Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria

   / Sozialdemokratische Arbeiter Partei
   The long-standing voice of Marxism in Austrian politics, the party returned to its original name in 1991, though with a different acronym. Founded in 1888–1889, the SDAP lost its legal standing in the First Austrian Republic under the regime of Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1934. Under the leadership of such figures as Karl Renner, Adolf Schärf, and Theodor Körner, it reconstituted itself in 1945 as the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ).
   Though its first congress took place in 1874, the early years of the socialist movement in the Habsburg Empire were internally contentious. These differences were largely tactical, but they were significant, as supporters were divided between a more moderate faction, which took its inspiration from the German socialist leader Ferdinand Lassalle, and those who wished to adopt the more violent methods of contemporary anarchists. The Hainfeld Program of 1888–1889, largely the work of Viktor Adler, brought these factions together. By setting an agenda of broad social and economic reform, the SDAP hoped to represent the entire proletariat in the Habsburg Empire, even though its leadership was largely German speaking. This they never quite managed to do. Though the party never dissolved completely into national units before 1918, antagonism between German and Czech workers was especially deep. Furthermore, its electoral appeal was largely concentrated in the region around Vienna and in growing industrial areas in Lower Austria, Styria, Bohemia, and Moravia. The franchise reform of 1907 in the western half of Austria–Hungary gave the socialists an increasingly strong voice in the Imperial Assembly. With 87 delegates, they made up the second strongest fraction in that body.
   A good part of the party’s success was the result of its organization, particularly the complex network of cultural, political, and social organizations associated with it: workers’ educational clubs, trade unions, women’s and young workers’ groups, not to mention cyclists and conservationists. The party newspaper, the Arbeiterzeitung, played a leading role in the lively journalistic life of late 19thcentury Vienna. The result of this work soon became clear. The year following the death of Vienna’s popular Christian Social mayor Karl Lueger in 1910, the SDAP became the governing party of the city, a position it has yet to yield, with the exception of the period 1934–1945.
   Though the party initially supported the Habsburg monarchy at the outbreak of World War I, it came to oppose Austrian participation in the conflict. Indeed, in 1916 Friedrich Adler (1879–1960), the son of the party leader, assassinated the Austrian minister-president, Count Karl Stürgkh (1859–1916), because of the latter’s antidemocratic policies. The SDAP did endorse the creation of German Austria, the initial step in the establishment of the First Republic.
   However, it was ambivalent about Austrian independence. Among the party’s most important leaders at the time was the ideologue Otto Bauer, who urged that Austria become part of Germany to reinforce proletarian solidarity. Another important figure was the more conciliatory Karl Renner. The head of the provisional state was a close ally of Renner’s, Karl Seitz.
   In the provisional National Assembly, the SDAP had 71 of the 170 seats. From the middle of 1920 until the suppression of democratic government in Austria in 1933, the Socialists were forced into the opposition. Nevertheless, they continued to dominate the city of Vienna itself. With countless organizational ties and through its paramilitary Republican Guard, the SDAP remained prominent in the public life of the First Republic. In 1930, the party still had the single largest delegation in the Austrian parliament. In proportion to the population of Austria, it constituted the largest social democratic movement in the world. Unlike its counterpart party in Germany, the SDAP also managed to maintain a united front, though there were persistent regional tensions within the membership.
   Proscribed and driven underground in 1934, many leading figures in the party simply emigrated. Some prominent members such as Karl Renner continued to call for incorporation into Germany and supported the Anschluss of 1938. Other Austrian Socialists spent part or all of World War II in Nazi concentration camps.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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