In 1814, following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte, the leading European powers – Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia and Russia – arrived in Vienna to attend the eponymous congress. The overarching goal of the meeting was to herald a new European order that would preclude the possibility of French aggression. However, the effects of the Congress of Vienna were more than the great powers bargained for, reverberating through the continent well into the late 19th century. The congress spawned a series of uprisings and wars for independence in Europe, ultimately leading to the slight redrawing of the European map. However, liberal forces failed to gain momentum in much of the continent and nationalism prevailed once again. Although Austria had close historical ties to Germany, Bismarck excluded it from the movement for German unification and the country united with Hungary instead. The unification of Germany in 1871 signaled the end of the European order forged at the Congress of Vienna and ushered in a new era in Europe’s history. The period between 1871 and 1914 was characterized by the formation of antagonistic alliances, which ultimately found themselves at war in 1914. Whereas the rest of Europe revolted, Austria in general and Vienna in particular remained politically quiescent – save for several occasions – for most of the 19th century. Nonetheless, it became one of the most vibrant cities in the fin-de-siecle Europe. The present paper traces history of Vienna in the timespan between 1871 and 1918, focusing on political, economic, social and cultural processes in the city.
Before proceeding with the full-dress discussion of Vienna’s history in the selected timeframe, it would be logical to take a short excursus into the city’s earlier history. Throughout the 19th century, Vienna served as the capital of the Habsburg Austrian Empire and, in the wake of its dissolution in 1867, Austria-Hungary. Neither of the two entities had a sound ethnic policy, which could not but invite trouble in the form of nationalism. For example, the Habsburg Austrian Empire was a motley collection of nationalities, including Croats, Czechs, Hungarians, Italians, Poles, Serbs and Ukrainians. Although the Austrian Empire remained largely unaffected by the tumultuous changes in Europe following the 1814 Congress of Vienna, it witnessed several simultaneous, albeit disunited, revolutionary movements between 1948 and 1849. Whereas national minorities sought to forge independence, the empire’s socialists and liberals revolted against hidebound conservatism.
Vienna, too, was a seething cauldron of revolutionary fervor in March-October 1848. In March, Viennese residents “clashed with the imperial troop of the Habsburgs” in the city streets to uphold their rights, thereby inspiring uprisings in other parts of the empire. The left-wing Viennese citizens, outraged at the emperor’s efforts to crush peasant movements on the empire’s periphery, took to the streets to protest. The incident, however, quickly degenerated into a bloody mutiny. The mutinous crowd was baying for punishment to those responsible for the suppression of national movements; and the blood was soon split. The greatest, albeit ultimately insufficient, achievement of the insurgents was the lynching of War Minister Count Latour. The uprising lasted with intermittent success until the end of October, when the Vienna garrison launched heavy bombardment of the city, quickly dislodging the enemy from the gained toeholds. Shortly after, the garrison mopped up the remaining centers of resistance in the city and executed the kingpins of the uprising. The fiasco of the Vienna Revolution demoralized mutineers across the empire and the House of Habsburgs set about restoring order. What is more important, it embarked on the policy of reactionary authoritarianism. Noble, Strauss, Osheim, Neuschel and Accampo have summarized it best: “After the first exhilarating moments of emancipation from authoritarian monarchies, conflict, disappointment and failure allowed reactionary forces to take control”.
Neo-absolutism, as the new predominant ideology, lasted in Vienna for less than two decades before being dislodged in the 1861 elections – the first relatively free elections in Austria-Hungary. That year, constitutional government supplanted the system of administrative absolutism. The liberals captured the majority of votes and sallied forth to humanize the sociopolitical system of the city. Judging by the party’s name, its political platform was based on the principles of political freedoms and social prosperity. The Viennese liberals initiated a thorough overhaul of the university system, introducing new faculties and expanding the ranks of the existing ones to promote further development of science and culture both in Vienna and Austria proper. As a corollary of their prudent education policies, university enrollment in Vienna outpaced general population growth by the early 1880s. In 1873, the liberals obtained substantial salary improvements for state officials and perfected the ministerial system. This led to a situation wherein state officials employed in the municipal government of Vienna received more social and economic perks than their counterparts in the national bureaucracy. Overall, owing to the liberalists’ reforms, Viennese “state employees began to think of themselves as members of a profession having social rights, as well as members of a traditional service group having rigid responsibilities”. Pension reform and improvement of the living conditions for public-school teachers were also among the central planks of their political platform.
