What Was Yugoslav Socialism
The Yugoslav Revolution
In his recent book, Partisan Ruptures, Gal Kirn presents an exhilarating new history of Yugoslav socialism. Rejecting typical narratives which frame the Yugoslav experiment in terms of its ultimate dissolution into nationalism and civil war, Kirn asks us to see what made revolutionary Yugoslavia a uniquely creative response to the darkest period in recent European history.
He shows that the experience of simultaneous political and military struggle against fascism is key to understanding the innovations which characterised the regime. The three partisan ruptures of the title are identified as the social revolution within the war of liberation, the Non-Aligned orientation in the Cold War, and worker self management in socialised industry.
This piece will use Kirn’s work to demonstrate how Yugoslav proves the lie of a monolithic Cold War image of European state socialism, revealing instead dynamism and diversity. It was also show how the partisan state’s self-made struggle for emancipation, against both foreign and home grown fascist opposition, imparts on us an important lesson about political struggle against impossible odds.
A Land Without Justice
The Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes emerged out of the political breakdown of the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire, which followed in the wake of the First World War. The Kingdom was also known as the land of Southern Slavs, literally ‘Yugoslavia’ in Serbo-Croat. American president Woodrow Wilson had brought a proselytising idealism to the reconstruction of Eastern Europe after the break up of the Russian, Austrian and Ottoman empires which had dominated the region for centuries. Wilson mistakenly believed that the many peoples and nations of Europe would find democratic self determination within the borders of liberal democratic national states.
The break up of the former empires into ethnic states in fact triggered a raging battle for racial and political dominance, one that had been forcibly suppressed under the old imperialisms. The first Yugoslavia was little more than a monarchal dictatorship, in which “Greater Serbia” exercised its own tinpot imperialism over a largely rural and undeveloped Balkans. Political parties existed in theory, but only to such an extent that they fulfilled the wishes of the royal house. The vast majority of the population, illiterate and ruthlessly repressed, took no part in the running of this new “democratic” nation state.
Unlike in Western Europe, were the result of the Russian Revolution was to tear the great social democratic movement in half, Yugoslavia lacked an advanced proletariat with its own mature political institutions. The Russian Revolution was met with enthusiasm, and the nascent social democratic forces dissolved themselves into a newly formed Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). In Russia itself, a young soldier of the defeated Austro-Hungarian army named Jospeh Broz — the man who would be Tito — was realised from captivity in a prisoner-of-war camp to participate in the revolution.
From the very beginning the CPY wrestled with “the national question” which plagued all Eastern European political formations, especially in the Balkans. The main split in the CPY was the struggle between an “internationalist” position and a “federalist” position. The internationalists advocated the revolutionary abolishment of Yugoslavia as a state, and the creation of a pan-Balkan proletarian republic, while the federalists advocated a socialist Yugoslavia, composed of federated national states. This second camp was especially advocated by the Slovene and Croation sections of the CPY, who feared a return to Serbian hegemony without clear national self determination. The CPY was an illegal organisation. It was a vanguard party of highly trained elite cadre, who operated a large and tightly organised network of party cells throughout old Yugoslavia. Josip Broz, now known by his underground name “Tito”, survived the great Moscow purges of the mid 1930, which had taken a particularly brutal toll on the leadership-in-exile of many underground parties, including the CPY.
The Yugoslavs in Spain
An important and original contribution made by Gal Kirn is to recognise that the Yugoslav revolution belongs both historically and theoretically within a wave of partisan revolutions on the European periphery, starting in Spain in 1936 and ending in Greece in 1949. We can therefore look to the Spanish civil war for the roots of the Yugoslav revolution, and we can look to the victory of that revolution for the fulfillment of the promise of Spain.
The war in Spain was national as well as revolutionary. Although there was a clear class dimension to the struggle, the objective of the war was to defend the integrity of the republic against the fascist rebellion and invasion. Although not as acute as in the Balkans, the national question was nonetheless an important component of the war in Spain. The republic recognised the cultural, if not national, autonomy of the Basques and Catalans, whereas the fascists sought to obliterate any trace of cultural-linguistic differentiation in the regions of Spain. The war also contained an element of social revolution. However, despite the destructive and disruptive efforts of some of the political tendencies within the republican coalition, the social revolution was not intended as an insurrectionary movement in the rear of the republican war effort. The lesson learned by Tito and the Yugoslav leadership was that a war for national liberation could also be imbued with a political and social orientation, in which the great mass of the people were called upon to rise up and fight, not for the defence of the old regime as such, but for their right to take part in the formation of the new one.
