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SIGMUND FREUD WAS MORE THAN just a researcher and scientist in Vienna. By the 1920s Freud had become a landmark in the Viennese cultural landscape, a celebrity who attracted visitors from beyond Austria's borders. Not only the bourgeois press claimed Freud as an icon. The Social Democratic Arbeiter-Zeitung published Eduard Hitschmann's congratulatory overview of the work of Freud on the occasion of his seventieth birthday. After detailing the trajectory of Freud's life work, Hitschmann categorizes Vienna's famous doctor as a “revolutionary” dedicated to a cultural ideal of life guided by science. Sadly, Hitschmann explains, many of Freud's most important treatments are unavailable to broad swaths of the common people. But he then includes a quote by Freud that portrays the famous psychologist as a defender of the poor and as a proponent of psychological care for the masses:
Someday the social conscience will awaken and demand that the poor have every right to psychological care as they now have to surgical care, and that neurotics are just as dangerous to the health of the people [Volksgesundheit] as those suffering from tuberculosis. Just like tuberculosis, we cannot turn over treatment to the insufficient care of random individuals from the unwashed masses. Institutes and clinics will be organized, places where psychologically trained doctors are employed to treat our oft-drunken men, our incapacitated women, and our wild or neurotic children and make them resistant to illness and ready to work. These treatments will be provided at no cost.
As the director of the Vienna Psychoanalytic Outpatient Clinic (Wiener Psychoanalytisches Ambulatorium), Hitschmann had a vested interest in using Freud's birthday to leverage more public support for his own institution. But his choice of this particular Freud quote goes beyond his own self-interest: Hitschmann is casting Freud as a proponent of Red Vienna, referring to the city's extensive efforts to eradicate tuberculosis and calling for wide-ranging access to psychoanalytical help as a part of the massive Social Democratic program to cure the health of the Viennese people.
In spite of Hitschmann's choice of quote, Freud was famously ambiguous when it came to endorsing any specific political movement, including the ideas published by the denizens of Red Vienna in the Arbeiter-Zeitung and other publications.
EVEN IN THE THROES OF DEFEAT, Austrians had an ambivalent relationship with the American victors who had helped to conquer their empire and break it down into the tiny “rump state” known as German Austria. While the Mission to Austria of the American Relief Administration (A.R.A.), European Children's Fund (E.C.F.) of 1919 prefigured the massive scale of the various public welfare programs of the Social Democrats and kept many of the city's children from starvation, American profiteers were seen as exacerbating Austria's economic recovery, and the United States became associated with the excesses and dangers of unfettered capitalism. Many German-speaking intellectuals, including citizens of the newly minted Austrian Republic, pondered the demise of their once-great empire and the rise of the new, powerful nation across the Atlantic. In 1918, a Viennese press published the first edition of Oswald Spengler's Der Untergang des Abendlandes (The Decline of the West), a pessimistic comparative study of the decline of history's great cultures. In his work, Spengler (1880–1936) argued that every organic, creative culture in world history had enjoyed a golden age of art and beauty, but eventually ossified into a technocratic, superficial civilization. Just as the clarity and genius of classical Greece had devolved into the decadent excesses and metropolitan perversities of Rome, so Europe’s profound and productive culture was nearing its end. The end of Western culture, Spengler argued, was brought about by the overwhelming force of American civilization with its ubiquitous mass culture, rationalized factories and cinema.
Spengler provided a tangible enemy to those Europeans who saw themselves in a deep and irreversible cultural crisis, mourning the loss of the great gilded age that had not only cemented the privilege of the aristocracy but also given security and immense cultural and financial capital to the denizens of the Bildungsbürgertum, Europe's newlydefunct educated middle class. The delicate, nuanced and deeply individualistic European experiences of art, literature, and music stood no chance, as Stefan Zweig famously states in his 1925 feuilleton “The Monotonization of the World,” against the onslaught of schlock art, simple dances, popular music, and mass-produced American goods that are quickly taking over the world. Worst of all, America represented the soulless pursuit of profit and the end of the well-rounded, educated human subject.
IN A PUBLISHED LETTER sent to the “party leadership of the German Social Democrats in Austria” on January 21, 1919, four Viennese Jewish socialist organizations pledged their support for the Social Democrats in the upcoming election for the Constituent National Assembly of German Austria. But the pledge came with a condition: The groups united in the Jewish Social Democratic Party “Poale Zion” in Austria (a group that advocated both Marxism and Zionism) were unified in their demand that the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) overcome the “opportunism of the day” and “renounce their position on the Jewish question.” The general position of the Social Democrats was that Jews should assimilate and thereby renounce or downplay their religious commitments. Were the Social Democrats to give up the demand for assimilation, the party could still embrace “social justice […] the basis for the brotherly union of the proletariat of all nations.” While Jewish socialists aimed their ire at the Social Democrats, the party was also under intense fire from bourgeois and nationalist forces who derided the party as verjudet, contaminated by Jewish thought and dominated by Jewish leadership. Indeed, many of the driving personalities involved with the Austrian Social Democratic movement were from Jewish families, including its founder, Victor Adler, and later such party luminaries as Otto Bauer, Julius Tandler, Hugo Breitner, Robert Danneberg, Käthe Leichter, and Julius Deutsch. The complexity of Viennese Jewish identity can be seen in the offer of the Jewish socialists in their letter to the leaders of the supposedly verjudete SDAP: If the party would revise its approach to the Jewish question, the Jewish socialist associations vowed to join them in the “fight to the death against the dehumanizing and Volk-defiling force of Jewish capital.” These Jewish groups thus weaponized anti-Semitic tropes against other Jewish groups, showing the toxic ubiquity of anti-Semitism.
The complexity of the political, social, and religious identity of Vienna's Jewish citizens is inexorably tied to the unstable and increasingly dangerous conditions that surrounded them. While the Red Vienna era was tumultuous for all Viennese citizens, Vienna's Jewish inhabitants experienced the years of the First Republic in a state of perpetual crisis.