The Threat of Fascism in Austria

By Kuhn, Rick | Monthly Review, June 2000 | Go to article overview

The Threat of Fascism in Austria


Kuhn, Rick, Monthly Review


For the first time since the Second World War, the extreme right is a major component in a national European government. [1] The Freedom Party of Austria (FFO) has half of the posts and the Deputy Chancellorship in its coalition with the conservative Austrian People's Party (OVP), sworn in on February 4, 2000. The only consistent features of EPO politics since 1986 have been racism and the determination of Jorg Haider, its most prominent figure, to take power in Austria. Haider is best known for his favorable comments about Nazi Germany, the honorable nature of members of the SS, and the role of the German army under Hitler in defending civilization.

The OVP's Wolfgang Schussel may be Chancellor, but Haider is in a stronger position. Haider is not a member of the new Federal Government, but has stayed at the head of the State Government of Carinthia, in southeast Austria. While support for the OVP (Black) has slumped after the Black-Blue Coalition took office, the FPO (Blue) maintains its position at the polls. And Haider exercises a very different kind of control over his Party than Schussel does over the OVP.

How could the Austrian far-right win 27 percent of the vote in last October's federal elections and now be an equal partner in government? This is particularly puzzling, given that Austria is not only a wealthy country but is far from facing severe economic or social problems. Neoliberal policies were introduced by the Grand Coalition between 1987 and 1999, in which the OVP was a junior partner to the Social Democrats (SPO). But the consequences of privatization, cuts in the welfare state, and the deregulation of markets have so far been relatively mild compared to other developed countries. Corporatist arrangements between the "social partners"--business and labor--remained in place, not only in industrial relations but also in the formulation of the government's economic and social policies. In terms of its political arrangements, Austria was the last social democracy.

There is no comparing the situation in Austria with the economic crisis and social tensions in East Germany since 1990 (where the rise of the extreme right has been worrisome but on a much smaller scale), let alone Russia today or Europe during the early 1930s. Is Haider simply an anomaly, a purely Austrian phenomenon? Before looking at the forces behind the FPO's participation in government and strategies to end it, however, it is important to work out exactly what sort of party it is.

Right-Wing Extremism, Right-Wing Populism, or Fascism?

Since taking over the leadership of the Freedom Party in 1986, Haider has steered it in a fascist direction in terms of ideology, organization, and personnel. The FPO has linked its criticisms of the established order in Austria to racist arguments. The new government's program includes cutting immigration quotas for family reunions, targeting illegal immigrants, discriminating against children in schools who do not speak German, enforcing a longer waiting period before immigrants can become citizens, as well as standard conservative measures like further privatizations; cuts in health, education, and welfare spending; and increased outlays for defense and policing.

For the FPO, unemployment, job security, education, and health problems are explained in terms of the numbers of foreigners in Austria. Shortly after taking office as the Premier of the State of Carinthia in March 1999, Haider started to dismantle the system of bilingual education for the Slovene minority. [2] He has also harnessed hostility to the Porporz system of allocating public sector jobs, down to the level of school inspectors, on the basis of party membership, to his goal of a "Third Republic" that will replace the corruption of the Second Republic, in place since the Second World War. While implying radical changes, Haider has not spelled out the role that democratic and parliamentary institutions would play in his vision of the future. …

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