Austria: Anti Haider protests

The angry scenes in Austria this past week have shown that the entry of Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party into the Austrian government will not go unchallenged.

Day after day, sometimes up to 14 hours a day, workers and young people mobilised the huge and growing opposition to Haider’s racist and anti-working class party.

Haider’s party today is not a fascist party in the sense that the Nazis were in Germany. But Haider’s repetition of Nazi propaganda and the racism of his far-right views have alarmed workers and youth worldwide.

Protests are ebing held in major cities throughout the world and huge demonstrations are being planned in the Austrian capital Vienna.

Haider has been downplaying his praise of Nazi policies and Hitler’s SS and trying to appear more ‘respectable’. He even says how much he admires Tony Blair – not only because Britain is not joining the EU boycott of Austria but also because he admires Blair’s policies!

Haider also claims he is a moderate because he realises there is limited potential for his far-right views to gain mass support at this stage. During the recent elections, 63% of voters said they voted for the Freedom Party because they wanted to show the ruling parties that change was needed.

Haider’s party has got this far because he has not been challenged by the workers’ movement in Austria. Decades of rule by social democratic and coalition governments have ended in privatisation, cuts and carrying out attacks on the working which have nurtured the discontent in which Haider’s far right have grown.

But although Haider doesn’t currently represent a return to the fascism of the 1930s, his party’s rise must serve as a warning to the workers’ movement and socialists everywhere.

Hitler made the not entirely true boast that he came to power without a pane of glass being broken in opposition. Even if Haider does not at this stage represent the same threat as Hitler, our generation must not allow this to happen again.

Jorg Haider’s Freedom Party (FPÖ) gained support after Haider took it over in 1986, changing it from a grouping of left-over fascists to the most ‘successful’ far-right organisation in Europe.

Its policies mingle far-right ideas – racism, an authoritarian state and anti-trade union policy – with flexible populist phraseology. However the FPÖ’s disgusting ideas gained backing after the ‘grand coalition’, made up of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) took office in 1986.

This capitalist bloc privatised the former nationalised industries, doubled unemployment, and carried out two major cuts packages. Their neo-liberal agenda included joining the EU.

These cutbacks shocked the working class. The SPÖ, in power since 1970, had created a social democratic model paralleling Sweden’s. But the ‘stability’ of this former social democratic haven is gone today. Up to a fifth of the population live on the poverty line!

This generation sees the SPÖ only as a party of cutbacks. There has been only limited resistance from below – the ÖGB trade union federation was tied into the SPÖ government’s policies, often actively pushing through the cuts.

Some capitalists now want to avoid involving the SPÖ and the unions, so the FPÖ demands the end of trade union influence and of ideas of social partnership.

The SPÖ has lost its traditional members and youth. Only 40% of workers and 25% of under-30s voted SPÖ in last year’s elections.

But the FPÖ can only partially fill the vacuum. It has sunk no roots into the workers’ movement – less than 1% of shop stewards identify themselves with the FPÖ’s trade union fraction.

Haider has also not gained from the coalition parties’ declining membership. With about 40.000 members, (the same level as in the 1980s) the FPÖ remains a protest party. Up till now it has had no significant opponent.

But the election result polarised Austria. Up to 60% reject the ‘grand coalition’ – but even more opposed the FPÖ’s participation in government.

Not one of the established parties could stand up to Haider’s rise. The new government will try to step up the recent years’ turn to the right – especially the repressive, restrictive immigration policy.

The new political instability will raise the question of what political alternative can be posed. The Socialist Party’s sister organisation Sozialistiche Linkspartei (SLP) will argue for a socialist alternative and a new workers’ party as the only way forward.

Jorg Haider, despite claiming to embrace ‘democracy’ and respecting ‘human rights’, often lets slip his reactionary beliefs.

In 1991, Haider was forced to resign as Governor of the Carinthia region when he praised the Nazis destruction of the trade unions; "An orderly employment policy was carried out in the Third Reich, which the government in Vienna cannot manage."

In 1995, he spoke to veterans of Hitler’s Waffen SS death squad; "There are still decent people of good character who also stick to their convictions, despite the greatest opposition and have remained true to their convictions today."

He has fostered racism and anti-foreigner sentiment; "I believe that the multicultural society is a fiction that cannot work."

His background is one of privilege and right-wing politics. His parents were both members of the Nazi party and at 16 he joined the Austrian Freedom Party.

