The far-right in Austria is on the rise. Spearheaded by the Freedom Party, the right-wing nationalists are winning more support each year. The capitalist media is unable to answer why these nationalists are winning the votes of workers and low income people. They claim that many Austrians are led by nationalism and fear of Islam. Although this plays a role, there is a deeper reason why the reject the conservative Austrian People’s Party and the pseudo-leftist; Social-democratic Party of Austria. Austerity and cuts to social welfare have led to anger and this is what the nationalists exploit. However they direct the anger of the masses against the wrong people. Muslims and immigrants are blamed, not the capitalists and the ruling class which the nationalists support and protect!
In the last elections, the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) won 20,51% of the vote. They increased their support with almost 6%. In the 1990’s, the right-wing nationalists were also very popular. Back then they were led by Jörg Haider, a classic nationalist who had no problems of flirting with Austria’s Nazi past. Haider called former members of the Waffen SS ”honorable” and the Nazi death-camps were ”punishment camps” according to him. As leader of the FPÖ, Jörg Haider played the role of the populist politician. A man who spoke like the average worker and who claimed to represent the ordinary Austrian against the political elite!
Austria used to be a two party state with either the conservatives winning elections or the social democrats. Most governments in Austria have been build on coalitions between the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) and Social-democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ). The right-wing nationalists played a minor role in politics until the late 1980’s, when the first austerity governments started to cut social services. With social democracy moving away from its leftist roots, the nationalists could play on classic issues that were once part of the social democratic ideology!
Under Jörg Haider the FPÖ grew in support and by 1999 it had defeated the conservatives. Instead of appealing to the social democrats, the conservatives choose to work with Haider. For the first time in Austrian history, the far-right and right-wing joined forces in a coalition government. Europe was in shock that the conservatives had decided to work with that ”fascist” FPÖ. Fourteen European nations choose to impose sanctions in Austria because the nationalists were part of the government. Jörg Haider loved the sanctions and hostility of many European governments towards him. It allowed the nationalists to spread their ethnic nationalist poison and the claim that the European Union was against the democratic will of the Austrian people!
But was coalition partner in a capitalist government, Jörg Haider’s populism soon faced the reality. The government of Austria is supportive of capitalism and austerity was still a useful tool to serve the masters of the economy. The nationalist FPÖ was forced to accept capitalist law and order. In a tactical move to shield himself, Haider choose to leave the party chair to a woman, who was blamed for the party’s compromises with the conservatives. Most right-wing nationalists hated the coalition government and behind the scenes, Haider also did not liked the way he had to compromise!
In September 2002, the Freedom Party of Austria choose to leave the government. This became known as a coup of the more radical nationalists who never like the idea of joining forces with the conservatives. Haider played a key role in bringing down the very government he had build in 1999. Although he played the role of a charismatic populist who portrayed the coalition was ”harmful” to Austria, the capitalist media was outraged. The FPÖ lost the 2002 election, more then 800.000 voters abandoned Jörg Haider. This proofed that the right-wing nationalists were not so trustworthy as they claimed they were!
Although defeated, the conservatives still wanted to rule with the nationalists. Maybe because the Social-democratic Party of Austria was still too leftist in the eyes of the bourgeois party. Also the FPÖ had proofed that although Haider played a destructive role, others were still trustworthy. Moderate nationalists were more in line with the conservative agenda then the social democrats. Again the FPÖ joined up with the ÖVP in a right-wing capitalist government. Jörg Haider did not liked it and became more and more unwanted in his own party!
Three years after the Freedom Party of Austria joined the capitalist government, Jörg Haider and his supporters split away to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ). This new party was clearly right-wing populist in character and social conservative. The BZÖ is by all means a capitalist party and supports the market dictatorship, but like most far-right parties they hind their support for capitalism under mountains of populism!
The 2006 elections were a good start for Haider’s new BZÖ. He won 7 seats in parliament and was able to promote his return as a victory for the ”ordinary Austrians”. By now the coalitions with the FPÖ were over, the conservative ÖVP embraced a coalition government with the social democrats of the SPÖ. Although the conservatives and social democrats had not worked together since 1995, it worked well for capitalism. Austrian social democracy had abandoned its traditional leftist roots and now considered austerity and privatizations an ”economic necessity”!
Many Austrians did not liked the new government, especially the social cuts and rising inequality. Jörg Haider exploited the problems and blamed both the European Union and immigrants. Like the Swiss People’s Party, the Alliance for the Future of Austria is anti-Islamic and does not like the idea of Muslims having the same democratic rights as Christians and Jews. 7% of the total population belong to the Islamic faith. Most are Turkish workers imported during the 1960’s, there are only 12.000 ethic Arab Muslims in the nation!
Still the right-wing nationalists of both the FPÖ and BZÖ portray Islam as the biggest danger to Europe. Although 93% of Austrians are NOT ISLAMIC, the two right-wing parties called for an immigration stop from Islamic nations. Jörg Haider won a great victory in 2008 when his party was able to get 10,70% of the votes. But he did not lived to see the fruits of his victory. On 11 October 2008, Haider was speeding home in his luxury Volkswagen Phaeton. Driving over 147 kilometers (91 miles) per hour and with a lot of alcohol in his blood, the populist lost control over his car. Jörg Haider crashed and died of brain damage!
