Saturday, January 10, 2015

Backwaters of History - 4 (1954)

From the January 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Civil War in Austria

Behind the closed doors of the Hotel Schiff in Linz a group of workers stood holding rifles and light machine guns. Earlier that day they had listened to the measured tread of the armed levies of the fascist Heimwehr marching through the town on their way to the offices of the Landeshauptmann (Prefect) of the Province to demand that all members of the Austrian Social Democratic Party be removed from political office. At the same time the federal police were going from house to house in the working class districts, confiscating any arms they found in the workers' possession.

In the turmoil of the struggle between Republicans and Monarchists at the end of the 1914-1918 war many workers and peasants who had joined in that struggle, had kept the arms issued to them during the war. In the country districts of Carinthia and Styria the peasants had organised in the Heimwehr for defence against Yugo-Slavs and the possible spread of Bolshevism. In the towns the workers joined the Republikanische Schutzbund to defend and maintain the new republic.

During the years following the 1914-1918 war there were a number of minor armed clashes between the Heimwehr and the Schutzbund with killings in both sides. When legal action was taken after these clashes it was invariably to the detriment of the workers.

The governments of Italy and Germany were striving against one another for a dominating influence over Austrian politics and Austria became the battleground on which these two powers fought out their commercial antagonisms. The Austrian Social Democratic Party had for years favoured association with Germany, while a small Austrian Nazi party stood for a complete union between the two countries. The Heimwehr was supported by Italy.

In 1934 the government of Austria was a coalition between the Catholic Christian Social Party and the Heimwehr with a few smaller parties attached. During the previous few years the Christian Social Party had been getting steadily weaker, losing many members to the Heimwehr, so that, by the beginning of 1934 the Christian Social chancellor, Dr. Dollfuss, was desperately seeking support from other parties. He could have the support of the militarised fascist Heimwehr or of the largest single political party in Austria, the Social Democratic Party. He chose the former, knowing that that party aimed at the complete suppression of the Social Democrats and the trade unions.

Otto Bauer, leader of the Social Democratic Party, Julius Deutsch, leader of the Schutzbund, Karl Seitz, Mayor of Vienna, and other Social Democrat leaders were prepared to make all manner of sacrifices, short of their own suppression, to stave off the clash that was ahead. They also prepared for the clash by arranging for a general strike to take place in the event of any of the following four contingencies.
  1. If the Government, in defiance of the law and Constitution, introduced a Fascist Constitution.
  2. If the Government illegally and unconstitutionally deposed the municipal and Provincial authorities of Red Vienna and handed over the administration of Vienna to a Government Commissioner.
  3. If the Government dissolved the Party.
  4. If the Trade Unions were dissolved or "brought into line." (Resolution of the October 1933 Conference of the Austrian Social Democratic Party. quoted by Otto Bauer in "Austrian Democracy Under Fire.")
The Heimwehr, lead by the vice-chancellor, Major Fey and by Prince Starhemberg, urged on by Mussolini in Italy, was demanding that the municipal councils controlled by the Social Democrats should be "cleaned up," that Italian should be taught in schools instead of French and that the trade unions should be curbed. The Social Democrats asked Dollfuss to reject these demands and they would be willing to accept "his policy, however bad this might seem to them." (Quoted by Alexander Schonau in "Civil War in Austria.")

The Social Democratic leaders were still vacillating when the blow struck.

When the police forced their way into the Hotel Schiff, which was the headquarters of the labour organisations in Linz, the workers inside opened fire with their rifles. They felt that the decisive moment had come. Whilst the armed Heimwehr fascists were free to force their will at the point of a gun, the government authorities were disarming the workers to prevent them from offering resistance. It was a spontaneous decision to die fighting rather than surrender without striking a blow.

The news of the fighting at the Hotel Schiff spread like wildfire through Linz. Troops were called in. Street fighting began. The members of the Schutzbund brought out the weapons that they had managed to conceal from the police and the battle spread all over the town.

The news spread to other industrial towns and fighting started in Steyr, Bruck-on-Mur, Eggenburg, Graz, Kapfenburg, Judenburg, Wilhelmsburg, Worgl, Haring, the Traisental and in the capital, Vienna. The incident in Linz happened on the morning of Monday, February 12th, 1934, the first shots were fired in Vienna at 5 p.m. the same day.
"The fighting began. On the one side members of the working class, many of them unemployed, armed with an old war-time rifle and a few clips of cartridges. On the other side troops and police, with full modern equipment—armoured cars, artillery and howitzers, minethrowers."—("Austrian Democracy Under Fire," Otto Bauer.)
The general strike did not materialise. Electricity, gas, newspaper, tram and some factory workers came out spontaneously, but the strong railway union, which had been brought to heel some time previously, did not respond. The indecisive policy of the Social Democrats had lost them the confidence of large sections of the working class.

