Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Friedrich Adler: Getting Away with Assassination

Friedrich Wolfgang Adler (9 July 1879 – 2 January 1960) was an Austrian politician, lobbyist, and revolutionary. He is perhaps best known for his murder of Count Karl von Stürgkh in 1916 and getting away with it. Adler was born in Vienna, the son of social democratic politician Victor Adler. He studied chemistry, physics, and mathematics in Zurich. In 1897 he became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) and from 1907 was editor of the magazine Der Kampf. He was a good friend of Albert Einstein.

Friedrich Adler

In 1909–1910, while established in the University of Zurich, Adler was being considered to chair the physics department, but he deferred to Einstein's superior expertise and lobbied for Einstein's appointment instead.

Adler was engaged in the international trade union movement and in 1911 he gave up his scientific activities to become the secretary general of the SPÖ in Vienna, an office he held until 1914. He became the spokesperson of the left wing of the party, and after the start of the First World War he agitated particularly against the SPÖ's policy of supporting the war.

Count Karl von Stürgkh
In his fight against the war policy of Austria-Hungary Adler resorted to drastic measures. On 21 October 1916, in the dining room of the Viennese hotel Meißl und Schadn, he shot the minister-president of Austria Count Karl von Stürgkh three times with a pistol, killing him. For his crime Adler was sentenced to death, pardoned by Emperor Charles I and finally amnestied after the war.

After the outbreak of the revolution of 1918 he was released and played a significant role as the leader of the Arbeiterräte (workers' councils) and as a member of the National Council of Austria. From the mid-1920s he was primarily active in the Socialist International, serving as secretary general for over 15 years.

After the outbreak of the Second World War Adler fled to the United States. In 1946 he retired from politics and edited his father Victor's exchange of letters with August Bebel and Karl Kautsky.

Adler died on 2 January 1960 in Zurich.

World Heritage Encyclopedia


  1. Adler had cried out "Down with absolutism! We want peace!" as he shot Stürgkh. Franz Joseph was shocked that a well known, young intellectual should have felt the need to kill a minister of no great personal significance. He was assured by his surviving ministers that the assassination had been a protest against the use of the infamous article XIV of the 1867 constitution, allowing rule by decree. Stürgkh's refusal to call parliament back into session had left no outlet for protest. Franz Joseph appointed Ernst von Koerber, an able bargain maker, as the new minister-president. Koerber quickly recalled parliament back into session.

  2. Did the killing have any impact on policy?
    A common criticism of assassinations is that they rarely have any impact -or actually backfire.

    1. Adler had been seized immediately after the assassination by another of the diners: Franz von Aerhenthal, brother of the late foreign minister, Alois von Aerhenthal. Adler hoped to get the widest possible publicity for his view that the war must end. The war continued. In the Schoenbrunn Palace, Franz Joseph poured over maps and accounts of the end of the Brusilov Offensive in Galicia, and worked on plans for a new Polish kingdom, hopefully ruled over by the Archduke Karl Stephen, a relatively Polish archduke. Two weeks of consultations with party leaders from the Reichsrat elected in 1911 were required for the new minister president, Ernst von Koerber, to form the new government.. Since the same people were mostly still in control, nothing changed, for a month, when, on 21 November 1916 Franz Joseph died of pneumonia, and the new emperor, Karl I, took over.

    2. And they kept fighting through 1918.
      Sounds like another datapoint against the political efficacy of assassination.

  3. ... BUT it all depends on whom you assassinate... Certainly the Bolsheviks execution (assassination?) of the Czar and his family defined that there would be NO going back for Russia. And certainly in modern times, political murders have drastically influenced world events in unstable countries. It is no longer the loan gunman, but can be a cruise missile thru the window - just don't call it assassination, because it is illegal.?

  4. Replies
    1. His son, Felix T. Adler was one of my physics professors at the University of Illinois in 1972.

  5. At the time of the assassination, Adler was living in the home of Paul and Sophie Lazarsfeld. Sophie would later study under Alfred Adler (no relation) and authored Women's Experience of Men, a masterpiece of sexology, in 1931.
    Her son, Paul Lazarfeld, later stated "My mother was responsible for destroying three men, my father, Friedrich Adler, and myself. I always say this."