On Friday 28 May, forty thousand people gathered on Prešeren Square in Ljubljana to protest against the reactionary policies of Janez Janša. In a way, the protest is a culmination of social movements that began even before Janša’s round of austerity measures in Slovenia. Trade unions; civic, student and academic organisations; as well as the Levica (Left) party, took part in the protests.
In form, these were civil protests that erupted in the wake of the failure of Janša's government in managing the coronavirus epidemic, as well as against measures taken by his government at the cost of the working class, such as the attempts to privatise water supplies, cut social programs and restrict the rights of foreign nationals.
At a glance, the protesters seemed to have come from various political tendencies. The gathered masses had a heterogenous class composition. We can certainly say though, that the movement reflects the intensification of class struggle in Slovenia, evidenced by the numbers gathered and the demands raised for the improvement of livelihoods of students and workers, formulated as clear class demands but intermixed with demands for new elections and for the “rule of law”.
These protests are an indication of changed social circumstances and of emerging class struggle in Slovenia. These processes are mostly taking place beneath the surface of society, conditioned by the economic crisis that has intensified with the pandemic and the inability of the ruling class to handle it. The pressure from below has already yielded results. The working class of Slovenia won one small victory by forcing the government to give up its intention to privatise the water supply and to schedule a referendum on the issue for 11 July.
The way in which Levica was welcomed at the protest also indicated the manner in which the class struggle is intensifying. When the party appeared with its flags, marching in an organised manner, the demonstrators greeted it with applause. The climate is clearly once more changing in Slovenia, after the rise of the right wing at the last elections. It was apparent that the present protesters recognised Levica as a prominent opponent of Janez Janša and as a potential parliamentary force capable of taking society in another direction.
The key difference between this protest and other social movements that we have seen in earlier years in former Yugoslavia, is the presence of trade unions and the connections that they have with the student and leftist organisations. The presence of the organised working class makes these protests a more developed form of class struggle, although it as yet retains the outward form of a movement of civil society. At the protests, Janez Janša was presented not only as a product of the corruption and incompetence of the previous government, but – in the words of speakers at the Ljubljana rally – as a “symbol of the political system of the past thirty years.”
The water referendum and Janez Janša
The referendum on the amendment of the Waters Act, held on 11 July, showed that the process of political radicalisation has resumed in Slovenia. Although the turnout was only 45.99%, 86.58% (674,114 voters) voted against the amendments, while 13.42% voted in favour. These figures testify to the fact that the class struggle has manifested itself over an issue of real significance to the working class in Slovenia. On the other hand, the referendum’s results also exposed the instability of the government of Janez Janša, as well as the fact that his rule is unaccompanied by mass support. He embodies the general political instability of Slovenia. The outcome of the referendum represents a serious victory for the working class, forcing the government to halt the process of water privatisation at a time of intense political crisis in Slovenia.
These figures are also indicative of large discrepancy in Slovenian society. The gap between the ruling policies, and the absence of support from below clearly show that Janša as a phenomenon occupies a much weaker position than Orban, or Trump – two of the politicians with whom he is most often compared. Unlike Orban or Trump, Janša does not enjoy significant support in Slovenian society. He did not come to power by winning a majority in the elections, but grabbed the prime minister’s seat through bureaucratic calculations and negotiations on account of the impossibility of forming a clear majority government after the last elections. While Trump was a figure that the American ruling class eventually turned against, Janša is a man that the Slovenian ruling class has traditionally placed its faith in to stabilise political crises that could easily be turned against it. Janša is a proven figure from the process of the restoration of capitalism in Slovenia as well as in former Yugoslavia. He is a transitional politician who has completely fulfilled his tasks, and the ruling class recognises him as a faithful ally.
We can also see Janša’s function in Slovenian society and his position as someone the ruling class can count upon in the way he has approached Levica. In Janša's public discourse, Levica is presented as the greatest danger to Slovenian society, despite its relatively small influence in parliament. These attempts to turn Levica into a bogeyman in the media are an attempt on Janša’s part to mobilise the most conservative parts of society through anti-communist ideology. But they also reflect the attitude of the ruling class, which regards Levica as a danger to its rule. It is worth noting that one of the first political initiatives that Janša launched at the Working Group for Terrorism of the Council of the EU, during Slovenia’s presidency of the European Union, was a request to de facto criminalise left-wing organisations. On 7 July, the EU Council discussed the alleged problems of the supposed twin processes of radicalisation on the left and the right and the need for Europe-wide action against “leftist and anarchist violence and terrorism”, laying the foundations for broader actions against left-wing organisations.
This tells us one important thing: Janša sees his biggest opponent in left-wing organisations and he wants them dealt with by any possible means. This does not mean that left-wing organisations have become a threat to capitalism in Slovenia, but that the ruling class recognises the developments in the situation and wishes to create mechanisms and a legal framework that would stem further radicalisation of the working class in the future. This is not an insignificant matter. It shows that class struggle is on the rise in Slovenia and that the ruling class is preparing its “barricades”.
