Not all Fascists Are Nazis – Civil War in Austria | BETWEEN 2 WARS I 1934 Part 2 of 4

So what do you do when you have to choose
between Fascism and Naziism? Hard choice? Well, if only one of them comes with independence
you might take that one – this is what conservative politician Engelbert Dolfuss does when he
decides to become the Fascist Dictator of Austria in 1934. Welcome to Between-2-Wars a chronological
summary of the interwar years, covering all facets of life, the uncertainty, hedonism,
and euphoria, and ultimately humanity’s descent into the darkness of the Second World
War. I’m Indy Neidell. In 1934, Austria is a reduced power, struggling
to stay independent from Germany. The country faces persistent financial challenges after
being rocked by the German banking crisis, which actually started in Austria with the
collapse of Austria’s biggest bank, Kreditsanstalt in 1931. It is also plagued by political violence
from armed militias of the Communists, Social Democrats, Conservatives, Fascists, and Nazis.
And caught in a vice between the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis, domestic policy is increasingly
divisive in this landlocked mountainous, little country that was until just a few months ago
a nascent democracy. But this isn’t how it’s always been. In fact, for several centuries, Austria’s
power was the envy of Central Europe. It was the dominant state of the Holy Roman Empire
and then one of the five great European powers in the nineteenth century. Although ruled
by a German-speaking elite centered around the Habsburg dynasty, it was a multilingual
and multicultural empire. Its millions of subjects ranged from Germans to Croats to
Italians to Poles to Czechs and many, many more. But as the rising tide of national feeling
began to spread across Europe, this diversity would prove its downfall. Calls for independence
grow louder and louder, and Austria even loses significant chunks of territory in the second
half of the nineteenth century. Mounting pressure from another German-speaking Great power,
Prussia, also threatened the Empire. When the idea of a unified pan-Germanic nation
starts to gain popularity after the 1848 Revolutions, the struggle, led by Prussia, towards this
goal risks marginalizing Vienna’s power. The pan-German movement had always been influential
in the Austrian Empire but not powerful enough to counter the Austro-centric view of the
leadership. Eventually, the German question leads to war between Austria and the Prussian
led German states in 1866. The Prussian side comes out better, and to
counter its own decline, Austria is forced to agree to the elevation of the Kingdom of
Hungary as an equal partner. The Dual Kingdom of Austria and Hungary or the Austro-Hungarian
Empire is formed. The two ‘sides’ mostly run things independently of each other, apart
from foreign policy and military matters which come under joint oversight. The Habsburgs
also remain as the ruling imperial dynasty. But the Union does little to save Austria.
In the end, the separatist emotions plaguing the Empire, combined with pressure from neighboring
countries, contribute to pushing Austro-Hungary and the rest of the world into the conflict
that will be the Habsburgs’ downfall: The Great War. After the war, the Treaties of Saint Germain
and Trianon split the Dual -Kingdoms, and the Empire is dismantled. Austria loses most of its non-German speaking
territories. But even some German-speaking regions are snatched away. This is, to some
degree, an effect of complicated ethnic borderlands, making it impossible to draw a border that
will satisfy all national groups. For example, the “Sudetenland” goes to Czechoslovakia,
but it is not, and never has been a geopolitical reality. Instead, it’s a loosely defined
region populated by ethnic Germans which straddles the provinces of Moravia and Bohemia. In fact,
the term “Sudetenland” only enters common usage in the 1920s, arising from a need to
categorize what is now under threat. The once-mighty Empire is now suddenly a landlocked
republic, stripped of much of its industry. This immediately raises questions over its
viability, and nationalist affinity with a similarly neutered Germany leads to hopes
of unification. The Allies have already seen this coming, forbidding such a union in the
treaties of Versailles and Saint Germain. Nevertheless, for many Austrians, unification
still seems the only means of survival. But this isn’t the only cause of friction
in the country. Austrian politics is dominated by two parties whose political rhetoric could
not be more opposed. On one side is the Social Democrats. Though reformist and moderate in
practice, the party regularly espouse Marxist ideals of class war in speeches and newspapers.
Such rhetoric strikes fear into the hearts of many devout Catholics and landowners, driving
them towards the conservative Christian Social Party. This is likely what makes the Christian
Socials the strongest party in the country. In the 1920’s they produce the majority
of federal Chancellors. But there is no end to the people happy to
challenge their power. One such person is Walter Pfrimer, leader of a regional chapter
of the Heimwehr – a paramilitary organization similar to Germany’s Freikorps. Now, like
many Heimwehr leaders, Pfrimer is disdainful of parliamentary democracy. Unlike many Heimwehr
leaders, Pfrimer is also hostile to the Christian Social Party, whose Austrian nationalism is
anathema to his pan-German dreams. No doubt hoping to replicate Mussolini’s
seizure of power, on 13 September 1931, Pfrimer stages a coup, marching his Styria Heimwher
unit on Vienna. But the whole affair is pretty poorly organized and the putsch is suppressed
quickly by authorities in just one day, earning Pfrimer the title of “half-day dictator.”
The Christian Socials have lived to see another day. But on 20 May 1932, they appoint a new chancellor
who will change the fortunes of the Austrian Republic forever. Engelbert Dollfuss is born in Texing in 1892
as the illegitimate son of a peasant couple. Despite his humble beginnings, he excels in
school, and his enthusiasm as an altar boy leads to his parish priest securing a scholarship
for him to study at a religious school. In 1913, he travels to the University of Vienna
to study for the priesthood, but ends up dropping out and studied law instead. His studies are
interrupted by the Great War, which he insists on fighting despite technically being too