The importance of the Spanish Civil War in the formation of both the political identity and strategy of the Yugoslav communists cannot be underestimated. Tito, now acting General Secretary of the party and operating out of Paris, began organising the Yugoslav contribution to the war effort. Drawing from the embedded communist networks, approximately 1600 people were illegally smuggled out of Yugoslavia to Spain in order to join the International Brigades fighting on the side of the Republic. This was proportionally one of the largest mobilisations of any country, and numerically the largest of all of the Eastern European countries (closely followed by Czechoslovakia).
The Yugoslavs of the International Brigades suffered terrible losses of up to half of their numbers. Hundreds of the survivors were rounded up into the Gurs concentration camp in France and subsequently deported. Those that survived their return to Yugoslavia were plunged into a life of underground illegality in a country aligning itself with main current of European fascism.
The Partisan War
The royal government of Yugoslavia believed that it could fend off a combined Nazi and Fascist Italian invasion by aligning itself towards both states as a satellite, much as Bulgaria and Romania were attempting to do. In 1941, when the invasion came regardless, the royal house fled to England and formed a government-in-exile, while the main body of the population divided sharply along fascist-collaborationist and partisan-resistance lines.
The army of the government-in-exile, known as the Chetniks, received international recognition as the “official” resistance movement and, as a result, were favoured with large quantities of British military aid. However the Chetniks found themselves highly sympathetic to the intense nationalism of fascist ideology and quickly turned their weapons away from the German invaders and against the communist organised partisans. The struggle quickly took on the dimensions of a civil war, with the Chetniks prioritising the extermination of the communist resistance over the liberation of the country. The partisans, led by Tito, called for international aid and pointed to the fact that the Chetniks had begun collaborating with the occupying Nazis in order to wage their struggle against his forces. British arms were being in effect supplied directly to the axis powers.
Thanks in part to the prestigious international standing of Tito, and in part to the efforts of James Klugmann, a British communist within the Special Operations Executive, the body charged with infiltrating occupied Europe and aiding the anti-Nazi resistance, the British diverted its military support to to the communist led partisans. The Chetniks were discredited and with them, the royal government-in-exile. The Chetniks became part of a coalition of ultra-nationalist and fascist organisations openly aligned in the fight against what they perceived as the primary enemy, the communists. The most infamous of this inglorious coalition were the Croatian Ustaši, a fascist organisation so brutal and so deranged that even their Nazi allies treated them with horrified amazement. The civil war was characterised by brutal one-on-one violence against civilians, many of whom were suspected of aiding and abetting the partisans, themselves amassing in ever increasing strength in the mountainous Yugoslav wilderness. Fascist forces would regularly terrorise the civilian population, torturing and murdering the families of partisan soldiers with the aim of breaking the spirit of the resistance. This murderous free-for-all also provided ample opportunity for ethnic violence, with each ultra-nationalist formation taking the opportunity to brutalise those they perceived as their racial enemies. The Ustaši in particular initiated hideous pogroms against ethnic Serbs, Jews, Gypsies, and Croats deemed sympathetic to the partisans. The Ustaši also administered the Jasenovac extermination camp, where all these groups were interned and murdered.
In response Tito’s partisans unified the resistance movement of all the Yugoslav nations under a federalised high command known as the Anti-Fascist Council for the Liberation of Yugoslavia, or AVNOJ. The political identity of the front was central to overcoming centuries old religious and racial prejudices which had driven so many other Yugoslavs into open fascism. As in Spain, and in sharp contrast to the war on the Western Front, the partisan war was framed primarily as an Anti-Fascist war, rather than a war between nations. Yugoslavia was fighting German, Italian, Bulgarian, Albanian and other Yugoslav forces, and thus drew the line of demarcation between friend and foe on political, not national grounds.
