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Contribution of the Party of Labour of Austria

May 14, 2024

For a free, democratic and independent Austria - The communists in the anti-fascist resistance


Dear comrades!

We would like to thank the Communist Party of Workers of Spain for organising the meeting of the European Communist Action in Madrid. The theme of today's meeting "Historical conclusions from the tactics of the anti-fascist fronts. The contemporary struggle of communists against fascism" is of extraordinary importance for understanding the politics of many communist parties in the second half of the 20th century and for developing a contemporary strategy and tactics of communist parties today.

Referring to the failed revolutions of 1848 in Europe and the subsequent restoration of the rule of the aristocracy, Karl Marx wrote: "Half a revolution is always followed by a full counter-revolution". In 1917, the Russian workers and peasants rose up against the rule of the tsar in the midst of the raging, murderous first imperialist world war. The Great October Socialist Revolution finally followed in October 1917. The slogans were "peace, bread and land".

A revolutionary situation also emerged in Austria after the hunger winter of 1916/17. The workers were no longer willing or able to endure the consequences of the war. Inspired by the February Revolution in Russia, the proletariat began to move. The policy of truce imposed by the right-wing social democratic leaders began to falter. May 1917 saw the first major strike by industrial workers in the greater Vienna area against the war. 42,000 workers went on strike. The revolutionary situation in Austria had three peaks: in spring 1917, in January 1918, when more than 700,000 workers went on strike, and in November 1918. However, Austria had no revolutionary party like that of the Bolsheviks in Russia, which could use the situation to advance towards socialism. The revolutionary workers finally brought down the centuries-long rule of the Habsburg family. However, the bourgeoisie was able to save its political and economic power with the active support of the Social Democratic Party and the First Republic was proclaimed in November 1918. The Austrian Communist Party, which had also been founded shortly before in November 1918, was unable to use the revolutionary situation to its advantage and remained largely isolated among the working class. This was partly due to a certain left-wing radicalism in the party and partly because the Austrian Social Democrats were very good at covering up their opportunist and right-wing policies with left-wing phraseology. When the situation began to stabilise again from 1919 onwards, the reaction began to move closer to its self-declared goal of clearing away the revolutionary rubble. From 1927, reaction finally went on the offensive and began to challenge and provoke the labour movement.

Social democracy did nothing to counter reaction. The three arrows in the logo of Austrian social democracy, which stood for the fight against fascism, clericalism and capitalism, were reinterpreted as the fight against reaction, fascism and communism. With regard to the increasing attacks by capital and the state in complicity with paramilitary, fascist militias, the Social Democrats called on the workers and in particular their own armed formation, the Republican Protection League, to stay at the ready and strengthen the Social Democratic Party at the ballot box. Occasionally, the party also irresponsibly provoked spontaneous riots by calling for protests in the party's own workers' newspaper, during which its own mass organisations remained passive and the workers were beaten off the streets by the police or even shot at, as in the 1927 Palace of Justice fire.


The greatest challenge for the Communist Party of Austria at the time was to break through the social democratic party discipline and fend off the anti-communism propagated by social democracy and reaction. At the end of the 1920s, the Communist Party began organising anti-fascist committees in companies and neighbourhoods. As non-party organisations, these were intended to provide an opportunity to win over social democratic workers for the fight against fascism and capitalism, for a socialist revolution. From 1930 onwards, this policy proved successful, so that by 1933 the party was increasingly able to gain mass influence and its membership increased significantly. In some cases, respected social democratic workers in the factories were recruited for the anti-fascist committees.

From 1931, the establishment of the fascist dictatorship in Austria began step by step. The Communist Youth League was banned in 1931. The Rote Fahne, the party newspaper of the KPÖ, fell victim to censorship more and more frequently and not a week went by without at least one issue of the newspaper being confiscated. This development was completed with the elimination of parliament and the civil war of 1933/34, which also revealed the treacherous role of the Social Democrats. When the parliament was shut down in 1933 due to a procedural error, the Social Democrats left it to convene another parliamentary session. The government prevented the National Council from convening by having the police occupy the parliament building. From then on, things moved very quickly. The Communist Party was banned, as was the armed arm of the Social Democratic Party, the Republican Protection League. Fascist militias were given tasks as auxiliary police. The Social Democratic Party leadership allowed all this to happen without resistance in order to prevent the party from being banned. When the most advanced sections of the Austrian labour movement finally rose up for armed struggle in February 1934, they met with the rejection of the Social Democratic Party leadership. It called on the workers not to take any offensive steps, in many places the right-wing Social Democratic leaders refused to hand over weapons to the workers, and the SP party executive fled abroad. The KPÖ supported the uprising wherever it could, but was unable to compensate for the lack of a centralised uprising leadership, the wrong fighting strategy and the failure to carry out a general strike.

