Anti-fascists in Austria were celebrating after Nazi Norbert Hofer lost the presidential election last Sunday.
But the Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) candidate still won over 46 percent of the vote.
The election was a re-run of a presidential election in May, where Hofer had taken 49.65 percent of the vote.
This time Green Party candidate Alexander van der Bellen won with over 53 percent of the vote.
The revolutionary socialist organisation Neue Linkswende in Austria had campaigned using posters reading, “No Nazis in the Hofburg”, which is the presidential residence.
One of its leading members David Albrich told Socialist Worker, “The anti-fascist movement played a big part in this—these posters were all over the media.
“Labelling Hofer a Nazi helped to get people to vote against him. Hofer complained several times that he was being accused of being a Nazi.”
Austria’s ruling coalition parties are in deep crisis. In the first round of the presidential election in April, both the conservative People’s Party and the Labour-type social democrats won just 22 percent of the vote.
The government’s increasing use of racism is one reason why many anti-fascists expected Hofer to win.
“The coalition parties are moving further to the right every week, which strengthens the FPO,” said David.
But anti-racist campaigning made a big difference. As David explained, “We looked at 20 small towns and communities where there was a lot of anti-racist activity.
“Across Austria Van der Bellen gained 1.3 percent compared to May, but in the 20 towns the figure was 3.2 percent up. This is a sign that when you actively confront racism it strengthens our side.”
Activists across Austria have campaigned against deportations of refugees.
Some have physically fought police to stop deportations, while others have held vigils and set up petitions to defend refugees.
Hofer’s backtracking over the European Union (EU) may have also lost him votes. David said, “He was again and again saying he doesn’t want to leave the EU, but wants to reform it.
“In exit polls in May, 68 percent of people said Hofer understood their worries about the future, but this time it fell to 55 percent.
“He could not mobilise the anger against the system and the establishment as he hoped.”
Hofer’s defeat is a testament to anti-fascist and anti-racist activists in Austria—but the threat hasn’t gone away.
Polls suggest that the FPO would be the strongest party in any new elections and would take between 30 and 35 percent of the vote.
David said, “It’s awful that nearly half of voters gave their vote to a fascist.
“The problem is they don’t know he’s a fascist because he’s hiding his true intentions.”
He added, “We are mobilising against the FPO’s annual ball. I think it will be a kind of celebration this time.
“We are also building towards the anti-racist day on 18 March—this will be our most important date.”
Freedom Party is Nazi to the core
The Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) is Nazi to the core.
Its first leader was former Nazi minister and SS officer Anton Reinthaller.
But the main parties consistently reached out to it.
In 1983 the Labour-type SPO even invited it to join a coalition government.
Again in 1999 the Tory VPO invited it to form a coalition. But this coalition provoked mass protests, causing a crisis for the FPO.
But since 2008 it has gained from resentment at the ruling Labour/Tory coalition and the EU.
The coalition has also pandered to its racism.
But the party’s rise shows that making concessions to its deeply reactionary agenda will not defeat it—only mass opposition will.