In 1986 he inherited a large estate in Carinthia from an uncle, bought for next to nothing when its Jewish owner fled the country.

At various times he has been a playboy, a pan-German nationalist, an Austrian nationalist and a free-market capitalist. Throughout he has remained a dangerous right-winger who socialists must oppose.

Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) which is organised in 12 countries, including Austria, is launching a series of protests across the continent against Haider’s Freedom Party entering Austria’s government.

In Austria we are initiating protests including a one-day school student strike on 18 February and calling on trade unions to take action against the new government.

YRE in Britain is calling for a series of meetings and activities around this issue. Model material and information is available from the YRE at 020 8533 4533 or PO Box 858, London E9 5HU.

Austria alert!

Organise to resist the right

Robert Bechert explains the urgent need for the movement developing in Austria against Haider to be supported by workers and youth internationally — separately, however, from the hypocritical posturing of the corrupt EU politicians.

Last October’s election success, followed this week by the entry into the Austrian government of Haider’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), has shocked millions of people internationally.

Many are aware of Haider’s long record as an apologist for Nazism, and his frequent use of Nazi-style language. His family too has a well-known Nazi past, dating back to 1929, which saw them gain immense wealth as a result of Nazi rule.

Despite Haider’s frequent formal apologies, the FPÖ continuously dips into the Nazi gutter. In last year’s election the FPÖ made much use of the slogan ‘Stop der Überfremdung’ (stop foreign overpopulation), a phrase almost directly lifted from a 1933 speech of Goebbels attacking Jewish ‘infiltration of German intellectual life’.

The FPÖ’s gains have raised the spectre of Nazism across Europe, provoking an angry response. Throughout Europe protests have taken place. There is a growing determination that FPÖ cannot be accepted as a ‘normal’ party. The fact that these events are taking place in Austria, Hitler’s birthplace, only adds to the fear.

EU leaders hypocrisy

IN THIS situation the other 14 countries in the European Union (EU) have threatened sanctions against the new Austrian government. In Britain even Socialist Workers Party leaders’ are quoted as saying "we are supporting the European Union’s position" (London Times, February 3).

But this is not what the Committee for a Workers International, which the Socialist Party is part of, is saying. We support international protest, but we give no support to either the EU or individual capitalist governments.

There should be no illusions about what the EU is doing. Its position against Haider and the FPÖ is not one of principled opposition to oppression. Just look at its complete inactivity as, during the past few weeks, Russian imperialism bombed Groszny back into the stone-age. Within the EU every government is taking harsher and harsher messages against immigrants and asylum seekers.

Yet the EU leaders are very aware of the widespread fear and opposition to the far right, and particularly to the spectre of Nazism. The EU leaders are concerned that the FPÖ in government will deepen the polarisation in Austria and produce a radicalisation. They want to try to head off such developments and also to refurbish their own ‘democratic’ credentials at home and abroad.

What is the FPÖ?

Despite the existence of fascist elements inside the party, and its racist propaganda, the FPÖ is not at the head of a mass fascist movement threatening to crush the workers’ movement and all democratic rights. Much of the FPÖ’s votes have been won in protest at the policies of the previous ‘grand coalition’ government of the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). In a country with very little recent experience of class struggle, the FPÖ has been able to win the votes of many workers and youth who have been alienated by the Social Democrats pro-big business policies. But any attempt by the fascist element within the FPÖ to now implement their real policies would provoke a collapse in the party’s support.

However, while not fascist, the FPÖ in government will mean even harsher attacks on immigrants and foreigners. And they will not be the only targets. The new government has already declared its intention to introduce spending cuts, carry out large scale privatisation, and cut public sector jobs. All these measures will, sooner or later, provoke a wide scale resistance from below.

Resisting the right

ALREADY IN Austria many workers and youth see Haider’s successes as a defeat and a warning. The historical example of how the Austrian (and pro-Mussolini) fascists achieved victory in the brief civil war of 1934 (see article below), followed four years later by Hitler’s take-over, have left a powerful legacy. This is the reason for the widespread protests which have erupted within Austria.

Haider, since downplaying his previous pan-German nationalism, has adopted the mantle of being the patriotic defender of Austrian independence. This has been his answer to the criticism of the EU governments. But in so doing Haider has also been easily able to point to the EU’s hypocrisy, quoting for example the rottenness and corruption at the heart of Belgium’s political elite.

