Fascist Italy and Austria Hand Hitler His First Defeat

by Norman Berdichevsky (September 2009)

Jonah Goldberg’s brilliant best seller book “Liberal Fascism” (Doubleday, 2008) lays bare the century long manipulation of the terms LEFT and RIGHT in “political science.” Those on the Left who dominate academia and the media typically create a straw man, misleadingly confusing conservative and traditional values that are consistently in favor of individual rights and limited government with the extremist, racist, ultra-nationalist, “religious” and “anti-popular” forces they immediately label as “Fascist,” conflated into what they call the RIGHT.

Goldberg documents how the false dichotomy of LEFT vs. RIGHT obscures the basic similarities uniting the two that glorify and deify abstractions such as THE leader, party, race, church or class that embody THE Nation. Both ideologies at their extremes grant ALL POWER  to a demagogic leader who, once in power, promises to wipe away the humiliation and suffering of the past as well as the privileges of the “ruling class.”

What is of no concern to both the FAR LEFT and the FAR RIGHT are real individuals and their inalienable rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as defined in our Constitution. These individual rights thrive best in a society under the rule of law and that means restraints on the power of the leader for whom they are potential impediments to “progress.” For the political extremes there are ultimately no restraints on power. What has enraged many American Liberals about Goldberg’s book is how the imagined heroes of the past including such icons like Wilson, Roosevelt, JFK and now Obama consistently pushed their domestic agendas on behalf of the “common man” and the “poor” or for “civil rights” or “minorities” in the direction of more and more centralized federal power.
Goldberg argues that the Left-Right continuum is a false paradigm. The extremes meet and it is often the liberal agenda so universally proclaimed today as “progressive” rather than conservative policies that lead the way to abolishing the restraints of local government and individual rights. The end result is the government’s reach for unlimited power. 

Due to this confusion, many Liberals today cannot understand how it was possible for the Cuban Communist Party for a period of twenty years to have supported Fulgencio Batista (see Communist Party Support for Cuban Dictator Batista

The unfathomable sympathy of many in the West for the most undemocratic regimes among various “Third-World” states, and most notably in the 45 states with a Muslim majority, rests on the inertia of the pseudo-sophisticated notions of Marxist theory and a hidden desire to tear down Western civilization. Before the threat of Islamism, the same “intellectuals” were charmed and persuaded by various totalitarian leaders on the Left and Soviet block.

No matter how venal, corrupt, despotic and inhuman the Soviet leadership and the detestable nature of Soviet society, many “intellectuals” found solace and refuge in anti-imperialism and anti-Americanism. This was a form of secular fundamentalism, as destructive and uncaring of individual rights as any totalitarianism or religious fanaticism. The same “liberal-Left” apologetic attitudes are apparent today that refuse to acknowledge the danger of the Islamist movements that threaten Israel and seek to undermine Western civilization.
On the eve of World War II, various so called “Right Wing” authoritarian regimes of the conservative, traditional, national and religious type (always considered by the Left to be “proto-Fascist”) in Ethiopia (Emperor Haile Selassi),  Austria (the “Clerical-Fascist” regime of Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt Schuschnigg), Poland (General Jozef Pilsudski and his successors), Yugoslavia (General Simovic and his supporters in the armed forces) and Greece (Ionnas Metaxas), all stood up and opposed Hitler and the Axis forces that threatened to blackmail, intimidate and subjugate their nations. All these leaders were labeled as “Fascist” by Soviet and Left-Wing propaganda up until the German invasion of the USSR in June, 1941.