In Vienna the troops isolated different groups of workers and drove them into the residential districts. The government maintained control of the broadcasting stations, the telephones and other means of communication so that each group of workers had no means of knowing what was happening outside its own immediate district. The Schutzbund leaders were arrested at the outset and lying propaganda was broadcast.

Despite all the disadvantages the workers fought on for four days. But,
"The artillery, the heavy howitzers, won the day . . . Hundreds of workers, women and children have been slaughtered. Thousands of wounded people are writhing in pain. Thousands of lying herded together in the prisons. In blood and slaughter has the new Austria, 'Christian, German and corporative,' been founded." —("Austrian Democracy Under Fire.")
Otto Bauer and Julius Deutsch, despite radio reports that they had fled the country, remained in Vienna till all hope was lost, then, with a group of workers, they fought a rearguard action all the way to the Czechoslovak frontier and crossed over fully armed.

Bauer states,
"The Hungarian Social-Democrats in 1919, and the Italians down to 1922, pursued a 'Left' revolutionary policy, closely akin to Communism—and in both countries their policy ended disastrously. Conversely, the German Social-Democrats adopted a very 'statesmanlike' nationalist, 'right' line of policy—and they, too, have been laid low. We in Austria tried to tread a path midway between the Italo-Hungarian and German extremes—and we, too, have been defeated. The causes of defeat of the working class clearly lie deeper than in the tactics of its parties or than in this or that tactical mistake."—("Austrian Democracy Under Fire.")
How right he is. The Austrian Social Democrats, like similar "labour" parties all over the world, aimed to reform capitalism and tried to make it operate to the benefit of the working class. An impossibility. The discontent bred of the capitalist system drives the workers to support one reformist party after another, hoping to find relief from their oppression.

Housing and welfare schemes seem attractive but they do not remove the workers' poverty and insecurity. When the workers find that a party that they have put into power does not produce "the goods," they turn from it to another reform-promising party, then to another and another and, maybe, when their memories dim, back to the first one again.

Any political party, without control of the armed forces of the state, is at the mercy of those who do control the state forces, unless these forces rebel and pass over to the support of the party. Only a socialist understanding—a clear recognition of their class status—by a majority of the workers can be a guarantee of their continued, unwavering support for their political party. With such a majority, the control of the state forces can be achieved and then capitalism will not be reformed, but abolished.

Books to read:
"Austrian Democracy Under Fire," by Otto Bauer.
"Civil War in Austria. A Reply to Otto Bauer," by Alexander Schonau.
"The Tragedy of Austria," by Julius Braunthal.
"Austrian Workers' Tragic Heroism." SOCIALIST STANDARD, March, 1934.
W. Waters.

Backwaters of History - 3 (1953)

From the December 1953 issue of the Socialist Standard

The German Spartacists

She was born on March 5th, 1871, of comparatively well-to-do parents in the poverty-stricken little Polish town of Zamosc in the Lublin district, not far from the Russian frontier. Her Jewish parents were in the timber trade and afforded her and their other four children an education above the average, despite the hostility to Jews in the Warsaw schools which they attended.

He was born on August 13th in the same year in Germany. His father, a close associate of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels and a prominent member of the German Social Democratic Party, was for many years a member of the Reichstag. He spent his early life as a law student before he, too, became a prominent member of the German Social Democratic Party.

These two, Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, were driven closer together during the 1914-18 war. Both had a hectic political career, she in Poland, Russia and Germany, and he mainly in Germany. Their opposition to the war caused them both to serve frequent and lengthy periods of imprisonment.

In 1914, that organisation of national so-called Socialist parties, known as The Second International, fell to pieces. Each of the parties that comprised it threw aside its talk of international fraternity of the working class and lined up with its own capitalist class in the prosecution of the war, urging its members to take up arms against their fellow workers in other lands. The German Social Democratic Party was no exception. Karl Liebknecht, under pressure of party discipline, together with other Social Democratic members of the Reichstag, voted for war credits. But, only once. Thereafter he consistently opposed the prosecution of the war, often being the only one in the Reichstag to do so. The English and French capitalist press applauded him, the German capitalists imprisoned him.

