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Austria: Kurz's resignation: a rebuff for the bourgeoisie, a chance for the left!

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Less than a week after searches were carried out at the headquarters of the Austrian People's Party, ÖVP, and the Federal Chancellery, Sebastian Kurz was no longer Chancellor. After a meteoric rise, this was his biggest setback so far. Whether he will just burn out or blow up like a bomb remains to be seen. One thing is certain: The political cards will be reshuffled!

On the same day as the searches, the order of the Public Prosecutor's Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption (WKStA) was released to the media. This detailed the accusations against Kurz and his close confidants. Their plan was to use Kurz's position as Foreign Minister and the ÖVP's hope for the future to organise a coup to take over first the party and later the Federal Chancellery. That much was already known - what is new is the criminal dimension. In several stages, obviously doctored polls were distributed to the media, especially to those owned by the Fellner Group.

While Kurz was still Foreign Minister, the ÖVP - then led by Vice-Chancellor Reinhold Mitterlehner - was to be portrayed badly in the polls. When Sebastian Kurz took over the ÖVP, the tide was supposed to turn. Sabine Beinschab of the market research institute "Research Affairs" is said to have collaborated in this and been partly paid by pseudo-projects of the Ministry of Finance and later by the Fellner Group. The main thing was that, although there may well have been real raw data from the polls, these were weighted and partly doctored in favour of Sebastian Kurz.

Already in 2016, Kurz had assembled a network of loyal supporters in the ÖVP and in various ministries. Thomas Schmid and Johannes Frischmann worked in the Ministry of Finance, Sophie Karmasin was Minister for Family Affairs, Stefan Steiner was Secretary General of the ÖVP - all of them and more are listed as defendants in the order for the house searches.

Broadsheets as well as tabloids
The Kurz clique reportedly had the closest cooperation with the Fellner brothers' media. According to the allegations, Beinschab was later paid by the Fellner brothers - in return for advertisements amounting to more than one million euros. That does not mean, however, that only the tabloids allowed themselves to be bought off. Rather, this is only one component of the accusations that are being made. From chat histories it emerges that surveys were also placed via Rainer Nowak, editor-in-chief of the influential Die Presse, who may also have communicated polls to different regional newspapers.

What the chat sequences show very clearly is what communists see as a basic feature of politics; bourgeois media are anything but neutral and objective in their reporting. Quite apart from the inevitable social influences in the interest of capital, the predominance of wealthier sections of the population in the ranks of journalists, not to mention editors and chief editors, there is also good old corruption. Or as Thomas Schmid sums it up: "Ha Ha! There is no objectivity in journalism".

Corruption and bribery
The Public Prosecutor's Office for Economic Affairs and Corruption lists a whole series of people as defendants for offences such as bribery, embezzlement and corruption. In this case, these were the means used to gain power, rather than mere personal wealth. Kurz's personal ambition was linked from the beginning to an offensive policy in the interest of capital: He brought racial division, the 12-hour day and tax giveaways for the rich and corporations. That is why he was able to rally almost all relevant parts of capital behind him.

Step aside?
After he had ruled out resigning for three days, the pressure finally became too great - above all because of the danger of a coalition break-up - and Kurz drew the consequences. Or so one might think. He resigned from the office of Federal Chancellor but returned as a member of parliament in his capacity as the leader of the ÖVP, which also gives him a seat in cabinet. His successor as Federal Chancellor is Alexander Schallenberg, formerly the Foreign Minister.

Schallenberg himself could hardly come from a more elite background. His family is a centuries-old noble family, his father was an ambassador and Secretary-General in the Foreign Ministry. He is a career diplomat. He has Kurz to thank for significant progress on his career ladder. After Kurz took over the Foreign Ministry in 2013, Schallenberg became head of the newly created "Staff Unit for Strategic Foreign Policy Planning" and thus more or less a direct advisor to Kurz in the formulation of his foreign policy positions. After Kurz first took over the ÖVP and a short time later the Federal Chancellery, Schallenberg was on the ÖVP's negotiating team. Under the interim government of Brigitte Bierlein, he was appointed Foreign Minister - further proof that the "expert" government of the time had a clear right-wing twist. Under the new government he then became Foreign Minister again. This clearly shows that he belongs to the Kurz wing of the party and owes the most important advancements in his career - as well as the last one to become Federal Chancellor - to Kurz.

Resentment in the ÖVP
We should not conclude that nothing at all has changed with Kurz's resignation and Schallenberg's appointment as chancellor. While Kurz is obviously still decisive in the ÖVP, at least as party leader, we should not forget the beginning of his rise. When he had himself crowned ÖVP leader in May 2017, he also introduced important changes within the party and its statutes. This meant a clear centralisation of the traditionally federally structured ÖVP. When investigations bring to light further revelations about Kurz and his entourage, those who lost out in those changes will sense their chance to take back power. Already, a clear discrepancy between the centre in Vienna and the provinces has become apparent: while Kurz was unanimously elected leader of the parliamentary fraction by the ÖVP MPs, some ÖVP provincial governors distanced themselves from him. Joanna Mikl-Leitner, the ÖVP Governor of Lower Austria, for example, said she was "obliged to Lower Austria first and foremost" and that the "accusations [must be] clarified" and Markus Wallner (Vorarlberg) said "this is not our style. Where you can, you have to stop it."

So, we can assume that in the ÖVP the unrestricted power of Sebastian Kurz will slowly but surely come to an end, especially if there are new revelations in the coming weeks and months. Of course, this also entails the likelihood of new elections, even if this is no longer an immediate prospect.

And the Left?
In Vienna, the left managed to exert a certain public pressure against Kurz through spontaneous and powerful mobilisations but, as in the Ibiza affair, it showed that it is not capable of bringing down a (vice) chancellor on its own. The official labour movement, organised in the trades unions and the SPÖ, remained passive. The latter even limited its motion of no confidence to Finance Minister Blümel instead of directing it against the whole government.

At the same time, however, there is currently a very good chance of a stronger left alternative in the likely early parliamentary elections before 2024. Less than a month ago, the Communist Party, KPÖ, became the strongest party in city elections in Graz, an unprecedented acceptance of "communist" politics - even if the KPÖ there has more in common with classical social democratic politics. The various forces to the left of the SPÖ and the Greens should therefore start thinking today about what an Austria-wide project for the next national elections could look like, so as not to be overtaken by events, as so often happens. An electoral alliance could open the way to a new, left party in which communists can fight for an orientation towards the working class on the basis of a revolutionary anti-capitalist programme.