The National-Liberals at the Cradle of the Republic
The Third Lager and the Foundation of the Republic of German-Austria in 1918
The rule of the House of Habsburg in Austria, which had lasted more than 600 years, came to an end in 1918, after defeat in the First World War. Following the death of Franz Josef I in 1916, while the war was still in progress, Emperor Charles I had succeeded to the throne and then tried in vain to preserve the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary as a “Federation of Free Peoples”.
On 21 October 1918, subsequent to the other nationalities having withdrawn from the Austrian half of the Dual Monarchy, the 208 German-speaking members of the Imperial Council in Vienna that had been responsible for that half of the Empire convened in the Lower Austrian Provincial Diet (Landhaus) in Vienna. The largest parliamentary group comprised national-liberal and German-national deputies; the next-largest were made up of Christian Socials and of Social Democrats. The deputies decided to establish an independent state and constituted themselves as the Provisional National Assembly. The name chosen for the new republican state was “German-Austria“. This National Assembly is therefore considered to be the first Austrian parliament.
On 30 October 1918, the National Assembly adopted a preliminary constitution and dispatched a note to the President of the United States, Woodrow Wilson, stating that the “German Nation in Austria“ had decided to form its own state. This can be regarded as a proclamation of statehood and thus as the actual founding date of the Republic. The first State Law Gazette of the new state of German-Austria is also dated 30 October 1918.
The Presidium of the Provisional National Assembly comprised three Presidents: the German-Liberal Franz Dinghofer, the Christian Social Johann Hauser (subsequent to the resignation of Jodok Fink) and the Social Democrat Karl Seitz. Franz Dinghofer, a German-Liberal and student fraternity member, served as the first President of the Provisional National Assembly.
The Social Democrat Karl Renner was elected as State Chancellor. On 12 November 1918, after Emperor Charles I had renounced any role in state affairs, the Provisional National Assembly met for its third session and unanimously adopted the Law “On the Form of State and Government of German-Austria“. This was three days after the proclamation of the German Republic in Berlin. The new law’s first two articles read as follows: “Article 1. German-Austria is a democratic republic.
All public authorities are appointed by the people. Article 2. German-Austria is an integral part of the German Republic [...]“. In the end, Franz Dinghofer was the politician who on 12 November 1918 proclaimed the new Republic from the ramp of the Parliament building on Vienna’s Ringstrasse. The first popular election to the Constituent National Assembly then took place on 16 February 1919, with women also being able to cast their votes for the first time. Some 72 of the 170 newly-elected members were Social Democrats, 69 were from the Christian Social party and merely 26 were affiliated with national-liberal or German-national parties.
As a result, the latter had become the new Republic’s Third Lager – a designation still employed today. The national-liberals were closely associated with the emergence of the First Republic. In view of its commitment to the welfare of the state, the largest parliamentary Lager of the old Imperial Council was even prepared to surrender to the Social Democrats its immediate claim to leadership.