As the war continued and the pressure on the German workers became heavier, Liebknecht received more and more support. The German Social Democratic Party split. On January 1st, 1916, at a meeting in Liebknecht's house, a programme drawn up by Rosa Luxemburg, was accepted and published under the nom-de-plume of Junius. It was further decided to publish a clandestine journal entitled "Spartacus" and the group became known as the "Spartacus League," until January 1st, 1919, when it became the Communist Party of Germany.

Another group, led by Kautsky and Haase, broke away from the Social Democratic Party after a conference at Gotha in early 1917. This group, unwilling to line up with the Spartacists, formed itself into the German Independent Social Democratic Party. It was approximately parallel to the British Independent Labour Party and, like the Spartacists, opposed the continuation of the war.

By September 1918 it became apparent to the German military high command that the war was lost. General Ludendorff resigned and President Hindenburg wrote to the chancellor, Prince Max of Baden, demanding that the government should accept the responsibility of asking the allied powers for an armistice. A new cabinet was appointed, but the German workers were too war weary to be impressed.

The sailors at the Kiel naval base mutinied, took over the fleet and set up committees with the dockyard workers on November 4th. By November 7th the rising had spread to Hamburg and Munich, army reservists joining with the factory workers. On November 9th a general strike occurred in Berlin and the soldiers of the garrison elected representatives to attend the committees set up by the workers. On the same day, Ebert, a Social Democrat, was made chancellor and the Berlin workers and soldiers, at a giant meeting, elected a government called the Council of the Representatives of the People. It consisted of three members of the main Social Democratic Party and three of the Independents.

The Council of the Representatives of the People introduced legislation for an eight hour day, extension of the franchise, re-instatement of demobilised soldiers, participation of trade unions in wage agreements and the constitution of new legislative bodies. But capitalism remained unchallenged and the army facing the Russian border was left under the command of the old General Staff.

The Spartacists tried to carry the rising to further limits. They organised large demonstrations and armed conflict broke out all over Germany between workers and the state and municipal authorities. The Independents withdrew from the Council of People's Representatives and the majority group of Social Democrats had the government to themselves.

The soldiers who were being disbanded from the war areas were re-enlisted into detachments for "frontier defence" and picked and trusted men and officers were organised into "Free Corps" and trained for street fighting. They were still under the orders of the war-time officers and were still paid from the army funds.

The Spartacus League was a small organisation consisting of tiny autonomous groups scattered all over Germany. On November 18th it published a newspaper called Rote Fahne (Red Flag) with Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg as editors and with Paul Levi, August Thalheimer, Paul Lange, Hermann Dunker, Wilhelm Pieck and Leo Jogiches in support. In this paper the aims of the Spartacists were published. Rosa Luxemburg wrote: -
"The abolition of capitalist rule and the creation of a socialist order—this and nothing else is the historical theme of the German Revolution. It is a tremendous task and it cannot be performed overnight with a few decrees from above, but only be the conscious action of the toiling masses in town and country, and by the highest degree of intellectual maturity and idealism on the part of those masses pursuing their aim through all vicissitudes until final victory." - "Rosa Luxemburg," by Paul Frolich. Gollancz.
The Spartacists further demanded:

  1. The disarming of the police force.
  2. The seizure of all arms and ammunition by the workers commitees.
  3. The arming of the entire male population as a workers militia.
  4. Election of all officers from the rank and file.
  5. A revolutionary tribunal to try those responsible for the war.
  6. A united German Socialist Republic, abolishing the separate states.
  7. Election of workers' councils all over Germany with the right of recall of the representatives at any time.
  8. Abolition of all class distinctions and legal equality of the sexes.
  9. A six hour working day.
  10. Confiscation of all crown estates and revenue for the benefit of the people.
  11. Annulment of state debts.
  12. Confiscation of all land and other property exceeding an amount to be fixed by the people's councils.
  13. Establishment of administrative councils in all industries and of a General Strike Committee to work in conjunction with the workers' political party.
  14. Connection with workers' organisations abroad to establish an international brotherhood.
(Condensed from "The Aims and Objects of the German Spartacists," published in English by the British Socialist Party, 1919.)
Huge demonstrations organised by both sides, the Democratic Party and the Spartacists, took place during December, 1918. The Democratic authorities issued posters calling:
"Workers! Citizens!
Our Fatherland is threatened with destruction. Save it. It is no longer threatened from without, but from within. Spartacus threatens to kill it. Kill their leaders. Kill Liebknecht. When they are dead you will have peace, land and bread. Soldiers from the front."—("Rosa Luxemburg," by Paul Frolich. Gollancz.)
In January 1919 the government ordered the dismissal of all Independent Social Democrats from posts of authority, including Eichhorn, Berlin chief of police. Eichhorn refused to resign and, although his own Independent party did not support him, the Spartacists did. They occupied police headquarters and the offices of a number of capitalists' newspapers on Sunday, January 5th. Armed workers, supporting the Sparctacists, marched into railway stations, food warehouses, the Royal stables, the Chancellory, and other large buildings. The Spartacists issued a call for the overthrow of the government and the setting up of a workers' republic.

