“Learning from Vienna Means Learning to Win”: the Cracovian Christian Socials and the "Antisemitic Turn" of 1896
by Tim Buchen
This article describes how it came to pass that the clerical milieu in Cracow deployed the concepts “antisemitism” and “Aryan people”, why Karl Lueger, accused of German nationalism, served as a bearer of hope, and how all of this came to a head in the call for an antisemitic movement in 1897. The reference to Vienna was not a mere copy of Viennese antisemitic ideas. Rather it made up one element in a larger strategy of the Cracovian Clericals to gain votes in the ballot box. Analyzing these strategies and rhetorics allows a better understanding of antisemitism in the Catholic milieu in particular and in antisemitic agitation in Galicia in general.
“The key issue of the present elections is the struggle of the Jews against the Christian population. Jewry has posted its lines everywhere to maintain its predominance over the Aryans, to push forward their reign through their exploitative handicraft of alien work. This time Jewry placed dynamite amongst the Aryan people in Austria by waving the flags of social-democratic overthrow. The Jew-millionaire, the Jew - doctor, the caftan-Jew: they were all fighting everywhere for the social-democratic candidate because they see profit in social upheaval. [...] A semitic attack! With their money the Jews beat us everywhere, because we are unorganized and run back and forth like sheep. Despite the great victory of the antisemites in Vienna and lower Austria the Deutsches Volksblatt shouts out: Aryans unite!
[...] The union of all Aryans would mean a deadly strike against Jewry. Against an international gang only an international fight will help. Therefore, we need international tolerance and understanding and at this point one has to reproach the Austrian antisemites. For local reasons, they leant toward the German-national side and got into antagonism with the Slawic peoples. But a national league cannot undermine the domination of the Jews. It has to be based on the absolute national and social equality of the host-nations. Lueger’s former program of equal rights for all Aryan people must again find attentive ears.”1
The above cited words were pronounced not by a racist antisemite, who in 1897 at the moment of Luegers electoral triumph wanted to encourage the chauvinistic party of Lueger toward a more consequent antisemitic and “Aryan” politics. This is rather the desperate voice of a Polish Catholic newspaper from the Habsburg Crownland Galicia, immediately after the Social-Democrats election victory in Cracow, which places all hope in a mighty movement from Vienna and in the same time trying to subscribe into this movement.
How was it possible, that a catholic argue for an Aryan movement? Why did a polish newspaper look to Vienna? And to what extend became the fantasy of an Aryan union against the Jews part of the reality in Habsburg politics? Did the logics of political business drive catholics towards racist and secular categories to describe people, or was it rather the clerical entrepreneurs on the political markets, that made antisemitism a key word of political communication in the fin-de-siecle?2
In my remarks I will describe how it came to pass that the clerical milieu in Cracow played with the concepts “antisemitism” and “Aryan people”, and why precisely Lueger, accused of German nationalism, served as a bearer of hope and how this all came to culminate in the call for an antisemitic movement. The above quotation from GÅ‚os Narodu [The Nation’s Voice] dated from the 20th of March 1897 shows the appropriation of Viennese antisemitism by the Cracovian clericals. The reference to Vienna was not a mere copy of the Viennese antisemites’ ideas. Rather it made up one element in a larger strategy of the Cracovian Clericals to gain votes in the ballot box. Analyzing these strategies and rhetorics allows a better understanding of antisemitism in the Catholic milieu in particular and in antisemitic agitation in Galicia in general.
