Some of our readers will perhaps remember the inauguration of the right-wing coalition government in Austria in February 2000. For the first time since 1970 the Social Democratic Party was not part of the federal government. The new government was formed by Wolfgang Schüssel of the conservative Peoples’ Party and Jörg Haider, the leader of the Freedom Party. This led to a big movement of Austrian “civil society” and a wave of international protests starting with the tops of the EU. Many on the left saw the threat of fascism because of the participation of the Freedom Party in this new bourgeois government.
Now five years later, Jörg Haider’s Freedom Party has split and he has formed a new party with all the FP-ministers – the “Bündnis Zukunft Österreich” (BZÖ, Alliance Future Austria). The new party has shed its old blue party colour for orange, in an attempt to present the new political formation as part of the tradition of the “orange revolution” in Ukraine. What seems to be political hysteria on the part of the egocentric “leader” is in fact a well-calculated step to stabilize the crisis ridden bourgeois government. However, rather than create stability, the opposite could occur and there could be even more instability. What seems to be clear is that time is running out for the bourgeois coalition.
The split in the Freedom Party and the formation of the BZÖ is in reality an expression of the weakness of the Austrian bourgeoisie and its political representatives. The PP-FP government has been quite successful in its attack on the labour movement and the social rights of the Austrian working class. However, the success of these attacks was the result of the behaviour of the labour movement. In fact, this government has been characterized by internal conflicts and crisis. As a consequence of its political nature the FP was a unique source of destabilization. The FP always based itself on petty bourgeois, German-nationalist forces within Austrian society. Many of its activists come from a Nazi background. Until Jörg Haider took over the party leadership the FP was an extremely weak factor in Austrian politics. It was only the racist and demagogic populism of Jörg Haider that made the rise of the FP possible. This policy allowed the FP to get tens of thousands of votes from workers and former Social Democratic supporters, a direct result of the SP’s “Third Way” policies of the 1990s.
The FP could not continue its political line with the entry of the party into government in 2000. It had to have a policy openly in favour of the capitalists. The contradictions that accumulated during the rise of the party and which were hidden by the big successes of Jörg Haider, now came to the surface. With every new attack on the working class the FP lost popular support. Jörg Haider was for a long time himself a living expression of this contradiction. On the one hand he wanted to stick to his lifelong dream: that of a government without the “reds” and without the power, control and interference of the trade unions. On the other hand he wanted to save his party, which under his leadership had received 27% of the vote.
The catastrophic election defeats over the past period and the ridiculous role of the FP ministers as mere appendages of the Conservatives led to a rebellion of the extreme right-wing nationalist tendency within the FP. On the one hand there was the FP leadership with their ministerial posts and on the other hand there was the majority of the base of the party, and somewhere in the middle there was Jörg Haider...
Jörg Haider saw that the extremist wing would probably get a majority at the next party congress. This would have meant the end of the bourgeois government. Under these conditions Haider formed his new party and made himself the new leader. In the end, the right-wing populist Haider, with all his talk about the “little man” and “honest and hard-working people”, decided to save the government and its openly pro-bourgeois policy. Haider now suddenly supports the EU enlargement process, he wants more money for the “middle classes” and he is now openly opposed to the Nazi regime. He wants to present his new party as part of the political establishment. The bourgeois press now reports that some of the wealthiest Austrian capitalists support this new formation, including Frank Stronach (Magna), Haselsteiner (a big building contractor), etc.
This political manoeuvre ensures Chancellor Schüssel’s majority in parliament, for the moment. However, this government is now more unpopular than ever. For most people these political manoeuvres have nothing to do with democracy. How can a party that has never been elected be part of the government? The majority of the population want new elections as soon as possible. With every passing day the bourgeois parties demonstrate that even this manoeuvre cannot guarantee stability. Last week the government lost a vote in the second chamber of parliament (the “Bundesrat”). This could also happen at any time in the “Nationalrat” (first chamber of parliament) where the members of the old Freedom Party show no interest in stabilizing the situation.
The split in the Freedom Party affected the party from top to bottom. Haider hoped that most of the FP would follow their former leader. Now that both sides have held their congresses it is clear that Haider could only take the regional FP in Carinthia with him. The majority of the party activists remained with the old party under its new leadership. The new chairman is H.C. Strache, an extreme right-winger with links to openly fascist forces. At the moment he is campaigning for “law and order” and resorts to racist attacks against Turkey and Turkish immigrants.
Chancellor Schüssel has no interest in new elections because he fears a defeat. The BZÖ and the FPÖ could even be kicked out of parliament. As a result they will stick together as long as possible. However, with each passing day they create more and more chaos. Only some days ago one of Schüssel’s top representatives spoke of the persecution of Nazis after the Second World War and stated that deserters from the German Wehrmacht in World War II were “murderers of their own comrades”. Sooner or later this artificial coalition will break down. In substance there is no ideological or programmatic difference between the old FPÖ and the “new” BZÖ. The BZÖ will only survive as long as the big spenders continue to support this project. Without this support Haider would fall into the political oblivion.
The FPÖ is now led by its extreme right wing. Most of its new leaders have links to Nazis and other even more reactionary groupings and intellectuals. This does not mean, however, that the FPÖ has now turned into a fascist party. As they did under Jörg Haider in the 1990s, they will try to maximize their votes through racist demagoguery. Their political strategy remains within the framework of parliamentarism. However, one can imagine that many Nazis will now join the FP because they see the possibility of increasing their influence under the new leadership.
Behind the scenes Schüssel is probably searching for a new coalition. His most likely option are the Greens, who have transformed themselves into an openly bourgeois party, following the example of their friends in Germany. They are already part of the regional government with the PP in Upper Austria. In any case, the fact that the Austrian bourgeoisie must rely on a gambler like Schüssel is evidence of the weakness of the ruling class. They can only solve the crisis by gambling. This is definitely not the old stability that characterized Austrian politics for decades.
One can see the depth of the crisis if one considers that the crisis has occurred without any mobilisations of the trade unions or the SP. This government could be brought down within a matter of days with a big demonstration of the labour movement. The majority of the working class demands a political alternative to this bourgeois government. For the first time there are the conditions for an absolute majority of the SP at the next elections.
With a programme that answers the demands of the working class and the youth, and offers a solution to unemployment, cuts, low wages and the destruction of public services, the SP could gather enormous support. The Marxists, together with the most advanced layers of the trade union movement, are putting forward the slogan of a SP government based on the mobilisation of the working class and the fight for a socialist programme.