Austria: fascism in government

Issue: 161

David Albrich

In December 2017 the Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) formed a coalition government with the conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP). This was a real shock to anti-fascists around the world. An international call to boycott Austria’s new cabinet, first published in the French newspaper Le Monde, rightly labelled the junior partner FPÖ as the “heirs of Nazism”.1 Like many others, the author of the article understands the FPÖ to be a fascist party. But the Freedom Party, and, more generally, those new fascist parties that mask their politics (sometimes termed “Euro-fascist” parties), such as the Front National (now Rassemblement National) in France, do not fit precisely into the classic definition of fascism—whether the brilliant analysis of fascism by Leon Trotsky or those developed by other political traditions.

This article deals with a fascist party that got into government at a time when the creation of a fascist dictatorship, or even the formation of an SA type street fighting movement, appears impossible. I argue that masked fascist parties are more dangerous than open fascists and call their strategy of hiding their fascist project and preparing the political ground for a fascist street-wing “fascism in peace time”. The article seeks to generalise from the Austrian experience and draw some conclusions for the development of anti-fascist theory and strategy internationally today.

The global context in which the ÖVP and FPÖ won the general elections in October 2017 (with 31.5 percent and 26.0 percent of the vote, respectively) is characterised by the underlying economic crisis. Marxist economist Michael Roberts has identified a “Long Depression”, since the financial crash in 2007-8, and the more or less unbroken ideological dominance of neoliberalism.2 What is new is a massive political shift to the right since the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States at the end of 2016. In his raid against liberal democracy, Trump’s administration sought and seeks to build “axes” with right-wing governments all over Europe, some of which include real fascist parties such as the FPÖ in Austria. Furthermore, the European Union (EU) summit on refugees on 17 June 2018 marked a dangerous turning point in the racist drive against refugees and migrants, as the International Socialist Tendency (IST) has argued.3

The political dynamic at work here is key. Trump’s war against liberal democracy and his racism are interconnected. People are rightly fed up with the empty promises politicians have made and expect real change. But it is often the right that can channel this anger against “the establishment” towards Muslims, refugees and migrants—both the FPÖ and ÖVP have managed to do this very successfully. They signalled in their campaigns and in government that no stone would be left unturned—everything progressive from women’s rights to social security and labour protection should be withdrawn. However, despite the similarities between the FPÖ and ÖVP in how they look and behave in government, there are important differences between fascist forces and the traditional conservative right as we will see later.

The FPÖ understood the development of a shift to the right even before the rise of Trump, but then took the opportunity to jump on his anti-liberal bandwagon. A delegation of leading Freedom Party politicians attended the election-night party in Trump Tower and its leader Heinz-Christian Strache, now Austrian vice chancellor, met with Trump’s first national security advisor, Michael Flynn, in November 2016.4 Again, Strache and an FPÖ delegation attended Trump’s inauguration a few weeks later.

The FPÖ’s war against the liberal order is intrinsically connected with racism. Racists fear the progressive effects of the fantastic solidarity movement with refugees and migrants. For example, the European Values Study shows that in Austria all forms of racism and other forms of discrimination have been curbed tremendously in the last ten years. Between 2008 and 2018 the number of people who say they do not want to live next to Muslims dropped from 32 to 21 percent, the corresponding values for Jews declined from 18 to 7 percent, for people of colour from 18 to 9 percent, for Roma and Sinti from 33 to 28 percent and for migrants from 24 to 18 percent.5 But it is a recurring theme in FPÖ campaigns that the situation in the EU in 2015 with “masses of refugees” on the borders should never happen again. For them the “entirely wrong culture of welcoming refugees” is part of the “1968 movement”. Manfred Haimbuchner, FPÖ chief in Upper Austria, is calling for a “conservative-liberal revolution” against 1968 and the “Islamisation of Europe”:

The conditions in Europe are disastrous… What the Sixty-Eighters wreaked in the schools and universities and in parts of the media, especially in [Labour-Green governed] Vienna, one can see every day… Some forces in Austria and Europe want to ban ringing the church bells, that we do not celebrate religious holidays like Easter, Corpus Christi or Pentecost anymore… It seems to me that also in Austria the guests [ie migrants] defeat the hosts.6

Racism is the decisive element of the current political development that prepares the ground for the rise of the far right. And right-wing populist and fascist parties, whether in government or in opposition, have been able to pull the ­traditional “centre parties”, in most cases Labour and Conservatives, further towards the extreme right in their racist attitudes towards Muslims and refugees. The centre responds to it by making concessions to the right (in the case of supposedly moderate politicians such as the German chancellor Angela Merkel) or completely adopting right-wing policies (as with Austrian Tory chancellor Sebastian Kurz). If you look at the racist election campaigns of the FPÖ and ÖVP, you could not tell which is the fascist and which the conservative force. This in turn validates the views of the extreme right and gives confidence to fascist street movements, as can be seen with the re-emergence of a neo-Nazi movement around the former English Defence League (EDL) leader Tommy Robinson on the streets in Britain or the mass Nazi rallies in Chemnitz in Germany. Its a vicious circle that benefits the right.