In the 1890s the ultramontane- oriented Catholics changed their behaviour towards politics. They struggled to find a Catholic way into modern times and to present their goals to the believers by newspapers, associations and parties alike. To simplify somewhat: Pope Leon XIII. abandoned the self-chosen isolation of the papacy since the Italian unification and appealed for an active Catholic participation in public life.3 His 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum from 1891 not only proclaimed a struggle against liberalism, universal human rights and socialism, it also called upon all Christians to show social responsibility.4 The “social pope”“ and his assistant secretary Rampolla favorably supported Catholic parties interested in the social question.5 In July 1893 the Catholic Assembly of Cracow marked the point of departure for political Catholicism.6 The calls for establishing working-class associations, working houses, credit banks and Catholic newspapers, were to function as means of economic and cultural self-defense of Christians against their powerful enemies, i.e., socialists, capitalists, Freemasons, free thinkers and liberals. The missing link between these different camps was Jewry, which many clergymen associated with all of the mentioned phenomena. This connection did not always have to be in the foreground and at times – though rarely in the period 1895-98- was even totally missing.7 A unifying factor such as a common enemy was urgently needed, because no movement in Galicia was more splintered and diverse than Political Catholicism. Also it was the latest to evolve in the Galician political landscape before the Great War.8
It is also quite probable, that no other milieu had produced so many parties and newspapers. Political practise constantly contradicted the idea of a close unity of Catholic interests, a unity that supposedly the church’s enemies aimed to sabotage. Still, the Cracow Catholic assembly did at least succeed in establishing the catholic-national newspaper GÅ‚os Narodu directed at the Catholic people [lud katolicki]. In 1898, GÅ‚os Narodu, with a circulation of 5000 copies, became the biggest daily in Cracow.9 In the following years, other weekly papers and monthly newspapers appeared, which often functioned as press organs of the numerous new founded Catholic associations and organisations. They attempted to convince readers for the Christian social doctrine and to “protect” them from the influence of social democracy. In 1895 a weekly paper for Catholic workers Grzmot [Thunder] was founded in Lemberg, the city where the second Catholic assembly had taken place. A year later the paper moved to Cracow and its circulation trebled, reaching 1500 copies. In the same year appeared Prawda [The Truth], which defined itself as a “newspaper for religious, national, political, economic and amusing matters”. Its message was directed to villages and provincial towns. It was published by the later bishop Jan Puzyna and edited exclusively by priests.10 When we consider these newspapers, the appropriation of the Viennese Christian-social in different shades becomes apparent, as a common pattern. Hence they referred to each other and called themselves the newspapers of the Catholic working-class associations, they are representative of a considerable part of the Cracovian Christian social movement, even if it did not use this title.11 The variety of the Catholic newspapers, which were addressed partly to certain target groups shows the differentiation of the society and the struggle of Catholic circles to spread their vision of a social order under new social conditions. Grzmot for instance published since 1897 the monthly supplement Przyjaciel SÅ‚ug [Friend of the domestic]. It tried to transmit a moral life-style to the growing group of young women, coming mostly from the country to the cities, as well as to maintain social control in these new surroundings. One searches in vain for political subjects in its pages, since women possessed no right to vote. On the other hand much more men were encouraged to vote after the creation of the fifth curia, giving the vote to less prosperous elements in 1896. From this moment on, the parliament offered a chance for politics directed to the underclasses.
