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Austria: Critical Support for SPÖ and, in Styria, KPÖ

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Austria: Critical Support for SPÖ and, in Styria, KPÖ

New elections, new opportunities for change? Certainly, but also certainly not in the interest of workers, young people and migrants. Austrian capital knows very well how to rule by leading people by the nose. The wide range of differing parties, the variety of election promises, the constant arguments between government and opposition as well as the usual hick-hack in the run-up to the election, all this creates a beautiful illusion of freedom of choice in which the people decide how the country is to be ruled.

What actually happens is then decided by "external pressures" whether that is the European Union or the needs of the market, especially the needs of Austrian capital. Parliament in our bourgeois democracy is a talking shop and the real power in society lies with capital and the state apparatus. Nonetheless, who is elected, who deceives, betrays and oppresses, and how they do this, does matter.

Between crisis and social partnership

Austria can count itself one of the countries that has been strengthened in relation to others by the crisis. Through collaboration with the German economy and investments in Eastern Europe, Austrian imperialism has reinvigorated itself on the back of its German big brother. This can be seen in the 0.7% GDP growth in the last quarter, which has led many commentators in the media to suggest that the number one in the Eurozone will pull Europe out of the recession.

We see it differently; the fundamental problems which led to the crisis have not been overcome, that would need a very wide ranging destruction of capital. At the international level, one can see the uncertainty in the market as Chinese growth rates fall lower than they have been for decades. The euro zone will not escape from any new turbulence or crisis, and this time neither German nor Austrian capital will have so much room for manoeuvre and crisis management.

The bourgeoisie is very well aware of all this and it is therefore no surprise that the Industrialists' Association, the Chambers of Commerce, the Austrian People's party and Team Stronach (a new right wing and eurosceptic populist party founded last year by Frank Stronach, an Austrian-Canadian businessman - ed) are ringing the alarm bells. They need to stoke up the fears of the people that the crisis could have an even deeper impact in Austria in order to use this for the interests of capital.

On the other side there is the Social Democratic Party of Austria, SPÖ, which is currently the senior partner in a coalition government with the conservative Austrian People's Party, ÖVP. Although the SPÖ's policy is based on collaboration and compromise with the bourgeoisie, in its electoral campaign it has to strengthen its support in the working class to make sure that it does not lose its position as the single biggest party in parliament.

The bourgeois offensive

With the words "Austria is played out" the president of the Economics Chamber, Christoph Leitl, provided the catchphrase for an attack on the living standards of the working class. Maria Fekter, the ÖVP Finance Minister, who held a joint press conference with Leitl, summed up their criticism: they see the investment climate in Austria as "heavily affected" by demands for new taxes, reductions in overtime and an increase in minimum wages.

The ÖVP, which of course goes along with this, puts particular emphasis on a further point demanded by the Industrialists' Association for an increase in maximum working time from 10 to 12 hours. Of course, it is no coincidence that these arguments over taxes and working time should arise during the election campaign. All the parties are playing the game of positioning themselves for possible coalition negotiations in which, even if they cannot agree, they can always lay the blame for failure on their coalition partners.

Nonetheless, these reactionary demands should not be underestimated. First of all, it is by no means guaranteed that there will be another Grand Coalition but even if there is, it is not impossible that the SPÖ would give way on such demands. The example of the new teachers' contracts shows that the social democracy is even prepared to accept increases in working time.

Social democratic electoral promises

In its attempt to mobilise the working class in its support, the SPÖ is concentrating on three central themes: "Work", "Homes", and "Pensions". Its election programmeme calls for a new "stimulus package" of some €1.5 billion to create 60,000 jobs and 14,000 new homes (ultimately however this will probably be done by subsidising capital). In addition, tenancy laws are to be unified and made fairer and more transparent.

