Aspecial and permanent concern about social inequalities is deeply rooted in communist theory and practice, because the communist movement, born as a critique of the working and living conditions of broad social masses under capitalism, is necessarily a movement towards creation of a society in which deep social inequalities will be eradicated. Any indulgence towards inequality has always, therefore, risked producing a crisis in the movement, and this has been recently demonstrated in the case of Yugoslavia. In contradistinction to the recent past, when any attempt to start a public debate on the degree and nature of social differentiation in Yugoslav society was positively and openly discouraged (any such attempt being immediately labelled as the ‘Maoist-egalitarian theory of equal stomachs’), this topic has suddenly acquired a special status in public debate and has become a theme of the widest public concern. Some believe that social differentiation and the resulting inequalities in contemporary Yugoslavia are a necessary consequence of its rapid industrial development, so that any attempt at checking them would only endanger this progress. More popular is the belief that our social inequalities are due to the machinations of certain small groups of people, so that the necessary solution lies either in more rigorous enforcement of the existing laws or in their appropriate reform. These and related approaches, however, tend to avoid the fundamental dimensions of the problem of social inequalities—its class determination and significance. For this problem is first and foremost connected with the status of the working class in relation to other social groups and layers, in other words the position of the working class in Yugoslav society as a whole.

Some analyses have tried to take account of the class background of the problem of social inequalities by dividing the working population into two categories, productive and unproductive workers. This method is quite unsatisfactory from both the political and the scientific point of view, because it says little or nothing about the considerable differences that exist within each of these two categories—for example, between skilled and unskilled workers or between messenger and director. The analysis offered below is based on a different approach: differences and inequalities within the working population are examined through the structure of job qualifications. Although this method again suffers from certain definite disadvantages (e.g. people with identical qualifications are found employed in different jobs), it is nevertheless a more accurate indicator of class membership. It is, we believe, a more accurate way of presenting the realities of social differentiation, not only in Yugoslav society as a whole but also within the working class itself. The present analysis aims to locate the position of different social layers in the general social distribution with particular reference to the administrative region of the town of Split, and to indicate the type of action that is necessary if these social differences and inequalities are to be overcome. Naturally, any such discussion cannot be limited to distribution in the socialized sector of the economy alone; I shall first, therefore, take up the situation in the countryside and in the private sector (again with particular reference to the town of Split and its surroundings)—although, for the reasons given below, only very briefly and in the most general fashion. footnote1

The social situation of the countryside and its relation to the town is without doubt one of the most significant sources of existing social inequalities, in particular those of a more lasting character. A good third of the Yugoslav population still lives in the village, in spite of the steady overall fall in the peasant population since the war. If we take into account also the part of the urban population that has in many different ways kept vital and lasting links with the village, we can safely say that the situation in the countryside directly affects one half of the population as a whole.

While it is true that Yugoslav development since the war has significantly improved the situation, the fact nevertheless remains that the village has to a considerable extent remained materially and socially neglected, as even the most superficial examination reveals. Thus the introduction of basic facilities, like water or electricity, remains a major event in the life of a village community. A significant proportion of the village population are without basic social benefits, like pensions or free health provisions, and the great majority live in extremely difficult conditions. Eighty per cent of the village population has an income below the national average and one fifth lives on the poverty line. Culturally, the village is a desert, without cultural institutions or a permanent intellectual cadre.

Such a personal and social situation produces a drastic process of social differentiation that is visible not only in the peasant community itself but also in its relation to the town. Not only do the poorest layers of Yugoslav society live in the country, but many of the urban poor derive from it as well. The village is the source of urban labour situated at the bottom of the social scale. Those who take the worst and most despised jobs (seasonal labourers, domestic servants, etc.) come from the village, as does a majority of manual and semi-skilled workers. But the accelerated process of social differentiation witnessed in the Yugoslav villages today is not so much due to social inequalities traditional to the peasant community as to the latter’s present unequal and subordinate relation to the town.

The situation in the Split municipal region only confirms these general considerations. footnote2 The administrative unit links the coastal belt with a peasant hinterland which comprises 75 per cent of the area of the district but houses only 13 per cent of its population. While the coast has become highly industrialized, with tens of thousands of workers and employees, the hinterland contains only one industrial enterprise (with eighty-eight workers). The land is of low quality, with only 10 per cent of arable potential. The rate of accumulation is low, trade is poorly developed and roads (like telephone lines) reach only a quarter of the villages. The forty-five villages that comprise the Split hinterland share six badly equipped health centres. The illiteracy rate (29·3 per cent) is eight times that of the coast and the annual per capita income (4,450 dinars) footnote3 is only about one quarter of that enjoyed by the coastal population and two fifths of the average throughout Croatia. Of the active population, 44 per cent work in the private and the rest in the public sector; of the latter, 90 per cent work in the big coastal enterprises (cement, ship-building, plastics, etc.). These workers are daily migrants exposed to all the tortures of constant travel under miserable conditions, lack of sleep and lack of proper nutrition. They form the unskilled and semi-skilled labour of the region. In fact the hinterland part of the Split region is one of the most backward in Croatia. It is therefore not surprising that recent years have witnessed a massive exodus of working population both to the coast and abroad. Thus in the period 1961–71, the population of the area has dropped by 11 per cent (in the same period the population of the industrialized part has gone up by 52·5 per cent!).

The private sector of the Yugoslav economy is undoubtedly a specific source of social differentiation and inequalities. Yet any serious discussion of this part of the economy is almost impossible, due to the absence of some of the most basic data concerning its nature and relation to the public sector. At all events, while certain branches of it are a source of considerable personal wealth, this sector by itself does not reproduce inequalities of a really mass character, mainly because it employs no more than 2 per cent of the active population of the country as a whole. footnote4 It is also fairly heterogeneous, so that one should distinguish between those activities which create considerable social inequalities and those—like the traditional crafts (barbers, shoemakers, etc.) which hardly ever employ labour other than that of the craftsman himself—which do not. But if traditional crafts are rarely a source of personal enrichment, this is already not the case with new forms of skilled services (like vehicle or electrical repairs), which do as a rule employ additional labour. What concerns us most here, however, are those activities that have become large-scale enterprises and, therefore, contribute considerably to social differentiation.