Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 11, 2016

The Freedom Party in Austria: the vanguard of a global red-brown movement

Filed under: National Bolshevism — louisproyect @ 8:40 pm


Norbert Hofer: Austria’s Donald Trump

Yesterday the NY Times reported on the great strides being made by the Freedom Party in Austria, which can be described pretty much as their version of the Trump campaign. Like the USA, Austria is being riven by the politics of immigration. The head of the Social Democratic Party Werner Faymann was ousted by his comrades after he made a deal with the People’s Party over tightening border controls. This is a Christian Democrat type party that has been shifting to the right, just like the Republican Party in the USA. The Social Democrats had been in a “Grand Coalition” with them, which you can think of as a ruling party that combined Hillary Clinton and Marco Rubio’s economic programs.

Pressure from the Freedom Party [FPO] forced the People’s Party to the right, especially over immigration. While Faymann was willing to go along with them, the base of the party said nothing doing. Like the ascendant Trump campaign, the Freedom Party made a spectacular leap forward in last month’s parliamentary elections. Norbert Hofer, the party’s standard-bearer, got 1/3 of the vote and will now face the Green Party’s candidate in the presidential elections. The Times summed up the reaction of left-leaning Austrians to Hofer’s success:

The Freedom Party’s nationalist and anti-Islam message seems to have struck a chord even in Vienna, with its history as the cosmopolitan former capital of the multiethnic and multilingual Austro-Hungarian Empire, and — from 1918 onward — as “Red Vienna,” where workers fought street battles to resist the rise of Nazism, in contrast to the crowds who cheered Hitler when he annexed Austria in 1938.

For some on the left, the Freedom Party is apparently not verboten. In 2010 it organized a “Color revolutions in the CIS countries and their current impact” conference that took place in Vienna at the Imperial Hotel. As it happens, the participants were in complete agreement with most of the Western left, particularly the kind of people who write for websites that rally around Bashar al-Assad. Anton Shekhovtsov reported on the gathering on his blog, which should be bookmarked by anybody fed up with the “axis of resistance” bullshit:

As it could have been expected, everybody was discussing the “terrible” nature of the colour “revolutions” in Georgia (2003), Ukraine (2004) and Kyrgyzstan (2005). Strache [the Freedom Party leader at that time] particularly condemned the US that had allegedly orchestrated these revolutions with the help of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and National Democratic Institute (NDI). The presence of the representatives from the “affected countries” was not surprising: Georgia (Levan Pirveli), Ukraine (Vladyslav Lukyanov) and Kyrgyzstan (Bermet Akayeva).

Now how could you possibly not agree with speakers who castigate the USAID and the NDI that was founded by Madeline Albright even if they would also like to keep Muslims from entering the country? Nobody’s perfect, after all. In fact, the Russian delegation to the conference included Boris Kagarlitsky who is regarded as one of Russia’s leading Marxists. Even if he is critical of Vladimir Putin, that does not get in the way of the Kremlin funding his think-tank. They obviously understand the value of cobbling together reds like Kagarlitsky and a brown outfit like the FPO.

Six years ago I wrote a critique of an interview that Chris Hedges conducted with Noam Chomsky that put forward the idea that the USA was going through a period similar to the Weimar Republic. Chomsky commented:

There was also tremendous disillusionment with the parliamentary system. The most striking fact about Weimar was not that the Nazis managed to destroy the Social Democrats and the Communists but that the traditional parties, the Conservative and Liberal parties, were hated and disappeared. It left a vacuum which the Nazis very cleverly and intelligently managed to take over. The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen.

Of course, now six years later, Chomsky would undoubtedly state that such a “charismatic” figure has arisen—the porcine sexist and immigrant-hating presidential candidate who would get the red carpet treatment at an FPO gathering.

While I don’t think that a new Nazi takeover is imminent, there are parallels with the 1920s that must be mentioned especially in the context of a red-brown alliance that is developing all across Europe and the USA

In the early 1920s, a wing of the Communist Party developed a National Bolshevism program that envisioned collaboration between the red and the brown as I pointed out in an article I wrote about fifteen years ago:

The German party was then thrown into a new crisis over the Treaty of Rapallo, a peace agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union concluded at the end of April in 1922. This treaty raised the same sort of contradictions as the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact of 1939. How could Communists call for the overthrow of a regime that the Russian party had just pledged to maintain peaceful relations with? Stalin resolved this contradiction in a straightforward manner. He declared that anti-fascist agitation should immediate stop. The Communist Parties of 1922 had not become degenerated and still tried to maintain a revolutionary outlook, no matter the difficulties.

