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Political Establishment in Austria Uses the Israel/Palestine Conflict for a Generalized Attack on the Left and the Workers Movement

Could you summarize for us your position on the current war in Palestine? 

Our position as the International Marxist Tendency is very simple: We stand on the side of the oppressed, the Palestinians, against the oppressor, the Israeli state and the imperialist powers backing and abetting this oppression. This conflict did not start on the 7th of October but has a decades-old history of oppression. We have seen in that time that all solutions within capitalism have failed the Palestinians – the two state solution lies in pieces, shattered by ongoing violence and land-grabs. We believe that the only way the Palestinians, and actually the Israeli working class as well, can be free and live in peace is through a socialist revolution and the establishment of a socialist federation of the Middle East, which guarantees rights and a dignified life for all peoples in the region. Only by breaking the power of profit and imperialist interests can true peace and prosperity for the masses be established. The methods to achieve this are class struggle, mass resistance, revolution: the methods of the first Intifada, of the Arab Spring, of the Palestinian general strike that achieved a ceasefire in 2021. This is why we say: down with imperialism, down with capitalism, intifada until victory; for a socialist federation of the Middle East.

And what is your assessment of the situation – the political atmosphere, level of information, media attention, political debates  etc. – in Austria related to Palestine in general, and developments after October 7th in particular?

In Austria, the attack by Hamas on 7th October was the starting point for a wave of propaganda, the intensity of which I have never experienced before. Any support for Palestine is identified with antisemitism or labeled as sympathy with terrorism. The media coverage is unbelievably one-sided, pushing the general international patterns of Western propaganda to the extreme. Many protests have been forbidden. Chancellor Nehammer recently visited Israel and assured their politicians that he would make sure the slogan “From the river to the sea…” is forbidden in Austria – this slogan is not even outlawed in Israel!

The Austrian ruling class stands firmly and unconditionally behind Israel. All heads of parties represented in parliament signed a solidarity statement declaring “across all political parties and views, we are united in our solidarity with the Israeli people and the state of Israel”.

This hardcore pro-Israel stance by the Austrian government is even more extreme than other European countries’. But with this strategy, they are playing with fire because all the decisive factors in this conflict are not under their control: Neither the international power shifts and alliances, nor the reaction of the masses.

The Austrian ruling class’s support for Israel has several reasons: One, in the Ukraine war, the Austrian capitalists supported the line of Western imperialism only reluctantly and half-heartedly due to the very vested interests of Austrian banks and businesses in Russia and Ukraine. For example, the Raiffeisenbank International (RBI) made over 60% of their profits in this crisis region. Now, with Israel they have the chance to prove, with no strings attached, that they are 100% allies of US imperialism. We see a similar reaction with the Hungarian government – both are part of the hardcore minority of 14 countries that voted against the UN resolution for a humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza.

Another reason is that they want to use this conflict for a generalized attack on the left and the workers movement more broadly. Right from the beginning, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim racism was promoted and combined with calls for more restrictive migration and asylum laws. Basically, all migrants and especially Arab and Muslim youth are blamed for destabilizing “democracy”. We see unironic headlines such as “the free model of life is in danger” or “the will to genocide of the Jews” or even the comment by a ÖVP-MP “Hamas worse than Nazis”. At the same time, talks about increasing the pension age, attacks on real wages through low collective bargaining contracts have intensified .

Also, 2024 is an election year in Austria. The ruling class in Austria is extremely worried about political stability and a next government that can secure “social peace” amid a deep crisis. They are thus also using the Israel/Palestine conflict to put pressure on the SPÖ (Social Democracy). While the ÖVP wants to improve its chances in elections by attacking the other parties, there are also those Bourgeois strategists who want to ensure that the SPÖ is a “reliable” partner for a stable capitalist government.

This is also the context in which the media and the bourgeois parties have eagerly picked up our statement and the support it received by the Socialist Youth Vorarlberg: To marginalize the left decisively and to secure the “reliability” of the SP for the capitalists.

On October 12 you issued a statement “Down with hypocrisy! For the defense of Gaza!, breaking the silence on this issue in Austria, to talk about an alarming issue everyone should be deeply concerned and no one dares to talk about. Why did you raise your voice and how did you decide to go ahead? 

Our position on Palestine and Israel has been fundamentally the same for many, many years. If you look at our articles from 2021, 2018 and so on, we have always supported the oppressed Palestinians. We have always issued statements and messages of solidarity whenever the conflict broke out into a new conflagration. We raise our voice because we are Marxists and Communists. As Rosa Luxemburg said, speaking the truth is a revolutionary deed. Only through truthful and principled politics can you build a healthy revolutionary force. Tactical scheming is alien to us.

But the scope of the Hamas attack, which was not expected by the Israeli or Western establishments, as well as the unseen magnitude of the retaliation by the Israeli state, gives this conflict a new quality. Thus, this time we attracted a lot of attention with our statement, especially when we did not buckle under the pressure and instead openly supported protests by the Palestinian community, which are taking place under extreme scrutiny of media and police.