“A paradigm shift in social politics”

The FPÖ’s participation in government as junior partner contradicts the historical experience of fascism. One might expect fascists today to adopt Adolf Hitler’s strategy of total power. Hitler insisted on becoming chancellor, rejecting being part of a government as a junior partner. Chief of the Alternative for Germany (AfD), Alexander Gauland, echoed this strategy when he said the AfD has to be a “hard-hitting opposition” and there must be “no ingratiation to the rulers”.7

Elmar Podgorschek, a leading politician in the FPÖ and member of its executive board, discussed exactly this question with Björn Höcke, a follower of Gauland and leader of the AfD branch in Thuringia, at an AfD meeting in May this year. In his speech “What the AfD can learn from the FPÖ” Podgorschek explained:

In opposition it is of course easier, but governing is not that hard if you respect some basic rules and pass them on… We did not take this decision lightly, but yet it was so important for us… Because of the migration crisis and the economic crisis, a paradigm shift in social politics is desperately needed.8

Podgorschek talked quite openly about the discussions that took place among the leadership of the FPÖ before agreeing to join the government as a junior partner. He gives an interesting insight in the whole politics of the FPÖ in government. It is centred around breaking resistance in the state itself (the institutions, ministries, public broadcasting), politically shaping the police and through it brutalising society, party building and maintaining the party’s independence from other political currents, especially from their coalition partner the ÖVP. So far, the FPÖ strategy seems successful. Every national poll shows that the FPÖ (as well as the ÖVP) have maintained their share of the vote nine months after taking office. Other fascist forces will look to the Freedom Party and their strategy, so it is important to make some more general points on the FPÖ strategy here.

Infiltration and reconstruction of the state

First, the FPÖ leadership consciously tries to avoid the mistakes it made in its participation in government in 2000, also as the junior partner of the ÖVP, and to infiltrate and reconstruct the state. In the late 1990s the then leader Jörg Haider, confronted with possible government participation thanks to the quick rise of the FPÖ (from 9.7 percent in 1986 to 26.7 percent in 1999), pushed the fascist cadres9 out of the leadership and put looser neoliberal lateral entrants onto the front bench. Some would eventually become ministers and the profiteers of privatisation policies. In 2000 Haider himself withdrew from national politics and went back to his federal province of Carinthia. It was these relatively recent entrants who gave themselves up to the sole neoliberal cause of the ÖVP and whose corruption trials continue to this day. Within two years the party experienced enormous disputes. After its party congress in 2002, several ministers resigned, the coalition broke up and the FPÖ vote itself crashed to 10 percent in the following elections. Eventually in 2005 the party split and the old leadership was toppled by the current leader Strache and the cadre base—members of the fascist student corporations.

Since then the leadership has introduced a stricter party regime and explicitly closed the party for “opportunists” and “free riders” who “just want to make some quick money”.10 This time in government, vice chancellor Strache sent his hardcore elites into all the important positions. His speech writer Herbert Kickl (some call him the Goebbels of the Freedom Party) became interior minister; Mario Kunasek, who has close ties with the street-fighting “Generation Identity”, got the defence ministry; former presidential candidate and member of the fascist student corporation “Marko-Germania” Norbert Hofer became Minister of Transport, Innovation and Technology; and another “Burschenschafter”, Andreas Hauer (“Alemannia zu Linz”), who described anti-fascist protests as “civil war”, was sent to the Constitutional Court. The party cadres now sit in all important state and state related boards, and of course, they took their office staff with them. To underline the argument made here, Strache’s press speaker is a member of a student corporation (“Libertas”) that was a forerunner in fuelling the racism against Jews in the 19th century; Kickl, the founder of the antisemitic, Breitbart-like online blog Unzensuriert, is his head of communications; and Hofer hired a press referent, whose student corporation (“Bruna Sudetia”) posted parts of the SS loyalty song “when all are becoming disloyal, we ourselves stay true” on Facebook. An accurate and regularly updated record of all these cadres in government positions is provided by the Research Group Ideologies and Policies of Inequality (FIPU).11

This method is not just intended to avoid the failures of 2000; it is the core of a particularly dangerous strategy. The FPÖ is now in control of the whole repressive apparatus of the state, in other words the police, intelligence service and military. That control of the interior ministry was an absolute condition in the coalition talks with the ÖVP shows the strategic importance of these repressive apparatus for the FPÖ. It is trying to overcome the obstacles to rebuilding the repressive core of the state. This has already led to a massive secret service scandal. In February, a special police forces team, led by an FPÖ politician, raided the Austrian intelligence service (the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Counterterrorism, BVT), and seized the observation material it had collected on Nazi organisations (including on the neo-Nazi conference “Defenders of Europe” in 2016, at which interior minister Kickl, at the time FPÖ general secretary, was one of the main speakers). The raid’s obvious aim was to intimidate those intelligence service employees who are assigned to observe the right-wing scene and to discredit its head, who is close to the ÖVP. Beforehand the interior ministry pushed alleged witnesses to testify before the public prosecutor against the leadership of the intelligence service. Minister Kickl himself met with the commander of the police squad before the raid.12

Politics for and through the police

This leads to a second important point. The FPÖ direct their politics in government towards the police. They do so for several reasons. They can expand their core of fascist cadres, building another mainstay (in addition to the street movement, which they have struggled to set up) and, through more state repression, establish a social climate in their favour in which a real fascist street movement could grow. This makes the FPÖ strategy more dangerous than those pursued by more open fascists such as Golden Dawn in Greece. It is also conceivable that the future SS—in other words a police force that is totally loyal to the ­fascists—might not come to the state from the outside, but develop from within. The police unit that raided the intelligence service, the Task Force to Combat Street Crime (EGS), is led by an FPÖ “trade unionist” in the police who shared posts from neo-Nazis on his Facebook page. His squad is internally known as the “praetorian guard” in reference to the elite soldiers of the Roman emperors who changed their loyalty depending on donation. They gloat in police circles about “bashing negroes”—wrestling people of colour to the ground and searching them for drugs.13

