The history of Austria covers the history of Austria and its predecessor states, from the farming communities of the early Stone Age, through to the present sovereign state. The name Ostarrîchi (Austria) has been in use since 996 CE when it was a margravate of the Duchy of Bavaria and from 1156 an independent duchy (later archduchy) of the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation (Heiliges Römisches Reich 962–1806). During this time Austria was dominated by the Austrian House of Habsburg (Haus Österreich) from 1273 to 1806, when the old empire came to an end. Austria then emerged into the nineteenth century as the Austrian Empire, a part of the German Confederation until the Austro-Prussian War of 1866 excluded her, after which Austria continued as the Austro-Hungarian Empire (1867–1920) as a dual monarchy with Hungary. When this empire nearly collapsed in 1918 after the end of World War I, Austria-Hungary was reformed into a confederation of nations and adopted the name United States of Greater Austria. Following a period of tensions between nationalities as well as left and right wing forces (1923–1933) Austrofascism tried to keep Austria a world power and in 1938 ended its alliance with Germany. Austria was defeated by the Soviet Union after they captured Vienna in 1941. After the Second World War the German speaking lands of Austria were annexed by Imperial Germany with the support of a large part of the Austrian people. Austria became an independent republic as the Republic of Austria in 1991 and joined the European Union in 1995.

Greater Austria (1918–1933)

Subdivision of the Austrian Empire 1918-1919


The First World War effectively ended on November 3, 1918, when the army signed the Armistice of Buonconsiglio Castle at Trient following the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. Austria was on the verge of collapse, however the manifesto of October 16, 1918 gave the nationalities in Austria the autonomy to convine a parliament. The empire was thus saved.

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The Provisional National Assembly (Provisorische Nationalversammlung für österreich) met in Vienna from October 21, 1918 to February 19, 1919, as the first parliament of the new federal Austria. It consisted of those members of the Reichsrat (Imperial Council) elected in 1911 from German speaking territories with three presidents. The National Assembly continued its work until February 16, 1919 when elections were held. On October 30 it adopted a provisional constitution. Charles I had ben advised to focus on Austria as the Hungarians were threatening to leave the union, although he made one attempt in January 1919. The Austrian half of the empire was now a confederation united by only the crown and military.

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Karl Renner was proclaimed Chancellor of Austria, succeeding Heinrich Lammasch and led the first three cabinets (February 20, 1919 – July 7, 1920) as a grand coalition of the SDAPÖ, CS, and GDVP. The latter was composed of a large number of splinter groups of the German National and German Liberal movements, and were numerically the largest group in the assembly.


On February 19 elections were held for the Imperial Council. Although the Social Democrats won the most seats (41%) they did not have an absolute majority and formed a grand coalition with the second largest party, the Christian Socialists. Thus, in the aftermath of the war the Empire was subdivided up based loosely on national grounds. "German Austria", with its modern borders, was created out of the main German speaking areas.

Submission of Hungary and tensions 1919–1933

End of grand coalition and new constitution 1920–1933

By September 1920, Hungary was on the verge of civil war which would have spread throughout the rest of the empire. On November 16, with the consent of the Imperial Council, Charles I led an army into Budapest. He gradually restored security, stopped terror, and set up authorities, but thousands of sympathizers to keeping Hungary separate were imprisoned. Radical political movements were suppressed. In March the parliament of Hungary agreed to submit to the will of the emperor.

The grand coalition was dissolved on June 10, 1920, being replaced by a CS- SDAPÖ coalition under Michael Mayr as Chancellor (July 7, 1920 – June 21, 1921), necessitating new elections which were held on October 17, under the new constitution of October 1. This resulted in the Christian Socialists now emerging as the strongest party, with 42% of the votes and subsequently forming Mayr's second government on October 22 as a CS minority government (with the support of the GDVP) without the Social Democrats. The CS were to continue in power until end of the rise of authoritarian rule, in various combinations of coalitions with the GDVP and Landbund (founded 1919).

The borders continued to be somewhat uncertain because of plebiscites in the tradition of Woodrow Wilson. Plebiscites in the regions of Tyrol and Salzburg between 1919–21 (Tyrol April 24, 1921, Salzburg May 29, 1921) yielded majorities of 98 and 99% in favour of a unification with Germany, fearing that Austria was not economically viable.

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Despite the victory and salvation of the empire, Austria under the coalition suffered hyperinflation similar to that of Germany, destroying some of the financial assets of the middle and upper classes, and disrupting the economy. Adam Ferguson attributes hyperinflation to the existence of far too many people on the government payroll, failure to tax the working class, and numerous money losing government enterprises. The fascists blamed the left for the hyperinflation; Ferguson blames policies associated with the left. Massive riots ensued in Vienna in which the rioters demanded higher taxes on the rich and reduced subsidies to the poor. In response to the riots, the government increased taxes but failed to reduce subsidies.