short to do so. You see, Dollfuss is only 150 cm tall, which is 5 cm below the minimum
height requirement. That’s 4’9” in feet and inches. Nevertheless, he fights valiantly.
His wartime experience instills in him a strong sense of an Austrian nation as something separate
from Germany, returning from the front fully committed to the Austrian Republic. He also continues his studies, spending a
year in Berlin on a scholarship from the Lower Austrian Peasant League, an arm of the Christian
Social Party. Upon his return, he becomes the organizations’ secretary. He is instrumental
in reforming the Provincial Agricultural Council into the Chamber of Agriculture of Lower Austria,
eventually becoming its director in 1927. He now starts a rapid rise in politics, becoming
minister of the federal railways in 1930 and minister of agriculture from 1931. In May
1932 he becomes Chancellor at the head of a conservative coalition led by his party. Throughout his political life, Dollfuss has
considered the peasantry to be the most crucial segment of society. In his worldview, the
peasants form the foundation of a nation. In November 1932 he declares that; “our struggle
for existence would be for naught if the most important, indeed the only, basis for the
state were lost, namely German customs and the Catholic faith, which are most thoroughly
anchored in the peasantry.” His political philosophy is critical of liberal capitalism
and instead infuses Catholicism and the worship of peasantry with a socio-economic system
of corporatism, which essentially advocates that society should be organized into corporate
groups that work like human organs to contribute to the overall health of the nation, and can
quickly be ruled by a select group. Like the rest of his Christian Socials, he
is a committed Austrian nationalist. However, he has become Chancellor at a time of rising
pan-German sentiment. In fact, he is even forced to form a coalition
government with the Landbund, a German nationalist party with a mostly Protestant electoral base.
Luckily for Dollfuss, their influence is muted somewhat by another coalition partner, the
Heimatblock, the political wing of the Heimwehr who are much more sympathetic to Austrian
nationalism. They vow to drag Austria out of the economic
slump it has found itself in since the Great Depression. It has caused widespread dissatisfaction
throughout the country, no doubt contributing to the steadily growing National Socialist
movement. Dissatisfied Heimwehr members have swelled its ranks since Pfrimers failed putsch
and The Nazis of the Austrian Nazis, the German Nationalist Socialist’s Party DNSAP now adds
to an already complicated political militia landscape. The Heimwehr have been opposed
by the Social Democrat militia, the Republikanischer Schutzbund – the Republican Protection League.
They, in turn, not only recruit from the Social Democrats, but also from the KPÖ, the Communists.
The League now finds itself opposed both to the Heimwehr and the Nazis, who are opposed
to each other. Fighting all of them is the Freiheitsbund, the Freedom League, a Conservative
based militia like the Heimwehr. However, unlike the Heinwehr, The Freedom League is
firmly dedicated to protecting Liberal Democracy, while also putting up violent resistance to
the left. But Dolfuss soon gets an opportunity to counter
the rising Nazi tide. On March 4, 1933, the National Council (the
lower house of the parliament) is debating how to solve an ongoing railway workers’ strike.
The final vote is expected to be extremely close, so much so that the political decisions
taken to win the vote will result in the parliament literally eliminating itself. Now, the constitutional makeup of the First
Republic is pretty complicated. But basically, the National Council has a President as well
as a second and third President, who together are responsible for running political affairs
and administrative proceedings. The Presidents are elected and belong to political parties
just like every other National Council member, but they are not allowed to vote. Following
uproar around a previous ballot, Karl Renner resigns from his position as First President
so that he can give his Social Democrat party an extra vote. Second President, Rudolf Ramek
takes up his post. But he too then resigns so he can cast his vote for the Christian
Social Party. Third President, Sepp Straffner is now in charge of things, but as you might
already expect, he too resigns so that he can vote for his Greater German People’s Party. The National Council now finds itself in a
bit of a problem. You see, there has to be a sitting president for a vote to take place,
but they have all resigned so that they can vote. Parliament has effectively become paralyzed
and Dollfuss, hardly sympathetic to democratic tradition in the first place, seizes his chance. Claiming that the ongoing crisis is “not
provided for in the constitution,” he puts the Council out of session. Using the 1917
Wartime Economy Authority Law he seizes power to ensure it would be the last session. He
claims that he has done this following what he terms “Selbstausschaltung des Parlaments”
(the self-elimination of the parliament). But it is nothing short of a coup d ‘état.
The law curtails freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, beginning the process
which will see Austria slide into a dictatorship. In fact, Dollfuss has more or less instituted
a fascist, or rather an ‘Austrofascist,’ regime. As we have seen before, Fascism can be a pretty
hard concept to define, and “Austrofascism” has some pretty unique characteristics to
it. It develops out of two strands. First is Dolfuss’
own staunchly conservative and nationalist Christian Social Party. It has strong traditions
of anti-Semitism, anti-Socialism, and anti-liberalism. The second strand comes from the fear generated
by the Marxist revolutions in Hungary and Bavaria in 1919. These events seem to confirm
that the specter of communism really is haunting Europe. Now many look to Italian Fascism as
a way to counter it. Even more like its Italian inspiration, Austrofacism is both clerical
and corporatist in nature. Central to its ideology is the belief that Austria must remain
Catholic. This partly explains why it is so anti-German, a country dominated politically
by Prussian protestants. Although some Austrofascists do have common
ground with the German Nazis, Dolfuss simply can’t afford the Nazi’s making any gains
in his Austrian homeland. Following the communal elections in Innsbruck in May 1933, which
