Tales from the Vienna 'Hood

Planet Marx

A hundred years ago almost to the day, at the Smolny Institute in Petrograd, the journalist John Reed had an interview with Leon Trotsky:

This domination by the bourgeoisie is only possible by means of civil war. The Kornilov method is the only way by which the bourgeoisie can control.

There’s a pun there that Reed either didn’t pick up, or didn’t care to: in German and in Russian the words for “Civil War” (Bürgerkrieg, гражданская война ) also mean War of the Citizens or War of the Bourgeoisie. Trotsky was suggesting, naturally, that every civil war is a class war, but that in this particular case the war was being waged, not by the populace, but by the Ruling Class: in a constitutional democracy a coup was the only way a minority could maintain its control. In this particular case the War of the Bourgeoisie was a war by the Bourgeoisie, because the Bourgeoisie had exhausted all other means to maintain itself in power.

Of course Trotsky and Lenin at that very moment were planning a coup of their own, so the argument was a form of self-justification. All the same, Trotsky's analysis of the “Kornilov method” deserves some further thought. The phrase refers to an incident Reed had discussed earlier: Lavr Kornilov, the Russian General-in-Chief, had attempted what was either a coup against the Provisional Government or, more likely, a coup against the Petrograd Soviets masquerading as a coup against the Government but secretly supported by forces within the Government: in all essentials a coup of the Bourgeois Government against itself, similar to the attempts of the Monarchists in the early days of the French Revolution to carry out a coup against the Constitutional Monarchy to save the Government from itself.

For things to remain the same everything must appear to change. This past Sunday a section of the Austrian Government led a coup against itself—successfully this time. Sebastian Kurz led his party (the Black Party, or maybe the Powderblue Party, it’s hard to keep track) to capture 30% of the popular vote in the parliamentary elections, which puts him in place to become Chancellor if he can find another party to join him as the junior partner in a coalition government. Most likely the new Government will be pretty much the same as the old one, with the party that came in second, the Socialists, as the junior partner instead of the senior partner. This is ironic, considering that Kurz ran on a promise to change the status quo, to crack down on immigrants, to lower taxes and give everyone a free pony.

Actually, nobody but an idiot could believe that: the status quo—at least the political status quo—is what undergirds the political process in Austria and keeps it going. Technically it’s called the Proporz: the idea is that any coalition government—meaning any government at all—gets to distribute portfolios and sinecures proportional to its representation. The Proporz affects almost everyone from professors and teachers to civil servants, lawyers and government contractors, and of course the judiciary and the media: this is the State as a “giant insect” above civil society that Marx foretold, and it is loathed. The urgent question, then, is whether Mistah Kurz can replace the Austrian system of graft and patronage with a system more in line with the system of neo-liberal graft and patronage that constitutes the European Union and the IMF. The Kurz coup against Austria is no different from the Rajoy Coup against Catalunya.

A friend of mine, a middle-aged professional woman from an old Austrian family, told me: "For the past fifteen years I've been made to live in terror every time they call an election." What she didn't have to mention is that "they" love calling elections because following EU directives political parties in Europe have unlimited (and often secret) funding: the more elections called, the better the chances for the parties with the best capitalization. That Strache’s party—the openly Fascist FPÖ—only came in a close third is a testament to their weakness, considering the way they flooded the internet with ads. The Green Party, which was financially bled in the recent election for Chancellor and which recently split from its more progressive wing, dropped by two-thirds in last Sunday’s election. The Socialists were, and still are, severely split, with one faction likely to work closely with the Right and the other resisting: last Sunday’s vote actually strengthened their left wing. Meanwhile, Oceania has joined with Eastasia…

Continuing, Trotsky told Reed:

At the end of this war I see Europe recreated, not by the diplomats, but by the proletariat. The Federated Republic of Europe—the United States of Europe—that is what must be.

Trotsky had a genius for seeing the forest. The message implicit was, that a Federated Republic of Europe—let’s call it European Union—as long as it was run by the Bourgeoisie, could only survive by fostering continuous civil wars.

Some historians now refer to the early part of the twentieth century as the period of the European Civil Wars. Now, at the dawning of the twenty-first, the various forms of liberal Democratic government survive by continuous coups against themselves, be it in Catalunya, Brazil, Great Britain, or the USA. Of course the war against its own citizenry, the Bürgerkrieg, is directed at its outset against that part of the residents most disenfranchised politically, and yet an integral part of civil society: the migrants, the “foreign elements,” the non-citizens, the guest workers. Now, however, we have entered the stage where the Civil War widens its scope, it has no choice. Mistah Kurz—he’s back.

Atta Troll, with the assistance of Malée Witch.

October 18, 2017