On 22 May, the far right candidate for Austria’s presidency, Norbert Hofer, was defeated by the narrowest of margins.
Hofer, candidate of the “Freedom Party”, stood on a strident anti-migrant platform, and was way ahead of other candidates in the first round of the presidential election on 24 April. He scored 35.1%.
Alexander Van der Bellen, a veteran ex-Green running as an independent, who rallied a range of support to defeat Hofer on the second round, got 21.3% on the first.
The candidates of the two parties which completely dominated Austrian politics for decades after World War 2, and governed in permanent coalition from 1945 to 1966 — the Social Democrats and the conservative People’s Party — got just 11.3% and 11.1% respectively.
The “Freedom Party” (FPÖ) was founded in 1956 with former Nazis in its leadership, but then tacked towards presenting itself as a mainstream pro-free-market party. After 1986, with Jorg Haider as leader, it veered sharply to the populist right and gained support.
By 1999 it was up to 27% of the vote, and was accepted by the People’s Party into a coalition government. (The presidency, in Austria, is usually ceremonial). Other EU countries introduced sanctions against Austria, and stated that “the admission of the FPÖ into a coalition government legitimises the extreme right in Europe.”
FPÖ support declined for a while, but has risen again now, after the 2008 economic crash and conflict over refugees. Marxist academic Moishe Postone, who has recently been working in Vienna, told Solidarity that what was for many decades “Red Vienna” — one of the most solidly social-democratic cities in the world — has now become “red-green” in the better-off inner suburbs, and “red-blue” in the poorer outer districts.
Blue is the colour of the FPÖ. According to exit polls cited by the BBC, Hofer swept 86% of the manual working-class vote.
The Austrian socialist group RSO, backing a protest on 19 May against the rise of the FPÖ, wrote: “The FPÖ is no workers’ party. It is the most radical representative of the Austrian elites. We need not brutal and inhuman rabble-rousing, but solidarity in order to fight for our rights.
“Not the hypocritical cohesion of the nation against the alleged threat from outside, but the joining-together of all the workers and unemployed, of whatever origin, against the big bosses and the party bureaucrats”.