sees the Austrian Nazis gain 40% of the vote, he takes even more drastic action. State and communal polls are banned, parliament
is dissolved, and Dolfuss establishes the Vaterländische Front (Patriotic Front). In
typical fascist rhetoric, the new party purportedly represents a transcending of partisan ideology.
To make it a little easier to transcend, Dolfuss also ensures the other parties are banned
from participating in politics. He also forbids the militia, specifically the Social Democrat
and Communist League, although they do continue to exist in the underground. Several of the actual parties themselves are
next. The Communist Party goes on the May 27, and following a Nazi hand-grenade attack
in Krems, killing one and wounding close to thirty, the DNSAP are banned in June. But this does not stop the Nazi movement’s
threat to an independent Austria. With financial aid from Germany, its terrorism
continues throughout the year, resulting in a death toll of five and dozens more injured.
Leading DNSAP members also flee to Bavaria to found the Austrian Legion to prepare to
re-enter their homeland via an invasion. Now resistance to the Dollfuss regime is coming
from multiple fronts. Social Democrats are still taking to the streets to protest and
are often accompanied by the armed members of the forbidden League. In February 1934,
the League finally attempts to take down the Dolfuss government and the brief, but violent
Austrian Civil War starts. In the space of less than a week, Heimwehr and League forces
clash throughout Austria’s cities. Hundreds die. Thousands are wounded. But Dollfuss emerges
victorious, cracks down on all hostilities and uses the crisis to increase and consolidate
his power. A few months later he proclaims the May Constitution. This formally abolishes
democracy, while also bringing the Catholic Church into the center of political life,
declaring that all laws come from God on high. Now, Nazi Germany may be a constant threat
to an independent Austria, but Fascist Italy proves itself a perhaps surprising ally. In March 1934, Italy, Hungary and Austria
sign a bunch of agreements in Rome. These ‘Rome Protocols’ are mainly economic but are
a clear sign to Hitler that the Southern Catholic countries are a united bloc not to be messed
with. It is not actually that surprising that Mussolini
is willing to leave Hitler in the cold. His ideology of Italian exceptionalism is pretty
much at odds with Nazi beliefs in a superior Germanic race. More importantly, he is concerned
about Italian territorial integrity. In the very North of the country lives a sizeable
German minority, constituting a majority in South Tyrol. Now, Hitler’s race motivated
expansionism means that he clearly has his eyes on these lands. Dollfuss, however, is
not, giving Mussolini a vital buffer against Hitler’s Greater Germanic Reich. In April
1933, Mussolini even told Dollfuss that “if necessary, Italy would defend Austria’s
independence by force of arms.” Dollfuss takes this to heart and strengthened in his
confidence, he makes it unmistakably clear that he is opposed to a Nazi incursion into
Austria. Hardly a man to let things slide, Hitler ramps
up Nazi activities in Austria. Things come to a violent head on July 25 1934, when 154
men from the Austrian SS, all trained by the army but dismissed because of their Nazi connections,
break into the Chancellery building in Vienna. Now, rumors have been flying for quite some
time that something like this is going to happen, so Dollfuss is immediately alerted.
His cabinet members flee, but he does not and stays to resist, but he is soon shot and
critically wounded. The Nazi putschists are by now caught in a standoff with the army
and the police. Dollfuss begs them first for medical treatment and then the Last Rites.
The Nazis deny his pleas and a few hours into the putsch he dies. Meanwhile, a radio station
is captured, and a broadcast goes out declaring the formation of a Nazi government and a call
for a general uprising. Upon hearing the news, Mussolini, whose wife
has actually been entertaining the rest of the Dollfuss family, is furious. He immediately
denounces the putsch and threatens war with Germany in defense of Austria. We don’t
actually know the exact role Hitler plays in these events, but regardless of his direct
involvement, he now professes Germany’s innocence in the whole affair. The “Nazi government”
occupying the Viennese Chancellery is suddenly left without any support, denounced by the
party and man who they killed a political leader for. They surrender that evening and
are subsequently executed. We do know that the plan had been for SA units
to stage uprisings across the country simultaneously. But poor planning and SA-SS rivalry get in
the way of this. There are a few bloody skirmishes over the next days, but it is nothing close
to the revolution they had hoped for. Overall, the July Putsch has left close to 300 people
killed and many more injured. It’s a bit of an embarrassing failure for the Nazis.
They had expected the army and police to be on their side, but they mostly stayed loyal
to the Austrian state. Thousands of Nazi party members are now also thrown into detention
camps. Nevertheless, it has shaken Austria to its
core. Kurt Schuschnigg succeeds Dolfuss as Austria’s
leader. He will largely continue the work of his predecessor, desperately trying to
keep Catholic Austria independent from the Third Reich. He will, however, find himself
increasingly isolated on the international stage and be forced to adopt, like the rest
of the European powers, a policy of appeasement towards the ever-encroaching Nazi state. And
when that power, the Nazi German Reich marches into Austria, it will be to the tune of millions
of Austrians hailing the new rise of the German race. Despite Dollfuss, despite Schsuschnigg,
millions will join the Nazis. Eventually, countless Austrians will participate, and
even lead the Nazi terror machine. We’ve made an episode about the Fascist
movement in general… it will be right here any moment now. Our TimeGhost Army member
for this episode is NN. It’s thanks to our TimeGhost army members’ contribution that
we can continue shining a light on these events. And if like the Austrians, you find yourself
looking down the barrel of a gun, remember Harvey Specter’s thoughts about not being
out of choices… ”You take the gun, or you pull out a bigger one. Or, you call their
bluff. Or, you do any one of a hundred and forty-six other things.” Prost!

