Theses on the political situation in Austria

established on the 8th conference of AGM, May 2000

1) In our first pamphlet published after the inauguration of the capitalist government made up of the Austrian People’s Party and the Austrian Freedom Party, we emphasised that the new coalition means a break in the post-war development in Austria. A political alliance of openly bourgeois parties has taken over responsibilities for government affairs for the first time and let no doubt right from the beginning that the dismantling of the institutionalised social partnership in its current form is one of the essential preconditions to put through its anti-social, neo-liberal program.

2) The "breaking” character of this government was immediately recognised by parts among young people, women and workers. An active minority among them concluded that they can and must fight against the People’s Party and the Freedom Party with extra-parliamentary means. The forces of the radical and revolutionary left were those forces within this minority, which tried to build up opposition against this new government along a clearly defined class line.

3) The dominating role of the revolutionary forces in the demonstrations until February 12th showed the strengths and weaknesses of these forces, which are small in number. By their disciplined appearance, their experiences in organisation and their (moderate, but at least existing) infrastructure, they were able to shape the picture of this movement outwardly and they were also able to increase their influence. The large majority of the participants in the demonstrations however went out into the streets because of bourgeois-humanistic "democratic”, "anti-racist” or "anti-fascist” motives. The person Jörg Haider stood more in the centre of the protests than the whole program of this capitalist government.

4) It was correct that the revolutionary left directed its propagandistic axis towards the strike motto and the integration of factories, enterprises and the public sector into the movement. At the same time there were voluntaristic tendencies within the revolutionary left.

5) The government reacted to the protests on the streets and the EU sanctions at first whinily and helplessly; then the government showed imploring optimism in connection with a growing acceptance relating to the pure existence of this government; now the reaction is characterised by the diplomatic and cautious motto "Do not even ignore”. It is obvious that the international scope of action for the PP and the FP is strongly limited; thus aggressive action within Austria against the opposition movement has been made more difficult until now.

6) The Austrian working class as well as the Austrian Bourgeoisie have been marked by social partnership for more than half a century. Both sides still have to learn to deal openly with the class struggle. Thus, the seeds for friction and break-ups between the coalition partners as well as within the parties themselves have already been sown.

7) The consensus among the Bourgeoisie is the realisation that the social partnership in its hitherto form has become obsolete. However, there is disagreement about how fast and by what social partnership has to be replaced. Due to the fact that it is impossible to weigh up how the ÖGB (Austrian Federation of Trade Unions) would react to a general attack on social partnership, the Austrian government backs a policy of small steps. The dismantling of the impact of the Social Democratic Party and of the Austrian Federation of Trade Unions in the social insurance institutions sets the course towards sharp cuts in the field of social affairs and the restraint of union bulwarks. At the same time PP and FP can "sell” their measures as a fight against the "mismanagement of officials” and thus can seize the populist election promises of the Freedom Party. Apart from the reduction of power of the domains which were have been held by the reformist labour movement during the past decades one can recognise a second strategic goal behind these attacks: The Freedom Party – hitherto underrepresented in the political system in Austria – will now be represented in the various chambers and professional associations and other national and semi-national institutions according to its strength. This occurs at the expense of the Social Democrats and the representatives of the unions.

8) The most recent attacks against the Arbeiterkammer (AK – Chamber of Labour) will intensify disagreement among the bourgeois parties. The breaking up of the institutionalised social partnership would also reduce the political influence of the "bourgeois capital” (an important clientèle of the Conservatives) and of the chamber of commerce. It is no coincidence that industrialists have enunciated their opposition against the "dreary and cumbersome” leadership within the Austrian Chamber of Commerce and partly even withheld their membership fees.

9) The Austrian Bourgeoisie has started to orient its perspectives for the future towards the EU. The short moment of triumph over the formation of the Austrian government was followed by weeks characterised by depression. The internal contradictions between the coalition parties and the unpredictability of the populist, far-right coalition party (FP) triggered inevitably negative reactions on the part of Conservatives in Europe and their Social Democratic "managers”. After all, important EU resolutions have to be implemented, which are aimed at improving considerably the competitiveness of European capital versus US imperialism. These resolutions are EU enlargement versus the East and Southeast, the introduction of the Euro and the raising of the participation rate in Europe by far-reaching deregulation.

10) The new leadership of the Social Democratic Party tries in this situation to prepare the party for its role as opposition party, but at the same time it attempts to present itself to the European Bourgeoisie as a "reasonable alternative to the current government” – also with the ulterior motive to be a "government party available on call” in case that the coalition between Conservatives and the Freedom Party fails. These two matters of concern stand in contradiction to each other which makes it even more difficult for the Social Democratic Party to reposition itself as a strong opposition. An objective assessment of the situation however requires primarily the analysis of the dialectics between the convictions of the working class, the role of the Social Democratic Party as a bourgeois workers’ party and the flexibility of the bureaucracy of the unions.

