Red Vienna

Red Vienna

Red Vienna ( _de. Rotes Wien) was the nickname of the capital of Austria between 1918 and 1934, when the social democrats had the majority and the city was democratically directed for the first time.

ocial situation after World War I

After World War I had ended with the collapse and dismemberment of the Danube Monarchy, "Deutschösterreich" (German Austria) was proclaimed republic on November 12, 1918. At the "Gemeinderat" (city parliament) elections of May 4, 1919, for the first time ever all adult citizens of both sexes had the voting rights. The Social Democratic Party gained an absolute majority; Jakob Reumann was elected first social democratic mayor, in 1923 succeeded by Karl Seitz.

The city underwent many changes in these times. During the war, refugees from Austrian Galicia (now West Ukraine), partly occcupied by the Russian army, had settled in the capital city. At the end of the war, many former soldiers of the Imperial and Royal Army came to stay in Vienna at least temporarily, while many former Imperial-Royal government officers in the ministries returned to their native lands. An extreme inflation made the middle classes, who had ordered War Bonds now nonvaleurs, poor. The new boundaries towards nearby regions which had alimented Vienna for centuries made food supply difficult. In overcrowded flats and barracks tuberculosis, the Spanish flu and syphilis were raging. In new Austria Vienna was considered a capital much too big for the small country and often called "Wasserkopf" (hydrocephalus) by people living in other parts of the country.

On the other hand for those thinking positive wide fields for social and political action opened now. Pragmatic intellectuals like e.g. Hans Kelsen, who designed the republican constitution, and Karl Buehler found a lot to do. For them it was a time of departure to new frontiers and of optimism. [Allan Janik, Stephen Toulmin: "Wittgenstein's Vienna". Simon & Schuster, New York 1973]

The intellectual resources of Red Vienna were remarkable: Sigmund Freud, Arthur Schnitzler, Karl Kraus, Adolf Loos, Arnold Schoenberg, and many other scientists, artists, publishers and architects did not participate in the principal opposition of the clerical conservatives but saw development and modernisation of Vienna with sympathy.

John Gunther characterised the overall setting of Vienna between the wars: "The disequilibrium between Marxist Vienna and the clerical countryside was the dominating" Motiv "of Austrian politics until the rise of Hitler. Vienna was socialist, anti-clerical, and, as a municipality, fairly rich. The hinterland was poor, backward, conservative, Roman Catholic, and jealous of Vienna's higher standard of living." [John Gunther: "Inside Europe." Harper & Brothers, New York 1933, 7th edition 1940, p. 379]

General politics

Initiatives of the red-black coalition in the first government of the new federation of "Deutschösterreich" (German Austria) resulted in the legal introduction of the Eight-hour day only one week after the republic had been proclaimed in November 1918. Furthermore an Unemployment benefit system was implemented and the Chamber of Workers "(Arbeiterkammer", formally "Kammer für Arbeiter und Angestellte)" founded by law as the workers' official lobby. The enthusiasm for such reforms became smaller and smaller within the Christian Social Party the more time elapsed since the end of the first World War.In 1920, the coalition broke down, from then until 1945 the Social Democrats have been either in opposition or underground on the federal level.

The more the "Reds" liked to govern the City of Vienna, where they reached a comfortable absolute majority in the 1919 elections. Their goal was to evolve Vienna to a shining example of social democratic politics. Their measures at the time have been considered outstanding or even spectacular and observed in the whole of Europe. Conservatives in Austria tended to hate this politics like "devil hates the frankincense," but for the time being (and under democratic rule until today) there was nothing to do against the success of the Social Democrats at Vienna elections.

Vienna had been the capital of the state of Lower Austria since seven centuries. With their strong majority in Vienna and the workers' votes in the industrial region around Wiener Neustadt, the "Reds" even had the right to nominate the first democratic governor (called "Landeshauptmann", literally captain of the land) of Lower Austria in 1919, Albert Sever. As the rural areas did not want to be governed by "Reds" while the Social Democratic Party did not like conservative interference into their modern city politics, the two big parties soon agreed to separate "red Vienna" from "black Lower Austria". The national parliament passed the constitutional laws to enable this in 1921; on January 1, 1922, Vienna was created the ninth Austrian "Bundesland" (state).

