By Gabriel Kuhn
I am not a big fan of anniversaries. What difference does it make whether something happened 99 or 100 years ago? Anniversaries also tend to overwhelm us with books, films, and debates that are as quickly forgotten as they appeared. Yet, sometimes, anniversaries can provide the spark needed to unearth stories that we need to hear.
The book Geschichte der F.R.S.I.: Die Föderation Revolutionärer Sozialisten “Internationale” und die österreichische Revolution 1918/19 is one such example. Authored by Peter Haumer, it is one of many publications that recall the revolutionary situation in Central and Western Europe after the end of World War I. It stands out, however, by telling a story that has not been told before: the “Federation of Revolutionary Socialists” was a blend of “council communists, left radicals, syndicalists, and anarchists”, who, during the first half of 1919, formed the strongest political force in Austria left of the social democrats. Only by the summer of that year was the Communist Party, supported by Russian cadres, able to outmaneuver and, eventually, absorb the F.R.S.I. This, essentially, put an end to revolutionary hopes in the country. The Communist Party never became a major political factor, while the Austromarxist leaders of the Social Democratic Party trusted the parliamentary system – a fatal error, as documented in the PM Press book Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety.
What might seem like an insignificant historical episode in a small country was of relevance far beyond Austria’s borders. With the Bolsheviks desperately awaiting communist revolutions in Central and Western Europe to strengthen their own, and with council republics proclaimed in both Hungary and Bavaria, the developments in Austria were of major importance in the struggle for a broad communist front in the heart of the continent.
Peter Haumer is no academic. He has been trained as an organ builder and spends his time in workshops assisting people with disabilities. This has been a blessing for his book. It is free from academic jargon and tedious chapters on methodology and the like. It is simply a great, unpretentious read that focuses on what really matters: the story of visionary men and women determined to use a political, social, and economic crisis to establish a just society of equals. It would make a great addition to the PM Press release All Power to the Councils!, which chronicles the exploits of council communists, left radicals, syndicalists, and anarchists in the German Revolution of 1918-1919. It is a shame that the circles of people interested in such matters are so small that an English translation is unlikely. A few months ago, I already bemoaned this fact in connection with the release of Vor dem Ausnahmegericht, a documentation of the legal proceedings against Friedrich Adler, the prominent social democrat who shot and killed the Austrian minister-president Karl Graf Stürgkh in October 1916. Well. This says a lot about the realities we are living in but nothing about the quality of the books in question. Haumer’s work is, in every respect, outstanding.