Austria, from my understanding, became a Fascist country when the Vaterland Front seized power in Wien. Their seizure of power was part of a long-term effort to implement a Fascist model of State Corporatism in the country. By trying to create a political-economic regime more in line with the developments in Fascist Italy, they automatically became opposed to the NSDAP’s determination to bring Austria into the German Reich. Thus, the Vaterland Front sought to differentiate Austria from the German Reich, highlighting their inherent religious and cultural differences while insisting that the German-speaking world does not need to be ruled by a single nation. The Hitlerists were of course unwilling to accept that idea, hence their assassination of Engelbert Dollfuss and the rising tensions between the German Reich and Fascist Italy in 1934.
This has me thinking about Benito Mussolini and his role within the affairs of the Vaterland Front and the NSDAP. The Italian Fascists were willing to intervene in Austria if the Hitlerists decided to annex the country militarily. But what was the motivation behind wanting to intervene and prevent the Hitlerists from taking over Austria prior to the Anschluss?
The common explanation given by historians is that the Hitlerists, in the years preceding the Anschluss, did not just want to incorporate Austria into the German Reich. They also had territorial claims on the Austrian region of Südtirol, which is still considered part of the German-speaking world as of late. After Südtirol was annexed by Italy in the First World War, the Fascists promoted Italianization in the region, refusing to recognize the region as part of the German-speaking world. However, the Fascists never succeeded in completely Italianizing the region, explaining why the region continues to maintain a sizeable German-speaking population.
When the Hitlerists came to power in the German Reich, the NSDAP deemed Südtirol as part of Austria. The belief was that because Südtirol is part of the German-speaking world, it should therefore be brought under the administration of the German Reich along with the rest of Austria. Mussolini and the Italian Fascists had to have realized that if the Hitlerists managed to annex Austria, whether militarily or non-militarily, the Hitlerists will eventually demand Südtirol’s entry into the German Reich. What kept the Italian Fascists from becoming enemies of the German Reich was that the Hitlerists compromised on their position regarding Südtirol. Relinquishing their territorial claims on Südtirol, they chose to recognize Italian claims over the region. The Hitlerists had to make that compromise if there was hope of gaining their trust and forming an alliance between their countries prior to the Second World War.
But was keeping Südtirol out of German control the only factor motivating Mussolini and the Italian Fascists? Was there also an ideological motive at play? Did they consider the possibility that Austria, had it not have been for the Anschluss, would have become another Fascist nation aligned with Fascist Italy? That Fascist Italy, if it did not become ally of the German Reich, would have seen Austria as part of Italian ambitions to create a political international to rival the Soviets’ Comintern?
I would like to believe that the Vaterland Front was more interested in helping Mussolini establish that proposed “Fascist International.” Moreover, I would not be surprised if the pamphlet covered in this ARPLAN post was written sometime in 1934, the same year as the assassination of Dollfuss and the later Montreux Conference. The “Fascist International,” despite never becoming a reality after the Montreux Conference, was ambiguous on what should be done about the German Reich. If anything, they may have viewed the German Reich as a potential adversary on par with the Soviet Union and the Western Allies. An Austria protected by Fascist Italy would have deterred a German annexation outside of a military conflict.