The Spanish Civil War has frequently been portrayed as an epic struggle between the forces of the LEFT (variously identified as progressive, liberal, socialist, internationalist, democratic and “anti-Fascist”) and the RIGHT (labeled reactionary, conservative, religious,  “anti-democratic” and Fascist”) yet as I pointed out in my article “Franco, Fascism and the Falange; Not One and the Same Thing” (NER  September, 2008 ) the Falange  appealed directly to the working class and did not see eye to eye with Franco on many issues. The tension between them eventually led to a wholesale purge of the Falange from Franco’s post civil war government and a plot to assassinate Franco. The “revolutionary” songs of the Falange match those of the “Popular Front” for glorifying the common people and contempt for the aristocracy and much of bourgeois society.
Much of Mussolini’s social and economic programs and even those of the Nazis had points in common on behalf of the “common man” and promised full employment as goals of the highest priority. In 1934, the Nazi Party’s official newspaper, Volkische Beobachter, praised Roosevelt as “a warmhearted leader of the people with a profound understanding of social needs” and Hitler spoke to American ambassador William Dodd exclaiming that “these moral demands which the President (Roosevelt) places before every individual citizen of the United States are also the quintessence of the German state philosophy, which finds its expression in the slogan ‘The Public Weal Transcends the Interest of the Individual” (see Goldberg’s Liberal Fascism, especially chapters 3 and 4 on Presidents Wilson and FDR and documentation of original sources).
What is the point of recalling these quotations today? They do not, of course, demonstrate any moral equivalence or ideological sympathy between F.D.R., Hitler and Mussolini. What they confirm is the cynical use of so called “progressive” slogans or pure cant (All Power to the People!), on behalf of the “working masses” and against the “privileged classes.” Such slogans still animate those on the Left in the United States who refuse to countenance the risk of imitating European social democracies and diminish the conservative ideals that distinguish our country, its constitution (specifying what the government may NOT do), laws, decentralized federal system, states rights, guarantees for private property and safeguards for the individual.
The 1935 political satire and popular novel “It Can’t Happen Here” by novelist Sinclair Lewis chronicles the fictional rise of “Buzz Windrip” who runs as a populist Democrat in the image of FDR and Huey Long (“Everyman a King”) reveals that championing the poor and unemployed against the privileged is the surest way to win power and then justify the elimination of the cumbersome restraints like the Supreme Court, Electoral College and the Constitution.

In American political discourse, “Fascist!”  is nevertheless, the ultimate epithet bandied about and frequently hung around the neck of those who value constitutional safeguards, parliamentary traditions, have deep seated religious convictions or believe in a strong military stance to defend the United States or resolutely oppose Communism.  
The story of how Hitler’s only major diplomatic defeat prior to World War II was handed to him by the close alliance between two fascist leaders, Mussolini and Dollfuss sheds further support for Goldberg’s central thesis. When the Austro-Hungarian Empire was shattered as a result of World War I and the Versailles Peace Treaty, most observers believed that the tiny new Austrian Republic could hardly survive. With the establishment of Austrian independence in 1919, it was often referred to as “the state nobody wants” and expressly forbidden by treaty to unite with Germany.

Adolf Hitler, born in Austria, was a “stranger” in Germany. Like Napoleon, who was born in Corsica, and regarded as a rough “foreigner,” Hitler had to prove himself as a pan-German nationalist. On the very first page of Mein Kampf he proclaimed the necessity of union (Anschluss) between Germany and Austria, and immediately before and after his election as Chancellor in 1933, listed the annexation of the land of his birth as his number one priority in foreign policy.
The world economic crisis of the 1930s convinced many Austrians that the country was doomed to financial ruin unless it became part of a larger German state. Nevertheless, a minority of dedicated patriotic Austrians became aware that the nationalist mirage and siren call of a Greater Germany would only plunge Austria into another disastrous world war. Today, many people are unaware that Austria’s conservative leaders, often labeled as “clerico-fascists” in the 1930s, opposed the local Nazi attempts at a coup and more actively combated the threat of German expansionism than anywhere else in Europe, certainly more than the “liberal” democracies” that had already decided on following a policy of appeasement.
The Nazis were handed their first major political defeat by the resistance of Austrian Christian and Social Democrats, who together accounted for 77 percent of the popular vote in the national elections of 1930. Both parties stood unequivocally for national independence and against Nazi-inspired racial anti-Semitism. Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss outlawed the Austrian Nazi Party and confiscated all its assets in June 1933. Dollfuss admired Mussolini, and imitated various aspects of the Italian fascist system yet both these fascist leaders were those who initially adamantly refused to be bullied by Hitler and the Nazis.

It was Mussolini who most clearly recognized the value of Austrian independence, its important economic and cultural links with the Mediterranean and Catholic Church, and correctly predicted that “Austria is politically essential to the preservation of Europe. The day Austria perishes and is swallowed up by Germany, the break-up of Europe begins. Austria must survive culturally too, because it is a bastion of Mediterranean culture.”
By this, he meant that Austria’s Catholic traditions and strong links with the Vatican had made it a more humanized Germanic state than the Prussian militarist heritage which Hitler appealed to in fomenting his nationalist doctrines. Mussolini originally considered Nazi racism and anti-Semitism both repugnant and primitive. He had a Jewish mistress (Margherita Sarfatti) who for thirteen years guided him both intellectually and in foreign affairs urging a pro-British line until early 1933. She had been one of the planners of the “march on Rome” that enabled Mussolini to gain power and was even nicknamed by many observers as “The uncrowned Queen of Italy.” Italian Jews were equal members of the Fascist Party.  Sarfatti’s son Roberto died in action in World War I, only eighteen years old in 1918 and posthumously awarded Italy’s highest decoration for valor.

