Engelbert Dollfuss and the destruction of Austrian democracy
Kondert, Reinhart Ditmar
Rath, R. John
Master of Arts
When Engelbert Dollfuss became chancellor of Austria on May 10, 1932, he had no intention of destroying Austrian democracy. The idea of doing away with democracy never became an obsession with him; it was done more out of necessity than desire. Dollfuss' forced alignment with the Heimwehr, a right-wing organization motivated by fascist principles, was the first clear indication that Austrian politics were henceforth to move in an anti-democratic direction. The refusal of the Social Democrats to join his coalition in May, 1932, and their continuing obstructionist tactics in parliament discredited not only themselves but also the institution in which they were represented. By March, 1933, the chancellor had become thoroughly disgusted with the parliament of his day, and he became convinced that Austria could not long endure under the present system of government. The self-dissolution of parliament on March 4, 1933, provided Dollfuss with the opportunity he had been waiting for. Although not certain about the future fate of parliament, he decided that, at least for the time being, he would govern without that defunct body. He decided to rule by governmental decree, instead, and to legalize his actions he revived an old imperial law of 1917, the War Emergency Powers Act. The governmental decree which came on March 7, 1933, banning all further public meetings and processions and instituting a strict censorship of the press represented the first step in authoritarian rule which the government was from then on to follow. The repressive measures which followed brought the Dollfuss regime progressively closer to the full-fledged dictatorial regime which was proclaimed on May 1, 1934. On that date the chancellor announced the establishment of a Christian, German, authoritarian state organized on a corporative basis and modeled loosely on the fascist state of Italy. It must be brought out that much of the inspiration to organize Austria on an authoritarian basis came from Mussolini, who saw in a revitalized Austria the best weapon to use in countering Nazi designs on Austria. The Italian dictator agreed to come to Austria's support on condition that the Social Democratic Party be liquidated and that the Republic be converted into a fascist regime. Dollfuss unwillingly agreed to these demands, and the Heimwehr, which was in Mussolini's pay, began systematically to carry out the Duce's requirements. The activities of the Heimwehr leaders led ultimately to the civil war of February 12, 1934, in which the Social Democratic Party was eliminated as a political force in Austrian internal affairs. Its leaders were arrested, its funds were confiscated, and its trade unions were abolished. Austrian democracy was destroyed. With the promulgation of the new constitution on May 1, 1934, the trans formation from democracy to authoritarianism was complete.