On the revenue side, it proposes a millionaire tax, that is a tax on property, inheritance and gifts over and above a 1 million Euro tax allowance. At the same time, they will lower taxes on the lowest paid workers by reducing the lower rate of taxation. On the question of pensions, the party is opposing any further increase in the pension age or any privatisation.

It is not only these promises but also, for example, the recent statement by Chancellor Feymann that any new laws allowing increased flexibility of working hours would only be introduced by agreement with the trade unions, that show that the SPÖ is still, contrary to what many insist, a workers' party, a bourgeois workers' party. That means the party is bourgeois with regard to its policy, the defence of the capitalist state apparatus and of private ownership in the means of production, but proletarian in its social basis meaning in particular an organic link to the working class and its organisations such as the trade unions.

Despite these promises, the strategy of the SPÖ is, of course, to go into coalition with the ÖVP again and to take responsibility for the administration of the capitalist state. In these circumstances, many of their electoral promises will be dropped with the explanation that they could not be agreed with their coalition partner. It is a long time since mobilising the working class and fighting for progress through class struggle played any part in the thinking of reformism.

Neoliberalism in new clothes

The voice of bourgeois reaction has been given a new boost by a new grouping of big capital; the so-called Team Stronach. Its combination of aggressive neoliberal policy with a rather crude populism is dangerous not only because it takes the masses for fools but because it threatens their direct material interests. Stronach's widely publicised "private" contributions to flood relief and other charitable causes are just a cheap attempt to give himself a positive image in public life.

Much less positive is his programme for a unified tax rate, independent of income, the so-called "flat tax", and a radical austerity policy of deficit reduction and "administrative reform". The sweetener which is supposed to win the working class to this brutal policy is the proposal for a "share" in the profits of their employers.

This is a way of dividing the working class by linking their material interests to those of their employers. For the servants of big capital, even the reformist trade unions are an enemy. In their view, the unions threaten to force employers into bankruptcy by protecting the interests of the workforce and at the same time rob the workers by means of the (voluntary!) subscriptions. The labour movement needs to mobilise all its forces against this Team Stronach and its brutal policy of increased exploitation.

Neighbourly chauvinism

In this election campaign, the Freedom Party of Austria, FPÖ is trying to give itself a more sociable profile, in particular to distance itself from Stronach. This explains the catchphrase for their campaign: "neighbourliness". Unsurprisingly, racism is not far below the surface. For HC Strache, the party leader, it is only "our Austrian neighbours" that we should love as ourselves. Of course, it was to be expected that there would be a hypocritical outcry against this interpretation of "charity" from religious groups but the electoral purpose behind this provocative campaign was simply to gain publicity.

The actual policy of the FPÖ can be seen from their demands regarding migration: no further opening of the labour market to workers from Eastern Europe, introduction of a new time-limited system for immigrant workers with "repatriation" in the case of long-term unemployment or high unemployment, full welfare and housing rights only for citizens and no participation in state schools without prior proficiency in the German language. All of this is consistent with the long-term scapegoat politics of the FPO which blames all social problems on immigrants and seeks to divide the working class between domestic and foreign workers.

Alongside that, the FPÖ is trying to position itself with a more populist campaign for "the little man". Their demand for a minimum wage of €1600 is actually higher than the demand of the SPÖ. Likewise, they propose lowering the entry-level tax rate to 25% as well as a "solidarity tax" for millionaires.

On the other hand, they want to increase the tax threshold for the maximum tax rate and to introduce an upper limit for taxes and duties into the Constitution. Here it is obvious that their policy is in the interests of the bourgeoisie, as was indeed the case in practice in government. Their demand for more privatisations follows the same pattern. Their demand for support for "domestic companies" and for tax relief for "small and medium enterprises" clearly expresses the interests of their social base. The populist critique of the European Union shows the same influence. All in all, the manifesto of the FPÖ presents nothing new.

A Grand Coalition + ?

