Outbreak of the war
End of the war

A Marxist on Ballhausplatz – Otto Bauer Takes Over Foreign Policy

The way that foreign policy was conducted in Austria underwent a radical change in November 1918. Up to then it had been in the hands of the Emperor and the upper ranks of the aristocracy; now Otto Bauer, a Social Democrat, took over as Secretary of State in the State Office for Foreign Affairs.

As the Monarchy’s ministries remained in existence – the Foreign Ministry under Baron Ludwig von Flotow as a ministry in the process of being wound up until 1920 – first Viktor Adler and then after him Otto Bauer were given the title of Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in order to distinguish between the two institutions. To a large extent the personnel from the Monarchy also remained in office, even though many diplomats from the upper ranks aristocracy were offended and went into retirement, this being was to Flotow’s activities. Otto Bauer appointed persons in his confidence to key positions, some recruited from the Social Democrats, some from other circles, for example Hans Kelsen, an expert on constitutional matters, whom Bauer knew from his time at university, and Richard  Schüller, an economist, who headed the Economics Section in the Foreign Ministry, making his  expertise available to every government until 1938.   

When it came to the negotiations with the Entente Bauer found himself in a difficult situation, because the alliance did not recognize the newly founded state of German-Austria. But the continued presence of former staff in the State Office would also turn out to be a hindrance, because these diplomats stood symbolically for the Monarchy and for continuity with the state which had waged the war. Bauer commented:

I have reservations about keeping on the old diplomatic staff, as we would then be seen as a continuation of the old Monarchy, while the gentlemen who are suited for such posts are not easy to find. Even if you think you have found someone, you usually find your offer rejected.

Bauer had the files of the Imperial and Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to which his post gave him access, reviewed and assessed. His verdict on war guilt was unequivocal. He gave Austria-Hungary the main responsibility for the warmongering, with the way he formulated this being seen as an affront to the Imperial and Royal Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Admittedly he made no mention of the role which the Social Democrats had played in this process or of his own behaviour in 1914, when his convictions had led him to go to war against Tsarist Russia as a lieutenant of the reserve in the Austro-Hungarian army.

On 29 November 1918 Hans Kelsen presented Bauer with a report which aimed to clarify the position of German-Austria in international law. It provided a reminder that the new republic was not the legal successor to the Monarchy and hence was not responsible for the declaration of war. In December 1918 Bauer adopted these arguments in a ‘memorandum’ in which he outlined the principles of his foreign policy. Bauer’s memorandum may have avoided any suggestion of the class struggle, but in the end this did not help. The Austrian delegation in Saint-German also relied on Kelsen’s arguments, but they were not accepted by French and British politicians. The Entente made German-Austria for the declaration of war, laid down reparations and prevented the union with Germany which Bauer was striving for. The result was – especially in the rhetoric of the 1930s – that Austria shifted into the role of a victim – a stance which it was again to adopt after 1945.

Translation: Leigh Bailey


Hanisch, Ernst: Im Zeichen von Otto Bauer. Deutschösterreichs Außenpolitik in den Jahren 1918 bis 1919, in: Konrad, Helmut/Maderthaner, Wolfgang: Das Werden der Ersten Republik. ... der Rest ist Österreich, Bd. I, Wien 2008, 206-222

Stadler, Karl R.: Die Gründung der Republik, in: Skalnik, Kurt: Auf der Suche nach der Identität, in: Weinzierl, Erika/Skalnik, Kurt: Österreich 1918–1938. Geschichte der Ersten Republik, Graz/Wien/Köln 1983, 55-84



„I have reservations about keeping ...": zitiert nach Hanisch, Ernst: Im Zeichen von Otto Bauer. Deutschösterreichs Außenpolitik in den Jahren 1918 bis 1919, in: Konrad, Helmut/Maderthaner, Wolfgang: Das Werden der Ersten Republik. ... der Rest ist Österreich, Bd. I, Wien 2008, 206-222, hier 210 (Translation)

Contents related to this chapter


  • 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.



  • Development

    The First Republic in the historical memory

    The Republic of German Austria was proclaimed on 12 November 1918. The name also marked the direction of the new state, which strove for annexation with Germany, a development that was explicitly forbidden by the victorious powers. In the historical memory, it is seen as the “remnant” of the Monarch, the “state no one wanted” or the “reluctant state”. However, this image was created after 1945 as a negative foil to the successful Second Republic. It says nothing of the hopes and opportunities after the Monarchy and the war that many people saw in this republic.