Considering how the referendum demonstrated that only 13.42% of the population give their complete support to Janša, this necessarily poses the question of who could form a government in the next elections? It is quite clear that Janša will not have enough votes to impose himself as prime minister. But the question of political perspectives for Marxists is not limited to formal parliamentary democracy. In the given conditions of instability and crisis of the capitalist system and developing class struggle, the question arises of the leadership of the working class.
A chance for Levica?
Paradoxically, by trying to mobilise his most loyal voters by proclaiming the threat of Marxism, Janez Janša has only contributed to the growing popularity of Levica and its importance in the eyes of the workers and the youth. “If ‘Levica’ is Janša’s biggest enemy, then I guess they must be doing something good,” is the thinking of many in the most combative layer of Slovenian society. Levica has thus entered the phase of being put to the test by the working class. The conditions that are developing in Slovenia will inevitably bring Levica to a crossroad. The party will have to choose its path: either it will place itself at the service of the class struggle and open itself up to the movements from below, or else it will have to kneel before capital, continuing to reduce politics to the level of parliamentary calculations.
How far Levica will succeed in becoming a representative of the exploited strata of society depends on how it presents itself to the working class and with what programme. The key task it must perform is to integrate with the labour movement and the working class – to become a genuine working-class organisation by connecting with the unions and the most militant workers. If Levica fails to turn fully towards the working class, if it fails to place a perspective of worker’s power on the agenda – that is, if it continues to operate on the level of mere electoralism and purely reformist demands that will be difficult to impose on the ruling class in the midst of the capitalist crisis – the same fate will await it as befell SYRIZA. The only other choice for Levica would be to turn sharply towards the working class and integrate it into the party through democratic mechanisms. Its further development and role in the upcoming events depends on whether it succeeds in performing this task.
Slovenia has been in a deep political crisis for many years, with periodic mobilisations of the working class and the youth on the streets. After everything that has happened in the latest phase of Janša’s premiership, as well as the open offensive of the ruling class against the living standards of the majority, this country is entering a new round of sharpening class struggle. In Slovenia, political processes and crises are manifested along much clearer class lines than in the other countries of former Yugoslavia. We know from experience that a shift in class struggle in one country in the Balkans can have a big impact on the entire region. Levica itself was formed in the context of the general crisis of capitalism in the region in 2008.
Being forced to shoulder the burden of the crisis lead the Greek working class to put SYRIZA in power. This election victory in turn inspired left-wingers in a number of countries, including Slovenia. It was the processes in Greece that were the main inspiration for the founding of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism (one of the founding groups of what is today called “Levica”). The intensification of the class struggle in Greece has affected the entire Balkans region, and for some time we have seen growing radicalisation of the youth and the working class in the region, as well as the turn of the general political climate to the left. We know that most of the political crises in the Balkans have not yet been resolved. After the defeat of SYRIZA, the situation in Greece remains very unstable. In Macedonia and Bosnia, after the catastrophic management of the pandemic by their respective governments, anger among the population is boiling. In Serbia, which seemingly coped well with the pandemic, the autocratic government of Aleksandar Vučić is facing frequent mobilisations on the streets. In Kosovo, popular discontent was expressed through Vetëvendosje’s electoral victory on the basis of a programme of social reforms.
The development of events in Slovenia is therefore of crucial importance for Yugoslav communists. The conflict between the Slovenian working class and the reactionary government of Janez Janša is evidence of a process which will drive events in all the surrounding countries. Regardless of its outward expression, we can plainly state that the escalation of the class struggle in the Balkans is on the order of the day. As a result of the defeat of the working class at the end of the 1980s, and the disintegration of the SFRY, over the past three decades we have become accustomed to the absence of a developed mass workers’ movement in our countries. But after the global crisis of capitalism in 2008 and the coronavirus pandemic, completely new circumstances have arisen. As we have said, developments will inevitably bring the working class onto the political arena in our countries. Our analysis has allowed us to see these processes in their very beginnings as a necessity of the social contradictions ingrained in capitalism. This same method helps us to see below the surface of events, beyond formal parliamentary policy, and to identify the conditions that have matured for the development of the labour movement in Slovenia at a much higher level of organisation.
Whether Levica will succeed in connecting with the working class and create a new workers’ movement in the course of this process depends on a number of objective and subjective factors, but it is important to note that it has been given a historical opportunity to do so. One thing is certain, the class struggle in Slovenia will flare up for some time to come and will create the potential for a historic breakthrough. We invite you to join the International Marxist Tendency with the aim of making the most of this potential and creating a new Marxist force in Slovenia.