The February 1934 Austrian Uprising and the weaknesses of “Austro-Marxism”

75 years ago workers in Austria took up arms in an attempt to stop the fascists from taking power. Unfortunately, although the workers fought valiantly, the reformist leaders who dominated the labour movement refused to move in the direction of revolution and thus the workers suffered a terrible defeat. Today, as similar conditions begin to re-emerge what are the lessons we can draw?

After the socialist revolution in Russia in November 1917 a revolutionary mood gripped the masses throughout Europe. Fed up of years of war, hunger, death and pauperisation, the masses rose up in one country after another, seeking to do away with capitalism, the system which was the cause of all this misery. We saw revolutionary upheavals in Germany and Italy and the Soviet republics of Hungary and Bavaria. Also in Austria in 1917, in answer to the growing poverty, there were an increasing number of hunger strikes and spontaneous strike actions. The Bolshevik slogans of "Bread, Land and Peace" and "All Power to the Soviets" became ever more popular. Often at the forefront of these protests was a new layer of workers, involving large numbers of women, who had been sucked into the capitalist process of production during the First World War and had to suffer heavily under the military administration of industry.

The leaders of the Social Democracy, having had very little influence in these spontaneous movements, were busy trying not to lose control of, and the links to, their own social base, the working class. They were trying to convince the masses not to go too far and keep them calm. As a tactical step they were allowing representatives of the left wing into the leadership of the Party, among them supporters of the Austro-Marxist Otto Bauer. But these measures were not enough to stop the spreading of Bolshevik ideas.

Revolution of 1918

A political mass strike was developing around the peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk. The most important slogan was for the immediate acceptance of the offer of peace by the young Soviet Russia. The Habsburg Monarchy was faced with a revolutionary situation. A small tendency called the Left Radicals who were organised inside the Social Democratic Youth organisations put forward the idea of soviets. They gained a base among militant shop stewards and workers in factories in Vienna and Wiener Neustadt. In order to put themselves at the head of this movement, the leaders of the Social Democracy adopted the slogans of the Left Radicals and also took the initiative of creating and expanding workers' councils. Because of their organisational strength the Social Democrats quickly gained the majority within the soviets. From this point on they had the legitimacy to call off the strikes, which is what they actually did, although no concrete concessions on the part of the government had been achieved. The soviets, from being a driving force of the revolution were transformed into a brake on the movement, with the workers being betrayed by their own party.

Demonstration in front of Parliament in 1918
Demonstration in front of Parliament in 1918

In spite of this, the strikes, mutinies and the unrest among the soldiers made it clear that the demise of the Habsburg Monarchy had reached the point of no return. In October 1918 the Monarchy collapsed and in November the First Republic was set up. The power vacuum that ensued unleashed more workers' protests. The revolutionary fever also infected the soldiers. Having lost confidence in the old order during the war, they now began to form soldiers' councils in the barracks and held daily demonstrations.

At this time many workers joined the ranks of the newly formed Army, the Volkswehr - initially founded as a new means of keeping order, but soon becoming the vanguard of the revolution. The real power slipped out of the hands of the ruling class and shifted to the leadership of the Social Democracy. Capitalism in Austria could have easily been snuffed out. It was only the leaders of the Social Democracy that kept it alive.

But initially the leaders could stop the movement of the soviets altogether. The soviets kept on spreading out into the industrial areas. They soon became structures of dual power and in many cases replaced the old bourgeois state. They had been the organised expression of the Austrian revolution. The soviets had managed to achieve much in terms of procuring food, housing, fighting against usury, support for the unemployed, childcare and healthcare. At that time the bourgeoisie had to rely on the Social Democracy as the only force that could control this development. This is also the reason why the ruling class retreated from their initial plan for a constitutional monarchy and agreed to the formation of a republic. The Soviet Republic of Austria was within reach, and would have been of tremendous support for Soviet Russia and the opening shot for other successful revolutions in many other countries. The historical destiny of Europe was on a knife's edge and could have taken a completely different road. But the leadership of the Social Democracy, the SDAP, fearing that the movement could go "too far" and with their illusions in bourgeois democracy, dissolved the soviets at their party congress in 1924.

