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July 15, 2014
July 15, 2014

On the Croatian left: Interview with Dr. Mate Kapović

Author: Idemo dalje Translator: Idemo dalje
Category: Dialogues
This article is also available in: elhr
On the Croatian left: Interview with Dr. Mate Kapović

Ph.D. Mate Kapović
Assistant professor, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of Linguistics

ID: In the last EU elections the European radical left and right -Greece, Portugal, England, France, Spain- sent the same political message about austerity but even so with different objectives. Croatian “left and right”, helped by high voter abstention, stayed unified toward neoliberal Europe. Not much would have changed if the election result between the two of them was reversed. Is there no crisis in this part of Europe?

MK: The crisis is certainly there in Croatia – even more so than elsewhere, since we’ve been having 5 straight years of relentlessly falling GDP. However, unlike Greece, Portugal, Spain etc (and now even Slovenia), Croatia has no organised radical left (i.e. it has no radical left parties), which means it has no real opposition to the politics of austerity measures.

ID: The consensus of silence in Croatian politics was very clear in the case of last year’s protests in BiH. “Not raising waves” were equally accepted between traditional left and right, expecting that “the rescuing EU funds” and “attracting foreign investments” could settle one as much as the other. Outside the political arena, rising poverty is still confined within private walls. In the context of resistance in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Bosnia – where is Croatia?

MK: Croatia has not been totally silent. That is the picture that the media and the pundits try to present (and the picture that even some on the left take as granted), but the situation is not so simple. In 2009, there were two big waves of student occupations in Croatia, when at one moment more than 20 universities in 8 cities were occupied. This is usually considered as a formative point for the emergence of the young “new Croatian Left”. Then in March of 2011, there was a month of big protests (with almost 15,000 people at one point on the streets of Zagreb) all around Croatia, that had a radical left component and that can be partly related to the later following Indignados, Syntagma and Occupy movements. Since then, more or less silence. Still, with 53% of youth unemployed and 20% official unemployment rate (the real one is much bigger), it’s practically only a question of time before the next round of protests emerges.

ID: Traditional middle-class intelligentsia is mostly self-complacent about their own paper revolutions, if there are any on their agenda; workers would rather destroy machines than taking factories in their own hands; trade unions defend parochial interests of particular sections of workers and the others who are willing to revolt in more direct way choose to wait: “Revolution okay, but what comes after?” What resistance is possible?

MK: The main problem of the Croatian (real) left is that it exists only on the cultural and activist level (small campaigns, media, festivals, conferences etc.). What is needed is the organisation of a real radical left party. There have been some attempts in this regard, but it is still too soon to tell what is to come out of those.

ID: What does “radical left” mean in Croatia now and in the near future?

MK: Radical, in practical terms, means either an anticapitalist Left or a “real Left”, i.e. not the neoliberalised “social-democrats”. However, even the term radical left is now used for the left forces that are not really, at least not openly and explicitly and in some cases not at all, anticapitalist (like the European Left group).

ID: What are, or could / should be its specific objectives, its political identity? 

MK: Radical means, or should mean, anticapitalist. Thus, a radical left should aspire to abolish and transcend capitalism. However, today this seems to be a problem, since there is no real plan of how to do it. In the past century, there was a clear programme on how one should do away with the bourgeois state. The results were not successful in many ways in the end, but at least there was a plan. Now, there’s no plan. Even in South America, in countries like Venezuela, which have real socialist governments, the Chavista government still governs a capitalist country. The revolutionary process is hardly over there, but there seems to be no clear plan on how the so-called “socialism of the 21st century” is to be achieved and the capitalist sector and class is still very much alive and kicking (even literally speaking). The left in the West is so far from anything revolutionary that one does not even think about what type of society we want “after the revolution”. Sure, the people protesting speak of “direct democracy” (which is not that difficult to imagine) and leftist intellectuals speak of “socialism”. But what does this new socialism entail? Are we going to have central planning or not? If so, what kind of central planning will it be? Will there be any kind of market or not? What will the transitional phases look like? How is the 21st century socialism to escape the problems or real socialist countries in the 20th century? Nobody seems to have an answer to these questions and anticapitalism often remains at the level of pure rhetorics. As somebody said, it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. The funny thing is, this is true for anticapitalists as well.