Lest criticism should appear too gentle for the Viennese liberals, it is necessary to note that they failed to bring about a significant improvement of social living standards for those Viennese who were not employed in the municipal bureaucracy or education sector. Beller argues that by failing to unify the middle classes, the liberals of the 1870s disavowed – betrayed, even – the causes of the liberals of 1848. Indeed, despite all their efforts, the conclusion that the liberals did very little to encourage political unification of the middle classes seems tenable. It is possible that they were unwilling to go this far because they would risk antagonizing the central government. The conclusion that the liberals’ progress was vitiated by the party’s rivalry with the central absolutist government seems valid but not exhaustive. One way or another, the liberals managed to introduce some feeling of freedom into the socio-political and, for that matter, cultural life of the city. The decades-long newspaper wars – first between classical political forces and later between anti-Semitic forces and Jewish communities – testified to the lack of censorship and, therefore, existence of the freedom of speech in Vienna. The content in the newspapers ranged from thinly disguised strictures to bitter attacks and denunciations. Viennese culture also reflected – lampooned, even – the recent topical events in the city without any unseemly molestation on the part of the authorities. During Lueger’s era, theater was used by the authorities for political and social purposes, such as distracting the populace from the existing problems and communicating religious, moral and political messages.
Most important, however, was the development of culture per se. But it is unclear whether the liberals should be credited for this status. Indeed, Vienna had been considered the center of classical music and musical innovation since the beginning of the 19th century. According to Jose, 19th century composers arrived in Vienna en masse because of the patronage extended by the Habsburgs, who preserved some influence on the Viennese life until the collapse of Austria-Hungary. By the end of the 19th century, Vienna grew into a veritable center of European culture beyond classical music, compared in its significance only to Paris. The city attracted not only composers, but culture aficionados. For instance, in 1913, several months before the outbreak of hostilities, Sigmund Freud, Leon Trotsky, Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Josip Broz Tito all lived in Vienna. Not that the liberals made Vienna a world-known center of culture, but their role in this process should not be downplayed.
Interestingly, politics and culture in Vienna were closely intertwined at the turn of the 20th century. For example, the author argues that German composer Johannes Brahms, who built his professional career in Vienna, linked his aesthetic of classical continuity to “a belief in scientific progress, social emancipation, the modern nation state, and the transformation of traditional ways of life”. Such beliefs attest to the liberal mindset of the composer or, possibly, to the impact of the Viennese liberal movement on him. By contrast, Wilhelm Wagner’s animadversions upon the values and ideals of the Viennese liberals gave direction to “a radically conservative movement that sought to establish a political and cultural alternative to the cosmopolitan liberal conceits of Vienna’s cultural, literary, and academic elite”. From the perspective of Brodbeck, Brahms promoted liberal values, such as logical thinking and accomplishment through sedulous work, whereas Wagner’s oeuvre was filled with anti-Semitic undertones. Other examples of interconnections between culture and politics in late 19th century Vienna abound.
Regardless of whether the liberals had a great impact on the Viennese culture, their sway over the city’s politics came to an end in March 1895. At this time, Karl Lueger’s anti-Semitic Christian Social party won the third curia elections. In the subsequent elections for “the second curia – traditionally liberal and mostly made up of officials and schoolteachers – the liberals were catastrophically beaten”. Karl Lueger’s anti-Semites did not have a clear majority in the city council, but the liberals were nonetheless at a precarious position, for there were anti-Semite sympathizers within their own ranks. In the additional elections later the same year, Vienna fell to Karl Lueger and his coterie.