Red Vienna

Although the economy was in a devastating condition and the capitalists had very little economic scope, they had to make one concession after another to the working class. This was the only way of getting this revolutionary situation under control. It was in those days that the workers managed to win reforms, which workers today are still benefiting from. They won the 8-hour working day, unemployment benefit, the Chamber of Labour and the establishment of the right to elect shop stewards by law. Between 1923 and 1933, 65,000 new flats were built. There was an exemplary welfare, healthcare and school system, and a lot of new cultural establishments. The idea emerged that a "New Man" should emerge in Red Vienna. The working class was to free itself from the chains and should rise to a new physical, mental and cultural level.

Karl Marx-Hof, a municipal tenement complex built in the late 1920s
Karl Marx-Hof, a municipal tenement complex built in the late 1920s

Austro-Marxism in those days was less an ideology of a working class movement than a cultural movement. The strategy of the Social Democracy was to lift the working class to a higher cultural level, as only this was supposed to be the prerequisite for a successful socialist transformation. This "Revolution of the Souls", as Otto Bauer described this strategy, was of course to be achieved within the confines of the capitalist system. The idea was to provide an example of a new society in one city, which in the coming years was supposed to demonstrate the advantages of "democracy and socialism" and was supposed to eventually lead to a victory in the elections in 1927 on a national scale. The working class was flooding into the ranks of the Social Democracy, ready to fight and demanding determined action against reaction and rising fascism, but it was paralysed from the top.

This policy was cast in stone in the Party Programme of Linz in 1926. The line was to conquer state power with a majority in parliament. Socialism was to be achieved with 50 percent plus one vote. In order to give the wide radical layers of the party a pretence of a voice, the programme was written in a radical sounding language. It said that the proletariat should be kept in a state of alert, able and ready to resist at any time. It even stated that should the ruling class go onto the offensive and start a monarchist or fascist counter-revolution the Social Democracy would even resort to the "dictatorship of the proletariat". Although it would be difficult to find any such formulations in a programme of any other Social Democratic party in that period, the way it was written was of a defensive character. Only if the other side were to neutralise democracy was it considered legitimate to use violence.

"Red Vienna" meant for the working class better working and living conditions and the beginning of a new future. For the bourgeoisie, however, the new freedoms of the working class were seen as a danger. Although they did not fear any threat on the part of the leadership of the SDAP, they feared the rank and file movement could follow the example of the events in Russia and overthrow the capitalist order. The ruling class soon wanted to get rid of the progressive reforms - a product of the revolution of 1918-19 - and turn the clock back again. Unlike their "red" counterparts in the leadership of the SDAP, they often did not stick to the democratic rules of the game.

Armed fascist groups emerge

Members of the Heimwehr (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)
Members of the Heimwehr (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)

Since 1920 the Social Democracy had been in opposition and because of the general powers of the government regarding the rebalancing of the budget in the light of the crisis-ridden Austrian economy, the SDAP had had their say in economic and financial decisions revoked. In the Volkswehr, the army, socialist and communist associations were marginalised and the old officers from the time of the monarchy were reinstated in their positions of absolute power. The monarchist to openly fascist Heimwehren (Homeland Defence) and the first Nazi groupings appeared in the public sphere.

For example already in 1922, 6000 armed soldiers of the Heimwehr forced the calling off of a strike in a steel mill in Judenburg. Between 1923 and 1927 there was a wave of political violence and fascist provocations, which resulted in some Social Democratic workers and officials being killed. The murderers had nothing to fear from the state, as the verdict of "not guilty" was the norm in these murder cases. In some federal states the Heimwehr was even given the political task of "maintaining order".

