Outbreak of the war
End of the war

The End of the Dream: the Failure of Bauer’s Foreign Policy

The economic situation of the population in the post-war years was desperate. Many people starved and froze: social unrest was the result. The country was dependent on deliveries of aid from abroad, but it was difficult to get these, as German-Austria was viewed with suspicion from all sides, on the one hand as bearing responsibility for the war and on the other because of its left-wing political leadership.

In order to receive deliveries of aid from the West, Bauer oriented his foreign policy towards the ideas of the Entente, although in this connection the insistence on union with Germany was not very helpful. Bauer argued that without food aid German-Austria would run the danger of slipping into Bolshevism. On the domestic front he gave similar warnings that without food deliveries rule by soviets was imminent. Unrest in April and June 1919 led the British food commissioner to state ‘that unrest in Vienna will be punished by the Entente with death by starvation’.

The core of Bauer’s foreign policy remained union with Germany. Like many other leading representatives of the republic he worked on the basis of the assessment that the new state of German-Austria was not economically viable. ‘If union does not come about then Austria will become an impoverished peasant state, in which it will not be worth making politics.’ Otto Bauer was convinced that a socialist society could be realised only within the framework of a Pan-German republic with a strong industry and a strong working class: ‘That is why the fight for socialism must be fought as a fight for union with Germany.’ Thinking back to the Germany of Marx and Engels and dreaming of a powerful working class in a united Greater Germany appeared more attractive that ‘a life of smallness and pettiness’.

The positions of the dominant actors and states in post-war politics meant that the realisation of this project would turn out to be completely unrealistic. The victorious Entente powers, especially the French government, were not prepared to accept the territorial and politico-economic strengthening of a defeated Germany. Nor did the new German government show any interest in a union with German-Austria for tactical reasons, because to do so would have weakened its position in connection with the peace negotiations. In addition the leading representatives of the Christian Socialists showed increasingly fierce opposition to Bauer’s policy of union with Germany. As a consequence Bauer initially sought economic union with Germany in the form of a currency union, but this was likewise a failure.

Deeply disappointed, Bauer resigned from his post in July 1919. At the negotiations in Saint-Germain in July 1919 his role had to be taken over by Chancellor Renner. What stuck to Bauer was the accusation that his policy had prepared the ground for union with Germany in the form of the Anschluss in 1938.

Translation: Leigh Bailey


Haas, Hanns: Österreich und die Alliierten 1918–1919, in: Ackerl, Isabella (Hrsg.): Saint-Germain 1919. Protokoll des Symposiums am 29. und 30. Mai 1979 in Wien, Wien 1989

Hanisch, Ernst: Der große Illusionist. Otto Bauer (1881–1938), Wien/Köln/Weimar 2011



„... that unrest in Vienna will be ...": zitiert nach: Haas, Hanns: Österreich und die Alliierten 1918–1919, in: Ackerl, Isabella (Hrsg.): Saint-Germain 1919. Protokoll des Symposiums am 29. und 30. Mai 1979 in Wien, Wien 1989, 29 (Translation)

„If union does not come ...": Internationaal Instituut foor Sociale Geschiedenis Amsterdam. Karl Kautsky-Nachlass: Brief von Otto Bauer an Karl Kautsky am 6.5.1919 (Translation)

„That is why the fight ...": Bauer, Otto: Der Weg zum Sozialismus, Wien 1919, zitiert nach: Hanisch, Ernst: Der große Illusionist. Otto Bauer (1881-1938), Wien 2011, 158, Anm. 65 (Translation)

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  • Aspect

    After the war

    The First World War marked the end of the “long nineteenth century”. The monarchic empires were replaced by new political players. The Austro-Hungarian Monarchy disintegrated into separate nation states. The Republic of German Austria was proclaimed in November 1918, and Austria was established as a federal state in October 1920. The years after the war were highly agitated ­– in a conflicting atmosphere of revolution and defeat, and political, economic, social and cultural achievements and setbacks.


Persons, Objects & Events