Over on Comment Is Free, Neil Clark writes:
The 1970s, as I have argued before on this site, marked the high point of postwar socialism in western Europe. Across the continent in those pre-Thatcherite days, genuinely progressive statesmen set the agenda. In West Germany, there was Willy Brandt. In Sweden, Olof Palme. In Britain, Harold Wilson. But, for my money the greatest European socialist of them all was Austria's Bruno Kreisky, born exactly 100 years ago this weekend.
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. Modest, humorous and immensely likeable, he debated on television without notes and said exactly what he thought. The contrast between Kreisky and the controlled, PR-obsessed politicians of today could not be greater.
In the 1970s, Kreisky was involved in a furious public row with Nazi-hunter Austrian Simon Wiesenthal. This developed over the Nazi past of some of Kreisky's ministers and the Freedom party leader Friedrich Peter, Kreisky's would-be coalition partner. Kreisky defended Peter and refused to sack ministers, leading Wiesenthal to call him a "renegade". Kreisky, who himself had lost close relatives in the Holocaust, in turn accused Wiesenthal, a supporter of the conservative opposition People's party, of "mafia" methods and of trying to bring him down.
Then there was Kreisky's support for nuclear power, which put him on a collision course with environmental groups. Some also criticised Kreisky for the building of the huge UNO-City complex in Vienna.
But these controversies should not cloud our judgment of the man Austrians affectionately nicknamed "Kaiser Bruno". Kreisky's sincerity shone through in everything that he did.
While a strong opponent of nazism, and indeed all forms of racism, he did not believe that people should be permanently barred from public life over bad decisions they had made in their youth. "A member of the Nazi party or an SS-man should be able to hold any political office in Austria, unless it can be proven that he had committed a crime," he declared. His support for nuclear power was, as John Hodgshon has argued in the Vienna Review, "wedded to a philosophy in which anything that translated into more jobs and industry must be good". The UNO-City was a demonstration of Kreisky's belief in the UN and Austria's role as an actively neutral country, at the heart of solving international disputes.
More than 20 years on from his death, he is still a cult figure in his country: a new poll showed that he is known to more Austrians than many members of the current governing coalition. And Austrians regard the Kreisky years as a true golden age – one where there was job security, prosperity and social harmony.
When Kreisky died, his great friend Willy Brandt said that Kreisky "performed a great service to the community and wealth of the peoples". How Europe could do with someone like him today.
If Kreisky were active in politics now, he'd be making the bankers and financial speculators pay for the mess they have caused and rejecting the new age of austerity. He'd be nationalising, not privatising, and putting the interests of the majority first. He'd be leading the opposition to Nato's war in Afghanistan and opposing any military action against Iran.
Kreisky's career shows us what can be achieved if the main party of the left elects a leader who is committed, sincere and who refuses to apologise for his or her socialist beliefs.
Instead, for the past 20 years, the main parties of the European left have gone in another direction. They have elected leaders – like Tony Blair – who have moved their parties away not just from socialism, but from social democracy too, and who have tamely accepted the international rule of money power. Bruno Kreisky, if he could see the Europe of 2011, would be greatly saddened at how the forces of capital have managed to destroy so many of the economic and social advances made in the postwar era, and how those advances which still remain are threatened by the new round of cutbacks.
The best way we can commemorate the centenary of this remarkable and inspirational politician is to do all we can to put Kreisky-style socialism back on Europe's political agenda.