Republican Defence Corps

Parade of the Republican Defence Corps, about 1930/31 (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)
Parade of the Republican Defence Corps, about 1930/31 (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)

The Social Democracy was becoming aware of the fact that something similar to fascist Italy was brewing. In 1923 they founded their own paramilitary Schutzbund, Republican Defence Corps. It was a centralisation of the workers' and factory corps, which were founded during the movement of the soviets in 1918-19. Unlike in 1918, when the corps regarded themselves as "the armed power of the soviet system", the Republican Defence Corps were initially merely a means of stewarding demonstrations and assemblies.

The up to 80,000 man strong corps was organised like a traditional army, with military discipline and a commanding hierarchy. Unlike in the Red Army in its early days, political ideas were pushed to the background. Regular parades of the Republican Defence Corps gave the working class the feeling that they could delegate their own safety and the defence of their achievements to the corps. Thus, over a period it became a means of lulling the will of the masses to fight.

The bloody days of July 1927

On January 30, 1927, at a parade of the Republican Defence Corps in Schattendorf, three participants were killed by the Frontkämpfer - another reactionary armed association similar to the Heimwehr. Among the dead were a war cripple and a child. This incident provoked protest demonstrations and work stoppages all over Austria. On trial, the murderers were acquitted on July 14, 1927. This added fuel to the flames and on the next day the workers of several factories in Vienna came out on strike. From several districts demonstrations started and they walked to the parliament to protest against the ruling of the court. On the way building workers and workers of other industries joined the demonstrations.

The mounted police attacked the demonstration and some workers were killed. As a result several police stations and offices of right-wing newspapers were burnt down. The demonstration continued on to the Palace of Justice, which also was set on fire. The leadership of the Social Democracy tried to bring this spontaneous movement under control. Only with some difficulty did the Republican Defence Corps manage to free policemen trapped inside the flames. After they managed to free them, the police started to shoot into the crowd of demonstrators.

In the meanwhile the executive committee of the SDAP held a meeting in the parliament. During the discussions the differences between the different wings widened. The right wing was arguing that "demonstrations are no longer useful", whereas a small minority was demanding that arms be given out to the workers. This was also the demand of the workers, who rushed into the meeting room during the session with tears in their eyes. But their demands were not met.

Finally a one-day general strike in Vienna was proclaimed, as well as a strike in transport, telecommunications and newspapers throughout the whole of Austria. Exceptions were made for some Social Democratic newspapers. But all the measures had a defensive character, mainly to let off steam and to allow the Social Democratic leadership to win control over the working class. In the following days the police drove through the working class districts and shot randomly at crowds of people. In clashes between the working class and the police in those days 89 people died - 85 of which were workers - and over 1,000 people were taken to hospital.

The bloody days of July 1927, which after the spontaneous protest movement of the Viennese workers had ended in a defeat, were interpreted within the Party in different ways. Whereas the right wing, around Karl Renner and Julius Deutsch, were harshly criticising the demonstrators, Max Adler was of the opinion that these days showed the "vitality of the moral power of the proletariat" and pointed the accusing finger elsewhere: at the Social Democratic leadership which had been educated not in "socialist thinking" but in "statesmanlike thinking".

The 15th of July 1927 was to prove a turning point in the history of the First Republic. The working class since 1918 has shown again and again that it was ready to resist and also to fight for power. But the fact that on the streets of Vienna while the police shot at demonstrating workers, the Social Democratic leadership remained silent was of enormous symbolic power. The bourgeoisie, strengthened by these events, now went systematically onto the offensive. The method of small step by step attacks was their tactic to demoralise the working class movement and to gradually undermine at the same bourgeoisie democracy - every time of course only so far as the leadership of the SDAP was willing to support these steps. Everybody in the bourgeois camp - finance capital, industrial associations and the large landowners - was behind this policy. The numerous fascist military formations supported both politically and financially by the bosses' association and the state, served as shock troops.

Reaction gains ground

The following years were marked by an increasing number of confrontations between the two camps. The ruling class, with the help of the Heimwehr, put more pressure on the workers and tried to break the power of the trade unions in the factories. There were strikes to resist these developments, but often they had to capitulate after just a few days. On the other hand there were parades of the Heimwehr and also shootings at workers' demonstrations, which left some workers dead. The bourgeoisie often mocked the willingness of the Social Democracy to retreat. Thus this display of weakness on the part of the Social Democratic leaders was an invitation for more aggression.