The interior ministry is actively trying to win neo-Nazis and racists to the police. It is recruiting 4,200 new officers and minister Kickl puts police job advertisements on right-wing websites (including one linked to the fascist “Generation Identity”) and antisemitic, Islamophobic magazines that are read by neo-Nazis. Kickl has also been interviewed in these publications.14 Racists and right-wing weapon fanatics are attracted to the police by measures such as equipping the police with 6,500 new automatic assault rifles, setting up a 600 officer-strong new border police force for the fight against “illegal immigration” and creating a new police mounted team. Once in the police, the new recruits (and, of course, the already active police officers) are drawn closer to the FPÖ through being recruited to a special FPÖ police union, the Action Group of Independents and Libertarians (AUF), ie party members of the FPÖ. At anti-fascist and anti-racist demonstrations this union provides police officers with food and drink. In February the AUF leadership met with Kickl in his ministry in order to coordinate the work of the union as a “connection” and “interface” between the ministry and the police officers, as Kickl and AUF chief Werner Herbert have explained.15

At the same time, officers are radicalised and the social climate is changed. The current leader of the FPÖ parliamentary group, Johann Gudenus, told supporters in an election rally some years ago (in reference to a Brothers Grimm fairy tale): “If Strache is chancellor, if we [the FPÖ] provide the interior minister, there is no more ‘wishing-table’ for illegal asylum seekers and illegal migrants, when appropriate this means to get the ‘cudgel out of the sack’”.16 In other words, there will be no more hand-outs for migrants, and it’s time to get the batons out instead. Deportations of refugees, especially Afghans, have intensified and reports on more deportations are always celebrated in the FPÖ party channels such as their paper, WhatsApp and Facebook. In September 2018, police departments were urged via an email from the interior ministry “to highlight the nationality of suspects…in press releases [and interviews]. Moreover, in the case of foreigners, their immigration status or if they are asylum seekers”.17 Since the new government took office there has been a dramatic rise in the daily racist police stop and search procedures and ethnic profiling alongside public transport routes as well as regular mass raids of public squares and parks in which refugees and people with black or darker skin are systematically rounded up by police officers and searched for drugs.

Retaining their independence

Third, the FPÖ leadership is aware that it has to operate as an independent political force. As argued above, the ÖVP and FPÖ, with their racism and anti-establishment mask, might look the same on the surface. They both have to signal to their voters that with them everything will change. But fascists have their own agenda (for more on this see below). Moreover, for fascists participation in government entails the danger of being seen as part of the establishment themselves. The driving theme of the general elections in 2017 was a wish for change; exit polls showed that every second FPÖ voter said Austria had developed negatively in recent years and 35 percent of them were unhappy with the previous government.18 Podgorschek made it very clear in his speech to the German AfD that the FPÖ are independent from the conservatives: “Our Conservatives are not conservative. They are only conservative in soapbox speeches. We always say: they signal turning right, and then they turn left… The cooperation with the Blacks [ÖVP] is not a love marriage, but a marriage of convenience… Never trust a Black”!

This means, as Podgorschek explains, expanding the FPÖ’s own independent media (Facebook, Youtube channels, etc) where it can get in touch with its voters more directly, the “neutralisation of public broadcasting” and retaining its image as an alleged force against the “establishment”, in which it also counts the ÖVP.19 FPÖ politicians attack prominent journalists on a regular basis and have already begun to recolour the public broadcaster ORF. In the already cited email to the police departments, the interior ministry attempted to corrode the freedom of the press by ordering the police to “limit communication with [critical] media to the minimum legal requirement”.20 We see in this case how the different aspects of the FPÖ strategy in government—infiltration and reconstruction of the state, politics for and through the police and ensuring independence—fit into each other.

Successor party to the NSDAP

Before showing how the behaviour of the fascists in government makes perfect sense today (which should confirm our argument that the FPÖ is a fascist force), I want to argue from a historical point of view why the FPÖ is a fascist party by looking at its origins and its cadres.21

The FPÖ was founded by former SS officers in 1955. For political scientist Anton Pelinka, the Freedom Party “was clearly from the beginning, if not almost demonstratively, a formation of former National Socialists for former National Socialists”. His judgement is devastating:

In no other European country can such a continuity be observed between a party that embodied a barbaric dictatorship and a parliamentary party that operates in a post-fascist (or post-Nazi) liberal-democratic system as a “normal party”. The FPÖ represents the continuation of the German-völkisch [folkish—ie right-wing racist-nationalist] tradition whose high point was National Socialism and the Holocaust it was responsible for.22

