Vienna Legation Files: Lot 54F57: Box 565: Telegram

The Minister in Austria (Erhardt) to the Secretary of State

top secret

295. From General Keyes and Erhardt. Current outbreak of social unrest in Vienna, which is mainly question of food, is considered by highest authorities of both major parties in coalition and by ourselves to have very serious political possibilities especially in view of Communist coup in Czechoslovakia. Disturbances are culmination of series of disappointments since last October, superimposed upon two and a half years of extremely low rations. There is no doubt that, though Communists are seizing every opportunity to aggravate unrest, current disturbances result from justified complaint by workers that current week’s ration was particularly bad both in quality and quantity. Complaint as to quality is well founded and is due to failure in meat deliveries from provinces and to unbalance in deliveries of US supplies which are arriving on a hand to mouth basis.

Fact that such disturbances have occurred at a time when official calory ration, at least theoretically, is being nearly fulfilled is vivid warning of what must happen after Interim Aid shipments cease to arrive. It is obvious that reduction below 1700 calories will produce serious consequences. Under perfect conditions, barring any shortfall in US supplies, assuming shipments arrive exactly as scheduled, and materially improved indigenous collections, 1700 rate can be maintained to end of May. By that date last Interim Aid food will have been consumed and country will have only its own resources which can produce about 820 calories per person. Unless food cargoes leave eastern US ports by 1 April this will be condition in Austria.

The working population, at first submissive and then for long period relatively apathetic about short rations, appear now to be reaching end [Page 1387] of their patience and mood of discouragement and despair is spreading. Trade union leaders are exercising their powerful influence to restrain workers but Communists are exploiting situation with increasing energy. Alarming events next door in Czechoslovakia and possibility of Communist successes in Italy have introduced element of insecurity and panic, and Communists, quick to seize advantage, are developing their activity to scale of general attack.

President of Trade Union Federation called last week accompanied by Chancellor Figl and said that, if food situation could be improved leaders could maintain control over workers, but if not they feared wave of stoppages and demonstrations might develop into general strike in which case leaders would lose their influence and Communists might gain the upper hand. Boehm is both able and conservative and we are convinced that his statement must be taken seriously. His appeal, endorsed by the Chancellor, is being transmitted to Washington by USFA, and we hope that it may elicit concrete reply which he can bring to his membership. We can do nothing here as USFA and Relief Mission operate on bare hand to mouth basis. Additional food supplies should therefore leave our eastern seaboard soon after March 15. [Keyes and Erhardt.]