Otto Bauer
Otto Bauer

Representatives of the Heimwehr were demanding a new constitution using the example of fascist Italy. The leaders of the SDAP officially ranted and raved against this new constitution, saying they would never accept anything of the kind. But behind the scenes already, secret negotiations with the government were taking place. When Parliament finally passed the new constitution in December 1929, Otto Bauer celebrated it as a big success, because compared to the initial draft some of the worst aspects had been removed. In reality it was the complete opposite of a success, as the new constitution gave the right to the president of the republic to make use of emergency decrees whenever it suited him. This marked an important step towards authoritarian Bonapartist state rule.

The Great Depression

The economic crisis that affected the world after the Wall Street Crash in 1929 affected Austria more than other countries. Between 1929 and 1933 GDP fell by 22.5% and industrial production shrunk by 38%. Because of increasing protectionist measures, exports nearly ground to a halt. Since the collapse of the Habsburg Monarchy the Austrian economy had also been struggling with structural problems. The Austria of the industrial era of the Monarchy had now been radically changed, and after the drawing up of the new borders after 1918 it was cut off from the natural resources of other regions that it once controlled. This meant the First Republic had to develop domestic energy sources and also adjust industry to process domestic raw materials. In order to free up resources a huge layer of the old civil servants was axed and a frontal attack was launched on the working class. The government was also forced to massively borrow from abroad, which made it more dependent on other countries and prepared an even greater crisis for the future.

The ongoing crisis led to the utter destabilisation of the already unstable balance between the classes and the political parties. A large part of the population was facing poverty. Industry and banks were shaken, which led to mass layoffs. Unemployment rose relentlessly. A third of the workforce had already been made redundant, and among the industrial workers this figure reached 44.5% in 1934, with 30% of the remaining workforce facing shorter hours. Whole industrial regions lay idle, with catastrophic consequences for the population.

The bourgeoisie used this economic crisis to further attack the rights of the working class, first of all wages and collective bargaining agreements. The idea was that the latter had to be broken up in order to avoid factories coming together to resist. Occasionally there were some strikes against these attacks, but a generalised resistance on the part of the trade unions was absent. The leaders of the trade unions had already accepted the logic of the ruling class, that in order to overcome the crisis one had to make the "Austrian Business Location" competitive again.

Workers defeat a coup attempt

On September 12, 1931 one of the leaders of the Heimwehr, Pfrimer, attempted to carry out a coup. Wherever regiments of the Heimwehr joined in, they did not meet any resistance on the part of the state. Starting in the industrial towns of Styria, workers formed resistance groups against the coup. Because of the strength of this movement the coup attempt quickly collapsed. In court Pfrimer received the verdict of not guilty. From this moment on, at least it was clear for everybody to see on which side the bourgeois government stood. All the leaders of the Social Democracy could think of was to issues appeals for prudence in the face of the latest provocation.

Engelbert Dollfuss consolidates Austro-fascist power

In 1932 the former seminary student Engelbert Dollfuss became Chancellor. His world outlook was one of a harmonious society without class struggle and a divine division between rich and poor. He proclaimed the corporative state as the will of God. In his eyes even the reformist-led labour movement, with its respect for the bourgeois state and bourgeois norms and its moderate demands was a threat to the prevailing system.

Engelbert Dollfuss on a stamp in 1936
Engelbert Dollfuss on a stamp in 1936

The ongoing economic crisis - where no lead was given by the labour movement ‑ led to a process of differentiation within the bourgeois camp. Increasing layers of the petty bourgeoisie and the peasantry were passing over to fascism. From then on there was an increasing number of attacks on workers and raids on the SDAP party offices, conducted by fascists with the support, or at least the toleration, of the police. The government banned demonstrations of all opposition parties, which was clearly a measure aimed against the organisations of the working class.