Karl Radek … interpreted the Treaty of Rapallo as a go-ahead to support the German bourgeoisie against the dominant European capitalisms, especially France. Germany was forced to sign a punitive reparations agreement after WWI and was not able to satisfy the Entente powers. France then marched into the Ruhr in order to seize control of the mines and steel mills. The German capitalist class screamed bloody murder and proto-fascist armed detachments marched into the Ruhr to confront the French troops.

Radek interpreted these German right-wing counter-measures as a sign of progressive nationalism and argued that a bloc of all classes was necessary to confront Anglo-French imperialism. At the height of the anti-French armed struggle in the Ruhr, the German Communist Party took Radek’s cue and began to issue feelers to the right-wing nationalists.

On June 20, 1922 Radek went completely overboard and made a speech proposing a de facto alliance between the Communists and the Fascists. This, needless to say, was in his capacity as official Comintern representative to the German party. It was at a time when Trotsky was still in good graces in the Soviet Union. Nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow when Radek urged that the Communists commemorate the death of Albert Schlageter, a freecorps figher who died in the Ruhr and was regarded as a martyr of the right-wing, a German Timothy McVeigh so to speak. Radek’s stated that “…we believe that the great majority of nationalist minded masses belong not to the camp of the capitalists but to the camp of the Workers.”

Radek’s lunacy struck a chord with the German Communist ultraleftists who went even further in their enthusiasm for the right-wing fighters. Ruth Fischer gave a speech at a gathering of right-wing students where she echoed fascist themes:

Whoever cries out against Jewish capital…is already a fighter for his class, even though he may not know it. You are against the stock market jobbers. Fine. Trample the Jewish capitalists down, hang them from the lampposts…But…how do you feel about the big capitalists, the Stinnes, Klockner?…Only in alliance with Russia, Gentlemen of the “folkish” side, can the German people expel French capitalism from the Ruhr region.

There are tons of people around today who are the progeny of National Bolshevism. Two prime examples are Jean Bricmont and Diana Johnstone who are occasional writing partners. Bricmont effused over Trump on March 30, 2016:

He is the first major political figure to call for “America First” meaning non-interventionism. He not only denounces the trillions of dollars spent in wars, deplores the dead and wounded American soldiers, but also speaks of the Iraqi victims of a war launched by a Republican President. He does so to a Republican public and manages to win its support. He denounces the empire of US military bases, claiming to prefer to build schools here in the United States. He wants good relations with Russia. He observes that the militarist policies pursued for decades have caused the United States to be hated throughout the world. He calls Sarkozy a criminal who should be judged for his role in Libya. Another advantage of Trump: he is detested by the neoconservatives, who are the main architects of the present disaster.

While Johnstone gives Trump his due (“Donald Trump has made it clear he wants to end the current hysterical anti-Putin pre-war propaganda and do business with Russia … All to the good”), she is far more enthusiastic about Marine Le Pen who she described as being “basically on the left” on the occasion of the 2012 elections:

If “the right” is defined first of all by subservience to finance capital, then aside from Sarkozy, Bayrou and perhaps Joly, all the other candidates were basically on the left.  And all of them except Sarkozy would be considered far to the left of any leading politician in the United States.

This applies notably to Marine Le Pen, whose social program was designed to win working class and youth votes.

Even she stressed that the immigration problem, as she saw it, was not the fault of the immigrants themselves but of the politicians and the elite who brought them here.  The main tone of her political message was resolutely populist, attacking the “Paris elite”.  Demagogic, yes, often vague and playing fast and loose with statistics, but a model of reason compared to the utterances of the “Tea Party”.

Is there an explanation for this kind of idiocy? I would say that it boils down to a retreat from class. In the heady, expansionist cycle of capitalism of the 1980s, postmodernism took root in the left as a way of theorizing about society without bothering with the hoary grand narratives based on class. It culminated in Hardt and Negri’s ridiculous book “Empire”.

Today under far less favorable economic conditions (except for the financial bourgeoisie), there are 10,000 writers who are drawn to the Kremlin like moths to a flame. Once again, why bother with useless criteria such as class when the real battle for humanity’s survival is the capability of the BRICS nations to leapfrog over the decadent Western capitalist countries committed to the EU? If this battle involves making common cause with filth such as Trump and Le Pen, that’s the cost of building a new international red-brown movement that will reduce the strife between nations and make the world safe for oligarchs everywhere, especially the Brazilian, Russian, Indian and Chinese  rich who own $25 million co-ops in Chelsea and shop for Hermes pocketbooks on Madison Avenue.