The CPY’s socialist internationalism, tempered by long engagement with the troubles of the national question, brokered an ideological peace between the different ethnic groups within the partisan coalition. Their national differences were recognised and catered for within the political structures of the organisation, but they were all sworn to fight for a project of liberation and social transformation which would apply to all Yugoslavs equally. Additionally, the equal contribution of women was recognised and their political emancipation was enacted, not as some future ideal but directly and immediately within the liberated territories controlled by partisan forces. The Women’s Anti-Fascist Front (AFŽ) took a leading role in organising the political education and cultural development of the partisan forces and the populations within the territories they controlled. In a war that could not be fought on traditional fronts, and relied completely on the political cooperation of the wider population, this work was crucial for the survival of the military operation. As well as fulfilling these vital cultural and political roles, the women of the AFŽ, alongside their comrades in the youth section of the CPY, performed some of the most dangerous work infiltrating the fascist occupied territories and building support for the resistance movement in conditions characterised by constant and arbitrary violence. At the peak of the war over two million Yugoslav women were organised by and in the AFŽ, this in a country with a total population of less than sixteen millions.
A New Yugoslavia
By 1943 the partisans controlled large swathes of territory within occupied Yugoslavia, advancing rapidly after the Battle of Sutjeska, in which the partisans finally broke the backbone of the Chetnik-Nazi alliance. They thus began turning their minds towards reconstruction and type of society that would follow. The political practice of AVNOJ, in which highly autonomous partisan units centralised decision making with a system of delegates, imprinted profoundly onto the political culture of the new state. Equally, the federal nature of the CPY, which was in fact little more than a political front for the national parties of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro; and the regional parties of Kosovo and Vojvodina, became a blueprint for the distribution of power throughout the country. A decision was taken to hold a referendum at the first possible opportunity on the constitutional arrangements of the new state. The referendum that followed in 1945 formally legitimised the abolition of the monarchy and the construction of a new socialist people’s republic with AVNOJ morphing into the government of the new state. Although Soviet forces had reached the borders of Yugoslavia by 1944, vast amounts of territory were already under Tito’s direct control. The fact that the Yugoslav revolution was self made, rather than imposed by the bayonets of the Red Army, would have important ramifications in the post-war development of the state. The transition was not entirely peaceful. Fascist collaborators retreated in their thousands in order to surrender themselves to the British forces advancing through Italy. However a deal was brokered between the Western Allies and the Partisan and Soviet forces across Eastern Europe. Under the secret terms of Operation Keelhaul, local collaborators would be repatriated to their country of origin to face the justice of the friends, relatives and comrades of those they had attempted to exterminate. In Partisan Ruptures Gal Kirn recounts the testimony of a British soldier tasked with loading a group of Ustaši prisoners into a railway wagon which they believed to be bound for the allied zone in Austria. The train was driven deep into the Yugoslav forest where the partisans were waiting to assume command. As the Ustaši, looking through the wooden slats of the carriage, saw what was taking place they began screaming and threatening to commit suicide. The soldier recounts that the partisans didn’t even wait for the British to march out of site before bodies started swinging from the trees. Although such violence was officially forbidden, and Tito’s high command issued orders that all captured war criminals should be kept safe for trial, the fact was that thousands of such acts of violent recrimination took place immediately after the war. Whether this was an understandable wave of revolutionary justice or the totalitarian “original sin” of the new Yugoslavia defies absolute judgement.
The development of Yugoslavia throughout the Cold War also defies characterisation as a violent, bureaucratic system — often levelled against the People’s Democracies of Eastern Europe. The fierce partisan independence of both the federal leadership as well as the national and regional cadres left a lasting mark on the new country. In both foreign and domestic policy, Yugoslavia would be marked by a persistent will to experiment and reform, often leaving it diplomatically isolated from its erstwhile allies in the world socialist camp but also equidistant from the global market of the capitalist system. An analysis of Yugoslavia’s particular position in the Cold War world cannot, however, be properly understood without first fully understanding the unique forces which forged the diverse Balkan nations together and set them on the path of socialist construction.
