Letter: The Vienna Butchery
A reader who lives in Vienna sends us the following letter on the so-called “Revolt” in Vienna, which ended so tragically. The letter arrived too late for insertion in August issue.—Ed., Comm.
July, 22nd, 1927.
Last year a Russian film called “Potemkin” made the round in Germany and Austria; its main feature were a successful revolt of Czarist Russian marines in the battle cruiser “Potemkin,” and its sequel in Odessa—the crushing by Czarist soldiers of a people’s manifestation of sympathy.
Little did the people of Vienna dream that they would so soon have a real life experience of the terrifying scenes they saw last year from a comfortable chair in a picture palace. And if the numerous English, American and other foreign visitors who stop in this city at this time of the year on their continental pleasure trips, and whom a considerate censor had prevented from seeing the Potemkin film in their own countries, they have now been able to learn and to appreciate Czarist Russian manners and methods in grim reality in the fair city of Vienna, “the city of songs and music on the blue Danube, the centre of art and of culture.”
Anyone who, like the writer, happened to be on the Friday (July 15th) afternoon on the beautiful Ringstrasse, could not but become the terrified witness of scenes not one whit less revolting and gruesome than those he had seen in the said film. Police. mounted and on foot, and gendarmes firing into a mass of unarmed and fleeing civilians, screams of falling men, women and children, under a sky laden with the smoke-clouds from a burning building. And a hundred men, women and children are now lying in their graves, a mass grave, as befits members of the working class to which they all belonged; a thousand others left to continue the battle for life with broken limbs and shattered nerves, many of them still in the hospitals at the time of writing, fighting between life and death; two hundred in prisons awaiting trial fro lawlessness and incendiarism; such is an episode in Capitalism’s career—the sequel to “Bloody Friday in Vienna.”
What had happened? What was it all about? What had aroused this special anger and fury of the powers that be?
Had the poverty-stricken mass of the city’s workers suddenly lost their patience and their temper, and broken into the comfortable quarters of the rich and wealthy? Had they tried to ease their and their families’ wretched lot by forcibly seizing some of the goods with which the countless stores are filled to the roof tops? Had they made a determined attempt at gaining access to the good things of life they produce and store up for a favoured few? Had the workers suddenly come out of their dens and hovels with the set purpose of establishing themselves in the elegant and spacious garden villas and mansions of the “Cottage” or the “Ambassador’s quarters”?
Had the sumptuous palaces of the Rothschilds’, the Fürst Liechtenstein, and the innumerable other palaces of the city been seized by the “common” people? Had the warehouses been attacked and plundered? Was property in danger? Could it be that the workers marched up to overthrow the Capitalist order and to proclaim the Socialist Commonwealth?
But though the fear of these things, which was stimulated by a general shutting of shops, betrays the existence of great social inequalities—”injustices,” if you like—that will sooner or later force a correction, not one baker’s or tailor’s shop, and not one villa in the “Cottageviertel!” was in danger. And even the fact that the scene of that terrible collision between working men and the powers that be was the “Palace of Justice” (the Law Courts of Vienna) does not do more than provide an accidental omen.
This attack, however, of July 15th, silly and stupid as it would be in any circumstances had nothing to do with Socialism. though the party that pretends to stand for the interests of the working class in this country, namely, the Social Democratic Party, cannot be acquitted of a large measure of the guilt for the massacre of so many working class lives. This guilt lies in the awful confusion which that party creates among working men and women by identifying them with, and wasting their energies on, all kinds of minor issues and reforms. The workers are dragged into every kind of political fracas, the petty squabbles of the innumerable organisations, and thus become easy preys of Bourgeois intrigues.
Only class-unconscious workers could have been so staggered by the acquittal of the two nationalists who shot dead a social democratic working man and a boy at Schattendorf last January as to begin a “wild strike” and a march to Parliament with the disastrous consequences that followed.
For let us make it clear that these thousands had come for no other purpose but to protest against the acquittal of the two murderers; they soon found the police, mounted and on foot, confronting them and moving them on in the usual police style, until the sight of the “Palace of Justice,” with more police and showers of bullets, provided the signal to a maddened crowd to set fire to the building. In vain did the well-tried “leaders of labour” endeavour to appease the infuriated masses from resurrected barricades, in vain did the Social-Democratic mayor himself mount a fire-engine to save the burning building, but—is it necessary to say—after an all-day and night struggle the police and military eventually “cleaned” (as they put it here) the streets.
With a more or less obscure object the Social Democratic Party declared a partial “general” strike. On Wednesday, the 20th, the victims were laid to rest, and now things are “normal” again. The “labour market” is relieved to the extent of the murdered and mutilated workmen, and by an increase of the police force supplied by members of the S. D. Party, ready, as that party always is, to assist the Capitalist class in maintaining and perpetuating Capitalist order.
The Communists saw in the march once more the advent of the social revolution, though it is not all certain whether they will survive its defeat.