In the afternoon of Saturday, May 13, 1933, the Vienna gau administration (Gauleitung) of the NSDAP welcomed a delegation of party members from Germany and that evening held a mass rally at the , where the case was made for Austria joining the German Reich under Adolf Hitler. The following morning, on Sunday, May 14, thousands of Home Guard (Heimwehr) members gathered in the for the "" (Türkenbefreiungsfeier) by the Homeland Protection League (Heimatschutzverband) to stand up for an independent, authoritarian Austria. But what were the Social Democrats doing on this eventful weekend, that is, the political party that had been ruling Vienna with outright majority since 1919?
On Saturday a programmatic statement by the Social Democratic party leadership was published in the Arbeiter-Zeitung, according to which their line from fall 1918, when the Habsburg Monarchy had come to an end along with World War I, still applied in principle: (German-)Austria should become part of the democratic Weimar Republic. It continues that this tenet simultaneously meant joining the Nazi regime, which had been established in Germany since late January 1933, was out of the question. In contrast to the Christian Social Party, which wanted to reshape the country along Fascist lines together with the Home Guards, according to this statement, the Social Democratic Workers' Party was advocating a democratic and republican, peaceful and neutral Austria, which had to offer asylum to German freedom and culture until Germany had liberated itself from Fascism.
To turn this rhetoric into action, "festival concerts and sporting events" were held in all Viennese districts on the Sunday morning while the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" was taking place in Schönbrunn; these "freedom celebrations" were intended to promote "the ideas of liberty, the republic, and socialism." One of the roughly fifty "freedom celebrations" occurred in the in Döbling in the north of Vienna, where a protest march formed between the two inner courtyards and not only musicians but also artistic cyclists and jugglers performed. Between the acts, Social Democratic functionaries gave addresses on the idea behind the "freedom celebrations," namely Member of Parliament Heinrich Allina, Vienna City Councillor Karl Reisinger, and Döbling District Councillor Oskar Passauer.
Viewed pragmatically, these events were a successful strategy by the party leadership to prevent violent conflicts. The Social Democrats responded to the centralized "Turks Deliverance Celebration" with a multitude of "freedom celebrations" distributed throughout Vienna. As a result, the clashes that day primarily occurred between the police and those National Socialists who were protesting against the . This caring attitude was just as typical of the politics of "Red Vienna" as the venue of the rallies—communal public housing—and the concept of a socialist counterculture, which found expression in the "freedom celebrations."
Since the Treaty of Saint-Germain-en-Laye, which was signed in 1919, had forbidden Austria from joining Germany and the Social Democratic Workers' Party had withdrawn from the Austrian federal government the following year, the capital city was the only place left where the party, which had been founded in 1889, could implement its policies. Vienna, the longstanding seat of the Habsburg Monarchy, was to be transformed into a model socialist region, which would neither become trapped in petit bourgeois reformism nor emulate the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. "Austro-Marxism," wrote its most important idea generator Otto Bauer in a leading article in the Arbeiter-Zeitung in 1927, was the unification of sober realpolitik and revolutionary enthusiasm. In the Viennese model, this synthesis was realized primarily in an interconnected welfare program and in communal public housing, which served as infrastructure for the formation of a socialist population.
"New People" was not just a slogan in the "New Vienna" of the 1920s, but also the title (Neue Menschen) of a book by Max Adler published in 1924, who was another key theorist of Austro-Marxism. Unlike Historical Materialism, according to which human consciousness is defined by economic structures, this manifesto on socialist education expressed the enlightening ideal that through self-education people can change the society in which they live. What then is education in the socialist sense? Adler writes: "The spiritual disengagement of children from the old world of capitalism in which they were born and preparation for a new world that they will build, for the world of communism." The focus was on children and adolescents as the "builders of the coming world," as it said in a Viennese workers' song. Paternally instructing and maternally caring was, however, the nature of the party leadership's relationship to all comrades who were to be raised toward a classless society.
Similarly typical of the educational ideal of Austro-Marxism is the final chapter of Adler's book, which focuses on the "national education" of the German philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte. In his Addresses to the German Nation from 1808, "German" was not a matter of lineage or language, but of character and mindset, according to Adler. Fichte's national education aimed at the "creation of an empire of reason, a social state, but by the people whom he considers qualified to do so, by the German people." Red Vienna, where people with diverse cultural backgrounds lived, should anticipate this "empire of reason" on a small scale. For Adler—whether in the sense of Fichte or not is another question—this was certainly not about racial supremacy. However, the educational concept of Austrian Social Democracy, whose spokesmen like Max Adler and Otto Bauer were often of Jewish descent, was unequivocally aligned with the bourgeois ideal of German high culture, as taught in grammar schools.
This enlightening attitude may have been rooted in the socialization of the party chairmen, but emphasizing the cultural revolution increasingly served as a replacement for political influence. Austrian federal policy was defined by the Christian Social Party from 1920, and in Vienna the scope for action was limited to those areas that the federal constitution declared to be the responsibility of the provinces (e.g., construction law and social security). Alongside mass rallies like the annual celebration on Labor Day, which was not allowed to take place in 1933 due to the parade ban, the Workers' Party commanded a dense network of cultural organizations, which were coordinated by the Socialist Education Center (Sozialistische Bildungszentrale) and the Social Democratic Arts Authority (Sozialdemokratische Kunststelle).