While some sections of Austrian big business are concerned at the economic effect of anti-Haider protests, the FPÖ’s support has been able to rise temporarily in the polls in a reaction against the EU’s intervention.

The movement against Haider in Austria has to be supported, but this can only be done by the workers’ and youth movements. There can be no trust in the EU or any other capitalist governments. Even on the very rare occasions when capitalist governments take sanctions against repressive regimes, they only do so for their own motives. Certainly they will not support measures which threaten their system. Socialists have to counterpoise independent action by the labour movement, as the Australian workers did last year in defence of East Timor.

In Europe Haider’s success is correctly seen as a warning. The call of the Austrian section of Youth Against Racism in Europe (YRE) for international solidarity action on February 18, when there will be a ‘Day of Action’ in Austria itself, must be widely publicised. It will be an opportunity to show the genuine international solidarity of youth and workers and challenge the racist policies being pursued throughout Europe. For socialists it will provide the chance to reach a wider audience in explaining the roots of racism and fascism within capitalism, and the need to rebuild the workers’ movement as a fighting force against capitalism and for socialism.

Austrian workers’ heroic anti-fascist past

Commentaries on Haider’s rise make much of ‘Austria’s failure to come to terms with its Nazi past’. While this is true in regard to Austria’s ruling class, such statements ignore the heroic attempt in 1934 by Austrian workers to defeat fascism. It was the brutal crushing of this resistance which paved the way for Hitler’s unopposed take-over four years later.

During the first half of the twentieth century Europe was convulsed by wars, revolutions and counter-revolutions.

Inspired by the socialist revolution in tsarist Russia, on 29 October 1918 the Austrian working class brought down the old reactionary Hapsburg monarchy. Democratic workers’ councils – soviets – were formed and armed workers’ militias established. The army collapsed and a situation of ‘dual power’ developed in which the ruling class were paralysed, while effective power lay in the hands of the working class.

Only one thing stood in the way of the working class – their own Social Democratic leaders. These ‘leaders’, who were tied to capitalism, did everything to confuse, demoralise and derail the revolution. This allowed the ruling capitalists to rebuild its forces which included fashioning the Heimwehr (Home Guard) – led by monarchist officers and financed by the capitalists, the bankers, and the Catholic church – into a fascist auxiliary force.

However, the Social Democratic Party (SDAP) remained potentially more powerful. They had a mass membership (800,000 members, accounting for 25% of the male and 10% of the female population) and they controlled municipal Vienna and many other councils. Furthermore, they had a military organisation – the Schutzbund – which at its peak numbered 70,000 armed workers.

In the last pre-war parliamentary election to be held in Austria in 1930, the fascist Heimwehr gained only eight seats out of 165 and the pan-German Nazis, who stood separately, failed to win one. The SDAP on the other hand won 72 seats.

Even in the 1932 council elections, where the fascists gained ground, this was largely at the expense of capitalist parties.

However, the fascists were determined to achieve power whereas the leaders of the SDAP, despite their radical rhetoric, had no clear understanding of the nature of fascism and were terrified of taking power into their own hands.


In July 1927 fascists attacked a peaceful SDAP demonstration, killing a child and a war invalid. The killers were acquitted leading to mass protests which were brutally attacked by police who fired into the crowds.

Street fighting raged and a general strike was called. Austria was gripped by a revolutionary crisis.

Once again leadership proved decisive. Without the arming of the workers and mobilising for power the general strike became a ‘demonstration with folded arms’. Within three days it was defeated.

In May 1931, the developing world economic crisis was deepened by the collapse of the main Austrian bank – Credit Anstalt. With the economy in ruins, with mass unemployment and increasing poverty, the social basis of the capitalists began to evaporate.

The government was led by the Christian Social Party, forerunners of today’s People’s Party, which sought to prevent absorption into Germany by leaning on Mussolini’s Italian fascist regime and repressing the pro-German Nazis.

As the capitalist crisis intensified the ruling class, increasingly, used their military/police apparatus against the workers’ organisations and prepared to drown the workers movement in blood.

Yet, the SDAP leaders clung to the argument that they couldn’t assume power until they won 51% of the vote. While they waited the fascists attempted two abortive coups.

In March 1933, the ‘bonapartist’ Austrian chancellor Dollfuss dissolved parliament and command of the army and police was placed in the hands of Fey – the Heimwehr leader.

The inaction of the SDAP leaders only emboldened the fascists. In January 1934 the Heimwehr occupied four regional government buildings, demanding the SADP’s suppression.

