On September 4th and 5th representatives of various parties and initiatives of the European Left (EL) met and exchanged their perspectives on local politics under the circumstances of the Covid-19-pandemy as well as the neoliberal mainstream, which leads to an transformation towards a authoritarian form of capitalism.
An example for this fact: The traditional „Volksstimmefest“, named after the longtime magazine associated with the Communist Party of Austria (CPA; KPÖ), could not take place. Despite the elaborated security concept by the organizing team, the authorities of the City of Vienna, governed by a coalition of social democrats and greens, have not even responded to their requests. There seems to be a connection between this decision and the local elections that will take place in Vienna on October 11, in which a new radical left electoral alliance named „Links“ will be formed.
Protect the people! Not the system!
It was therefore all the more significant that last weekend it was nevertheless possible to open a space for progressive politics in which international and local activists could exchange their views. According to the current campaign of the European Left, the debates were held under the motto „Protect the people! Not the system!“. In a seminar in the event hall of „Transform! Europe“ on Friday, our international guests discussed crucial questions of left-wing politics at the municipal level in small groups together with local left activists.
Among the topics discussed was the issue of public transport and urban planning, at which Antoine Splet, municipal councillor of the PCF (France) in the Strasbourg region, reported on his experience in implementing a free transport system. The KPÖ/CPA is also striving for a similar concept for the City of Vienna.
In another discussion group, Regina Ertl, local politician of „Die Linke“ in Passau (Germany) informed about her experiences in the struggle for affordable municipal housing in her city. Although there is a progressive tradition in this area in Vienna, the trend towards privatization is also on the rise. A development that is driven by the current city government.
Kerem Schamberger, on the other hand, activist of the initiative „Marxist Left“ in the German city of Munich, participated in a discussion group with local activists who advocate anti-racism and fair voting rights. In some districts of Vienna, more than 50 % of the population is excluded from the right to vote because they do not hold Austrian citizenship. In Austria, among the parties, only the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ), together with its allies, is committed to finding a solution to this catastrophe in democratic politics.
Fight for the interests of the people!
On Saturday, in the best weather, it was time for a public event in the Vienna park „Prater“ to highlight the efforts for international cooperation and the unity of the left. In three discussion rounds with local activists, the international guests reported on the similarities and differences of their struggles.
Antoine Splet explained that the current strength of the climate justice movement has helped to expand free public transport in the Strasbourg region. The PCF deputy was able to report that the change in social mood made it possible for his party to convince parts of the Social Democrats and the Greens of this concern. “Our slogan can be: Build sustainable cities for all, and start with a laboratory of progressive changes. Public space needs to be shared and not dominated by cars. Free public transport is one of our priorities. A possibility for emancipation is applying the slogan everybody to his needs, everybody to their ability“, Splet stressed.
Regina Ertl reported on the last election campaign of „Die Linke“ in Passau, which was mainly focussed on the questions of affordable housing and social participation for all people living in the city. These phenomena are, in Vienna as in all European cities, matters that can only be solved with leftist answers. „Therefore we need a cooperation with social movements in the field, to fight together with tenant-initiatives, women’s houses, or traffic planning and management, to recognise all the areas of life it touches“, Ertl explained.
Kerem Schamberger emphasized the importance of the fact that a lot of people living and working in European cities are excluded from taking part in an important part of the democratic life, casting their votes in elections: „This is not only a scandal democratically, but it is of grave consequence to their willingness for political engagement.“ Schamberger stressed that new forms of participavite democracy must be found. In the context of the recent attacks by Turkish fascists in Vienna on the Kurdish freedom movement, Schamberger said: „We have to fight for democracy, everywhere, we have the example of Rojava, where various forms of participation have been developed, we need to defend examples like this.“
The organizing team of the weekend was pleased that despite the difficult circumstances it was possible to hold a public EL event in Vienna, which was attended by about 500 people. This underlines the need to develop progressive responses in international exchange. The struggle for a solidary, anti-racist and democratic city, where people are protected instead of the system, could be decisively strengthened during this inspiring weekend.