries surrounding Austria.

Even if we were to allow that because of the traditional flabbiness of all Austrian parties as well as because of the influence of external and temporary causes (the pressure of France and of the little Entente; the apprehension of the Hitlerites to push matters to the end, just now) – allowing it, the culmination even in this case would turn out to be postponed by means of some kind of a moth-eaten Austrian Bonapartist compromise – and a postponement of this kind could have an extremely unreliable and a very temporary character. The process thus checked would burst out, in the course of the next few months or even weeks with a redoubled force and at a tenfold tempo. To build its policies upon checks, masquerades, the plastering up of cracks, and petty political moratoriums would mean for the proletariat to extend more time for the still weak Austrian Fascism in which to achieve its murderous mission.

“The Struggle for Democracy”[edit source]

Otto Bauer confines himself, to vapid moralizations on the subject of the “superiorities” of bourgeois democracy over Fascist dictatorship. As if the struggle is taking place between two schools of state laws! Engels aptly remarked, that every state is reducible to armed detachments of men with the material appendages in the nature of jails, etc. At present this “essence” of the state has been completely revealed in Austria. The political struggle which has developed in the course of a number of years upon the bases of democracy has been pushed flush up against the clashes between armed detachments. It is necessary to call this fact by its name, clearly and precisely, and to draw from it all the necessary practical conclusions.

Instead of this, the Austrian social democracy demands an admission on our part that the struggle is being carried on “for democracy”. As if the question lies in this at present! It goes without saying that we are not ready to make any concessions whatsoever to the Austro-Marxists as regards the theoretical and historical appraisal of democracy. And in fact, if democracy was indeed raised above the social regime that engendered it; if it was indeed capable of reconstructing bourgeois society into socialist society, then it should have revealed all its qualities first of all in Austria, where the constitution was created by the social democracy, where the proletariat comprises the decisive force in the nation, and the social democracy represents the decisive force iu the proletariat. And concurrently, what Austria is living through demonstrates in action that democracy is flesh of the flesh of capitalism, and decomposes with it. The Austrian crisis is the expression of the decay of democracy. The gentlemen of democracy need expect no other appraisal on our part.

However, we understand only too well, on the other hand, that theoretical diagnosis alone is altogether insufficient for the purpose of supplanting democracy with the Soviet regime. The matter touches the living consciousness of a class. If in the course of a joint struggle against Fascists the majority of the proletariat understands the need for Soviet dictatorship, there will be no stopping the Communists. But if, despite all the lessons it received, the majority of the worker’s, even after the smashing of the forces of counter-revolution, decides to repeat once more the experiment of formal democracy, then the Communists will be compelled to take to the same ground, in the guise of an opposition.

Today, at any rate, the overwhelming majority of Austrian worker’s follows the social democrats. This means that there cannot even be talk of revolutionary dictatorship as an actual task. What is on the agenda today is not the antithesis of bourgeois and Soviet democracy but the antithesis of bourgeois democracy and Fascism. We accuse the Austro-Marxists not of fighting for democracy but of not fighting for it.

Capitalism resorts to Fascism not out of caprice but because it is driven into an impasse. If social democracy is capable only of criticizing, grumbling, curbing, threatening, and biding time but is incapable of taking into its hands the fate of society, when the matter touches the life and death of the nation and of its culture, then this party, which represents one half of the nation becomes itself the instrument of social decomposition and compels the exploiting classes to seek salvation from Fascism.

Applying the ancient juxtaposition of Ermattungsstrategie and Niederwerfungsstrategie, the strategy of exhaustion, and the strategy of assault, one is compelled to say that the strategy of exhaustion, which was applicable after a fashion in certain situations, is impossible of application today when there remains nothing for capitalism except strategy of assault, the reformist strategy is exhausting at present not the class enemy but its own camp. The policies of Otto Bauer and Co. lead fatally to the victory of the Fascists, imposing least sacrifices and difficulties upon them, and the greatest sacrifices and misfortunes upon the proletariat.

The Austro-Marxists Are Chloroforming the Proletariat[edit source]

Despite the experience of Italy and Germany, the leaders of Austrian social-democracy do not understand the situation. In order to live and breathe, these people must fool themselves. This they cannot do otherwise than by fooling the proletariat.

Bauer places the blame for the defeat in Germany upon the Communists. We are not the ones to defend German Stalinists! But their chief crime consists in their having given the social democrats the possibility of preserving their influence upon the basic part of the German proletariat and of loading upon it the tactic of debasing and fatal capitulation, despite all the crimes and betrayals committed by the social democracy. In essence Bauer’s policies are no different from the policies of Wels-Stampfer. But there is a distinction Bauer will be unable to shift the responsibility upon the Austrian Stalinists who have managed to doom themselves to complete impotence. The Austrian social democracy is not only the leading party of the proletariat but it is the strongest, as regards the population, social democratic party in the world. The political responsibility lies upon the Austrian social democracy, solely and entirely. All the more fatal will prove to be the consequences of its present policies.

