Socialist Party of Austria

   / Sozialistische Partei Österreichs
   With the collapse of the Nazi regime in 1945, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, or what was left of it, resumed an active life in Austria. Tarnished by the support that many of its leading members had given to the Anschluss, at least in its initial stages, it tried to distance itself from its immediate past with a new name, the Socialist Party of Austria. Though the party is once again known as the Social Democratic Party of Austria, it still uses the SPÖ acronym. It remains a highly centralized operation, governed from a central committee. From the outset, however, the new organization was far more inclined toward political compromise than it had been during the interwar years. It also took a relatively relaxed position on the restoration of former Austrian Nazis to the postwar body politic and dropped its earlier antagonism to the Austrian Catholic church. Particularly influential in driving this change were Adolf Schärf, who acted as party chairman from 1945 to 1957, and Bruno Pittermann (1905–1983), the head of the SPÖ from 1957 to 1967. The Nazis had persecuted both men before and during World War II. Coalition governments of the SPÖ and the more conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) ruled Austria until 1966. Under the system of Proporz, which both groups endorsed, it regularly held the vice-chancellorship and the ministries of the interior, social affairs, transportation, and state enterprises. Both parties committed themselves to a social partnership in which both state and private enterprises competed and which provided an elaborate social safety net for all.
   By 1970, facing an ever younger electorate, the SPÖ had succeeded in broadening its constituency far beyond the industrial workers who were once its core support. Much credit for this development went to Bruno Kreisky, who was convinced that the party had to refashion its image to appeal to a more prosperous people. The following year, the SPÖ won an absolute majority in the national elections and began to govern in its own name. It continued to do so until 1983, when, plagued by allegations of corruption at the highest levels and general mismanagement of important responsibilities, it began working in coalitions once again.
   The SPÖ’s ideological profile has continued to soften, to the distress of those who support the party’s radical traditions. After long years of internal discussion, the party announced in 1998 that it was dropping all references to the class struggle in a proposed platform for upcoming national elections. Commitment to the parliamentary system has inevitably brought with it the need for compromise. With members of the SPÖ often concerned about maintaining their offices in provincial and communal governments, the programs and positions of the national party sometimes run up against purely local interests. Neoliberal economic policies of the final two decades of the 20th century and the privatization of the economy that went with them flew in the face of socialist egalitarianism. Yet these programs prevailed throughout the chancellorships of Franz Vranitzky and Viktor Klima, both from the SPÖ. Nor, by the 1990s, was the SPÖ the sole “radical” alternative in Austrian politics. The environmentalist Green Party challenged the full-employment policies of both Kreisky and Vranitzky, and the economic nationalism of right-wing parties such as the Freedom Party of Austria and the Alliance for the Future of Austria, led by Jörg Haider, drew off SPÖ votes as well.
   In the opposition from 2000 to 2007, the SPÖ hammered out an updated party platform that supported market economic principles, but not to the exclusion of state investment or social justice. Under the leadership of Alfred Gusenbauer, the chairperson of the party from 2000 to 2008, it also succeeded in eliminating the considerable debt it had piled up over the years. In elections held in 2006 and 2008, the SPÖ won a dominant, though small, plurality of votes in Austrian national elections. A new SPÖ chancellor, Werner Faymann (1960–), was sworn in in December 2008. Nevertheless, the party no longer commands the reliable constituency that it once enjoyed, even in the city of Vienna itself.

Historical dictionary of Austria. . 2014.

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