Rothziegel, Leo, 1892-1919

Leo Rothzeigel, right, in Budapest. Egon Erwin Kisch is beside him.

A short biography of Austrian anarchist Leo Rothziegel, who was killed in the fighting following the Hungarian Revolution of 1918.

Leo Rothziegel
Born 5 December 1892 - Austria, died 29 April 1919 - Hungary

Born on 5th December 1892 into a working class Jewish family in Austria, he became a typesetter. The police designated him in in a dossier they had set up on him in 1910 as a “communist-anarchist”. He was very active in the Socialist Workers’ Youth in 1914, and took on a leading role in the Leopoldstadt group of the Association of Workers Youth, before he was removed from his post for “anarchism”. He was an active member of the Anarchist Federation. He was also a member of Poale Zion. He broke with this group because of its nationalism. He was called up during the war and deserted from the Institute of Military Geography on 3rd November 1916.

On 15th February 1917 he was arrested for mutiny, but managed to escape from prison. He went underground to carry on his revolutionary activity. On the 30th November 1917, he became a member of the first secret workers’ council that had been set up in Vienna. He played an important part in the strikes of January 1918. The council was renamed “The Workers and Soldiers Council” after a certain number of soldiers joined it. The council was heavily involved in a series of important strikes (The Great January Strike) in which more than 100,000 workers participated. The council included anarchists, syndicalists and those who were now seeing themselves as “Bolsheviks”. He brought out a manifesto calling for immediate peace and the re-introduction of individual liberties that had been taken away. In this manifesto, he called on workers to follow the example of the Russian Revolution and create workers’ councils. After the strike wave he was hunted down by the police who arrested him in April 1918. With the fall of the Habsburg monarchy, he was freed from prison by mass action. He produced a new manifesto calling for all power to the workers and soldiers councils.

On the 2nd November he created an armed unit, the Red Guard. However, the Social Democratic leaders were able to cause divisions in its ranks and it collapsed. He helped found the Federation of International Revolutionary Socialists (Foederation Revolutionaerer Sozialisten Internationale) and served on its executive council. This grouping included a large number of workers and left socialists who were breaking with social democracy. It was joined by the journalist Egon Erwin Kisch (pictured to the left, above), who became a close friend of Rothziegel and a leading member. Rothziegel represented the Federation at the founding Congress of the Austrian Communist Party in February 1919. Rothziegel also wrote for Revolution, organ of the Viennese anarchists, which had become a weekly under the editorship of Karl F. Kocmata from 22nd February 1919.

At a mass meeting in front of the Vienna town hall, he defended the internationalist need to help the Hungarian Revolution. On the 2nd April he marched with 400 volunteers, soon joined by 800 armed workers leaving for Hungary. Here they were warmly welcomed by the Hungarian working class. Bela Kun, leader of the Communist Party in Hungary incorporated them in the Red Army and sent them to the front against the Romanian and French forces at Debrecen.

Instead of spreading the revolution in Austria, the 1,200 volunteers ended up as pawns of in the manoeuvres of the Bolsheviks and the inept Bela Kun.

During an attack by the Romanian forces at Vamospercs, on 29th April 1919 Rothziegel was mortally wounded. Kisch wrote that “ the communist Rothziegel has fallen on the battlefield: he was 27 years old, competent printer, autodidact, brilliant orator and as enflamed as his ideal, Bakunin”.

Nick Heath