Vienna Legation Files, 1945, Part 24, 801

The United States Political Adviser for Austrian Affairs (Erhardt) to the Director of the Office of European Affairs (Matthews)

Dear Doc: In a conversation here last Sunday Hal Mack21 discussed with me a scheme of his for dealing with the problem of the Renner Government. He has spoken to the Foreign Office and believes he has obtained its general approval. The scheme is to call together in Vienna as soon as possible after the entry of the Allied forces the political leaders of all the provinces, designated by the various provisional governments. These leaders would confer and bring forth names for a new national provisional government, which would take the place of the Renner Government. You will understand that what underlies this scheme is a basic opposition on Mack’s part to the Renner Government. He has been opposed to it since its formation.

A somewhat similar idea is in the mind of Dr. Gruber, Landeshauptmann of Tyrol,22 judging from a memorandum which he addressed recently to Lt. Col. Watts,23 at that time the principal Military Government officer at Innsbruck. A copy of Dr. Gruber’s memorandum is enclosed.24 It is reported that Dr. Gruber has been the object of some criticism by Kunschak and Hurdes,25 as well as by Social Democrats, because of his reactionary attitude. He is the only leader of a provincial or local government in Austria, so far as I have been informed, who has expressed opposition to the Renner regime. Furthermore, with the entry of the French into Tyrol, it is doubtful whether Gruber will maintain his present position. At least he has expressed himself to our people in writing as opposed to having the French take over.

[Page 567]

Early this month there were one or two articles in the British Army newspaper, Union Jack, and an announcement on the French-controlled Radio Vorarlberg, to the effect that the British and the U.S. were about to recognize the Renner Government. More recently, the London Daily Telegraph is reported to have published an item saying that the western powers were still “adamant” in their refusal to recognize Renner.

Obviously, the method and circumstances of the formation of the Renner Government were thoroughly objectionable, and the Communist element in it is probably appreciably larger and stronger than is warranted by its popular support. (Jean Lambert,26 who arrived in Linz from Vienna a few days ago, is reported to hold the opinion, whatever it may be worth, that if an election were held in Vienna now the Communists would get only 5% of the votes, while the Social Democrats would get 70% and the Christian Socials 25%.) On the other hand, at the present stage of things, an attempt to thrust the Renner Government aside might result in a deadlock and would probably accomplish nothing constructive in the end. Moreover, from a completely detached viewpoint, the present provincial governments of Austria have no more valid proof of popular support than the Renner Government has. Indeed the Renner regime is perhaps more representative than some of them. Lambert is said to be convinced that the regime has grown in influence in the last several weeks. Reports coming to us here indicate that it has the support of most Austrian politicians of any prominence.

In turning this whole problem over in my mind—so far as I can here in Verona before getting into Vienna and talking to people there—I have been giving some thought to an alternative plan of making two or three changes or additions to the Renner Government and then accepting it as the head of a central administrative machine and also as a provisional government until free elections can be held. The changes or additions could well be made through the procedure of a conference of the provincial leaders—a procedure which would be in line with Hal Mack’s wishes even though he might have to be persuaded concerning the result. It would be logical to design the changes in the Government so as to make it representative of the whole of Austria instead of only Vienna. I would hope to see a conference of the provincial leaders called almost immediately upon the formal establishment of the Allied Commission.

Joe Gray27 reports from Salzburg today by telephone that the political leaders there, and in Upper Austria as well, are all intensely [Page 568] anxious to establish contact with those in Vienna and elsewhere as soon as possible, and to have a voice right away in the political reconstruction of the country as a whole. He feels, in addition, that if they were invited to participate in a national conference and permitted to express their views they might be satisfied with very minor changes in the direction of broadening the Renner Government.

It is possible that at this particular moment we might find the Communist leaders also ready to make certain concessions. Lambert reported that Koplenig28 and Fischer29 had lost a certain amount of standing with the Soviets because of their failure, so far, to muster the expected popular support, notably in factory elections in which the Communists polled under ten per cent. A recent OSS report from Salzburg, if true, casts a little additional light on the position of the Communists in Vienna. The report, obtained from “a well placed Austrian” recently in Vienna, is that the anticipated replacement of Marshal Tolbukhin by Marshal Koniev should be attributed not to the official reason, viz., that Tolbukhin’s Third Ukrainian Army has by its fighting record earned early discharges, but rather to the alleged fact that Stalin was displeased with the lack of discipline among Tolbukhin’s troops in their relations with the Viennese. (Lambert, who also referred to this expected change of command, stated that Colonel Pitersky, Tolbukhin’s influential political adviser, will stay on in the same capacity with Koniev.)

Speaking of the position of the Communists in Vienna, you are doubtless familiar with the apparent paradox that regarding the nationalization of industry the Communist policy at present may be slightly to the right of the Social Democratic policy, though at present we do not know very much about the latter. It is sometimes suggested that the Communists wish to allow a capitalistic economy to continue in Austria and elsewhere for a couple of years for the purpose of discrediting it. However, this theory does not entirely jibe with recent speeches by Fischer and other Communist leaders, in which the advantages of private initiative in smaller enterprises is extolled in Rotary Club terms, while at the same time, more conventionally, nationalization is urged for large monopolistic enterprises (most of which have come into Nazi hands).

To come back to the question of the Renner Government, a prompt four party agreement on an enlarged provisional government would not only ease the political situation but would be of invaluable help [Page 569] in administering Austrian affairs. It seems to me that there is only one way to hope for tolerable functioning of the Allied Commission, with its four headed divisions, and that is for the Commission to call upon a provisional Austrian administration to submit proposals for legislation and for executive action. Agreement on necessary action could perhaps be reached in the Allied Commission on that basis without endless argumentation and delay.

What are your ideas?

With kind personal regards,

Sincerely yours,

John G. Erhardt
  1. The Political Adviser’s Office had been moved to Verona on June 6 from Caserta where it had been set up on March 28.
  2. William H. B. Mack, Political Adviser to the Commander in Chief, British Element, Allied Commission for Austria.
  3. Dr. Karl Gruber, Governor of the province of Tyrol.
  4. Lt. Col. John G. Watts.
  5. Not found in Department files.
  6. Dr. Felix Hurdes, General Secretary of the Austrian People’s Party.
  7. Jean Lambert, pseudonym of Ernst Lemberger, POEN representative in France.
  8. Cecil W. Gray.
  9. Johann Koplenig, Communist member of the Chancellor’s Political Cabinet Council.
  10. Ernst Fischer, Secretary of State for Public Enlightenment, Education, and Religious Affairs (Staatssekretär für Volksäufklarung, Unterricht und Kultusangelegenheiten).