Wednesday, November 28, 2018

History Is Not Over

“Welcome to the Desert of Post-Socialism – Radical Politics after Yugoslavia, edited by Srećko Horvat and Igor Štiks, 2015

One of the most important issues for leftists is the experiences of ‘actually existing socialism,’ ‘state socialism,’ or the workers’ states, some of the phrases used to describe the governments and economy of the USSR and Central and Southern Europe by different tendencies.  This time is rich in positive lessons for the future, as well as understanding the failures of that ideology and practice   In the U.S. ridicule and ignorance of this issue are the mainstream responses, given the deep, deep hostility to any form of socialism drilled into the population by our ruling class.  We are to forget the workers states ever existed. “Nothing to see here, go about your business” say the ideological police.
History Is Not Over

This book joins a small but important group of left-wing books in English about the breakup of the USSR and the Central European workers’ states. It focuses on the aftermath of the destruction and neo-liberal ‘transition’ of Yugoslavia from a multinational workers’ state with a mixed economy that made ‘workers’ self-management’ official policy.  The book consists of 14 contributions from people across the region on Yugoslavia after dismemberment and the current realities for Marxist and working class struggle given that history.  Some of the writers are connected to Slavoj Zizek.  Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo and Macedonia are the countries and EU/US ‘protectorates’ that emerged from the destruction of Yugoslavia, still sadly called by the loaded term: ‘the Balkans.’  Albania, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania are also sometimes mentioned in the book. 

As they say, time does not stand still and so the victory of capitalism in Central and South Central Europe is not permanent.  Class struggle is automatically generated by capital, even in places where the issue seems ‘settled.’ 

Here are brief descriptions of each chapter contribution, which cannot do justice to the whole chapter of course:

  • Štiks/Horvat – The endless ‘transition’ to neo-liberal Europeanization for the subaltern countries of the former Yugoslavia will never end.  Across the zone it has produced impoverishment, public & private debt linked to foreign credit, deindustrialization and factory closures, depopulation, land grabbing and high unemployment, especially among youth. Reactionary ethno-nationalist governments have been the political result.  Direct democracy ‘plenums’ implicitly attacking neo-liberalism have been the left response, while more left political parties are another response to the pro-capitalist Nationalist and Social-Democratic alternatives .
  •  Umkovski-Korica – “Factories to the Workers!”  - A review of Yugoslav worker self-management as theory and practice. (A topic routinely ignored by U.S. Marxist Richard Wolff in his endless writings on worker-owned co-ops.)  Ultimately the practice of integrated Yugoslav development broke down due to the centrifugal pull of external capitalist and internal regional competition.  These are contradictions that remain after a revolution - between local, national and international aims and production. 
  • Živiković – While Yugoslavia had a controlled market economy prior to counter-revolution, the current debt crisis ‘is precisely a crisis of the market’ introduced by the ‘transition.’  The pursuit of interest-bearing loans by EU banks is connected to long-term profit declines in the advanced capitalist countries from production.  The new debt is caused by a rigid exchange rate regime (the Euro); seizure of the banking system by EU banks and the privatization of a large part of the economies. It has resulted in large debts to EU creditor banks.  The solution is a renewal of a “Balkan Socialist Federation” encompassing more than just the prior Yugoslavia. 
  • Grdešić – This chapter concentrates on working-class struggle, focusing on sectoral and company collective bargaining and the now weaker trade union confederations.  One Serbian federation came out against Milosevic’s war.  The focus is on several major union and labor struggles, especially Jugoremedija in Serbia, where workers took over the company in a years-long struggle, harkening back to the period of ‘worker self-management.’
    Jugoremedija fight for workers' control
  • Todorova/ Petrović/ Buden - 3 chapters concentrate on how the metaphoric ‘Balkans’ are treated by the EU as a place of backward and crude children, who need to be educated and led to the promised land. (All the while being robbed in the process.)  In reality the ‘humanitarian hawk’ wars in the 1990s were meant to destroy Yugoslavia and spread NATO and the EU, while installing local ethno-nationalist elites in power. That succeeded for now.
  • Nikolaidis – Focuses on Montenegro where the workers demanded new leaders for the League of Communists and instead got their factories closed and ethno-nationalist reactionaries as leaders.  So the ‘revolution’ was really a counter-revolution.  ‘The thieves became businessmen.’  ‘EU enlargement is primarily an imperialist project.’
  • Hamza – Focuses on Kosovo, the poorest country in the region.  Hamza considers the struggle against Serbian control to have been an anti-occupation struggle, which turned into the farce of ‘independence’ under ‘imperial (EU) democracy.’
  •  Velikonja – this chapter focuses on the nostalgia surrounding Yugoslavia (Yugonostalgia) and specifically Tito (Titostalgia), the ‘Che’ of the Yugoslav anti-fascist struggle and leader of a multi-national nation.  This fondness for Tito is seen, not as some attempt to go back to the past, but as a criticism of the reactionary and divisive present.
  • Kraft – A study of the large worker and student occupations in Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia.  Struggles for lower or free tuition and against the commercialization of education or interference by the EU.  Highlights labor events at Jugoremedija again, and the struggle to keep the Petrokemija plant open in Croatia.  These resulted in the formation of directly democratic ‘general assemblies’ and ‘plenums’ – the Balkan version of Soviets or councils or communes.  In 2012 in Slovenia workers and students took down the government in an ‘All Slovenia Uprising.’ (Occupy Slovenia was involved…)
    Occupy Slovenia
  • Baćević – A focus on student struggles in Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro & Croatia. Free tuition, the ‘right to the city,’ direct democracy through plenums and labor conditions for graduate students and professors were the immediate issues.  A free university – the ‘Workers & Punks University’ in Ljubljana, and a faculty organization – ‘Academic Solidarity’ – came out of these struggles.
  • Čakardić – All about the women’s struggle, inspired by the ‘Women’s Anti-Fascist Front’ which developed during WWII.  The author contends that conditions for women were better in Yugoslavia. Now socialist feminists have to combat an exclusive focus on “human rights, identity and juridical solutions’ promoted by liberal feminism, which ignore economic or social issues that the region’s women face.  Women’s entrepreneurship and ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ are not the main goals of a working women’s movement.
Prior reviews on this subject: “The Contradictions of Real Socialism,” “Russia and the Long Transition from Capitalism to Socialism,” “Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives,” “From Solidarity to Sellout….” “The Ghost of Stalin.”  Also reviews of books by ‘Zizek.’  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I got it at May Day Books excellent used / cutout/ estate gift book section!
Red Frog
November 28, 2018

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