The Austrian Freedom Party is one of those populist parties which are emerging all over Europe in response to a general discontent. Fuelled by the crisis and social decomposition, their whole programme boils down to racist and xenophobic hysteria and the rejection of the traditional party machines. In Andalusia (against the Moroccans), in France with Le Pen, we h), in France with Le Pen, we have seen similar xenophobic mobilisations. In Austria this fear of being ‘swamped by foreigners’ has been reinforced by the projected opening up of western Europe to the eastern European countries. Similarly the rejection of the ‘establishment’ has been common to all the right wing parties in Europe, since this enables them to present themselves as a new tendency free from the sleaze and personal ambitions of the regular politicians. When you bear in mind that to be a state employee in Austria you have to hold the card of one or other of the two main parties, you can see easily why part of the population feels excluded by these big apparatuses which have shared power for over 30 years.
But none of this makes Haider, any more than Le Pen, a 'new Hitler'. What brought Hitler to power in the 1930s was not the popular pressure of the anti-semitic masses (as the bourgeoisie would like us to think) but the very real needs of German capital. Faced with a violent economic crisis, it was vital for the German bourgeoisie to organise the state in a disciplined manner around a single objective: war. Hitler had a programme for German capital. This involved the concentration of capital, the strengthening of the executive and a clear orientation towards building a war economy. This was a specr economy. This was a specific, original programme which represented a break with previous policies.
Haider’s Freedom Party doesn’t have a specific programme; you could say it doesn’t have a programme at all. Apart from the populist propaganda, once it arrived in power, it simply took up the programme of the Conservative Party, acting as a mere buttress for the latter. What’s more, this programme is no different from that of the previous coalition between the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, which governed the country up to the last elections. At the beginning of 2000 Austria unveiled its third ‘budget of rigour’. Before the last election all the parties were promising economic growth and an increase in public spending. In fact, even before the elections took place, the policies of the future government were already fixed, in continuity with that of its predecessors: it would adopt a policy of austerity, dictated by the European Union. The same European Union which has waxed so indignant about this new government and wants us to believe that its austerity programme is the result of its fascist tendencies, whereas it is only following the EU’s directives on attacking the working class.
By accepting the extreme right in its government, the Austrian stategovernment, the Austrian state knew quite well what it was doing. These populist parties, whose job is basically to rally those who are disgusted with the political process and channel their anger behind demagogic slogans, can be a certain inconvenience. The rise of their influence as opposition parties, nourished by social decomposition, can become an embarrassment for the normal operation of the bourgeois political game. This is exactly what happened with the National Front in France, or the MSI in Italy. In such situations, it becomes necessary to deflate these parties and render them a bit more reasonable.
The French bourgeoisie, having initially done everything it could to inflate the influence of the NF, then contrived to split it in two when it became too much of an encumbrance. The Austrian bourgeoisie, for its part, seems to be following the example of its Italian cousins, who chose to recycle the MSI by absorbing it into the Berlusconi government. Today the MSI has become a ‘presentable’ and better controlled right wing party. Tomorrow, having carried out policies no different from that of previous governments, the Freedom Party will also probably find its popularity has been eroded. In the meantime, Austrian social democracy will have had a rest-cure in opposition; having fought against the ‘fascistsagainst the ‘fascists’ it would have regained its lost virginity and this will help it to obscure the memory of its blows against the working class.
If the freedom party really was a fascist party, it wouldn’t be in power today. For a fascist party to come to power, the social conditions have to be in place. Fascism was the product of a particular historical situation which made it both possible and necessary. Thus, in the 1930s, it was because the world proletariat had been defeated (and not least in Germany where social democracy drowned the revolution in blood between 1918 and 1923), and because the crisis imposed the march towards a new world war, that fascism was called upon to take control. Today, the proletariat is not defeated, and thus, despite the crisis, world war is not on the agenda. Therefore the bourgeoisie has no need, and no possibility, to exert its dictatorship in the form of fascism. It has at its disposal a much more effective instrument in today’s conditions: democracy.
Chaining the proletariat to bourgeois democracy
Here lies the essential reason for all this barrage. If the bourgeoisie is working so hard to present the Freedom Party as a fascist menace, it’s because these events provide it with an ideal oppnts provide it with an ideal opportunity to stoke up it ideological campaigns about the defence of democracy, which are so necessary at a time when it is forced to hammer working class living conditions (1).
This campaign is in full continuity with all the others which, since the collapse of the eastern bloc, have called upon the workers to defend the democratic state against dictators of all kinds (the noise about Pinochet being one of the most recent examples).
In fact, while it can have different faces, capitalist rule is always a dictatorship. Today, in the countries of western Europe, it’s not fascist governments which are throwing the workers onto the dole and cutting wages. It’s not fascist states which are imposing work flexibility and making working conditions more and more dangerous and difficult.
In the present historical situation, which holds out the perspective of massive class confrontations, democracy is the best mask for the domination of capital. In the present strategy of the left in government in the central countries of capitalism, Haider is a godsend for the bourgeoisie. It uses him to increase the credit ratings of the left, which is presented as the best rampart against fascism, unlike the right which capitulates and even shaich capitulates and even shares government with it.
The workers must refuse to be caught up in the false alternative between fascism and democracy, which are only two sides of the same coin. Today the real historical alternative posed to the proletariat is more than ever socialism or barbarism, and by far the greater danger to the proletariat becoming conscious of this alternative is the mystification of democracy.
(1) Apart from this campaign against the working class, the Haider affair is also being used as a tool of inter-imperialist rivalries, particularly by the French and American bourgeoisies. At a time when the German bourgeoisie is trying to expunge its past in order to develop its global power, its rivals can hardly fail to miss the opportunity to throw the memory of Nazism in its face again.