The mass popular resistance to fascist occupation in Yugoslavia and Albania and the fact that capitalism was overthrown in these countries as the culmination of an authentic, indigenous revolutionary mobilization of their populations, has meant that they have always stood somewhat apart from the rest of East Europe, where liberation was largely the work of the Soviet Army and the subsequent transformation of the mode of production decreed or authorized in Moscow. That it should have been these same two countries which later rejected Russian hegemony, without any accompanying internal upheaval like those of Budapest 1956 or Prague 1968, was naturally no accident. Yugoslavia, in particular, has followed a course which raises a whole range of specific theoretical and practical problems of concern to socialists everywhere. These, of course, require equally specific analysis; moreover, of all the non-capitalist countries, Yugoslavia has been most open to Marxist study from outside. Yet for the most part, in place of any concrete analysis, we have seen on the one hand uncritical acceptance of the Tito régime’s official mythology, on the other an equally uncritical adoption of Chinese propaganda charges about a supposed restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia.

After the liberation of the country in 1945 and the swift nationalization of industry and banking, the Yugoslav communists created a system of centralized planning closely modelled on that in operation in the Soviet Union, and similar to that which was installed in the rest of East Europe. However, after the break with Stalin and the Cominform in 1948, they sought to move away from this ‘bureaucratic centralist’ management of the economy. First, in 1951, they began to introduce elements of self-management into the factories and enterprises—though the fact that this was limited precisely to that plane and did not affect the major decision-making processes at a national level, together with the fact that a bureaucratic control continued to be exercised by the Communist Party (as it then was) even at the local and factory level meant that self-management involved a less substantial innovation than its admirers supposed and certainly did not bring about any fundamental shift of power into the hands of the workers. Later, in 1965, sweeping economic reforms introduced a far greater degree of market freedom into the economy than has been seen in any other post-capitalist country. The results were the virtual breakdown of planning, an extremely uneven growth and a sharp increase in economic, social and political contradictions. At the political level, the most dramatic were the student upsurge of 1968–9 and the resurgence of nationalist themes in the various constituent republics of the country. At the economic level, they included a rapid increase in the emigration of workers to capitalist Western Europe footnote1 and escalating social differentiation and unemployment at home. footnote2

Since 1970, the leadership of the League of Communists has introduced some measures of control over market forces—though these have been extremely superficial, and have not prevented Yugoslavia from being severely affected by inflation and recession in Western Europe. It has also moved decisively to clamp down on actual or potential internal political opposition, purging its own ranks, the press and the universities. The removal of eight lecturers from teaching posts in the Belgrade University philosophy faculty and the closure of Praxis were only the best-known episodes in this heightened repression. Nevertheless, despite the repression, and behind the empty rhetoric of the Tito leadership which precisely serves to minimize and mystify the real privileges and inequalities that provide its own social basis, a real debate is taking place in Yugoslavia today, both at the base of the League of Communists and outside it, on the significance of growing social differentiation and the ways to combat it. Such a debate can be an important stimulus to the political mobilization of the Yugoslav masses which alone can overthrow the existing bureaucratic régime, establish genuine proletarian organs of power and make possible a real fight against inequality—a fight which, of course, cannot ever be definitively won in a purely national context.

The article by Boris Vušković was written as a contribution to this debate. It is taken from a longer version published in the Split journal Vidik in 1972 and 1973, and reprinted here with thanks. That version was in turn based on a discussion paper presented to the local branch of the League of Communists. The issues raised by Vušković not only affect the future course of the Yugoslav revolution, but are also of central importance for all Marxist analysis of the transition towards socialism.