Both Mussolini and his Foreign Minister Ciano made numerous mentions in their diaries of opposition to introducing anti-Semitic laws in Italy until pressed in July 1938 under extreme pressure to do so from Hitler as part of the price of an alliance of the two Axis powers. The view that “Right-wing” or conservative or nationalist parties is necessarily anti-Semitic or that the liberal Left is necessarily philo-Semitic (or at least anti-anti-Semitic) is contradicted by the experience of Italy, several other European nations, and in the history of the various “populist” and anti-Semitic movements in the United States but persists as a self-evident, unchallenged cardinal point in the arguments of many American (especially Jewish) liberals. 

According to their unchallenged conventional wisdom, only the Left can oppose anti-Semitism. If confronted with facts that two Axis “Right-Wing” allies of the Germans, Finnish Field Marshall Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim and Bulgarian King Boris III successfully and bravely resisted Nazi pressure to deport or humiliate the Jewish citizens of their countries or that the Danish resistance against the Nazis was initiated by the “Far Right” Dansk Samling (Danish Unity) political party (also labeled as “Fascist”), they are stunned.   
Extremist elements on the political Left among the Austrian socialists (Social Democrat Party) organized into their own armed militia (The Schutzbund) threatening armed insurrection in Vienna’s working class housing projects in February 1934. Dollfuss put down the revolt at the cost of critically weakening the ability of Austrians to later stand united against the Nazis.  Stalin welcomed the orphans of those Austrian workers in the Shchutzbund who had been killed in the insurrection and Pravda described Dollfuss and his government as “Christian Fascists.”
Although Dollfuss later successfully employed Austrian troops against militant Nazis in a putsch attempt (July 1934) the country eventually lost the promise of Italian support as a result of the policies of the British and French, who also felt it necessary to condemn Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 and expel it from the League of Nations while doing nothing to stop German aggression and expansionism.
Dollfuss was killed in the attempted Nazi putsch while his wife was a guest of the Italian dictator, an event that horrified Mussolini. Italian troops were rushed to the border and full support given to the government by the Heimwehr, a national militia more reliable than the tiny Austrian army and led by the patriotic Prince Starhemberg. The Nazis were crushed and Hitler totally abandoned his proclaimed “Anschluss” policy for a time until Austrian resistance and Italian backing could be worn down or outmaneuvered.

In September 1934, a joint British-French-Italian declaration “guaranteed” the independence and integrity of Austria. This was followed by a meeting at the Italian resort city of Stresa in April 1935, condemning any violation of the Versailles Treaty and postwar disarmament agreements. The Christian Democrats who originally had inherited an anti-Semitic policy from the days of the old Austrian Empire evolved under Dollfuss to reject the Nazis’ open racism, street violence, hostility towards the Catholic Church and attempts to subvert Austria’s independence.
Both Nazis and the Communists were outlawed and the Christian Democrats and other conservative groups were transformed into the “Fatherland Front” pledged to Austria’s continued independence and rejection of Anschluss. For the next four years, Dolfuss’s successor, Kurt von Schuschnigg, withstood Hitler’s personal appeals and threats and defended the humanistic strain that Austria had long contributed to German culture. Schuschnigg was an arch-conservative, devout Catholic with a Jesuit education and had always favored a restoration of the Hapsburg dynasty.
His proposal for a referendum in February or March, 1938 was a last hour attempt to demonstrate the will of the Austrian people to defend their national independence was frustrated by German threats, street violence, sabotage and invasion. Schuschnigg was forced to resign and was sent to prison by the Nazis for 17 months where he was tortured and tormented. After losing 85 pounds, he was subsequently sent to the Dachau and Sachsenhausen concentration camps. He was rescued and liberated by American troops on May 5, 1945, After World War II, he emigrated to the United States where he taught political science at Saint Louis University from 1948 to 1967 and wrote “Austrian Requiem.”
When Austria finally fell victim to extreme pan-German nationalism, the country had been weakened internally. The events of 1938 contributed to the mistaken view that union with Germany had been “inevitable,” and minimized the willpower, pride and patriotism of many Austrians and the prospects of it ever regaining its independence.

