Austria: Strache/Gudenus video tip of the iceberg of corrupt system

HC Strache (Wikimedia Commons)

When some time ago a commentator compared the pose of the far right Freedom Party (FPÖ) politicians, HC Strache and Harald Vilimsky, on posters for the EU elections with Frank Underwood from the TV drama series “House of Cards”, he was probably closer to the truth than he thought. Frank Underwood stands for a corrupt politician, for whom there are neither principles nor contents – but only the means to power, at any price.

On May 17 the German magazine der Spiegel and the newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, published parts of a video in which the now-former FPÖ Vice Chancellor Strache and FPÖ parliamentary whip, Johann Gudenus, can be seen spending a merry evening with a supposed Russian oligarchic niece.

The video concerns politics, the media and profitable business. After the release of the video, it was clear: this is the political end for Strache, at least for the time being. There were enthusiastic ‘honking concerts’ in Vienna. On Saturday, May 18th, protests against Strache in particular’ and the government, in general, took place in Graz – where the FPÖ’s regional party conference met with little enthusiasm – as well as in the cities of Linz and Vienna. Thousands cheered at the Ballhausplatz, in Vienna, when Strache’s resignation was announced. The SLP, the Austrian section of the CWI, was right in the middle of the protests, with leaflets and concrete proposals for how to take the struggle forward. For even if the joy is great, the question is clear – what comes next? The early elections are accompanied by the question about what a real alternative would look like.

The published videos prove what most of us have known for a long time: the FPÖ is a thoroughly corrupt party of the super-rich. For a few million euros in campaign contributions, they are willing to give the bosses what they want, including tax breaks. There is also talk of privatizing the state television company, ORF, and even the water resources. Strache is very excited when the apparent perspective opens up that a Russian oligarch’s niece could buy half of the “Krone”, the most circulated newspaper in Austria and the opinion leader among FPÖ voters. There, the plan is forged, to exchange journalists and to run an advertising campaign by “Krone” for the FPÖ just before the national elections in 2017. A bit of “dirty campaigning” is also considered to influence the election campaign with spicy information about other parties published by other channels.

So it is not about “honest political work” but about opinion-making and influencing voters in a Trump-like way. Furthermore, there is talk about a stronger orientation “towards the East” – i.e. towards Russia and towards the media model of Orban’s Hungary. The alleged friend of Serbia, Strache, also advises against economic involvement in Serbia. A little sexism rounds the whole thing off. In return, Strache offers to pass on profitable state contracts to his supposed patrons – paying above market rates, of course.

The videos not only expose Strache and Gudenus, but the entire political and economic elite of Austria: Strache explains that the FPÖ received large sums from Austria’s super-rich and entrepreneurs, such as Rene Benko or Heidi Horten, the weapon lobby (Glock) and the gambling mafia (Novomatic). This was done through confused channels, not officially, and bypassing the appropriate controls. Even if the above-mentioned people now hastily distance themselves and deny the payments, it is by no means excluded that Strache is not only posing, but that there are real common interests and in one form or another “one hand has been washing the other”.

Corruption is the rule in capitalism and not the exception

The videos give an insight into the “business as usual” of established politics. This time the FPÖ was caught. A few years ago, it was the People’s Party (ÖVP) politician, Strasser, who, in a similar trap, openly showed how (and where) politics are really made.

Most politicians are smart enough not to be filmed in their backroom deals with the rich. But they do happen all the time, with numerous corruption scandals by the various parties just being the tip of the iceberg.

The Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) already proved in the last election campaign that it uses even the dirtiest methods, and the Greens were somehow simply “convinced” by the mega construction project at Vienna’s Heumarkt. The bigger and more influential a party is, the more profitable it is for the capitalists to bribe or buy it. If the neoliberal party, “Neos”, are still lacking scandals, it is not because “better people” are at work there, but simply because they have too little influence. All parties standing on the ground of this system, capitalism, will sooner or later become tools of the rich and powerful. And even where there is no obviously illegal corruption, there is still the legal corruption known as “lobbying”.

Who benefits from all this?

The conspiracy theories are flying around in the internet. It is clear that Strache is trying to stage himself as a victim. But, of course, the fact that the video is about two years old, but was only published now, raises questions. Is the chancellor’s party (ÖVP) behind it in order to strengthen its position vis-à-vis the FPÖ? Was it the nationalist wing of the FPÖ, looking to replace the increasingly opportunistic Strache with the even more far right and ideologically firm Norbert Hofer, who had an very successful presidential campaign in 2016? Have those parts of European capital who are afraid of the growing influence of Russia-friendly parties published this video just before the EU elections in order to strengthen the main bourgeois parties compared to the EU-critical rightwing parties? We will probably never know for sure. And the fact that we can well imagine all these scenarios shows how rotten the capitalist political system is.

