Friday, January 21, 2011

Bruno Kreisky: and why the modern left has much to learn from Austria's Golden Age

This piece on mine, on one of my great political heroes, Bruno Kreisky (above), appears over on the Guardian's Comment is Free website.

Neil Clark: The great socialist leader Bruno Kreisky would be dismayed by the European left's meek acceptance of the rule of money power.

The 1970s, as I have argued before on this site, marked the high point of postwar socialism in western Europe. Across the continent in those pre-Thatcherite days, genuinely progressive statesmen set the agenda. In West Germany, there was Willy Brandt. In Sweden, Olof Palme. In Britain, Harold Wilson. But, for my money the greatest European socialist of them all was Austria's Bruno Kreisky, born exactly 100 years ago this weekend.

Kreisky led his country for 13 years, from 1970-83, winning a clear majority for the Socialist party of Austria a remarkable three times. During his time in office as the first popularly elected "red" chancellor, he transformed Austria into one of the most egalitarian societies on earth.

You can read the whole of the article here.


Anonymous said...

Great article. Two points really jumped out at me:

First, with regard to today's PR-obsessed politicians, I believe we have come to the point where people are being conditioned to support empty suits with fake smiles, fake personalities, etc., so long as they fits some kind of marketed image, for example George W. Bush’s image as a macho cowboy. Real authenticity is dying out.

Of course, one could apply this to society as a whole. Authenticity is discouraged and manipulation is encouraged. I personally believe this emphasis on marketing and manipulation in even basic human relationships is ruining social cohesion, reducing people to lonely "buying units."

Second, on Kreisky's willingness to spend to provide jobs for the unemployed, this reminded me of the former Mayor of Florence, Giorgio La Pira. A left-wing Christian Democrat, La Pira spent large amounts of public money in order to provide public works jobs and housing for the poor of Florence. La Pira was so popular that the people of the city called him "The Saint," and his cause for beatification has been officially opened in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is a shame that politicians like Kreisky and La Pira don't seem to be in stock these days. Now we are stuck with the pro-austerity puppets of the financial elite, even among so-called socialists and social democrats. In fact, today’s trendy Left would probably laugh at men like Kreisky or La Pira and call them unrealistic or whatnot.

Neil Clark said...

Many thanks.
I couldn't agree more with the points you make.
Erich Fromm was well ahead of the game (as usual) when he wrote in the 1950s of the 'marketing character'.
re your second point- another politician of the 'right', who put jobs and the welfare of the majority first, was of course, Charles De Gaulle (who like Kreisky was also an authentic person). De Gaulle didn't like international capitalism and like Kreisky, he'd be horrified at the way things have turned out.

Neil Clark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neil Clark said...

Re de Gaulle, I don't know if you read my American Conservative piece on 'Children of 68'.

"Always distrustful of the power of money and market fundamentalism, he introduced a mixed economy, a welfare state, and presided over the biggest rise in living standards for ordinary people in French history. “He was a man who did not care for those who owned wealth; he despised the bourgeois and hated capitalism” was the verdict of de Gaulle’s biographer Jean Lacouture. De Gaulle not only did not care for those who owned wealth, he didn’t care much for wealth itself.

Despite occupying the highest office in state for ten years, he died in penury—instead of accepting the pension he was entitled to as a retired president and general he only took the pension of a colonel. The contrast between de Gaulle and the money-obsessed career politicians of today could not be greater. "

On economic issues de Gaulle was far to the left of any leading 'left' politician in Europe today.

Anonymous said...

Great article on Charles de Gaulle, it really shows how things have changed. When you think of Harold Macmillan, de Gaulle, etc., it is clear that yesterday’s conservatives were farther to the left on economics than most of today’s self-described social democrats or socialists.