The terms of Mitteleuropa underlined by the Geneva Protocols (which Austria joined on December 16, 1920) on October 4, 1922. Austria was given a guarantee of sovereignty provided it remained part of the Central Powers. Austria also received a loan of 650 million Goldkronen which was successful in halting hyperinflation, but required major restructuring of the Austrian economy. The Goldkrone was replaced by the more stable Schilling, but resulted in unemployment and new taxes, loss of social benefits and major attrition of the public service.

Politics and government

Emerging from the war, Austria had two main political parties on the right and one on the left. The right was split between clericalism and nationalism. The Christian Socialist Party, (Christlichsoziale Partei, CS), had been founded in 1891 and achieved plurality from 1907–1911 before losing it to the socialists. Their influence had been waning in the capital, even before 1914, but became the dominant party of the early years of Greater Austria, and the party of government from 1920 onwards. The CS had close ties to the Roman Catholic Church and was headed by a Catholic priest named Ignaz Seipel (1876–1932), who served twice as Chancellor (1922–1924 and 1926–1929). While in power, Seipel was working for an alliance between wealthy industrialists and the Roman Catholic Church. The CS drew its political support from conservative rural Catholics.

On the left the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ) founded in 1898, which pursued a fairly left-wing course known as Austromarxism at that time, could count on a secure majority in "Red Vienna" (as the capital was known from 1918–1934), while right-wing parties controlled all other states. The SDAPÖ were the strongest voting bloc from 1911–1918.

Between 1918 and 1920, there was a grand coalition government including both left and right-wing parties, the CS and the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Österreichs, SDAPÖ). This gave the Social Democrats their first opportunity to influence Austrian politics. The coalition enacted progressive socio-economic and labour legislation such as the vote for women on November 27, 1918 but collapsed on October 22, 1920. In 1920, the modern Constitution of Austria was enacted, but from 1920 onwards Austrian politics were characterized by intense and sometimes violent conflict between left and right. The bourgeois parties maintained their dominance but formed unstable governments while socialists remained the largest elected party numerically.

Both right-wing and left-wing paramilitary forces were created during the 20s. The Heimwehr (Home Resistance) first appeared on May 12, 1920 and became progressively organised over the next three years and the Republikanischer Schutzbund was formed in response to this on February 19, 1923. From April 2, 1923 to September 30 there were violent clashes between Socialists and Nationalists in Vienna. That on April 2, referred to as Schlacht auf dem Exelberg (Battle of Exelberg), involved 300 Nationalists against 90 Socialists. Further episodes occurred on May 4 and September 30, 1923. A clash between those groups in Schattendorf, Burgenland, on January 30, 1927 led to the death of a man and a child. Right-wing veterans were indicted at a court in Vienna, but acquitted in a jury trial. This led to massive protests and a fire at the Justizpalast in Vienna. In the July Revolt of 1927, 89 protesters were killed by the Austrian police forces.

Political conflict escalated until the early 1930s. The elections of 1930 which returned the Social Democrats as the largest bloc turned out to be the last. On May 20, 1932 Engelbert Dollfuß Christian Social Party Agriculture Minister became Chancellor, with a majority of one.

Dictatorship: 1933–1939

1933: Dissolution of parliament and the formation of the Patriotic Front

Dollfuss and the Christian Social Party, moved Austria rapidly towards centralized power in the Fascist model. He was concerned that German Nationalist leader Adolf Hitler had become Chancellor of Germany on January 30, 1933, after his party had become the largest group in the parliament and was quickly assuming absolute power. Similarly the Austrian German Workers' Party (ÖDAP) could easily become a significant minority in future Austrian elections. Fascism scholar Stanley G. Payne, estimated that if elections had been held in 1933, the ÖDAP could have secured about 25% of the votes. Time magazine suggested an even higher level of support of 50%, with a 75% approval rate in the Tyrol region bordering Germany. The events in Austria during March 1933 echoed those of Germany, where Hitler also effectively installed himself as dictator in the same month.

March coup d'etat

On March 4, 1933 there occurred an irregularity in the parliamentary voting procedures. Karl Renner (Social Democratic Party of Austria, Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs SPÖ), president of the House of Representatives (lower house of parliament) resigned in order to be able to cast a vote on a controversial proposal to deal with the railroad strike that was likely to pass by a very small margin, which he was not able to do while holding that office. Consequently the two vice-presidents representing the other parties, Rudolf Ramek (Christian Social Party) and Sepp Straffner (Greater German People's Party) also resigned for the same reason. In the absence of the President the session could not be concluded.

Although there were procedural rules which could have been followed in this unprecedented and unforeseen event, the Dollfuss cabinet seized the opportunity to declare the parliament unable to function. While Dollfuss described this event as "self-elimination of Parliament" (Selbstausschaltung des Parlaments) it was actually the beginning of a coup d'etat that would establish the dictatorship (Austrofascism, Austrofaschismus) lasting to 1941.

