Sebastian Kurz is playing the social benefits for a whole refugee family against the pension of an individual. Somebody has no doubt already explained to him that these are two completely different kettles of fish. He will also understand himself that to balance a family against an individual is a lame comparison. However, he believes that it works and maximises votes.
And Kickl and Strache are going to up the ante. This form of distribution debate will dominate the majority of the election campaign.
The international New Right that Kurz and Strache advocate therefore differs significantly in its argumentation from the old fascist right. This is important to understand, so as not to be dazzled by the idiots or the Nazis from Charlottesville.
The old fascists created public images of secret, superior powers (Jewish world conspiracy, Freemasons) against whom the poor suppressed masses had to defend themselves. This is very important for understanding the success of the Nazis: in the first instance, they did not portray the Jews as a genetically inferior race but as powerful, mercenary, fat cats. As spiders sucking Germany out. They made out to be fighting “for those down there” (German workers) against “them up there” (Jewish business people). The typical fascist duty fulfiller saw themselves as a have-not who also wanted to have something. The enemy was superior (due to being rich and well-connected) and therefore had to be viciously ought to have any kind of chance. The alleged racial inferiority of the Jews constituted the legitimisation of this hate but not its motivation. In their fight “against those up there”, the right-wingers of the 1920s and 30s competed with the left-wingers. They spread other public images and other solutions but had the same thrust. If the Old Right Nazis chant “Jews will not replace us” it is therefore really Old Right.
The New Right, however, kicks downwards. The typical Kurz/Strache/Niessl voter believes that something is being taken away from them, namely by the have-nots: the migrants. They want to keep and defend this something – the workplace and/or social benefits – namely against those down there. This is a fundamental difference and it is the pivotal point for understanding the campaigns, rhetoric and success of the New Right. It appeals to people who do not have much but precisely because of that are afraid of losing the something they have. As this clientele only wants to keep what it has, these campaigns manage practically without content. For this reason, programmes that promise better education, investment in future sectors and such like are not effective. Such programmes cover requirements that this target group does not have, or not primarily. What is effective is: we will defend your job, your social, health and pension system against those who are squeezing them. SP Burgenland has been known to mobilise against a refugee home in Eberau even during the election campaign instead of redistribution from above.
In terms of communications technology this is a challenge, because who will openly walk over those who are weaker? Nobody, therefore one must nevertheless construct a threat for the poor masses – precisely through the “masses”. The “invaders” are infiltrating us and have a significantly higher birth rate. In one to two generations they will take over power, so we must do something and combat them already today. This is the trick that the New Right makes use of. The fear of terror contributes to it, but it is only ancillary. In daily life in Fünfhaus or Favoriten one does not see any terror suspects, instead mothers with a headscarf and three children. The children are perceived as competitors for scarce resources, making the slogan work: “Our money for our people.” The cultural “differentness” of the foreigners only legitimises racism, it is not the underlying motivation. This lies in the distribution battle.
At first glance it is bizarre that precisely those parties that lead this “defence battle” for the poorest are at the same time the greatest friends of billionaires. It would appear that their voters do not have the slightest problem with tax gifts for the super-rich, if only they are promised that they themselves at least do not have to contribute more to the redistribution than they do already. Neoliberal argumentation is often employed for this, but they have neither economic nor ideological reasons for their voting behaviour but an egoistic-pragmatic motivation: they believe they will be better off like that. They are not at all interested in whether the super-rich contribute more to a just social system, instead they especially want to contribute as little as possible themselves. The New Rights and the neoliberals want to deliver an argumentation as to why that is correct, so they use this one. They would also want to use another to legitimise their interests. Consequently, it is fruitless to criticise neoliberalism for harming the weak and corroding society. That is not their concern. On the subject of taxes, the right-wingers therefore turn to a somewhat higher-earning target group than with the migration, but the thrust is the same: not against them up there but against them down there, the “high performers” against those on minimum income and social security recipients. This works because they do not defend “upwards” but pass on the pressure and fight for the dwindling social resources against the migrants. I therefore also think that the SP slogan “I’ll get what I’m entitled to” works for the right and the left party wing, because it does not say what is most important: from whom one redistributes.
The fact that social resources are increasingly dwindling now appears as a natural law to many people. To understand how distorted this perspective is, one must look from the outside at our society – for example from the point of view of the past. Let us go back for a thought experiment: imagine it is summer 1945 and you are a young adult. All you know is economic crisis, mass unemployment, inflation, fascism and war. In this situation, you look into the future and see 72 years of almost uninterrupted economic upturn. You see 72 years without war. You see unimaginable productivity and nevertheless incredibly low unemployment by your standards, as well as low inflation. You see a society that from 1945 to 2017 has developed its wealth, with lulls but without crashes. In the last 40 years alone, the GDP and net national income have grown 37 times. The last recession was in 2009 – which was already more than compensated for by 2011. This society is incredibly rich, so rich that from the perspective of 1945 it must seem completely utopian. And then you see a study commissioned by an insurance company, according to which more than half of young people do not believe that the pension system, the health system and social benefits can be funded.