In March 1933 Dollfuss used the opportunity in order to free Austrian society from the "chains of parliamentarism" and the influence of the Social Democracy. During a meeting of the National Assembly, when a strike of railway workers was being debated, all three presidents of the National Assembly resigned, which led to a constitutional crisis, after which Dollfuss dissolved parliament.

During the next year, until April 1934, no less than 471 emergency decrees were passed and at breakneck speed all institutions and groups that did not correspond to "Divine Will" were eradicated. The press was censured, the right of assembly was restricted and the road to authoritarian rule was paved.

At the end of March the Republican Defence Corps were dissolved without any resistance. The only protest on the part of the Social Democracy was to file a suit at the Constitutional Court against some of the decrees. But even the Constitutional Court was paralysed shortly afterwards by the Austro-Fascists when their supporters within the judiciary resigned. In order to further hamper the Social Democracy in building up any resistance, the government doubled the cost of delivery for newspapers, while the distribution of leaflets door to door or at public places was banned.

In May 1933 the Austro-Fascists banned not only the NSDAP, the National Socialist German Workers' Party, but also the Communist Party. Some emergency decrees were even directed against big capital, as the main objective of the government was, officially at least, to protect the petty bourgeoisie in the face of the world economic crisis. But of course the majority of the decrees were directed against the working class. In order to make the workers pay for the crisis, their working hours were extended, public holidays cancelled, overtime premium and unemployment benefits slashed. In order to make resistance difficult, a ban on political strikes was issued. A definition of what was to be considered a political strike was established, of course, by the government. The foundation of the Vaterländische Front (Patriotic Front) was an attempt to create a one-party system. Even trade unions were supposed to be integrated into this front.

The leadership of the Social Democracy, instead of proclaiming an action plan in order to prevent the fascists from taking power, decided on a four-point list of conditions in which workers should take up arms and fight back: 1) the dissolution of the party; 2) the dissolution of the trade unions or the appointment of a government commissar for the trade unions; 3) the occupation of the Viennese town hall; 4) the violent imposition of a fascist constitution.

In reality these four points were nowhere near enough to resist fascism. Meanwhile, the attacks on the part of the fascists continued on a daily basis. Even the death penalty was restored. And yet the four points were still not invoked.

Only with a massive mobilisation in the factories could one have led the working class in resistance and could one have gathered the necessary forces to fight back against fascism. It would still have been possible to crush the fascist movement at this stage. Instead whenever the workers spontaneously seized the initiative to fight the fascists, the leaders of the SDAP did all in their power to bring everything back "under control".

The October 1933 Party Conference

During the whole period of the First Republic the Social Democracy managed to maintain organisational unity, to close ranks in order to resist the attacks of the enemies at the crucial moment. This was the principle of Austro-Marxism throughout this period. As this theoretical principle was not put into practice when it was required, an internal crisis broke out at the party conference in October 1933. The choice was then: either utter capitulation or revolt.

For some years, repeatedly groups within the party had advocated a left opposition; this was especially the case with the youth wing and the party's study groups. They were particularly critical of the Social Democracy focusing too much attention being a cultural movement and demanded action and a political strategy against rising fascism. The right wing of the party, however, was seeking salvation through conciliation with Dollfuss! The contradictions within the party, which in the previous years had been covered up with radical sounding language on the part of the Austro-Marxists, now came to the surface.

In many districts of Vienna and also in other cities the Left opposition had already gained ground among the militant workers and shop stewards. The growing strength of the Left opposition was expressed in a large number of resolutions from party branches during the congress, which demanded the overthrow capitalism, the building of socialism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. One resolution even demanded close cooperation with the Third International. Another resolution demanded an immediate general strike to fight fascism, which should not be called from the top, but should be organised in all factories and branches of the party.

