Crisis and Class-Struggle in Slovenia: The Growing Momentum of Socialist Politics

Jaša Lategano

For many liberal spectators, Slovenia was for a long time considered a success story of transition from a ‘socialist dictatorship’ into a ‘parliamentary democracy’ based on a market economy. In the winter of 2012, however, mass popular uprisings swept through the larger cities and eventually brought down the far-right neoliberal government of the Slovenian Democratic Party. What followed was more or less a continuation of the same policies under a nominally ‘centre-left’ government. In a similar way that Tony Blair could be considered Margaret Thatcher’s greatest achievement, the technocratic approach to dealing with the manifold crisis devastating Slovenian society in general and the historical achievements of labour movement in particular, has become the universal language spoken by all political forces, often including those of organized labour. It seems, considering the socio-economic situation in the entire European periphery, that the subsumption of all spheres of society under the profit-driven rule of capitalist accumulation has only really begun for Slovenia.

Student assembly at the University of Ljubljana.

After the collapse of Yugoslav socialism, two fractions of the bourgeoisie emerged. The ‘transitional-left’ national bourgeoisie, that played the key role in ‘gradualist’ transition between 1992 and 2004, and the more radical, ‘neoliberal’ comprador bourgeoisie, which shifted the restructuring of society to the more typical European ‘shock doctrine’ of privatization, flexibilization and deregulation. Despite the bankruptcy of Marxist theory and socialist political struggle, after a decade of marginalization on behalf of the national bourgeoisie, and another decade of outright demonization from the comprador bourgeoisie, several civil initiatives formed over the past ten years. As the socio-economic situation worsened, a space was once again created for a radical critique of capitalism as an inhuman system of accumulation, tending toward a global totality. Though most of these initiatives were partial in their political struggles as well as their methods of struggle, forming, disintegrating and re-emerging with every new particular struggle, a handful managed to form more permanent, organized structures and coalitions.

The United Left: a Pyrrhic Electoral Victory?

One such coalition, the United Left (UL), brought together three newly formed political parties – the Democratic Labour Party, the Initiative for Democratic Socialism and the Party for Sustainable Development in Slovenia – and a fourth block, made of civil initiatives from the 2012-13 uprisings. The UL, despite having been formed no sooner than April 2014, gained unexpected victories in the European elections (5.9 per cent) and made a breakthrough into the Slovenian parliament (6 per cent) in the elections of June 2014. Many Marxist intellectuals simply disregarded these electoral victories, particularly the latter, as a naïve attempt at obtaining socialist goals within the confines of bourgeois politics. It is the intention of this article to provide an overview of the socio-economic and political developments in Slovenia over the past two decades, to give readers a context on the basis of which to better understand the importance of the socialist movement gaining ground, even if it is at this point relatively small ground.

The latest parliamentary election in Slovenia, taking place on July 13th this year, adequately reflected a double political crisis on the national level. On the one hand, the mass protests that shook the country between the winter of 2012 and the summer of 2014, resulted in the people’s rejection of the repetitive cycling of political power between the conservative Slovenian Democratic Party and the nominally ‘left’ Social Democrats or technocratic liberal parties, the two ‘alternatives’ that have driven policy making and dominant media discourse over the past decade – almost half of Slovenia’s existence as an independent state. On the other hand, this rejection resulted in nothing in particular. The demands of the protests of 2012 and 2013 were largely morally oriented and negatively defined, mainly calling for an end to corruption in politics, government finance (“the banks”) and the public sector, particularly the public healthcare system.

Although many civil initiatives formed in this period, few of them were capable of articulating the crisis of capitalism in general terms, opting instead to focus on particular areas, such as public education and public healthcare. Furthermore, these particular areas were mostly treated as mystified entities, plagued by “corruption,” “greed” and “moral bankruptcy,” rather than concrete focal points for organized political struggle toward a common goal of radically changing society. There are several reasons for this, some of which I shall discuss later on, so at this point I will only state that, in the conscience of the people who were actually in the streets, the protests were to a large extent nothing more than a defensive cry of the middle class, whose economic and social comfort was being uprooted by the crisis.

Thus, the people demanded a stop to changes for the worse, and that things become okay again – and this is precisely what the leading party of the last election promised. Lead by Miro Cerar, the new Prime Minister of Slovenia, SMC (Stranka Mira Cerarja, literally “The Party of Miro Cerar”) lead a widely ambiguous electoral campaign, directed at conservative as well as liberal voters. With the complete absence of a concrete political program, it was the personal profile of Cerar as a man of liberal policies but conservative/Christian personal values, as a calm academic with an ideologically neutral, technocratic approach to the country’s economic concerns, and his magical promise to stop fooling around and make things right again, that got his party the second largest victory by percentage (at 34.6%) and the largest by the number of seats in the National assembly (36 out of 90), in the history of independent Slovenia. Again, the reasons for this phenomenon can be identified and discussed. Let me propose, for now, that the nature of Cerar’s government will necessarily be unstable, as his wide and ambiguous promises inevitably transform, one by one, into concrete disappointments beyond his control.

United Left Enter Parliament

The second and far more important phenomenon of the last elections was the entrance of the socialist United Left (UL) into parliament, where the opposition party now occupies 6 seats, thanks to support from 6 per cent of the voting population.[1] Their campaign, headed by the slogan for a change in political program, not only faces(!), attracted a large percentage of the young urban population (second only to the leading SMC), as well as many left-leaning intellectuals. While it is true that, like the protests of 2012-13, the main shift occurred in the conscience of the urban middle classes, the UL is constituted by some of the only civil initiatives that were capable of identifying in the current economic and social situation of Slovenia a structural crisis of capitalism on a global scale, and addressing it as such. To understand the significance of this partial electoral victory, we must take a look at the activities of these civil initiatives, especially the Initiative for Democratic Socialism, over the past two years, as well as the Marxist “think-tanks” and academic movements that preceded them.

Despite the program of the UL being what one could call radical-reformist, rather than militant-revolutionary, including policies such as an immediate halt to the ongoing privatization of state-owned industry and infrastructure and limiting the income-gap between the lowest and highest income classes to 1/5th with progressive taxation, calling the entrance of this party into parliament a pyrrhic victory would be a naïve understatement. Pyrrhic victory was the term often used by Marxist critics to describe, quite appropriately, the significance that electoral victories of parties such as New Labour in the United Kingdom had for the labour movement in the 90s. It was meant to emphasize the structural nature of the dominance of capital in today’s society, and particularly the fact that capital mainly dominates outside of the parliament, in the material productive and reproductive spheres of society. Thus, victorious labour parties, no matter how true to their aims, would have little or no power to change the actual social order, likely causing more damage than improvement to their electorate. However, in the case of Slovenia, this term applies much more to the dominant SMC, due to its ambiguity, dependence on support from both liberal and conservative populations and thus inevitable fate of disappointment, than to the United Left’s entrance into the parliamentary arena.

Before recounting the uprisings of 2012-13 and the formation of progressive political groups, many of which now constitute the United Left, it is important also to understand the economic and political situation of Slovenia since the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the transition to a market economy.

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