Socialist Worker

Freedom Party comes to office in Austria

Issue No. 1684

Freedom Party comes to office in Austria

J�rg Haider. What is fascism and how can we stop it?

What is fascism?

FASCISTS ARE more than simply nasty right wing politicians who scapegoat minorities and preach nationalism. Fascist movements arose between the First and Second World Wars, and have reappeared at various times since. Fascists aim to destroy all forms of working class organisation. They kill or lock up, not only revolutionaries, but also anyone who has been a shop steward or argued for rights at work or backed a campaign against racism or injustice. Fascism can suddenly develop as a mass movement in periods of economic and social turmoil.

Fascists seek to draw support from across society. However, the base of mass fascist parties has always been the middle class. Workers can fall back on trade union organisation as some kind of defence in an economic crisis. The capitalists have control of big business, the banks and the state, which offers them some protection. The middle classes-small businessmen, managers, doctors, lawyers and others-have neither the collective power of workers nor the economic power of bosses. They can become bewildered and enraged when they feel society is falling apart. They can turn to a movement which promises to "stand up for the little man" against labour and business.

This contradictory message is held together with racist scapegoating or an appeal to a mythical national past in which the middle layers in society supposedly ruled. Fascism can appeal to the least organised workers, especially the unemployed, who can be encouraged to blame immigrants for unemployment and to identify with a "strong leader". But the core of Hitler's Nazi Party came from the equivalent of today's small businessmen and non-unionised professional occupations.

How does fascism come to power?

A PARAMILITARY movement of uniformed thugs is at the heart of how fascism takes power. They try to terrorise opposition off the streets. In a deep economic crisis bosses can find that their "normal" methods of attacking workers' living standards do not work. Bosses can then throw their weight behind fascist leaders whose massed street fighters are capable of shattering working class organisation. That allows the capitalists to squeeze profit out of workers by turning society into a barracks under military discipline. Fascists have only ever come to power through the backing of the bulk of the capitalist class. They have never been voted into power by a majority of the population.

Is there a difference between fascism and nazism?

THE WORD fascism comes from Italy. Mussolini was the first Fascist and he took power in the early 1920s. Hitler built the Nazi Party in Germany and tried to copy what Mussolini had done. The two movements shared the same overall methods and aims. But fascism always reflects the circumstances in which it grows.

The economic crisis, and the bitterness it produced, was even deeper in the early 1930s than in 1920-1 when Mussolini's Fascists grew. Hitler's consolidation of power was correspondingly swifter and more brutal. Anti-Semitism was central to the Nazis' ideology, whereas at first Mussolini stressed virulent Italian nationalism and the assault against the left. The first Austrian fascist movement in the early 1930s followed Mussolini at first. But it cleared the way for an openly Nazi movement by 1938. Fascist movements may be different but one is not "better" than others. There is a brutal logic of repression and scapegoating which drives fascists to ever more barbaric methods.

What about fascist movements today?

MODERN FASCISTS who want to build mass support try to present themselves as respectable politicians to win votes. Fascists hope to gain from the crisis shaking most of Europe's Tory parties, which have either suffered big electoral defeats or are shaken by corruption scandals. The Austrian Tory party, the People's Party, has collapsed in the polls with much of its support going to J�rg Haider's Freedom Party. Hitler and Mussolini also stood in elections. But their first success was in creating street fighting units.

Hitler had 400,000 Stormtroopers when he seized power. Today's Nazis would like to have tens of thousands of street fighters. They have not yet achieved this aim but already their election advances encourage racist thugs to attack black people, Jews and trade unionists.

Is Haider a fascist?

YES. HE has identified with open Nazis. He praises Hitler's SS and echoes his propaganda. He would not do this throughout a political career lasting three decades if he were not a fascist. His Freedom Party has gone from 5 percent to 27 percent of the vote over the last 15 years. That success masks its weakness. It is a coalition of different groups-from Nazis through Thatcherite businessmen to those who are simply disillusioned by the two main parties.

The Freedom Party has its roots in the Nazi administration in Austria during the Second World War. It has swung between being a fascist party seeking votes and being a free market Austrian nationalist party. The Freedom Party can go in a number of directions. It can become a full-blown fascist movement, go towards a right wing Tory movement or split between its Tory and hardline fascist wings. The outcome depends above all on whether it faces mass opposition.

Has fascism come to power in Austria?

NO. THE Freedom Party has six ministers in the coalition government led by the Tories. That is a huge step forward for J�rg Haider. Hitler's Nazis were only a minority in a coalition government when he became Chancellor of Germany in January 1933. He used that position to give legal cover for his Stormtroopers to break up the powerful socialist parties and trade unions within a matter of three months.

Haider is a long way from achieving that. It would require him to transform his party into a harder fascist movement. That would take time and would generate opposition which could crack open all sorts of tensions in the ruling coalition and in the Freedom Party. But the Freedom Party becomes a more accepted feature of Austrian politics with every day it remains in office. Far right, anti-worker governments paved the way for fascist takeovers in the 1930s.

Can fascism be stopped?

YES, BUT not through parliamentary manoeuvres. Mass movements, which unite in action all those opposed to the fascists, need to confront them. The Anti Nazi League in Britain in the 1970s and 1990s took on the Nazi National Front and British National Party wherever they tried to organise. That is the main reason why the Nazis in Britain are recognised as such and are so weak today. The most powerful anti-fascist force is the organised working class. Anti-Nazis began confronting Jean-Marie Le Pen's National Front in the mid-1990s when he had got over 15 percent of the vote and controlled councils in the south of France.

Mass public sector strikes in December 1995 shattered the Tory government and dented Le Pen's support so much that his movement split. Many of those workers were taken in by some of the anti-immigrant slogans of the Tories and fascists.

But they were forced to strike and march alongside immigrants to defend themselves against attacks from the right. The same process can take place in Austria. It will not happen unless people fight for it. Fascism will retain the potential to grow for as long as capitalism exists, wrecking the mass of people's lives and destroying their hopes.

United workers' action can kick the fascists back into the sewers. It also points to an alternative to capitalism-a socialist society which meets people's needs and turns fascism and racism into grim memories.


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Sat 19 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1684
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