Too Radical of a Reformism: The Split of Croatia’s Green Left Coalition


Editor’s note: since this article was written the local election results have confirmed the electoral ascendance of Možemo. Their mayoral candidate in Zagreb, Tomislav Tomašević, won almost two thirds of the vote in the second round and is now leading the country’s capital and largest city. The showing of the Workers’ Front (RF) has been insignificant nationwide.

Last summer’s election in Croatia had resulted in an electoral novelty: for the first time since the collapse of Yugoslavia, a political alliance to the left of the Social Democrats had passed the five-percent threshold and entered the Parliament. The past thirty years in Croatia, as in all other post-Yugoslav countries, had been marked by a rather dull political life – a young Marxist historian has aptly judged these to be “the lost decades”.1 The Social Democratic Party, like in most other countries, had spent this period moving steadily towards the center and, at times, to the right.2 Meanwhile, the country has been completely dominated by the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ), which has been in power for twenty-two out of the past thirty years. The only “alternatives” present have been faceless “non-ideological” liberal technocrats, each claiming to be somehow different from the last, far-right extremists, comically unaware of the utter insignificance of their nation and their “patriotism” in the global capitalist market, and a fortunately short-lived catch-all party of conspiracy theorists ranting about the freemasons.

In such a setup, a left-wing coalition is undoubtedly a breath of fresh air. No matter how moderate and watered-down, somebody has managed to break up the monopoly on the Social Democratic claim of representing “the left” from which they had been distant for a very long time. The sociologist Duško Sekulić has conclusively proven that the Social Democrats (like elsewhere) have transformed into a party of the middle class. Their economic policies in practice are more pro-austerity than those of HDZ, and their voters’ economic values do not differ – the only difference is that the Social Democratic voters have overall more positive opinions of ethnic and sexual minorities.3 This has been a major talking point of the Croatian Green-Left Coalition, who insisted throughout the campaign that it’s time for Croatia to get a “real left;” others even spoke of a “democratic socialism”.

RF Placard

In the end, the coalition won 116,483 votes, or 6.99% of the popular vote, and seven seats in the Parliament. Five of those went to Možemo (We can), and one each to The New Left (Nova ljevica) and the Workers’ Front (Radnička fronta). Just six months later, Možemo announced that they would not be contesting the local elections (scheduled for May 2021) in a coalition with the Workers’ Front. A similar announcement came from the New Left several days later, and then the Workers’ Front was formally expelled from the existing Green-Left Coalition, leaving it isolated with a single seat in Parliament and much less space for public speaking (the Workers’ Front MP, Katarina Peović, had been the fourth most active MP4 in terms of speaking time; without belonging to a parliamentary group, her time will be significantly shortened). The Croatian media had a twofold response to this breakup. On the one hand, they engaged in moralizing: seeking the culprit may be politically useless, but it gets clicks and ad revenue. On the other, the more “serious” liberal commentariat welcomed the decision of Možemo: after all, as everyone who reads the newspapers in Croatia knows, the Workers’ Front is “too radical”,5 “extreme”,6 and “uncompromising”.7 The “anonymous sources” of the social democrats immediately welcomed8 the announcement of Možemo, explicitly stating that the break with the Workers’ Front opens up the possibility of cooperation between the Social Democrats and the Green Left.

The moralism of the ruling class and its mouthpieces aside, this article will try to present the political situation on Croatia’s parliamentary left as it is: the ideological roots of the three parliamentary parties, paying particular attention to the phenomenon of “democratic socialism” emulated in this part of the world; the class structure of the parties’ voter base, and their prospects and plans for the future. The overarching issue will of course be how those of us who consider ourselves communist, that is, who actively strive towards a global planned economy and the abolition of wage labor, should relate to the Green Left.

Who is the Green Left Coalition?

The birth of the Green Left in Croatia conforms to a phenomenon observed by Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea, the founder of Romanian Marxism, some 110 years ago:

Backward countries enter into the orbit of advanced capitalist countries, they move in the orbit of these countries, and their whole life, development, and social evolution are determined by the life and movement of advanced countries and the historical epoch in which they exist – by the era of bourgeois capitalism.9

Namely, the Green Left, at an ideological level, represents an emulation of the type of politics we see in other, wealthier capitalist countries: Sanders, Corbyn, Melenchon, and Podemos. After all, the largest party, Možemo, got its name by literally translating “Podemos” into Serbo-Croatian. Formally founded in February 2019, it is a culmination of over a decade of activist work from a variety of environmentalist, feminist, antifascist, municipalist, and other civic initiatives, primarily in and around the capital city of Zagreb.

Možemo describes itself10 as “people who had dedicated their lives to the struggle for a more just society and the public interest – for better education, healthcare, judiciary, culture, workers’ and human rights”. They skillfully avoid words such as “socialism” which they fear might alienate the electorate. This does not fool the self-proclaimed and ever-vigilant guardians of the arbitrarily defined nation, who consider them “communist snakes”.11 This compliment is, unfortunately, simply not true.

Možemo avoids labels, which seems to bring electoral success in the current profoundly depoliticized society. Yet, for the purpose of this article, it would be useful to define their position. The most that we usually get from the party leader, Tomislav Tomašević, is that Možemo is “to the left of the social democrats”.12 Their programmatic documents are equally vague,13 repeating the above mentioned list of “better” things.

Možemo’s ideological sources appear to be threefold. One is the “left populist” strategy of Laclau and Mouffe, which, put simply, seeks to build a dichotomy between “us”, the people, and “them”, the elites of politicians and the propertied class.14 The second is a shy and frequently downplayed call for “democratic socialism”,15 which is not heard from the leading spokespeople, although it is shared by plenty of rank and file activists. The third is a focus on local politics and greater citizen participation, epitomized for them in the platform Barcelona en Comú. The three seem to come together most effectively in Zagreb, which is the main focus of Možemo’s campaigns. (Their organization outside of the capital has been virtually nonexistent, although they are now building their infrastructure in other localities16) Možemo’s eyes, however, are set primarily on winning the mayoral race in Zagreb in May, for which Tomašević is a favorite.17 More broadly, it appears that they are setting themselves up – locally and nationally – for a coalition with the Social Democrats, just like Podemos did in Spain.

The New Left, now the only other party in the Green-Left Coalition with parliamentary representation, is virtually a satellite of Možemo. When the latter’s assembly voted to end cooperation with the Workers’ Front, the New Left’s executive committee passed the same decision almost immediately, without consultation with the membership. About a dozen members, dissatisfied with the decision but unable to affect it, quit the organization, and some of them joined the Workers’ Front instead. When the party’s leader, Ivana Kekin, was recently asked to name concrete differences18 between the New Left and Možemo, all she could say was that they have “a difference in focus”. The party’s programmatic documents, however, tell a different story. The New Left’s declaration of fundamental principles19 calls for a “New socialism, which is postcapitalist, democratic and participative”. It appears that they, like Možemo, purposefully downplay this aspect of their ideology.

The enfant terrible of the coalition, the Workers’ Front, openly calls itself “democratic socialist”. Although their program does not state this, they are very explicit about it in public appearances. Their political program20 and “immediate demands”21 use unpopular words such as “nationalization” – words which, as any good columnist will tell you,22 are bad – although they will not bother to elaborate why. The Workers’ Front also contains plenty of people who would call themselves Marxist or even communist – although, much like “democratic socialism” in the case of Možemo, these words will not be heard in the party’s official proclamations. This necessarily raises the point of what exactly had caused the split, a point I have been actively trying to avoid due to its constant amateurish exploitation by the mainstream media.23 The answer is, briefly put, strategic: ultimately, the (rest of the) Green Left wants to manage capitalism, while the Workers’ Front wants to abolish it, at least on a declarative level.

The question that remains is what exactly these organizations (particularly the Workers’ Front) mean by “socialism” or “anti-capitalism”. As we know from Marx and Engels, nationalization on its own (probably the most “radical” point found in any of the aforementioned programs) is an insufficient criterion for anything resembling socialism.24 Rather, “the first step in the revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class to win the battle of democracy”.25 Only then should the proletariat engage in nationalization, not for the purposes of managing capital, but abolishing it altogether. Neither the Workers’ Front, nor the New Left, let alone Možemo, have such a political program, regardless of how “communist” their calls for more state control over the economy may sound to the neoliberal ear.

