Red Vienna, 1919–1934: Ideas, Debates, Praxes.
An Introduction to the Wien Museum’s Centennial Exhibition and Roundtable Discussion “What is Red Vienna?”: Conflicting Perspectives, Enduring Legacies

Schwarz There’s the fascinating study of women industrial workers by Käthe Leichter, who showed, on the basis of a comprehensive survey, that by 1931 working women had only just begun to profit, or profited not at all, from Red Vienna’s reform projects.1 This pertained to housing, to raising children, and to leisure time. But you can also credit Red Vienna for having supported emerging social research through the close observation and monitoring of what was actually being achieved. I’d like to discuss the theory that Red Vienna also failed because its own media, its political advertising, had so ideally fantasized the world that the distance became too great between it and reality. Siegfried Mattl spoke of Red Vienna as a “brand” and of the birth of “politics from the spirit of advertising.”2 Konrad Let’s not forget we’re talking about a timeframe of around a good decade. If you compare it with other utopian projects, then, in my view, Red Vienna accomplished a lot more than might have been expected in 1919. Of course, there’s a discrepancy between utopia and lived reality. And you can ask critically what actually happened at the laundry, but there was this effort to minimize the discrepancy. Let’s picture the scenario without the world economic crisis, and hence without fascism, and imagine Red Vienna had had one more decade. It would be interesting how we might be talking about it. Lichtenberger Among Red Vienna’s successes I would count the many ideas that are still valid today. This very short span of time was unbelievably inspired. Let’s consider what’s left of the most recent ten years of government or city policy. It just doesn’t compare. I asked my students what they thought might be the legacy of the current Viennese Red-Green municipal coalition government after ten years. It was shocking. The most frequent answer: Mariahilfer Straße. Then a few suggested maybe Seestadt.3 Rásky It astounds me how little Red Vienna is remembered. It’s true for tourism, too. I once tried to find a postcard of Karl Marx Hof. But there weren’t any. Bauer We have them in the museum! Rásky But why is so little attributed to Red Vienna today? I’m thinking about the present city government as well. Bauer A lot does still exist: kindergartens, the welfare system, these don’t need to be remembered. Maderthaner Actually the discussion of Red Vienna was once livelier. I was lucky enough to collaborate on a Red Vienna exhibition in the 1980s; the reactions at the time were powerful. Several hundred thousand visitors, that’s unimaginable today. But I’d also like to underscore what Lilli said. We continue to be proud every year that Vienna is ranked the most livable city in the world. A lot of that is the after-effect of Red Vienna. On the other hand, we live inside a previously unimaginable hegemonic neoliberal order. Today we can only speculate what might have been, had Red Vienna had strong partners. But it was essentially on its own. When and where else would it have worked, turning a social utopia into a reality? Maybe in the American student movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Lichtenberger If we’re asking what all was achieved, couldn’t we also ask what else might have been achieved? When it comes to childcare, housing. It’s true that the municipal housing sector in Vienna does depress average rents, but there is nevertheless a steep rise in rents and housing costs across the board. So you always have to ask: What can you justifiably invoke? What can you be proud of? What should you defend? If you consider what was accomplished in this one decade, under such difficult circumstances, then it looks like a whole lot more could still be possible today. Rásky Red Vienna is indeed inscribed into the image of the city, but it still hasn’t attained the status in collective memory that other epochs have. Maderthaner Yes, but at the same time, you can’t overlook the civilizational ruptures of 1934 and 1938. Konrad As a non-Viennese in this conversation, yes, I find that the historical consciousness, that memory, is still very much alive in Vienna, in contrast to other cities. It’s difficult to think of another place where a social experiment so inscribed itself into the city and into daily memory. That this building where we’re having this debate even exists—you can’t take things like that for granted these days.


LAUREN K. WOLFE is a translator and educator based in Brooklyn, New York. She is a founding editorial collective member of Barricade.


  1. Käthe Leichter: So leben wir . . . 1320 Industriearbeiterinnen berichten über ihr Leben. Eine Erhebung [How we live . . . 1,320 women industrial workers report about their lives. A survey], Vienna 1932.
  2. Cf. Siegfried Mattl: Die Marke “Rotes Wien”. Politik aus dem Geist der Reklame [The “Red Vienna” Brand: The Birth of Politics from the Spirit of Advertising], in: Wolfgang Kos (ed.): kampf um die stadt. politik, kunst und alltag um 1930. Exhibition catalog, Wien Museum, Vienna 2009, pp. 54–63.
  3. [The Red-Green Coalition refers to the coalition government of the Social Democratic Party with the Green Party, both on the left of the political spectrum. Mariahilfer Straße is a popular commercial shopping district near the Vienna city center; Seestadt is a residential-commercial housing development project begun in 2010, located outside the city center as a designed suburban space.—Trans.]