Social Democratic Party of Austria SDPA

Social Democratic Party of Austria (SDPA)


a party founded at a congress held in Hainfeld on Dec. 31,1888, and Jan. 1, 1889, to unite separate Social Democratic groups and organizations. The congress adopted a program largely based on Marxist tenets. The program proclaimed the necessity of abolishing the capitalist system and established a socialist order, under which the means of production would belong to all the people. It also proclaimed the principle of proletarian internationalism and declared that one of the party’s main goals was to develop proletarian consciousness. At the same time, however, the program did not deal with the problems of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the party’s relationship to the peasantry. It likewise provided no Marxist solution to the national question, which was so pressing for Austria-Hungary.

During the upsurge of the workers’ movement in Austria-Hungary in the 1890’s, the SDPA received advice and aid from F. Engels and succeeded in organizing a number of successful workers’ demonstrations. Later, however, opportunist and bourgeois nationalist tendencies became increasingly evident in the party. The Wimberg (Vienna) Congress of 1897 formally divided the party into six national Social Democratic groups. The congress held in Brünn (Brno) in September 1899 adopted a program on the national question—the Brünn Program—which represented a compromise between the demands for cultural-national autonomy and the demands for territorial autonomy. The Vienna Congress of 1901 reviewed the Hainfeld Program and introduced changes of an openly revisionist nature. It eliminated, for example, statements on the necessity of the seizure of power by the proletariat and the development of socialist consciousness among proletarians.

During the early 20th century, Austro-Marxism—one of the varieties of reformism—became widespread in the party. Using Marxist terminology and empty leftist phrases, the Austro-Marxists, including K. Renner and O. Bauer, in fact renounced decisive action and propagandized the peaceful “socialization” of the capitalist economy. The theory put forth by Renner and Bauer concerning the “cultural-national autonomy” of oppressed peoples within the Hapsburg Empire became an essential party of Austro-Marxism.

During World War I (1914-18), Austrian Social Democratic leaders assumed social chauvinist positions. In October 1918 members of the SDPA joined the bourgeois government. Establishing their influence in the soviets, which had been formed in the course of Austria’s revolution of 1918, the Social Democratic leaders sought to avert any revolutionary activity by these Soviets. In essence, they aided the Austrian bourgeoisie in repulsing the struggle of the working class, which threatened bourgeois supremacy. After the overthrow of the monarchy in November 1918, the party headed a coalition government in 1919; however, party members left the government in October 1920. Austrian Social Democratic leaders pointed to the significant political and economic concessions exacted by the workers’ movement during this period in order to justify abandoning revolutionary struggle in favor of reformism. They advocated, furthermore, the annexation of Austria to Germany.

At the congress held in Linz in October and November 1926, the party leadership took public sentiment into account and included a provision in the party program to the effect that if the bourgeoisie undertook violent action, the working class would be forced to establish a dictatorship in order to break the resistance of the bourgeoisie. In fact, the leaders of the party carried out a conciliatory policy, avoiding militant struggle against reaction.

In July 1927 the leaders of the SDPA in effect disrupted the armed struggle of the workers of Vienna against fascist elements. Despite the growing threat of fascism in Austria, they repeatedly rejected proposals of the Communist Party for joint actions. When the government of Chancellor E. Dollfuss, supported by Mussolini, adopted a policy directed at abolishing democratic liberties and establishing a fascist dictatorship in the country, the Social Democratic leaders called for “patience” and “calm” on the part of the workers. However, many socialist workers, including members of the militarized Republican Schutzbund (established 1923), took up arms on Feb. 12, 1934, with communists and citizens not allied to any party in defense of democracy and against the fascist threat. Leaders of the SDPA refused to organize a general strike in support of this armed struggle and helped lead to its defeat.

On Feb. 12, 1934, the SDPA was banned and many Social Democrats subsequently joined the Communist Party of Austria. Several party leaders adapted to the conditions of the fascist occupation (March 1938 to April 1945) and some, including Renner, expressed approval of the Anschluss. The Revolutionary Socialist groups, established in 1934 by Social Democrats, carried on illegal work, often collaborating with underground communist organizations. In 1945 members of the illegal SDPA joined members of the Revolutionary Socialists and established the Socialist Party of Austria.


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