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Letter from Austria

In the 'free world', demonstrations and marches of discontented workers are now the order of the day. No trade, profession or service is exempt from these public protestations against rising prices, lagging wages, social injustice and other evils suffered by all sections of the wage-slaves. One trade after another, from transport, metal, textile and chemical industries to doctors and teachers, is on the move threatening strikes, and marches to the seat of government. Banners and posters are carried, airing grievances and demanding redress and help. Television usually focuses on these demonstrations — such mournful processions, plus military parades, are indeed among the regular tele-features.

In Austria, last year's march of a thousand miners to Vienna recently had its double, this time from the federal province Burgenland, the most depressed area of this country.

Among the inscriptions on these Burgenland workers’ banners was one reading : “ Not yet come of age.” One sadly reflects how many Burgenland workers are aware of the sorry fact that in whatever respect or aspect they may consider their province as "not yet come of age” the workers themselves, and for that matter, the workers of the whole world, have yet to reach maturity. One wonders how many adult and normally intelligent workers would be ashamed to confess their political unripeness. Or does it betray political maturity and common sense for workers with the overwhelming majority of votes in their hands, to invariably vote for the continuation of their economic dependence on a small parasite minority, and to entrust leaders and guardians the safeguard of their class interests?

While it is generally understood that infants and minors, mental deficients, the old and infirm, like the blind and other unfortunates, need guardianship and leading, what is one to say of the brightness and brains of apparently sound adults blindly following leaders, despite their black record in the grim history of blood, sweat, and tears? The sorry fact is that the mass of the workers of the world are quite prepared to remain under tutelage and dominance; to go begging to, and leave their fate in the hands of their masters and ‘‘superior" leaders, instead of themselves organising for the purpose of working out, with their fellow-workers, their lives in accordance with their own needs. As already mentioned, the vote in their hands is the instrument to achieve this end—their emancipation from wage-slavery.

Meanwhile it remains a pitiful spectacle to see adult men and women humbling and degrading themselves by going hat in hand to a propertied, non-working minority of landowners, industrial magnates, bankers, shareholders, etc., with appeals for what can only be crumbs falling from the rich man’s table.

The Burgenland workers are typical of the lack of human dignity. The Esterhazy family, who own one-fifth of the whole federal province, draw 15 million schilling (£205,000) net profit annually from their forest property; 17 million (£233,000) from their lake ground and reeds, plus the income from leased arable land and vineyards, and the Esterhazy castle and grounds at Eisenstadt. Withal, Dr. Esterhazy is not even Burgenlander—he hails from Hungary. The Vienna conservative government procured for him the Austrian citizenship, but Esterhazy left Austria at once and lives in Switzerland. He is doing well there, while 23,000 poor peasants eke out a most precarious existence, and 25,000 itinerant workers are toiling far away from their families in summer, living on the dole in winter. No wonder that one of the delegates of the marchers asked the minister in Vienna how to exist on 167 schilling (about £2 6s.) a week.

Much more could be said on the dismal side of things in Austria, on the housing problem, with nearly half the population still living in single rooms or room-kitchen tenements (no water or W.C. within) and 30,000 urgent cases of home-seekers on the waiting lists in Vienna, while there are at the same time an equal number of empty flats—100,000 of them in the whole of Austria! There is the ever increasing criminality (632 murders between 1945 and 1963), alcoholism, accidents at work (160,000 annually, of which 600-700 fatal), the slaughter on the roads (60,000 accidents with 1,700 killed in 1963), etc., etc. Space does not allow us to deal with more, except to say that with the average annual income of about 20,000 schilling (£274), poverty and sickness is as rampant as ever in the midst of great wealth and affluence. Indeed, the Finanzamt has just revealed that in Austria more than a thousand persons have incomes of a million schilling (about £14,000) per year, and 2.652 persons paid taxes on 500,000 schilling (£7,000) each per year.

To anyone who should ask how this squares with the usual tale of “never had it so good,” I would say this; If the late American Presidents Roosevelt and Kennedy and the current President Johnson had to campaign against the terrible poverty and the innumerable accompanying social evils in the richest country in the world; if, as President Johnson admitted, with “ever increasing productivity and growing wealth on the one side, you have chronic unemployment on the other,” which they “can only try to mitigate, but cannot solve”—is it likely that the working class in any other country are better off and happier?

Withal, some thoughtful writers, politicians and scientists, often express concern and alarm about “Where are we going? ” “Where does science and the further technical development lead to? ” they ask. And they supply themselves an answer: “It will lead to the end of mankind, or at least to total slavery.” Others prophesy: “Relapse into the worst barbarism after a nuclear war.”

Says one writer: “What is to be done?” And he suggests: “To bring the effects of the continued technical advance drastically and clearly to the knowledge of the people, so that they at last begin to do something about the contemporary problems of their existence.” As if the people were not daily being reminded of the terrible conflicts brewing everywhere, which never allow the constant fear of war to abate. And has this generation not had “the effects” of the continued technical advance “drastically and clearly” enough brought to its knowledge by two actual world-wars? And by the many smaller wars in Korea, Suez, Algiers, in the Middle and the Far East, in Cyprus, etc.? Fact is that none of those writers and seers have any alternative to offer to enable mankind to extricate itself from the most awful dilemma it has ever faced in all its history.

Looking back and at the present anarchic, chaotic world situation, one must ask oneself how long the working class will continue to invest their masters and their paid hirelings with their trust and confidence? Is it not time to ask themselves what intellectual and moral credentials, references or merits those welfare agents and leaders have, to deserve that trust? And what value can be put on their promises? Just consider for example the record of some of the contemporary statesmen, leaders, politicians, experts and scientists, bishops and popes and other top personalities in public life.

The cause of the two world-wars was economic rivalry, which did not justify the shedding of a single drop of working class blood. Yet did not the world’s leaders, ignoring the real cause, either take part in one or the other belligerent line-up or otherwise support the carnage, or do nothing against it? And what are these worthies doing now against the monstrous new armaments which are part of their masters’ preparations for the next holocaust?

Were not “reformers" like Roosevelt, Kennedy and Johnson—and Stalin, Khrushchev, Churchill, Hitler, Mussolini, Tito, and the rest of the war lords— among the foremost active agents in the two bloodiest mercenary commercial conflicts the world has known? And do not the military chiefs on all sides boast of the superiority of their armaments, their preparedness for any emergency, and even indicate the approximate figure of casualties in the initial phase of an all-out nuclear war?

Verily, only real innocents and very naive workers can still look up to their “betters” and continue to place their trust in an “intellectual elite” of such past record, instead of “at last beginning to do something about the contemporary problems of their existence.”

While the writer of these latter words did not or could not say what this “something" should be, Socialists can, and consistently DO SO. They have the beacon light and the rallying parole for the mass of the people, the working class.

It is: “Organize and vote for fundamental change of the present vile and imbecile social system, i.e., abolish the private ownership of the means of life, and establish the World Socialist Commonwealth!

Rudolf Frank