The second in a series of interviews with communists from the former Eastern Bloc on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your organisation?
My name is Goran Markovic and I come from Bosnia and Herzegovina. I am one of the co-editors of the socialist/Marxist regional magazine ‘The New Flame’ (Novi Plamen) which is published in the Croatian capital Zagreb. I am also the president of the Workers’ Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Novi Plamen is a magazine which deals very much with the development of workers’ and leftist movements in former Yugoslav republics and worldwide and carries analyzes, mainly from a Marxist viewpoint, of current economic and political events in former Yugoslavia and worldwide. The Workers’ Communist Party of Bosnia and Herzegovina is a party established in the tradition of workers’ self-management and self-managing socialism.
How do you evaluate the events of 1989-1991 in the USSR, Eastern Europe and Yugoslavia in light of aspirations at the time?
These were revolutions against the corrupt system of the Soviet Union and its satellites which saw itself collapse because of its economic inefficiency and the inability of its ruling class to adapt to people’s needs and aspirations. The revolutions fought for more human rights, especially in the political sphere, and for better living conditions. Unfortunately, in many people’s minds, these revolutions were understood as anti-communist revolutions, which they objectively were not. They caused great damage to the communist idea, that is for sure, but they were not revolutions against a communist or socialist society, which never existed in Eastern Europe. However, it is quite sure that people who were drawn into these revolutions didn’t expect to achieve what happened later and what is still going on – crude neoliberal capitalism.
How would you characterise the society that existed before 1989-91? Is there any continuity between them?
The society that existed in the Soviet Union and other countries of its bloc were bureaucratic collectivist or étatist societies. It was a new socio-economic formation which historically was situated between capitalism and socialism. However, it could by no means be characterized as the first phase of socialism. It was a new kind of exploitative society with the bureaucracy as a ruling class. Working class was sovereign only nominally: in practice as well as according to the legal system and production relations it did not change its social position in comparison to pre-war situation. Of course, this does not mean that its living conditions did not improve but that is not the most important criteria for evaluation of a society’s nature. After the 1989-1991 revolutions things changed in many ways but not in one of the most important – namely, one society based on exploitation in the economic sphere and dominance in the political sphere only changed for another society based on these same principles. Only the ruling classes changed – instead of the old bureaucracy a new capitalist class together with parts of the old bureaucracy became the ruling class.
Do you think the events of twenty years ago represent the historic triumph of capitalism and the defeat of communism?
The events of twenty years ago cannot represent the historic defeat of communism because communism or socialism did not exist as a society in Eastern and Central Europe. It could be said that it was a historic defeat of bureaucratic collectivism in its Stalinist variant. On the other hand, these events were not the historic triumph of capitalism because one social system does not triumph if it overbears its alternative but if it is unable to solve contradictions on its own terrain. Capitalism proved unable to do that and that is why it cannot be seen as eternal social system.
Before 1989 there were dissident communist currents, such as the Praxis group. They tried to develop a vision of a more emancipatory communism, engaging with Marx’s humanism and concepts of self-management. What happened to this tradition, why did it not re-emerge in the face of the other forces such a narrow nationalism?
The defeat of the existing regimes in Eastern Europe was seen as defeat of socialism as such. That is why all of its variants and currents were defeated or, better to say, were not able to re-emerge. Indoctrination with what was called vulgar Marxism in Eastern Europe was so strong and the ideology of the ruling bureaucracy was so much in incongruity with the objective social role of working people that when this ruling ideology collapsed no one really wanted to search for true Marxism or some other socialist currents because all of them were connected with the defeated bureaucratic system.
Since the collapse of the USSR some in the left view America as the main imperialist power to be opposed, do you think Russia is also imperialist? How do you think communists should relate to the power struggle between Russia, USA and other powers?
Russia is trying to recuperate from heavy economic, political and military blows it received during the capitalist restoration. That is why it still cannot play the role of imperialist state it would like to. However, it is an imperialist state in its intentions and goals and therefore communists should not have any hopes in its role in international relations.
During the recent crisis of capitalism there was a revival of calls for state ownership such a greater nationalisation of the banks etc. In light of historical experience what attitude do you think communists should take towards nationalisation?
Nationalisation is not a socialist measure that is for sure. That is why communists should not look for nationalisation as a measure in new socialist society. Socialisation of the means of production has to be their goal. However, in a capitalist environment nationalisation is a very positive step forward for two reasons. First, it lays a more solid basis for introduction of workers’ participation or workers’ control, which is another measure which must go along with nationalisation. Second, the state as an employer and a “businessman” has to take care not only of its social and economic goals but also about the fact that it is a political institution formally accountable to its citizens. That is why it is easier to put pressure on it for certain economic and social policies.
What do you think the legacy of official and dissident communism is?
Experiences of so-called communist regimes, on the one hand, and of communist movements which tended to liberate themselves from so-called official communism, on the other hand, give us plenty of useful conclusions. First of all, socialism cannot rest on the state, but on self-organized workers and citizens who govern the economy and the state by themselves, directly and through democratically elected delegates. Secondly, as each society, even the socialist one, is divided on different groups, with different interests and opinions, ideas of human rights, especially political liberties and political pluralism, are inseparably connected to socialism. Thirdly, there is no one group, even the communist party, that could claim to have historic or any other right to be a priori avant-garde and to have a special or privileged position in process of decision-making. E.g. the communist party is only one of many political and social organizations which is trying to persuade people in the correctness of its ideology, proposals and ultimate goals. Fourthly, the struggle for new, socialist society is in the first place struggle against the bourgeoisie and against the bureaucracy that has already been formed in the framework of the workers’ movement while still in opposition. There are two main means against the bureaucratization of workers’ movement and hence of socialist society: new forms of organization and reliance on extra-parliamentary forms of activity. The parliamentary orientation of many communist parties and “walk through institutions”, although they did and can have significance, captured these movements in chains of bureaucracy.
How do you think genuine communists should organise and operate?
Through democratically organized political parties and grassroots movements. All these organizations should have some joint principles such as maximum possible decentralization, a delegate system of election of members of executive bodies and of making decisions, the right to recall elected officials and principle of rotation of elected officials. Professionals in workers’ parties can have only administrative and not political functions. The right of tendencies should be guaranteed. In terms of their mode of operation, communists should combine parliamentary and extra-parliamentary forms, with prevalence of the latter. This means that they will have to orientate toward trade unions, students’, women’s and other social organizations in order to try to gather them into a united social movement against oppression, for social and other rights, and, in its perspectives, for a new society. A communist party should be only one of many organizations that participate in this social movement and its popularity and possible avant-garde role should depend upon its ability to persuade other social movement militants of its programme. Parliamentary activities could be only useful as an addition to activities of this social movement, where communist and other leftist MPs could put pressure on government only in coalition with the extra-parliamentary pressure of social movements.
What do you think real communism means today?
For most people, communism means concentration camps, lack of democracy, inefficient economy, ideological indoctrination, even hunger, like in North Korea, etc. However, real communism does not have anything to do with these features and with societies where these things happened. Real communism means an end of economic exploitation and political domination. It means an end of division of society into elite and masses. It means self-organization and self-activity of all members of society who wish to be active participants of processes of decision-making, with almost limitless pluralism of organizations, opinions and activities of different subjects who do not oppress each other. It is a society based on social ownership and social self-management, economically self-sustainable so that it guarantees free and universal health care, education, access to culture, without unemployment and with possibilities to its members to cultivate themselves as full persons.