On This Day

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Associated Press
A Social Democrat meeting predating the 1927 riot.

On This Day: Violent Protests in Vienna Leave 89 Dead

July 15, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 15, 1927, riots in Vienna by Social Democrats protesting a court verdict left dozens dead and set the stage for a fascist takeover.

Contentious Verdict Sparks Riots in Vienna

During the 1920s, Austria was struggling with economic and political turmoil in the wake of World War I, which had dissolved the Austrian monarchy and deprived the country of several key industrial regions. There existed a national conflict between the Marxist Social Democrats and a powerful alliance of wealthy industrialists with fascist leanings.

During the early 1920s, the Social Democrats held political sway in Vienna, creating housing projects, schools, libraries and hospitals, and enacting social insurance and rent control laws. They hoped to extend their influence outside Vienna and create a national revolution.

On Jan. 30, 1927, in the village of Schattendorf, fights broke out between a group of Social Democrats and a fascist paramilitary group. After heckling by a fascist barman and his son, angry Social Democrats threw rocks at his pub and tried to break in. The barman fired a shotgun at the crowd, killing a man and a child.

On July 15, 1927, despite pleading guilty, the barman and his son were acquitted for the killings. “The Social Democratic leadership is taken completely by surprise and has made no arrangements to warrant a regular course of the demonstration,” writes Dr. Ingeborg Bauer-Manhart for the City of Vienna Webservice.

Outraged Social Democrats in Vienna staged mass protests that quickly turned violent. They threw stones, attacked police and soon stormed the Palace of Justice, ripping apart the inside and setting it on fire.

Even the Social Democrats’ armed force, the Socialist Schutzbund, could not bring order. “The revolutionists are now in control of the centre of the city where street barricades are being erected,” wrote The New York Times on July 16.

By the time the riots ended, 89 people, including four policemen, were dead and 600 were wounded, according to Frank E. Smitha of Macrohistory and World Report.

Later Developments: Austria Falls to Nazi Germany

The Social Democrats lost much of their support after the riots, and far-right fascist organizations gained power. In 1933, during a railroad strike, the fascist-dominated government cited an outdated war emergency act to use military force to break up the strike and to dissolve parliament.

A weakened Social Democratic Party and the growing political rift in Austria eventually led to a civil war, leaving the nation vulnerable to the Nazi takeover in 1938.

For the First Republic the 15 July uprising will prove to be a fateful day: a prelude of what will eventually lead to the civil war in February 1934 and its fatal consequences for Austrian democracy,” writes Dr. Bauer-Manhart.

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