ID: What could be foundations of a new radical left power, where is its source? These are all legitimate questions of the silent majority.

MK: There is only one possible source, the people, the 99% we like to talk about since 2011 (though in practice, it will have to be a smaller percentage of people, since there are still parts of middle class, and not just middle class, that will be unwilling to break with the status quo under any circumstances). Any kind of radical change must have its roots, in one or way another, in the masses. Of course, a popular radical force is extremely difficult to organise. And it’s not just a question of the willingness and organisation skills on the part of the Left. The problem is, and this is often forgotten, that the forces of the status quo (the capitalists, certain parts of establishment and bureaucracy etc.) will, in dire circumstances, support the extreme right (such as Jobbik or Golden Dawn), since the extreme right is not going to take their privileges. On the other hand, it’s quite understandable that the capitalist class will not finance anticapitalists. This is one of the reasons we see a rise of the extreme right in Europe. It’s not simply a question of “confused citizens” not knowing who they’re electing. The Left mustn’t forget the real nature of bourgeois democracy, i.e. a “democracy” in which money and vested interests have a great deal of sway.

ID: In an article published in “Slobodna Dalmacija” (“Free Dalmatia”) you said that Croatia “needs something like SYRIZA”…

MK: Saying something like “we need our own SYRIZA” is a nice propaganda motif, a way to simplify certain issues. I am in fact not really keen on having a SYRIZA type party. For my taste, despite of all its good sides (and these are certainly present), it is a traditional bourgeois party with insufficient inner-party democracy and, despite of its name, it’s not really radical anymore. SYRIZA’s shift to the right since 2012 is obvious and, although I’d like to see them winning the election, I’m rather pessimistic concerning that possibility. The opportunistic/reformist current in SYRIZA is quite strong and they may easily end up as, let’s say, Mitterrand’s Socialist Party in the beginning of 1980’s in France. Of course, SYRIZA still has a left wing as well and a lot will depend upon the demands from below, popular movements, protests and so on. Still, SYRIZA has in the last couple of years become a sort of a “left-wing brand” so why not use it?

ID: Autonomous movements such as occupy, Indignados, etc., and especially the revolt in Greece in December 2008, shows the rather diffuse character of the mass resistance. Stiffened left in Croatia –whatever “left” really means– would be rather stunned by “street revolts” without “proper theoretical concept”. What resistance –if not by professional politicians– is ever possible?

MK: In my opinion, there can be no real changes without taking the power. The left has to be present on the streets, but the action on the streets cannot change anything by itself. Still, the situation in ex-Yugoslavia is pretty bleak when it comes to the organised left. The only shred of light is the recent emergence of the Initiative for Democratic Socialism in Slovenia that has recently, within the frame of the wider United Left coalition, been able to get more than 5% of the votes in their first EU election. The protest waves in Bosnia and Herzegovina at the beginning of 2014 were also significant, not only for Bosnia and Herzegovina but for the whole ex-Yugoslavia, but they dwindled with time, as is bound to happen with this kind of spontaneous and unorganised uprisings.

ID: I think Venezuela is a good example that illustrates the problem of central political power, even more for the orthodox socialist left. Chavez has not got –if I’m not mistaken– 18 different elections because of political marketing and personal charisma (although both played a certain role), but because of the voters who had in their hands a booklet of the Constitution which they themselves wrote, and then the new Labour Law. Now, in parallel with centralised political power of the state, they just established a new network of local communities on a national level that signifies that voters “from below” don’t want to drop the power out of their hands. The power of making policies “from below” where they work.