83 thoughts on “Not all Fascists Are Nazis – Civil War in Austria | BETWEEN 2 WARS I 1934 Part 2 of 4

  1. A lot comes together in this episode. Austria in 1934 is where a lot of political movements, ideologies and methods we saw throughout the '20s and '30s in previous episodes go head to head. We explain how Austro-Fascism differs from fascism and how Nazism and Austrofascism engage in a violent clash. (READ MORE FOR OUR STANCE ON THE POLITICAL LEFT-RIGHT SPECTRUM)

    So, this episode covers Communism, Fascism, Austrofascism and Nazism in the context of Austria in 1934. I can predict some of the comments that will appear under this video, so allow me to explain how we interpret and explain the key differences between some of these. In academia, we use a right-left axis to place political movements on based on their ideology, NOT just because of their methods or form of state. Our definition is not politically motivated or does not relate to current day politics. We only apply this definition to the specific historical context of the interwar era and World War Two. In short: totalitarian or authoritarian governments are not all the same. Fascism and Nazism are generally placed on the right because they were driven by state or race superiority, Communism and Socialism are placed on the left as they were driven by class-differences and (theoretical) equality.

    Granted, there is a rich scholarly debate surrounding the function and interpretation of the left-right axis. Anyone who is interested to read more about that can read 'Andrew Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction (2017) 15-17.' However, there are limits to what is accepted as an academic argument and what is plain propaganda. Socialism and Nazism are not the same by any respectable definition. Communism and Nazism both embracing totalitarian regimes does not make them the same. We love to engage in debates about this, and we will do so with anyone who presents a real argument with real examples and sources. We will not engage with trolls who are politicising this historical debate with a modern-day agenda.


