Crisis in Austria; Dollfuss Averts Nazi Danger
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Crisis in Austria; Dollfuss Averts Nazi Danger

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Famous European correspondent, formerly with the Berlin Vossiche Zeitung

Throughout the past few weeks the atmosphere in Austria has been depressed, the prophecies pessimistic. No one was deceived about the fact that National Socialism had won a strong following in the Danube country also and everyone knew that the dissolution of the National Socialist party had been decided upon too late to have any decisive effect. Many measures which—had they been adopted in April, May—would have affected the Nazis crushingly, were received by them with mocking shoulder-shrugs when they were hesitatingly and half-heartedly decreed in July or August, under pressure of the National Socialist attacks, And in the streets of Vienna, in the summer resorts and the health resorts of the Austrian province, a whisper went the rounds: “During the summer Austria needs the tourist trade—so the Christian-Socialist government will remain at the helm. But in the fall, when the foreigners have gone home, the Nazi victory will come; then the Nazis will step into the government.”

Everyone not related to the Swastika fears these new elections. For—this must be said, no matter how strange it may sound to American ears—democracy and the Swastika can, formally, manage to get along. We must bear in mind that the Hitlerites and the Communists together destroyed the parliament of old Germany; we must bear in mind that the decisive general strike which took place in Berlin before Hitler came to power likewise found the Nazis and the Communists shoulder to shoulder, for both had a crushing “democratic majority” in the Berlin trade unions. The same thing holds in Austria, so that in new elections the Nazis will probably receive thirty-five percent of all votes, the Social Democrats will get thirty percent, the Christian Socialists twenty-five, and the other small parties (Heimatschutz, Landbund, etc.) the remainder. Thus the president of the parliament will be a Nazi, and since the Christian Socialists for various reasons will find it very difficult to enter into a coalition with Social Democrats, while the smaller parties will tend much more readily towards the Nazis, the results of such a “democratic” election will be, as in Germany, a coalition of the right groups, with the Nazis strongest. That this coalition of right groups will then break down democracy forever, that the nation will for a long time lack the opportunity to express regret over this action by calling a new election—these are the reasons why the friends of democracy in Austria are depressed today. New elections would mean the end of democracy.


The Social Democrats also know this. Therefore they are not demanding new elections, but rather a calling of parliament, which for several months—as a result of the culpable stupidity of the Social Democratic president—has had its doors shut. Think of it: While Europe is in need and trouble, while in Germany the Social Democratic party has been destroyed, the very same Social Democratic party unites with those most closely associated with the Nazis, the so-called Pan-Germans, in calling up a motion against the government because of a ridiculous railroad strike. It was not a vital motion, yet upon its acceptance or rejection depended the fate of the government. In the voting the united Socialists and Pan-Germans achieved a majority of exactly one vote; on checking up it was revealed, however, that by mistake a Social Democratic deputy had handed in the ballot of another Social Democrat instead of his own. And therefore, the Social Democratic president hesitated to order the voting repeated, and because the house was dissatisfied, he resigned, the other two presidents resigned and the government explained that—since there was no president—there was no one who could call a meeting of parliament. And in this manner, which smacks more of comic opera than reality, dictatorship was introduced.

Too late the Social Democrats noticed the grievous error which their presidential candidate had committed. They displayed considerable agitation and collected signatures for a petition to the Christian Socialist President Miklas, in which they demanded that parliament be convened again. They obtained 1,250,000 signatures to the petition, but this made no impression whatever.


Evidence of the loss of Socialist power can be found all over Austria. Above all, unfortunately, in Vienna, where the Socialist municipal council was carrying on what the middle class regarded as a harmful fiscal policy. This consisted in the imposition of heavy taxes on that class, while the party government attempted to ameliorate, directly and indirectly, the condition of the proletariat. Residential facilities, the care of the sick, the care of young people, the school system of Vienna are all probably unequalled throughout the entire civilized world; the salaries of the municipal employees were comparatively high, and yet the municipality of Vienna—perhaps the only large city in Europe with such a record—incurred no debts in the period after the war, floated no loans, but actually piled up reserves which to this very day are at the disposal of the city.

The Socialists spent a great deal of money in building activities. Everywhere in Vienna there arose gigantic groups of apartment houses, made possible though the post-war special dwelling-house tax, by means of which small dwellings of one and a half and two and a half rooms with modern conveniences were placed at the disposal of workers at ridiculously low rates. A dwelling consisting of two rooms, two closets, kitchen and bath, costs, for example, (at the present exchange rate) something over seven dollars a month. Natrually, reliable followers of the Social Democratic party are given these apartments first; in this manner “red fortresses” have grown up in all the suburbs of Vienna; upon these the Socialist powers of Vienna can depend. And for this very reason this building program of the Vienna community was attacked with especial bitterness by the bourgeoisie, who were forced to support the red rule with their taxes.


During the past few months the progress of National Socialism is to be seen more and more clearly in these “red fortresses”. Better than anywhere else one can see among these people, who really have a great deal to thank the Social Democratic regime for, the truth of the old adage, that in politics pecuniary advantages are in the last analysis binding for only a time, and that then irrational elements enter in. These tenants obtained these dwellings for practically no money at all—and now they are going over to the Nazis, who are promising them Romance.