In other words, the FPÖ must be seen as the successor to the NSDAP—Hitler’s National Socialist German Workers Party—in Austria. The first FPÖ leader was Anton Reinthaller, a former SS Brigadeführer. In 1938, just before the ­annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, he became NS minister for agriculture in the “Anschluss Cabinet” that facilitated Austria’s absorption. In his inaugural speech as first FPÖ leader he affirmed: “The national thought stands by its nature for nothing else than the commitment to belonging to the German Volk [people]”.23 Reinthaller’s successor Friedrich Peter was an SS Obersturmführer and member of the notorious 1st SS Infantry Brigade, which was under the direct command of Heinrich Himmler and responsible for the worst war crimes behind the lines on the eastern front. In September 1941, Peter’s 5th company completely wiped out the Russian village Leltschitky, executing 1,089 Jews.24 Peter had to admit that, at least in its founding phase, the FPÖ “searched, wanted and needed the Nationals” (a synonym for Nazis). “This is why both a lot of attention as well as due diligence was given to contact with the [traditional] associations and federations… Not only a few found their way to the party in the course of time and proved themselves excellent employees from the level of local groups up to the national level”.25

After the war, Reinthaller and Peter, like many other leading figures of the early FPÖ, were detained in the US prisoner of war camp in the Austrian city of Salzburg.26 In this and other camps, the Nazis established the networks that would later lead via various intermediate steps to the founding of the FPÖ. In these networks, massive debates were held, particularly within the right-wing student corporations, about how openly one should act. After the Second World War the occupation forces dissolved the old Nazi organisations and the revival of National Socialism was forbidden. Many successor organisations were banned because their project of re-establishing the NSDAP was too obvious—the Nazis learned the hard way to hide their true intentions and accomodate to the post-war political system. A special tactic involved forming fronts with national-liberals as “straw men”. Franz Langoth, an influential Nazi in the Federation of Independents (VdU), the predecessor of the FPÖ, explained to sceptics of this tactic: “We need him [the national-liberal leader of the VdU]—even if only as a straw man. When the political conditions change, we can still appoint someone else to his place”.27 This then happened in 1955 when the FPÖ was founded. One of these straw men, Herbert Kraus, after he was kicked out, saw in the founding congress of the FPÖ a “‘takeover’ prepared in advance by a small circle of right-wing extremists and former Nazi leaders”.28

Obviously the legal circumstances, the ban on open Nazi organisations, could be dealt with—by hiding. Just think of the names they were using: “Independents” and “Freedom Party”. Moreover, denazification in Austria never really happened, which suited the FPÖ and gave it confidence. Already in 1948, after pressure from the Social Democratic Party (SPÖ) and ÖVP, 90 percent of all registered Nazis (nearly half a million) were pardoned, in other words, they regained the right to vote. The sentences of the People’s Courts got softer and, by 1957 after the withdrawal of the occupation forces, denazification was formally ended. Until 1955 there were 136,000 cases against former Nazis, but only 28,000 of these cases resulted in charges and in only 13,000 cases were there convictions. Often these convictions were reduced or cancelled. Only 30 death sentences were actually carried out. Often it was former Nazis who tried their former comrades as judges.29 It was a political decision by both main parties, SPÖ and ÖVP, to allow the VdU to run in elections for the first time in 1949. Both calculated that a third party to their right would take away votes from the other party—in reality, both parties lost votes.

Fascist cadre schools

Since the FPÖ’s foundation, the so-called “Burschenschaften” and similar far-right student corporations (“Landsmannschaften”, “Corps”) have played a central role.30 Together with the FPÖ youth organisation (RFJ) and its student organisation (RFS), whose leadership is recruited out of Burschenschaften, they act as a cadre school for the FPÖ. In Austria there are only about 4,000 members of Burschenschaften (and to be precise all other German nationalist corporations), but they are in full control of the Freedom Party. The party leader, Strache, is a member of “Vandalia Wien” and four of his five deputies are Burschenschafter. Some 20 out of 33 members of the party executive and 21 out of 51 FPÖ members of parliament belong to German nationalist associations. The Burschenschaften act not just as a cadre school for the Freedom Party, but all prominent neo-Nazi leaders in Austria come out of this milieu.

Burschenschafter can be identified by the caps they wear, coloured ribbons around the chest and ugly scars on their faces and heads that are the result of fencing bouts. Often they are doctors, lawyers, managers and senior officials. Burschenschaften are authoritarian, antisemitic, German-nationalist, elitist, male (there are only a few female) student fraternities that had their roots in the first half of the 19th century in parts of what later became unified Germany. In the dark times of Vormärz (or pre-March, the period between the restoration of absolutism in 1815 and the 1848 revolution) the German Burschenschaften initially had some progressive ideas (freedom of assembly and press, unification of Germany…), but it must be noted that the earliest Austrian Burschenschaften were only formed after 1859. FPÖ politicians and Burschenschafter often refer to this short period of time in pre-March and claim that they stand in this liberal tradition. They neglect to mention that, immediately after the defeat of the revolutions of 1848-9, these corporations rapidly moved to the right (those in Austria were formed under the influence of this rightward shift). As a result of the cowardly actions and betrayal of the workers by the students in 1848-9 and as a substitute for real radicalism, the Burschenschaften adopted antisemitic conspiracy theories by feudal-conservative reactionaries, according to which the 1848 revolutions were “Jewish” and initiated by “foreign ringleaders”.31 The corporations introduced so-called “Aryan paragraphs” that excluded Jews from membership and by the outbreak of the First World War they were all reactionary and counter-revolutionary.