    STAY CIVIL AND POLITE we will delete any comments with personal insults, or attacks.
    AVOID PARTISAN POLITICS AS FAR AS YOU CAN we reserve the right to cut off vitriolic debates.
    HATE SPEECH IN ANY DIRECTION will lead to a ban.
    RACISM, XENOPHOBIA, OR SLAMMING OF MINORITIES will lead to an immediate ban.

  2. If Mussolini had followed up his threat to go to war with Germany would Italy have been able to even slow Germany down?

  3. Is it an accurate statement that Nazism was a German specific subset of Fascism as is generally described? it was basically just

  4. * Looks at Indy wearing Lederhosen *

  5. Hello Indy. Absolutely great episode, as always. Keep up the great work in unraveling the 20th Century’s history in an unbiased way, and as factual as can be.

    So, I wanted to ask, and I can understand if you wish to not respond, but I was wondering what do you think about the 2013 documentary ‘The Greatest Story Never Told’? Also, where do you draw the line between historians trying to search for further facts and shed more light on a historical subject matter, and historical revisionism?

  6. “… What’d you do if you have to choose style? Traditional leather shorts Or modern jeans”?

    Hopefully Indy and his fantastic crew has time to mention similar political events in Finland, early years of 1930s.
    Lapuan Liike (Lapuan Movement) serious political power crab attempt by Finnish fascists.

  7. If only the Allies would have allowed the union of Austria with Germany after 1918, the urge for revenge in Germany would have diminished substantially.

  8. HAHA! Zieht den Bayern die Lederhosen aus, die Lederhosen aus, die Lederhosen aus…. US ppl always think Bavaria was Germany, because of being stationed there. Actually it is the poophole of Germany. Well, some kokaine bastars doing business as well.

  9. These are seriously one of the best history-series anywhere. For some reason, there hasn't been as many documentaries etc. about the interwar years which were crucial for the context and background that led to ww2


  11. 1:45 "From Germans to Croats to Italians to Poles to Czechs to many many more…"

    Hungarians: "Are we a joke to you?"

  12. This episode gave some insight into the "Pact of Rome" focus you can take in Hearts of Iron 4 when playing as (Kingdom of) Hungary with the Death of Dishonour DLC installed.

  13. Very interesting that Hitler even went head to head to other Fascists before invading Poland and triggering the Second World War, the Political spectrum is bigger then what most expected…

  14. Im curious about the next episode. German – or even world – education on that matter and everything is bullshit. I didnt know wnaythint from what i heared here. Contact Trump on that program being discriminated by big tech.

  15. Please for the love of god indy stop calling the german reich "german reiK" the ch makes H sound not K, it's german reiH.

  16. Old saying is that biggest PR victory of Austria in the world is that they conviced all the world that Hitler was from Germany. Austria took enormous part in Second World War, Hitler and the Nazis from Germany had there millions of supporters. During WW2 there were concentration camps run by Austrians like Mathausen, KZ – Nebenlager Bretstein, . Looots of crew members were from Austria. You want example? Here you have. Do you remember that psychopath commander of Pulaszow concentration camp – Amon Goeth from Schindler List? He was from Austria. Today Austria acts like they were only occupied by Germans during WW2 and they done nothing bad during WW2. In same time there is big racism among Austrian peoples especially outside Wien.

  17. On the note of definition, I'd follow in general the short statement from Mussolini as to what Fascism is: "All within the State, nothing outside the State, nothing against the State".

  18. Italian fascism, german nazism and more moderate ideologies of other nation states are just different expressions of the same venomous idea of nationalism.

  19. Ban this, ban that, ban everything we don’t like. Reminds me of a certain political party in the United States.

  20. What was the mantra of the NSDAP?
    Reunification by peacefull means.
    Nobody is coming into the tent, if you point a gun at them.

  21. So many groups…. how did anyone keep all of it straight? Half of these groups seem to be fighting for the same thing!

  22. I hope the WWII channel covers the forced expulsion of ethnic Germans from the border regions that resulted in the forced resettlement of over 12 million ethnic Germans and the murder/genocide of .5 to 3 million ethnic German civilians.

  23. It's almost as if short people (or perceived short people) go pretty crazy with power when they get crazy amounts of power and authority.

  24. I believe you can be a fascist without being an antisemitic, but you cannot be a nazi without being an antisemitic as the two are so ingrained they are inseparable.
    However neither is a good system of government as they all default into an autocratic state.

  25. Nice Lederhosen and Stein of beer Indy, really interesting and complex presentation delivered with gusto, the only thing missing was some buxom serving wenches and a bit of thigh slapping from Indy…….:-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *