Lev Centrih: The Liberation Front of the Slovenian Nation - Ideological Split as a Precondition for Political Unification

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The Liberation Front of the Slovenian Nation (LF), initially called the Anti-Imperialist Front, was an organisation that led political and armed resistance against the fascist invaders and local quislings. It was established on 27 April 1941 in Ljubljana, shortly after the Axis powers disintegrated the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It consisted of 18 groups; with the exception of the Communist Party of Slovenia (CPS), which played the leading role, none of them was formally organised as a political party. A similar organisation also existed in Croatia, while in other territories of the former Kingdom of Yugoslavia the resistance was directly organised and led by the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). The LF was organised by committees in towns and villages. At the top were the Executive Committee and Supreme Plenum, where member groups had their delegates and editorial boards of journals, while on the lower levels, members were for the most part unaffiliated. The LF organised the partisan army and in 1942 also held elections for the National Liberation Committees – institutions which ran the village economy and collected supplies for the partisan army. The resistance organised absolutely everything, including alternative elementary and high schools, a scientific institute, hospital networks, welfare, cultural institutions, finances, etc.

The liberation of a vast stretch of territory in the southern part of Slovenia, which came under the control of the partisan army in the spring of 1942, presented an opportunity for the development of alternative institutions and infrastructure. Several bases – Base 20, located in Kočevski Rog, being the most famous – became centres for press activities, political education, culture and even science. In 1943, the LF organised elections for the assembly of Slovenian national representatives, a kind of people’s parliament without political parties that took place in Kočevje. On the level of Yugoslavia, there was also the Antifascist Assembly of the Yugoslav National Liberation, whose members were initially, in 1942, chosen by appointment and later, in 1943, by election.

Historical origins of the Liberation Front

Before the war, the CPS was a relatively marginal group, which means that the recognition it won as the leading group in the Slovenian liberation movement is the most striking feature of the developments outlined above. It might be argued that there were two factors underlying its hegemony: a) in the 1930s, the dominant ideology of Yugoslav (Slovenian) élites was anticapitalism, in either Catholic or fascist corporatist interpretation; regarding the national question, the élites supported either autonomism or centralism; b) political élites were ultimately unable to provide a firm political and economic infrastructure to unite the majority of the population under a single political project. These two features mark an important discontinuity with our time: today, neoliberalism praises social inequality on the grounds that it leads to competition and hence constitutes the ultimate motivation for the progress and wellbeing of the population. In the 1930s, it was almost impossible to forge a political platform without taking a position on alternatives to capitalism and proposing a solution to the national question(s). Fierce polemics and ideological confrontations within political parties, groups, movements, cultural societies and trade unions emerged as a result. For example, in the Catholic political camp, which was dominant in Slovenia, there were four different lineages (Catholic corporatism, fascist corporatism, socialism and the welfare-state paradigm); Christian socialists had to engage in ideological struggle within their own political camp as well as with the communists, who blamed them for eroding workers’ class consciousness and sometimes even labelled them fascists. And while independent intellectuals on the left fought an ideological battle with conservatives and liberal unitarists, they could not avoid criticism from communists, especially on the issue of the national question.

The LF was therefore largely a coalition of groups that by late 1930s had developed distinct political positions in terms of mainstream party and movement associations. The old establishment’s compromise with fascism had been the last straw. The left lineages of the old political Catholicism (trade union activists and intellectuals), the progressive fraction of the Sokol (The Hawk) patriotic gymnastic society and independent cultural workers forged the LF together with the communists. Even though the Christian socialists had fiercely criticised the communists for their dogmatism before the war, the radicalisation of their position now became unavoidable: national liberation appeared impossible without social liberation, which presupposed the fight against fascist invaders, but also against the old establishment. The fascist invasion brutally exposed some anticapitalist doctrines as simply being false, as a large part of the élite finally evolved to the status of comprador bourgeoisie. To be sure, the leadership of the CPS (CPY) at the time was firmly Stalinist and their social concepts were relatively rigid; yet their inventions in political practice compensated for that. During the war, the LF secured popular support for the anti-systemic project that would later bring about egalitarian agrarian reform and the expropriation of capitalists. Although the LF remained active after the war, its structure and role in society changed considerably. This process actually began during the war, at a time of crisis in the liberation movement (in the fall of 1942) because of great partisan losses and communist voluntarism. LF member groups opted to abandon their aspirations of forming new political parties rather than risk a split in the liberation movement; the leading role of the CPS was formally recognised (1943) and many distinguished Christian socialists and Sokol movement activists joined the Party. After the war, the LF was eventually renamed the Socialist Alliance of Working People; it was a kind of alternative to a multiparty system, since it included people and groups based on their interests and activities in fields such as science, culture, media, welfare and health. Although a very important invention, the National Liberation Committees would go on to lose their role and initiative to central government institutions. The economic and political project of self-management was thus a policy that came from above, not from below. This resulted in the relative passivity of the workers in this project.

The legacy of the Liberation Front

The history of the Slovenian and Yugoslav liberation movement reveals the contradictions in the way how political coalitions were forged and compromises made and/or avoided at all costs. Today, the 1930s and 1940s should be primarily be studied by way of producing a narrative centred on the contradictory character of the economic and political development of the periphery, and not on political identity building. This identity will emerge from the experiences of the daily struggles of the working people and their exploitation in the public and real economic sectors. If the struggle for a new democratic socialism is the task of the present times, then its critical history needs to be written; not a single part of that history should be neglected in scientific, let alone political work. If today we still praise the legacy of the LF, then we should not focus primarily on the extraordinary unifying capacity it achieved during the war, but on the historical ruptures and fierce ideological struggles of the 1930s, which crystallised the political and theoretical positions of distinct groups and ultimately made the unity in question possible. Ideology was a word with positive connotations in those days. The history of class struggles reveals that civil society is a battleground for ideological hegemony. But by no means is this battle only between the oppressors and the oppressed or, in political terms, between conservatives and progressives; it also takes place within the groups themselves. According to Gramsci, this is so because the ruling class cannot perform its dominance without a certain degree of approval from the oppressed. If the oppressed wish to fight their oppressors, then conflict within their ranks is unavoidable. The history of the Slovenian liberation movement in the 1930s and 1940s provides a perfect example of this unavoidability.

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