Little red Vienna: Ghent's urban image in the interwar period
Ghent (Belgium) -- Politics and government Ghent (Belgium) -- Social conditions Socialism -- Belgium -- Ghent -- History Ghent (Βέλγιο) -- Πολιτική και διακυβέρνηση Ghent (Βέλγιο) -- Κοινωνικές συνθήκες Σοσιαλισμός -- Βέλγιο -- Ghent -- Ιστορία
Ghent (Belgium) was one of the first industrialised cities on the European continent and therefore traditionally a 'red' city: the presence of a large workers population was the ideal soil for the expansion of socialism in the 19th century.Starting in the last quarter of the 19th century, the socialist movement in Ghent developed an active building policy, consisting in local meeting-rooms, cooperative shops, pharmacies, and two festive halls that could compete with the bourgeois opera- and theatre-houses. The typical "Ghent system" of socialism was characterised by the creation of socialist manufactures that were admitted to a quotation in the Stock-Exchange (as contrasted with cooperative manufactures) and the foundation in 1913 of "The Workers Bank" as the pre-war "pearl on the crown". The introduction after World War I of the universal suffrage (for men) led to a national victory for the socialist party, which for the first time now participated in the country's government. For a short time in the interwar period, the socialist ideology would have a meaningful impact on the country's management, especially visible in the social housing policy.Taking avail of this reinforced position on a national scale, the Ghent socialists realised a "red project" for their city, inspired by the socialist reshaping of the city of Vienna (Austria).In Ghent, the socialist party was about the same size as the catholic party, and they governed the city in a "tripartite" with the smaller liberal party. A "modus vivendi" was found in which each political party could, trough the adjudication of the magistrate's offices, develop his specific vision on the city. The socialists held the offices of education and social welfare.A delicate balance was created between the expansion of Ghent as a city of trade and industry - the catholic-liberal project - and the realisation of facilities that could guarantee the welfare of the large working-class population. The materialisation of this socialist vision on the city was on one hand realised trough the urban political power they held. The net of city-schools was expanded and used as a means of preventive healthcare trough the attachment of GP's offices and public showers. Ill and undernourished children were traced by the school's GP and temporarily placed in the city's open-air-school to regain their strength trough exercises and healthy food.For a short interval, even day-care was supplied for children from working parents. As a pioneer in Belgium, the city of Ghent created a municipal housing service, which provided 750 housing units in the interwar period.On the other hand, the socialist party itself enhanced its building policy with a socialist hospital, several socialist factory-buildings, two socialist printing-offices (one for the newspaper, one for books and printed matters) and a "University for the People".The two last-mentioned institutions betray the socialist ambition not only to take care of the worker's material welfare but also his general education. The bankruptcy of "The Workers Bank" in 1934, which caused the resignation of the socialist members of the city's government, combined with financial problems in the slipstream of the worldwide economical depression of the thirties, brought this progressive materialisation of a "red utopia" for Ghent to an end - almost simultaneous with the Austro-fascist coup that put an end to the Viennese reforms...
Paper presented at Seventh International Conference on Urban History: European City in Comparative Perspective, Panteion University, Athens - Piraeus, Greece, 27-30 October 2004, Session: Industrial and Modern