Once he assumed the mantle of power in Vienna, Karl Lueger set ironing out the kinks in its municipal policies. Drawing on the social policies of Bismarck, Lueger created welfare state within Vienna, improving the city’s transportation system and creating nearly one million new jobs. Sometimes, his solutions to the complicated municipal problems were really glib and imaginative. For example, to provide fresh and clean potable water to the city with a low water table, Karl Lueger built a system of aqueducts connecting Vienna with far-away Alpine regions. Similarly, he commissioned the construction of a belt of forests, coppices and meadows around Vienna to ameliorate the environmental situation in the city. His policies were so efficient that they served as a model for the subsequent Social Democratic administration, although it inveighed against Lueger’s legacy.
The ascension of Karl Lueger to the office of Vienna’s mayor was something of a “mixed blessing”. Much to his credit, Lueger successfully navigated Vienna through one of the tensest periods in the pre-World War I Europe. On the other hand, he ran the gauntlet of criticism from the liberal forces in the city when he revealed his overtly anti-Semitic sentiments. Yet, it is necessary to make a caveat at the outset that anti-Semitism was deeply entrenched in Vienna even before the rise of Karl Lueger to power. In fact, popular aversion to Jews in the Austro-Hungarian Empire was stronger than anywhere else in Europe. Indeed, despite the efforts of the reactionary forces to staunch the development of secular societies based on the principles of individual freedom and equal employment opportunities, most European powers were gradually transforming. Austria-Hungary, by contrast, remained impervious to change. Neo-absolutism and corporatist views of economic organization reigned supreme in Vienna and the rest of the country. Moreover, because of the country’s diverse ethnic composition and attempts of some ethnicities to ride roughshod over others, Austria-Hungary remained tense politically. It is not surprising then that, in this atmosphere, “the prominence of Jews in socioeconomic structure of Vienna and in all spheres of cultural and intellectual life” bred resentment in the disenfranchised non-Jewish population of the city.
Interestingly, Jew-bashing in Vienna was assuming new dimensions commensurately to the growth of Jewish population in the city. According to Strauss, the number of Jews in Vienna grew from below 7,000 in 1860 to over 72,000 in 1880. In 1880, Viennese of Jewish extraction accounted for 10% of the city’s total population. Owing to their innate acumen, Jews were able to propel themselves to the top of social status by sheer ability. They also acquired a conspicuous role in Viennese mass media, financial sector, art and even politics. In the 1880s, lured by the success stories of Viennese Jews, their fellow nationals migrated to the capital from provinces in droves. The swelling of the Jewish population in Vienna and, most importantly, their conspicuous role in the sociopolitical life of the capital irritated non-Jewish citizens. Within a brief period of time, anti-Semitism became so popular in Vienna that it bordered on a political ideology. Indeed, Viennese artisans, workers and other downtrodden classes of society organized meetings and protests against Jewish ways of doing business. Essentially, Viennese industrialists had a penchant for pre-capitalist economic organization and could not compete with Jewish-run businesses. It was not long before anti-Semitic labor unions and political parties sprang into existence. Speaking of the prerequisites for the establishment of anti-Semitic parties and the effects that this had, Strauss noted:
The widening of the franchise in 1883 was an indispensable pre-condition for the success of Austrian anti-Semitic parties. It effectively ended the conservative-liberal monopoly of Austrian politics and ensured that power in Vienna would henceforth depend on wooing the discontented lower middle-class.
Naturally, the groundswell of support among the discontented lower middle-class was for anti-Semitic parties. Jews were depicted as evil moneylenders, peddlers and war profiteers who “indulged in contemptuous sacrilege” among other things. On some occasions, such stereotypes were exploited to the absurdity, with Viennese anti-Semites claiming that Jews were plotting to take over the world. The fledgling anti-Semitic parties pounced on this well-established image to further reinvigorate it. Apart from having a direct effect on the life of Jews themselves, the Jewish issue in Vienna radicalized the general political situation. The petty bourgeois bristled at the nonchalant attitude of the country’s liberals towards them. Clerical conservatives, while being far aside from the bourgeois ideologically, joined the chorus and sought ways to subvert the liberals, because “the emperor and the liberal system offered status to the Jews without demanding nationality”. Indeed, the liberals, who won the first free elections in 1861, took a positive view of the Jews. The socialists, too, perorated incessantly about the Jewish stranglehold on the Austrian economy in an effort to woo electorate away from the right-wing parties. As political squabbling in Vienna continued, all colors on the ideological palette of Vienna acquired an anti-Semitic twinge. Even liberals embraced anti-Semitic sentiments towards the end of the fin de siècle era.