Fearing a repeat of Hitler’s victory in Germany the workers, starting in Linz and against the opposition of the SADP leaders, took up armed resistance.

The army, police and fascists surrounded the workers’ districts. The Times correspondent in Vienna described the scenes: "Outside the Larer Hill, the Schutzbund erected a formidable defence system with barricades and proper bunkers… These ‘graves’ held 2,000 armed Schutzbund scantily clothed, in bad shoes and almost completely without nutrition or drinking water. These 2,000 lasted three ice-cold February days and nights."

An estimated 2,000 were slaughtered and 5,000 wounded. Tens of thousands were rounded up and put into concentration camps.

The socialist revolutionary Leon Trotsky summarised the lessons of the Austrian defeat when he wrote in 1934: "Only a leadership that recognises in advance that the revolution is unavoidable, that makes this the fundamental principle guiding its actions and draws all the practical conclusions flowing from this can measure up to the situation at the critical hour."

The above article is based on an article that appeared in the Militant International Review (forerunner of Socialism Today) in Autumn 1985.

Why has this monster Haider been allowed even a sniff of power in Austria? Does his party’s participation in the government mean a return of Nazism?

Haider’s Freedom Party has extreme right-wing views, which bear similarities to the Little Englander nationalism of the Tories and Hague’s ‘common sense revolution’. They do still pose a threat to the workers’ movement, to ethnic minorities, to asylum seekers and all those who oppose racism.

Specifically, Haider never misses an opportunity to attack socialism.

But the Freedom Party, despite its use of fascistic propaganda and symbolism, is not a fascist party in the sense that Hitler and Mussolini’s parties were.

Mussolini came to power after a period of revolution and counter-revolution in the early 1920s after the working class movement was defeated. In Germany the repeated failure of the leaders of the workers’ parties to carry out a socialist transformation in the 1920s allowed disillusion to set in.

Despite the failures of the workers’ parties leadership, German workers did attempt to mobilise to stop the fascists coming to power. Hitler eventually gained a mass base because of the desperation of large sections of society when the late 1920s bubble economy collapsed. Large sections of the middle class and even some sections of workers looked desperately for any solution to the prevailing capitalist crisis.

Hitler, like Haider, never achieved majority support in elections, but was handed power by German big business who were desperate to smash the militant German working class. The German and Italian capitalists looked to the fascists’ paramilitary groupings to liquidate working-class resistance.

Once in power the Nazis literally wiped out a whole generation of communists, socialist and working-class militants before they embarked on their racist genocide against the Jews.

Austria today, by contrast, has not got at this stage a deep capitalist crisis. Nor has the working class suffered major defeats at the hands of the capitalists. Also, Haider’s party does not have a paramilitary wing which can be used to smash working-class opposition.

HAIDER’S PARTY have capitalised on the fact that the former workers’ parties – Labour and social democratic – long ago abandoned offering any alternative to capitalism. In fact these parties are now the most ardent advocates of capitalism’s free market.

In many cases workers see no distinction between the main parties, where cronyism and patronage permeate every level. William Keegan of the Observer commented that "one factor behind the rise of the Nazi apologist Jorg Haider is the political paralysis resulting from the Austrian economic miracle."

Whilst Austria’s economic ‘stability’ is an exception and will not last indefinitely, its political climate is not much different to many other European and capitalist countries. In all cases there is this political paralysis and corruption which has produced alienation and disaffection.

This disillusion has allowed the scum like the Freedom Party, the Front National in France, Vlaams Blok in Belgium and other far-right parties to rise to the surface.

In all these countries, whenever the far right have raised their head workers and youth have reacted in opposition and driven the racists back. In Sweden it’s member of the Socialist Party’s sister organisation that have led the resistance against racist murders. In Austria our sister party has been prominent in the anti-Haider protests.

Haider’s tentative steps towards power do not at this stage constitute a return of 1930s’ fascism. But they nevertheless represent a threat which the socialist and workers’ movement has to challenge.

As capitalism’s economic crisis becomes more intense and class antagonisms much sharper then the capitalist class could turn to embrace a new variant of fascism, possibly from the likes of Haider’s party, to try and smash the working-class movement.

At this stage socialists must mobilise the workers’ movement to oppose the small fascist splinter groups and the larger racist right-wing parties like the Freedom Party, wherever they raise their head. But in the longer term the task remains to build new mass parties of the working class and fight for a socialist transformation of society.

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February 2000