A few days ago, arbitration proceedings started for the expulsion of two functionaries of the Socialist Youth Vorarlberg – the chairperson and the deputy chairperson  – from the social democratic party (local SPÖ Vorarlberg chapter).  Shortly thereafter, a media campaign highlighting these expulsions and the cancellation of the subsidies from the SPÖ Vorarlberg to the Socialist Youth of Vorarlberg followed. Could you describe the media campaign? 

Der Funke already gained the attention of some journalists with our presence at protests and a speech by an activist, which was maliciously misinterpreted as us wanting to “erase” Israelis and Jews. In fact, he only attacked the Israeli Apartheid state, which every sensible left-leaning person should do.

But especially when the Socialist Youth Vorarlberg, the comrades of which support the Funke, reposted the Funke-statement, the media reports exploded. There was a slanderous headline by the ORF (main state broadcasting station) absurdly claiming “Socialist Youth justifies Hamas attacks”, the Krone headline read “Socialist Youth legitimizes Hamas-terror”. This is obviously a complete lie and the ORF had to retract this headline, but not before it was replicated by several other media outlets.

In the same vein there were calls to the SPÖ to distance themselves from us, pressure to expel any Funke-supporters from the party; press releases by ÖVP politicians that reached absurd proportions: For example, one press-release demanded that Vienna SP-leader Ludwig distance himself from Andi Babler, the head of the SPÖ, because there exist photographs showing Babler with Funke-supporters!

The spokespersons of the SPÖ Vorarlberg immediately caved to the pressure of public bourgeois opinion and announced they would also halt any monetary support for socialist youth Vorarlberg. They also seek to expel Funke supporters within the SP. Funke supporters in the SP are not intimidated and are not willing to give in to this blatantly undemocratic threats and blackmail.

It soon became very clear that this is not about distancing oneself from Hamas or this or that formulation at all. This is about a general attack on the left in the labor movement. Significantly, we now start to see articles and statements where the Pro-Palestinian stance is directly used to attack any anti-capitalism. Some voices in the SPÖ even stated that “communism” has no place in the party – the founders of which were adherents of Karl Marx, the author of the Communist Manifesto! There are attacks on the climate movement by bourgeois journalists, pronouncing it dead, because Greta Thunberg and Fridays for Future international took a pro-Palestine stance, and so on.

This is why the whole left should wake up and understand that their silence on the Palestinian question will not help them to “peacefully” continue their ways. We are in the deepest crisis of capitalism at least since the 1930s. There is no comfortable, peaceful co-existence with the ruling class. It’s time to fight back.

What would you say generally is the stance or stances that the Austrian left has taken on Palestine?

Most of the organized left in Austria has always tried to skirt around this issue and kept mostly silent. With very few exceptions, we have seen silence, weak “both sides, equally …” statements such as by the Communist Party (which caved and now agreed to project the Israeli flag on the Graz city hall), or open pro-Israel statements such as by the Socialist Youth Austria and a handful of tiny autonomous sects in the tradition of the “Antideutsche” ideology.

One of the few exceptions is the Communist Youth, which was the first group to post a solidarity message with Palestine on Instagram and was immediately attacked by media and leading figures of the Communist Party. We fully support the comrades of the CY and encourage them to withstand this pressure from their own ranks.

I think it is important to note that the public media pressure does not reflect the mood of left-wing youth truthfully, many of whom feel with the Palestinian people even if they don’t yet join protests on the street. We notice this in dozens of solidarity messages we get and in discussions on the street.

After the scope of the counter-offensive by the IDF on Gaza became clearer and more deadly by the day, more left groups are now open to organizing pro-Palestine protests. But in our view, the left should not seek a “pure” leftists-only movement. As in every mass movement, there are different opinions and analyses and political stances on how to tackle the issue at hand. The task of the left, in our view, is to openly support the Palestinians, go to the masses so to say, while promoting a clear socialist, communist solution as the only way forward.

What are the issues that you are prepared to fight for in the future? How do you see the main issues that both locally and internationally need to be tackled?  

The IMT fights for socialism in our lifetime. We do so in dozens of countries, including in former Yugoslavia and since recently also in Hungary. We do not think that this is utopian, but on the contrary, we think that the deep crisis of capitalism will present us with many chances to overthrow this system in the years to come.

Capitalism defends profit interests and subordinates all our lives to it. This is why the oppression of Palestinians, Kurds, and other nations, climate change, poverty and inequality all have the same root and need to be fought together. More and more people come to realize this same thing and are getting interested in Communism.

The biggest obstacle is the lack of a revolutionary leadership of the working class. We fight for a revolutionary, communist program for the workers’ and youth movement. Or to speak with Marx and Engels in the Manifesto:

The communists “have no interests separate and apart from those of the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mold the proletarian movement. The Communists are distinguished from the other working-class parties by this only: 1. In the national struggles of the proletarians of the different countries, they point out and bring to the front the common interests of the entire proletariat, independently of all nationality. 2. In the various stages of development which the struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie has to pass through, they always and everywhere represent the interests of the movement as a whole.”

Source : LeftEast

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