Local Historic Blocs I: Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia (Kojanić, Korsika, Kostanić)

As argued by Antonio Gramsci, the concept of historic bloc refers to a historical congruence between material forces, state and civil institutions and ideologies, or, put differently, an alliance of different classes politically organised around hegemonic ideas that give coherence to its constituent elements.

This panel will focus on historic blocs in post Yugoslav countries in an attempt to locate their similarities and differences. Through analyses of post-socialist transition it will try to shed light on concrete alliances in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. By examining the connection between economic interests and cultural and ideological leadership over allied and subordinate groups, the panelists will try to determine the relationship between the dominant class and the weakest link of the alliances.

One of the key issues will be the connection between the managerial class of Yugoslav self-managed economy and nationalist ideology, on onse side, and, on the other, the comprador bourgeoisie that has emerged as a force in recent years.

This panel is aimed to contribute to a socialist anawer to the question of how to struggle against the hegemony and class alliances that subordinate the working classes and increasingly jeopardise the living conditions of the working classes.

Ognjen Kojanić – Disciplined, Dispossessed and/or Disorganised: Three Cases from Post-Socialist Serbia

In my paper, want to focus on three revealing cases of contemporary class struggle in Serbia: an enterprise where the privatisation process was successful and the enterprise survived (Fiat Automobiles Serbia, Kragujevac); an enterprise where both attempts at privatisation were unsuccessful and workers continue to fight for their claims to ownership and salaries (Jastrebac, Niš); and a state-owned enterprise that is undergoing restructuring (Serbian Railways).

The case of Fiat can be used to map out the global flow of capital from the core to the periphery. With the recent acquisition of Chrysler and factories all over the world, Fiat is truly a global player. This brings about a more powerful position at home: recently, the Italian labour union was disciplined when the management threatened to move production outside Italy in order to profit from the (over)exploitation of workers and from the subsidies that peripheral countries pay to attract big exporters, both of which can be noted in Serbia. Outbreaks of dissatisfaction are evident both among the current workers and among those who were laid off.

Jastrebac workers are in an even more difficult position. The owners manipulated the administration law by creating a new company that would acquire the means of production, to which the workers opposed in court, after which the property was returned to the original company. This company, however, is bankrupt and in the process of reorganisation to restart the production because one court case rendered the workers the owners of the production facility.

Finally, the case of Serbian Railways may point out some specific weaknesses of labour organising. This company has been receiving subsidies from the state to keep it from bankruptcy. At the same time, both the management of the company and the state officials have been talking about downsizing the company and splitting it into three separate entities. There are currently around 18.000 workers in the company, and the call for employees to leave the company with a severance pay. The activities of labour unions end with the participation in the ‘social dialogue’ and in sporadic calls for the change of management.

I do not claim that these examples are representative for these three broad categories of enterprises. However, they can be used to sketch out some elements of the processes that take place in post-socialist Serbia: the capital flow from the core countries; the state involvement through subsidies for privately-owned companies, reduction of subsidies for the publicly-owned ones, and the support for private ownership in general; and the lack of solidarity between private- and public-sector workers. I will try to ground the understanding of these processes in concrete circumstances of the workers employed in the three companies.

Ognjen Kojanić is a postgraduate student in the Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology at the Central European University in Budapest. He obtained his BA from the Department of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. His interests lie at the intersection of the economy, the state and mobility. He is also interested in exploring interdisciplinary affiliations of anthropology and sociology with regard to Marxism and critical political economy, geography, feminism and post-structuralist theory.

Anej Korsika – Notes on the Class Situation in Slovenia: From Class Compromise to Class Struggle

Usually percieved as a kind of ‘success story’ among the South and Eastern European countries, Slovenia always enjoyed a kind of special status because of its specific gradual mode of transition. This economic gradualism was achieved by organised labour, especially massive strikes in the early 1990s. In this situation the ruling classes were forced to adopt a socially more sustainable model of transition, and a certain class compromise was achieved. This compromise was seriously undermined when Slovenia entered the European Union and especially when monetary sovereignty was lost with the adoption of the Euro. Coinciding with the outburst of the global economic crisis, the right-wing government of Janez Janša (2004–2008) further escalated the negative economic trends with its procyclical economic policies. The class compromise was finally broken with the massive and unprecedented upheavals in the autumn of 2012 and the spring of 2013. Such protests have not been seen ever since the workers protests in the early 1990s. Likewise, the economics situation has never been so dramatic in the past two decades. More than 130.000 people are unemployed, 400.000 bellow the poverty line, tens of thousands working in precarious work relations – all this depicts a social image that is far from a ‘success story’. In my talk, I will try to provide a general overview of the current class situation in Slovenia, the forms taken by class struggle today, and the potential for a rebirth of socialist policies and organised labour.

Anej Korsika is a member of the Institute for Labour Studies and of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism.

Marko Kostanić – A Historic Bloc in Croatia: From the Disintegration of Yugoslavia to the EU Periphery

This presentation will consist of three parts. In the first part I will try to outline the Croatian economic trajectory from the disintegration of Yugoslavia to the EU-membership. The second part will deal with political and ideological dynamics that have accompanied the restructuration of Croatian economy. More specifically, it will address two mechanisms that were material anchors of these dynamics: (1) the role of the state and consequently major political parties in trying to mitigate devastating social effects of privatisation and deindustrialisation; and (2) the role of foreign credit inflow, especially in housing market. I will argue that these mechanisms were among the most important ones in terms of ‘concealing’ the class structure of the society and the lack of any kind of proper class articulation of politics. In the final part I will pose a few crucial questions that the non-existent Left in Croatia needs to address in order to achieve political visibility and social strength.

Marko Kostanić is an executive editor of a critical regional web portal Bilten.org and co-founder and member of the Centre for Labour Studies in Zagreb.

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