- / Vaterländische FrontIn an effort to rise above the highly partisan discord between the Christian Social Party (CP) and Social Democratic Workers’ Party in the First Austrian Republic, Engelbert Dollfuss established the Fatherland Front on 20 May 1933. The following September, speaking before an audience at a local trotting track, he issued a general call for converting Austria into a “social, Christian, German state” to be corporately organized and authoritarianly governed. Political parties were to be disbanded.This structure, in which the Front would serve as the only avenue for the formation and expression of public opinion, owed much to the thinking of the Austrian economist and social philosopher Othmar Spann and the pressure for such changes coming from the contemporary Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. The emblem of the Fatherland Front was a crutched cross; its slogan, reflecting Dollfuss’s commitment to an independent Austria, was “Austria Awake.” These two words were about the extent of the organization’s program. The Front was not a political party in the sense that the Italian Fascists or the German Nazis were. Though the Front’s followers were often government figures, the movement was not to interfere with state authority in Austria, either local or federal. Dollfuss was the supreme leader of the Front until his assassination in July 1935. He was followed by Count Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, a leader of the Heimwehr, who was replaced in 1936 by Kurt Schuschnigg, who had succeeded Dollfuss as chancellor. Schuschnigg held the office until the Anschluss with Nazi Germany in 1938.The Fatherland Front made itself felt in Austrian public life during the relatively short time of its existence. It extended throughout the Austrian provinces. Membership was obligatory for civil servants. It sponsored a variety of youth organizations and opened a political bureau to reach out to former socialists, whose party was by this time illegal. Perhaps most important from the standpoint of creating domestic peace, it absorbed the CP-oriented paramilitary Heimwehr in favor of a militia open to members from all the former parties. In general, however, the Fatherland Front fell far short of its objectives. Dedicated to the preservation of Austrian sovereignty, it failed to rally the bulk of the First Republic’s population to that cause. The leadership and support came largely from Austria’s traditional ruling circles, the Catholic clerical hierarchy, the monied bourgeoisie, and segments of the former nobility. Thus, the change of political class, however incomplete, brought about by the Nazis in Germany and the Italian Fascists, eluded Austria’s Fatherland Front. Most destructive to the organization was the relentless infighting over leadership of the Front between CP political functionaries and their counterparts.See also Austro-Fascism.
Historical dictionary of Austria. Paula Sutter Fichtner. 2014.
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