The parties that appealed to the Polish underclasses, were in western Galicia: the three People’s or Peasant Parties, Social Democracy and candidates of the conservative Central Electoral Committee (CKW)12 The Catholic camp around the paper GÅ‚os Narodu did not have its own political party and had to concentrate on the implementation of its own candidates in existing parties or to deliver electoral recommendations for existing lists.13 Thanks to the efforts of the Catholic working-class association PrzyjaÅºn [Friendship], the railway worker Feliks GawÅ‚owicz was placed as candidate of the CKW for the fifth Curia in Cracow and surroundings. Nevertheless, his open hostility towards Jews led to his downfall as the Jewish members of the Cracow CKW protested against his nomination. The committee backed down and nominated the landowner Prince Aleksander PoniÅ„ski.14 The éclat around GawÅ‚owicz was of great importance for the course of the election campaign. GÅ‚os Narodu interpreted the displacement as a proof of Jewish misuse of power and recommended voting for a different candidate. The catholic camp also rejected the secular Stronnictwo Ludowe [People’s Party], a democratic party which enjoyed the support of the liberal democrats around the newspaper Nowa Reforma. The Christian People’s Party (SChL) of StanisÅ‚aw StojaÅ‚owski was popular among peasants and unambiguously stressed Catholicism. Also its critical position towards authority appealed to workers from non-rural environments.15 But before the election campaigns started, StojaÅ‚owski made an arrangement with the social democrats, agreeing that they would concentrate only on cities while he would limit himself to the countryside. Besides tactical calculation there existed a programmatic closeness between him and the socialists which, however fell apart quickly after the elections.16 Therefore Glos Narodu only remained to propagate the Peasants Union as the right party for the Catholic people – a conservatively rural party which was successful above all in the area around Nowy SÄ…cz among rather well-to-do farmers and was hardly attractive to the urban underclass.17 In Cracow the clerical camp disposed neither of people nor parties who would have embodied the Catholic breakthrough in big politics. Hence, the Cracovian Christian-Socials directed their view across the Galician borders toward Vienna.
Finally, the elections to the Reichsrat took place in a wider context. Both disputes over nationality in many crownlands and the new fifth curia18 promised a radically different parliament. The social democrats were expected to become a new force. Though divided into national parties they would be unified in one faction in parliament. And, the best example of a successful mobilization of lower strata so far was a distinct opponent of the socialists- the Viennese mayor and leader of the Christian- Socials, Karl Lueger.19 He had been elected mayor several times since 1895, however, gained entry to office only in 1896, after Franz Joseph had to overlook his reservations against this open antisemite.20 Thus Karl Lueger became the bearer of hope of the Cracovian clericals during the Reichsrat elections. They tried to inscribe themselves in his success-story. The electoral success of his Christian-Socials carried by lower clergy fortified the Cracovians also to be able to win over “their” petits bourgeois for a clerical - anti-liberal and anti-capitalistic program. In the early nineties there had already been a call to found a similar party to the Christian- Socials in Galicia which should, in case of an electoral success, be placed in the Reichsrat in a common faction.21 Lueger’s most outstanding characteristics were his rhetorical abilities, his populism, and his antisemitism. One could cite his speeches, but not produce his charisma that moved the masses so easily. Hence, Lueger was referred to in the Cracovian newspapers as one of them. As a successful fighter against the rule of liberalism and capitalism and for the rights of the God-fearing Christian masses, the Cracovians aimed to use some of his “reflected glory”, getting success “on the street.” Finally, his antisemitism was rather easy to copy.