After 1934, Gunther commented Red Vienna "summa cum laude": "In Vienna the socialists produced a remarkable administration, making it probably the most successful municipality in the world. [...] The achievements of the Vienna socialists were the most exhilarating social movement of the post-war period in any European country. Result: the clericals bombed them out of existence." [John Gunther: loc.cit., p. 379]

Public Housing

The Imperial-Royal Government had ordained a Tenant Protection Act ("Mieterschutzgesetz") in 1917 which had been declared applicable in Vienna immediately [ "Reichsgesetzblatt für die im Reichsrat vertretenen Königreiche und Länder" No. 34 and 36/1917, see [ Austrian National Library, historical laws online] ] . The act ordered the rents for flats to be freezed on the level of 1914 despite the high inflation. This made new private housing projects unprofitable. After the war, the demand of affordable flats therefore grew extremely high. Creating public housing projects became the main concern of the Social Democrats in Vienna.

In 1919, the federal parliament passed the Flat Request Act ("Wohnanforderungsgesetz") to enhance the efficiency of existing housing structures. The low private demand of building areas and the low building costs proved favourable for the city administration's extensive public housing plannning.

From 1925 (the year in which a strong "Schilling" currency replaced the devaluated Crown), to 1934 public housing offered more than 60,000 new flats in so called "Gemeindebau" (i.e. community building) houses. Large blocks were situated around green courts, like at Karl-Marx-Hof (one of the hot spots in the civil war of 1934) or at George Washington Court. The tenants of the new flats were chosen using a ranking system, in which e.g. persons with handicaps got extra points to be chosen earlier. 40 percent of the building costs were taken from the results of the Vienna Housing Tax, the rest from the results of the Vienna Luxury Tax and federal funds. Using public money to cover building costs allowed keeping the rents for these flats very low: For a household of workers the rent afforded 4 percent of the household income; in private buildings it had been 30 percent. In the case of illness or unemployment the rents could be postponed.

ocial and health services

Parents got a „clothes package“ for each baby so that „no child in Vienna has to be wrapped in a newspaper.“ Kindergartens, afternoon homes and children's spas were opened to enable mothers to return to their jobs and get children off the streets. Medical services were provided free of charge. Vacation grounds, recreation holidays, public baths and spas and sports facilities were offered to enhance fitness. As Julius Tandler, city councillor for social and health services, put it: “What we spend for youth homes we will save at prisons. What we spend for the care of pregnant women and babies we will save in hospitals for mental illnesses.” Expenditures of the municipality for social services were tripled in comparison to pre-war efforts. Infant casualties could be dropped below the Austrian average, Tuberculosis cases dropped by 50%. Affordable tariffs for gas and electricity supply and for the refuse collection, all run by the municipality, helped to optimise health standards.

Financial policies

The Social Democrats introduced new taxes by state law, which were collected in addition to federal taxes (critics called them Breitner Taxes after Hugo Breitner, city councillor for finance). These taxes were imposed upon luxury: on riding-horses, large private cars, servants in private households, and hotel rooms. (To demonstrate its practical effect, the municipality published for example, which social institutions could be financed by the servants tax the Vienna branch of the Rothschild family had to pay.)

The new "Wohnbausteuer" (Housing Tax) as well was structured progressive, i.e. in rising percentages. The income from this tax was used to finance the large housing programme of the municipality. Therefore on many "Gemeindebauten" today one still can read: "Erbaut aus den Mitteln der Wohnbausteuer" (built from the Housing Tax results).

By the investments of the municipality, the rate of unemployment in Vienna dropped down in relation to the rest of Austria and to Germany. All investments were financed directly by taxes, not by credits. Thus the city administration stayed independent of creditors and did not have to pay interests.

Hugo Breitner, in contrast to the Austrian Social Democrats after 1945, principally refused to take up credits for paying social services. These services consequently had to be cut down when the federal government in the early thirties started to starve Vienna financially.


Red Vienna mainly is associated with the following political leaders:
* Jakob Reumann, first social democratic mayor
* Karl Seitz, mayor till ousted from city hall by police in 1934
* Hugo Breitner, successful finance councillor, hated by part of the bourgeoisie
* Julius Tandler, renown reformer of the city's social and health services
* Otto Glöckel, reformer of the educational system


Main parts of this text have been translated from the "Rotes Wien" entry in the German edition of Wikipedia.

See also

* History of Vienna


* [ City of Vienna: "From the Social Democratic model of "Red Vienna" to the "Ständestaat"(1918-1938)"]
* [ Virtual Vienna: "Red Vienna: A Workers' Paradise."]
* [ Encyclopedia of Vienna's Social Democratic Party, in German]
* Eva Blau: "The Architecture of Red Vienna. 1919-1934.", The MIT Press, 1999
* Helmut Gruber: "Red Vienna. Experiment in Working Class Culture, 1919-1934.", Oxford University Press, 1991
* Sheldon Gardner: "Red Vienna and the Golden Age of Psychology, 1918-1938 ", Praeger Publishers, 1992

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