Austrian Democracy

In their political innocence or inexperience, a number of workers in a Vienna automobile factory left the “Socialist” – party – controlled Trade Union as a protest against the Union’s passive attitude to various grievances including a 50 per cent, increase of the city’s tramway and bus fares. Others distributed leaflets calling upon fellow-workers to join another union—with the result that the factory owners, supported by the “Socialist” trade union, sacked the malcontents. Is Vienna in Russia? No, but your confusion is pardonable for the reason that the city is called “red” Vienna, and that such things as victimising people for expressing opposite political views are thought to be typical only for countries behind the iron curtain. Let us further enlighten you and say that if such persecution does not happen here on a larger scale, it is because among the 100,000 State employees and workers of the huge “red” Vienna’s municipal enterprises there are few innocent or foolhardy enough to risk their jobs, i.e., the only share of the country’s wealth that Capitalism has left them after centuries of struggle and technical progress. The mass of the workers at the Post-Office, on the State railways and other nationalized industries, on the municipal tramways and buses, in the electricity and gas works and the rest of the huge municipal profit-making concerns know that the much vaunted freedom of speech, of criticism and democracy, does not go so far as to allow open criticism of the State’s exploiting system to pass with impunity. Even though that punishment is not as severe as in “right to work’’—Russia where malcontents and those guilty of “subversive activity” are deported to forced labour camps, workers in our “free world” are wary of jeopardizing their jobs.

Let us hope that the victims, having probably been cured of their error of accepting the shadow for the substance of democracy, will now also have learned that, as far as the workers are concerned, the rest of the wordy professions of equality, freedom of association, independence and social justice are little more than illusions, deceit and fraud. .

As was only to be expected, the incidents at the automobile factory, while embarrassing to the Socialist Party., were a welcome opportunity to their opponents, who are not slow to make political capital out of it. The Federal Chancellor, whose party dealt that crushing blow to Austrian social democracy in 1934, now poses as the Lord Protector of democracy. He declined to attend the opening session of the Trade Union Congress that happened to be sitting in Vienna, “until this matter has been satisfactorily cleared up, until justice is done to the victims, and democracy restored ”!

As against this nauseating show of hypocrisy, another incident glaringly portrays the real attitude of governments towards the working class. It arose over the handling of affairs in connection with the execution of the State Treaty after the end of the Russian control over hundreds of large and small industrial enterprises. As is now common knowledge, the return of part of these Concerns was made subject to a payment of 150 million dollars to Russia in addition to a whole series of other heavy concessions (see SOCIALIST STANDARD for July 1955). With so much talk of Austria re-entering at last into possession of her patrimony (Austria for the Austrians, you know), and the ofher usual platitudes and patriotic tunes, the illusion is ever fostered that the country belongs to the people—all evidence to the contrary, as an for example their continued poverty—notwithstanding. In reality, the Concerns which had been seized as war-booty (German property) were owned by a bunch of international Capitalist investors. The American, British. Dutch interests in the Austrian oil fields and other industries are notorious, while the others are less widely known. Certainly not a particle of any of these sources of wealth belongs to the workers employed therein, and it must be a matter of perfect indifference to them whether the shareholders are Austrian or foreigners. Indeed, it would be hard for any foreign exploiter to beat German and Austrian Capitalists’ talents for organizing the extraction of surplus-value, i.e., profit, from other people’s labour.

Yet, a delegation of workers from the Austrian Fiat Automobile Works could be induced by labour leaders to go to the Finance-Ministry and demand the cancellation of a meeting of shareholders which was to formally sanction the re-transfer of the Italian Fiat’s 51 per cent, holding. Since the workers are generally acquiescing in a small clique owning and controlling all the means and instruments of wealth production and distribution, why— you may ask—should, they single out this particular Concern for their protestations? What difference would it make to them if the Fiat Works were even to renounce all their rights and titles to the factory in favour of Austria, i.e., the Austrian Capitalist State?

Of course it would make no difference to the slaves producing the goods, but the Austrian CAPITALISTS who have to pay 4,000 million Austrian Schillings to Russia for relinquishing their control over these Concerns, now fear that their money will all be “thrown out of the window.” “What happens today with Austro-Fiat,” the Arbeiter-Zeitung laments, “can to-morrow happen with dozens of other enterprises.” In the end, they say, “ it would come to this that of all the German property for which 4 we * must pay 4,000 million to Russia, nothing is left to the Republic.** 44 We may only pay, but do not get anything for it.”

So the workers were mobilized, i.e., misused for and misled into some action (there was also a short strike) on behalf of their masters. How State employees fare under Capitalism, the railway, postal and all other workers know only too well. And as there can be no question of the Italian Fiat owners handing over to the WORKERS, it is clear that their position could not alter even one iota under any other transfer of property rights.

But, as already said, some of the workers having been persuaded that their interests were at stake, a delegation went to see the Finance Ministry to demand the cancellation of the shareholders’ meeting. The reply of the State Secretary (a political rival of the S.P.) was not only a sharp refusal of the workers’ demand, but he added defiantly that he would do everything he could to ensure the holding of the meeting. He pointed out that the shares were rightly in the hands of the Italian Fiat group and that they could decide what was to be done. (The meeting has since been held.) At the same time the State Secretary bluntly told the workers’ delegates “to mind their own business.” Socialists will not be accused of holding briefs for Capitalists or their henchmen, but we must agree with this one, advising the workers to mind their own business. Their business is, of course, not to assist Capitalist cliques in fighting out their quarrels with one another, whether in State chancellories or on the battlefields, but to organize and vote for the removal of Capitalism and its managers, administrators and labour leaders, from the face of the earth.

Of the few freedoms that have not yet become mere illusions, the Right to Vote is the most important. With dependency on the employing class (private or State) for your means of livelihood, there can be no real democracy for you. Yet it is still enough, at least in the Western world, to lay the evil ghost that is haunting humanity, to exorcise the demon capital, to oust it from its nefarious rule, and to lay the foundations for a sane order of things: Socialism, whenever the people are ready and wish to . have it.

The working-class hold the overwhelming majority of the votes, and there can be no question of sacking or otherwise victimizing you for casting your vote AGAINST the continuation of the present barbaric system, and FOR revolutionary Socialism. By such action you can at the same time help your brothers behind the iron curtain to rid themselves from the Bolshevik octopus and nightmare.

Therefore, when you are again asked to vote, remember it is the most important thing in your lives! Only, to cast an intelligent vote, presupposes UNDERSTANDING of the functioning of the decrepit system under which you live—knowledge that will almost automatically introduce you to Socialism and answer the questions and doubts which may assail you, concerning its practicability. To disseminate and impart that essential knowledge, is the purpose of the S.P.G.B. and companion parties. Year in, year out, their members, pamphlets and periodicals, do their best to spread the message of Socialism.

Perusing some former editions of the SOCIALIST STANDARD, this writer chanced upon a Comrade’s “Christmas Carol” in last December’s issue, ending with the words with which I wish to end my to-day’s message:

“Understand . . . understand . . . understand”!

Rudolf Frank