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Snapshot, Austria: Class Struggle from Above Right


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In Austria, ultra-right-wing politics quite obviously attracts a stable or rising fraction of potential voters—between 25 and 30 percent. These numbers are shocking and sobering, but so is their consistency over the past decade. In the 2000 general elections, the so-called Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ), then still led by Jörg Haider, received 28 percent of the votes and become part of the governing coalition. Most recently, on the October 10, 2010 communal elections, the FPÖ won almost 27 percent of the votes in Vienna—Austria’s capital and most populous state and, until now, a stronghold of the Social Democrats (SPÖ)—becoming the second strongest party after the SPÖ. The constant rightward drift in organized politics is, on the one hand, a specifically Austrian phenomenon, and at the same time it is fully in line with the European trend.

As in other countries, the extreme right’s electoral gains are largely fed by voters disappointed with the Social Democrats; in the Viennese elections, this group comprised forty-five thousand voters who had previously supported the SPÖ. Since its neoliberal turn in the 1990s, European Social Democracy has been a driving force behind the dismantling of social safety nets and the deregulation of the labor market, and this development has plunged many groups into political confusion. As a consequence, many people abstain from voting altogether. In others, however, the growing feeling of uncertainty finds its voice in an upended common sense: that the economization of the social that has been at the heart of the rise of “cognitive capitalism” over the past twenty years has not only created an encompassing market in which people must offer all their intellectual and physical abilities for sale, but also leads many to wish that the omnipresent marketplace, the world of employment, would return to being as simple and straightforward as it (allegedly) once was. In this world, those who had initially been recruited to perform poorly paid labor, but were also declared aliens, are unwelcome. The assiduous enthusiasm for the native, or rather for the phantasm of an identity-defining and homogeneous culture—in combination with the sluggishness of any attempt to come to terms with the history of National Socialism—is surely an Austrian specialty.

The marketplaces: two typical settings in which reorganization measures are enacted that must—still—be described as neoliberal are educational policy and what is called policy on foreigners (including asylum regulations). The role the extreme right plays in the political field as a whole becomes fairly clear in the interplay between these two areas.

In terms of educational policy, the FPÖ has ridiculously little to say. There is essentially nothing on its agenda that is not also motivated by aims linked to the party’s “policy on foreigners”; one example is the paranoid assessment that a situation has already arisen in which German must be mandated as the language not only of instruction, but also of “recess and schoolyard” interaction. The situation is different when it comes to questions regarding the right to asylum, deportations, and what is called integration. In these areas, the ultra-right-wing party’s single-issue platform is having real effects. The party’s foremost themes are immigration and the alleged “Islamization” of Austrian society, both of which, it claims, must be pushed back or stopped. Awkward rhyming slogans such as “Mehr Mut für unser ‘Wiener Blut’—Zu viel Fremdes tut niemandem gut” (More courage for our “Viennese blood”—too much that’s foreign isn’t good for anyone), from the 2010 election campaign, apparently succeed in reaching voters, especially young men and more generally the social strata sociologists describe as the “traditionless working classes.” The reference to “Viennese blood,” the title of an operetta by Johann Strauss, conveys on the one hand the party’s claim to represent what is allegedly Austria’s native high culture, and on the other hand, it makes a well-measured and hence deniable allusion—and the denial came promptly—to the National Socialists’ conceptions of Volk.

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