11) Despite of the de-politicisation and the decrease of solidarity, a majority of the Austrian employees see the ÖGB as the elementary representation of their interests. The social partnership and the governing policy of the Social Democrats have changed the convictions concerning the role of the unions. These are no longer seen as potential organisations for fighting, but rather as socially oriented service organisations. Ideology and practise of the social partnership combined with the condemnation of strikes and class struggle actions led to the paralysis of the apparatus and to the alienation of the rank and file from fights.

12) The orientation of the left towards strikes and class struggle which is right in principle, could not count on a respective mood at the workplaces. The government program of the Conservatives and the Freedom Party is assessed as threatening, but there are no concrete ideas about the real consequences for the class per se. The left criticises with justification the passiveness of the bureaucracy of the unions which fights tooth and nail to save the social partnership and grovels before the government. This passiveness is not only the result of an intentional betrayal, but also the reflection of the passiveness at the workplaces.

13) The company meetings organised by ÖGB in ÖIAG-subsidiaries, Post, P.S.K., Austria Tabak, AKH (Central Hospital in Vienna) and the assembly of the shop stewards at the beginning of May can only partly be judged as indicators for an "awakening at the workplaces”. These meetings are organised by the union bureaucracy and central staff councils and channel the prevailing displeasure. At the same time they are designed to be a "pledge” of the bureaucracy in the defence of its position. By reading the resolutions which were passed at the company meetings, one can recognise how much these resolutions fit into the Social Democratic project being a "reasonable alternative to the current government”, outlined in point 10. Out of fear for Austria as a location for industry and out of fear of possible tax losses for the country through the privatisation of profitable enterprises, the real fears concerning the loss of jobs are exploited for the propagating of a less brutally capitalistic, but more patriotic program and the idea of social partnership is sneaked in through the back door.

14) The already existing tendencies among the Greens will consolidate. They will become even more stronger as an important opposition force and will rely on the urban, well-educated section of the electorate by means of humanistic issues. They will also endeavour to take use of the strategic dilemma of the Social Democrats – having a sharper profile as opposition party versus being a reasonable alternative to the current government. On the other hand also an "opposition axis” develops between the Social Democrats and the Greens, which offers the Social Democrats a second option, such as Schröder/Fischer in Germany. Basically the Social Democrats and the Greens share the strategic dilemma between being an aggressive opposition and preparing for the potential role as governing party as a "predictable”, stable partner for Europe. The Greens however are less under pressure from a workers basis than the Social Democrats.

15) The new party chairman of the Social Democrats, Alfred Gusenbauer, is flesh from the flesh of the party bureaucracy and is thus the necessary unifying figure in order to do justice to all trends within the party. He is capable of using the rhetoric of the left, but also more right-wing party members are of the opinion that Gusenbauer is reasonable and has a firm grasp of Realpolitik. With his offer to give the current government one year time, he fits a reasonable, bureaucratic calculation: In case that there will be massive attacks on the parts of the Conservatives and the Freedom Party and tendencies for radicalisation within one year, the Social Democrats can make use of this situation, can channel protests and score points. In case that the rank and file will remain calm or will be demoralised by the government’s policy of small steps, the party machinery saves itself to play the protest card and thus the risk of opening doors which one should have better never opened and which would lead to a path that is unknown.

16) There will be fundamental clarification processes in the next months on the part of the Bourgeoisie as well as among the Social Democrats and the ÖGB. At the moment the situation seems to consolidate. One indication for this was the failed attempt of the left wing of the opposition movement to extend the protests massively to the universities. Such as in other fields of society, it needs concrete attacks on the part the coalition government so that a basis for broad opposition can be set up. This process however needn’t to be understood as a linear process; one has to bear in mind tendencies that run contrary, such as the spreading decrease of solidarity among parts in the population which was caused by the higher social pressure and the impact of reformist and reactionary forces to this development.

17) There will be further protests and demonstrations in the near future, but these will become ever more "tired” and a "routine”. In this context the revolutionary left will not have the power in the next phase to holds its ground against the reformist and humanistic functionaries who have more staying power. At the same time we will face an atmosphere at the workplaces, unions and partly also within the rests of the Social Democratic rank and file, that has changed compared to the recent years. The revolutionary left will observe and analyse this development and will have to take this development into account concerning its politics in order to be able to realise a consequent and realistic policy in case of a possible new upswing of the protests. In the next phase it will be important for the revolutionary left to strengthen itself, to bundle and train new forces and to envisage at the same time a stronger bundling of the revolutionary forces for later phases of the fight.