If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll be aware that we recently spent a few weeks in the old Habsburg lands. We arrived in Vienna on the last day of April, meaning of course that the next day was the First of May and therefore a public holiday when most things, other than art galleries and museums, were closed.
So what to do?
Well, we went to the SPÖ – (Austrian Socialist Party) May Day manifestation for a beer and a sausage.
Getting there involved walking up from our rented apartment past the university and through the alphabet soup of left wing politics – the various parties and factions each had their own corner of the park, the Worker’s party having better music, the Kurdish Worker’s party better food, and so on but the SPÖ – that was the big one in front of city hall.
It was strangely like the 1980’s Labour party in Britain – red banners, speeches against austerity and the roll back of social benefits, and generally in favour of refugees and human rights. But it was Vienna and the crowd – everyone from old guys who’d clearly been in the party for years to young families with kids stood around and listened politely and drank beer.
And then, at the end, they played the Internationale. In 1980’s Britain it would have been the Red Flag, but here it was the Internationale. People sang along and old guys gave clenched fist salutes. It was strangely moving to see people who obviously still believed in the left wing dream, and something that reminded me of other, past, times when politics seemed to matter.
And then it was over. People finished their beer and walked off, perhaps home, perhaps to another manifestation, or perhaps just for a picnic in the park. That wasn’t the end of it. The communists had a march to Parliament protesting about cuts, and that was a pretty friendly relaxed affair, despite the police escort, some left anarchist faction lived up to the stereotype with hectoring speeches (and no food or beer) from the steps of the parliament building about the coming revolution.
When we walked back the Left worker’s party had quite a decent punk band playing and people were standing round having a beer and generally treating it as a day to relax, more a festival of the left than the prelude to revolution. The whole thing made me quite nostalgic for my younger days in trade union and left wing politics. It was very reminiscent of a time we tend to think has passed …