Remembering Austria’s Bruno Kreisky. Hat tip to Chris Donnellan.
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. Kreisky promoted working-class education, extended public ownership (under his leadership Austria had one of the largest nationalised sectors outside of communist eastern Europe) and expanded the welfare state. A committed Keynesian, with a hatred of unemployment and poverty, in the 1979 election he declared that he’d rather the government run up a deficit than people lose their jobs: “Hundreds of thousands unemployed matter more than a few billion schillings of debt.”
Under Kreisky, Austria not only became a more equal society, it also became more prosperous. His leftwing economic policies showed that there certainly was an alternative to the monetarist economics that were soon to be imposed – at huge social and economic cost – in Britain.
Socially there were major advances too: the position of Austrian women was greatly improved, with maternity leave introduced, and homosexuality was decriminalised. Kreisky not only made Austria a better place, he tried his best to make the world a better place too.
A true internationalist, he supported a policy of “active neutrality” for his country in the cold war and worked for detente with the communist countries of eastern Europe. A Jewish anti-Zionist, Kreisky was a great champion of the rights of the Palestinian people and the strongest western European critic of Israel. He was the first European leader to meet with PLO leader Yasser Arafat and in 1979 gave an official state dinner in Arafat’s honour in Vienna. He was also one of the first European politicians to take an interest in developing countries, calling in the early 1960s for a new Marshall plan for the south.
But it wasn’t just Kreisky’s policies that make him such a hero. It was his style of politics. Kreisky was a true man of the people – he kept his telephone number listed in the Vienna phone book after becoming chancellor, so that ordinary members of the public could call him to discuss their problems.