The invaluable lesson of this partisan rupture lies in the power of combining the negative politics of struggle against injustice with the positive politics of a coherent, constructive political programme. The decision to wage a three-way struggle — of national liberation, civil war and social revolution — from a position of total isolation should have meant suicide for the partisan forces. Their comprehensive victory demonstrates that, even in moments of utter hopelessness, at times when the enemy has all but won, socialist politics can ignite the spark of liberation and transformation.
Crisis in the Cominform
The socialist government of Yugoslavia emerged from the Partisan War united, emboldened and fanatically confident in the historical mission of international communism. Titoism stood as a shining example of communist heroism, a form of redemption for the once mighty parties of Eastern Europe, defeated by fascism and humiliated by Stalinism, now returned to power by the bayonets of the Red Army.
The Communist International (Comintern) had been dissolved by Stalin during the Second World War as a token of good faith towards his Western allies. Following the rapid breakdown of the alliance and the onset of the Cold War, steps were taken by Moscow to reintegrate the world communist movement; Belgrade was chosen as the location of the new Communist Information Bureau (Cominform). The Cominform was ostensibly a clearing house for the ruling socialist parties (as well as the mass parties of France and Italy) to share their experiences and coordinate an international policy. However, it quickly became clear that it was primarily a vehicle for the Soviet government to impose directives on the wider movement and to subordinate the national parties to Moscow’s geo-strategic interests, which were deemed inseparable from the interests of socialism itself. The Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY), which was as fanatical in its loyalty to Moscow as any of its sister parties, was dumbfounded by the lack of interest its Soviet allies showed in its unique national experience. Further, the Yugoslavs had embarked on an independent and adventurist foreign policy, which Stalin viewed as destabilising to the world system he was in the process of constructing. Belgrade’s claim on the Italian/Slovenian border city of Trieste found no support in Moscow and Yugoslav sponsorship of the Greek communist partisans, engaged in a revolutionary civil war against monarchal nationalists, was discouraged out of respect for the new boundaries of the Cold War. Additionally, Jospeh Broz Tito’s initiatives towards the creation of a Balkan Soviet Socialist Federation, in conjunction with Georgy Dimitrov’s Bulgaria and Enver Hoxha’s Albania, were absolutely forbidden. The Soviet Union would not permit a potential competitor for leadership in the socialist camp. Although reconstruction loans and technical assistance were provided to Yugoslavia by the Soviets, the terms were extremely unfavourable. The aid was delivered through the medium of “mixed companies” — joint Soviet/Yugoslav industrial combines which served to funnel wealth out of Yugoslavia and into the reconstruction of the Soviet Union. Demands for submission to both the economic and foreign policy requirements of the Soviet Union pushed the Yugoslav Party into an active opposition within the Cominform, resulting in their expulsion on June 28th, 1948, and its relocation to Bucharest. Tito, a veteran of the Moscow purges of the 1930s, must have known that submission to the Soviet line would have resulted in his eventual removal from power. In fact, his “betrayal” provided the ideological basis for a violent wave of “anti-Titoist” purges which subsequently swept through the Eastern bloc. Tito was accused of being both a reactionary nationalist and an adventurist trotskyite, and disavowal of these twin evils was used as cover for the intensification of Stalinisation throughout the rest of the Soviet sphere. “Titoist” leaders with strong national roots, such as Poland’s Władysław Gomułka, were pushed out of office as a result of direct intervention by the Soviet secret police. Many other senior communists became victims of vicious show trials, which decapitated the most independently minded sections of Eastern European leadership. The axe fell heaviest of all on those internationalists who, like many at the very top of the Yugoslav party, had earned their revolutionary stripes serving in the International Brigades in Spain.
The intense political pressure from Stalin, aimed at weakening the resolve of the Yugoslav communists, had the opposite effect. It united and strengthened the country in its isolation and hardship. The de-Stalinisation of Yugoslavia, which took place nearly nearly ten years before Nikita Khrushchev initiated a similar process in the Soviet Union itself, was nonetheless conducted with Stalinist methods. Although there was nothing comparable to the severe purges inflicted upon the rest of the bloc, the pro-Moscow hardliners in the CPY were nonetheless removed from positions of authority, and many found themselves political prisoners on the island of Goli Otok for the better part of the next decade.