The plight of the Viennese Jews further exacerbated during the mayoralty of Karl Lueger. Interestingly, Lueger started his political career as a democrat and even participated in the drafting of a Democratic Party program. However, as political circumstances changed in Vienna and Austria-Hungary in general, Lueger settled on what Carl Schorske calls “the murky transition from democratic to protofascist politics.With time, Lueger developed a visceral antipathy towards Jews and sought ways to diminish their role in Viennese society. Among the most colorful expressions about Jews attributed to Karl Lueger is “I’ll only be happy after the last Jew has disappeared from the streets of Vienna”. It is true that anti-Semitism bordered on political ideology in the pre-Lueger Vienna, but it grew to become an institution of its own during his mayoralty. Lueger established a patently anti-Semitic propaganda bubble and sponsored the launching of several anti-Semitic newspapers. According to Evans, Karl Lueger managed to gain the support of the masses only because he hearkened to their anti-Semitic outcries.
However, rhetoric of Karl Lueger and his followers on the one hand and real developments in the capital tugged Viennese society in different directions. Even though the mayor of the city – the most plenipotentiary official – espoused anti-Semitism, he was not given cart-blanche by the strong national government to persecute or otherwise harass Jews. The Habsburg dynasty, which still ruled the metamorphosed Austria, did not connive at open anti-Jewish activities. Although popular resentment of Jews was high in Vienna, there was little anti-Semitic violence in the city, at least until the early 1930s, when Austria slipped into Germany’s sphere of influence. One way or another, the authorities in Vienna were able to tap into the deep popular aversion to Jews to whitewash their lack of economic and political progress. Jews were blamed for economic stagnation and social maladies of the city.
Shortly after the death of Karl Lueger in 1910, the Social Democrat administration came to power. Still, the situation did not change dramatically, as Lueger’s legacy continued to reverberate. His controversial policies would be debated within for many more years. Nobody could question the significance of his administration’s extension of suffrage to all Viennese males in 1906. At the same time, his rabid anti-Semitic sentiments as well as his lashing at any political dissent impugned the credibility of his commitment to political freedoms in Vienna. The debates ranged on unabated until the outbreak of World War I – the most slaughterous conflict Europe had seen as of that time. Meanwhile, the Social Democrats built their policies following the model of Karl Lueger.
Overall, Vienna’s history in the timespan between 1871 and 1814 is replete with stories of dramatic transformation. In 1861, neo-absolutism collapsed and the constitutional government was established, giving rise to the liberals. The liberals set about reforming the capital’s policies and achieved certain progress in improving the life of state employees and particularly teachers. The liberals also liberated the mass media from the lingering sense that they had to write only what they were told to write. This gave a further fillip to the development of Viennese culture, transforming the city into the veritable center of musical innovation and cultural development. But the liberals failed to cater to the needs of their bedrock electorate – the middle classes – and forfeited their power in the 1890s. The rise of Karl Lueger to the office of mayor in 1895 had both positive and negative effects on the social, political, economic and cultural life in Vienna. Under his stewardship, the municipal policies were significantly improved and the city became a modern metropolis. At the same time, it should be noted that he attempted to give economic development to the people as a substitute for human rights and civic freedoms. Because of his ambivalence, Karl Lueger was the most controversial political figure in the fin de siècle Vienna, bar none. Yet, this paper has shown that anti-Semitic ideas championed so fervently by Karl Lueger actually found echo with the broad masses of the Viennese population. It was only due to the influence of the Habsburg dynasty that Lueger failed to translate his anti-Semitic rhetoric into actions. The Habsburg dynasty lost a big portion of its control on the politics of Vienna, but, at the same time, it had sufficient influence to control anti-Semitism. Overall, Vienna had become a vibrant city with developed municipal system and high culture before the outbreak of World War I.