Austria Alert!

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.