The term Austro-Marxism was probably introduced by the American socialist Louis Boudin to characterize a specific Austrian version of Marxism. Established at the turn of the twentieth century, Austro-Marxism became a powerful political and cultural movement during the Austrian First Republic (1918–1934). For analytical purposes, Gerald Mozetič (1987) distinguishes three versions of Austro-Marxism. First, there was the political Austro-Marxism put forth by political intellectuals such as Otto Bauer, Karl Renner, Rudolf Hilferding, Max Adler, and Friedrich Adler. This version represents what might be called a third way of thinking, located between (or beyond) socialist revisionism and Leninism. It was more radical than the First Socialist International as well as more democratic (or moderate) than the Bolshevist approach to Marxism. In contrast to other Marxist conceptions, Austro-Marxism was not based on Hegelian dialectics but on two rather distinctive philosophies: the materialism of natural scientist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838–1916), and the idealism and ethics of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804).
Second, there was Austro-Marxism as scholarship. Outside the universities that were dominated by conservatives, and even suffused with anti-Semitism, there were institutions offering extramural teaching and adult education at which a large number of socialist intellectuals were active in various academic disciplines, such as economics, law, sociology, history and, last but not least, the natural sciences. Their institutional and personal cooperation established interdisciplinary work and combined scholarship with political commitment and activism. A number of scholars and social scientists, such as Otto Neurath, Paul Lazarsfeld, and Marie Jahoda, worked in this particular context, which has been referred to as an “alternative institutionalization” of social sciences and cultural studies (cf. Sandner 2006).
Third, mention must also be made of Austro-Marxism as a way of life. Austrian socialism was organized into a number of political and cultural associations that claimed to establish within bourgeois society a counterculture based on socialist values and attitudes, such as solidarity, class consciousness, and the socialist reform of everyday life.
In a way, Austro-Marxism was the political theory of the socialist camp (in contrast to the Catholic-conservative and the pan-German camps), although not all Austrian socialists were Austro-Marxists. However, Austro-Marxism existed not only on a theoretical level; it was closely connected with the socialist counterculture in “Red Vienna” (the socialist-governed capital of Austria) between 1918 and 1934 (cf. Gruber 1991; Rabinbach 1983, 1985). In certain political fields, such as housing and adult education, its practitioners were able to bring about remarkable improvements in the social and cultural conditions of the working class.
Theoretical Austro-Marxism’s rather nondeterministic and undogmatic approach enabled it to broadly partake of and to absorb modern intellectual currents—including psychoanalysis and empirical sociology—and led to a wide-ranging intellectual exchange, even among nonsocialist politicians and scholars. In actual practice, both its strict parliamentary strategy and the socialist-governed Red Vienna project worked successfully for a long period. It eventually collapsed, in contrast to other socialist-oriented experiments, through no fault of its own (i.e., undemocratic practices), under the weight of the violent policies of Austro-Fascism (1934-1938) and National Socialism (1938-1945). By the end of World War II, most of Austro-Marxism’s representatives were dead, while the majority of those that emigrated did not return to Austria.
SEE ALSO Marxism; Socialism
Blum, Mark E. 1985. The Austro-Marxists, 1890-1918: A Psychobiographical Study. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Bottomore, Thomas B., and Patrick Goode, eds. 1978. Austro-Marxism. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press.
Mozetič, Gerald. 1987. Die Gesellschaftstheorie des Austromarxismus. Geistesgeschichtliche Voraussetzungen, Methodologie und soziologisches Programm. Darmstadt, Germany: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft.
Rabinbach, Anson, ed. 1985. The Austrian Socialist Experiment: Social Democracy and Austromarxism, 1918-1934. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Sandner, Günther. 2006. Engagierte Wissenschaft: Austromarxistische Kulturstudien und die Anfänge der britischen Cultural Studies. Münster, Germany: Lit Verlag.