I would say that the cultural aspects of the early twentieth century labor movement are its most striking feature. They challenge any suggestion that working class politics should focus only on the workplace and union organizing. These aspects are of course very important, but the ambitions of the workers’ movement at the time were much broader. The goal was nothing less than a new company, in which “proletarian” values such as community, solidarity and mutual aid would replace “bourgeois” values such as individualism, competition and profit.
“Vienna redRepresented a fundamental social transformation during the governance of the city by the so-called Austromarxists, who were organized within the Austrian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP). The SDAP was the most radical of the European social democratic parties of the time, trying to find its way between reformism and Bolshevism. There were workers’ sports clubs, workers’ theater groups, workers’ study circles, all that.
The militant base was necessary to defend these ambitions. Austria was politically very polarized. The old aristocracy, the new bourgeoisie, the Catholic Church, the peasants who saw the labor movement as a threat (especially with regard to land ownership) and an emerging fascist movement influenced by the Black Shirts of Benito Mussolini – he there were a lot of enemies. Eventually, a coalition of them ended Red Vienna in 1934.
Did the red Vienna signify a reorientation of the workers’ sports movement? It has certainly strengthened the links between workers ‘sports and workers’ militias. “Wehrsport” (literally, “defense sports”, although “paramilitary sports” might be a better translation), with an emphasis on long-distance running, shooting sports and martial arts, would not have been also central in other circumstances. But the origins of organized sport as a whole are closely linked to the discipline of boarding schools and the military. This was also reflected in workers’ sports.