"Those who have the youth have the future!" Lenin
The Young Socialists of Austria, the official youth organisation of the Social Democratic Party, with several thousand members and several hundred activists, is by far the dominant force amongst left youth in Austria. The Austrian YS is today maybe the only social democratic youth organisation in the world that openly declares itself to be Marxist, to fight for socialism, and to fight against any form of class collaboration. It must be said that the Austrian Marxist Tendency Der Funke played an important role in the move to the left of the YS, which has found further expression in the latest national Conference, which took place on November 4-5 in Vienna.
The National Conference
The dominance of Marxist ideas was even expressed in the slogan of the congress: "For a Minority Government!" That means that the SPÖ (Social Democratic Party of Austria) should not enter a coalition with bourgeois parties. It means that the SPÖ should govern alone and should try to get a majority in parliament, case by case and on issue by issue, in order to implement a policy of social offensive.
The slogan of a minority government is the same as the slogan for a workers' government.
It is an old slogan of Der Funke that has never been taken serious by any one in the labour movement. Today, shortly after the national elections, it is being discussed in the media, in the party and it has become the official slogan of the YS. This alone shows that something has changed in Austrian politics.
The new Chairman, Torsten Engelage, who was elected by the Congress said in his speech, that the YS must base itself on the doctrines of scientific socialism and must become a "mass proletarian youth organisation". He said that, "the Communist Manifesto is one of the most up to date, modern pamphlets" and that the strategy of the YS must be "to fight for the smallest reform and at the same time to keep in mind that our ultimate aim is socialism".
In the 1970s the Young Socialists of Austria adopted a programme of left reformism. The ideas of the Austromarxists, Otto Bauer and Karl Renner, once again became fashionable. After the fall of the Berlin Wall the Austrian Blairites took over the YS. In 2000 a left coalition of Austromarxists and the Marxist Tendency Der Funke took back power.
The YS has gone even further to the left today than in the 70s. This can be seen particularly in the resolutions the YS adopted concerning the trade unions and the party, which are in many cases a direct attack on the bureaucracy. For example, the YS adopted a resolution demanding that all trade union and party officials should receive the wage of a skilled worker, a traditional slogan of Der Funke. It also adopted the slogan of the democratisation of the trade unions and of "nationalisation under workers' control". However, the most interesting slogan the YS adopted in the trade union field was for "the building of a left wing in the trade union movement", which is another traditional slogan of the Marxist Tendency Der Funke.
This move to the left also went beyond the pacifism typical in left reformism. For example, one resolution was passed, saying that left-wingers must go into the army in order to weaken it as an instrument of counterrevolution. The resolution effectively called for the setting up of soldiers' councils.
In one case the Marxist Tendency was even able to defeat the leadership. One of the leadership's resolutions said that Kosovo should remain part of Serbia and that NATO troops should leave Kosovo. We argued that it is correct that NATO should withdraw from Kosovo, but at the same time that a return of the Serbian Army to Kosovo as demanded in the resolution would lead to civil war. We argued that there cannot be an easy solution for Kosovo within the limits of capitalism and that a revolution in the whole of the Balkans is needed to solve the problem. After that, the resolution of the leadership was voted down by the conference.
The main activities that were decided at the Congress were to support the Hands Off Venezuela Campaign, the solidarity campaign with Oaxaca and the Campaign "We are ÖGB" (ÖGB is the Austrian TUC), all of them initiated by Der Funke.
At the Congress it was also decided that the YS will participate in building the forces of social resistance - especially in the event of a pro- capitalist Social Democratic government, so that the youth can see a clear difference between the YS and the Party. In the next period it will be the main task of the Marxist Tendency to watch the leaders, to make sure that word becomes flesh. This transformation has always been the handicap of Austromarxism, that is of Austrian Left Reformism.
The main reason for the move to the left of the YS is not the leaders but the pressure that the Marxist Tendency creates. Let me give an example. At the same time the conference was adopting revolutionary Marxist ideas in the resolutions, there were also bureaucratic manoeuvres taking place against the revolutionary Marxists. The representative of the biggest YS district (Floridsdorf), Willi Waitz, was kicked out of the leadership for being a supporter of the Marxist Tendency. He ran for the leadership against a so-called Marxist who was opposed to the slogan of the "Minority Government" and received 17% of the vote. This is a success because the supporters of the Marxist Tendency only accounted for 5% of the total vote.
How is this possible?
People may ask themselves, how it is possible that in a small, relatively rich country like Austria the social democratic youth organisation is moving in the direction of revolutionary Marxism. The leaders of the Party may think that the YS must have gone mad.
In reality the process is the result of three things: the left tradition of the YS, the sharpening of social relations in Austria and the constant work of the Marxist Tendency, Der Funke.
The work of the Marxist tendency is a combination of a patient united front policy in relation to the left wing of the YS on the one hand and the organisation of independent campaigns on the other hand.
Within the last two years the Marxist Tendency has launched five big campaigns. We organised a national mobilisation against fascism, a national school students' strike against restrictions for university students, the huge meeting with Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez in Vienna, a demonstration against the visit of George Bush, and a campaign against a coalition of the SPÖ with the bourgeois parties.
At the same time the Marxist Tendency always was irreconcilable concerning theoretical positions and slogans, because we wanted to show a clear difference between Austromarxism, Stalinism on the one hand and revolutionary marxism on the other hand. Only to show the seriousness of the theoretical struggle: Three years ago there was a political struggle about the programme of the YS that lasted for one year. This happened in spite of the fact that all currents in the YS involved in the discussions called themselves Marxists. This Discussion and the Firmness of the Marxist Tendency in this discussion was extremely important because now many theoretical position of us are confirmed by the development of reality.
Two years ago we were seen as a threat by the leaders of the YS and they tried to isolate the Marxist Tendency. There were even rumours of an expulsion. The result was that the part of the leadership that wanted to fight us lost the leadership. Because they only thought about how to fight a factional struggle against us they forgot about building the YS.
The turning point in the situation was the Venezuelan Revolution and the gathering with Hugo Chavez in Vienna. On the one hand the Venezuelan Revolution showed in practice that our ideas are correct. On the other hand the meeting with Chavez that was organised mainly by us was the biggest left meeting for a very long time in Austria.
Now after the attack we are much stronger than before and the tide has turned.
The work of the Marxist Tendency within the Young Socialists has been enormously important. As a result we have now a social democratic youth organisation in Austria that has adopted many important revolutionary Marxist ideas and positions even before the class struggle and the transformation process in the labour movement have begun. As a consequence the YS can become an important point of reference for broad layers of workers and youth.
The Austrian Young Socialists as they are now are imperfect and the leadership is reformist. But at the same time they are also a product of the consistent work of the Marxist tendency.
And because of this work they are maybe the most leftward youth organisation of a traditional mass party in the international labour movement since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
As a consequence of our growing strength, now after the conference, the Viennese bureaucracy of the YS has launched a big attack on the Marxist tendency, with which we will deal in another article.