Or a report by the Federal Economic Chamber, according to which as many as 80 percent of young employees are “concerned” when they think about their pension. How can that be? In a society that has been getting richer and richer and richer for decades, how can the majority of the population believe that prosperity is decreasing and can soon no longer be financed? The answer is simple but not trite: public discourse in western democracies has been guided solely in this direction for at least two decades. Save, save, save, the state is bankrupt, the national debts and taxes are both always too high, pensions are not secure, health costs are exploding, education cannot be funded sufficiently, the unemployed cost too much and the development of the social network cannot be funded. Once again: in the last 45 years, Austria’s economy has grown 42-fold, the last recession was 8 years ago. How often during this time have you heard a discussion about the offensive development of social benefits, about the distribution of this very economic growth? Rarely, I assume, if at all. It is almost a social consensus that our welfare states are no longer financially viable in future. This is scarcely questioned anymore. However, it is more than just questionable… and now I will simply quote Wikipedia: “Cultural hegemony refers according to Antonio Gramsci to the production of consensual ideas. In civil society, sovereignty is not created by mere force alone, instead people are convinced that they live in the ‘best of all possible worlds’: the stable forms of capitalist sovereignty systems are conveyed through consensus, through ‘hegemony’ in civil society, as well as through their hegemony institutions such as schools, churches, mass media and unions.”
The fact that 80 percent of young employees doubt the public pension system is supposed to unsettle the remaining 20 percent. Precisely this is the intention of the Federal Economic Chamber that represents the insurance sector. However, its survey only says something about the public discourse and nothing about the security of the system – or even about a comparison with private insurance models. After all, there are studies about this. However, billions of profit within the insurance sector rest on this insecurity. The Austrian and German public apportionment pension system have an administrative cost of two percent of the contributions. Private insurances eat into between ten and 40 (!) percent of the contributions! They have a more complicated administration (“customised offers” come at a cost), furthermore there must be a profit for the insurance company and the nice agent. The products can scarcely bring in such returns. And then there are the advertising costs on top of that. Yes, every time you see an advertisement or a TV spot for your care product you should feel cheated. Manipulated with advertising that you pay for yourself. The most perverse form of hegemony production. And it is a vicious circle: people buy a care product for assurance but lose money. So they buy real estate with credit that explodes beneath them. Then everyone buys gold like mad – physical gold! – only to be out of pocket again in the end. It must be a feeling like in quicksand: you are looking for firm ground, but the more you flounder the deeper you sink. Panic arises… and you just want to hold on to what you have. And if Sebastian Kurz says that he is cutting funding for migrant families because Austrians are getting less pension, then you nod in agreement.
The fear of losing social status dominates Austria’s politics. This fear is the perspective from which we in Austria talk about the economy, social matters, education, integration. It is the reason for the security debate that is completely out of proportion. One must only take a look at what characterises the job market debate – just think back a couple of years to when the access restrictions for the eastern neighbouring countries were abolished. None of the horror scenarios painted by the right-wingers in the FPÖ and Niessl SPÖ came to be. Damn, when will we talk about our opportunities again?
Our social consensus is unfortunately: further advancement is unattainable for the wide masses, we are at the limit of the feasible and fundable, from now on it is downhill. Do not demand more but cling onto what you have. And kick downwards so that nobody takes it away from you. We are living under the cultural hegemony of fear of social status decline and we must break out of it.
To do that, the left must turn the discourse around. We must make it credible that the world can still become better for many people. That the cake is not getting smaller but growing and not just for the select few. In the relative short term, the enormous fortunes that have heaped up over the last decades could be distributed more justly. If even Warren Buffet demands it… That also means more money for the consumer lifecycle and therefore at the same time less playing capital for the financial markets, consequently less volatility, fewer bubbles, fewer crises. What applies in the long term: if we continue to produce more prosperity, these gains can be distributed more fairly. Of course, in a limited system unlimited growth is impossible so it cannot be the foundation for an eternal concept. We would go to pieces ecologically. However, the distribution of the growth that is really taking place is still possible, just and necessary. It is about fostering awareness again. It will not be easy, but we have many new communication channels and we must make use of them. This posting is only a small attempt to do so.
However, one thing must also be clear: there is no easy way back into the carefree world of the 1970s. We are standing at the end of industrial society and that is a good thing. The welfare state was the leftist guiding idea of this era. We can and should safeguard and preserve it, but we need a new guiding idea for the future. We need a new utopia, which is emerging in front of our eyes: politics is a coordination of people and this requires communication. A democracy can only be as good and effective as its discourses and decision mechanisms. To the same extent that our communication possibilities are currently exploding, the potential of democracy is also growing. Freedom, justice, solidarity – on the foundation of a healthy welfare state these are not questions of economics but of communication. We therefore need a utopia for the information society – and this should not be drawn up by a solitary philosopher at his desk, like the former Karl Marx. We do not have to wait for this utopia to be ready printed in front of us at some point. No, millions of us have been working on it for some time. Each and every one can participate. I expect that this new utopia will not fit into the classical scheme of right and left. An example: the high value that the civil-liberal camp accords to personal independence and self-determination was always impressive for me. I am a left-winger because I believe that the free and unregulated market is an unsuitable means of achieving this self-determination for as many people as possible. Or the belief in the self-organisation of the masses instead of the state directing everything…truly not an inappropriate goal. The completely deregulated market was only the absolutely wrong way. A more active, direct democracy could be the right one in order to think of the future with enthusiasm and optimism again and to work on it together. Only the racists and the downward kickers are not needed for this.