The first free and unrestricted elections for the Vienna City Council in May 1919 give the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria the absolute majority of votes and mandates. A reform project commences, attracting much international attention and fierce antagonism from opponents at home. The aim is a dramatic improvement in workers’ living conditions and a far-reaching democratization of society. The basic question about “how to live” is intensively and widely debated, not without controversy. Many ideas, including the theoretical foundations of Austromarxism, emerge during the period prior to World War I. The city's new status as a discrete federal province opens up substantial scope for political and economic activity.

The new municipal government must tackle the central issue of housing, which comes to head during World War I with the suspension of private construction activity. A revolutionary fiscal policy (luxury tax) provides funding for the creation of over 60,000 apartments by 1934 as well as numerous social, leisure and cultural facilities. The preference for multi-storey residential buildings, as opposed to the cooperatively organized estates on urban peripheries that find favour internationally, and the monumentality of complexes such as Karl Marx Hof are however hotly contested.

The exhibition examines the specific historic preconditions for Red Vienna, long-term effects on the city's structure and layout, the relation between Austromarxist ideology and political pragmatism, international influences, the impression that Red Vienna created outside the city, and the current political relevance of this dynamic and experimental 15-year period in Viennese municipal politics.