1960s >> 1965 >> no-731-july-1965

‘Workers Control’ in Yugoslavia

Since the end of the war, the Yugoslav economy has been affected by a number of administrative changes, called by various names (not all of them complimentary). The ruling class have dubbed them “self-management”. To the Western economists they may be better known under the heading of decentralisation. How, when and why was self-management introduced? What does it mean to the working class? How does it work in practice? Is it really a way to Socialism? These are the questions I shall try to answer here.


To shed some light on the rather obscure and misleading interpretations of the term “Self-management”, you should really start your investigations around 1945, when large doses of state control were administered to the economy and misnamed “Communism”. But to play down the uncomfortable reality of capitalism with its wages system, the swindle was justified simply by debasing the old Socialist slogan “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” so that it ran “from each according to his ability, to each according to his work,” and calling it Marxism. The privileged class of non-producers existed and operated to a large extent through the state machine, which generally regulated and controlled production, and this seems to be an outstanding feature of some of the newer capitalist countries, taking their example from Soviet Russia.


But whatever the politicians chose to call it, the painful facts of capitalist life in Yugoslavia were what demanded their attention, for the usual signs of the class struggle were appearing. Workers were pushing for better wages and conditions, to be met with the usual dreary reply with which you in England will be all too familiar—that their claims could not be met unless production was increased, which in practice meant harder work and longer hours.


Now workers in Yugoslavia are no different from their brothers elsewhere in that they will support any particular method of running the system, regardless of its name, if they think it will give them a better life. As one writer confessed:


It was impossible to call upon the working class by promising a development of “Socialist” ideas; it was necessary to offer them a material incentive. (Social Self-management in Yugoslavia, by Stane Koneic. Belgrade, 1961)


So Belgrade took action to blunt the edge of workers’ demands by setting up workers’ councils in all firms, with the avowed aim of reducing and eventually abolishing state interference in production. By 1951 “Self-management” had arrived.


But before we go any further, let us see how the workers’ councils operate. They are elected through secret ballot of all members of a firm or organisation and their duties are varied. They decide what and how much to produce, and eventually the prices. They pay a part of the resulting profit (six percent of the whole turnover) to the State direct every month, and they have the authority to make decisions on investment of their capital. When necessary they can approach the Narodna Banka (state bank) for loans and these are credited according to the value of machinery and plant.


In the sphere of employment, the councils have the right to engage and dismiss workers, and to decide the magnitude of wages according to level of sales. But by present rules, wages must not fall below 75 per cent nor rise above 125 percent of the figure fixed in the wages books. Councils can also make rules about relations between management and men and fix the length of the working day. Finally, they have the right to decide on amalgamation with other firms or on liquidation. Liquidation is in any case compulsory when a firm no longer runs at a profit, and can be avoided only by presenting a report to the state chamber of commerce, with concrete proposals for the firm’s recovery.


After fourteen years of operation, self-management is well on its way, but where to? This is doubtless a question which many a worker is asking himself, and the answer is that it is just another variation in the day-to-day running of the capitalist system. True it means that the workers are given a much wider direct responsibility for production, but the net result is no different from any other capitalist country. A small class of parasites still lives well on the surplus value extracted from workers. According to Statisticki Kalendar FNRJ, the total production has risen by 162 percent in the last ten years, but in the last seventeen years, the standard of living has risen by about seven percent.


Yugoslav workers do not have to consult any statistics to see the large difference between their humble homes and the luxury villas of the communist party bigshots. Yugoslav T.U.C. Chairman Vukmanuvic-Tempo has in fact complained bitterly in the daily paper Liberation (14/11/64) that “the standard of living is rising loo slowly and many promises made to the workers have never been kept.” To which Federal Parliament Chairman Edward Kardelj had the impudence to reply:—


The sharp difference between the increase in production and the standard of living is not due to self-management, but to not enough self-management.


This reply was also in the nature of a “strong recommendation” and as such, was taken up at the delegates’ conference of the Peoples’ Republic of Slovenia. Croatia and Montenegro, held at the beginning of the year. On March 26th Belgrade Radio announced that similar decisions had been reached at the Macedonia delegates’ conference. At the lime of writing, the Serbia. Bosnia and Herzegovina conferences have yet to meet, but it’s a fair bet they will follow Mr. Kardelj’s “advice”.


These conferences are part of modern Yugoslavia’s machinery for shaping the pattern of its state capitalism. One does not have to be an expert to see who gets the lion’s share of the cake. Just like their counterparts elsewhere. Yugoslav workers have a long way to go before they establish a life for themselves really worth living.


Remy Starc (Trieste, Italy).