The leadership tried with bureaucratic tricks to keep the number of delegates from opposition branches low. But because of the pressure of the Left opposition and the radical rank and file, the leadership had to adopt the main slogans of the opposition at the congress, at least in words. The Left opposition managed to gain a majority within the party, but did not know what do to with it. In the absence of any other political alternative they handed over the leadership to Otto Bauer. Had the Left opposition started to organise itself earlier as the left wing of the party, educating cadres and working out a political programme and tactics, that party conference would have ended in an entirely different manner. A victory of the Left opposition would have been entirely possible.

De facto the strategy of the party leadership after the conference did not change. Calls for strikes or a nationwide shop stewards' conference were turned down by the leadership. Otto Bauer even went as far as to state that the corporative state was a possible option, if all the democratic rights were to be restored and if the Heimwehren were separated from official political structures. But nobody in the bourgeois camp any longer was willing to discuss a compromise solution. Because of this betrayal, Austro-Marxism lost the hegemony it once had within the Social Democratic party, which then found itself in a process of disintegration. Every group within the party followed its own strategy, some revealing a willingness to compromise, others adopting an attitude of self-abandonment, others moving towards the idea of armed uprising. This explains the main character of the February Uprising.

February 1934

In January 1934 a coup d'etat was set in motion. Heimwehren all over Austria were mobilised. They started to search for weapons in SDAP offices and detained leaders of the Republican Defence Corps and local SDAP officials. The leadership of the Social Democracy, of course, remained silent. Only regional party officials tried to organise any armed resistance and demanded that the party leadership coordinate the different actions. The following letter to Otto Bauer from the leader of the Republican Defence Corps in Linz, Richard Bernaschek, reveals the determination of these appeals:


Today in the morning I discussed with five faithful and loyal comrades. After mature deliberation we made a decision which cannot be revoked. [...] In implementing this decision we will, this afternoon and this night, make available all arms at our disposal in the whole of Upper Austria, so the workers have them within their reach immediately in order to resist. If tomorrow Monday in any city in Upper Austria a search for arms will start, or if a representative of the party respectively the Republican Defence Corps will be detained, violent resistance will be carried out and in continuation of the resistance we will proceed to the offence. This decision plus its implementation is irrevocable. We expect in case we give a telephonic message ‘search for arms started, detentions carried out', that you will give a signal to the Viennese and furthermore the whole working class to strike out. We do not retreat anymore. I did not inform the executive committee of the party of this decision. If the Viennese working class is abandoning us, shame and disgrace on them.

Comradely greetings, R. B."

Soldiers of the Austrian Army during the fightings (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)
Soldiers of the Austrian Army during the fightings (Photo by Deutsches Bundesarchiv on Wikipedia)

Otto Bauer appealed to the comrades in Linz not to do anything. The state apparatus managed to intercept the message of Bauer and therefore concluded that the leadership of the SDAP was not prepared to organise resistance. This was the signal to strike the final blow. In the early hours of 12th February 1934 the Heimwehr tried to occupy the SDAP office in Linz. They were greeted by a hail of bullets. The Republican Defence Corps in Linz took up the resistance. Wherever functioning structures of the Republican Defence Corps existed they followed the example of the comrades in Linz. The main centres of the fighting in February were in the industrial cities of Upper Austria, such as Steyr, and the industrial areas in Styria and Lower Austria. In Vienna some working class districts also took to the barricades and a strike broke out at the power plant. This should have been the opening shot for a general strike. Although the leadership of the party sanctioned the strike after it had started, the strike was not well prepared and was without any leadership, and collapsed very quickly.

In Vienna the fighting continued for four days. Because of the lack of technical preparation, or due to political errors, the fighting was more of a defensive nature. Instead of occupying factories, stations and streets, the workers entrenched themselves in their council houses. The fascists, with the supported of army canons, heavily shelled these buildings but because of the workers' resistance had to take them flat by flat. The last shots were fired in Vienna on 15th February and two days later the provinces also succumbed. The workers had to surrender and Otto Bauer fled to Brno.

In those heroic days 1,600 people died and many more were wounded. Some of the leaders of the resistance, such as Weissel, Münichreiter and Wallisch were hanged or shot after a summary court-martial. We shall never forget them!