The Austro-Marxists say – If we are deprived of liberty, then we shall fight to “the end”. By such subterfuge they want to “gain” time for their vacillations, when in reality they are losing the most precious time for the preparation of defense. After the enemy deprives them of liberty, it will be a hundred times more difficult to fight, for the liquidation of rights will be accompanied by military and police destruction of the proletarian press and the proletarian apparatus. The enemy prepares and acts while the social democracy bides its time and whines. The Vorwaerts also repeated times innumerable: “Woe to Fascism, if it ventures against us!” The events have demonstrated the value of such rhetoric. The party which proved incapable of giving battle when it held in its hands almost impregnable positions and powerful resources will crumble into dust when it is completely expelled from the legal arena.

Austria Is Next in Order[edit source]

By their seemingly dreadful but in reality pathetic chorus of “if we are attacked”, the Austro-Marxists reveal their genuine suffering, they still hope that they will be left in peace, that things, God help us, will not go beyond mutual threats and waving of fists. What this means is that they are chloroforming the proletariat to facilitate

fascist surgery. A genuine proletarian politician on the contrary would be duty bound to explain to the Austrian workers that their class enemy, himself, has been caught between the paws of history; that no other way out remains for him except to destroy proletarian organizations; that in this instance there is no escaping the mortal struggle; and that this struggle must be prepared for in accordance with all the rules of revolutionary strategy and tactic.

The General Strike[edit source]

Otto Bauer has been hinting that in the event of a direct attack on the part of the enemy, the workers will resort to a general strike. But this too is an empty threat. We have heard it more than once in Germany. The general strike cannot be produced out of one’s vest pocket. The workers may be led to a general strike, but to do so one must fight and not play hide and seek with reality; a call to battle must be issued, one must organize for the struggle, arm for the struggle, widen and deepen the channel of struggle, not confining oneself to the legal forms of struggle, i.e., the framework dictated by the armed enemy. And first of all, the party itself must be permeated through and through with the idea that unless it engages in a decisive battle, it is lost.

It is quite possible that the Central Committee will actually issue a call for a general strike, after the “open”, (that is to say, the decisive) blow had been dealt. But this would mean that after leaving the stage, one calls upon the masses to a naked protest, or manifestation of impotence. Just so did the liberal opposition call upon the people not to pay their taxes after the monarch had told it to go to bell. As a rule, nothing ever came of it. In all probability, the workers will not respond at all to the belated and hopeless appeal of a party already smashed.

But let us allow that the Fascists will give the social democracy time enough to call for a general strike at the last minute, and that the workers will respond solidly to the call. What then? What is the goal of the general strike? What must it achieve? In what forms must it develop? How should it defend itself against military and police repressions, and against the Fascist pogrom? Wiseacres will reply that it is impossible to answer such questions beforehand. That is the usual subterfuge of people who have nothing to say, who hope in their hearts to get along without fighting, and who consequently shy away in cowardice and superstition from questions of military resources and methods.

The general strike is only the mobilization of revolutionary forces but still not war. To utilize the general strike successfully as a demonstration or a threat, i.e., to confine oneself only to the mobilization of forces, without engaging in battle – that is possible only within strictly defined historical conditions; whenever matters touch an important, but still a partial, task; when the enemy wavers and waits only for a push in order to retreat; when the possessing classes are still left with a wide field for retreat and maneuver. None of this obtains at present, at the time when all the contradictions have reached their highest intensity and when every serious conflict puts on the agenda the question of power and the perspective of civil war.

The general strike could prove to be a sufficient means for repelling the counter-revolutionary overturn only in the event that the enemy is unprepared and lacks sufficient forces and experience (the Kapp Putch). But even in the latter case, after having repelled the adventuristic onset the general strike only restored fundamentally that situation which obtained on the eve of the conflict, and consequently gave the enemy opportunity to utilize the experience of his own defeat and to prepare better for a new attack. But the general strike turns out to be completely insufficient even for defensive purposes in the event that the enemy is powerful and experienced, all the more so it he leans upon the state apparatus, or even has at his disposal its benevolent “neutrality”. No matter what the basic reason for the conflict may be, under the present conditions the general strike will close the ranks of bourgeois parties, the state apparatus and the Fascist bands, and in this united front of the bourgeoisie the preponderance will fall inevitably into the hands of the most extreme and determined elements, i.e., the Fascists. When face to face with the general strike, the counter-revolution will be compelled to stake all its forces on one card in order to break the ominous danger with a single blow. In so far as the general strike remains only a strike it inevitably under these conditions dooms itself to defeat. In order to snatch victory the strategy of the strike must grow into the strategy of the revolution, it must elevate itself to the level of resolute actions, replying with a double blow to every blow. In other words, under the present conditions the general strike cannot serve as a self-sufficient means for the defense of an impotent democracy but only as one of the weapons in the combined struggle of two camps. The strike must be accompanied with and supplemented by the arming of the workers, the disarming of Fascist bands, the removal of Bonapartists from power, and the seizure of the material apparatus of the state.