One possible scenario after the elections is a grand coalition expanded to include the Green Party should there not be a majority for the current coalition of the SPÖ and ÖVP. Another possible alternative would be ÖVP-FPÖ-Stronach but this would only be possible in the event that the SPÖ and the ÖVP were unable to agree a governmental programme. That is unlikely, in the TV debates it became clear that there is an expectation for a further Grand Coalition.

However, the time could also have come for the Greens to enter government after the party has shown itself prepared to join governments at the provincial level. Whether with the ÖVP, Stronach or the FPÖ, at the provincial level, the Greens have been prepared to collaborate with any of them: in Vienna, Upper Austria, Carinthia, Salzburg and the Tyrol. In the Tyrol and in Carinthia the Greens have been prepared to support Team Stronach in office. However, at the federal level they have ruled out a coalition with either the FPÖ or with Stronach.

In the past, this petty bourgeois party has profited from the corruption scandals in the ÖVP, the SPÖ and the FPÖ and created an image as an anticorruption party. In this they express the dreams of their social base - a green capitalism with sincere politicians, healthy organic food instead of unhealthy junk food from the supermarket, restrictions on big capital, broad citizen initiatives to protect jobs and a Democratic European Union - this is the utopia for the apparently left leaning petty bourgeoisie.

In government, of course, they carry out bourgeois policy without any objections. Their main concern is the introduction of one or another half-hearted environmentally friendly measure. For the bourgeoisie, the Greens are more advantageous as a coalition partner than either Stronach or the FPÖ because, in contrast to the two populist parties, they are pro-European Union.

Resistance

Whatever the outcome, the next period of government will continue to deal with overcoming the crisis and its consequences and, in all probability, even have to deal with a new outbreak of crisis. Already, in the debates over policy, there are calls for cutting non-wage costs in order to raise the rate of exploitation in the production process, justified by reference to the pressure of international competition. In other words, the next government is sure to be a government of increased attacks on the working class.

The Communist Party of Austria, the Communist Party of Austria in Styria and the Socialist Left Party

Many progressive people see the Communist Party, KPÖ, as a left alternative to the Social Democrats. While it may be true that the programme of the Communist Party is to the left of the SPÖ, it is, nonetheless, in no way a programme for the overthrow of capitalism. In its election statement, the party presents itself as a left opposition - there is no mention of socialism. At the very end there is a vague reference to "another, social, and ecologically engaged Europe" but what exactly that means and how it is to be achieved is left to the reader to decide for themselves.

The radicalism of the KPÖ is limited to the call for the "socialisation" of private banks, an end to privatisations and the return of previously privatised sectors to public ownership as well as a constitutional protection for public property. It distinguishes itself from the reformists of the SPÖ only through a somewhat more progressive reform programme, but the party lacks real roots in the working class.

The position is similar with the Socialist Left Party, which is standing in Vienna. The lack of any roots in the class and a left reformist electoral programme make this party unelectable for us.

In the province of Styria, the Communist Party presents a more progressive programme than at the national level. Even though this does not fully bridge the gap between the minimum and maximum programmes, in Styria, the Communist Party is a significant force and has real roots in the working class in important industrial districts.

Vote SPÖ and, in Styria, KPÖ

Across Austria we must hold the SPÖ to its electoral promises and insist on their implementation. In Styria the same is true for the KPÖ. At the same time, we understand that these parties in government are more likely to take responsibility for new attacks on the working class than to improve their living conditions. That is why we say vote KPÖ in Styria and SPÖ across the rest of Austria - but place no trust in them and organise the resistance.

What these parties ought to do is mobilise the working class to struggle for their electoral promises and to defend themselves with all means necessary against any attack. That means demonstrations, strikes, up to mass strikes, and a general strike.

No to any Grand Coalition! No coalitions with any of the bourgeois parties! The SPÖ and, where appropriate, the KPÖ should form a government, if necessary a minority government, based on mass mobilisations! In the event that they form the opposition, these parties should not shirk their responsibility but stand for the defence of the rights of the workers through active class struggle.