At any rate, not romance alone. The Nazis thoroughly understand the romantic side of their movement (third Reich, new race, union of all Germans in Europe into a state of ninety million people, new Christianity, new Socialism, new youth) which they support with very concrete and very material promises which have only one meaning. I, who orally and in writing, have since 1930 proclaimed the victory of Hitler as unavoidable, cannot be accused of underestimating the force of the idealistic ferment in this movement. But for that very reason I must declare that by the use of incredibly large sums of money they are enabled to pay ready cash to their followers. While the Social Democrats sought to acquire sympathizers by indirect means (cheap apartments, higher wages, etc.), the Nazis bought and are buying votes, souls and leaders for cash. The unemployed man gets earnest money for joining the S. A. (Storm Troopers); the little journalist whose German is so deplorable that he cannot dispose of a single article to a reputable newspaper, becomes editor of one of the innumerable party papers that are shooting up, whose deficits are paid abroad and which therefore can be sold so cheaply that their sale price does not even cover the cost of the paper they are printed on. And the politician, the doctor, the lawyer, the student—he is bought by promises.


One example among many: a young doctor whom I had aided a number of times in placing insolvent patients came to me. I see a Swastika in his buttonhole. He becomes embarrassed, stutters, excuses himself: “They promised that after the Nazi victory they would give me a medical center appointment which would be taken away from a Jew, provided I joined the party.” Thus, with little promises they bribe the intellectuals—with other larger promises the Nazis get to the leaders of the Austrian parties, to the governors of provinces, to rectors of universities, to party chiefs.

The true danger of the Nazi movement lies in these tactics. Perhaps I am too cynical and too sceptical, but I believe, that nine out of every ten persons can be bribed. With most, money and promises are enough; with many, their ambition must be flattered; the rest can be handled by threats. The Nazis in Austria are working with these means; with these means they try to find followers first of all in those parties which, together with the Christian Socialists, constitute the government—Landbund and Heimwehr—followers who at first secretly and later openly will demand the creation of a great, bouregois, Christian-German united front.

“United front” sounds harmless, but the Nazis mean by it the entrance of their agents into the government, who then will work for a new election, as well as for the rule of the Nazis.


The Christian Socialist Chancellor Dollfuss, who today is virtually dictator of Austria, has not only the Nazis to fight, but also those in his own cabinet who have allied themselves with them. The most important and most dangerous of them is the governor of Steiermark, Rintelen, who enjoys extraordinary prestige. It is said of him that in the event of a Nazi victory he may become the ruler of Austria, and that he therefore does not wish to fall out with the Nazis. First Dollfuss threw him out of the cabinet; so Rintelen withdrew to Graz, where he became the leader of the discontented. Then Dollfuss named him ambassador to Rome and the Vatican. The Pope immediately ordered for the new envoy the exequatur (official reception), but Rintelen reported himself sick, withdrew to a hospital and so far has no intention of leaving his post.

The second most dangerous man in the cabinet was Vice-Chancellor Winkler, leader of the small “Landbund” party. After the dismissal of Rintelen, Winkler became the man who rather frequently advocated a reconciliation with the Nazis. Winkler prevented the creation in Austria of concentration camps in which Nazis were to be imprisoned, Winkler prevented a series of other strict laws and, because the Austrian ambassador in Berlin, Tauschitz, also belonged to the Landbund, Winkler negotiated with Germany quite unceremoniously behind Dollfuss’s back for a reconciliation, which naturally could be reached only through a Nazi victory.

This activity of Winkler’s went on under the high-sounding title “For Democracy and reconciliation.” For the Jews in Austria a victory of this group would be fatal. It would mean that the 200,000 Jews in Austria, just as the 600,000 in Germany, would have to choose between starvation and emigration.


Major Fey, one of the most courageous officers of the old army, knight of the highest and most desired military order in the world, the Maria Theresa Order, was the most outstanding opponent of Winkler in the cabinet. In the Dollfuss cabinet Fey was the agent of Prince Starhemberg, chief of Austria’s Heimwehr, which to some extent corresponds to the German Stahlhelm. It is anti-Marxist, fascist, in a not too brutal form anti-Semitic; but because of its Catholic, and still more because of its Monarchist, pro-Hapsburg character, it remains so typically Austrian that it stands in irreconcilable distinction to the Nazis. These Heimwehr units have at their disposal some fifty or sixty thousand men. In itself, this is very little, but with the small Austrian army and the excellent police forces it unquestionably is a factor.

The Heimwehr urged complete coordination of Parliament; the Nazis and their friend Dr. Winkler were against it. The Heimwehr urged the sharpest measures against Germany—Winkler opposed them. The Heimwehr demanded the proclamation of martial law and the re-introduction of the death penalty. Winkler opposed.

The decision was to come a few days before Rosh Hashona. Winkler assembled his followers at Graz, Rintelen’s city: Starhemberg called him to Kufstein, hard by the German border. Both delivered speeches, both proclaimed war to the hilt to their followers. The decision had to come.


Major Fey brought it about quickly: he was minister of police and on the day after Winkler’s speech he abruptly had a number of his followers who had deployed at Graz arrested, among them a police commissioner. Evidence was found among the arrested showing that they stood in traitorous relations with the Nazis of Germany. That gave the death blow to Vice-Chancellor Winkler. On Rosh Hashona Eve it became known that Dollfuss was about to reorganize his cabinet. The initiated experienced a shaky night. Fey or Winkler—one of them had to fall. If Winkler won, there would be new elections, and there would be the Nazis. If Fey was the victor, Fascism would come, dictatorship, the death penalty; but according to human judgment he is the best man for settling with the Nazis. The results became known on the first day of the new year; Winkler had tumbled, Fey had become Vice-Chancellor, in the place of Vaugoin, the too-little militaristic Christian Socialist party leader, was set one of the most successful Austrian army leaders, Prince Schoenberg, who will probably advocate a monarchist restoration.

The immediate danger of a Nazi victory in Austria seems to have been averted. And during the coming four or five months the economic events of the Nazi regime in Germany will also become so clear that the power of attraction of this movement for the border states will be decreased. Thus the new year began more calmly and more joyously hopeful than the old ended.

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