|Intro||Austrian chancellor, politician and nobleman|
|A.K.A.||Ernst Ritter Streer von Streeruwitz|
|Birth||23 September 1874, Stříbro, Czech Republic|
|Death||19 October 1952, Vienna, Austria (aged 78 years)|
|Politics||Christian Social Party|
Ernst Streeruwitz (born Ernst Streer Ritter von Streeruwitz on September 23, 1874 in Mies; died October 19, 1952 in Vienna) was an Austrian military officer, businessman, political scientist, and politician. A member of the industrialist wing of the Christian Social Party, Streeruwitz served on the National Council from November 1923 to October 1930 and as the country's chancellor and minister of foreign affairs from May to September 1929.
Ernst Streeruwitz was born Ernst Streer Ritter von Streeruwitz on September 23, 1874, in the Bohemian city of Mies.
The child was the youngest son of Georg Adolf von Streeruwitz, a member of the Imperial Council and the city's hereditary postmaster. The Streeruwitz family, originally from Friesland, had migrated to Bohemia during the Thirty Years' War and been ennobled for outstanding bravery during the Battle of Prague. Ever since, the family had been fiercely loyal to the Austrian Empire, providing officers for the army and career civil servants for the Mies municipal and regional administrations. In the 19th century, the family found itself strongly in support of German unification. Ernst Streeruwitz' childhood was colored by the dissonance between the family's ancient loyalty to the House of Habsburg and its new-found pan-Germanism. The two positions had become difficult to reconcile after Austria's defeat in the Battle of Königgrätz forced the Habsburgs to clamp down on civic nationalism as a matter of political survival.
The youngest son and perpetually sickly, Streeruwitz was groomed for a career in diplomacy by his father. The boy, who was already bilingual in German and Czech – his mother was an ethnically Czech daughter of the city bourgeoisie – was taught French from an early age and generally received a thorough education. He completed elementary school with distinction and was able to attend the local gymnasium on a scholarship. Streeruwitz graduated from the gymnasium in 1892, but his father had died two years earlier and his mother saw no hope of getting the son admitted into the diplomatic service without the late patriarch's political connections. She persuaded Streeruwitz to join the army instead.
His secondary education completed, Streeruwitz moved to Vienna and enrolled at the Theresian Military Academy. He graduated with honors. Starting in 1895, he served as a lieutenant with the 7th Bohemian Dragoons (Duke of Lorraine's), stationed in Lissa an der Elbe at the time. Streeruwitz received excellent evaluations from his superior officers and was encouraged to sit the entrance exam for the War College, graduating from which would have all but guaranteed a stellar career. Streeruwitz took the exam in 1899 and passed with flying colors. A mere year later, however, Streeruwitz' health suffered a serious relapse after a demanding field training exercise. Streeruwitz lost his faith in his ability to withstand the rigors of military life and applied to be granted reservist status. His request was approved in 1901.
While waiting to be allowed to leave active service, Streeruwitz began studying mechanical engineering at the College of Technology and law at the University of Vienna. Friedrich Franz Joseph von Leitenberger, a fellow Bohemian officer whom Streeruwitz has befriended during his time as a lieutenant of the dragoons, hired Streeruwitz as a technical consultant as soon as the latter's transfer to the reserve was final. Streeruwitz was tasked with helping to modernize Leitenberger's factories. He reorganized Leitenberger's obsolete textile printing plant in Josefsthal with some success and was made the manager of the factory in 1902.
His professional future now reasonably secure, Streeruwitz married Christine Strobl, a Bohemian from Prague.
Following Leitenberger's death in a car accident in 1904, Streeruwitz found himself sidelined. He clashed with the company's new owners as well as with their bankers. In 1913, he was kicked upstairs to a position in senior management, a promotion that forced him to move to Vienna again. In 1914, Streeruwitz finally quit. With the outbreak of World War I, he also volunteered to return to active military service. In October, Streeruwitz became managing director of a textile printing plant in Neunkirchen. A few days later, he was called up by the army, effective November.
