The new republic 

​With the dissolution of the Austro-Hungary empire, there were short-lived plans to unite Austria and German together to unite all German speaking people in Europe. This idea was quickly vetoed by the victorious Allied powers though, as unsurprisingly, they were wary of a powerful, German speaking entity being created so soon after the end of the war.

The Republic of Austria was instead born in 1919, losing the territories of the County of Tyrol to Italy and Bohemia and Moravia to newly formed Czechoslovakia, but gaining most of the German speaking the territories of Hungary, becoming the new state of Burgenland.

This meant that Austria was the only defeated power that actually gained territory after the war.

Austrian Republic stamp showing Wilhelm Miklas who was President of Austria from 1928 until the Anschluss in 1938

Timeline of 1920's Austria

The Christian Social Party

​During the 1920’s the Austrian political scene was notable for both its instability and violence. The two main political parties were the Christian Social Party on the right – (which despite previously having suffered fluctuating fortunes, became the dominant party and took power in 1920). It had close links to the Catholic Church, was supported by Conservative Catholics in mainly rural areas and looked to form alliances with wealthy industrialists.

Social Democratic Worker’s Party

​On the left of the political spectrum was the Social Democratic Worker’s Party of Austria, wisely abbreviated to the SDAPÖ. It could trace its formation back to 1898 and had always followed a left-wing agenda – known as ‘Austromarxism’. Much of its support was in the Austrian capital Vienna (or ‘Red Vienna’ as it was nicknamed) and had formed the strongest voting block during the previous decade.

The Grand Coalition

The two parties had managed to form a ‘grand coalition’ from 1918 – 1920, working together and enacting progressive socio-economic policies and legislation – the vote for women was introduced during this period.

However, this partnership collapsed in 1920, and this point onwards, relations between the two parties and their supporters soured and became increasingly violent. This resulted in a series of unstable governments, which – as demonstrated by a similar situation in the Weimar Republic in Germany, - is rarely beneficial for the country.

The town of Innsbruck, Austria in 1932.

The Paramilitaries

​Due to this increase in hostility between the two political factions, paramilitary forces were created on both sides. The right-wing, nationalist Heimwehr (Home Resistance) were formed in 1920 and the opposing left-wing, Socialist Republikanischer Schutzbund in 1923. And like Germany, these two opposing sides had a series of violent confrontations and clashes.

Most notable was the Battle of Exelberg on 2 April 1923, which saw 300 Nationalists and 90 Socialists clash in Vienna. Tragically, a further clash on 30 January 1927 led to the death of a man and child. When the alleged perpetrators of this incident were found innocent, it led to further violence. In July of 1927, 89 protesters were killed by Austrian police.

This constant violence continued until the early 1930’s.

Republikanischer Schutzbund men marching in 1930.


​In 1932, Christian Social Party politician Engelbert Dollfuss, was appointed Chancellor of Austria. He governed by emergency decree, banning the Communist Party, the Social Democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund paramilitary organization, and the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party. He instead established the Fatherland's Front as a unity party of "an autonomous, Christian, German, corporative Federal State of Austria".

The Austrian Civil War broke out shortly afterwards in response to his actions, mainly involving skirmishes between Fascist and Socialist forces. This was supressed with support of the military and right-wing Heimwehr paramilitaries and resulted in the ban of the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions. This now essentially made Austria a dictatorship.

Fatherland Front poster from the 1930's.

July Putsch

In July 1934, shortly after the Civil War, Austrian Nazis – emboldened by Hitler becoming Chancellor in neighbouring Germany - attacked the Chancellery in Vienna. The Austrian Nazis had previously been demanding a new election, spreading propaganda, and launching bomb attacks. However, Dollfuss had responded with strict measures, including house searches and arrests. The situation was made worse when the Bavarian Minister of Justice, the Nazi lawyer Hans Frank, threatened the Austrian government with an armed intervention by Nazi forces.

Bundesheer soldiers prepare to recapture the RAVAG transmission rooms occupied by Nazi putschists during the July Putsch.

The Austrian Nazis then attempted to violently overthrow the ruling Fatherland Front government and replace it with a pro-Nazi government, with Anton Rintelen in charge. 154 SS men disguised as Bundesheer soldiers and policemen rushed the Austrian chancellery.

Despite initial success – they managed to kill Dolfuss who was shot down in cold blood - the rest of the government managed to escape. Sporadic fighting took place for the next few days across Austria, but ultimately, the unarmed Austrian Nazi’s failed in their attempt. Although Hitler had secretly supported the putsch, it had enraged the Italian leader Mussolini who demanded Hitler not get involved. A chastised Hitler was thus forced to back down and public announce that he did not support the coup, (and closed the Munich office of the Austrian Nazi party,) which ultimately resulted in the Putsch’s failure.

Historians disagree on exact casualty figures, but it appears more than 200 people died (including several who were executed) and between 500- 600 were injured. The unfortunate Dolfuss was succeeded by Kurt von Schuschnigg and the Fatherland Front continued to rule.

Engelbert Dollfuss

Kurt von Schuschnigg

The Federal State of Austria

In 1934, the Republic of Austria had evolved into the Federal State of Austria. By this point it was a one-party dictatorship, an authoritarian government influenced by Italian fascist and conservative Catholic ideas. It reduced the powers of the Federal Council, took direct control of aspects of employment law, and repressed pro-Nazi and pro-German unification protests.

From an ideological viewpoint, it harked back to the ‘glory days’ of the Habsburg Monarchy and unlike neighbouring Germany, the Catholic Church was highly influential and a prominent political force in its own right.

In contrast to other right-wing governments like Germany and Italy, the State pursued a capitalist monetary policy as well as adopting a strict austerity policy in reaction to the Great Depression. It cut spending and reduced the deficit, but interest rates remained high, and unemployment increased with only half of those receiving any benefits.

The Federal State exhibited typical oppressive policies regarding law enforcement; police raids on homes were a frequent occurrence and many arrests occurred, but it is generally considered to be considerably less harsh than the actions of the neighbouring Nazi regime in Germany. 

A timeline of Austria in the 1930's.

Hitler's plans

Despite previous setbacks, Hitler still wished to take control of Austria, bringing the German speaking people together as one country. In a meeting in with Hitler and military staff in 1938, Schuschnigg gave into to Hitler ultimatum to readmit the Nazi party in Austria and appoint Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Edmund Glaise-Horstenau, two prominent Austrian Nazis, into the Austrian cabinet.

Arthur Seyss-Inquart

Edmund Glaise-Horstenau

Seeing the writing on the wall, Schuschnigg made a final attempt to prevent Germany taking control by planning a nationwide referendum on 13 March 1938. In an attempt to curry favour, he released Social Democrat politicians from prisons and gained their support by promising to end the one-party state in Austria and allow trade unions once again.

It was too late though, Hitler, seeing his chance, mobilised his forces, stationed then at the Germany/Austrian border and demanded Seyss-Inquart be made chancellor. Two days before the referendum was due to take place, Nazi’s stormed the Chancellery and forced Schuschnigg to resign with Seyss-Inquart being sworn in, in his place.
The Anschluss had begun.