  1. good article . Thanks.

    Comment by ilsabazaar — May 12, 2016 @ 1:08 am

  2. What a face! On a related note, have you been following the presidential candidacy of Rodrigo Duterte (sometimes described as the Philippines’ Donald Trump)?

    Comment by Poppa Zao — May 12, 2016 @ 6:34 am

  3. Excellent piece. When will people learn to think?

    Comment by Pete Glosser — May 12, 2016 @ 2:24 pm

  4. Some counter-points:

    1) The International Workingmen’s Association itself was founded by workers in their countries concerned about foreign workers being brought into each country in a scab capacity. They were opposed to a laissez-faire approach to labour markets.

    2) Whatever excuses left-leaning sympathizers come up for Marine LePen, her own niece’s politics resemble those of their far-right ancestor.

    3) What was your initial impression of the SYRIZA-ANEL coalition in Greece? I deemed it a Communitarian Populist Front. As long as the radical-right partner is anti-fascist and anti-austerity, the left partner should cut some slack on how “brown” it is on everything else. Another Trotskyist called it a “red-brown popular front” but was very careful to distinguish it strongly from Communist collaboration with the Nazis:


    4) On your last paragraph, I do support a multi-polar world of a geopolitical environment. Competing capitalist interests gives workers more openings for class struggle.

    Outside a revolutionary period, the left should support a multi-polar world. This is not about reading the neo-fascist Dugin, or about reading Sam Marcy’s “global class war” stuff. This is about *partially* rehabilitating Alexander Parvus’s misguided “SPD left” position – backing Germany’s imperialist war efforts during a revolutionary period – and adapting a politically sanitized version of this to a non-revolutionary period.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — May 15, 2016 @ 2:56 am

  5. I forgot to add in Point 3 a third condition: the left partner should have more political support than the radical-right partner. As much as I hate to admit this, but the renegade Kautsky (not when he was a Marxist) had a point in the Labour Revolution about the difference between socialists being the senior partner in a coalition and socialists being a junior partner in a coalition.

    Comment by Jacob Richter — May 15, 2016 @ 3:00 am

  6. The International Workingmen’s Association itself was founded by workers in their countries concerned about foreign workers being brought into each country in a scab capacity. They were opposed to a laissez-faire approach to labour markets.

    That doesn’t make it right.


    While the Sorge faction held the black struggle at arm’s length, they at least gave lip service to it. No such concessions were made to Chinese workers whom they treated as outright enemies of the white worker. Woodhull’s group took a strong stand against immigration bans, but the “orthodox” Marxists caved in completely to white prejudice. Unfortunately Karl Marx was little help in standing up to bigotry, since he regarded Asians as locked in “hereditary stupidity” and the unproductive Asiatic Mode of Production, an economic theory that had no basis in fact. Marx also warned about the importation of Chinese workers as “rabble” who could “depress wages.”

    At the NYC branch of Sorge’s section, a San Francisco worker addressed his comrades:

    “The white working-men see and feel daily the effects of the Chinese labor in that State. We cannot only perceive how it affects us, but know assuredly that it will seriously affect the destiny of the working classes of this country. The Chinese have driven out of employment thousands of white men, women, girls and boys…. They are in all branches of the manufacturing business, and it is only a matter of time when they will monopolize all branches of industry; as it is impossible for white men to exist on the same amount and sort of food Chinamen seem to thrive upon.”

    The Yankees refused to go along with the anti-Chinese xenophobia and viewed the Chinese as brothers and sisters in struggle. Woodhull wrote:

    “The population of the country is forty millions. If the Chinese should at the rate of five thousand a week, even that figure will nothing near equal the present ratio of the Irish and German immigration, and it would a hundred and fifty years to import forty millions. . . The economical idea of immigration is that every new comer is a producer; he directly contributes to the wealth of the community; he will not consume all that produces. . . As for any immediate influence of John Chinaman on the labor market and rate of wages that is an impossibility. The workingmen of New York protest against two or three hundred foreigners. What injury can accrue to them?”