Still in poor health and unfit for service at the front, Streeruwitz spent the war as an administrator. He helped reorganize the military mail service, worked to ensure the humane treatment of Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war, organized the use of enemy prisoners as agricultural laborers, co-edited a newspaper for captive Russians, and wrote a five-volume book on legal issues surrounding prisoners of war. Streeruwitz was considered highly competent and was decorated several times.
First Austrian Republic
Streeruwitz experienced the collapse of the empire as a personal catastrophe. He returned to his native Bohemia; in his autobiography, he would later claim that "Bolshevik emissaries" in Vienna had threatened to murder both him and his family. He nevertheless moved to Vienna a third time when it became clear that the Republic of Austria would not be able to press home its claim to the majority-German parts of Bohemia. Streeruwitz resumed his management position in Neunkirchen and went on to prove himself a capable organizer yet again. He soon became the chairman of the employer's association of the Lower Austrian textile industry (German: Arbeitgeberverband der Niederösterreichischen Textilindustrie) and the association's representative in the Federation of Austrian Industries (Hauptverband der Industrie).
The quarrelsome labor relations and recurrent strikes of the era pushed Streeruwitz into the public spotlight. In terms of policy, Streeruwitz believed that the answer to Austria's economic troubles was increased productivity; this belief led him to oppose social measures such as working time reductions and to advocate for a hard line against strikers. On a personal level, he appears to have combined genuine concern for workers' living conditions with unreconstructed aristocratic paternalism. The Social Democrats quickly became convinced that Streeruwitz was an enemy of the working class. The Christian Social Party appreciated his (implied but unambiguous) support for the economic policy of then-chancellor Ignaz Seipel.
In 1924, Streeruwitz was appointed the chief curator (Oberkurator) of the Lower Austrian regional mortgage bank (Landeshypothekenbank), a struggling lender of vital importance to the region's agricultural sector. Streeruwitz turned the bank around. In 1929, he took the initiative in setting up a regional mortgage bank for the neighboring (and structurally underserved) province of Burgenland.
Member of the National Council
During the run-up to the 1923 legislative elections, the Federation of Austrian Industries and the Christian Social Party negotiated an agreement of mutual support. The federation would assist the party financially; the party would run candidates sympathetic to the industrialists. Streeruwitz agreed to be added to the Christian Social ticket pursuant to the agreement and was elected to the National Council.
Except for his strong dislike for Marxism and his opposition to Social Democratic labor policy, Streeruwitz was ideologically at odds with his party. Whereas Austrian independence had gradually become one of the Christian Social Party's defining platform planks, Streeruwitz continued to support the integration of Austria into the German Reich. Whereas Catholic clericalism was another one of the party's defining platform planks, Streeruwitz, like most Austrian pan-Germans and like his father before him, was hostile to political Catholicism. Streeruwitz also was a poor fit socially. He looked down on the petite bourgeoisie that was the Christian Socials' core constituency and that the faction mainly recruited from. He criticized his caucus for what he thought of as its lack of unity and discipline; he ridiculed its members for their poverty. Even though he vocally despised leading Social Democrats such as Otto Bauer or Robert Danneberg, and even though the Arbeiter-Zeitung reciprocated with a string of personal attacks, Streeruwitz thought highly of Karl Renner and was ready to work with the opposing side where common ground could be found.
In his years as a legislator, Streeruwitz rarely rose to speak in plenary sessions but was active in several committees, helped draft a number of significant statutes, and published numerous opinion pieces arguing his policy positions. Streeruwitz fought, in particular, for protective tariffs. Post-war hyperinflation was causing the country to be flooded with cheap imported goods. The glut endangered Austria's struggling manufacturing sector, but the country was largely defenseless due to a number of free trade agreements that the empire's successor states had hastily concluded immediately after the empire's collapse. Tariffs were controversial on both sides of the political spectrum. Labor politicians feared rising consumer prices. Shareholders of corporations that had become involuntary multinationals with the disintegration of the empire were worried about their interests abroad. Streeruwitz won; in 1925, significant customs barriers were put in place.
Streeruwitz' second main concern was banking supervision. The hyperinflation of the 1920s caused a number of banks to fail, but mostly only because the sector was already weakened from years of corruption and general mismanagement. Social Democrats and German Nationalists demanded a rigorous crackdown. Streeruwitz' own proposals, although moderate in comparison, were met with fierce opposition from within his own party. The National Council eventually did pass a bill that tightened the screws, but the statute was too little, too late. Streeruwitz' failure indirectly caused the collapse of a bank owned by Anton Rintelen, the powerful Governor of Styria. The lasting enmity of Rintelen's that Streeruwitz thus earned for himself would later contribute to his downfall.
Still an outsider with no credible personal power base, Streeruwitz abruptly became chancellor in May 1929.
The Federal Constitutional Law of 1920 established Austria as an archetypal parliamentary republic. The positions of president and chancellor were separate. Both president and chancellor were chosen by the legislature, meaning that neither of them had the prestige and authority that results from direct popular election. The president had considerable reserve powers but was expected to confine himself to acting as a figurehead. The chancellor was politically answerable to the National Council. The Law also established Austria as a country that was a federation in name but more or less unitary in reality. The growing Austrofascist Heimwehr movement demanded a move to a presidential system with a strong leader, modeled on Benito Mussolini's Fascist Italy and Miklós Horthy's Regency Hungary. Resentful of the political and cultural dominance of the capital, the Heimwehr also demanded real, effective federalism. Vienna was home to two million people, almost one out of three Austrians at the time. The sixth-largest city in the world and the capital of a global power for five centuries, Vienna was a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, even in times of economic hardship. Much of Vienna's hinterland, on the other hand, was an agrarian, poorly industrialized backwater. Dislike for the capital's intellectuals, the capital's Jews, and the capital as such was intense in some corners of the political right.
By early 1929, actors all over the political spectrum feared that the Heimwehr movement had become a threat to democracy. The ranks of those worried included parts of the Christian Social Party, which the Heimwehr movement was (loosely, at the time) affiliated with. The Social Democratic Party was willing to negotiate a constitutional reform that would meet the Heimwehr halfway. Ignaz Seipel, chancellor and leader of the Christian Social Party, decided that he was the wrong person to preside over these negotiations. Seipel, nicknamed the "prelate without mercy" ("Prälat ohne Milde") by friends and foes alike, was a hardline clericalist whose very personality would be an obstacle; in addition, his health was failing. Seipel resigned the chancellorship on April 3, 1929.
Finding a successor for Seipel proved difficult. Obvious candidates like Leopold Kunschak or Otto Ender declined to step up. Rintelen threw his hat into the ring but was too popular with the Heimwehr and too controversial everywhere else. Streeruwitz emerged as the new leader mainly by default; having drafted his list of ministers, he was formally appointed on May 4. In theory, Streeruwitz had been dealt a strong hand. The coalition government he led included the Christian Social Party, the German Nationalists, and the Landbund, an alliance so broad that Streeruwitz could govern without Heimwehr support or toleration. In practice, the cabinet Streeruwitz had managed to assemble was tantamount to a capitulation to Heimwehr demands. Even though Streeruwitz was in favor of retaining the existing model of strong central government and limited devolution, his ministers were not representatives of ideological factions so much as representatives of provincial governments.
Streeruwitz' inaugural address on May 7 mainly dealt with economic and foreign policy but also included a firm commitment to representative democracy: ideological disputes should be settled, Streeruwitz declared, by the people's elected delegates and not by extra-parliamentary force. The statement was an unmistakable jab at the Heimwehr, a paramilitary force whose influence was based entirely on its ability to threaten violence. The implied espousal of a strong legislature also was a rejection of the idea of a dominant president. Although Streeruwitz also promised to assume "the role of an honest broker" (die Rolle des ehrlichen Maklers), the Heimwehr instantly decided that Streeruwitz was an enemy.
The Streeruwitz government was seemingly successful at first. The ruling coalition and the Social Democrats reached compromises on a number of strategic issues. Tenancy law, unemployment insurance, and the pension system were reformed. Tensions appeared to decrease; the early summer was peaceful. On August 18, however, a bloody street fight in Sankt Lorenzen im Mürztal, Styria brought the belligerence to the surface again and heightened it to unprecedented levels. Heimwehr and Schutzbund, the Social Democratic party militia, had both announced a rally for the same place and day. Competing Heimwehr and Schutzbund rallies were a semi-regular occurrence, but the participants were usually kept in check by police. Even though he was warned that Sankt Lorenzen police would not have the numbers to keep the two factions apart, Governor Rintelen refused to either prohibit the rallies or arrange for the army to send help. The resulting clash ended with 3 dead and 55 injured, 27 of them severely. Rintelen immediately went to work using the disaster to undermine the chancellor. The fallout left Streeruwitz discredited and the Heimwehr emboldened; the militia openly threatened a putsch now should the government fail to comply with its demands for constitutional reform.
Streeruwitz petitioned his old industrialist allies to cut off the funding they had been providing to the Heimwehr; the industrialists declined. Even Seipel, his former mentor, now turned against him. When Streeruwitz left Austria to represent the country at the 10th general assembly of the League of Nations, his opponents used his absence to coordinate his overthrow and to agree on a successor. Streeruwitz' fate was sealed. Faced with vicious attacks from all sides, impossible demands, and a threat on the part of the Landbund to leave the coalition, Streeruwitz resigned, effective September 26.
Streeruwitz did not stand for election to the National Council again; his tenure as a legislator thus ended with the 1930 legislative elections. Nevertheless, Streeruwitz remained politically active. He traveled, lectured, and campaigned for the integration of Austria into the German Reich. He also continued to hold political office. In 1927, Streeruwitz had been elected deputy chairman of the Chamber of Commerce (German: Handelskammer). In 1930, he was elected the chamber's chairman proper.
Streeruwitz' loyalties remained complicated. Although he still opposed the Christian Social Party's policy of Austrian independence, a fact he was increasingly outspoken about, he regularly sided with the Christian Socials – and against both his fellow pan-Germans and his Chamber of Commerce peers – in matters of economic policy. He supported the Austrofascist corporate state model of governance, but only as long and as far as he did not have to worry about the existence and influence of his chamber. The Christian Social party, and later the Fatherland Front, occasionally hinted that Streeruwitz was being considered for a political comeback but ultimately removed him even from his position as the chairman of the chamber. There was no room for independent professional lobbying groups in the Austrofascist system; in 1935, Streeruwitz was replaced by a government-appointed commissar.
Consistent in his pan-Germanism, Streeruwitz supported both the 1936 July Accords, an agreement between Austria and the Reich that turned the former into a vassal state of the latter, and the 1938 Anschluss, the military invasion that finally ended Austria's existence as a sovereign state altogether. Streeruwitz approached the Nazi German government and offered his assistance; the Nazis declined.
Streeruwitz subsequently retired from public life. He resumed his studies at the University of Vienna, graduating with a doctorate in political science in 1939.
In 1950, Streeruwitz suffered a stroke that left him permanently impaired. He died on October 19, 1952.
Ernst Streeruwitz has largely faded from public consciousness. Where mentioned at all, he mainly serves to illustrate how weak and short-lived the governments of Austria's First Republic tended to be. The struggling democracy, shaken by crisis after crisis and in a permanent unofficial state of emergency, went through no fewer than fifteen chancellors in twenty years. Even Ignaz Seipel, the dominant political figure of the era, was unseated after a mere two years in office; Streeruwitz is just one of several heads of government who fell short of even that.
- Streeruwitz, Ernst (1928). Weltwirtschaft und Wanderung: Eine Antwort an Maedonald und eine Mahnung an uns selbst. Vienna: Österreichische Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft.
- — (1931). Rationalisierung und Weltwirtschaft. Vienna: Springer.
- — (1931). Ordnung und Aufbau der Weltwirtschaft. Vienna: Springer.
- — (1934). Wie es war: Erinnerungen und Erlebnisse eines alten Österreichers. Vienna: Steyrermühl-Verlag.
- — (1935). Die Friedenssicherung und ihre Methoden: eine kritische Studie. Vienna: Manz.
- — (1937). Springflut über Österreich: Erinnerungen, Erlebnisse und Gedanken aus bewegter Zeit; 1914–1919. Vienna: Bernina.
- — (1937). Österreichs Wirtschaftsstruktur. Brixlegg: Heimat-Verlag.