Page 5, 18th March 1938

18th March 1938
Page 5
Page 5, 18th March 1938 — Press, Politics And The People

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Locations: Vienna, London, King George


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Press, Politics And The People


"The Austria of Dollfuss and Schuschnigg--the Catholic Fascist Austria that by force suppressed Parliament and the powerful working class movement four years ago —collapsed tonight, under the threat of force."—The Times, Saturday, March 12.

PLACE this quotation at the head of this article because it contains the essential truth, of which nothing has been heard for four years. The politicians today arc in eclipse, but when the history of post-war Europe comes to be written, much of the blame for the breakdown all over Europe and Asia of the political method, and for the steady drift towards war will be laid to the charge of the Press.

We can dispute, if it amuses us, whether the press has been misled by the politicia or the politicians of the press, but in the purely political states, such as France, politicians and journalists are interchangeable terms, and the same is becoming increasingly true of this country.

The crime of the writing and talking classes has not been that they wrote and talked, but that they have consistently avoided writing and saying unpleasant truths. When Dollfuss shot up the Socialists the News Chronicle and the Daily Herald wept. When he refused political rights to the Austrian Nazis, he became the spokesman of the Austrian people, and Schuschnigg, his successor in the dictatorship, has been for years hailed as the champion of democracy.

Concealment of Faith

The first fruit of the Berchtesgarten agreement was the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners. Not one in ten thousand of the electors of this country knew that they were in gaol until they were let out. Yet this facet was vital to any estimate of the political situation in Austria, and of the moral claims of the Schuschnigg Government. When, as a result of the restoration of political rights of a very modified kind to the Nazis, it was found necessary to flood the streets of the Styrian towns with tanks and machine-guns in order to counter the demonstrations of a population unanimously hostile to the government, it was obvious that the situation was wholly different from that represented in the free press. As with Spain, so with Austria. The free press of England, as consistently as the tied press of Germany, has concealed facts.

Schuschnigg Coup d'Etat

Today the same press is building up a fairy story about the free vote promised by the democratic Schuschnigg. Our Liberals have too little sense of humour. What should we have said of the Saar plebiscite if, instead of the voting having been secret and organised by neutral officials, Herr Hitler had mobilised his army and marched it into the districts least favourable to his cause, and had, on the top of that, arranged for an open vote?

It is quite obvious that Schuschnigg was attempting a coup d'etat.

His aims were Christian and patriotic, but he intended to secure them by means which the post-war dictatorships have made painfully familiar, and if he had held his plebiscite the vote would have been precisely and identically as worthless as the vote for National Socialism which. the new government will no doubt secure.

It is not my intention here to discuss the merits of the Schuschnigg administration or of its successor, but to draw attention to our deplorable lack of information. The sudden transition of Austria overnight into a Nazi state is a tragedy, but it is a tragedy manifestly played with the consent of the Austrian people.

Herr Hitler entered Linz to be acclaimed, as no European statesman has been acclaimed for many years, by

250,000 people. The only parallel in recent years to his reception was that given by London to King George V OP his Jubilee.

And yet I venture a prophecy that by the time these words are in print it will be generally accepted as a truism that the only real parallel to Herr Hitler's entry into Austria is the Kaiser's entry of Belgium in August, 1914.

Perhaps even more remarkable evidence is afforded by what happened in Vienna itself, where Schuschnigg claimed a majority. The coup d'etat in Vienna took the unusual form not of flooding the streets with troops, but of withdrawing them, a strange and significant inversion of the customary process.

Issue Shirked

The minimum deduction from the facts as we know them is that opinion in Austria was at least equally divided, but even that is a little difficult to believe, because a government which starts with the immense advantage of having its own army and police force and the whole executive machine ought to be able to maintain its authority without feverish displays of armed force, without flying bombers over its cities and rushing mechanised troops through its streets.

The key to the situation lies not in the German ultimatum of Friday, March 11, but in the events in Styria which preceded it.

It became evident that the Schuschnigg Government could not maintain itself except by retracting the rights conferred on the National Socialists by the 13erchlesgarten agreement, and it could not do this without an impressive demonstration before the world of national unity.

Had the Schuschnigg Government appealed to the Great Powers to organise a plebiscite on Saar lines there would have been no coup d'etat. Had The British and French Governments insisted on such a plebiscite as a prelude and condition to the re-imposition of his dictatorship, there would have been no ultimatum and no coup d'etat. What the result of the vote would have been is a question which is today merely academic. The issue was shirked: and English public opinion is today being asked to accept a version of the facts which is manifestly false.

A surrender to force has certainly taken place, and is certainly to be deplored. The force to which Schuschnigg surrendered was, however, in the ultimate analysis, the force of Austrian and not of German National Socialism. His attempt at the eleventh hour, as he was pushed nearer and nearer to war, to give a superficially demo cratic character to his regime, lacked even the appearance of spontaneity. In the result, a dictatorship without adequate force behind it, was obliged to surrender its powers to a dictatorship which had at least as much force within the country and a powerful ally on its frontier.

Necessity of Truth

The lessons of the tragedy are many, but the chief, for us, is the necessity of truth as the only possible foundation of effective political action. It is easy enough to construct, and to admire at a distance, a puppet government. It can only be kept in office by force exercised on the spot, not by econiums delivered at a distance.

The British public should have been warned by their leaders and by their press that the Austrian Government was not the expression of the people's will but that most insecure and fatal of all forms of govern ment, a dictatorship whose power rested not on the union of political parties, but on their deep-seated and perhaps incurable divisions.

We should have been told that, sooner or later, such a government, lacking popular sanction and not even enjoying the sanction of force, must collapse. We should then. be in a position to form a judgment of the event based, as all moral judgments must be, not on its consequences but on its causes.

The evil of mal-information to the body politic is precisely as fatal as the evil of malnutrition to the body. It is not a disease which can be cured by a sudden flood of enlightenment, any more than the health of a nation can be restored by a sudden flood of imports of food. Both diseases indeed, work permanent evil, and even when they have been cured, their consequences remain.

Legends of Democracy

The political views today popularly current in England on both sides of the political fence, are mere opinions. They are based not on what has happened, still less on the causes of what has happened, but on what someone says has happened, or on what someone just "thinks." We have created a legend of a democratic Austria worshipping Schuschnigg because it suited us to believe that in opposing Germany's aims in Austria we were championing democracy.

We created exactly the same legend about the Spanish Government in Valencia, because it suited us.

Our policy has been made ridiculous and our diplomatic support turned into a mockery because the real facts do not even begin to correspond with the facts on which British public opinion has been •built. To maintain the Schuschnigg regime it would have been necessary to fight not the German but the Austrian people, which was not only a moral but a physical itnpossibility. And yet we are already writing about "wiping an historic European nation off the map." Such an outrage, says the Sunday Times, has not occurred since the Great War. Our distinguished contemporary is wrong: it happened in 1919, when historic Austria was wiped off the map by the British and French armies. Today's tragedy is the punishment for that crime. As usual, it is not the criminals who suffer it.

Our Fault It is a lamentable thing that Austria, the ancient bulwark of Christendom, should give an enthusiastic welcome to the persecutor of the Catholic Church. It will be still more lamentable if Catholics in Eng

land do not learn the real lesson of this tragedy. We created an intolerable situation in Austria and forbade every effort of the Austrian people to escape from it. They have taken the only path open to them to escape from it. It may well land them in worse evils than poverty and political persecution. If so, the fault lies mainly with us.

We should have demanded justice for Austria, just as we do demand justice for National Spain. That we could not do so Was the result of mal-information, which has always this peculiar consequence. It not only leads to a false conclusion, and, therefore, to a foolish policy, but in so doing it creates prejudices which make it impossible to act wisely even when the facts are known. The English people, faced with the truth about almost anything on the Continent today, are like a starving man suddenly confronted with a beefsteak. If he turns away from it, he continues to starve. If he faces it, he is nauseated.

We need a long period of re-education in the elementary facts of international politics. Those who attempt this task Will be bitterly unpopular. So be it.

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