Contemporary party rallies have recently exhibited a remarkably homogeneous symbolism. At some point in its course, those at the center of power huddle on a raised platform and look down on the rank and file of officials. This is strikingly reminiscent of the staging of the SPÖ-Vienna on May 1st, where the party establishment still stands on a tribune and waves red handkerchiefs to the party people marching past, without the participants this self-staging, which is reminiscent of the appearance of the Kremlin gentlemen remembered on Lenin’s mausoleum would be visibly embarrassing.
The popular among the “Politburo members” repeatedly mime the joy of spontaneous recognition when they see comrades they know in the mass of infantry and elevate them to unique individuals by pointing their fingers at them and pulling encouraging faces. In this way, the lonely mass person feels lifted out of the indifference of the crowd and experiences himself as valuable and special.
The new joint stage appearance of the party elites, which was seen both at the SPÖ-Burgenland party conference and at the ÖVP federal party conference, probably fulfills a similar function to the grandstand spectacle of the May marches. The official elite can bask in the public eye and the subaltern mass can enjoy its gracious affection through small gestures of personal attention. In addition, the performative staging of the party leadership also has a motivational dimension.
Those in the state of mass individual invisibility are being shown the possible rewards of years of subjection. If you stoop further, these pictures suggest, you might be able to climb the functionary hierarchy up to the lofty heights of a party congress or May Day march stage. And like the current leadership, you can let yourself be admired there and symbolically express your gain in status through the merciful and subtly demeaning greeting ritual of the party aristocracy.
Taken as a whole, such party events are gatherings of weak personalities, whether on or in front of the stage, who need the symbolic power imbalance of hierarchies in order to feel identical to themselves. These people only feel alive when they are either on the top of the stage looking down at the crowd in triumph, or when they can be part of the foot soldiers looking up covetously at their leadership, hoping to one day belong to it.
What the top and the rank and file have in common is a mentality that the sentence “I’m nothing without a party”, which the former SPÖ chairman Fred Sinowatz openly expressed with typical honesty, sums it up precisely. The parties of our time function according to the principle of “promotion through adaptation” and through the decades of operation of this innovation-destroying mode of operation they have become good but empty vessels that have nothing more to offer than party careers for self-weak egoists and a bag full of empty phrases for the people. The communicative principle of these self-referential party systems, which are increasingly decoupling themselves from their electorate, is pretentiousness, that is, arrogance. It’s about presenting yourself as more important and meaningful than you actually are.
A prime example of pretentious behavior was provided by the newly re-elected French President Macron, who was so busy admiring himself that he could no longer perceive the fears of decline in the social center and the impoverishment of the working classes and ended up waking up in a divided country, in which his re-election only came about because his opponents tore each other apart and in the end he came into the runoff with a right-wing candidate who had been demonized by the mainstream media. The narcissist’s blaséness blinds them to the realities around them.
We live in a time in which political staging is becoming cheaper and more inflated. At the same time, they are empty, usually pretentious mummery who want nothing more than to attract attention. This excess of meaningless superficiality is accompanied by a media and expert scene that makes the staging ability of the political parties the only yardstick for assessment.
The reporting on the party conference of the SPÖ Burgenland is an example of this. Through them we learned that the former SPÖ Chancellor Kern, who had been dismantled by Sebastian Kurz, had another self-pitying appearance there and told the comrades on site how he got drunk at home out of sheer joy after Sebastian Kurz resigned. In addition, one was informed of the extremely important fact that the veteran star of the SPÖ, Hannes Androsch, again completed one of his infamous appearances in the role of the “Elder Statesman”.
This type of old politician, embodied in a particularly tormenting way by the German ex-Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, who has an adequate solution for all problems of the present and presents it in the most abstract of all possible forms, peppered with personal anecdotes, is today an indispensable part of everyone’s brain political mass events that deliberately want to be obfuscated. The intellectual highlight of the event was probably the educational policy manifesto of the Burgenland governor Doskozil, which consists of free tutoring lessons, a free musical instrument and skis for free for every child and thus hit the spot on the level of a political culture for which education policy is nothing more than that distribution of subsidies.
Nothing was said about what the SPÖ intends to do in the near future against skyrocketing inflation, how a completely outdated education system could be restructured, which only produces more academics, although the economy is desperately looking for skilled workers, how Austrian foreign policy in the EU accents against the mindless rearmament of the Ukraine, which creates more misery than it brings about peace, and how a sensible European energy policy could be set in motion, which would finally break the taboo on the peaceful use of nuclear energy and give up the insane plans for a boycott of Russian gas and oil imports , at the end of which there can only be a loss of prosperity and misery for the little people.
Contemporary politics is a system addicted to staging, driven by dodgy consultants, whose events have nothing more to offer than a cheap, manipulative aesthetic instead of controversial content-related discussions. As in the supermarket, the packaging dominates the content. But the best design alone does not always get you where you want to be. Not least Christian Kern had to find out that his suits were five times more expensive than those of Sebastian Kurz, and he lost to him with bombs and grenades.