Departing Towards a New Left in Austria?

On 3 and 4 June, around 1000 people came together in Vienna for the “Aufbruch” (“departure”) conference, hoping to create a movement, that, however defined, could serve as a new umbrella of the Austrian left and as a challenge and alternative to the anti-social and right-leaning state of Austrian politics right now.

The event was a success, as it gathered, with 1000 participants, far more attendees than anticipated and was the largest such gathering of the left since the Austrian Social Forum in 2003.
transform! europe together with transform!at were present at the event with a stand and advertisements for the yearbook.
The organisation and choreography of the event were highly professional, which was even more surprising as there were no big organisations in the background. Single persons, coming from various backgrounds and being involved in the left blog “Mosaik”, founded in 2015 by left academics and activists, were the engine of the organisation. They held four counselling meetings (Ratschlag) with about 100 people, of which the outcome was a call for a conference.
Attending the conference were people from various quite different movements, organisations and political spectrums. One could see participants from the KPÖ (Communist Party of Austria), from Trotskyist organisations, ATTAC, various members of party-youth organisations such as the young greens and the young socialists but also a lot of individuals not belonging to any political organisation. Participants were of varying ages, from all regions of Austria, although the majority seemed to be based in Vienna and the age average was definitely lower than at “the usual” left gatherings.

Challenging the political status quo

The title of the event – and future campaign – chosen by the organisers is „Aufbruch“ (roughly translated as departure from the old, towards the new) not only because of the  perception of a static and marginalised Austrian left, but because, as many speakers put it, Austrian politics – along with European politics – are seen at a turning point. Various crisis’ (real, constructed into reality or imagined into reality) manifest themselves politically into very different responses. In Austria, these responses have been – sadly – dominated by a racist, misogynist, neoliberal, socially conservative and reactionary discourse, as the recent presidential election showed, where with only 36.000 votes, the right extremist FPÖ candidate had been rejected.
Therefore, Aufbruch could be seen as an attempt to put the social question at the forefront of any analysis and proposed solution to these crisis’. Attendees talked about how the right-wing FPÖ is speaking to fears and insecurities which actually stem from the inequalities, exclusions and injustices created by a neoliberal, reactionary politics, constructed as being without alternative. In this context, the governing parties and especially social democrats were criticised by various speakers. It is exactly these alternatives that the speakers at the Aufbruch conference promoted, “putting aside differences” and building a common left, anti-capitalist platform. In addition, the class-political stance of many speakers became clear and the notion of “leaving the bubble” of a supposedly self-referential discourse was repeatedly mentioned.

Outcome of the event

There was a certain critique of the transparency and democracy of the process leading up to the conference and at the conference itself, of a certain blindness to the racism, deeply inherited to Austria’s political culture and laws.  
A practical outcome of the event was the formation of regional groups (that had partially already been self-organising before), as well as organisational (finances, campaigning, …) and thematical (health care, wealth, …) groups. These groups will prepare concrete actions for their regions and topics, but also participate in a big action/protest day sometime this fall, in all of Austria. The groups will delegate representatives to a committee which chooses a board, whose membership will be rotating.
At the moment, there are regional meetings nearly every day, the spirit is one of departure. Aufbruch’s first campaign will be titled: “Wir können uns die Reichen nicht mehr leisten!” – We cannot afford the rich any longer! Whether this formation becomes something akin to a broad electoral alliance, one of the few European countries, where the left is not represented in parliament, remains to be seen.