International Socialist Archives

International Socialist was the journal produced by our tendency until January 2001, when we left the Committee for a Workers International. We now produce the journal Frontline.

Far Right Make Gains In Austrian Elections

John Evers in Vienna

With 27%, the extreme right wing Freedom Party of Austria (FPO) became at the elections on October the 3rd 1999 the second-strongest party. What is behind this success? Will its leader Haider come to power?

The rising of the FP has not fallen from heaven but started with the take-over of the party-leadership by Jorg Haider in1986. Step by step Haider changed the Party. From being a group and party of the old nazis, the left over fascists, together with some liberal top-officials, it turned into the most successful organisation of the new far rights in Europe. In Austria there has existed, since the middle of the 1980s, a united right-extreme force, that has a grown an apparatus and also a corresponding leadership-personality, that has political experience and money. The FPO is not a fascist party but represents a mixture of central, right-extreme topics - racism, police state, Anti-Trade-Union policy - as well as very flexible populist phraseology. However this alone, does not explain the success of the FPO.

The government until now: social-cuts and privatisation

Inseparably with the rising of the FPO is the coming to power of the so-called "Big coalition", made up from social democrats (SPD) and conservatives (OVP) in 1987. The SPD and OVP have privatised the former nationalised industries since then, unemployment has doubled and two savings-packages (ie cuts-packages) have been passed. The shock within the working class over this development is deeper than elsewhere: Austria was in the 1970's - similar to Sweden - seen as social democratic model-state. "Stability" - was the main and only slogan the SPD put forward in this election campaign. However the SPD stands for a stability that does not exist any longer today: In the former social democratic model-state today up to a fifth of the population live around the poverty line! The politics of the present SPD has nothing to do with that of the 1970's. The social democracy (in power since 1970) stood in the last years at the top of a government that - symbolised through joining the EU at the beginning of the 1990's - made Austria in breathtaking speed part of the neo-liberal change in Europe. A whole generation has experienced the SPD only as a party of social cuts.

Social cuts without resistance

Also crucial is that all these changes were enforced without considerable resistance from below. The Trade-Union-Federation (OGB) was and is tied into the government-politics and has partially, even actively, participated in pushing through the cuts. The extreme anti-communism spread through the social democracy in the workers movement after 1945, and is one of the main reasons for the lack of a party of the left from Social Democracy and Greens until today. The absence of resistance is to be led on the system of proportional representation ("Proporz”) and social-partnership going back historically. Proporz and social-partnership lead to the direct power-division and sharing between SPD and OVP, as well as the involvement of the Trade Unions at all levels of society. The OGB is and wants to be part of the state apparatus and gives up strikes and any other form of resistance for this. However, today this strategy is in a deep crisis. More and more entrepreneurs want to rule without involving the SPD and the Trade Unions. For them the FPO offers the demand of the elimination of the Trade-Union influence and of an end of social-partnership.

Wide parts of the population are against the corruption that is connected with this system
and for many of them the FPO can present itself as an - apparent - alternative. On the other hand, the SPD is the only force which identifies itself fully with this outdated-model - another reason for its decline.

End of the SPD as a workers-party

The price for the neo-liberal turn of the SPD, was the loss of its traditional members and voters-basis, as well as the total disappearing of the youth from this party. Only 40 % of the workers, and 25 % of those younger then 30, voted in 1999 for the SPD. Within both these groups the FPO the strongest party - with 45% of the workers (mainly male) and 35 % of the youth. These figures express undoubtedly the end of the SPD as the traditional workers party. However, the FPO can fill this vacuum only partly: The SPD lost 230,000 voters to the FPO at these elections, but 275,000 did not vote at all. Although the FPO has won the majority of the votes from the working class, it has not succeeded at all, in sinking roots into the workers movement itself: Less then one percent of the shop-stewards confess themselves to be part of the Freedom Party's trade union fraction. Also on an organisational base Haider could not benefit from the lose of members of the two big parties: With about 40,000 members, the FPO has stagnated at the same level since the middle of the 1980's (to compare: SPD and OVP both have up to 400,000 members). The FPO remains a protest-party whose strength results mainly from one circumstance - It has so far no serious opponent.

Integration of the FPO continues

Most commentators no longer question that the FPO will come into government. The question that they put is only "when". The conservative OVP, that sees itself as the winner of these elections because it has lost less than the SPD, is split in relation to this question. A government with the SPD means the certain continuation of the decline of both parties and the abandonment of the position of the chancellor.

Vice-versa a coalition with the FPO would be a calculated risk, not only because the FPO could benefit much more in such an alliance. The vote itself has caused an enormous polarisation in Austria. Everywhere at the workplaces, in the pubs, on the street there is discussion about the political situation. On the 1st of October, at the last public rally of Haider in Vienna hundreds of unorganised FPO-opponents where there to protest. Since then there is, especially amongst the youth, a mood that reminds of the period at the beginning of the 1990's of anti-racism and anti-FPO. These are the central issues which are politicising and activating people.

According to opinion polls up to 60 percent reject the big coalition - but even stronger is the opposition to a government with participation with the FPO. Instability and the question of political alternatives will be the essential marking points of the next period.

The fact, that none of the established parties could prevent Haider and will prevent him is obvious. The FPO already has the Landeshauptmann (county Prime ministers) in Carinthia and the Vize-Landeshauptmann in the state of Vorarlberg. This "personal" integration will go further.
Every government will try to continue the turn to the right of the last years - as with the extremely repressive and restrictive immigration policy. The discussion on the budget for 2000 has not yet started; a tax reform has to be financed it and EU pact for stability has to be fulfiled. The Austrian section of the CWI (SOV) sees in this situation the possibility to put forward the question of the political alternative and with it the idea of a new workers party.

John Evers in Vienna