an influential group of Neo-Marxist theorists, prominent in Austria from the late 19th century until the mid-1930s, whose members included Max Adler, Rudolf Hilferding, Otto Bauer and Karl Renner. Influenced by NEO-KANTIANISM, one distinctive perspective of the school, articulated especially by Adler, involved an emphasis on ‘socialized humanity’, a concept seen as transcendentally given (see also KANT). Perhaps the most famous work by a member of the school is Hilferding's Finance Capitalism (1910), in which he described the growth of cartels and monopolies as a new phase of capitalism (organized capitalism), ideas which influenced LENIN'S thinking on IMPERIALISM. Renner's main contribution was to the Marxist SOCIOLOGY OF LAW. Austro-Marxists were also among the earliest Marxist theorists to point to the need for fundamental revisions of Marxist theory to take account of an increasing differentiation of the working class and overall changes in the class structure of advanced societies – e.g. Renner's conception of the SERVICE CLASS.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a movement that took shape at the beginning of the 20th century within Austrian social democracy under the influence of the theoretical works and political activity of its leaders and ideologists, K. Renner, O. Bauer, M. Adler, R. Hilferding (in his early work), F. Adler, and others. Between the two world wars the entire Austrian Social Democratic Party was termed Austro-Marxist in political literature. Many reformist features of West European social democracy were also characteristic of Austro-Marxism, as well as the Austrian social democratic movement as a whole—in particular, the position that theoretical views are not directly connected with political practice but are, rather, the personal affair of the individual. Austro-Marxism is characterized by inconsistencies. Some Austro-Marxists—for example, F. Adler—were engrossed in the study of E. Mach; others, like M. Adler, tried to unite Marxism and neo-Kantianism; still others were primarily concerned with political economy and took up Boehm-Bawerk’s theory of marginal utility.

Important differences of opinion also extended to questions of the political struggle. Bauer was a centrist, Renner belonged to the right wing of the party, and F. Adler, who began his political career by decisively opposing the social-patriotic position of the Social Democratic leaders during World War I, ended up by adopting an anticom-munist and anti-Soviet position. Thus, Austro-Marxism as a whole was a conglomerate of the most diverse scholarly and political views. What the Austro-Marxists had in common was a tendency toward compromise and a knack for resorting to leftist phrases, which usually concealed the desire to avoid any decisive action. The leftist phrase and even a certain readiness for action were combined with an opportunism that nullified this readiness.

The heated national struggle in Austria-Hungary focused attention more sharply on the national problem. Right up to the disintegration of Austria-Hungary in 1918, the national question was one of the main subjects of discussion by Austrian Social Democrats. The Austrian Social Democratic Party was the first to adopt a special program on the national question—the Brno program (1899), in which the principle of a federated territorial system for Austria was proposed. Soviet historical literature has usually evaluated the Brno program negatively, considering it a program of cultural-national autonomy, and has related it to the Austro-Marxist theory of the national question. V. I. Lenin, characterizing the Austrian program, wrote: “The mistaken opinion that the so-called ‘cultural-national autonomy’ was adopted at this congress [the Brno Congress—V. T.] is extremely widespread. On the contrary it was unanimously rejected at this congress” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 313; see also pp. 225, 227, and vol. 25, p. 272). But at the same time Lenin demonstrated the compromising character of the third point of the program.

Actually, the Austro-Marxist theory of cultural-national autonomy, disregarding the problem of the territorial settlement of a nation, was laid down in the works of K. Renner (1899, 1902) and Bauer (1907) and was founded on the mistaken conception of a nation as a union of like-minded people on the basis of their common destiny. The supporters of Austro-Marxism more than once called for the revision and concretization of the Brno program, but these demands were not met. The point of view of the Austro-Marxist theoreticians changed during the subsequent period. Thus, for example, Bauer wrote in 1913: “Austria will be transformed into a federated state of autonomous nations or will cease to exist,” but at the beginning of 1918, Bauer’s group recognized in its platform the right of nations to self-determination.

The true character of Austro-Marxism was clearly revealed in the period between the two world wars, when the leaders of the Austrian Social Democratic Party tried to occupy an intermediate position between the Second and Third Internationals. They played a leading role in the creation of the so-called Second-and-a-Half International (1921–23), which later merged with the Second International, to which the Austrian Social Democratic Party also returned.

During these years Austro-Marxism differed from the right wing of the international social democratic movement in its theoretical views and in its practical policies. The Linz program of the Austrian Social Democratic Party (1926) recognized in theory the expediency and possibility of a dictatorship of the proletariat to crush opposition of the bourgeoisie to a legal government of the working class at a time of intensified class struggle. As a defense against the growing danger of fascism the Austrian Social Democratic Party created a mass organization (Schutzbund) and in February 1934 summoned the workers to armed opposition to the Austrian fascist government. However, this was done too late, and the theory of defense condemned the working class to retreats and defeats.

In exile, several leaders of Austro-Marxism later drew some conclusions from the disastrous consequences of the fragmentation of the workers’ movement and advocated the creation of a united antifascist front for the struggle. At the same time, the Austro-Marxists continued to adhere to a mistaken position on the national question. They denied the existence of the incipient Austrian nation, and after the seizure of Austria by Hitlerite Germany (March 1938), they opposed the slogan of struggle for Austria’s independence, for they held that only a general German revolution could free Austria from fascism and that after this Austria would become a part of Germany. The mistaken conceptions of Austro-Marxism on the national question were revived here on a new foundation.

After World War II, the rightist leadership of the Austrian Socialist Party completely rejected Marxism and the entire progressive element in the political and theoretical heritage of Austro-Marxism. At the same time, the rightist socialist leaders, as well as many bourgeois politicians and scholars, in their search for historical experience, generously borrow from Austro-Marxism.


Lenin, V. I. “O Kul’turno-natsional’noi avtonomii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. “Kriticheskie zametki po natsional’nomy voprosu.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “K istorii natsional’noi programmy v Avstrii i v Rossii.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Zametki publitsista.” Ibid., vol. 40.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k avstriiskim kommunistam.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Stalin, J. V. “Marksism i natsional’nyi vopros.” Soch., vol. 2. Moscow, 1954.
Turok, V. M. “Ot avstro-marksizma k sovremennomu revizionizmy.” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, no. 4, 1958.
Pravye sotsialisty—protiv sotsializma. Moscow, 1960. Pages 306–55.
Semenov, Iu. I. “Iz istorii teoreticheskoi razrabotki V. I. Leninym natsional’nogo voprosa.” Narody Azii i Afriki, 1966, no. 4, pp. 106–29.
Steiner, H. “Am Beispiel O. Bauers—die Oktoberrevolution und der Austromarxismus.” Weg und Ziel, special issue, July 1967.
Mommsen, H. Die Sozialdemokratie und die Nationalitatenfrage im Habsburgischen Vielvölkerstaat. Vienna, 1963.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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