No Green future? How the Green Party lost its Youth
Recently the Green Party of Austria parted with its entire youth wing. The newly-disconnected youth wing proceeded to make an alliance with the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) and, in the months that followed, helped them in the elections as the KPÖ PLUS.
In general, the election was a very poor result for the Left. The Green Party lost all of its members in parliament. The KPÖ saw a drop in its already small vote.
While this might have demoralised some, Jakob Hundsbichler remains hopeful. This former Green Youth activist ran as a candidate for the KPÖ PLUS in the last October 2017 elections.
The Young Greens and the Party
In 2010, the Young Greens were officially founded as the third youth organisation in the history of the Austrian Green Party. What started as a small group based in the city of Graz soon spread to other towns and districts all over the country. Within seven years, the Young Greens grew to a sizable 4,000 members with 800 activists in over 40 local groups all over the country.
Nearly all of our activists joined the Young Greens because they wanted to stop the rise of the far-right in Austria. But from the beginning it was clear to us that in order to fight the far-right, we would need to organize as many people as possible while becoming more professional at the same time. So our aim was to establish new groups, organize more activists and to enable young people to learn and act collectively.
Our relationship with the Green Party was friendly, but distant, and marked by our organisation’s high degree of autonomy. At no point in our history did we see ourselves as the youth wing bound by unconditional solidarity to the party, serving only as a source of cheap labour for election campaigns or as a supply of party careerists. This didn’t mean we weren’t interested in the Greens and their policies. On the contrary! During elections we would reach out to young people with campaigns of our own, on issues as diverse as the legalisation of cannabis, anti-racism or free public transport which not only benefited the development of our organisation but also the Green Party. We also discussed in depth the history and policies of parties, the roots of their crises and possible critiques.
Over the years, the Young Greens became the fastest-growing youth organisation in Austria. This trend came to an abrupt end in spring 2017 when the Green Party decided to expel us. The differences between the Young Greens and the Green Party grew steadily over the years. Our critique of party policies and structures developed over time, however, as the significance of the Young Greens evolved, so did our critique of the party.
The Young Greens always emphasized the need for the Green Party to become more open and democratic in order to mobilise more people for its politics. In our view, the party had evolved into nothing more than a campaign apparatus – highly professional at technical level, but lacking political vision. As a result of their post-ideological view of politics, the Green Party was focused solely on how to manage society differently, without actually changing it. In the end everything remains the same, you just feel better by managing it better.
The conflict escalates
The conflict between the Young Greens and the Green Party was a conflict along ideological lines. It was a long time in the making and escalated during the student union elections in May 2017. For decades, the Green student union remained a small group of 30-40 people. Any attempts from local groups to organise more people were doomed to fail – all members needed to agree unanimously on all decisions, so the old student union couldn’t be reformed and organise more activists. So some local groups decided to found a new student union, with support from the Young Greens, and opted for a democratic majority vote system for decisions so that new members could be involved in the decision-making process more easily and decisions were made transparent for everyone.
The Green Party did not support the new union and attempted to force the Young Greens to recall their resolution to support the new professional and democratic student union. Because the Young Greens didn’t bow to the party apparatus, the Green leadership quickly decided to expel the Young Greens without further ado.
The future of the Greens
In October 2017, the Green Party lost all their 24 seats in the Austrian parliament as they sagged from thirteen percent to less than four percent of the electoral vote. The Green Party strategy against the rising far-right had failed. We believe that the Green Party has only one chance to regain its position as a serious left-wing force: it needs to learn from its mistakes, open its doors to the rank and file and dare to gain a political vision again. Then they might make a comeback at the next parliamentary elections in five years.
We know that a new left party in Austria is needed now more than ever. We had not planned to become this party – we have neither the financial means nor the organisational resources to start such a project. However, we cannot hope for a miracle to deliver us the party Austria needs, if we do not start it ourselves. Following the call for snap elections in October 2017, the Young Greens began to look at their options for further political work. The discussions with various left-wing forces lead to the formation of KPÖ PLUS, which includes the Communist Party of Austria (KPÖ) and the Platform PLUS. PLUS stands for “Plattform unabhängig und solidarisch” (Independent and Solidarity Platform), an independent, multi-party platform, which forms the initiative for a new left party. In June, a congress will take place to discuss and develop the platform’s political positions and structures.
A new party may be the main benchmark for the left to be able to become a relevant force in Austria again. It is clear that such an organisation can only be developed from below. This will take time. The need for a youth organisation that enables young people to build something bigger than themselves remains. The Young Greens plan to rename themselves at their assembly in June and will continue to organise and empower young people at local, regional and national level.