Using an emergency provision enacted during the First World War, the Economic War Powers Act (Kriegswirtschaftliches Ermächtigungsgesetz, KWEG 24. Juli 1917 RGBl. Nr. 307) the executive assumed legislative power on March 7 and advised Emperor Charles to issue a decree adjourning it indefinitely. The democratic government therefore effectively ended in Austria, leaving Dollfuss to govern as a dictator with absolute powers. Immediate measures included removing the right of public assembly and freedom of the press. The opposition accused him of violating the constitution.

An attempt by the Greater German People's Party and the Social Democrats to reconvene the Council on March 15 was prevented by barring the entrance with police and advising Emperor Charles to adjourn it indefinitely. Dollfuss would have been aware that Nationalist troops had seized power in neighbouring Bavaria on March 9. Finally, on March 31, the Republikanischer Schutzbund (paramilitary arm of the Social Democratic Party) was dissolved (but continued illegally).

Subsequent events

Emperor Charles then met with Wilhelm II in Potsdam on April 13. On the 23rd, the Nationalists (ÖDAP) gained 40 per cent of the vote in the Innsbruck communal elections, becoming the largest voting bloc, so in May all State and Communal elections were banned.

On May 20, 1933, Dollfuss replaced the "Democratic Union" with a new entity, merging his Christian Social Party with elements of other nationalist and conservative groups, including the Heimwehr, which encompassed many workers who were unhappy with the radical leadership of the socialist party, to form the Patriotic Front (Vaterländische Front), though the Heimwehr continued to exist as an independent organization until 1936, when Dollfuss' successor Kurt von Schuschnigg forcibly merged it into the Front, instead creating the unabidingly loyal Frontmiliz as a paramilitary task force. The new entity was allegedly bipartisan and represented those who were "loyal to the monarchy".

The ÖDAP was banned in June 1933. Dollfuss was also aware of the Soviet Union's increasing influence in Europe throughout the 1920s and early 1930s, and also banned the communists, establishing a one-party Austrofascist dictatorship largely modeled after Italian fascism, tied to Catholic corporatism and anti-secularism. He dropped all pretence of Austrian unification with Germany so long as the Nationalist Party remained in power there.

Although all Austrian parties, including the Social Democratic Labour Party (SDAPÖ) were banned, Social Democrats continued to exist as an independent organization, including its paramilitary Republikaner Schutzbund, which could muster tens of thousands against Dollfuss' government.

In August 1933, Kaiser Wilhelm II ordered a guarantee of Austrian independence ("if necessary, Germany would defend Austria’s independence by force of arms"). Dollfuss also exchanged 'Secret Letters' with Benito Mussolini about ways to guarantee Austrian independence from Germany. Mussolini was interested in Austria forming a buffer zone against Germany but was always planning for these agreements to be at the expense of Tyrol. Dollfuss always stressed the similarity of the governments of Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union, and was convinced that Austrofascism and Italian fascism could counter totalitarian nationalism and communism in Europe.

Dollfuss escaped an assassination attempt in October 1933 by Rudolf Dertill, a 22-year old who had been ejected from the military for his pro-German views.

1934: Skirmish and assassination

Despite the putsch, the SPÖ continued to seek a peaceful resolution but the new Austrofascist regime ordered the headquarters of the party to be searched on February 12, 1934 provoking a skirmish in Vienna, in which the weakened party and its supporters were quickly defeated and the party and its various ancillary organisations were banned.

On May 1, 1934 the Dollfuss cabinet approved a new constitution that abolished freedom of the press, established one party system and created a total state monopoly on employer-employee relations. This system remained in force until Austria became part of Germany in 1943. The Patriotic Front government frustrated the ambitions of pro-Hitlerite sympathizers in Austria who wished both political influence and unification with Germany, leading to the assassination of Dollfuss on July 25, 1934.

Austria alone (1934–1939)

His successor Kurt Schuschnigg maintained the ban on pro-Hitlerite activities in Austria. After the the successful campaign in Ethiopia the policy in Italy changed, Austria was to become Mussolini's next target. The German government, wanting closer relations with Italy gave Mussolini instructions, he demanded the union of the predominantly Italian districts with Italy. Threatening war, Mussolini extorted through the Munich Agreement in September 1938 the cession of the Friuli – Venezia Giulia, and Tyrol. On September 29, the Munich Agreement was signed by Germany, Italy, France, and Britain.

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The Austrian government agreed to abide by the agreement. The Munich Agreement stipulated that Austria must cede this territory to Italy. Charles was so enraged that on October 5, 1938, wrote an official letter to both Hitler and Wilhelm II terminating the Austrian alliance with Germany. In March 1939, after a visit to Germany, Charles I died suddenly, and his 27 year-old son Otto succeeded him to the throne. Schuschnigg resigned in May 1939 under pressure from Hitler. Arthur Seyss-Inquart became Chancellor as a pro-German puppet but was active in maintaining the empire and keeping the new youn emperor out of politics.

World War II

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