In the inter-war period members of the Burschenschaften led the bloody counter-revolution as commanders of the Freikorps and were an important foothold of the NSDAP in Germany and Austria. They quickly moved up in the Nazi machine and organised the Holocaust and extermination of whole villages and regions in order to “fight partisans”. SS Obergruppenführer Ernst Kaltenbrunner from the Burschenschaft “Arminia Graz” was Reinhard Heydrich’s successor as chief of the Reich Main Security Office (RSHA) and so head of the Nazi terror machine. SS Untersturmführer Irmfried Eberl from the “Germania Innsbruck” slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews from occupied Poland and Ukraine as commander of the extermination camp Treblinka. SS Obersturmführer and SS doctor Hermann Richter from the “Sängerschaft Skalden Innsbruck” removed organs from fully conscious inmates in the concentration camps of Dachau and Mauthausen in order to observe how long they could survive this torture. The Burschenschaften still honour these Nazi beasts in their membership lists today. In 2004 FPÖ leader Strache himself gave the speech at the annual “remembrance of the heroes” event in order to dignify their ancestors and fallen German soldiers in the Second World War—on the very day of the liberation from National Socialism on 8 May.32

The elitist ideology of the Burschenschaften is key to the fascist ideology of the FPÖ. As Strache himself pointed out, the Burschenschaft was like a school for him: “in life in general one should be able to subordinate…and, if you like, also serve in order to take a leading role”—this is what the Nazis called the Führerprinzip or “leader principle”.33 The initiation ceremonies, the daily ­indoctrination with “loyalty”, the everyday threat of exclusion, the submission under a strict code of honour and the bloody fencing bouts inject a sense of duty into the members of the Burschenschaften and prepare them to do the worst crimes in history if it is demanded of them—as they have done before. No wonder they still sing songs like “step on the gas, you ancient Germanic peoples, we’ll manage the seventh million”, as was revealed earlier this year in the Burschenschaft “Germania Wiener Neustadt”.34

Hitler’s strategy reversed

Obviously it is not 1933 and there’s no immediate threat of a fascist takeover of power and dictatorship. The behaviour of the FPÖ in government is what we might expect from clever fascist parties in times of peace compared to times of civil and imperial war. There is a significant difference between the fascism of the inter-war period and today. According to Trotsky’s analysis, fascism needs two wings; one parliamentary wing that gives its movement a respectable face and that can stupefy their opponents, and one wing on the streets, a real mass movement as proof of power, that can bring about terror against migrants, trade unionists, leftists and so on. Hitler had to tame his stormtroopers, who already had a strong presence in the streets, build a respectable parliamentary group and run for elections. Today fascists have had to reverse this strategy. They are already strong in elections but have serious problems building a mass street movement.

In his comparative study of the classical fascism of the 1920s and 1930s, the historian Robert Paxton highlighted that a “few fascist movements”, such as Hitler’s and Mussolini’s, “became much more successful than the general run of fascist streetcorner orators and bullies”. Hitler and Mussolini,

not only felt destined to rule but shared none of the purists’ qualms about competing in bourgeois elections. Both set out—with impressive tactical skill and by rather different routes, which they discovered by trial and error—to make themselves indispensable participants in the competition for political power within their nations…

Some of the European imitators of fascism in the 1930s were little more than shadow movements… Most of these feeble imitations showed that it was not enough to don a coloured shirt, march about and beat up some local minority to conjure up the success of a Hitler or a Mussolini… These imitations never got beyond the founding stage, and so underwent none of the transformations of the successful movements. They remained “pure”—and insignificant.35

Hitler had to adapt his strategy after his failed armed coup in 1923 in Munich. He initially thought that by marching in arms on the centres of power he could push the ruling class to take sides with him. But the police opened fire on Hitler and his supporters and threw him in prison. The ruling class feared, if it aligned with Hitler, a successful coup could again provoke a workers’ uprising as happened during the Kapp Putsch in 1920, when workers across Germany armed themselves against the counter-revolution. The Ruhr Valley fell under de facto control by the Ruhr Red Army of miners and it took the government several months to regain control of the situation.

In his prison cell in Landsberg, Hitler drew the conclusion that he must tame his movement and build up a respectable parliamentary wing. He decided to

pursue a new line of action… Instead of working to achieve power by an armed coup we shall have to hold our noses and enter the Reichstag against the Catholic and Marxist deputies. If outvoting them takes longer than outshooting them, at least the results will be guaranteed by their own constitution.36

If he wanted to be taken seriously by the German elites, and if the mightiest men of Germany should hand him the leadership of the counter-revolution, Hitler knew he had to build a movement inside and outside of parliament. The paramilitary SA, the Sturmabteilung, should march unarmed and his long-term perspective of parliamentary growth should fool and lull his opponents to sleep. Just having squads of terrorising thugs would not be enough. Hitler wrote to SA chief Franz Pfeffer von Salomon in his “SA order no. 1”, that the SA is not to be organised from a “military standpoint” but according to what is “expedient to the party”: “What we need are not one or two hundred daring conspirators, but a hundred thousand fighters for our ideology. The work should be carried on not in secret, but in mighty mass processions”.37

And yet, as Trotsky argued: “Hitler is not unaware that the road to power leads through the most gruesome civil war” and “it means that his speeches about the peaceful democratic road are only a cloak, that is, a stratagem”.38 Modern fascists have reversed this strategy. Today fascists are often already strong in parliament. Some are even part of governments such as in Austria, but they have issues with building in the streets.

Obstacles for a militant street movement

There are several reasons why modern fascists struggle to organise mass rallies on the streets. First, anti-fascists have managed to nip in the bud every attempt of modern fascists to win hegemony over the streets. In Austria in 2015, against the background of a racist government backlash against the massive solidarity movement with refugees, the Freedom Party saw the chance to create the missing street wing. By the beginning of 2016, FPÖ members had systematically infiltrated public meetings on new refugee centres and started petitions against the centres in order to poison the climate, which would eventually lead to marches against two refugee centres in the Vienna districts of Liesing and Floridsdorf.

