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Austria: LINKS Conference - A Political Change in Austria?

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Recently, the new Viennese party LINKS (left in German) held its annual conference. It was founded just over a year ago and members of the Austrian section of the League for the Fifth International have been involved in it since its inception. Already in the first year important successes were achieved, first of all the best election result of a party to the left of the Social Democracy and Green parties since the 1970s. Although it did not manage to enter the city parliament (the undemocratic hurdle for this is 5%), it did succeed in entering the district councils in the majority of the districts. A whole generation of young and newly politicised people has become politically active in and around LINKS. At the same time, one year after its foundation, LINKS still has many fundamental weaknesses and important political disputes will continue.

Background

To understand the situation in Austria, especially in the capital Vienna, a little background information may be useful. Vienna has been governed by the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) since 1945, most of the time without the need for coalition partners. In the 2010 elections, the SPÖ lost its absolute majority in the city parliament and between then and 2020 the city was governed by a coalition of the SPÖ and the Green Party. After the elections this year, however, the SPÖ did not continue the red-green coalition, which had been relatively popular until then. Instead, it brought the neoliberal NEOS party on board and now governs the city with a "social-liberal coalition of progress". The reason for this, apart from the SPÖ mayor Michael Ludwig's personal dislike of the former Green state leader Birgit Hebein, was above all the fact that, at the national level, the Greens are in a coalition government with the conservative ÖVP. With the help of the neo-liberal NEOS in Vienna, the SPÖ thought it would be easier to pursue opposition policy at the federal level.

Since 2019 and the so-called Ibiza scandal (https://fifthinternational.org/content/austria-after-ibiza-video) and the break-up of the right-wing and conservative government of the conservative ÖVP and the right-wing FPÖ, the ÖVP under Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has been in coalition with the Green Party. The Greens, riding the wave of the Fridays for Future environmental movement, emerged stronger from these elections, while the FPÖ crashed completely and the SPÖ achieved its worst election result since 1945. The basic course of the government has not changed much, the ÖVP was the leading force in the government with both the FPÖ and the Greens. It wants to make the country "ready for competition" again in the interest of the Austrian bourgeoisie and to push back strategic achievements of the workers' movement. For about a year, however, Austrian politics - like politics worldwide - has been shaped nearly exclusively by the Corona pandemic.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Austria once again gained international notoriety because the coronavirus was further distributed to the whole world from the alpine ski resorts, primarily from Ischgl. However, the first wave in Austria in March/April 2020 was stopped by a relatively quickly enforced lockdown. In the beginning, the government and its measures enjoyed relatively strong support among the population, but this changed drastically with the second wave at the latest, which claimed the lives of more than 5,000 people. For many people, the restrictions on the private sphere were no longer understandable when the ski resorts, construction sites and offices remained open. This led to a strong polarisation in the recent months; in March 2020, 75 % still considered the government's measures appropriate, now it is only 41 %. 34 % consider them too far-reaching, 26 % not far-reaching enough. On the one hand, this leads to right-wing-led mass protests against the government's Corona measures; on the other hand, it also leads to great dissatisfaction with the complete inability to organise sufficient vaccines for the population.

LINKS

The founding phase of the LINKS project, and the establishment of the local structures in the districts, unfortunately coincided with the beginning of the Corona pandemic in Europe. Nevertheless, dynamic and lively district structures were built. From the beginning, the struggle for equal rights of migrants and people without Austrian citizenship was central. In Vienna, about 1/3 of the people are not allowed to vote because they do not have the correct passport. LINKS therefore demands the right to vote for all. The struggle against racism was and is argued in LINKS mainly from an identity-political side, but over time an anti-capitalist position could also gain more and more support. In the anti-capitalist struggle, an important focus must be put on winning the large sections of the working class that experience racist oppression and discrimination. Only a united class can stand up to the bourgeoisie.

We do not want to give a detailed summary of the elections and the election campaign of LINKS here, we refer interested readers to: https://fifthinternational.org/content/austria-local-elections-vienna-an.... After the election campaign, which was carried out exclusively by volunteer activists, the first big question was how to proceed. This time also coincided with the second wave in Austria, which made the work even more difficult. Soon, however, the organisation oriented itself towards its annual conference, which took place on the weekend of 27/28 February. At this, several proposals for annual campaigns were discussed and in the end a narrow decision was made for a campaign for a 30 hour week. The proposal for an anti-capitalist campaign on the economic crisis, in which members of the Austrian section of the League for the Fifth International were involved, came a close second. After the conference, a new leadership was also elected.

The conference showed that LINKS still has good potential for revolutionary work and an active membership. Consistently, around half the membership took part in the 2-day online conference. At the same time, it also showed that clearly anti-capitalist proposals have decent support in the membership.

Perspectives

Important questions on whose progressive solution the LFI members in Austria are working, such as the adoption of a clear class standpoint, the connection of anti-capitalism and the struggle for daily demands or the question of how to relate to the bourgeois state, are still not clarified. However, it is not a question of simply dealing with these questions on paper, but of showing in struggle that today revolutionary and bold politics are more necessary than ever.

The triple crisis we are in right now, the still unresolved pandemic, the global capitalist economic crisis and the climate crisis require radical solutions. If the working class and the left do not manage to solve these crises radically in their interest, the bourgeoisie will not be asked twice to solve the crises radically in its interest, if it is able to do so at all.

What is needed and what the members of the LFI in Austria are fighting for is the direct connection of daily demands and struggles with the ultimate strategic goal, the overthrow of capitalism. We cannot limit ourselves to standing up for reformist slogans and at the same time proclaim abstract visions of the future. We need the practical translation of revolutionary anti-capitalism into practice, which can only happen with the help of the transitional method.

For this, it is also necessary that LINKS clearly distinguishes itself from the left reformist concepts of the European Left Party and its national parties. We do not want to manage capitalism better like Syriza or the German Left Party, we want to overcome it. We don't need a left alternative to the established parties but a clear break with the method of electoralism. In the coming months and years, LINKS can prove in practice, in the class struggle, that it is not just another left reformist project for co-administration of capitalism and position itself clearly and radically on the side of the exploited and oppressed - this is what the Austrian members of the League for the Fifth International are fighting for.

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