Progressive Paternalism: Civic Indentity Construction in Red Vienna

Matthew Eisler


Much of the extant literature assessing the Austrian Socialist Party's (SDAP) social welfare programs in post-First World War Vienna tends to interpret these as the product of a paternalistic and conservative 'Germanophile' party. Many scholars claim the Socialists suppressed spontaneous working-class political activism, dulling the consciousness of soldiers and workers to the imminent danger to the Republic posed by Austrian fascists. This essay instead proposes that there was a more complex relationship between the SDAP elite and its rank and file than has previously been thought. In attempting to engineer a new socialist society, the party combined progressive and traditional aspects in its welfare programs in an effort to both control and strengthen proletarian political consciousness. The ambiguous results of this program belie claims that the Viennese working class was supine either in the face of the SDAP's 'cultural offensive' or the right-wing reaction.

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