Workers' Housing Complex Bombed by Austrian Army
Workers' Housing Complex Bombed by Austrian Army

The fragmenting of the party in the months before February was decisive in determining the events that unfolded. The traditions of each regional structure determined the form of resistance. Wherever the Left opposition was strong there was considerable resistance among the workers. In areas where the right wing had the majority resistance was weak.

The failures and mistakes of the past were to prove crucial in these events. Although the Left opposition had an important influence during the October 1933 party congress, they had no clear priorities and lacked political clarity. They did not manage to build a political and organisational alternative to Austro-Marxism. Had there been a strong Marxist tendency solidly embedded within the party branches, the factories, the youth organisations and the Republican Defence Corps, the whole situation would have been completely different. The rise of fascism could have been stopped on many occasions during the 1920s or early 1930s. The working class showed its willingness to do so over and over again.

The defeat of February 1934 was a logical consequence of the politics of Austro-Marxism during this period. They repeatedly emphasised the need to respect the constitution, although the other side simply ignored it. These huge errors led to a long period of fascist barbarism. We need to draw the necessary conclusions from these historical events.

Lessons for today

Today we are faced with another world economic crisis. And it is not just a cyclical crisis of capitalism; it is a systemic crisis. Starting with a crash on the financial markets, it is now affecting the real economy, the productive sectors. But the crisis is not due to a slump in the financial markets; it is a classical crisis of overproduction. Just as after the crash of 1929 we are entering a period of long economic downturn. We are entering into a recession, which could be even worse that that of the 1930s, becoming a slump. The capitalist system today is truly globalised and much more interconnected than in the past. One bank after another, one company after another and one country after another are dragging each other down.

We can already see the effects in our day-to-day lives with millions of people worldwide being made redundant in the last few months. Millions of people in the advanced capitalist countries can no longer make ends meet. The crisis is expressing itself in many different ways. We are facing increasing tension between the classes in society, especially between the working class and the capitalist class. We can see an increasing amount of workers on strike over wages and conditions and youth demonstrating about the deterioration of the education system in many different countries. Often we see the youth quickly taking up political demands and protesting against the policy of their own governments or the capitalist system itself. Such strikes and protests have already brought down the government of Iceland. Furthermore there are skirmishes and wars between countries over access to raw materials and markets around the globe.

Although there is no immediate danger of fascism, in many countries right-wing extremism is on the advance as well. This expresses in several ways. There have already been some incidents for example in Austria and Germany. Another example is the fascist killing of two workers in the occupied Mitsubishi factory in Venezuela. Pope Benedict XVI's recent rehabilitation of a British bishop, Bishop Williamson, who denies that millions of Jews died in Nazi gas chambers, is another example. We also have in the Austrian diocese of Linz, Gerhard Wagner being appointed as assistant bishop. He thinks that Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans was sent by God to smite gays and to destroy all the abortion clinics in the city!

All this has an effect on the consciousness of the masses and will lead inevitably to a social explosion. And what are the leaders of the Social Democratic Parties or Labour doing? Instead of fighting against the effects of the crisis and all this reactionary crap that is coming to the surface, they are siding with the ruling class and voting with them when it comes to the bailout the banks, i.e. throwing billions of dollars of tax payers' money to the super-rich.

We have already seen in many countries that the working class and the youth are willing to fight back. As we have seen on innumerable occasions in history, and like in Austria in the period 1918-34, the workers, unlike their "representatives" in parliament, want to defend jobs, wages and conditions. The events outlined above clearly demonstrate that the workers will fight. Those events also demonstrate that when the chips are down the reformist leaders will use their authority and influence over the labour movement to hold the working class back. This can prove to be fatal for the workers.

It is therefore more than ever necessary to build a mass left wing alternative, equipped with a clear Marxist programme and strategy, within the trade unions and mass parties before the big events take place. Let us this time not miss the opportunity provided by history and put capitalism once and for all into the dustbin of history and build a genuine socialist alternative.

See also: