Thursday, July 27, 2006

The Vienna-New York Connection: Theodor Herzl

Let’s get to the nitty gritty. Before I first arrived in Vienna, Austria in 1998, I had no idea that I was traveling back in time. I did not realize how true my words from The Fall of New York were.
“The Future Is Now. The Present is all we have with the past acting as a compass.”

Moreover, it was not until 4 years after I first arrived in Vienna before I made the connections between the decay and fall of the Austrian Empire with that of the American Empire. It was eye opening to discover that Vienna had gone through the same political and cultural transformations 100 years apart from New York.
All writers like to imagine that they are expressing new ideas. They fancy themselves as having unique and prescient insights that are new or which no one has ever thought before. My belief in that hope was shattered when I started to read Modern Austrian literature. It took the radical writing of Karl Kraus, who was born 98 years before me, to realize that the future is indeed now. It was a shock to read The Sleepwalkers Trilogy by Hermann Broch. How could it be possible that my writings were identical to authors whom I had never read, let alone heard of? It was until I read Fin-de-Sieckle by CSE Chorske did I realize that the transformation of New York under Rudy Giuliani was not an anomaly of history but rather a carbon copy re-play of Vienna one hundred years earlier.
It was only then that I realized that Vienna held the key to unlocking the door of the current decline of the United States of America. The fall and collapse of Western Civilization is a long process. It takes centuries. The decline of Western Civilization began in Vienna during the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Hapsburg Empire. The United States of America will complete the fall of Western Civilization.
Before I continue, I must present a disclaimer. It is dangerous and difficult to make comparisons. The United States and Austria-Hungary are two different countries. The Hapsburg Empire lasted 1,000 years. It was a monarchy. When it had collapsed, it had experienced no more than 35-40 years of democracy. It was one of the last countries to industrialize. It was a regional power without any over-seas influence. The differences go on and on. Nevertheless, the fall of Vienna and the collapse of the Austrian Empire remain uncanny in light of the recent developments of the United States. How is that possible?
It is important to note that much of Modernist thought, politics and culture have its origins in Vienna. The contemporary issues of media concentration first began in Vienna and Budapest. Mass advertising of posters and bulletins originated out of Vienna. Contemporary right-wing politics first surfaced in Vienna. Zionism’s birthplace was Vienna. Modern psychoanalysis started in Vienna. The first stirrings of the sexual revolution began in Vienna. The First World War was started by Vienna. The world’s most successful example of Socialism occurred in Vienna. Modernist art, literature and music were created in Vienna.
Like most other North Americans, I was unaware of these developments until 4 years ago. It was not until this past spring before my understanding of the genesis of the current crisis of Western Civilization was complete.
For the sake of my argument concerning the parallels between Vienna and New York, I will focus only on politics. I will use the example of two politicians, a radical social critic, two novelists and a radical psychoanalyst to make my point. The two politicians I will discuss are Theodor Herzl, the father of Zionism and Karl Lueger, the “proto-fascist” populist mayor of Vienna. I will quote Karl Kraus the radical social critic. I will use examples from Hermann Broch and Arthur Schnitzler. Finally, I will use the radical psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich.