The government set to work and appointed Noske as Governor-General of Berlin with extraordinary powers. He called in the "Free Corps" and the Spartacists and their followers were soon dislodged from their buildings, and driven into their homes where they were relentlessly pursued. Most of the leaders were caught and imprisoned and many workers were killed. Liebknecht and Luxemburg escaped but on January 15th they were taken at their hiding place in 53, Mannheimer Strasse in Wilmersdorf by a group of soldiers.

They were taken to the Eden Hotel for questioning. When being taken from this building Liebknecht was struck on the head with a rifle butt, bundled into a car by a Captain Horst von Pflugk-Hartung, driven away and shot in the back by this officer. His body was taken to a mortuary and delivered as an unknown man found dead in the Tiergarten.

When Rosa Luxemburg came out of the Eden Hotel she was also struck on the head with a rifle butt by a soldier named Runge, who smashed her skull with two blows. A Lieutenant Vogel put her body in a car and later threw it into the Landwehr Canal, from which it was not recovered until the following May.

Thus ended the attempt by the Spartacist League to emulate the Bolshevik seizure of power of October, 1917.

Frederick Engelsin his preface to Karl Marx's "Class Struggles in France" wrote these words 25 years before the Spartacist rising: -
"Even in the classic time of street fighting, therefore, the barricade produced more of a moral than a material effect. It was a means of shaking the steadfastness of the military. If it held out until this was attained, then victory was won; if not, there was defeat."
"But since then there have been very many more changes, and all in favour of the military. If the big towns have become considerably bigger, the armies have become bigger still."
"On the other hand, all the conditions on the insurgents' side have grown worse. An insurrection with which all sections of the people sympathise will hardly recur . . . "
"And, finally, since 1848 the newly built quarters of the big towns have been laid out in long, straight, broad streets, as though made to give full effect to the new cannons and rifles. The revolutionary would have to be mad, who himself chose the working class districts in the North and East of Berlin for a barricade fight."
It is a pity the Spartacists did not give heed to Engels words. Many lives could have been saved to continue the struggle in more useful fields. Even had the insurrection been successful it could only have resulted in the Spartacists governing a capitalist Germany. The majority of German workers had no understanding of socialism and as little inclination for social revolutionary change. The Spartacists would have been in the same position as the Russian Bolsheviks—governing by force and terror—forced into administering capitalism.

Books to read: -
"The Growth of Modern Germany" by Roy Pascal.
"A People's History of Germany" by A. Ramos Oliveira.
"Rosa Luxemburg" by Paul Frolich.
"Hammer or Anvil" by Evelyn Anderson.
"The Birth of the German Republic" by Arthur Rosenberg
"The German Spartacists, Their Aims and ObjectsT" published by the B.S.P.
W. Waters

Doing Something for Nothing (2015)

