Workers and Punks’ University and Socialism in Slovenia

It has been ten years since the completion of the 2004 enlargement process, which, in addition to two further expansions, integrated the majority of the continent’s post-socialist societies into the European Union. It has since then become obvious that what had once been heralded as the triumphant accession to the world of the prosperous, has brought major disappointment to the Eastern part of the continent, already wrought by decades of tumultuous transition.

Major protests, often without precedent in recent history, followed suit: from Hungary already in 2006 through Romania, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 2012 to Bulgaria and Slovenia in 2013. The recent happenings in Ukraine are perhaps the flip side of the same coin and more is bound to come.

While the trend is obvious, the outcomes of such upheavals are far from predictable. Disappointments, by no means limited to the European periphery, include the rise of far right politics, narrow-sighted populism and seemingly apolitical technocracy, not to mention more of the same kind of austerity that pushed the periphery over the edge in the first place.

In Slovenia, it is yet to be seen who will capitalize on such discontent which still lingers after a wave of protests during the winter of 2012/13, though the picture is comparably positive. There is no major far right movement to speak of. Centre-left and centre-right political parties, having exchanged power several times but pursuing very similar economic policies, are experiencing some of their lowest ratings of support. Simple calls for national unity against politics as such are being gradually superseded by a common understanding that reasons for the present condition need to be sought within Brussels, Frankfurt or Berlin as well. The critique of Capitalism and Neoliberalism has been given prominence even within the mainstream media and public landscape.

This comparably positive state of affairs would not have been achieved without a continuous and concentrated effort of intervention into public debate by various groups and individuals, notably the collective of the Workers and Punks’ University (WPU).

The WPU, an education and research oriented project, run by a collective of students, young researchers and activists, has been organizing public and freely available lectures, discussions and reading seminars since 1998. With a timely decision of dedicating its 2011/12 cycle of weekly lectures to Financialisation and its 2012/13 cycle to European integrations, the WPU’s main scope of activity coincided with the time in which the magnitude and duration of the economic crisis became fully apparent in Slovenia.

As this was also the time when the WPU first acquired the support of resources, associated with Europe’s political Left, with contributions of Rosa Luxemburg Foundation and transform! europe in particular, it now became possible to enlist the aid of a variety of guests from across Europe. In the past year, contributions such as those of Riccardo Bellofiore, James Meadway, Angela Wigger, John Grahl, Joachim Becker and Michael Roberts, to mention only the lectures held in English, have been invaluable for WPU’s efforts to intervene in public debate, having an important educational as well as a legitimising effect. Michael Roberts’ lecture, part of a major two day event, dedicated to the new translated edition of the first volume of Marx’s Capital, has been a particular success and provided a blueprint as to how to connect theoretical, political and academic endeavours towards common goals. The lectures, well visited and additionally disseminated through the WPU web portal, were complemented with more than 200 documented news reports, interviews and articles in national media, associated with members or guests of the WPU collective in the past year, as well as a special edition on The Double Crisis of European Integration in the Journal for History, Anthropology and Literature Borec.

This never before seen degree of public attention would never have arisen had the activities of the WPU remained of purely academic interest, which had been, admittedly, the case for the better part of its history. Instead, the activities of the WPU in recent years were always considered an integral part of an overt political agenda, aimed at combating austerity policy and rehabilitating leftist politics. This effort was eventually subsumed under the term of democratic socialism by members of the WPU collective in conjunction with other participants of the 2012/13 wave of protests. Though the protests were by large a spontaneous affair in which the nascent socialist block represented only a smaller portion, the years of organizational, political and theoretical formation through the WPU have paid off. Unlike most groups and individuals associated with the protests, the idea of democratic socialism has managed to outlive diminishing public interest in the protest movement which never obtained a clear and common affirmative goal that could be rallied behind.

Democratic socialism, has since been gradually gaining momentum, with the Initiative for Democratic Socialism having been officially launched in the middle of 2013 (see the WPU’s May Day School 2013 report for transform!). For the first time after more than 20 years, Socialism successfully and credibly reentered public imagination.

In 2014, plans for the future are ambitious. The WPU, until the end of 2013 an informal project of a non-governmental organisation, gradually outgrew its framework and was taken over by the Institute for Labour Studies, founded by the members of the WPU collective themselves. Its 2013/14 cycle of lectures, which started in November, is dedicated to Socialism both in the sense of rehabilitating its past and imagining its future. In March, a conference on bank socialization is planned in cooperation with labour unions, while in May another traditional project, the May Day School, will take place. This year the aim is to revisit the Marxist notion of Class, and to analyze socioeconomic and political developments in the region.