Hans Hautmann’s 1987 volume History of the Austrian Council Movement 1918-24 - Toledo Translation Fund

Hans Hautmann’s 1987 volume History of the Austrian Council Movement 1918-24

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In Austria in 1918-24, the workers’ and soldiers’ councils were the most important grassroots movement and mass organisation. Embodying the socialist aspirations of the Austrian working class during the revolutionary upheaval, the council movement, with its direct-democratic principles of decisionmaking, also represented an alternative to the parliamentary representative system.

Hans Hautmann’s 1987 volume History of the Austrian Council Movement 1918-24 (Geschichte der Rätebewegung in Österreich 1918-1924) offers a richly detailed account of the movement, proving that the councils largely emerged in a spontaneous fashion and were not simply copies of the achievements in Soviet Russia. Although scarcely known or examined in the Anglophone world, the Austrian councils lasted much longer than those in Germany, about which so much has been written.

Hautmann’s study is no starry-eyed eulogy to the supposedly redemptive powers of the council form, however, nor is the author blinded by promises of a grassroots democracy above party lines. Rather, in a thoroughly dialectical fashion, the Marxist historian explores the interplay of forces intersecting and colliding in these Austrian soviets: revolutionary and reformist, grassroots and labour-bureaucratic, advanced and backward. While acknowledging the democratic potential of the councils, he takes care to examine the contradictions between form and content.

As Hautmann meticulously presents, the councils were a contradictory movement: democratic at the base and often radical, yet under the ideological domination of the reformist Social-Democratic Workers' Party; proletarian and anti-bourgeois, yet ultimately serving as an appendage to the SDAP's strategy of peaceful class collaboration; pressing for maximum participation in the administration of public life, yet never attempting to replace the bourgeois state apparatus even when the possibility was there.

While the book is a standard work in Germany and in Austria, much of the detail contained in its pages is hitherto uncharted territory in the English-speaking world. For all its critical and immaculately scientific approach, History of the Austrian Council Movement 1918–24 is also a vivid depiction of Austrian society in these years, which boasted a rich proletarian culture unequaled in the capitalist world. In addition, some chapters – such as one describing the deteriorating conditions of life and militarisation of labour during World War I - offer a picture of capitalism that is as captivating as it is grim, nearly matching the narrative power of the last part of Marx’s Capital.

Hautmann's book is an invaluable contribution to the history of the European working class movement that always focuses on the driving forces behind political developments. Historical-materialist in the best sense, it also contributes to the reader's understanding of what is required for a revolutionary transformation of society and what traps to avoid.

The Zukunftsfonds der Republik Österreich foundation has kindly agreed to contribute 6,000 EUR towards this project and this project is also supported by Université of Rouen and Prof. of Contemporary History Jean-Numa Ducange, historian of European workers movement who has a great interest in the Austrian workers’ movement. But the total costs for translating this monumental tome into English can only be covered with your help. As we raise funds to facilitate its translation, we will publish translated chapters online, step by step, before the full work is made available in book form. To be part of this project, please contribute as generously as you can while sharing our appeal in your networks.

See here for an excellent interview with the late Hans Hautmann


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Table of Contents


First Chapter: The Genesis of the Council Movement

1.    The deteriorating material conditions of the working class during World War I.

(Economic and social effects of the outbreak of war – The ‘section 14 regime’ – Development of production – The nutrition problem – Prices, wages, labour time, industrial accidents, national health, the condition of working women and underage workers – Despotism in the factories – Strikes – Appeasement operations by the state)

2.    The conflict between the Social-Democratic leadership and the working masses.

(The stance of the working class and the party at the outbreak of the war – The crisis of the organisation – Party-internal disputes – The demise of the Stürgkh regime – Relaxation of government in the political sphere – The party’s shift to social-pacifist and centrist positions – The party congress of 1917 – The last weeks before the January strike)

3.    Propagation of the council idea by the Left Radicals and the example of the Russian soviets.

(The Left-Radical movement until spring 1917 – Revolutionary upturn – The conference of St Egyden – Long-distance effects from Russia – The Left Radicals on the eve of the January strike

Second Chapter: The January 1918 Strike and the Emergence of Councils

1.    The onset of the strike in the south Vienna basin.

2.    The reaction of the party leadership. Spread of the strike to Vienna.

3.    The formation of the workers’ council in Vienna.

4.    Negotiations with the government. Further spread of the strike.

5.    Discussions in the workers’ council from 19-20 January 1918.

6.    The decision to call off the strike.

7.    The end of the January strike.

8.    The institutionalisation of the workers’ council.


1.    Prisoners-of-war during the October Revolution.

2.    The activities of the prisoner-of-war organisations.

3.    Individual examples: Otto Bauer, Alexander Täubler, Gustav Duda, Johann Koplenig, Karl Tomann, Gilbert Melcher, Heinrich Brodnig and others.