After the defeat, the KPÖ continued its political and organisational work in illegality. The Social Democratic Party had disbanded in the February battles and was replaced by the organisation of the Revolutionary Socialists (RS). The KPÖ continued its work in anti-fascist committees and endeavoured to establish a united front with the Revolutionary Socialists. This was partially successful, but in the end was repeatedly obstructed and sabotaged by the RS leadership. However, the KPÖ's efforts to form a united front were successful, particularly at the workplace level. The KPÖ continued to grow in illegality, which was also followed with concern by the security organs of the fascist regime. Even during this time, the KPÖ combined the anti-fascist struggle with the fight for a "Soviet Austria", as documents from the Central Committee from this period show. It was only when the national question increasingly took centre stage from 1936/37 that this policy changed, also against the backdrop of the VII World Congress of the Communist International. Popular front politics began to replace united front politics. When Austria was occupied by the fascist German Reich in March 1938, the Communist Party called on the "people of Austria" to resist, explicitly addressing "Catholics and socialists, workers and peasants". The appeal ends with a call to fight for "a free, independent Austria". Until 1945, the Austrian Communist Party's anti-fascist resistance focussed on the fight for a free, democratic and independent Austria. The struggle for national liberation replaced the struggle for socialism.

This policy was also continued in the first years after 1945, namely in the (deceptive) expectation of a popular democratic upheaval in Austria. In 1945, for example, the KPÖ refrained from re-establishing its own youth organisation and was the only party to support the founding of the Free Austrian Youth (FÖJ) instead. The KPÖ was part of the first provisional government, which was appointed by the Soviet Union after the liberation of Vienna in 1945, in equal numbers with the Social Democrats and the conservative People's Party. In the successor government that was formed after the first elections, the KPÖ only provided one minister (until 1947). When a spontaneous strike movement against the fourth wage-price pact broke out in October 1950, the KPÖ supported the strikes in solidarity, but was unable to prevent the strike movement from collapsing. The KPÖ later discussed whether, although it was no longer part of the government, it did not still see itself too much as a state-supporting party at this time and was therefore surprised by the strike movement. The renunciation of its own youth organisation was also first critically discussed in the mid-1950s, although at that time without any practical consequences.

At the end of the 1960s, the KPÖ was finally in shambles. Parts of the party leadership, together with the leadership of the FÖJ and the trade union organisation Gewerkschaftliche Einheit, rebelled against the party leadership and attempted to push through a revisionist "Eurocommunist" orientation. This attempt failed and in the 1970s a programmatic renewal based on scientific socialism took place. In 1970 the Communist Youth of Austria was also founded, and after 25 years the Austrian youth once again had a communist youth organisation.

What lessons and experiences can we draw from this for our work today?

The 13th Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International characterised fascism as "the open, terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinist, most imperialist elements of finance capital". This definition of fascism is still correct today. It emphasises that the struggle against fascism cannot be separated from the struggle against capitalism. Bourgeois democracy and fascism are two interchangeable forms of rule by capital to maintain its own striving for the greatest possible profit and to assert its own interests internally and externally.

The social democratic organisations and their leaders cannot be allies in the consistent struggle against fascism. Their policies are directed against the interests of the working class on all fronts. A series of attacks on the democratic and social rights of the working class have been and are being carried out by governments under social democratic leadership or with social democratic participation. Examples include the introduction of state of emergency legislation by the social democrat-led government in Austria in 2015/16 or the bank rescue packages in 2008 and subsequent years, accompanied by cuts to various social benefits. The social partnership propagated by social democracy and the control of the trade unions in complicity with the labour aristocracy is the biggest obstacle to the working class fighting for its interests. This was demonstrated not least in the dispute over the 12-hour working day in Austria. It is the task of the communists to expose the role of social democracy as the social mainstay of capitalism in bourgeois parliamentarism.

It is the task of the communist and workers' parties to organise the anti-fascist struggle and to link it with the democratic and social struggles of the working class and the popular classes. This can only succeed if suitable methods and tactics are developed to create the greatest possible unity and clarity among the working class and the popular strata. Anti-communism and the falsification of history by the bourgeois and social-democratic forces must be clearly rejected.