Reading the three newspapers Glos Narodu, Prawda and Grzmot, one notes that the takeover of this antisemitism occurred in 1896. Here Jews functioned as a code for liberalism, socialism, capitalism and the betrayal of the rights, the sensations and needs of the (Catholic) man in the street. Within a few months, all three organs went through an “antisemitic turn”. Since the beginning of their existence the newspapers had clearly been anti-Jewish. They characterized Jews above all by using jokes and mixed announcements, presenting them as swindlers and shameless blasphemers. Within 1896 the “Jewish issue” appeared more and more often in articles and announcements and set the tone for the papers’ political rhetoric. Now Jews were mentioned no longer as individuals or connected to concrete events but as the embodiment of all enemies. All three newspapers – and one could mention others – now sketched antisemitic scenarios of world conspiracies on their pages. Obviously the massive increase in antisemitism surprised some readers of Prawda. In the beginning of 1897, the editorial board felt constrained to explain this change in tone towards “the Jews” and also had to deal with the problem of antisemitism for Christians. In the papers fourth issue of 1897 one reads beneath the title “An honest confession of a Jew”: “Perhaps the reader is surprised that Prawda attacks the Jews so sharply, although our faith demands for charity. But we fullfilled this demand by taking in the Jews in Poland. But now they want to govern us. We should light their candles for them and kindle their fire and feed their children with Christian milk as already happens in some cases. Now and again there is a Jew who tells the truth about the Jews, for example, in the StanisÅ‚awów’s Wolny GÅ‚os [Free Voice]. He writes that the Christians first love their fellow man, while the Jews first love themselves, then come fellow men, but only when these are also Jews. For this reason, Prawda writes so harsh against the Jews.”22 Despite the explanation of Prawda’s new antisemitic course as a reaction to Jewish behaviour, in reality the reason was the forthcoming election which led to a clear increase in Judeophobia, also in the peasants’ press.23 To express prejudices toward Jews presented no problem for Catholic parties, but the declaration of a decidedly anti-Jewish politics came into conflict with the Christian self-image. Being antisemitic meant for many people to be not unchristian since hatred was regarded a sin. To have reservations against Jews, on the other hand, was part of the Catholic identity since ages. It was not by chance that on the Cracovian Catholic assembly Bishop Tarnowski felt forced to warn people about antisemitism.24 In 1896 the theologian and journalist Marian Morawski in his work “Asemitism” tried to establish that term to express virulent anti-Jewish hostility among Catholics while avoiding “Antisemitism”, which was blamed for disregarding the Christian commandment to love one’s neighbour as one’s self.25 Hence, it was important to wildly exaggerate the imagined threat from the Jews. Defending oneself against such a danger required dismissing concerns about “Christian” behaviour. The years 1896/1897 were also a turning point in the self-perception as politically deliberate Catholics in the sense that the avowal to political Jew-opposition - whether it was called Antisemitism or Asemitism – had become respectable. In some letters to the editor of GÅ‚os Narodu antisemitism seemed a natural component of being Christian, because both were defined in contradiction to the Jews.26 Decisively for the “antisemitic turn” within the newspapers and in the self-perception of the Catholics were the Reichsrat elections. These had a generally politicising and polarizing effect which the catholic camp interpreted in the dichotomy Christian/Jewish. The admiration for the antisemitic movement in Vienna was so strong because Vienna was deemed to be a stronghold of the Jews.27 Hence it was even more impressive that “the Viennese” had begun to resist “Jewish domination”. The rise of the Catholics in the very place of the stock-market swindle and the “political coups” was told from the beginning of 1896 in several Catholic papers in alleged correspondent’s reports and “original letters” from Vienna. Thus on the 15th January 1896 there appeared in Grzmot a letter from Vienna which praised the imposing unity of the Viennese Christian-social workers who had assembled in December in an impressive number. Ten days later it was reported that the popular approval for “Jewish social democrats” was continuously declining while more and more workers were going to church.
Lueger himself was presented in Prawda on the 2nd of January 1896 as a coarse German nationalist who had become abusive in the parliament. On the 1st of June, however, Prawda reported favorably that “the Vice-mayor of Vienna Dr. Karl Lueger” has spent Pentecost in Cracow and has visited its “national monuments” and the salt works in Wieliczka. GÅ‚os Narodu reported in January, 1897 that Lueger had given up his legal office completely in order to dedicate himself entirely to politics and the “catholic people”.