Once again we repeat if the establishment of a Soviet regime cannot be realized without the seizure of power by the Communist Party – and we admit that this is altogether excluded by the unfavorable correlation of forces in the immediate future – then the restoration of democracy, even temporarily, is already unthinkable in Austria without the previous seizure of power by the social democracy. If the leading worker’s party is not prepared to bring the struggle to its conclusion then the general strike by sharpening the situation can only hasten the crushing of the proletariat.

The Austro-philistine will catch up these words in order to immediately deduce reasons in favor of “moderation” and “cautiousness”. For, is it permissible for a party to take upon itself the grandiose “risk” involved in the revolutionary methods of struggle? As if the Austrian proletariat has the freedom of choice! As if millions of workers can depart for their villas in Switzerland like Otto Braun! As if a class can duck mortal danger without incurring any danger! As if the victims of Fascisized Europe, with its perspectives of new imperialist wars, will not surpass one hundredfold the sacrifices of all revolutions, past and future!

Today, the Key to the Situation in the Hands of the Austrian Proletariat[edit source]

Otto Bauer welcomed with ecstatic amazement the fact that the German workers gave seven million votes to the social democracy in the election, despite the closing down of the newspapers, etc., etc. These people opine that the emotions and the thoughts of the proletariat are created by their piddling articles. They have conned Marx and the history of Europe but they have not the slightest inkling of what inexhaustible reservoirs of power, enthusiasm, perseverance and creativeness the proletariat is capable of unfolding whenever it is assured of a leadership which to any degree corresponds to the historical background. Isn’t it obvious right now that had there obtained a far-seeing revolutionary policy from above, the German workers would have long since overthrown all the barriers blocking their road to hegemony, and moreover that they could have done so with immeasurably and incomparably less sacrifices then the inevitable sacrifices of the Fascist regime? The same must also be said about the Austrian proletariat.

Of course, the policy of the united front is obligatory at present also for Austria. But the united front is no panacea; the crux of the matter lies in the context of the policies, in the slogans and in the methods of mass actions. With the reservation of preserving complete freedom of mutual criticism – and this reservation is unalterable – the Communists must be prepared to make an alliance with social democracy for the sake of the most modest mass activities. But in so doing the Communists must give themselves a clear accounting of the tasks that are posed by the march of developments in order to disclose at every stage the incongruity between the political goal and the reformist methods.

The united front cannot merely signify a summation of social democratic and Communist workers for beyond the confines of the two parties and outside of the trade unions there still remain Catholic workers and unorganized masses. Not a single one of the old forms of organization which are laden down with conservatism, inertia, and the heritage of old antagonisms can suffice for the present tasks of the united front. A real mobilization of the masses is unthinkable without the creation of elected organs which directly represent the trade, industrial and transport enterprises, corporations and factories, the unemployed and the contiguous layers of the population which gravitate toward the proletariat, in other words, the situation in Austria calls for workers’ Soviets, not so much in name as in their nature. The duty of the Communists is to persistently bring forward this slogan in the process of struggle.

The circumstance that Austria is separated governmentally from Germany and lags behind the latter in its internal evolution could play a decisive role in the salvation of Germany and of all Europe – under a bold and virile policy of the proletarian vanguard. Proletarian Austria would immediately become Piedmont for the entire German proletariat. The victory of the Austrian workers would provide the German workers with what they lack at present, with a material drill ground, a comprehensible plan of action and hope for victory. Once set in motion the German proletariat would immediately prove itself to be immeasurably more powerful than all its enemies taken together. Upon the parliamentary democratic plane, Hitler with his 44 percent of human dust appears much more imposing than he would on the plane of the actual correlation of forces. The Austrian social democracy has behind it approximately the same percentage of votes. But whereas the Nazis lean upon the social by-products which play in the life of the country a secondary and to a major degree a parasitic role, there is behind the Austrian social democracy the flower or the nation. The actual relative weight of the Austrian social democracy exceeds over ten times the relative weight of all the German Fascists. This can be completely revealed only in action. The initiative for revolutionary action can come at present only from the Austrian proletariat. What is there necessary for it? Courage, courage, and once again, courage! The Austrian workers have nothing to lose but their chains. And by their initiative they can conquer Europe and the whole world!

Prinkipo, March 23, 1933


L. Trotsky

  1. The Arbeiter Zeitung itself disturbed the ghost of Bonaparte when it wrote about the “19th Brumaire of Dollfuss”; but the social-democratic sheet uses this only as a literary rattle. We would seek in vain from the Austro-Marxists, in general, for the analysis of politics from the class viewpoint. They require Marxism only to explain the past; but they motivate themselves in actual politics by psychologic combinations that are second hand and by the hope that everything will turn out somehow in the end.