Seipel, Ignaz

   The son of a coachman, Seipel became a priest in 1899 and subsequently a professor of moral theology in Salzburg and at the University of Vienna. From 1917 until November 1918, he was the minister for social affairs in the last government of the Austrian half of the Habsburg Empire. Becoming active in the Christian Social Party (CP) of the First Austrian Republic, Seipel rose quickly in its ranks, serving as party chairperson from 1921 to 1929. He became federal chancellor in May 1922, at a particularly bad moment. Inflation was rising rapidly, and government expenses were far outrunning revenues, in part because of the generous social benefits enacted by the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) in the early years of the First Republic.
   Believing that his country needed financial assistance from abroad to establish fiscal stability at home, Seipel embarked upon a series of visits to European capitals to present the case for supporting an independent Austria. He was rewarded in October 1922 with loan guarantees in the sum of 650 million Austrian crowns from Great Britain, France, Italy, and the new Czechoslovakia (Geneva Protocol). In return, Austria was expected to trim its generous budgets. Seipel and his finance minister, Victor Kienböck (1873–1956), thereupon embarked upon a program of domestic fiscal austerity, sharply cutting entitlements, reducing the ranks of government employees, and raising taxes. The policy brought the desired results. Inflation ebbed, and a new, and sounder currency, the schilling, was introduced in December 1924.
   All of this came at a cost. Seipel, who was never able to form a parliamentary majority, and governed in coalition with the Agrarian League and the Greater German Party, was vulnerable to criticism from many sides. The Greater Germans, whose membership was heavily middle class, suffered from the reduction in civil service employment. They also objected to another promise the chancellor made in the Geneva Protocol—that Austria would not bring up the question of Anschluss with Germany for 20 years. The SDAP, which had a large constituency, especially in Vienna, was outraged at the cuts in social spending and at Seipel’s apparent willingness to put Austria at the mercy of foreign capitalists.
   In January 1924, Seipel was seriously wounded in an attempted assassination, which he attributed to a never proven socialist plot. That year, Seipel withdrew from the chancellorship; he returned to the office in 1926. In 1929, suffering from bad health and depression over his inability to persuade his country to return a CP majority to parliament, he stepped down from the position permanently. In 1930, he served as foreign minister. Called upon to form a national government during the financial crisis that followed the collapse of the Vienna Creditanstalt Bankverein in 1931, he was unable to persuade the SDAP to cooperate.
   Seipel accepted the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy, democratic rule, and the establishment of the First Austrian Republic. But he grew increasingly hostile to the Marxism and secularism that had entrenched themselves in the new state. His political views became increasingly authoritarian; he wished to strengthen substantially the powers of the Austrian presidency, a largely ceremonial office. He also found the right-wing nationalist Heimwehr increasingly useful in maintaining civil order, particularly after the burning of the Ministry of Justice building in Vienna during a socialist political demonstration in 1927. Seipel, the onetime democrat, endorsed the corporate state toward the end of his career.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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