4.    The Austro-Hungarian Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies in Soviet Russia.

Third Chapter: The Workers’ Councils in the Last Months of the War

1.    The Lower Austrian regional party congress.

2.    The first organisational statute.

3.    The aftershocks of the January strike.

4.    Plans for a ‘central workers’ council’.

5.    The June strike and the Vienna workers’ council.

6.    Stagnation of the council movement in summer and autumn 1918.


First Chapter: Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in the November revolution (November 1918 to March 1919)

1.    The emergence of soldiers’ councils.

2.    The stagnation of the Vienna workers’ council.

3.    Friedrich Adler and the council movement.

4.    Activities of the soldiers’ councils. Developments in the regions.

5.    The council movement in Upper Austria.

6.    The council movement in other regions. Aggravation of the domestic political situation in February 1919.

7.    The initiative of the Linz workers’ council for the regeneration of the council movement.

Second Chapter: Councils in the social-revolutionary situation of spring 1919

  1. Organisational reform.

  2. (The debates and resolutions at the first national congress of German-Austrian workers’ councils – The new organisational statute – The electoral rules – the national executive committee)

2.    Political decisions.

(The workers’ council and Soviet Hungary – The railway workers’ strike – the Maundy Thursday affair – Countermeasures by the Social-Democratic party – the workers’ council and the 15 June 1919

3.    The workers’ council elections of spring 1919.

4.    The workers’ councils in the regions.

5.    The soldiers’ councils in spring 1919.

Third Chapter: The Council Movement at the Peak of its Power (summer 1919)

1.    The second national congress of German-Austrian workers’ councils.

2.    The solidarity action of 21 July 1919.

3.    The sphere of activity of the workers’ council.

4.    Assaults.

Fourth Chapter: Anti-Council Movements

1.    The stance of the bourgeois parties on the council system.

2.    The citizens’ and guilds’ council.

3.    On the peasant council question.

Fifth Chapter: The Onset of the Crisis of the Council Movement in Autumn 1919

1.    The workers’ council and the end of Soviet Hungary.

2.    The bourgeois camp’s toughening stance towards the working class

(The antisemitic riots of September and October 1919 – The ‘criminal record’ of the workers’ council published by the Vienna police directorate).

3.    The question of coalitions.

(The coalition debate in the Vienna district workers’ council – The coalition programme draft of 17 October 1919 and the section about council organisations contained therein).

4.    The beginnings of the Social-Democratic Working Group of Revolutionary Workers’ Councils (SARA).

5.    The demand for a property levy.

6.    The procedural rules of the Vienna district workers' council and the individual ward workers' councils.

7.    The new election of workers’ councils in November 1919.

Sixth Chapter: The Left Turn of the Workers’ Council and the Disintegration of the Coalition (Spring 1920)

1.    The strike for a revival of the ‘workers’ union’.

2.    Organisational and political questions.

3.    Workers’ council and Kapp Putsch.

4.    The demise of the soldiers’ council movement.

5.    The workers’ councils in the provinces.

6.    The Vienna district council in action.

7.    The controversy around the mass demonstration of 10 May 1920.

8.    The national congress of workers’ councils (first meeting of national workers’ council).

(the political debate – the resolution of the left – a change in the organisational status – the resolutions of the third national congress und new election of the leadership).

9.    The demise of the coalition and its consequences for the council movement.


First Chapter: On Council Theory in Austria

1.    Social-Democratic council theories.

(Max Adler’s council conception – The writings of Alexander Täubler – Other council theories: Max Ellenbaum (Wilhelm Ellebogen), Oscar Pollak, Marianne Pollak, Karl Renner, Robert Danneberg, Hans Dechant, Richard Wagner – Council conceptions in the SARA – Otto Bauer’s response – Hans Kelsen’s critique of council democracy).

2.    The Communist conception of councils.

(The Comintern’s programmatic view of councils – The position of the Communist Party of German-Austria – The writings of Paul Friedländer – The ‘Guidelines for the Tactics of the Communist Party of German-Austria’ – The Comintern on the Austrian Workers’ Councils – The decisions of the fourth party congress).

3.    The council conception of the ‘Federation of Revolutionary Socialists/International’ (FRSI). (Julius Dickmann, theorist of the FRSI)

4.    Statements by the anarchists.

Second Chapter: The Workers’ Council in the Final Months of the Austrian Revolution (Summer and Autumn 1920)

1.    The boycott campaign against Hungary and Poland.

2.    The disintegration of SARA.

3.    Rarefaction of workers’ council activities

4.    The new election of workers’ councils in autumn 1920.

Third Chapter: The Years 1921–24

1.    The second meeting of the national workers’ council (Fourth congress of workers’ councils)

2.    The workers’ councils’ relief campaign for the starving of Soviet Russia.

3.    The resignation of the Communists.

4.    The last workers’ council election in summer 1922.

5.    Co-option by the Republikanischer Schutzbund.

6.    The decision at the Salzburg party congress to dissolve the workers’ councils.




Directory of the Provincial, County, District and Local Workers' Councils in Austria.

Chronological table on the history of the council movement in Austria.

Sources and literature.