Socialist Worker

Alarm raised at far right's rise in Austria

Issue No. 1682

AUSTRIA'S FAR right Freedom Party was close to entering government as Socialist Worker went to press. It was in talks with the Tory People's Party over forming a coalition government. The prospect of a far right party holding ministerial office in Europe for the first time since 1945 should sound alarm bells. Jörg Haider's Freedom Party is viciously anti - immigrant. It claimed during last autumn's general election campaign that Austria suffered from 'Überfremdung' (foreign infiltration). Hitler's Nazis put this word at the centre of their propaganda in the early 1930s. By inviting Haider's party into government, the Austrian Tories have given respectability to open racist scapegoating. That will boost Tory politicians who want to whip up scares over immigration. It will also give confidence to Nazi forces across Europe, like those who marched in Berlin last Sunday against a planned Holocaust memorial.

Haider has been able to build support out of deep discontent at the failure of Austria's Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), equivalent to the Labour Party in Britain, to bring improvements for the mass of the population. The SPÖ has governed Austria for the last 30 years. It has been in coalition with the Tories for much of that time. The SPÖ - led coalition has followed Blairite policies of squeezing students, cutting welfare and pushing privatisation. It has also caved in to Haider's scapegoating of asylum seekers. But polls show two thirds of Haider voters put disillusionment with the two main parties, not immigration, as the key reason for backing him.

Haider scored his highest percentage of the vote in the traditionally conservative rural areas. Many blue collar workers could not bring themselves to vote for the SP..., though Haider picked up fewer votes from them than the one in four he got across the population as a whole. Only one in three Austrians would like to see the Freedom Party in government, even as a junior coalition partner. Just one in six would be happy with Haider as chancellor. Some 50,000 people marched against Haider in Vienna last October. He has scored a major breakthrough. But he can be stopped.

Build opposition

THE ISRAELI government was considering withdrawing its ambassador from Austria if the Freedom Party won office. European Union members threatened to boycott Austria if Haider entered government. Haider and his party should be treated as pariahs. However, Tory politicians, such as the leaders of the CDU in Germany, are more concerned about Haider's success encouraging far right parties to rob their votes.

The Austrian Tories claimed during coalition talks that they had tamed the Freedom Party. They said the party was only a junior coalition partner and the constitution would prevent attacks on foreigners. These complacent arguments were put when Hitler became chancellor on a minority of the vote in January 1933. Constitutional niceties did not stop Hitler. Neither will they contain the Freedom Party and the Nazi forces it boosts.

The Guardian claimed last October that a 'grand coalition' between the Social Democrats and Tories would push Haider back to the margins. But the very prospect of it actually raised Haider's standing in the polls. Effective opposition to Haider can come from two sources. There is a tradition of resistance to Nazis and to scapegoating. Workers in Vienna rose in insurrection against a fascist takeover in 1934. Left wing forces beat back attempts by the Nazis to organise in the 1970s. A similar movement can be built today.

Every protest in Europe against the Freedom Party helps build that movement. Anti - Haider forces in Austria said they were encouraged to march against him by a successful Anti Nazi League picket of his press conference in Britain last year. The new government could also face opposition from organised workers against its privatisation programme and welfare cuts. Whether strikes and protests break out depends on socialists and trade unionists putting pressure on the leaders of the labour movement to stand against the far right threat.

Roots of Haider's Freedom Party

HAIDER BECAME leader of the Freedom Party in 1986. It had been founded by ex - Nazis after the Second World War. But it evolved into a mainstream pro - capitalist party similar to the Liberal Democrats in Britain. Haider shifted it to the right and won the electoral support of Austria's fragmented Nazi organisations.

He has not built a street fighting force, which was the core of Hitler's party. He has played a similar role to the racist Tory Enoch Powell in Britain in the 1970s. Powell's rantings opened the way for the growth of Nazi parties and led to racist murders. Elements within the Freedom Party and Nazi groups want to build a movement to smash working class organisation and all forms of democracy in the way Hitler did.

Haider has praised the 'sound employment policies' of the Third Reich, and described the SS as 'courageous' and men of 'decent character'. Haider's guarded praise for some of Hitler's policies shows he is quite capable of adopting Hitler's methods if he feels his path to power through the ballot box is blocked. But he has been forced to distance himself from pro - Nazi comments. His right hand man, Thatcherite millionaire Thomas Prinzhorn, says his wife is Jewish. Such defensiveness shows how a movement opposed to the Nazis could also undermine Haider's support.

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Sat 5 Feb 2000, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1682
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