Letter from Austria

Like many other parts of Europe, Austria has been celebrating a jubilee— the twentieth anniversary of “the liberation from the autocratic rule of Hitler Germany’’. We have for months past been reminded of the marvel of reconstruction, the rebuilding of the City of Vienna, in a thousand variations we have been told of the “Austrian Miracle”, praised for our industry, the return of prosperity, and the country’s great reputation in the world both East and West.

Remember the tragedy of Vienna, devastated by War and thrown into a chaotic state, without transport, gas, electric or water supplies. Women with pails and bottles trekked to the Vienna Woods to get water from the springs there, while old people and children ransacked the forest for fuel. In the city, the fire brigades just could not cope with the fires which raged everywhere. The police force ceased to function for a time and looting was rife. As the Arbeiter-Zeitung of April 27th last says: —

“Deserted flats looted; the ordeal of tens of thousands of women outraged by demoralised and degraded soldateska; what the old and sick suffered in those days beggars description. With no hospital transport, the death rate rose enormously; the dead were packed in paper and transported on improvised vehicles to the cemetery, or unceremoniously interred in the nearest park.
And now we are bidden to admire the wonderful reconstruction, including that of the army, which celebrated the day of peace and freedom by holding the greatest military parade ever in Austria.”

Had the collapse been caused by an earthquake or some other blind force of nature, bitter memories of the ordeal would understandably be eclipsed by the general satisfaction and pride in the speedy work of reconstruction. But it is the capitalist class who have good reason to rejoice. Indeed, eleven thousand of them can now show taxable incomes of a million schillings a year, while in Germany, the “patriotic zeal” has produced sixty-six thousand millionaires.

For the workers it was not so much the impulses of patriotic fervour as the urgent need to find employment and earn wages again, that compelled the destitute to take up any dirty and miserably paid jobs in the way of clearing up the mess and setting the factories and services going again. What indeed has the working class to show after those twenty years of toil? The same sort of poverty and insecurity as before the war; a worse housing problem, not to mention the fear of yet another war.

The question we should in any case ask is: Why had this tremendous work and painful healing of the awful wounds become necessary in the first place? The responsibility’ for the catastrophe must be sought within the structure of modern capitalism throughout the world—it was not due to some force in nature beyond the control of man. And so it should also be asked, if such horrors are foreseeable and preventable, why were they not prevented? Because quite clearly capitalism’s top luminaries, the supposed experts on social affairs, are quite powerless to do so. The system they are running is bigger than they, which explains why they have not fulfilled their election pledges or solved any of the major social problems.

And when the war came along, they were caught up in its maelstrom and look an active part in. or helped to organise the orgies of massacre and devastation. Some also committed “atrocities” and were eventually tried, convicted and hanged. How then can the mass of humanity—the “non-expert” and “non-educated”—continue to trust leaders and “Personalities”? The answer is that they will do so, with continuing misery, until they realise that what they need are not “great men” but Socialist knowledge and the self reliance arising from it.

No blind forces of nature can be blamed for the destruction of Warsaw. Rotterdam, Stalingrad, Dresden, Hiroshima and Coventry, the devastation of London, Berlin and Vienna. Responsibility for this must rest squarely with world capitalism. This system exists for the profit of a privileged minority, not for the benefit of humanity as a whole.

Obviously, then, there is nothing surprising, mysterious or inexplicable if periodically such a system of inherent glaring contradictions and evils runs amuck and plays tricks on normally intelligent people, “intellectuals” and “non-intellectuals” alike, who operate, serve, and vote for it. It breeds war and strife in which the masters use every device to stimulate antagonism and hatred between the world’s workers who are to do the fighting.

As our pamphlet The Racial Problem so aptly put it:

“From the cradle to the grave, they are subjected to a mass of propaganda which deadens their minds, works on their prejudices, and endeavours by every means possible to turn their thoughts away from the real cause of their troubles—capitalism, with its wages and money system.”

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