This was a decision by the FPÖ leadership following the Islamophobic Pegida (“Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident”) movement in Germany. They invited Pegida leader Lutz Bachmann as special guest to their traditional New Year reception. FPÖ leader Strache called for “mass demonstrations every week” against the government.39 They chose Mondays for the planned marches, like the Pegida demonstrations in Dresden. The organiser of the Liesing demo, a prominent figure of the hard right in the FPÖ, Wolfgang Jung, openly threatened his political opponents: “What the people in Dresden can do, we can, if necessary, do too”.40

The Plattform für eine Menschliche Asylpolitik (Platform for a Humane Asylum Policy), a broad coalition of anti-racist groups, the Vienna Greens, the Socialist Youth Vienna, Volkshilfe (a Social Democratic aid organisation), Linkswende jetzt (Left Turn Now) and others, mobilised together with anti-fascists and local residents and stood in the way between the racist rallies and the refugee centers. The racists were outnumbered—in Liesing 3,000 anti-racists to 300 FPÖ supporters and in Floridsdorf 1,000 to 400.41 FPÖ presidential candidate Hofer, who was proudly announced as a speaker, withdrew his participation in Liesing at short notice. The leadership even changed its plans beforehand from marches to merely static demonstrations. After the victory over the racists in Liesing, over 100 people showed up to volunteer in the refugee centre.42 Acceptance for the centre eventually rose from 45 percent before the demo to 72 percent after it, according to a local poll.43 Between 2007 and 2010, similar counter-mobilisations had destroyed the FPÖ, plans to create a street wing when it, in collaboration with racist citizen’s initiatives, supported and organised marches against mosques and Islamic culture centres in Vienna.

Second, as argued above, modern fascists have to build against the background of the horrors of the Second World War. Since Auschwitz, fascism is associated with war and the Holocaust, in other words with 60 to 70 million war deaths and at least 11 million murdered Jews, Roma and Sinti, forced labourers, mentally disabled, political opponents, etc. A clever fascist party today has to hide everything that is connected to the Holocaust (although from time to time with a small wink they leave their followers and their active opponents in no doubt about their admiration of Hitler’s terror). It is hard publicly to show radical nationalism with an open confession to militarism, antisemitism and authoritarianism.

Third, today there is no acceptance of armed marches in the streets. The crisis is not deep enough that desperate masses of the petty bourgeoisie and backward sections of the working class would flood to a fascist street movement that is ready to use violence. The societies in the 1920s and 1930s were radicalised through the imperialist and civil wars. Armed marches by the Freikorps and Heimwehr on the right and the Republican Protection League and Black-Red-Gold Banner of the Reich, representing the left and liberals, were a common phenomenon.

A fascist project

The fact that the FPÖ has problems with building a mass street wing does not alter the fact that it is a fascist party. Masked fascist parties that focus on changing the social climate in their favour, the infiltration and reconstruction of the state and the formation of party cadres, are, in our view, more dangerous than more open fascists. This strategy is what anti-fascists should expect from a clever fascist party 70 years after the end of the Second World War. They skilfully hide their fascist project and at the same time send regular signals to their base—just think of FPÖ interior minister Kickl when he said he wanted to “concentrate” migrants in one place.44 And, as we have seen, they are trying to build the missing street wing when they think the time is right. Vice chancellor Strache himself trained for the civil war in fascist paramilitary camps in the late 1980s.45 He expects that the deepening political and economic crisis can lead to great instabilities and civil war. In 2014 he wrote:

Times of radical change require a vigilant attitude that is oriented on the ­interests of the sovereign, in other words, its own people [Volk]… Global financial speculation, the euro crisis, economic problems and unlimited immigration from regions with distant cultures… People’s uncertainty can lead to fatalism, and instability associated with the crisis, provide the breeding ground for the helpless rage and unpredictable anger of the population affected. Conditions close to civil war appearing on the horizon have to be counteracted by measures that are oriented on the welfare and will of the European peoples [Völker].46

Of course the FPÖ doesn’t mean to “counteract” this instability, it means to do the opposite, namely brutalise and reconstruct society in an authoritarian way. It constantly tries to overcome the obstacles to a street wing in order to prepare the soil in which a real fascist street movement could grow. As we have seen, the FPÖ’s policies for the police through more state repression, acceptance of police violence, more racist laws against Muslims, closure of mosques, deportation of imams, ongoing debates about banning the headscarf, tougher immigration laws, etc, help them do this. And we are already seeing the effects. Between January and June 2018 there were 38 percent more people deported against their will to their country of origin than in the same period in 2017.47 Since Kickl took office, positive asylum decisions for Afghans fell from 60 to 33 percent.48 There has also been a tightening of discrimination against LGBT+ people and other minorities. In August the asylum bid of a homosexual 18-year-old Afghan was rejected because he did not “walk, act or dress” like a gay man.49

To return once again to what anti-fascists should expect from fascists in peace time; modern fascists try to prove themselves to the most radical, discontented sections of the ruling classes. The project of Trump, who as a Republican belongs to this part of the ruling class, is a return to a more traditional and authoritarian version of bourgeois democracy in which white men dominate and the state protects their jobs. He leads an international movement of like-minded political figures who jump on his train, even if, like the FPÖ or Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, they have pursued this project for longer. But there is a special relationship between the traditional right (Trump and the Republican Party, the ÖVP, the Tories in Britain, Orbán, etc) and fascist forces (the alt-right movement, FPÖ, Rassemblement National). The dreadful division of labour is a more aggressive, violent neoliberalism in return for the rehabilitation of fascism, ie the fascist traditions of the FPÖ. The Freedom Party acts as an attack dog for the conservative, neoliberal right. To affront his opponents (inside and outside parliament) and push through his neoliberal agenda (a 12-hour working day, attacks on social insurance, cuts in social benefits for long-term unemployed people, etc), Austria’s chancellor Kurz uses the brutality and ruthlessness of the Freedom Party.