While the Education Center was in charge of publications, libraries, talks, and the workers' college among other things, the Arts Authority established in 1919 built on initiatives like the workers' symphony concerts and the Freie Volksbühne (Free People's Theater) to enable the city's poorer residents to visit the theater by providing them with reduced admission tickets. Furthermore, in 1924 the Austrian Labor Association for Sport and Physical Culture (Arbeiterbund für Sport und Körperkultur in Österreich, ASKÖ) was founded, whose numerous members were supposed to participate in sport as a communal experience that united body and spirit. Once Julius Deutsch, the chairman of the paramilitary Republican Protection League (Republikanischer Schutzbund), took over the presidency of the ASKÖ in 1926, however, it became clear that the Social Democratic sports organization not only wanted to train fit and healthy workers but also "party soldiers" in the literal sense.
With their mixture of concerts, sport performances, and addresses by party functionaries, the "freedom celebrations" of May 14, 1933, fit seamlessly into the festival culture of Red Vienna. That instead of one central mass rally some fifty local events were held was related to the aforementioned parade ban, which the federal government had only suspended for the "Turks Deliverance Celebration" that was happening at the same time. With the communal public housing that had been built across the entire city since 1919, suitable infrastructure was available to form a decentralized counter-public. Opened in 1930 and roughly a kilometer long, the Karl Marx Hof with its almost 1,400 apartments for approximately 5,000 people was one of the largest municipal housing projects in Vienna. Its two courtyards in which the "freedom celebration" was held are connected by an over 10,000 m2 square, which to the east is delimited by a façade with six superstructures in the form of red-plastered towers. Seen from the Heiligenstädter Strasse, this forecourt resembles a cour d'honneur, which in Baroque architecture served to prepare visitors for the central power, the divine majesty of the prince or princess. In the case of the Karl Marx Hof, however, the cour d'honneur does not lead to a princely residence, but from the Heiligenstadt train station in the east through the triumphal arches of the central wing to the Hohe Warte stadium located roughly 500 meters to the west, which in the 1920s was one of the largest sports grounds in Europe and regularly attracted thousands of soccer fans.
Architectural critics pointed out that the façade design of the Karl Marx Hof came at the expense of housing quality. After all, in exchange for the machinery aesthetics of the tower superstructures with their flagpoles and passageways, reminiscent of Italian Futurism and Russian Constructivism, narrow, poorly lit, and badly ventilated rooms had to be accepted. The brochure to accompany the opening quoted a maxim of Otto Wagner, whose architectural principles left a formative mark on the design of municipal public housing (Gemeindebau) in interwar Vienna: "artis sola domine necessitas, necessity is the only master of art." Yet the "zeitgeist architect" Karl Ehn, who was a student of Wagner and spent his entire professional career at Vienna's municipal planning and building office, heeded the advice of this principle when designing the Karl Marx Hof, named after the founder of Marxism, in a contradictory way. For example, while the large green spaces of the courtyards were deemed "necessary" for the communal life of its inhabitants, the "necessity" for the monumental central wing and prestigious cour d'honneur consisted in the propaganda effect on passersby. This part of the building is relatively unimportant and dysfunctional as housing, but as a symbol for Red Vienna it continues to serve its purpose up to the present day.
Also politically significant are the sculptures in the forecourt, in the middle of which a bronze "Sower" by the sculptor Otto Hofner is positioned. What this muscular young man is sowing in the Karl Marx Hof are the seeds of a classless society. "We are the field, the sower, and the seed" says the second verse of the aforementioned Viennese workers' song by Fritz Brügel. This "we" implies the workers who were to be raised as New People in line with Austro-Marxism. What this education comprised is clarified by the four allegorical ceramic figures by Josef Franz Riedl, which are mounted above the round arches of the central wing: "Freedom" is a prisoner who has broken his chains; "Enlightenment" a woman with short hair cut in the then popular pageboy hairstyle and books in her hands; "Physical Culture" a female track and field athlete in a tank top and cape who is holding a discus; and "Welfare" a young mother with an infant in her arms. These expressive sculptures embody not only the self-image of Red Vienna but also represent the social infrastructure of its public housing.
In interwar Vienna, public housing was intended to liberate workers from the tenements of the age of monarchy, in which several generations of the same family had to live squeezed together in overpriced apartments without their own water supply or their own toilet. However, the newly built housing complexes structured this attained freedom in line with the beliefs of the Social Democratic city government, which for economic reasons supported small young families. In contrast to Marxist objectives, life in the municipal public housing—with the exception of some community facilities—was not arranged collectively but rather in a petit bourgeois way. The municipal apartments comprised an anteroom with WC, an open-plan kitchen with gas oven and a sitz bath, as well as one or more rooms. The anteroom served to shield the family from the outside world and create privacy, the fitted kitchen was designed according to ergonomic principles, and the dining table was intended to be a hub of communication.
