Dankl (left) and Auinger (right), Communist and Social Democrat, go head to head in a run-off for Salzburg mayor on 24. Photo: FS1 - communitytv/cc
Dankl (left) and Auinger (right), Communist and Social Democrat, go head to head in a run-off for Salzburg mayor on 24. Photo: FS1 - communitytv/cc

Sozialistische Offensive (CWI in Austria)

The Communist Party (KPÖ) in Austria has seen a couple of successes in local and regional elections in the last two and a half years. The first was in Graz, Austria’s second-largest city,  where it now holds the mayor’s position, as part of a coalition with the pro-capitalist Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and Greens.

Then, in last year’s regional elections in Salzburg, it received 21% of the vote in the city of Salzburg itself. That has now been topped by 23.1% in the city council elections on 10 March. On top of that, the KPÖ candidate Kay Michael Dankl reached the run-off elections for mayor with 28%, narrowly behind SPÖ candidate Benhard Auinger’s 29.4%. Meanwhile, the vote share of the ruling conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) has been halved, and the right-populist Freedom Party (FPÖ) only slightly increased to just over 10%.

This is all the more remarkable as the FPÖ currently leads the opinion polls nationally. There is the potential for an FPÖ-led government after the coming general election. With the Salzburg run-off election on 24 March, the EU-elections in June and a general election on 29 September, the KPÖ’s result could propel discussions about Marxist ideas back into the spotlight, as had been the case since Elke Kahr’s 2022 mayoral victory in Graz.


These results have had a big impact in Austria and give a real opportunity to begin to build a genuine socialist force in the country.

On the back of KPÖ success in the 2023 Salzburg regional elections, left winger Andreas Babler was elected chair of the SPÖ, fuelling hopes for workers’ friendly politics. While Babler has since tried to present himself as trying to unite the different wings of the SPÖ, and thereby softening his previous more radical stance, the KPÖ victory could temporarily stabilise his position again. The SPÖ apparatus around Vienna’s SPÖ mayor Michael Ludwig might need him as a left face.

Babler issued a press statement supporting Auinger (SPÖ), Dankl (KPÖ)’s opponent in the Salzburg mayoral run-off election. Auinger himself has already labelled the KPÖ’s programme on housing (such as lowering rents) as “unrealistic”.

The dynamics of the EU elections and the general election mean that the KPÖ could be propelled further into the spotlight on the back of the good result in Salzburg. The Graz result in 2022 has been labelled an ‘oddity’, and that Graz has always been an exception (where the KPÖ has consistently engaged in local elections, its councillors taking a worker’s wage and campaigning on housing). Salzburg could have a more national impact though.

There is the potential for a left-wing force to poll well nationally. Currently the KPÖ only polls 3%, up from 0.7% in 2019. A small increase would meet the 4% threshold to enter parliament. In the meantime, the Bierpartei (Beer party), a protest vehicle/comedy-style party, is polling 7%, pulling in protest votes. Babler’s SPÖ is polling at 23%, quite a long way behind the FPÖ.

The Salzburg election was further confirmation that it is possible to beat the FPÖ with a programme that addresses social issues and people’s concerns. This is also reflected in the fact that the vacuum was clearly felt in many other places in the Salzburg region where the KPÖ did not run and where the FPÖ was able to make gains.

The KPÖ won votes primarily with its housing policy in times of inflation. Dankl in Salzburg has placed even more emphasis than Kahr in Graz on presenting himself as a ‘nice communist from next door’. He has made it clear that the KPÖ relies on a ‘social-work approach’ instead of organising and mobilising people who are unhappy about social conditions.

Dankl is unlikely to win the run-off election for the mayor’s seat. But a good result would be a strong signal, not just for Salzburg, but for Austria as a whole. That is why Sozialistische Offensive is calling for a vote for Dankl in the run-off election, with a warning: without a majority in the local council, the pressure for a coalition or political agreement with pro-capitalist parties such as the Greens or the SPÖ would be even greater than it already is. And, without a movement behind him, the pressure on Dankl to adapt will be enormous.

‘Young Left’

The KPÖ youth organisation Junge Linke (Young Left), and Dankl himself, originally come from the Greens. In 2017, the Green Party kicked out its youth organisation Junge Grüne, which renamed itself Junge Linke and joined the KPÖ after Graz’s victory. This is the reason for the plus in KPÖ+, the party’s campaigning banner.

However, in Salzburg the KPÖ+ has even fewer roots in the trade unions and workplaces than in Graz. The KPÖ+ now has an important responsibility: if it disappoints and doesn’t meet the expectations placed in it, it can lose votes again and the FPÖ can gain ground once more.

Particularly in view of the global crisis and the escalating contradictions of capitalism, a socialist programme and a movement that fights for the KPÖ’s demands, such as decent and cheap public housing, is needed. With its now ten Salzburg council seats, the KPÖ+ should not enter into coalitions with the SPÖ and the Greens. Should Dankl win the run-off, the KPÖ+ should decide on how it will vote on every individual issue.

The KPÖ should propose points of its programme for implementation and thus force the other parties’ hands. At the same time, it should mobilise those affected to exert pressure for public housing, a reduction in rents, expansion of public transport, an increase in minimum income, etc.

Babler’s election, along with the growth in support for the KPÖ+ and the Bierpartei, are an expression of the search for a political alternative – and they will be tested out in practice. The KPÖ+ must seize this opportunity and make an offer to the unorganised, activists from struggles, supporters of Babler and activists of the Bierpartei. The SPÖ is still dominated by pro-capitalists and has lost a significant amount of its working-class roots. What is needed is a workers’ party in which working people, young people, the unemployed and pensioners can organise themselves. But one that also has space for organisations and that can organise and coordinate struggles, and be a place where the programme, demands and methods are discussed.

An important next step would be a joint activist conference of KPÖ, Babler supporters, activists from class struggles, and activists from the Beer Party, where joint action can be discussed and decided. This could include: no support for coalitions with pro-capitalist parties, joint campaigns such as on affordable housing, building links and campaigning on trade union and workplace issues, building a movement and resistance to possible attacks by a new government after the national elections etc.

Members of Sozialistische Offensive in Salzburg have supported a vote for  KPÖ+ and Dankl in Salzburg but also fight to build a workers’ party that has a clear socialist programme. Campaigning on the weekend of the election in Salzburg, it was clear that the Salzburg city elections took place at a time of increased class struggle, with German trains running late because of the German train drivers’ strike and Austrian delivery workers striking either side of the elections. The polarisation between rich and poor is becoming more pronounced and social and workplace issues sharper. We found Austrian rail workers were discussing shortage of staff on the trains. Later in the evening, we held a meeting that discussed our proposals on what the KPÖ should do next to build a movement after its election success.

Regardless of the outcome of the run-off election, the KPÖ+ must use its positions both as a campaigning platform on immediate issues and to promote a socialist programme, and explain what real socialism could look like. A break with capitalism and the transfer of key enterprises into public ownership under the democratic control of the working people is necessary to solve the problems that capitalism creates. Without such a socialist programme, there is a danger of missing opportunities and repeating, albeit on a smaller scale, the mistakes of parties like the SPÖ, which merely administer capitalism, abandon their supporters in times of crisis and massively lose support as a result or even collapse.

  • This article was written before the result of the Salzburg mayor election run-off in which SPÖ candidate Benhard Auinger came out on top