    Sorge’s group picked up a new recruit in 1872, an English immigrant and cigarmaker named Samuel Gompers. Gompers was impressed with the “working-class” and trade union tilt of the German-American followers of Marx, while regarding the Woodhull section as “dominated by a brilliant group of faddists, reformers, and sensation-loving spirits.” He was as repelled by them as some old leftists were repelled by the 1960s New Leftists. Gompers was tutored by Ferdinand Laurell, a fellow cigarmaker who he met at the Manhattan Lower East Side factory where both were employed. Laurell initiated him into the profound scientific socialism of the Communist Manifesto and placed special emphasis on the centrality of the trade unions. “Study your union card, Sam, Laurell said, “and if the idea doesn’t square with that, it ain’t true.”

    What gradually happened is that Gompers let the revolutionary socialism fall by the wayside while allowing trade union fundamentalism to take charge, including the virulent racism of the time. As Gompers climbed the ladder into officialdom, he found that anti-Chinese racism gave him a foot up. He endorsed the labeling of cigar boxes as made by white men, to be “distinguished from those made by the Chinese.” After Gompers attained the AFL presidency, women, ethnic minorities, African Americans and those who did unskilled work found themselves without a friend in organized labor. The Bolshevik revolution inspired a new Communist movement in the US 50 years later, which began to remedy this injustice. The Cold War reversed this progress.

    Comment by louisproyect — May 15, 2016 @ 1:12 pm

  7. This article has generated quite an enlightening discussion on the foundation of the IWMA itself.

    Strip away the racist rhetoric, and it is hard to argue that laissez-faire immigration doesn’t put downward pressure on wages, no matter how much this policy adds to a country’s tax base (“they pay their fair share of taxes”).

    Jules Guesde and the French socialists called for a prohibition on employers hiring foreign workers at wages less than those paid to French workers, so could a compromise on the left be reached? Instead of focusing on ‘the immigrants’, why not focus on the employers hiring specific groups of them?

    Investopedia’s Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell wrote a recent article on the five countries where it is hardest to obtain citizenship (‘Five hardest countries for getting citizenship’, December 11), and lists Austria, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United States. Referring to the last one, she wrote: “Unless a person is coming to the US through family or an approved job, it is very difficult to establish permanent residency.”

    So as to help stop the downward pressure on wages for ‘unskilled’ domestic labour, and perhaps create a ‘labour shortage’ to put upward pressure on the precariat, why shouldn’t the left call for a blanket ban on all employers hiring ‘unskilled’ non-permanent residents?

    The economic effect would be the same as that of right-populist anti-immigration planks. However, the onus would be on those employers – particularly petty bourgeois ones, who snide about unskilled immigrants having a better ‘work ethic’ than unskilled citizens – not on the unskilled immigrants themselves.

    Comment by Nick Tan — May 15, 2016 @ 10:06 pm

  8. shouldn’t the left call for a blanket ban on all employers hiring ‘unskilled’ non-permanent residents?


    No, the left should call for open borders. Lenin, who was the most capable revolutionary leader of the 20th century, put it this way:

    In our struggle for true internationalism & against “jingo-socialism” we always quote in our press the example of the opportunist leaders of the S.P. in America, who are in favor of restrictions of the immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers (especially after the Congress of Stuttgart, 1907, & against the decisions of Stuttgart). We think that one can not be internationalist & be at the same time in favor of such restrictions. And we assert that Socialists in America, especially
    English Socialists, belonging to the ruling, and oppressing nation, who are not against any restrictions of immigration, against the possession of colonies (Hawaii) and for the entire freedom of colonies, that such Socialists are in reality jingoes.


    Comment by louisproyect — May 15, 2016 @ 10:39 pm

  9. Considering all my years of actual work, I would like to know what the actual resolution of that congress was, for two reasons. First, Lenin’s immediate reaction in 1907 was more level-headed. Second, that resolution was made within the context of colonialism, and we’re well into a post-colonial world.

    Comment by Nick Tan — May 17, 2016 @ 3:01 am

  10. Real ‘National Bolshevism’ is not a left alliance with fascism. It is a class based ideology which seeks to draw social radicals away from racialist and supremacist doctrines. It’s defence of the nation state is rooted in anti-imperialism, for which reasons it supports those, including Muslims, engaged in struggles for national survival. For NatBols national identity is the only means by which a workers state can be understood by its people and defended against expansionist global Capital. New website:


    Comment by natboluk — February 22, 2021 @ 2:43 pm

  11. Ridiculous.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 22, 2021 @ 3:12 pm

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