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From The Socialist newspaper, 25 May 2016

Austria - Hofer defeated, but far-right threat remains

Build a fighting left alternative

Narrowly defeated far-right leader Norbert Hofer

Narrowly defeated far-right leader Norbert Hofer   (Click to enlarge)

Sozialistische Linkspartei (SLP) Austria and CWI reporters

On 22 May in the run-off second round election for Austria's presidency, Alexander Van der Bellen from the Green Party narrowly defeated Norbert Hofer, the candidate of the far-right Freedom Party (FP). The margin was a mere 31,026 votes.

Opinion polls ahead of the next general election put the FP on 34% - with the ruling coalition Social Democrats (SP) on 26% and conservative People's Party (VP) on 18% - and the Greens on 13%.

How is it that a party that started out as an organisation for former Nazis could win 35% in the first round and just fail to be elected with 49.7% in the final round?

The main reason is the deep frustration and anger of working class people about the policies of the government and the establishment parties, against the backcloth of a worsening social and economic situation and a large influx of refugees. Yet only 12% of Hofer's supporters said the refugee issue was their main concern.

The anger about the establishment is burning. At the same time the trade unions are passive or at best moderating the job losses and cuts. No fighting alternative is given to reverse the decline in living standards.

The FP used racism but also in the last decade, increasingly, populist rhetoric. In the absence of a left alternative (SP is now, fundamentally, a capitalist party) the FP benefitted from the growing anger and disillusionment among increasing numbers of working class people. Over 60% of blue collar votes went to Hofer.

Hofer has no programme at all to help Austrian workers deal with falling wages, record unemployment, austerity or the general fall in living standards but his election campaign presented refugees as another threat to workers.

Neoliberalism

The FP is a racist party but also a neoliberal party. Whenever and wherever it's been or is in power, it has implemented severe social cuts - tuition fees, slaughtered the pension system, cut youth facilities and elderly care.

Hofer's defeat is a relief but, given the FP's clear lead in opinion polls, it's possible that its leader, Strache, could become chancellor at the next general election. This would mean brutal neoliberal politics combined with anti-women, anti-migrant, anti-LGBTQ and anti-Muslim measures.

This danger was very clearly seen by a lot of people and explains why so many finally voted for Van der Bellen. Just 11% voted for him because they thought he represented their political ideas.

The only thing won on 22 May is breathing space. This has to be filled. Simply calling the FP "Nazi" or stressing its far-right policies is not enough.

A programme that answers the economic and social issues in the interests of working people is needed both to stop the FP's rise and answer the questions posed by increasing numbers of refugees.

SLP, the Austrian section of the CWI, some weeks ago started a campaign "the rich have to pay", which has gone down very well. The breathing space must be used to build a fighting, democratic, left organisation that can offer an alternative both to those who voted for Hofer to kick the establishment and for those who voted for Van der Bellen to prevent Hofer.

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In The Socialist 25 May 2016:


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