Vienna: Thousands take to the streets against reactionaries

On January 24 thousands took to the streets of Vienna to protest and take action against an international dinner-dance organised by right-wing academic fraternities, who are renowned for their extremely reactionary and fascist views. The protests were very successful and indicate a radical mood developing among the youth in Austria.

Dinner-dances (“Bälle” in German) are considered to be part of the culture of Vienna. Even UNESCO has approved them as a non-material cultural heritage. This title, however, was withdrawn because of the so-called Akademiker-Ball that is internationally recognised as an interface between the bourgeois establishment and fascist political outfits.

This, however, does not prevent official Austria allowing this coming together to take place in the historically emblematic Hofburg. The Hofburg was the City-Palais of the Austrian emperor, now the seat of the Federal President. There is also a magnificent balcony, from which Adolf Hitler once declared to the masses on Heldenplatz the Anschluss [“Reunification”] of Austria to Nazi-Germany back in 1938.

This venue basically has all the trappings required to celebrate national, racist and male superiority, all traits – documented in previous years by investigative journalists – that have been openly displayed in the magnificent rooms of official Austria every year since the fraternities have been allowed to celebrate there.

A word of historical explanation: the fraternities trace their origins back to the fraternities of the pre-1848 national-democratic student associations. As history goes, they were transformed into reactionary and even openly fascist outfits as Germany was unified and transformed from a European underdog into a major imperialist power on the continent at the end of the 19th century. Not for nothing was the University of Vienna a bulwark of fascism in the inter-war period. It was only after the “massification” [a much larger intake of student] of the university in the 1970s, that these fraternities were marginalised among the students.

In spite of all this, they still they maintain their traditions, reactionary ideologies and male-only networks. These people believe themselves to be the elite of society and the upholders of the morals of decency and competence, when in reality they are a nepotistic machine for career promotion of those who belong to it. Politically they are the intellectual backbone of the reactionary FPÖ (Freedom Party).

When the conservative party joined a coalition with the FPÖ in 2000, these people made rapid progress in the state institutions, making more public appearances and getting a bigger share of public corruption – as is now starting to be revealed. It was in that year that the Akademiker-Ball was transferred into the emblematic Hofburg and was honoured with the attendance of the bigwigs from the upper strata of society who, as always in history, had developed a fine sense of smell that allowed them to detect the winds of change. Even after the re-establishment of the Grand Coalition, these reactionaries were allowed to stay in the Hofburg and enjoy the company of the upper echelons of society.

Resistance

For many years there have been street protests against the Akademiker-Ball. This year, as in previous years, there were three major alliances that prepared and mobilised for the protests. The different alliances represent three political currents with their different methods, who, however, have something in common. They are all angered by the fact that these reactionaries with their ambiguous interpretation of the fascist past (to say the least!) are allowed into the Hofburg.

One alliance is called the “Zeichen Setzen” (“Take a Stance”). It is a classic “civil society” grouping. It is supported by the Greens and the Communist Party, the Mauthausen-Komitee (an association which keeps alive the memory of the horrors of the biggest concentration and extermination camp in Austria) and other victims of fascist violence. There are also youth organisations such as the Socialist Youth and the Students federations which support this alliance. It was announced that this march would be lead by survivors of the concentration camps. Its strategy is appealing to the general public, officials and media outlets. Their demonstration was supposed to be a protest march around the place where the reactionaries meet.

The second alliance, called “NO_WKR”, follows the classical methods of the Autonomous groups to go for direct confrontation with the state, with capital and the fascists. This usually ends up very quickly with heavy cordons of riot police and some frustrating attempts to inflict whatever damage is possible.

As a reaction to these two quite ineffective methods of protest, in the last three years the newly formed “Offensive gegen Rechts” [OGR, Offensive against the Right] debated new ways of protesting against this event. After a strategic analysis it was decided that the weak link of the right-wing gathering was its access routes to the venue. So the strategic aim of the “OGR” was to blockade all access to the Hofburg and isolate these sword-carrying reactionaries and their female hangers-on in the halls. Such a method requires mass participation and the combination of central and decentralized strategies. Its attitude is militant but not provocative or proactive against police lines.

The first thing that is required is support from a wide layer of groups and tendencies. This year more then 40 organisations signed up to the demo call. This includes most left-wing organisations from a socialist or communist background, radical immigrant organisations, as well as trade union organisations like the metalworkers and different left-wing immigrants’ organisations. Also the supporters of the Marxist paper Der Funke, who represent the ideas of the IMT in Austria, extended their support to this idea and association right from its inception. The Communist Party as well the Socialist Youth extended their support to this appeal as well as “Zeichen Setzen”.

The blockade of the access routes has had positive effects in past years as the guests of the ball did not find them very welcoming and they were not glamorously received. The less politically active guests started to stay at home as well as some of their more publicly known figures.

Miscalculation of the Police

Every year the police do their best to make the protests difficult or to illegalise them all together. This year the police of Vienna acted in a provocative manner right from the start. Firstly, they banned the peaceful demonstration of “Zeichen setzten”. Then they cordoned off a big area around the Hofburg (more then double the size of the no-go area when George W. Bush visited Vienna in 2006). They illegalised scarves in nine of the 23 districts of Vienna, and finally they banned journalists from the area. All this, they argued, was for security reasons. This provocation left anyone sensitive to democratic rights somewhat speechless and lead to a huge wage of protests in the social media.