The Workers’ Front, at least, has sincere communists in its ranks, even in leading positions. Yet they face a dilemma which might be familiar to many who try to make a breakthrough in mainstream politics. On the one hand, avoiding the term “communist” staves off misunderstandings at a time when so many would see in it a toothless summoning of the past, and not a future classless society. On the other, how does one reconcile the official calls for “democratic socialism” with actually attracting people to a revolutionary platform, and swaying those who do join your party away from reformist illusions or the deadly belief that socialism can coexist with the apparatus of the capitalist state? After all, the ideology of “democratic socialism” is distinct from the political program elaborated by Marx and Engels.

What Exactly is Democratic Socialism?

Since all three parties are broadly-speaking “democratic socialist”, and this term has been ubiquitous ever since the relative success of Bernie Sanders in 2016, I believe it warrants definition. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to agree, and in Croatia, as well as everywhere else, we find definitions ranging from Scandinavian social democracy to (usually vague) calls for a “post-capitalist” or “anti-capitalist” future society, achieved “democratically”, rather than through a revolutionary dictatorship. Articulating a thorough critique of the “democratic socialist” ideology can help the communist comrades within the Workers’ Front to better educate the party cadre and save it from its harmful illusions and presuppositions.

There is a tendency on the left to identify these democratic socialist parties and movements as a continuation of the Second International (1889–1916). Jacobin Magazine has been particularly insistent on this, and mostly considers it a positive development, calling for a rehabilitation of the Second International’s most famous theoretician, Karl Kautsky. Those further to the left are often more critical, given the Second International’s capitulation, not only to reformism, but to support for a World War which claimed about 16 million lives.

However, these historical parallels miss the mark: first of all, the Second International parties were openly and avowedly Marxist, which is not the case with democratic socialists; secondly, they arose out of an organized mass working class movement; and thirdly, they had openly revolutionary and internationalist commitments, at least at a declarative level, combined with a critique of, and struggle against, imperialism. Contemporary democratic socialism lacks all three of these. Granted, Sanders and Corbyn had mass electoral support – but the speed at which that support dissipated after electoral defeats suggests that we cannot speak of a large-scale organized working class movement.

A more adequate description of “democratic socialism” would present it as a sort of neo-Lassallism. Ferdinand Lassalle was a 19th century German socialist who, unlike Marx and Engels, believed that the state was a neutral institution, and not an organ of class rule. He therefore thought that socialism could be won through an electoral domination over a given state, abandoning both the revolutionary and the internationalist horizon.26 Democratic socialism is not the social democracy of the Second International; it is a new version of Lassallism. The fact that so many can so faithfully follow the teachings of Lassalle without ever having even heard of him seems to suggest that there is something about the material position of the petty bourgeoisie that leads to a certain way of thinking; that class and class position are neither a Marxist abstraction nor a mere insult to be hurled at one’s ideological enemies.27

Granted, a democratic socialist might dismiss this criticism as ravings of a basement-dwelling communist detached from the real world and from actual politics. After all, who the hell writes analyses quoting Romanian Marxists from 1908? However, my problem with “democratic socialism” is not historical – as a matter of fact, I believe that what we have seen over the past half a decade in the “Western” countries is an undeniable success. Corbyn, Podemos, and Sanders have done things that sects of Trotskyists, Bordigists and other followers of long-forgotten communist ideologues could only dream of. The success, however, makes the failure all the more profound – and that is precisely my point of contention.

Syriza had been transformed into a boring neoliberal centrist party in less than a year. Podemos’ only major “socialist” policies in power are a minimum living income for the poorest and nationalization of private hospitals – both of which have yet to show themselves as anything more than temporary disaster relief measures during a pandemic. Sanders and Corbyn were eradicated as political forces before even coming anywhere near power. The problem is not only in democratic socialism’s rejection of the Marxist theory of the state, but also in its inability to live up to its own standards and accomplish even the comparatively modest task of breaking with neoliberalism.

