Federal State of Austria
|Federal State of Austria|
Sei gesegnet ohne Ende
"Be Blessed Without End"
The Federal State of Austria in 1938.
|Government||Austrofascist single-party state|
|-||1934||Ernst Starhemberg (acting)|
|Historical era||Interwar period|
|-||Constitution adopted||1 May 1934|
|-||Assassination of Dollfuß||25 July 1934|
|-||Berchtesgaden Agreement||12 February 1938|
|-||Wehrmacht invasion||12 March 1938|
|-||German annexation||13 March 1938|
Part of a series on the
|History of Austria|
The Federal State of Austria (Austrian German: Bundesstaat Österreich ; colloquially known as the Ständestaat, "Corporate State") refers to Austria between 1934 and 1938 while it was a single-party state led by the clerico-fascist Fatherland's Front. The Ständestaat concept, derived from the notion of Stände ("estates" or "corporations"), was propaganda advocated by leading politicians such as Engelbert Dollfuß and Kurt Schuschnigg. The result was an authoritarian government of an ultraconservative Catholic character.
In the 1890s, the founding members of the conservative-clerical Christian Social Party (CS) like Karl von Vogelsang and the Vienna mayor Karl Lueger had already developed anti-liberal views, though primarily from an economic perspective considering the pauperization of the proletariat and the lower middle class. Strongly referring to the doctrine of Catholic social teaching, the CS agitated against the Austrian labour movement led by the Social Democrats. The CS also spread antisemitic prejudices, albeit not to a level of virulence comparable to the Nazis.
During the Great Depression in the First Austrian Republic of the early 1930s, the CS on the basis of the Quadragesimo anno encyclical issued by Pope Pius XI in 1931 pursued the idea of overcoming the ongoing class struggle by the implementation of a corporative form of government modelled on Italian fascism. The CS politician Engelbert Dollfuß, appointed Chancellor of Austria in 1932, on 4 March 1933 took the opportunity of the resignation of Social Democrat Karl Renner as president of the Austrian Nationalrat, after irregularities occurred during a voting process. Dollfuß called the incident a "self-elimination" (Selbstausschaltung) of the parliament and had the following meeting on March 15 defeated by the forces of the Vienna police department. His party fellow President Wilhelm Miklas with regard to Hitler's victory in the German elections of 5 March 1933 did not take any action to restore democracy.
Chancellor Dollfuß then governed by emergency measures, including the ban of the Communist Party on 26 May 1933, the Social Democratic Republikanischer Schutzbund paramilitary organization on May 30, and the Austrian branch of the Nazi Party on June 19. Instead on 20 May 1933 he had established the Fatherland's Front as a fascist unity party of "an autonomous, Christian, German, corporative Federal State of Austria". On 12 February 1934 the government's attempts to enforce the ban of the Schutzbund at the Hotel Schiff in Linz sparked the Austrian Civil War. The revolt was suppressed with support by the Bundesheer and right-wing Heimwehr troops under Ernst Rüdiger Starhemberg, ending with the ban of the Social Democratic Party and the trade unions. The way into dictatorship was completed with a new and severely authoritarian May constitution implemented on 1 May 1934.
Dollfuß continued to rule by emergency measures until his assassination during the Nazi July Putsch on 25 July 1934. Although the coup initially had the encouragement of Hitler, it was quickly suppressed and his education minister, Kurt Schuschnigg, succeeded him. Hitler officially denied any involvement in the coup d'état, nevertheless he continued to destabilize the Austrian government system by secretly supporting Nazi sympathizers like Arthur Seyss-Inquart and Edmund Glaise-Horstenau. In turn Austria under Schuschnigg sought the backing by its southern neighbour, the fascist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Tables turned after the Second Italo-Abyssinian War in 1935/36, when Mussolini, internationally isolated, approached Hitler. Though Schuschnigg tried to improve relations with Nazi Germany by amnestying several Austrian Nazis and accepting them in the Fatherland's Front, he had no chance to prevail against the "axis" of Berlin and Rome proclaimed by Mussolini on 1 November 1936.
According to the Hossbach Memorandum, Hitler in November 1937 declared his plans for an Austrian campaign in a meeting with Wehrmacht commanders. Under the mediation of the German ambassador Franz von Papen, Schuschnigg on 12 February 1938 traveled to Hitler's Berghof residence in Berchtesgaden, only to be confronted with an ultimatum to readmit the Nazi Party and to appoint Seyss-Inquart and Glaise-Horstenau ministers of the Austrian cabinet. Schuschnigg, impressed by the presence of OKW chief General Wilhelm Keitel, gave in and on February 16, Seyss-Inquart became head of the strategically important Austrian interior ministry.
After the British ambassador to Berlin, Nevile Henderson on 3 March 1938 had stated that the German claims to Austria were justified, Schuschnigg started a last attempt to retain Austrian autonomy by scheduling a nationwide referendum on March 13. Hitler reacted with the mobilization of Wehrmacht troops at the Austrian border and demanded the appointment of Seyss-Inquart as Austrian chancellor. On March 11, Austrian Nazis stormed the Federal Chancellery and forced Schuschnigg to resign. Seyss-Inquart was sworn in as his successor by President Wilhelm Miklas and the next day Wehrmacht troops crossed the border meeting no resistance. On March 13, Seyss-Inquart formally decreed the Anschluss to Nazi Germany, though President Miklas avoided signing the law by resigning immediately. Two days later in his speech at the Vienna Heldenplatz, Hitler proclaimed the "accession of my homeland to the German Reich".