For decades Austria has been ruled by what is called “Big Coalition” between the Social Democrats (SPOe) and the Christian Democrat People’s Party (OeVP) with only few exceptions. Both regime components attempted to claim Merkel’s sweeping electoral victory for themselves. In a certain sense both were right – and nonetheless failed to achieve the same victory.
The SPOe, for two generations the strongest party, is the anchor of (alleged) stability. Regarding culture, social composition as well as social policy they represent the centre. Though this implies to execute the neo-liberal dictates of the European oligarchy (save the bank capital, impose austerity), they try to do this in a way they call equilibrated. If one compares it to other European countries they are even right. Werner Faymann, the outgoing chancellor and most probably also the new one, hinted at the OeVP that even Merkel’s fiscal system is to the left of Austria’s. Labour is heavily taxed while wealth and assets are nearly for free. But already Germany is very favourable to the rich. Austria is actually close to an off-shore tax-evading destination. Faymann’s proposal for fiscal reform is rational within the frame of the overall regime’s conditions: Diminish the wage taxes for lower income classes, increase the m for the higher ones and first of all tax assets.
Apparently this is mainly for the public opinion’s consumption during the electoral campaign. As the social democrats tied their fate to the one of their partner OeVP none of these measures will be substantially implemented. The constraints imposed by the coalition with the OeVP are an easy and welcome pretext. After all the current fiscal system has been established by the very same leading SPOe during the last decades.
But there is another important difference to Germany: nothing similar to Hartz IV (the cheap labour market for the lower strata enforced by dismantling the welfare state) was created, neither the same wage dumping implemented. Therefore the current accounts are quite balanced and consumer demand has not been as restricted as in Germany. After all Germany’s trade surpluses represent nothing else that unpaid wages.
The SPOe is the party of the employed middle classes, the state administration and the well-of workers. The lower layers of the workers by majority switched to the FPOe. Then there is the army of retirees who want to maintain things as they have been. SPOe supporters substantially defend the system as it is.
Historically the OeVP is Merkel’s homologue. The capitalists and entrepreneurs are with them (Raiffeisen empire). But culturally the OeVP resembles more the Bavarian CSU than Merkel’s CDU. This small difference is, however, important. The OeVP is culturally too conservative to represent the centre of Austrian society which after 89/91 is in substance liberal. Their drive for early social segregation within the education system matches the German bourgeois education model of the 19th century. Significant sections of the entrepreneurs and liberals fear for the quality of the workforce. Nearly crazy is the campaign against what they call “enforced kindergarten” while public childcare is not sufficient, all the more in a city like Vienna. The role model even of the upper class women has changed. Now she is supposed to engage in a professional carrier and not to stay at home like in the 50s or 60s. Even more important: neo-liberal ideologues ride continued attacks against clientelism. So while the narrative goes that everybody must accept cuts why the salaried state-employed Christian Democrat constituencies are exempted? Also the historic embracement by the Social Democrat senior partner is disputed within the urban middle and upper class milieus. From here stem electoral successes by different elite rebels – the reverse phenomenon to Merkel’s total absorption of the liberal milieus.
All in all this double centre (SPOe and OeVP) did maintain its majority though tarnished. Partially this can be explained that Austria remains well of in comparison to the social disaster being suffered across the continent. On the other hand Austria behaves like Berlin’s fellow-runner. The chauvinist bonus Merkel benefited from being Europe’s dominator does therefore not apply to Austria. The Euro and European crisis has been completely faded out from the electoral campaign. Roughly two third of society eventually backing the centre accept the Euro regime as necessity though as a type of lesser evil. Therefore they chose to shut up, to close their eyes and hope that nothing will happen. Given Austria’s record of the past half century it is an understandable rationale for those who have something to lose.
Regarding the increased electoral opposition there is little substance. Socio-economically the greens are part of the centre anyway. Their difference is only in culture. Roughly they represent what is sometimes called bourgeois bohemians. The new formation entering parliament, called Neos, is to be associated with even more elevated social strata. Their predecessors come from the liberal right and so far failed to get into parliament. Only by getting rid of the rightist flavour they could succeed symbolised by the colour they chose: pink. Not to forget the money of one of the biggest Austrian capitalists Hans-Peter Haselsteiner of Strabag civil construction. Whether they will survive one legislation period remains to be seen.
The Austro-Canadian billionaire of Magna industries, Frank Stronach, failed to accomplish his megalomanic expectations despite the millions he poured in. Combining the American dream, neo-liberalism, conservativism with soft criticism to the Euro did produce nothing but confusion and senility. For example: he strangely spoke of “separate Euros for each country”?! Or he called for capital punishment which strongly goes against the commons sense which obliged even his paid henchmen to turn against their master.
The BZOe did no more succeed in entering parliament. They were unable to transform from Haider nostalgia into rightist liberalism which they pretended to represent. Richer people would vote for the Neos or maybe Stronach, pourer once of this political environment would go right away to FPOe. The spell is even broken in Carinthia, where they originally stem from.
All these formations formally categorised as opposition actually can be red also as part of the ruling centre though more amorphous, less direct and less reliable.
The only party which plays with being on the edge of the system is the FPOe commonly called rightist populist. But from a purely socio-economic point of view they are very close to the social democrats. In essence their motto: yes to welfare, but only for Austrians. They became the main party of the subaltern classes by organically melting social demands with chauvinism. It is not by accident that the party is incessantly calling on the SPOe to form a common government and not upon the OeVP.
What should not go unnoticed in the outrage about their chauvinism: The FPOe tuned down their rhetoric against the EU, the Euro and the banks. They confined their opposition to risk-taking for the south, that’s all. Behind this moderation there can be two reasons: On one hand also their constituencies know that Austria’s economy did benefit from the Euro. On the other hand they signal to the elites that eventually they are ready to join a government.
The usual two acid tests for “good governance” they passed – one on foreign and one on domestic policy. Despite their anti-Semitic history they support Israel against the Palestinians as Islam has been proclaimed to be the main enemy. And the support to the Euro/EU regime.
Who had hoped for a small but serious social democrat opposition like the “Linke” in Germany will be disappointed. The Communist Party scored 1% but they are also part of the system if you take their position on both Israel and the Euro. They are nothing more than an appendix of the greens. While the greens are a subculture of the ruling regime, the CP on its turn is a sub-sub-culture of these left-liberal middle classes.
A social revolutionary opposition must be directed against both, the ruling regime as well as the different forms of systemic opposition and their social chauvinism. The difficulty is to separate the reactionary chauvinist momentum from the social protest. At the core of an anti-systemic project lies the struggle against the Euro/EU regime. Though elements of the historic left will be necessary such an initiative can not rely on the systemic left-liberal culture.