At the southern end of the Karl Marx Hof, on the corner of Heiligenstädter Strasse and Geistingergasse, the Advice Center for Furnishings and Domestic Hygiene (Beratungsstelle für Inneneinrichtung und Wohnungshygiene, BEST) of the Austrian Association for Housing Reform (Österreichischer Verband für Wohnungsreform) rented a space. Exemplary furniture and household appliances were exhibited there across three floors, including a fully furnished show apartment on the ground floor. Furthermore, there were regular consultation hours and lectures, which focused on diverse housing issues (e.g., how to decorate or clean an apartment). The Advice Center was intended to instruct renters how to make the best of their municipal apartment or row house by means of the "right" furniture and use. That living had to be learned anew was an intensive discussion that had been ongoing in Red Vienna since the early 1920s. As the head of the Vienna Settlement Office (Siedlungsamt), the architect Adolf Loos demanded that European cities forget their rental apartments and learn from farmers and Americans how to live in a single-family house with garden. Whereas Loos strictly rejected any kind of ornament, Josef Frank, who was also a supporter of the settlement movement and was a member of BEST's advisory board, took the view that playful forms that went beyond the necessary were more human than the then fashionable plainness.
Whether settlement or perimeter block, modern or traditional, what was common to all these housing ideas was a clear division of roles within a family. The ideal way of life was embodied by the nuclear family, comprising an employed husband who was involved in politics and culture during his leisure time, and his wife who saw to the household and the children. Red Vienna positioned the mother as the interface of a comprehensive welfare program that was intended to care for people from the cradle to the grave. The person in charge of Viennese welfare was City Councillor Julius Tandler, who also taught as a professor of anatomy at the University of Vienna. His population policy aimed to improve public health by replacing private and church casework with a series of preventative health-care facilities. That Tandler's measures were partly motivated by eugenics is demonstrated, for instance, by the Marriage Advice Center (Eheberatungsstelle) established in 1922, where engaged couples were examined for their medical suitability for conceiving and raising children. For extramarital, orphaned, or neglected children, guardianship lay with the child protective services of the City of Vienna until the age of fourteen. At the Child Adoption Center (Kinderübernahmestelle, KÜST) that was opened in 1925, not only were pragmatic decisions made about placing children in foster families or homes, but under the management of the developmental psychologist ethically questionable experiments were also carried out.
The nature of Red Vienna's welfare policy is exemplified by the Karl Marx Hof. In each courtyard there was a kindergarten and a launderette with adjoining baths. The southern courtyard additionally housed a school dental clinic and an advice center for mothers. In the roughly one-kilometer-long front of the building on Heiligenstädter Strasse, there were not only numerous shops and inns, but also a regional medical insurance company with outpatient clinic, a pharmacy, and a library. In other words, the Karl Marx Hof offered its inhabitants comprehensive social infrastructure with a focus on childcare facilities. In the municipal hospitals, where the vast majority of babies were born, a house call by a female employee of the welfare office was arranged after the birth had been registered, who would then give the mother a package of baby essentials and get an impression of the household. Furthermore, the mothers were encouraged to visit an advice center to receive guidance from medical specialists regarding feeding and caring for their children. If the social workers noticed serious issues, especially concerning tidiness and cleanliness in the home, they could apply to the juvenile court to have the child or the children housed in the municipal Child Adoption Center, where a decision would be made about their future care.
Central launderettes as in the Karl Marx Hof were included in all municipal public housing projects with over 300 apartments. Under the supervision of a "laundry foreman," the female inhabitants could wash, dry, and iron their families' laundry one day a month, partly with the support of appliances. Despite the fact that the majority of women were in paid work, men and children were forbidden from entering the launderettes. As the kindergartens were not free of charge and did not take any children under the age of four, many mothers had to leave their children with relatives or neighbors on laundry day. While the laundry foreman was responsible for supervising the launderette, the janitors were in charge of keeping the staircases and courtyards clean and tidy. For example, children were not supposed to go on the grass outside of the playgrounds and only trash cans of the "Colonia" type were allowed to be left at the garbage dumps. Moreover, once a month the households received an unannounced visit from an "apartment inspector," who monitored the hygiene of each municipal apartment.
Consequently, the Viennese "freedom celebrations" on May 14, 1933, took place in communal apartment complexes that offered workers significantly more pleasant living conditions than the private tenement blocks during the age of monarchy. However, this improvement came at a cost: the inhabitants had to comply with the welfare and preventative system of Red Vienna. In other words, their freedom was managed according to the concepts of the Social Democratic city government. Although a petit bourgeois lifestyle prevailed in the municipal public housing projects, their political opponents, namely the newspapers of the Christian Social Party, never tired of warning against the "red strongholds" and "workers' fortresses" in which they claimed the proletarian revolution was being prepared. This myth seemed to be confirmed during the short civil war of February 1934, when members of the Republican Protection League entrenched themselves in some municipal public housing projects, including the Karl Marx Hof, and only surrendered after artillery fire by the Austrian Armed Forces. "The red bastille has been stormed, the outwork of Bolshevism in Central Europe," triumphed the after the Austrian national flag had been hoisted on Vienna City Hall.
Karl Marx Hof
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