In Croatia, Možemo sees the allure of the Podemos government seats, but does not see the Spanish deep state and far-right constantly sabotaging28 even a moderate left-wing government. Comrades from the Workers’ Front respond to my concerns about the pitfalls of a “Syriza Scenario” by saying “such a thing cannot happen to us, because we have direct democracy”. How laughable would this sound to a Greek worker, whose class organizations are far more numerous, participatory, and politicized than anything Croatia has seen in decades.

No one is saying the Marxist left should present immediate, abstract calls for a dictatorship of the proletariat and wave around Lenin banners on demonstrations. Personally, I am among those who consider such an approach counter-productive: a clear vision of a communist future should be presented instead of what might be misinterpreted by the workers as politically impotent nostalgia. However, the Marxist left must face the very real and contemporary failures of “democratic socialism” if it is to move forward. It must have a political strategy: not only for participating in elections, but winning political power and wielding it effectively. This power does not lie in parliaments. You do not even need to read books about the Paris Commune and the October Revolution to understand this point; it is sufficient to look at the negative examples of Morales and Podemos today.

The other aspect that is missing is internationalism – not just as a declarative commitment, but as a political practice, inextricably linked with the need to win (and maintain) political power. In these two respects, the Croatian parties who broke with one another are showing rather unimpressive results. Unlike the Workers’ Front, Možemo seems to have a relatively clear political strategy – but it is a reformist one, built upon the idea of a future “left” government with the Social Democrats, at a municipal and maybe national level. The Workers’ Front seems to react to political events as they go along, rather than create them and drive them in a certain direction. In terms of internationalism, the Workers’ Front is doing far better – it is one of the signatories29 (together with the New Left) of a “Declaration of regional solidarity” with democratic socialist parties from Slovenia and Serbia. The declaration has been followed by certain cross-border action, presented to both the Croatian and Slovene Parliaments. On the other hand, there have been virtually no grassroots actions, such as international strike actions or aiding the refugees tortured on the EU border. In all fairness, this is probably still beyond the reach of these relatively small parties, particularly in times when labor organization and militancy in all three countries is low. Therefore, for the time being, they deserve the benefit of the doubt, although the issue of internationalist cooperation will sooner or later have to come to the fore or be silently forgotten.

Which Way Forward?

In the past, one of Možemo’s leading members, Danijela Dolenec, presented a very insightful analysis30 of Croatia’s voting habits. However, it appears that no one has, as of yet, even attempted to make a class analysis of the 2020 election and the left’s first electoral breakthrough. In spite of my best intentions, such an analysis is also going to be absent from this article. I was hoping to present at least a very rough and primitive class analysis of Croatian society by using the official government statistics. However, the data on income (which could be used as a relatively clear indicator of class) is focused only on divisions by profession, and not on geographical distribution, which would help understand the voting patterns throughout electoral units. Therefore, such a survey would need to be commissioned by somebody with a greater research infrastructure, for instance, a parliamentary party.

One major issue that this research would need to answer concerns the class nature of the Green Left vote. The parties’ leading representatives uniformly come from intellectual and artistic circles; that is, the sometimes precarious middle class which, while downwardly mobile, is still better situated than the workers.31 A recently launched local branch of Možemo branded itself32 as a group of “workers, activists, and experts”. While they certainly are workers in the narrowest sense – most of them do appear to sell their labor power to an employer – a glimpse of their biographies33 shows that they come exclusively from the educated but downwardly mobile middle class.

The Zagreb campaign in particular was focused on vague and pre-political “anti-corruption” sentiments, as well as resentment against the mayor Milan Bandić. Although Možemo paid lip service to social and environmental issues, the central point of the campaign was the removal of a single figure34 – something that has frequently been done in the past few decades, always with rather underwhelming results. The matter became more complicated on the last day of February, when the 66-year-old Bandić suddenly died of a heart attack. For many, this raised the question of whether Možemo would be able to keep up their popularity, and the party denied that they were merely riding the anti-Bandić wave. So far, Možemo seems to be correct, as recent polls show35 Tomašević might win as much as 40% of the popular vote in the first round. The success of Možemo might be more than just the desire to get rid of Bandić. It could show the genuine electoral appeal of their platform for a green and (actually) social-democratic Zagreb. On the other hand, it could reflect the inertia of the electorate and the fact that Tomašević has already been anointed by the media as the city’s next mayor. Only the long-term electoral successes (or failures) of Možemo will give us a definite answer.