One thing is clear: bourgeois democracy will continue losing the confidence of working people (and rightly so). ÖVP chancellor Sebastian Kurz will come out stronger because he will win part of the FPÖ voters in early elections, and the FPÖ will now be a weakened partner in the ÖVP-FPÖ coalition. And the far right wing in the FPÖ will come even closer to the levers of power through the strengthening of Hofer. A “cleansing” of the FPÖ from Strache & Co. can mean a further shift to the right, because ideologically stronger parts will gain even more influence.

Early elections are not enough!

It is great that the self-proclaimed “clean man” Strache and his right hand Gudenus have resigned from all offices. Strache, who already thought he was on his way to the chancellery, now has to start a new career plan. But for fallen politicians of the FPÖ there is always one position or another to be found. So nobody really has to worry about the two going.

But the resignations are still not enough. Not only are the other parties corrupt, as well, they share some political guide lines and work together in several fields: the ÖVP might have finished the coalition with the FPÖ in the state government but still keeps it on the county level, the SPÖ in federal states and cities. The Greens are also in regional governments with the FPÖ. The policies of the ‘traditional’ parties – decades of social cuts combined with arrogant detachment and corruption – made the FPÖ strong. We cannot rely on the established parties or the media. Even if the newspaper “Krone” is now striking a blow against Strache, at the same time it continues with its racist agitation, i.e. continues to spread the politics of the FPÖ.

In order to overthrow this corrupt system of the rich, we must organize ourselves. The demonstrations throughout Austria, starting on Saturday, 18th, are a good first step for that. But we have been demonstrating against the government for a year now in many, many demonstrations – it’s not enough.

We need to organize ourselves in our workplaces and in schools and universities, establish action committees and attack the corrupt politicians where it hurts them the most: the profits of their donors!

With more than a million members and a firm base throughout the economy, the trade unions would have the opportunity to strengthen a movement against the main parties’ policies, enormously. When the government proposed the 12-hour workday, last year, the ÖGB (trade union federation) organized a massive protest, showing their potential – and then let it go away unused! That must not happen this time. Of course, the trade union has the right and even the task to interfere in “politics”. And not by hoping – as the union leaders do – to strengthen the SPÖ in early elections. The point is to get rid of the government’s programme, regardless of who tries to implement it! Strikes, combined with mobilizations on the streets, can do that. But to make sure that the vicious circle does not start all over again afterwards, we must now begin to build a political alternative to the corrupt established politics!

The problem of right-wing extremism

The FPÖ will lose in the EU elections and in early national elections. But anyone who thinks that this scandal will solve the problem is making a huge mistake! The FPÖ is now the party with the most loyal voters – it will also retain many votes because many do not vote for Strache, but for the party and its program. There are also many who still see the FPÖ as “different” and as an “alternative” to the (other) established parties. Many have elected the FPÖ, so far, because they are – often rightly – angry about SPÖ & ÖVP’s self-aggrandizement and social cuts. Some will continue to vote for the FPÖ with the explanation that Strache has done nothing the other corrupt parties do not also do. Some will turn away frustrated. There will be a lot of attempts to court them. The SPÖ will try to use a bit of social rhetoric, the ÖVP (and parts of the SPÖ) will go with more with racism and EU skepticism. But the ÖVP wants a supposedly “clean” racism, i.e. without the vulgarity of the countless “individual cases” of FPÖ-representatives that post on Facebook and write comments close to Nazi rhetoric which at least seems to alienate investors. Many former FPÖ voters will probably also switch to the camp of non-voters.

It is so obvious: we need a new party that can be bought neither by Russian nor by Austrian oligarchs, but fights consistently against the rich and their exploitative profit system. A party of workers and unemployed, of young people and pensioners. The SLP wants to help build such a democratic and socialist alternative, so that we don’t just get rid of Strache, but of all right-wing extremism and the system behind it!

We demand:

– Disclosure of all political donation channels of the rich, the banks and corporations! As a first step, all contracts awarded by the government must be carefully examined. We need to look closely at who has benefited from the government’s decisions. For such an investigation the documents of the companies and the ministries must be examined – by independent investigation commissions, by shop stewards, trade unionists, environmental activists, human rights activists, women activists, etc. There is no room any longer for behind closed doors deals and secrets – everything has to be put on the table.

– For independent media of the workers’ movement instead of those who work in the interest of the rich and powerful!

– For mobilizations on the streets, in factories, schools and universities: strikes until the government and its programme fall! Let’s form action committees against the politics of the rich. Let’s also organize pressure from below in the trade unions so that they finally fulfill their political task!

– Expropriation of the rich sponsors of governments responsible for social cuts, racism and sexism! Let’s take over the companies of precisely those super-rich and those who bribe politicians – these companies must be administered and organized from now on by the employees, representatives of the trade unions and in the interests of society.

– For a democratic socialist alternative to corruption and capitalism! We need a new party for workers that not only takes part in elections, but above all leads the struggle for a society without exploitation, oppression and corruption.

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May 2019