Over the course of 2017, the Belgrade-based Centre for the Politics of Emancipation (CPE), in cooperation with transform! europe and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation – Southeast Europe, established the “Studies of Socialism” educational programme with the aim of introducing young people in Serbia to radical left critical theories and practices.
Students of the educational programme “Studies of Socialism”
together with Satoko Kishimoto; author’s archive
In the former Yugoslav context, the fall of socialism, along with the wars that took place in the last decade of the 20th century, completely wiped out any kind of left-wing alternative to the capitalist restoration and neoliberal policies. In Serbia, a nationalist offensive and all-encompassing privatisation dramatically changed the social landscape. Although the so-called transition to capitalism developed under promises of a “better life”, today, Serbian society is deeply impoverished and deindustrialised, with a constantly shrinking public sector that cannot provide citizens with the necessary services. This context results in discomfort among people who are in search of new paradigms. The wider population, especially the younger generation, is increasingly rejecting dominating political parties. This was more than obvious during the 2017 “Protests Against Dictatorship”, which spontaneously sprang up after the presidential elections that saw Aleksandar Vučić victorious with a huge majority of votes.1
Such a context opens cracks that could be used by different political actors. The Left in Serbia has been rebuilding from scratch for almost two decades. This process is not easy since there is a need for new political infrastructure that can enable organisational reproduction. However, at the same time, there is a need for restoring confidence in the left-wing alternative among the wider population. “Studies of Socialism” is an educational programme, established by the Centre for the Politics of Emancipation (CPE), in cooperation with transform! europe and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation – Southeast Europe, and it is part of this newly formed, radical left-wing infrastructure. Critical theory has been marginalised in official educational institutions, and students eager to discover new information and interpretations of the reality in which they live have to look for this kind of knowledge elsewhere.
In two programme cycles, almost 200 people in total applied to participate in Studies of Socialism. The vast majority of applicants were students of humanities in their early twenties. What was most interesting was that most of them emphasised the need for political activation as their main reason for taking part in such a programme.
In 2017, in the first edition of Studies of Socialism, 18 people took part in the programme which lasted for one year. The programme was divided into two semesters and encompassed 18 sessions. The first semester was dedicated to more theoretical questions: what socialism actually is, an introduction to the Marxist critique of political economy, socialist feminism, the theory of ideology, etc. In the second semester the focus was on practical political topics: public debt, trade union organisation, privatisation and remunicipalisation of public services, industrial policies, operationalisation of eco-socialist paradigm, etc.
Small capacities, but also the need to fully devote time to each participant and work on group dynamics, led to the decision that restricted groups is the most productive option for this kind of programme. Nevertheless, in cooperation with transform! europe and Rosa Luxemburg Foundation, CPE organised five public lectures (“Studies of Socialism Forum”), as well as the international “The Return of Utopia 2” conference, in coordination with the Masina.rs web portal. This kind of cooperation resulted in the opportunity to host many local, regional and international lecturers, such as Marko Kostanić and Stipe Ćurković (Centre for Labour Studies, Zagreb), Maya Gonzalez (UC Santa Cruz), Sam Gindin (York University), Satoko Kishimoto (Transnational Institute, Amsterdam), Eric Toussaint (CADTM, Belgium), Costas Lapavitsas (SOAS, London), and Joachim Becker (WU Vienna University of Economics and Business), amongst others.
In 2018, because of huge interest for the programme, the capacities were slightly expanded. This means that the newly formed group is going to consist of 21 people, with the first semester ready to start at the end of February. Alongside the new edition, CPE is continuing to work with the 2017 participants on the issue of water privatisation, based on the research we did in 2016.2 The idea is to start preparing the terrain for a broader campaign that will advocate the constitutional protection of water as a fundamental and universal human right.
A politically intense situation, on the one hand, and the lack of a left-wing political party, on the other, set us the task of dedicating all our capacities to building actors who can mobilise and articulate alternatives to the current situation. In this context, Studies of Socialism should be understood as a framework in which we are creating a cadre for such a task.