The Austrian economist Friedrich von Hayek, role model for the neoliberal era, wrote: “Coercion, then, may sometimes be avoidable only because a high degree of voluntary conformity exists”.50 Discontent among parts of the ruling class increases in times of crisis, and they push for more coercion in the enforcement of neoliberal measures and make use of violent forces. Political scientist Gabriele Michalitsch argues that this is where the authoritarian moment of neoliberalism converges with right-wing radicalism.51

The FPÖ in general is very flexible in its economic policies—in opposition it sometimes even called for higher taxes for the rich and rejected the 12-hour working day. But as it became clear that it will be forming the next coalition government with the ÖVP, before the general election, it more or less completely adjusted its economic programme to the neoliberal agenda of its expected partner. The FPÖ even re-established a neoliberal economic discussion group called “Atterseekreis” with prominent figures such as Barbara Kolm, head of the International Institute Austrian School of Economics (IIAE or Friedrich A v Hayek Institute).52

But neoliberalism is not the FPÖ’s priority. Instead, it seems more like a favour to the ruling class to which the FPÖ wants to prove its worth. Its top priority in government is reshaping the repressive apparatus of the state and seizing the moment to push its agenda of brutalising society, and the Atterseekreis is more a tool to strengthen and expand connections with dissatisfied parts of the ruling class.53 The Freedom Party is well aware that neoliberal economic policies can affect parts of its own voter base (sections of the discontented working class) more than the bourgeois base of the ÖVP. Strache left the finance ministry to the ÖVP and put an unknown figure into the social ministry who could easily be withdrawn and detached from the party—if required. Strache carries Kurz’s economic policies out, because in return the Freedom Party and the like get the rehabilitation of fascism, can build its core and cadres and prepare the ­conditions for a street movement. Kurz and the ÖVP leadership are silent on every Nazi scandal of the FPÖ. He is already being labelled as “Schweigekanzler”(silent chancellor, like Wolfgang Schüssel, the ÖVP chancellor in the 2000-2006 ­coalition government) by the liberal opposition and the anti-racist movement.

Where this division of labour can be seen best is in a deal between the FPÖ and the ÖVP in the case of Austria’s retreat from the UN migration pact. The Freedom Party pushed for the withdrawal of the pact, which was until then welcomed by chancellor Kurz. With the retreat, Strache rolled out the brown carpet for the street-fighting “Generation Identity”, who ran a racist campaign on the migration pact for several weeks. In return Kurz’s People’s Party got the FPÖ’s consent to scrap the “Notstandshilfe” (emergency assistance, a social benefit for the unemployed), which means a complete confiscation of the savings, cars and homes of long-term unemployed people down to a value of €4,200.54 However, the case at the same time brings to light the fragility of the deal. As a result of angry attacks from his voters, Strache had to reaffirm that nobody will be expropriated.55 On the other side, ÖVP science minister Heinz Faßmann broke his silence and indirectly attacked Kurz and Strache, mourning their retreat from the UN migration pact. He said: “Of course, Austria is a country of immigration”.56


First, all European leaders agree that migration is the number one question. President of the European Council Donald Tusk said in 2015: “Today everything is immigration”; in other words, racism.57 By means of racism, modern fascists take root—they push the racism of the centre parties towards the extreme and try to forge a movement that at some point can use terror in the streets. When in government, fascists try to create acceptance of violence through more state repression against refugees, Muslims and migrants. So, in order to weaken the FPÖ and other fascist parties, the first task for revolutionaries is building the broadest possible united fronts against racism to challenge the political climate. Keerfa in Greece, Aufstehen gegen Rassismus in Germany, Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Fascism in Britain, Unitat contra el feixisme i el racisme in Catalunya, Marche des Solidarités in France, United Against Racism in Ireland, the Refugee Action Coalition in Australia, the Joint Initiative against Racism and Discrimination in Denmark, the Plattform für eine menschliche Asylpolitik in Austria and others are the best weapons we have—and we should expand them.