MK: The case of Venezuela is very interesting. In many ways, it is very different from the “old left”, i.e. the manner in which the organised radical (communist) left took power in the 20th century. One could perhaps compare it to Allende’s Chile, how it might have been if the coup of 1973 had not succeeded. In Venezuela, what we had is a strong charismatic leader making the revolution from above, but at the same time of the people pushing the revolution (though traditional Leninists would not call this a revolution) forward from below and radicalising the government (and, in any case, saving Chavez himself in 2002 during the attempted coup). And, of course, there’s a lot of interesting ideas going on there, with the local communes and so on. Still, as I already said, Venezuela is still a capitalist country and the capitalist class there is still very strong and there has been no expropriation except in specific and special cases. However, Venezuela is definitely one of the biggest hopes for the world of the Left and we have to keep a close eye on it, in spite of the fact that its (revolutionary) future is still very uncertain.

ID: Let’s take a look at another unsuccessful revolution within the EU… Radical student movements in the 60’s in Germany pushed strongly toward anti-authoritarian socialism “from below”… I think the Slovenian IDS is just on this track?

MK: The Slovene Initiative for Democratic Socialism is a very good example of the post-Yugoslav left. They made some real progress in very short time and they do incorporate both the experiences of the “theoretical left” and the radical student movement.

ID: What is the perspective of the true left in Croatia: the “long march through the institutions”, extra-parliamentary opposition and direct struggle?

MK: I would say all of the above. In my opinion, it would be ludicrous to give up taking part in the elections in advance, but it would also be as bad to limit oneself to pure (and pointless) electoralism. The left should take part in elections but it should also be present in the streets, in unions, making direct action, organising outside of parliamentary politics etc. And, equally important, taking part in bourgeois elections must not, by any means, mean the ideological acceptance of bourgeois democracy as real democracy. The real left has to criticise liberal democracy as undemocratic even if it (strategically) takes part in it. That’s a crucial part of the game, I think.

ID: One point is rarely analysed, or at least lacking foothold within traditional political arenas, is this certain element of fascism that could be attributed to the neoliberal type of economy?

MK: There are a lot of negative trends in economic policies and politics in general right now, and, of course, we are all witnesses to the rise of the new extreme right and sometimes open neo-Nazism. And it is quite correct to talk on the “extremism of the centre” and criticise the extreme consequences of austerity measures and so on. However, it is quite another thing to denounce everything as fascism. We may criticise liberalism, neoliberalism, the EU, Angela Merkel etc. in so many ways, but they are not fascist. It’s ideologically unsound to denounce everybody and everything as fascist. I think parts of the Left should be more aware of that and not concede to meaningless name-calling.

ID: It is not just name-calling, there is a distinctive destructive pattern that doesn’t care about human lives in particular, except as a “human resources” en masse, and it certainly doesn’t give a damn about meeting ones living ends, even if it’s pertaining to whole communities or “economic regions” (the bigger, the better, tens or hundreds of millions of human beings) of their special interests. There is always growing concentration of high technology industries in the core countries (Germany and satellites), which always proceeds to peripheral countries after the destruction of competing national industries and agriculture. There is always dispute over national labour laws that result in abolition of work at fixed points of time and place; there’s always business deals with national political elites who return the favour by strengthening whatever repressive apparatus they command. What they see on revolting streets is just a bag of money being wasted instead of deprived human beings. Their use of brute force is merciless… Doesn’t it sound too familiar? A system that is final, “the end of history”?

MK: The main idea uniting the people in the countries of the periphery or semi-periphery (as Croatia) is that fantasies of economic development in the frame of the capitalist mode of production are unrealistic. Both for the periphery and for many parts of the lower classes in the core countries it is becoming more and more apparent that capitalism cannot deliver anymore. This was possible to a limited extent during the “golden age of capitalism” from 1945 to 1970, but those days are now gone and cannot return. The elites are to a certain extent aware of this. Whether and when the people will become aware of this is another question.

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On the Croatian left: Interview with Dr. Mate Kapović by Idemo dalje is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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