Austria Table of Contents

Overview of the Political Camps

Conditioned to view themselves as the ruling elite of a supranational empire by virtue of what they regarded as their superior German culture, German Austrians (including assimilated Jews and Slavs) were the national group least prepared for a post-Habsburg state. The provisional government formed at the end of the war included representatives from three political groups: the Nationalists/Liberals, the Christian Social Party (Christlichsoziale Partei--CSP), and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei--SDAP). These three groups dominated political life in interwar Austria and reflected the split of Austrian society into three camps: pan-German nationalists, Catholics and Christian Socials, and Marxists and Social Democrats.

The parliamentary bloc represented by the Nationalists/Liberals was the smallest and most internally divided. Seventeen nationalist groups were unified in the Greater German People's Party (Grossdeutsche Volkspartei), commonly called the Nationals, which described itself as a "national-anti- Semitic, social libertarian party." The political heirs of the Liberals, the Nationals drew their support from the urban middle class and retained liberalism's strong anticlerical views. Unification (Anschluss) with Germany was the Nationals' key objective, and they were cool, if not openly hostile, toward restoration of the Habsburg Dynasty to rule in Austria. In rural Austria, another party, the Agrarian League (Landbund), endorsed a nationalist program in conjunction with a corporatist and antiSemitic platform. Radical nationalists were few in number, and some, Adolf Hitler, for example, had emigrated to Germany. The National Socialist German Workers' Party (National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei--NSDAP or Nazi Party) represented this segment of the nationalist movement but was numerically insignificant during the 1920s.

The NSDAP originated in prewar Bohemia, where the German Workers' Party (Deutsche Arbeiterpartei) drew on a virulently racist movement headed by Georg von Schönerer to put together an anti-Semitic, anti-Slav nationalist program hostile toward capitalism, liberalism, Marxism, and clericalism. In 1918 the party changed its name to the National Socialist German Workers' Party. After World War I, the party split into two wings, one in Czechoslovakia among Sudeten Germans (German Austrians of Bohemia, Moravia, and Silesia), and one in Austria. A similar party was founded in Germany and eventually came under the leadership of Hitler. Although the Austrian party leader favored parliamentary participation and internal party democracy in contrast to Hitler's antiparliamentarianism and emphasis on the "leadership principle," the Austrian and German parties united in 1926 but maintained separate national organizations.

The original Christian Social Party (Christlichsozial Partei- -CSP) had merged with one of the rural-based clerical parties in 1907 and had become more conservative in outlook. Because the church had lost the political protection of the Habsburg Dynasty with the collapse of the monarchy in 1918, the church was increasingly reliant on the political power of the CSP to protect its interests. Nevertheless, the church hierarchy, which was distrustful of parliamentary democracy, remained cool toward the CSP.

During the 1920s and early 1930s, the CSP was dominated by Ignaz Seipel, a priest and theologian who had served in the last imperial ministry. The party was well disposed toward the Habsburg Dynasty and inclined toward its restoration under a conservative, constitutional monarchy. The CSP gave only conditional support for unification with Germany and emphasized Austria's distinct mission as a Christian German nation. In light of public opinion favoring unification, however, the party was circumspect in voicing its doubts. The CSP inherited an antiSemitic strain from its association with the prewar nationalist movement. In addition, the close identification of Jews with both liberalism and socialism, which were the ideological foes of the CSP, made anti-Semitism an easy way to cultivate a political base.

The Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei--SDAP) endorsed a revisionist Marxist program. Although it spoke of the dictatorship of the proletariat, it sought to gain power through the ballot box, not through revolution. Karl Renner, who headed the provisional government, was the chief spokesman for this revisionist program after the war, but leadership of the party was held by Otto Bauer, who vocally supported a more radical, left-wing position. Bauer's rhetoric helped the party outflank the Austrian Communist Party (Kommunistische Partei Österreichs--KPÖ). But because CSP leader Seipel was given to similarly strong rhetoric, the two contributed to the polarization of Austrian society. The Social Democrats (members of the SDAP), were strong supporters of unification with Germany, their fervor declining only with the rise of the Nazi regime in the early 1930s.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress