The Austrian statesman Engelbert Dollfuss (1892-1934) served as chancellor of Austria from 1932 to 1934.
Engelbert Dollfuss was born on Oct. 4, 1892, near Texing, Lower Austria. Trained in law at the University of Vienna and in economics at the University of Berlin, he served as an officer in World War I. After the war he was secretary of the Peasant's Association of Lower Austria and became director of the Lower Austrian Chamber of Agriculture in 1927. In 1930 he was appointed president of the Austrian Federal Railways system because of his association with the Christian Socialist party, and in 1931 he was named minister of agriculture and forests.
On May 20, 1932, Dollfuss became chancellor of Austria, although his government possessed only a one-vote majority in the Nationalrat (lower house of Parliament) and a minority in the Bundesrat (upper house). To strengthen Austria's financial position, Dollfuss obtained a loan of £9 million sterling from the League of Nations in return for an agreement not to enter a customs union with Germany for 20 years, a stipulation which angered pan-German, Nationalist, and Socialist elements in Austria.
Subject to bitter attacks from all sides, Dollfuss suspended Parliament when its three presidents resigned on March 4, 1933, and thereafter ruled by decree. In May he founded the Vaterländische Front to mobilize support for his rule, and it was with this organization that the notorious Heimwehr merged in 1934. The latter was a defense force formed after World War I; it later espoused Italian Fascist principles, became a political party in 1930, and perpetrated acts of terror and violence against its opponents.
To bolster his foreign position and prevent Austria from uniting with Nazi Germany, Dollfuss met Mussolini at Riccione in August 1933 and received a guarantee of Austrian independence at the cost of abolishing all political parties and revising the Austrian constitution along Fascist-corporatist lines. On the prompting of Mussolini, he utilized an outbreak of rioting by leftist elements in February 1934 to destroy the Social Democratic party organization, thus removing Austria's most strongly anti-Nazi force from the scene.
Announcing his wish to order the state according to the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno of Pope Pius XI, Dollfuss proclaimed a new constitution on May 1, 1934, providing for state organization through professional corporations like those in Fascist Italy. The opposition of German and Austrian Nazis to his government only increased, however, as he evidenced his determination to oppose the surrender of Austrian independence. Finally, during an abortive Nazi putsch on July 25, 1934, Nazi agents entered the Chancellery in Vienna and during their brief occupation of the building assassinated Dollfuss.
While Dollfuss's dogged determination to maintain the integrity of Austria made him a martyr, the weakness of his political position coupled with that of his small state forced him to implement the very authoritarian principles antithetical to the Christian ideals articulated in his 1934 constitution and to the continued independence of Austria.
Further Reading on Engelbert Dollfuss
There is not much information on Dollfuss in English. Perhaps the most useful work is Paul R. Sweet, "Mussolini and Dollfuss: An Episode in Fascist Diplomacy," in Julius Braunthal, The Tragedy of Austria (1948).
Additional Biography Sources
Brook-Shepherd, Gordon, Dollfuss, Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1978, 1961.