Theodor Herzl was an assimilated bourgeois Jew from Vienna. Like many urban Jews of Vienna, he came from a family of good standing and wealth. His father’s generation was of the radical intellectuals who fought on the barricades of Vienna during the revolutions of 1848. The bourgeoisie were the middle classes that wanted to over-throw the monarchy and break the political and social hold the Roman Catholic Church had over the affairs of the state.
Though the revolutions failed to produce the desired effects, the Monarchy was sufficiently weakened to the point of being forced to make concessions. By the 1860s, the Austrian monarchy gave up absolutism in exchange for a constitutional monarchy. The defeat of Austria by Prussia weakened the Catholic Church until it had lost most of its political power. The most success the bourgeoisie had been to modernize the economy. Vienna went from being a Feudal backwards economy to a modern capitalist one. Vienna grew in size and became bigger than Paris and most of capitals in Europe.
Historically, the Jews in Vienna had been of the merchant class. As Vienna became capitalist, Jews became leading members of the new financial elite. The Jews of Vienna had the best asset that the crumbling empire needed: German.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire was the largest land Empire in Europe second to Russia. It consisted of what is today Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, the North of Italy, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Romania and the Ukraine. The imperial capital was Vienna where the bulk of the German speakers were concentrated. Throughout this empire of more than 20 million there were more than nine languages spoken. Throughout the eastern frontiers, the only people who spoke German and had sufficient education were Jews. By 1870, Hungary was granted autonomy and language rights. Still, the majority of the inhabitants of the empire did not speak German. Kaiser Franz Joseph realized that his empire was hanging on by threads. Franz Joseph elevated German speaking Jews to positions of administration. Many of these were given patents of nobility for their efforts. Many of the educated entrepreneurs were invited to the capital to assist in the building and planning of Vienna. A great number of them were sent into the civil service.
This is not to say that all Jews of the Empire were privileged. The vast majority of the Jews lived in abject poverty. In the eastern frontiers, they were subjected to brutal exclusion and were consigned to live in ghettos of numerous towns and villages. Moreover, they did not speak German but rather Yiddish. While the bourgeois Jews were mostly secular, the lower class Jews was devoutly religious. The bulk of the orthodox Jews came from the poor provinces on the eastern fringes of the empire.
In Vienna, bourgeois Jews were busy building and making business. The first stock exchange was in full gear. Vienna hummed along and everything seemed to go well until the stock market crash of 1873. Vienna had learnt the hard way that capitalist booms end in busts. What should have been righteous anger against the bourgeois class became instead anti-Semitism. As we shall see, anti-capitalism morphed into anti-Semitism, which led to Zionism and Fascism.
Theodor Herzl was a member Viennese Jewish bourgeoisie class. While most of the Vienna Jews had lived in the comfort bubble of their class, they were aloof to anti-Semitism. This was for several reasons. First, they had the support and protection of the Kaiser. Second, the gentile bourgeois had little appetite nor tolerance for anti-Semitism. Third, anti-Semitism was a manifestation of the lower middle class or petit- bourgeois with whom the bourgeois Jews had little social interaction.
Herzl was not deaf to the rumblings from below. Nor was he blind to the stark realities of the masses of Jews outside of Vienna. As economic conditions deteriorated in the rural corners of the Empire anti-Semitism became more violent forcing nearly one half million Jews to flee to the twin capitals of Budapest and Vienna and to lesser extent Prague. However, they found a cool reception waiting for them in Vienna.
Here I want to digress and make parallels to the US, in particular to New York. Until the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s, the situation for many Blacks in the US was not unlike that of Jews in Eastern Europe. Both came from rural areas of the country. Both groups were economically depressed. Both were subjected to segregation and violent racism. New York like Vienna and Chicago like Budapest had a large affluent Black population. New York and Chicago have historically been the centers of the Black bourgeoisie. When the Great Depression hit the US, the southern states were disproportionately affected. There was the mass migration of Blacks from south to north. Like their rural Jewish counterparts in Eastern Europe, rumors flourished that money and jobs were to be made in the big cities. Blacks were told that New York and Chicago were free of racism as Jews heard that Budapest and Vienna were tolerant towards Jews.
However, the established Blacks of the North looked down upon the newcomers in identical ways that the established Viennese Jews looked at the Easterners. Both Southern Blacks and Eastern Jews were largely uneducated. Both groups lacked the hygiene that was considered proper and respectable in civilized cities. Blacks spoke southern slang that did not follow the correct rules of English grammar. Eastern Jews not only spoke Yiddish but most of their Yiddish was broken and mixed with Polish, Ukrainian and the other dialects of the East. The established Blacks of the North felt embarrassed by the southern migrants just as the Vienna Jews were by the eastern migrants. Blacks in the North felt that the southern Blacks were responsible for increased racism just as the Jews in Vienna felt that the easterners were making anti-Semites out of gentiles.
Herzl was a journalist for the Vienna newspapers. He had been dispatched to Paris to cover The Dreyfus Affair, which a Jewish member of the French cabinet was tried and convicted for treason. He felt anti-Semitism entrenched so deeply in Europe and believed that it would never go away. The only solution he saw was for Jews to leave Europe and have a homeland of their own.
He came up with Zionism. He was mocked and ridiculed by the assimilated bourgeois Jews of Vienna. Yet, his message had strong resonance amongst the masses of poor rural Jews from the East. He produced propaganda tracts inciting Jews to demand repatriation to their ancient home of Israel.
Herzl developed a cult of personality. For the masses of Jews, he became a messianic figure. He was able to hold mass rallies in the towns and cities of the Empire. The more established Jews in Vienna became alarmed. He was denounced as a demagogue and dangerous rabble-rouser. It was suspected that he would only encourage anti-Semitism. The fears were well founded.
Herzl went into an alliance with anti-Semitic politicians. He met with German nationals. He supported the anti-Semitic Mayor of Vienna Karl Lueger. After his death, his followers pursued his cause of Zionism. Eventually, that led to Jews giving political support and funding to various German nationalist demagogues. The legacy he left had profound and terrible consequences 3 decades later. Many Jews came to support Austro-Fascism and helped to establish the Third Reich. They got their wish. 40 years after Herzl’s death, the State of Israel was founded. Today in the Middle East, we witness the legacy of Herzl’s Zionism. Today New York City is where the Zionism has it biggest support. Much bigger and powerful than Herzl could have imagined.
I will make one parallel with the United States concerning Herzl. The roots of modern Black Nationalism are identical to Zionism. Nearly 2 decades after Herzl’s death, a Black man from Jamaica by the name of Marcus Garvey arrived in the United States. Like Herzl, he saw the plights of Blacks all over the world as hopeless. For him the only solution was for all Blacks to return to their ancestral homeland in Africa. He too, made an alliance with anti-Black racists in the Ku Klux Klan. Garvey identified with the masses of poor Blacks in the US south. Garvey was vehemently opposed by the Black bourgeoisie of New York. Garvey acquired a cult of personality. He was a self-professed Fascist. He made the alliance with the Ku Klux Klan to intensify racial violence and lead to mass deaths of Blacks in the south. That way he could create and lead a Black fascist capitalist Empire in Africa. Fortunately, Marcus Garvey was imprisoned and deported from the United States. The US avoided the racial holocaust that Zionists had prompted in Europe.
I have a personal note to conclude this section. As a native of New York’s Upper West Side, I have lived with and gone to school with Jews. I know many Black Jews. It is true; there are millions of Black Jews. I do not support Zionism. I am not a supporter of the State of Israel. However, the similarities and experiences of Blacks all over the world and of Jews in the past in Europe make me a bitter opponent of anti-Semitism. The deeply ingrained and widespread anti-Semitism of Blacks in the US makes me angry. Jews and Blacks were at one time a formidable political alliance. On the Upper West Side during the 1950’s Austrian and German Socialist exiles, many of them Jewish, formed a radical political and social alliance with the local Black and Puerto Rican residents. The Civil Rights and Civil Liberties movement that sparked created the first serious flash that shook the forces of Reaction to their bones.
On the other hand, people of Jewish faith who exploit and exclude Black people will risk the entire Jewish community losing vital allies in the future. If Israel continues to oppress Arabs by using Zionism and might is right as a shield, it may very well sow the seeds of its own downfall.

Karl Lueger is next. It is going to get deep! Keep posted!
-The Future Is Now!

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