The issue that any research would need to tackle is whether the electoral insurgency of the Green Left is a matter of class struggle or Kulturkampf. Instead, Možemo opts for technocratic opinion polling36 as mere guidance to pre-electoral coalition building. The fact of the matter is that, in spite of poor salaries, unsatisfactory working conditions, and constant increase in living expenses, labor militancy in Croatia is rather low. Organized labor is quite weak, with only a handful of independent unions and few politically engaged workers, and none of the parties seriously address this issue. The Workers’ Front actively tries but fails to establish a mass involvement of the working class in its ranks.

As explained above, the parties of the Green Left Coalition are not Marxist. The Workers’ Front, however, is the only one that stands any chance of becoming a proletarian party, and is the only one with significant working class membership, although very few of the workers seem to play a prominent role in the party, if we are to judge on its public appearances.37 The working class membership distinguishes it not only from its former coalition partners, but also from the small non-parliamentary communist groups (the only exception to that is the neo-Titoist Socialist Workers’ Party, with whom the Workers’ Front occasionally cooperates).

The Workers’ Front could certainly benefit from the knowledge of the extra-parliamentary radical left, which usually excels in theory but lacks a significant base in the working class. These groups are occasionally involved in workplace struggles, but have failed to gain a foothold in any of them, and their participation usually lasts only until a particular action, such as a strike, ends. They have so far not succeeded in getting any of the striking workers involved in their extraparliamentary organizations, and usually number no more than a dozen people.

The Workers’ Front has expressed openness to working with such organizations in the past. Members of the communist groups have participated in the party school of the Workers’ Front as lecturers, raising the theoretical level of Workers’ Front membership. This is a good practice which should be kept up. On the other hand, the Workers’ Front, more connected to workplace struggles, could facilitate the communists’ participation in strikes and presence among the working class, forming a sort of a united front in economic struggles. Both the Workers’ Front and the extra-parliamentary Marxist parties could benefit from cooperation, as they face the same problem: the inability of transforming current workplace struggles into more durable organizational structures.

The leadership of the Workers’ Front has so far been open to hearing communist voices, although this would not always result in a change of the party’s politics. However, the theoretical knowledge of the history and contemporary practice of the labor movement is something that the rank and file of the Workers’ Front is seriously lacking, so the advantages of cooperation would certainly outweigh the drawbacks. Likewise, the communist groups could benefit from utilizing the Workers’ Front’s contacts with workers and the independent unions. Ultimately, all of this should serve to push the Workers’ Front firmly to the left and make it a genuine Marxist party.

The biggest organizational drawback of the Workers’ Front is its “direct democratic” decision-making. Although one of the organization’s hallmarks since its beginning, and an important part of its identity as “different from other political parties”, it significantly hampers both decisions and concrete actions. The problem, of course, does not lie in democracy, or the fact that it is “direct”, but rather in the absence of accountability and diffusion of responsibility. The consequence of that is that many ordinary day-to-day tasks take an excessively long time, or simply do not get done. When everybody is responsible, in practice it usually means that no one is responsible. Not in spite of, but precisely because of its mostly volunteer basis, the membership needs a clear delineation of obligations if the party is going to get things done. In the following years, the Workers’ Front will be faced with two major, important tasks, if it is to become a serious working class party. First of all, with the expulsion from the Green Left coalition, it faces a very real prospect of an electoral defeat and renewed political marginalization in 2024 (or already in the May 2021 local elections). The path to renewed electoral success, however, is a path away from electoralism: the Workers’ Front must become actively engaged in workers’ struggles. It has to move away from its own excessive emphasis on social media propaganda, and into the real world. It has to both learn from the workers, to understand how to effectively organize their workplaces, and to present them with a clear and positive alternative – make them comprehend the power of collective economic and political organizing, which would save them from the cynicism and atomization of late capitalism. Only in such a way can a party slandered by the media as “too radical” and “unrealistic” survive as a political force. In this process, with active input from other, non-parliamentary groups, it can also organize towards truly becoming “radical”, that is, communist. At that point, parliamentary representation would be secured, but also understood as secondary – a propaganda platform useful for informing the public of actual struggles happening in the workplaces and in local communities.

