THE VdU - THE ASSOCIATION OF INDEPENDENTS
The Return of the Third Lager after 1945
The Rise and Fall of the VdU
The Republic of Austria was re-established in April 1945, after the end of the Second World War. Initially, only three parties were permitted by the Allied Occupying Powers. These comprised the Christian-conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the Socialist Party of Austria (SPÖ) and the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ), which together formed the Provisional State Government led by Karl Renner. During this constitutive period of the Second Republic, the national-liberal Lager remained excluded from political participation. This was also due to the fact that, regardless of whether they had participated in crimes, all former party members and membership candidates of the NSDAP and other Nazi organisations were deprived of their right to vote. At the first National Council election of 1945, there were therefore approximately 600,000 “second class” Austrian citizens, who were excluded from the exercise of essential political rights. It was not until spring 1949
that Herbert A. Kraus and Viktor Reimann succeeded in founding the League of Independents (Verband der Unabhängigen, VdU). The constitution of this new party took place in Salzburg, since it was considerably easier to found a new party in the American zone of occupation. However, the VdU was registered as an association because it could not obtain a “party licence” from the Allies. On the one hand, the VdU wanted to lead back into Austrian political life the historically evolved national-liberal Lager, which had before 1938 accounted for almost 20 percent of the total electorate.
On the other hand, it wanted to integrate the “Lesser National Socialists”, who had until then been excluded from political participation. In 1947, their active right to vote had been restored under the terms of the National Socialists Law. Further target groups were those returning from the war and ethnic German expellees from Central and Eastern Europe.
At the second National Council election of 1949, when it competed as the “Electoral Party of Independents” (Wahlpartei der Unabhängigen, WdU), the VdU obtained about 11.7 percent of the vote and 16 National Council seats. Its success continued at several provincial elections. The VdU’s “Social Manifesto” of 1950 can also be considered an attempt to win over the working class.
Nevertheless, the VdU became increasingly isolated politically, not least because of the actions of the ÖVP and SPÖ. As a result, disputes broke out within the League. The loss of votes at the 1953 National Council elections resulted in an intensification of the conflicts between the national and liberal wings, as well as between the party’s many strong personalities such as Viktor Reimann, Willfried Gredler, Gustav Zeillinger and Helfried Pfeifer.
To be sure, in May 1954 the VdU adopted in Bad Aussee a new party programme with more pronounced nationalist characteristics and dialogue was sought with the recently-founded Freedom Party (Freiheitspartei). But when further provincial elections held during 1954 resulted in substantial losses, the VdU was already showing signs of disintegration.
Thus, in 1955, negotiations took place between representatives of the VdU and the markedly nationalist Freedom Party of Anton Reinthaller, which had in the Upper Austrian provincial elections of 1955 already formed an electoral alliance with the VdU and independents.
Finally, on 17 October 1955, the VdU and Anton Reinthaller’s Freedom Party agreed in Vienna to merge to form the FPÖ. This laid the foundations for a successor party that was to continue until the present day to make a decisive contribution to shaping Austrian politics.