Instead of isolating the protest the actions of the police chiefs spurred on the mobilisation. Despite the ban some 8,000 to 10,000 protesters took to the streets. Facing them were some 2000 uniformed police officers and an unknown number of civil police informers and provocateurs.

As it happened, just minutes before the main evening news, a short but furious wave of small scale riots broke out in the inner city district. These incidents included attacks on photographers and a journalist who was preparing a live report from the scene. These incidents clearly suited the police and the FPÖ strategy of portraying the anti-fascist demonstrators as extremist lumpen elements.

Throughout the evening and the night the police acted very brutally with tear gas, pepper spray and riot gear against the blockades that were of a mass character at many points. Demonstrators blocked the roads, and in some streets even managed to break through the police lines into the prohibited zone. The mobilisation was a real success, as compared to the 10,000 protestors only 400 reactionaries managed to make their way into the Hofburg. This is less than half of last year’s attendees and well behind previous years’ attendance of 2000 and more. This clearly indicates that a militant stance against fascism has found a proper mass expression.

Viennese Police protect the Fascists

It is clear that they must have felt their utter isolation in society and the mood in the big but empty halls must have been other than festive.

However, the strategy of the police worked in the sense that the three minutes of rioting in the inner-city was all the media were interested in. It was clear to all that this would be the televised message of the day. The Social Democratic leaders, who did not have any ideological stance even towards fascists, went into hiding altogether. The only public message on the issue before the day of the demonstration was articulated by the President of the Parliament, Barbara Prammer. And this is what she had to say: “Conflicts on the streets go against democratic principles”. This read as “open fire” for the riot police, and so it was.

This cowardly policy gave a green light to the police methods of police chief Pürstl. Every day since the demonstration he has stretched the limits of what was considered impossible up until recently in post-war Austria.

On Sunday evening he announced on TV that the police would be collecting the personal data of the injured protesters who were treated by the rescue organisations. This resembles the situation in the first republic when the workers’ movement had to establish its own rescue organisations, because the Red Cross widely collaborated with the state apparatus and even refrained from giving medical help to victims of state repression.

But Pürstl did not stop at this. In the early morning news on January 30 Pürstl reflecting on possible mistakes the police had made stated the following: “Probably the de-escalation strategy in the beginning was wrong, perhaps we should have immediately used arms”.

Total Recall – SPÖ and Greens

The degeneration of the leaders of the Social Democrats and the Green Party is now exposed even on the most basic ideological questions. We have already quoted SPÖ-Barbara Prammer, who clearly states that it is our democratic right to be silent and accept anything as opposed to the once sacred democratic right to express opposition! The police and democracy are now one and the same, and there are 10,000 people who need to learn this lesson. The right wing applauded this, while the reactionaries of the FPÖ were twittering their support for all acts of police aggression against Left-wingers.

The big media corporations, from the conservative to the left liberal, fell into the same schema. In this hysterical atmosphere Green Party leaders came out hard against their youth organisations, threatening them with expulsions. This is because the Green Youth was sympathetic and helped the Autonomous mobilisation of NO-WKR. The weekly Falter, which up till recently had been considered a left-liberal journal, praised the Euro-Maidan protesters in Kiev against the old fashioned divisions in provincial Vienna.

There is a point, as the bourgeoisie openly admit, that the rights or wrongs of any barricade depend on the political ideas that motivate it. So there is no need to be astonished by the stance of the bourgeois liberals concerning the anti-fascist protests. What is really astonishing is the complete lack of historical memory on the part of the Social Democratic leaders.

First of all we have to understand that a great number of the protestors are sympathetic towards the Social Democracy, or in some cases are even activists in one of their many organisations. But amongst the leaders any sense of the role of fascism is completely lost and replaced by slogans for an abstract democracy, a pro-European Union stance and an anti-violence approach. It is clear that for these ladies and gentlemen the question of “violence” is more important than what the police did or than the unbearable social situation that exists for the many.

So after pressure in the party emerged, after five days the Viennese party leader finally ended his silence and came out criticising the police for failing to go after the “anarchists hordes” more efficiently and separate them better from the “normal” demonstrators.

However, this is not all. February 12 is the 80th anniversary of the armed uprising of Austrian workers against the fascists in 1934. Today there will be many regional and local commemorative activities but one of them strikes a blow, a serious shock, to any honest working class activist. The national party leader will commemorate the date together with the leader of the Conservative party, to show “unity” and a joint devotion to democracy. People have not forgotten that the Conservative party was responsible for the murder of more than one thousand workers and their families back in 1934 and have never even formally apologised for this fact, and to this day they honour Dollfuss, the butcher of the workers, in their club rooms in Parliament.

This open reversal of progressive traditions, the enhancement of the apparatus of repression, the ideological rolling back, the government of “national unity” and the general proclamation that “There is no alternative anywhere” is having a profoundly radicalising effect on the young generation of left actvists.