Karl Lueger’s rise to Mayor of Vienna

Karl Lueger, mayor of the City of Vienna, portrait photograph, c. 1908

With his persuasive but polarizing rhetoric, Karl Lueger won a convincing victory in the elections for Mayor of Vienna. However, the Jewish population and Emperor Franz Joseph I were anything but pleased at the outcome.

Here in our Austrian fatherland the situation is such that the Jews have seized a degree of influence which exceeds their number and importance. (Interjection: ‘Very true!’) In Vienna the poor craftsman has to go begging on Saturday afternoon, to turn the labour of his hands to account, he has to beg at the Jewish furniture dealer’s. (‘Quite right!’) The influence on the masses, in our country, is in the hands of the Jews, the greater part of the press is in their hands, by far the largest part of all capital and, in particular, high finance, is in Jewish hands, and in this respect the Jews operate a terrorism of a kind that could hardly be worse. For us, in Austria, it is a matter of liberating Christian people from the hegemony of Jewry.

Lueger’s aggressive political anti-Semitism is clearly expressed in this extract from one of his speeches. From a speech given by Mayor Karl Lueger at a meeting of the Christian Socialist Workers’ Association held on 20 July 1899 in Vienna, in: Weiningers Nacht, Europa-Verlag, Vienna 1989.

Karl Lueger, mayor of the City of Vienna, portrait photograph, c. 1908

The ‘Aulic Councillor of the Revolution’, as Victor Adler was known, was opposed by the ‘Colossus of Vienna’, Karl Lueger. As leader of the Christian Social Party, the latter drew his support from the small-scale traders who, particularly after the stock market crash of 1873,  felt themselves increasingly threatened by capitalism. Lueger relied on anti-capitalist, anti-industrial and, above all, anti-Semitic propaganda. His extreme polarizing rhetoric was directed against those in power, liberals, capitalists and aristocrats. In the hostile image of the ‘capitalist Jew’ he saw the root of all evil. Many of the Jews living in Vienna had become established members of the educated and professional middle classes.

Lueger’s authoritarian and anti-Semitic style of leadership – which Adolf Hitler also emulated and whose fatal consequences are well known – brought him victory in the 1895 election and thus the office of Mayor of Vienna. But he was only able to take up the office in 1897 after a number of repeated elections, since Emperor Franz Joseph had repeatedly refused to confirm his appointment because of his radical anti-Semitism.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the influence of the mass parties increasingly obliged Emperor Franz Joseph to acquiesce to the wishes of the population. Moreover, the conflicts between the various nationalities within the Empire became more and more aggressive. The Monarchy had become unstable, in terms of both foreign and domestic policy, and this was ultimately to lead to the outbreak of the First World War.

Anita Winkler