Schuschnigg inevitably caved in with the growth of Hitler’s power and influence following Munich, the willingness of the British and the French to continue to appease German power and Mussolini’s about-face. The Italian dictator abandoned what principles he had and accepted Austria’s demise when assured by Hitler that the Nazis would not use their pan-German nationalism to demand a revision of the Austrian-Italian border. Hitler willingly abandoned the cause of the German speaking minority in the South Tyrol region to cement the Axis alliance with his Italian co-part. 
Many Austrians left their homeland rather than submit to the new Nazi regime following incorporation of their homeland in Germany. The country, like Germany, was conquered and divided into four zones of occupation by the victorious Allied powers in 1945. Furthermore, the Soviets insisted on severe reparations mostly in the form of forced deliveries of oil. In addition, the “Iron Curtain” reinforced imposed limitations on free trade with Austria’s Eastern neighbors under Soviet domination.

Austrian neutrality was thus insured in advance of the final victory over Nazi Germany. This ruled out any plans to include Austria in NATO. In private, some military strategists argued that this “neutral wedge” of Austria and Switzerland gave the Russians a tactical advantage in the heart of Europe. (West Germany and Italy became members of NATO and were hindered in the movements of NATO troops by this geographical situation).

How then has Austria managed since 1955 when it regained full sovereignty to develop its economy so successfully? There is no doubt that today its level of prosperity and low unemployment level considerably exceed that of the much larger reunited German state. The secret does not lie in raw material resources or economic aid from abroad. It is due to the hard work, devotion and patriotism of Austrians who made up their minds to support a stable democratic society with full human rights for all citizens and unanimous support for permanent neutrality.
Without the temptation to look abroad for either economic assistance or the old pan-German myths of extreme nationalism, Austria has thrived. The Austrians like the Swiss, are not German in national feeling and have centuries of different history and traditions. Nazi demands to swallow up first the Saar territory, remilitarize the Rhineland and then annex Austria and the Czech Sudetenland won support from naïve democrats calling themselves “liberals” in the West who could not resist the arguments of “self-determination.”
The same is true today with regard to Arab (camouflaged as “Palestinian”) demands on Israel for a settlement that would recognize what they mistakenly call the “Right of self-determination.” Like Austria and Czechoslovakia what is at stake for Israel today is not peripheral border adjustments but its strategic weakening, demographic implosion and combined Muslim (substitute German in 1938) world pressure to destroy it. 
“Self-determination” is not at stake for the Palestinians, Jordanians, or many Israeli Arabs today. Their Arab identity is ensured. Claims to guarantee their “Palestinian identity” never existed under the rule of foreign Arab regimes, and were only raised to counter Jewish rights. It certainly was not at stake for the Germans of the Saar territory or the Sudeten Germans who never identified their homeland as a true heimat to be shared with their Czech neighbors but only wished their incorporation in the Reich in order to undermine and eliminate the Czech state. The laws and regional distinctiveness of these territories and Austria were eliminated immediately and German law proclaimed. The same excuse of self-determination was also used by Hitler to claim Danzig from Poland. Like the other territories and “Palestine” today, the goal was not a “more just” solution for Germans but the undermining and eventual destruction of a rival state (Poland then, Israel today). 
The results of Austria regaining its independence have turned things around. Instead of being regarded by most Germans as our “poor Austrian cousins,” many Austrians have taken to calling themselves “the best Germany,” a slogan that has aroused some resentment. What the Austrian model shows is that “small” is not necessarily bad. The human factors that make a country strong and its citizens patriotic and willing to work hard in a common sense of unity, favor progress. The country has benefited from being ethnically homogeneous and proud of the reassertion of its national identity, Catholic traditions and historical heritage.

Great Britain, the U.S.S.R., and the United States agreed in the Joint Four-Nation Declaration on November 1, 1943, “Austria, the first country to fall victim to Hitlerite aggression, shall be liberated from German domination.” This document signified that Austria was not to be considered a defeated enemy country but an occupied one. The United States even issued a special postage stamp in 1943 with a prominent display of the Austrian flag. Had Britain and France tried to appease Mussolini rather than Hitler, the course of history would have been entirely different.
From the standpoint of today’s hindsight, what is indisputable is that Italy and Austria, authoritative dictatorships of the conservative “Right,” nevertheless were the first to defend their interests against Hitler and the Nazis aggressive designs on Europe.


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Norman Berdichevsky contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all his contributions, on which comments are welcome.  


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