With his death, the BZÖ was not able to remain the voice of populism and anti-Islam. Because the FPÖ has elected a new leader to become the face of Austrian nationalism. Heinz-Christian Strache is the voice of the nationalists since Jörg Haider left in 2005. Strache is a strong nationalist who uses the conflicts in the middle east as excuse to spread fear and hatred of Muslims. His quotes are simple and populist in nature like: ”Vienna must not become Istanbul” or ”jobs, not immigration”. Strache knows that there is a deep feeling of political disillusion in the main parties of capitalism. The only reason he and his right-wing nationalists are winning is because there is not real socialist alternative to challenge him!
This is the main problem not just for Austria. There are no mass workers parties to challenge the right-wing populists. Social democrats have moved to the side of the capitalists and moderate socialists are not even talking about socialism. Austria does not have a leftist party next to social democracy. The Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) has not won any seats in parliament since 1956 and has remained a small political party. There is the Green Party, but this party is not a force for socialism. The leadership of the Greens even tried to build a coalition government with the conservatives once. Only massive protest by its members prevented this. Still the Greens are a bourgeois party, who do not wish to brake with the capitalist system!
After the 2013 elections, the BZÖ lost its last seats. Today the party that Jörg Haider founded is a small populist one with only 8.000 members. In parliament, the FPÖ is once against the voice for right-wing nationalism, while a new party called: Team Stronach for Austria, plays on right-wing populism. Team Stronach is the movement of billionaire: Frank Stronach. This businessman went into Austrian politics after the BZÖ lost support. With the same ethnic nationalism and anti-immigration politics, Team Stronach tries to play on people’s fear of Muslim immigrants. Like the FPÖ and BZÖ, Team Stronach for Austria supports classic capitalism and the rule of greed and money!
Heinz-Christian Strache and his Freedom Party of Austria profited from the refugee crisis in Europe. After the interventions in Libya and Syria, many Arabs are fleeing war and conflict. Austria is a popular route many wish to take and the right-wing nationalists do not like this. With old style racism they portray refugee males as ”sexual monsters” who would rape any blond hair woman they can find. To hind their commitment to economic neoliberalism, Strache claims that the Austrian welfare system is under attack from immigrants and refugees. Workers are told that austerity and social cuts are the results of Muslims getting preferential treatment. This angers many workers who rightfully reject the austerity attacks by the SPÖ & ÖVP government on their incomes, pensions and social security!
But the capitalist government of SPÖ and ÖVP do not care. Their masters in Brussels demand austerity cuts to be made. With no genuine workers party to fight for workers and their interests, the far-right nationalists of the FPÖ claim to stand for ordinary Austrians. The presidential elections of May 2016 could result in a nationalist victory giving the nation its first far-right president. The first round are won by the FPÖ candidate, but it remains to be seen if he wins the second round. His challenger is a member of the Green Party while the candidates from the conservatives and social democrats won not enough votes!
The position of president in the Republic of Austria is a ceremonial position and it has little real power. So even if the FPÖ wins the second round it would not mean that the nation becomes a far-right state. It would however boost right-wing populism across Europe. In the USA, Donald Trump plays the same card as the ”Freedom Party of Austria” does. The French; ”National Front”, the German; ”Alternative for Germany” and the Dutch; ”Party for Freedom” are all based on the same right-wing populist, anti-immigrant agenda!
What can be done to stop this? Austrian workers need to realize that the FPÖ is not a workers party. Nationalist leaders support capitalism, they love cutting taxes for the rich and have already shown to be supportive of austerity. Many on the left wish to build a common front against what they call ”FPÖ Fascism”. Although the Freedom Party of Austria plays on the same ethnic nationalism as fascists, it is wrong and counterproductive to call them ”fascist”. A true fascist party would never work with parties of the bourgeoisie, unless they can use them to destroy socialists, communists and trade unionists. The FPÖ is a far-right nationalist party this is true, but they lack mass organisations and do not promote a single party state nor totalitarianism!
The Socialist Left Party (SLP) in Austria is trying to build a common front for socialism. Austria needs a workers party against the forces of nationalism and capitalism. The Social-democratic Party of Austria has abandoned class struggle and the Communist Party of Austria has become a moderate socialist party instead of a revolutionary party. This leaves the SLP as the only genuine socialist force in the nation. But the party is relative young and ignored by the mainstream media!
Despite the weakness of the Austrian left-wing, the SLP will keep up the struggle against Heinz-Christian Strache and his Freedom Party of Austria. We also fight against the capitalist establishment and their puppet parties (SPÖ and ÖVP). Nationalist thinking is rooted deeply in many workers, a result of social democratic betrayal and anger. Austrian workers have good reasons to reject the establishment. But their anger is aimed at people who are not responsible for the lose of social security, lower pensions, stagnated wages and cuts to social welfare. Muslims did not enforced austerity, yet the FPÖ claims other wise. For them, Islam is the main problem despite that 93% of all Austrians are not Islamic and will never become Muslim!
Update written on 21:14 hours on 23-05-2016: The Green Party candidate has been able to defeat the candidate of the Freedom Party of Austria, for the office of president of the Republic of Austria!