The Fine Old and the Poor New

(Not only) The Left justly criticizes that by signing the government agreement the Greens have facilitated a continuation of the conservative and right-wing extremist strategy regarding refugee and migration policies. This criticism will become louder and possibly also lead to the break-up of the coalition.

Certainly, one might read a government programme as a compendium of individual measures and take stock: you weigh up the credit points against the debit points and in the end, you get a net balance of … A judgement like this will remain subjective, though, according to the priority you concede to the individual chapters.

You can also question the quality of the programme, i.e. its social and political content. 

Werner Kogler, the spokesperson of the Greens and newly elected deputy chancellor of Austria has contributed an interesting thought to this: In the elections for the European Parliament, he said, two factions were strengthened, the Conservatives and the Greens. “Now it is time to work at a ‘great reconciliation between the economy and the ecology’”.[1]

Without much ado he here equates “the economy” with the neoliberal programme of the Conservatives: reduction of corporate taxes, zero deficit, shifting the labour market competences to the ministry of economics, state subsidies for private railways, entrepreneurship education in schools, deregulation of capital markets, public funding of private home ownership – this is what you find, evenly scattered, throughout the entire text of the government agreement.

Socially and politically, the Greens are a “catch-all” party, not a “class” party, something many consider an advantage. The conservative Austrian People’s Party, however, is a class party, at no moment losing sight of their clientele’s economic benefits and increase of power. Reducing the share of public expenditures to 40 per cent is societal policy in its purest form and sets the parameters for an onslaught on the welfare state. The Greens have nothing to counter this coherent strategy.

Therefore, what is missing left of the centre is a class party articulating the interests of the population with a consistency comparable to the People’s Party advocating the interests of capital.


Can the political space be widened to house also the Left?

Such an expansion of the political space for accommodating the Left could take place under two preconditions: firstly, if a major part of the voters for the Greens were convinced that tackling the environmental crisis does not require a reconciliation but a confrontation with neo-liberal capitalism; and, secondly, if a party adopting the breach with neoliberalism in its programme were perceived by a broad public.

Currently none of these two preconditions exist, but we can work at bringing them about.

There are plenty of ideas in the air for a “just society” and a “good life for all”.

But we must not act like the Socialists caricatured by Rosa Luxemburg who thought of history as an “eager sales-girl that fishes out of the whole mass of good things those best suiting everybody’s liking and taste”?[2]

Which conflicts must be dealt with? Political scientists claim that cultural antagonisms have replaced the class conflict as the major conflict line.

Fortunately, Gramsci is adopted in the Left to such a degree that it has become impossible to understand Brecht’s line “First the grub, then the morals” as a political programme but rather as a warning.

Every political struggle is also a cultural one, but the downside of the alleged fading of class opposition consists in accepting the de-politization of conflicts in the working world as a simple matter of objective fact.

The ‘liberal’ about neo-liberalism consists in equality and democracy being limited to the state. In workplaces, offices, lecture rooms, schools, hospitals, call centres and Internet platforms, the efficiency proclaimed by capital should continue to rule unrestrictedly, which sets ever tighter limits to democracy in the society.

The feminist insight that the private is political also holds true for the relations of production defined by private property which create unsymmetrical power relations in all sectors of society. This is the condition old wise men called class society 150 years ago. 


Yet, what is the explanatory value of the term of class in a state in which 90 per cent of men and women are directly or indirectly dependant on the labour market?

Automation and digitalisation, precarious working arrangements, the destruction of the environment, care economy etc. bring forth a paradox result.  On the one hand, it does not seem to make sense to speak of a “working class” as a group different from the rest of the population; on the other hand, questions associated with work such as what, how, how much and in whose interest do we work, move into the centre of political conflicts. The working class today – no matter whether male, female, native, immigrant, young, old, working in the industries or in reproduction – encompasses the whole society whose future must be secured against the mode of production solely aimed at generating profits.


The Austrian party system is in a state of transition. Yet, it is untypical of Western Europe that no party left of Social Democracy and the Greens is represented in parliament. This gap is now to be filled by some initiatives formed outside and independently of the Communist Party of Austria (CPA).

I believe that the CPA must join these attempts without at the same time giving up its identity. The party must acknowledge the fact that most people who can be mobilised, let’s say it tentatively, for an ecological-feminist-socialist party, cannot be united under the roof of the CPA.

We might justly criticize some of the attempts undertaken so far, yet at the same time we should consider what Brecht said about progressive experiments in the 1930s, that the new class is associated to the “poor new” instead of the “fine old”[3]

Revolutionary patience has always been the outstanding virtue of Austrian communists. If the projects started are going to “take off” or plummet into sectarian fields will be the responsibility of the initiators but will also depend on whether the “fine old” CPA seriously gets involved with the “poor new”. In doing so, everybody should be realistic enough to concede that as long the new is still amorphous and uncertain communists will preserve their interests as members of a party in its own right.

Inevitably, a lot remains undecided at the present stage. Yet one thing is an indispensable requirement: Only that ‘new’ is worth being brought on the way that differs from ruling politics in that it functions transparently, inclusively and democratically.

(From Volksstimme 1/2020, translation: Hilde Grammel)

  1. [translation: HG]
  2. Luxemburg Rosa (1896): „Zur Taktik der russischen Sozialdemokratie“. In Luxemburg Gesammelte Werke (1979), Bd.1/1, Berlin/Ost, S. 53. [translation: HG]
  3. Brecht, Bertold (1938): „Die Essays von Georg Lukács“, in. Gesammelte Werke (1967), Bd. 19, Frankfurt am Main, S. 298. [Engl.:]