McGrath Stud Radic[1]

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    Student Radicalism in ViennaAuthor(s): William J. McGrathSource: Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 2, No. 3, Education and Social Structure, (Jul.,1967), pp. 183-201Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/259814Accessed: 01/06/2008 15:02

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  • Student Radicalism

    in Vienna

    William J. McGrath

    An obscure Austrian historian has recorded in his memoirs a description of what must have been one of the most remarkable scenes in the cultural life of nineteenth-century Vienna. He recalled a student political meeting in which Victor Adler and Heinrich Friedjung joined other young politicians in singing Deutschland, Deutschland iiber Alles while Gustav Mahler assisted with a pas- sionate piano accompaniment to the tune of 0 du Deutschland, ich muss marschieren.1 These three young men - the doctor who was to found both the Austrian Socialist party and the first Austrian republic, the journalist who would emerge as one of Austria's most famous historians, and the music student who was to become one of Austria's great composers - were brought together by a fervent dedication to one of those pan-German movements whose noisy and sometimes violent student demonstrations during the I87os and 8os repeatedly shattered the calm of Vienna. These disturbances, which reflected the nationalist tensions of the Austro- Hungarian empire, also gave evidence of a major change in outlook among the empire's intellectual elite; the membership lists of the pan-German organizations responsible for such demonstrations include many of the most distinguished figures in the political and cultural history of late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Austria. In addition to political leaders such as Adler and Fried- jung, there were men who were to establish international repu- tations in a wide variety of fields, among them Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, Alexius Meinong, one of Austria's few famous philosophers,Arthur Schnitzler, and Sigmund Freud.2

    1 Richard von Kralik, 'Geschichte und Gestalten - Victor Adler und Perner- storfer', Handschriftensammlung, Wiener Stadtbibliothek, Ms.I. N. o06.071, f.2r.

    2 For Adler, Friedjung, Meinong, and Freud, see ahresbericht des Lesevereins der deutschen Studenten Wiens iber das Vereinsjahr 1873-1874 (Vienna, I874),

    I83

  • CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

    It is difficult to determine the extent to which the mature accom- plishments of these men were influenced by their youthful adher- ence to nationalist organizations because of the subsequent history of the pan-German movement in Austria. Since it played a crucial role in the spread of political anti-semitism, won Hitler's admira- tion, and laid the basis for the Austrian Nazi party, biographers and scholars have been understandably reluctant to emphasize the involvement of their subjects with this movement - particularly if they were Jewish, as they all were with the exception of Meinong. In his three-volume biography, Ernest Jones neglects to mention that as a student in Vienna, Freud was a member of a pan-German society, even though this membership lasted for some five years during what was obviously a crucial period in Freud's intellectual development. While Theodor Herzl's connection with German nationalism has not been ignored, it has been the subject of lively dispute. In his study of Herzl's university period, Leon Kellner writes: 'For a period, he belonged to the akademische Lesehalle and was a zealous member. At that time the waves of the German nationalist movement were engulfing this student organization. Herzl was one of its most passionate representatives.' However, in their works on Herzl, both Alex Bein and Tulo Nussenblatt categorically deny that this was the case, asserting that new evidence disproves Kellner's claim. In the case of Victor Adler, the embarrassment over his early pan-German sympathies is shown in the attempt to draw a sharp line before the year 1885, when he formally joined the Socialist party, and to ascribe his political activities before that time to youthful folly. The fact that Adler regarded himself as a socialist as early as 1870, and that he believed this socialism to be completely compatible with radical German nationalism, has been completely ignored. Although the historical significance of their connection with student nationalist societies may vary greatly among these three thinkers, the failure to explore this involvement thoroughly has not only distorted an important dimension of their personal lives but has also tended to obscure the strength of a movement which profoundly affected an entire

    generation of Austrian intellectuals.

    pp. 19-20 (henceforth cited as Jahresbericht). For Schnitzler and Herzl see

    Jahresbericht der akademischen Lesehalle in Wien iiber das zehnte Vereinsjahr, I879-1880 (Vienna, i880), pp. 29-3I, and Leon Kellner, Theodor Herzls Lehr-

    jahre I860-1895 (Vienna, I920).

    I84

  • STUDENT RADICALISM IN VIENNA

    The impact of this movement is perhaps best seen in the careers of the young men who were its guiding intellectual spirits, the members of the Pernerstorfer circle. This circle was made up of a group of students who became friends while attending the Schottengymnasium, which in the I86os ranked as Vienna's best and most scholarly grammar school. The circle's nominal leader was an impoverished student named Engelbert Pernerstorfer (1850- I9I8), who was later to serve for many years as the vice-president of the lower house of the Austrian parliament, and to play a leading part in the development of both the socialist and the German nationalist movements. In addition to Pernerstorfer, the group's outstanding members included Victor Adler, his brother Sigmund, Heinrich Friedjung, and Max Gruber, later a prominent medical scientist.

    With the exception of Pernerstorfer, all these young men came from prosperous middle-class families, and the atmosphere in which they held their weekly meetings at the house of Victor Adler's parents was one of affluence and comfort. Victor's father Salomon, a well-to-do Jewish merchant recently arrived from Prague, looked with favour on the meetings of the group, and not only prevented them from being disturbed, but also regularly providedJause and dinner for them all.3

    Whether Salomon Adler would have been so generous had he known what the young men were discussing is doubtful, for in fact the chief topic of their meetings was how the stable bourgeois world of their liberal fathers could best be overturned. By I870, the club members who had set out 'to clarify and formulate our position on the social question' had come to the conclusion that socialism and vigorous state intervention offered the only possible remedy for the miserable condition of the working classes. At the same time, they felt a deep sympathy for the German Empire then coming into being, and nothing but contempt for the lukewarm German- consciousness of the liberal governments of Austria-Hungary.

    While much of their criticism of liberal culture was justified, it is clear that its depth and vigour reflected a generational tension which its members shared with many other Austrians of their age. One of the group, Max Gruber, has given a revealing account of the complex psychological factors at work in this rejection of their

    3 Engelbert Pernerstorfer, 'Aus jungen Tagen', Der Strom, July I912, vol. 2, p. 98.

    185

  • CONTEMPORARY HISTORY

    fathers' ideals. He described how his elder brother, 'under the seal of strict silence with respect to the highly conservative father', taught him that religion was nothing but deception and illusion. In addition, 'he inflamed my national feeling; I was infected by glowing hatred of the Habsburg-Lothringens, hatred of this dynasty which was Germany's misfortune, hatred of their state which had to be shattered if the nation was to be united, if a new strong German empire under Prussia's leadership was to come into being'. He went on to relate that by the time he was sixteen, his reading of Saint-Simon, Proudhon, Marx, Engels, and other socialists had led him to the conclusion 'that the existing economic order, burdened with incurable faults, was worthy of being com- pletely destroyed'. Even late in life, Gruber recalled vividly the

    psychological effects of this youthful rebellion: 'separated from my beloved father in all these things, robbed of any suppor