There are hundreds of thousands of people who are active in helping refugees. In Vienna alone, 60 percent of residents have donated for refugees (over 1.1 million people), 13 percent have worked voluntarily with refugees (over 240,000 people) and 8 percent have taken part in pro-refugee demonstrations (over 150,000 people).58 On 3 October 2015 more than 70,000 people marched in solidarity with refugees in Vienna and again the same number on 13 January 2018.59

Second, fascism is a distinctive, independent movement with its own agenda that therefore has to be fought with distinctive methods. Wherever it is trying to build on the streets, anti-fascists have to be there first and outnumber them. We have to unmask the fascists and call them what they are: bloody fascists. It hurts them if their true fascist character is revealed. The proposed new judge for the Federal Administrative Court (BVwG) Hubert Keyl had to withdraw his candidature because articles by him were revealed in which he disparaged conscientious objectors in the German Wehrmacht as “traitors”.60 Since the beginning of the year a whole series of Nazi scandals have shaken the FPÖ, starting with the aforementioned exposure of the Nazi song book of a Burschenschaft promoting the gassing of the “seventh million” Jew. In the following four elections in the federate states of Lower Austria, Tyrol, Carinthia and Salzburg they lost half of their voters from the general election in October 2017.61 Activists from Linkswende jetzt and others attacked FPÖ presidential candidate Hofer again and again for wearing the blue cornflower at inaugural meetings in parliament. The cornflower was a substitute for the swastika in Austria when they were forbidden under the Austrian clerical fascist government from 1933 to 1938. In the end, Hofer was so annoyed that he advised fellow MPs not to wear the flower next time.62

Anti-fascists should also argue for no platform for fascists in the media, ­universities, schools, etc—for those who want to end free speech there must be no right to free speech. We show no respect for fascists. This is why Linkswende jetzt organised a demonstration called “F*CK Strache” before the general elections and showed him the middle finger. Again, Strache was so irritated that he tried to sue us for defamation. But we collected massive donations and fought Strache in court—and won. Now it is officially permissible to show the vice chancellor of Austria the middle finger and say “Fuck you” to him and his attitude.63

Third, we have to build a radical left and revolutionary alternative. The right-wing parties, both populist and fascist, are often the only ones that signal “with us everything will change”. The FPÖ’s anti-establishment stance can be weakened by exposing its association with the neoliberal policies of the centre parties. It can happen at any time if strikes of the big trade unions make the anti-social policies of the FPÖ a subject of discussion, such as in wage negotiations. The working class and the revolutionary left have to offer a lead in the fight against austerity and the capitalist system as a whole—and avoid the trap of lining up with the same liberal institutions, the EU included, that are responsible for the rise of racism and fascism.


1 Abtan and others, 2017.

2 Choonara, 2018 and Roberts, 2016.

3 International Socialist Tendency, 2018.

4 New York Times, 2017.

5 Kritzinger, 2018.

6 Haimbuchner, 2018, my translation.

7 Schuster, 2016, my translation.

8 Podgorschek, 2018, my translation.

9 For a more detailed discussion on these cadres of fascist student corporations, the so-called “Burschenschaften”, see below.

10 As Podgorschek explains, a candidate for a mandate in a state parliament has to have worked in a municipal council for at least a year—Podgorschek, 2018.

11 FIPU, 2017.

12 Linkswende jetzt, 2018a and 2018b.

13 Linkswende jetzt, 2018a.

14 Linkswende jetzt, 2018c and Stajić, 2018.

15 FPÖ TV, 2018.

16 Steinlechner, 2013.

17 AFP, 2018b.

18 SORA, 2017.

19 Podgorschek, 2018, my translation.

20 AFP, 2018b.

21 For a more detailed discussion (in German) see Albrich, 2015.

22 Pelinka, 2013, p2, my translation.

23 Piringer, 1982, p38, my translation.

24 Böhler, 1996, p531.

25 Peter, 1998, p141, my translation.

26 Voithofer, 2007.

27 Reimann, 1980, p12, my translation.

28 DÖW, 1996, p328, my translation.

29 Brandner, 2005.

30 For a detailed discussion on the Burschenschaften (in German), see “Die ‘Elite der Elite’: FPÖ und Burschenschaften”, in Albrich, 2015, pp57-62; Scharsach, 2012 and 2017, and Weidinger, 2015.

31 Peham, 2002, my translation.

32 Strache, 2006.

33 Mölzer, 2006, p33, my translation.

34 Oltermann, 2018.

35 Paxton, 2004, pp56-57 and 75.

36 Pridham and Noakes, 1964, p37.

37 Pridham, 1973, p54-55.

38 Trotsky, 1931.

39 Linkswende jetzt, 2016a.

40 Jung, 2016.

41 Allahyari, 2016 and Ecker, 2016.

42 Wilflingseder, 2016.

43 Schrenk, 2017.

44 Stone, 2018.

45 Al-Serori and Das Gupta, 2017.

46 Strache, 2014, p21.

47 APA, 2018.

48 Meinhart, 2018.

49 AFP, 2018a.

50 Hayek, 1960, p123.

51 Michalitsch, 2018, p144.

52 Seidl, 2018.

53 It is wrong to see the re-established “Atterseekreis” (the first was founded in the 1970s and led to the first coalition government of the FPÖ and the Social Democratic Party, SPÖ from 1983-6) as a kind of counterpart to the Burschenschaften in the Freedom Party, as is often argued by observers in the media. The new Atterseekreis is led by a loyal member of the Burschenschaft “Olympia” and executive director of the FPÖ parliamentary group Norbert Nemeth.

54 Kontrast, 2018.

55 Tiroler Tageszeitung, 2018.

56 Neuhauser, 2018.

57 Traynor, 2015.

58 ORF, 2017.

59 Ecker, 2015 and Anetzberger, 2018.

60 Thalhammer, 2018.

61 Other parties also had problems with mobilising their voters but, as opinion poll researchers argued, the FPÖ performed worst because of the scandals—see Linkswende jetzt, 2018d.

62 Linkswende jetzt, 2016b.

63 Fearnow, 2018.


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