Yugoslavia was now in a unique position, pursuing its own “road to socialism” between the two camps of the Cold War. Rather than becoming locked into the cycle of revisionism and neo-Stalinism which plagued the internal life of the other bloc countries, Yugoslavia would continuously develop and progress along new economic, political and international paths. Titoism as an ideology of the Cold War would be defined by a project of worker self management, decentralisation of political authority and, most strikingly, a leading role in the Non-Aligned Movement for Third World decolonisation.
Neither Washington Nor Moscow
The Balkans were unique in Europe, having had a historical experience which closely approximated the direct colonisation suffered by the peoples of the global south. Further, the Partisan War fought by the Titoist Yugoslavs had many clear parallels in the anti-colonial wars now raging across the territories of the old empires: the savage lack of regard for the rules of war, racism, and the use of guerrilla tactics. Yugoslavia’s isolated position in the Cold War, and emphatic anti-imperialism, led to the search for international allies in the rising states of the Third World.
The Non-Aligned Movement of states was a political formation which built bonds of international solidarity premised on mutual aid, respect for domestic sovereignty, and rejection of military blocs. Sometimes known as the “Third Camp” or simply the Third World, it had origins in the 1955 Afro-Asian solidarity conference held in the Indonesian city of Bandung. This new camp quickly attracted the attention of Tito, who developed strong personal and diplomatic relations with Indian premier Jawaharlal Nehru and Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser. The three of them formed a global political leadership which resulted in the formal establishment of the Non-Aligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961, a conference at which Yugoslavia was the only European nation represented.
Tito’s theoretical contribution to the practice of non-alignment can be identified in its activist component. Tito’s idea that neutralism did not have to be passive, but could be aggressively projected in the form of global solidarity politics, mapped closely onto the Indian experience of active non-violent opposition to colonialism. The Non-Aligned Movement coordinated the global anti-colonial struggle and helped forge a unified political movement out of isolated and diverse national experiences. Yugoslavia played a key economic role, supplying material aid and arms to countries engaged in active anti-colonial warfare, for example funnelling aid via Nasser’s Egypt to the Algerian Front de Libération Nationale (FLN). By the mid 1960s, Yugoslavia was providing vital support for industrial development in the non-aligned countries. This policy of mutual aid manifested in the construction of public infrastructure by Yugoslav industrial combines. This work included the building of hydro-electric power stations, cement works, slaughter houses and textile mills in countries like India, Ethiopia, Egypt, Syria, Algeria, Ghana and many more. The countries of the NAM in turn provided a vital market for Yugoslav foreign trade, which was hampered by its diplomatic isolation in Europe. The rich imprint of this revolutionary internationalism is still highly visible across the former Third World, most strikingly in the architecture but also in the politics of global south. However, in 1965 much of Yugoslavia’s interventionist overseas investment strategy suddenly ceased, as the state began a process of domestic reform weakening central planning and reintroducing market forces into the socialist economic model.
Worker Self Management
Following the end of the Partisan War, Yugoslavia initiated a programme of relatively orthodox Stalinist development. This meant the nationalisation of land, banks and key industries, with the development of the economy and distribution of surplus being regulated according to a central plan, with priority given to investment in heavy industries and infrastructure. The period was marked by high levels of enthusiasm and volunteerism from the general population. Many contributed willingly to the post-war reconstruction of the country, and the first Yugoslav Five Year Plan resulted in high levels of growth and development, as well as skyrocketing living standards (albeit from a very low base). The split from the USSR also brought relief in the form of no-strings attached financial aid from the United States which, while accelerating the already rapid growth being generated by Stalinist planning, further aggravated Yugoslavia’s erstwhile communist allies. As in the USSR in the 1930s, rural collectivisation met with determined resistance from the peasantry, who consistently preferred to decide themselves what to produce and when to produce it. The result, after failed attempts at coercion, was a backing down of the state in the early 1950s. The policy of collectivisation was reversed and a certain amount of private property and production for market was introduced back into agriculture. Faced with a similar choice to that which confronted the other Eastern European leaders — progress with deeper Stalinisation (and all the repression that would entail) or regress back into capitalism — the Yugoslav leadership opted for a third path. The unique Yugoslav approach to overcoming the problems of capitalist exploitation and socialist state planning was ‘worker self management’, an ideological strategy born out of the highly autonomous methods of self-governance practiced by Partisan units in liberated territories during the war. Self management transferred the industries expropriated by the state to “society”, which in practice meant transferring the management of enterprises and related local administration to the employees of those industries. Self management was a variation of Lenin’s conception of the “withering away of the state”, in which the whole of the working class is, theoretically, drawn directly into the administration of the economy, thus submerging the state within society at large. In practice, self management was an ambiguous policy which varied in its implementation from collective to collective. Some collectives preferred to administer their sphere of responsibility directly, through group decision making, while others preferred to delegate the responsibility to a chosen leadership. Although central planning continued to exist at the macro level, production was regulated by the supply of credit and other fiscal measures, and enterprises were expected to respond to consumer demand rather than state directives. Thus an economy of shortages was avoided and market forces remained present in the system, if in a somewhat limited form.
