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.