In the run-up to the elections of March 1897 the readers of these Cracovian gazettes were already familiar enough with the Viennese Christian-socials that the papers could just cite their tirades against the Austrian liberal press. Regarding an imagined Jewish International the editors dreamt of a concerted fight side by side with the exemplary Viennese allies. On the 13th of March one could read in GÅ‚os Narodu: “The revolting capitalistic exploitation which pours out of the articles of the Neue Freie Presse stands in no contradiction to the political actions of the social democrats which the Jewish Troika Marx-Lassalle-Engels have brought to life for the purpose of the indirect defence of Jewish exploitation against the self-defence of the Aryan nations. Since the Jews exploit the Aryans internationally, hence, their defensive army - social democracy - is also international. [...] Let’s follow the Jewish example and let us be glad internationally about the victory of the Viennese people and the Lower Austrian people in general. Let us finally learn to shake off the shameful Jewish yoke. Furthermore it is high time to do so, otherwise the other nations will look at us as lackeys of the Jews who let themselves be exploited in silence and do not possess the slightest instinct for self-defensive and self-preservation. These words are directed above all to the Galician voters who plan to vote for a Jew. Since the Austrians have voted so clearly along antisemitic lines it should be obvious that there is no sense in electing a Jew. It is completely pointless to vote for a Jew because in Vienna nobody would believe him and he would achieve nothing.” 28
This citation contains all elements of the strategy to use the ideal of the Viennese Christian-socials as a political example. The unanimity and determination of the Viennese against the Jews seemed to be a model for the undifferentiated Cracovians who were not able to oppose the immense menace posed by the Jewish conspiracy. Furthermore the author tried to awaken national pride which would be injured if Poles did not “ward off” off the Jews. Finally, the creation of a community of Aryan nations revealed a common destiny and likewise a community of interests between the Viennese and the Cracovians. The concept ‘Aryan’ appeared by analogy with the concept ‘semitic’ and illustrated the vast dimensions of the imagined struggle. Individuals were never mentioned as Aryans always as Catholics. However, the frequent “scientific”, especially linguistic and biological metaphors, show that religious circles, too spoke the language of the time. Even though they regarded themselves politically as catholic in the first hand, the authors of GÅ‚os Narodu described themselves not in religious but in linguistic categories. The distinction between traditional religious and modern secular hatred toward Jews in this case is impossible to draw. As the Christian Socials decided to make the declaration of being in opposition to the Jews as a distinct and major part of their political identity and furthermore rejected to use religious definitions only to define who is “us”, and “them” respectively, political Catholicism crucified the distinction between Judeophobia and anti-Semitism for political reasons. The fear for electoral victory of the Social-Democrats in 5th curia mentioned in the article did, by the way, come to pass both in Cracow and in Lemberg.
The editors reflected their bitterness about the defeat in dark colours. The situation in Galicia appeared all the more gloomy vis-à-vis the luminous image of the Austrians. Since neither the good example nor the appeal to national pride had brought any positive results, now only a direct alliance with Lueger could light the way out of the dark. On the 17th of March GÅ‚os Narodu wrote in an “original letter from Vienna” with the heading: “Let us wake up!”
“Today the municipalities choose in Lower Austria. One need not be a political prophet to forecast the vote. The peasants will give the same determined message against Jewish exploitation and Jewish dominance as did the Viennese in the general electoral class. The local people are conscious of their honour, represent their interests and act rationally. This is not Galicia where, mocked by the whole civilised world, Christians are toyed with by the Jews, where Christian voters lick the feet of the Jewish candidates.”29
In its post-electoral covers, Grzmot, on the other hand did not criticize Christians but just blamed the Jewish plot. Looking forward optimistically to the next elections, Grzmot also referred to Lueger: “In the current elections in Cracow and in Lemberg all Jews stuck together like a single man with the enemies of our faith and our native land. This is a provocation, a slap in the face. Let us accept this provocation. The voice of Grzmot is only the echo of what our whole society feels. Vienna and Lueger will become the pattern for us to win just as they have won.”30
In fact the Cracovian Catholic camp did subsequently take over “the pattern” of the Viennese Christian-socials even more clearly. Around the activist and editor in chief of GÅ‚os Narodu, Kazimierz Ehrenberg, the Christian-social community [Stowarzyszenie Chrzesciansko-Spoleczne] was founded, a clear reminiscent of Lueger’s Christlicher Sozialverein. Two months later, the community united with the Association of Antisemites [Zwiazek Antysemitów] which had also been founded in Cracow after the elections. The name of the common organ “The Antisemite” underpinned the open declaration of antisemitism. Moreover, the Cracovians tried to win over the popular StojaÅ‚owski whose party had gained an impressive six mandates. However, the peoples’ tribune was not willing to forfeit the influence he enjoyed in the SChL. Because of his despotic reign, however, two of his followers, Andrzej Szponder and Michal Danielak (both just elected to Reichsrat) broke with him in 1898 and founded the newspaper Obrona ludu [Defence of the People], apparently planning with Ehrenberg to found a new antisemitic party.31 Such a formation appeared shortly before the elections in 1900 and was called the Catholic-Antisemitic Party (SNA). Nevertheless, once again this party found a close competitor in Cracow in the new Catholic-National Party (SKN) which had originated from the Catholic labour movement as well. These attempts did not bring success. A purely antisemitic newspaper like The Antisemite had to be closed after two months because of financial difficulties and failed to get entrance to a social milieu in Cracow. Still, the political camp lacked an integrating figure. Furthermore, the needs and fears of the Cracovians could not be represented plausibly by a Catholic antisemitic offer.