The second task of the Workers’ Front must be the introduction of strategic thinking. In spite of the stereotype of overanalyzing leftists engaged with ideas more than the real world, strategic thinking is virtually absent from the left. Few actively analyze global capitalist trends and build political strategies out of such an analysis. Everyone knows the cliché of Lenin calling Russia the weakest link in the capitalist chain – few, however, remember that this was not an expression of wishful thinking but a strategic judgment made through a materialist analysis of global capitalism and imperialism.38 In a time when the pandemic is intensifying the already inevitable recession, global inequality is rising, climate change is causing more and more new disasters, and China steadily replacing the unstable USA as the global hegemon, the Marxist left must formulate both an international analysis and an internationalist response. Nothing less will save humanity from the inescapable crises that this century has in store.

—Rizospastis is a communist from Croatia.


  2. For an excellent overview of the process in which European social democracy abandoned Keynesianism and embraced neoliberalism (and one which had accurately predicted the rise of what the liberal capitalist media now calls “right-wing populism”), see Dorothee Bohle, “Neoliberal hegemony, transnational capital and the terms of the EU’s eastward expansion,” Capital & Class 88 (2006), 57–86. 

  3. Duško Sekulić, “Ljevica i Desnica u Hrvatskoj,” in Duško Sekulić (ed.), Vrijednosti u hrvatskom društvu (Zagreb: Centar za demokraciju i pravo Miko Tripalo, 2016), 141–142, 166. For a long-term perspective on Croatian society and the changes from the 1980s until the 2010s, see Sekulić’s book Identitet i vrijednosti. Sociološka studija o hrvatskom društvu (Zagreb: Politička kultura, 2014). 






  9. Quoted in Michael Kitch, “Constantin Dobrogeanu-Gherea and Rumanian Marxism,” The Slavonic and East European Review, 55/1 (1977), 74. Dobrogeanu-Gherea was a close friend of Trotsky who virtually inspired the theory of uneven and combined development. He is certainly not out of place in the Croatian context, as he actively worked towards the establishment of a Balkan Socialist Federation, today a near-forgotten project of the Balkan Marxists. 





  14. For an understanding of left populism, see Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe, Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (London: Verso, 1985). 









  23. For a uniquely useful and intelligent account of the causes of the split, see Boris Postnikov’s article “Zeleno-lijepa koalicija”. (

  24. As Engels wrote in his notes to Anti-Dühring, “since Bismarck went in for state-ownership of industrial establishments, a kind of spurious socialism has arisen, degenerating, now and again, into something of flunkeyism, that without more ado declares all state ownership, even of the Bismarckian sort, to be socialistic. Certainly, if the taking over by the state of the tobacco industry is socialistic, then Napoleon and Metternich must be numbered among the founders of socialism. If the Belgian state, for quite ordinary political and financial reasons, itself constructed its chief railway lines; if Bismarck, not under any economic compulsion, took over for the state the chief Prussian lines, simply to be the better able to have them in hand in case of war, to bring up the railway employees as voting cattle for the government, and especially to create for himself a new source of income independent of parliamentary votes – this was, in no sense, a socialistic measure, directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously.” (

  25. Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Manifesto of the Communist Party, (, 2010, 26. 

  26. The most comprehensive critique of Lassallism is to be found in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme

  27. It was Lenin who (in my opinion, quite rightfully) had called Lassalle “petty-bourgeois” in the fifth chapter of The State and Revolution. However, I am certain Marx would have agreed. 




  31. I intentionally do not use the term “precariat”, which I do not find analytically useful. For a criticism of the term, see Richard Seymour’s article “We are all Precarious: on the concept of the precariat and its misuses” 






  37. The Workers’ Front is organized along the principles of direct democracy, meaning there is no formal hierarchy within the organization. Therefore, the only way of judging the level of active inclusion of its working class membership from the outside is by examining their public appearances. 

  38. For a summary of Lenin’s strategy, see Lars T. Lih, “‘The New Era of War and Revolution’: Lenin, Kautsky, Hegel and the Outbreak of World War I”, in Alexander Anievas (ed.), Cataclysm 1914: The First World War and the Making of Modern World Politics (Boston, Leiden: Brill, 2015), 366–412.