The Pathfinders Column from the January 2015 issue of the Socialist Standard
A new year ought to start with a good news story, so here’s one you may have seen recently – global malaria deaths are down by 50 percent in the last ten years, according to the World Health Organisation (BBC Online, 9 December).
In Africa, home to 90 percent of malaria fatalities, cases have declined by 25 percent even though the population has increased by 43 percent. 50 percent of those at risk now have mosquito nets, compared to just 3 percent ten years ago. There is more diagnostic testing, more people are getting treatment, and a number of tropical countries have for the first time been able to report and maintain zero cases.
Obviously there is much more to be done. For one thing, many people in rural areas are still out of reach of treatment. Many children still die unnecessarily. 43 percent of pregnant women receive no preventative medicine. 3.2 billion people remain at risk, and with global warming, disease zones are spreading north to higher latitudes. There were still around 207 million cases in 2012, with a WHO estimate of between 473,000 and 789,000 deaths, mostly among the under-fives. At the low end of the estimate, that’s still close to one child a minute, all year. While Bob Geldof and his band of conceited and condescending millionaire celebs invite us to care as much as they do about the Ebola epidemic (suggested lyric: ‘Let’s all cure it in the New Year, or else we’ll get it over here…’), malaria has been quietly going about its business of causing around 100 times more fatalities with zero media coverage.
Even so there’s no doubt that this is a success story in healthcare among the world’s poor countries, and especially so in the context of a global social and economic system which is not famous for giving a monkey’s about poor people and their problems. How come we see this rare buck in the general trend of doom and gloom? Is it just an anomaly, the exception that proves the rule?
Socialists often describe capitalism as a nasty, brutish and uncaring system, but this is perhaps somewhat loose and idiomatic talk. What we are doing is reifying and even carelessly anthropomorphising what is, after all, nothing more than a set of abstract and inherited rules. It doesn’t mean that the people who live in capitalism are necessarily nasty, brutish and uncaring. Of course, some of them are, for example the sort of money-grubbing scumbags who are responsible for the estimated 40 percent of counterfeit malaria drugs now circulating in China and South-East Asia. But often people are quite the opposite. It says something very positive about humans that so many are able to cope under a divisive economic system where they have every reason to be in conflict with each other, but somehow fail to turn into Hobbesian stereotypes. People care, even though capitalism says they shouldn’t because there’s no money in caring. They try to help, even when there’s no profit incentive. They pull together, even when there’s no bottom line, no cash return, no angle. It’s not that humans are angels, but living in capitalist economic hell you might expect to see a lot more devils.
Scientifically speaking, capitalism could have wiped out malaria worldwide back in the mid-20th century, just as it did in the southern states of the USA and southern Europe, where it had been endemic for centuries. This new success is therefore not a victory for the capitalist system as such, but a victory for concerned people and groups within and despite the capitalist system. Some of those groups are NGOs, some government-backed, some private philanthropists, like the Gates Foundation. Above all, it’s a victory for the unsung volunteers who don’t make the papers, don’t walk the red carpets and don’t release bleeding-heart pop songs, but who do ninety percent of the work behind the scenes.
People don’t realise how much work volunteers do, in a society that laughs at the idea of working for free. In September last year Andy Haldane, the chief economist of the Bank of England, stated that volunteers in Britain do the work of an equivalent 1.2m employees, a figure only slightly smaller than the total workforce of the NHS (Economist, 12 September). The Office of National Statistics estimates that frequent, formal volunteering in the UK generates around £24 billion of economic output, roughly twice that of the agricultural sector. Add in infrequent, informal types of volunteering and the total amounts to £50 billion, equal to the UK energy sector (Wall Street Journal blog, 12 September). Globally, voluntary work is done by almost a billion people, close to the population of China, and much of that in war-zones, disaster sites and disease belts. A 2011 report by the International Red Cross commented on the largely volunteer-driven 2000 Global Polio Initiative which the United Nations described as ‘far beyond the reach of governments or international and national organizations’ (
One way to think of socialism is as a global volunteering effort, systematised as the norm rather than the exception. Opponents of socialist ideas are very quick to argue that in a free society where there is no property or money, people would be too lazy or selfish to work for free, although typically they never include themselves in this assessment. What’s ironic about this mean-spirited myopia is that, with a present-day volunteer force approximately the size of China, we could easily run the essential global productive services of socialism, right now, without a single extra person stepping forward. To take agriculture as an example of how technology has made this possible, ‘From 90% of the US workforce in 1790, the percentage in the field dropped to roughly 50% in 1890 and is now less than 2%. Yet, the US farm production breaks records every year’ (ARK investment at, 26 September).
Similar productivity trends are expected in India and China, and the same applies to manufacturing, where the US tops the global manufacturing tables with just 9 percent of its workforce. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics gives 2012 figures of 3.9 percent for construction and just 0.6 percent for mining, with a whopping 80 percent being employed in government or service industries, a very large proportion of which would be unnecessary in socialism ( And there is also the matter of work inside the home. According to UN statistics, ‘In all regions, women spend at least twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work’ ( Taking these factors together, it’s obvious that in capitalism a huge amount of useful and necessary work is unpaid while only a fraction of the paid work is what could be described as useful or necessary in socialist terms. As a rough calculation, if the global workforce is something like 3 billion today, and if only 20 percent do useful work by this definition, then not only could today’s global volunteer force run socialism, they could do it in a 24 hour week even if every former tax inspector, sales ‘executive’, benefit advisor and check-out assistant sat back and made no effort to help.
Far more likely of course, given their sudden liberty from bosses and wage-bondage as well as a free democratic voice and free access to what was available, such people would be falling over themselves to lend a hand, especially given the opportunity for once to do something actually important and worthwhile. Capitalism has never been able to conquer human beings’ basic sense of decency despite every effort and incentive. What will happen when it is unleashed in all its force can only be guessed at, and with socialism we’ll get a chance to see it in action.