Only in 1906 it came to a longer lasting formation, the Stronnictwo Chresciansko-Socjalne [Christian social party] that by using the German foreign word “socjalne” [social] instead of Polish term “spoleczne” with the same meaning (referred even closer to the Viennese).32 It never led, however, to the expected international antisemitic alliance under the guidance of Lueger. Admittedly, such a plan seemed inappropriate to the pragmatic Mayor. Furthermore, none of the European international antisemitic organizations “inspired” by the observation of Alliance Israelite Universelle lasted long. Antisemitism was not capable of winning a majority as a political program in the city of Cracow.
In the countryside the situation looked quite different. A year after the elections to the Viennese parliament advice by-elections took place in the district of Jaslo, where StanisÅ‚aw StojaÅ‚owski finally won. The election campaign was accompanied by massive antisemitic propaganda which limited itself not only to demands of “agrarian-antisemitism” but was also used to slander opponents. The pogrom wave in Galicia in the following summer which began in the agitated districts is only understandable in connection with this agitation.33
It has become clear that the politicization changed the dealing with the Jewish issue in the Catholic press for the masses. The thin line between a supposed “natural” Catholic aversion to Jews and declared political antisemitism34 doesn’t mean to leave the catholic ground. There was no need of a “scientific” world view to become an antisemite. It was rather the consequence of the opening for political discourse and the struggle for approval in a media scenery remaining at the same time in the logic of the Catholic church. The polarization and division into a world of the church as opposed to the world of its enemies led to a radicalization of speech, the harsher the more ground the “enemy” gained. The important role antisemitism played in this dichotomic imagination is illustrated in a statement by Karl Lueger: “Well, we will see which movement will be stronger, the democratic one or the anti-Semitic.”35 While their idol strengthened the antisemitic movement with democratic means, the Cracovians only strengthened the anti-Jewish hatred in their own language use owing to their lack of success in mass politics. But the growing hatred did not bring votes from the “Cracovian street.” In the end, the Viennese context could not be transferred to the Vistula and the alliance imagined in the opening quotation was a one-sided dream. Looking to Vienna brought no triumph at home. The lesson was not how to win but how to unleash hatred.
Tim Buchen, born 1979 in Koblenz am Rhein, Germany. Fellow at the German Historical Institute in Warsaw. He studied History and German Literature in Berlin, Cracow and Warsaw.
He received his master’s degree at Humboldt University in 2007 and his Ph.D at Technische Universität Berlin in 2011 with the dissertation “Antisemitism in Galicia. Agitation, Violence, and Politics against Jews in fin-de-siecle Habsburg Monarchy”. His main research interests are the imperial and national history of Central Europe as well as urban and political history.
How to quote this article:
Tim Buchen, "“Learning from Vienna Means Learning to Win”: the Cracovian Christian Socials and the "Antisemitic Turn" of 1896", in The Making of Antisemitism as a Political Movement. Political History as Cultural History (1879-1914) , eds. Werner Bergmann, Ulrich Wyrwa, Quest. Issues in Contemporary Jewish History. Journal of Fondazione CDEC, n.3 July 2012