With economic self management also came decentralisation of the political apparatus. The Communist Party retained its monopoly on political power, but the actual functions of state were transferred to the most local level possible. In this way the vanguard CPY, which had been the political nerve system of the Partisan high command, was reformed into a mass party, the League of Yugoslav Communists. The League was a federal body which coordinated the activity of the Communist Parties of Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Montenegro, as well as regional parties in Kosovo and Vojvodina. The result was a dynamic but chaotic national administration which Yugoslav ideologues like Edvard Kardelj presented as the first steps towards a mature socialist democracy. Liberal critics framed self management as being little more than an obfuscation of a fundamentally “totalitarian” system, pointing to the monopoly of the communist movement on actual political authority. Conversely, critics in the other People’s Democracies denounced the system as little better than anarchy.
As the initial rush of growth which followed the era of reconstruction began to slow down, demands for economic reform grew in strength. The structural decline in the ability of the planned economy to compensate workers for their political sacrifices taking place across the Eastern bloc was mirrored Yugoslavia, despite the innovation of self management. Whereas in Czechoslovakia the movement for political and economic liberalisation was crushed by Soviet tanks, Yugoslavia’s independent status allowed it to respond to changing economic circumstances with programme of intense economic reform.
The 1965 reforms precipitated the decentralisation, democratisation and depoliticisation of the economy. This effectively marked the end of orthodox state socialism, which is defined by the subordination of the economy to centralised, politically determined planning.
Although private ownership of the means of production was not reinstated, the impact of market forces meant that the workers engaged in self management felt a deepening contradiction between their interests as producers and their interests as managers of production. This precipitated a split between the direct producers and those workers that rose through the system into specialised and managerial functions. A form of crypto-class struggle developed between the workers and the technocracy. This unrecognised struggle could be compared to the contradictions that developed in the Western trade union movement in the same era. As European trade unions, industry and the state grew ever more aligned in their interests, workers found themselves at odds with the full time officialdom which comprised their own leadership — particularly in Britain. On the one hand, workers in socialist Yugoslavia were not in direct antagonism with the forces of private capital and were thus shielded from the vicious excesses of capitalist class struggle (e.g. the threat of dismissal), on the other hand, the unaddressed contradiction between the party-technocracy and the worker-collectives weakened the legitimacy of the socialist state among its most important social base, the industrial proletariat. As in all state socialist systems, labour strikes were formally illegal. The theoretical justification for this practice was anchored in the idea that waging a struggle for individual gain against the collective interest of the working class as a whole was inherently reactionary. The constitutional role of trade unions within state socialism was to provide a “transmission belt” between the party and the working class, to identify and promote cadre from the shop floor to the political apparatus and to organise the provision of social security benefits. However, as economic reform exposed Yugoslav industry to ever greater market pressures, the workers began to withdraw their consent for this model of industrial relations which failed to recognise the conflict of interest they experienced. The class struggle that was emerging within the self management system erupted during the period of market reform in a wave of unofficial strike actions. While the authorities tried to play down the significance of these conflicts, attempts to “rationalise” the socialist economy within the global market came into direct conflict with the political justification for the socialist system, i.e. production for need prioritised over production for profit. Finally, as enterprises reformed themselves for a more competitive environment, the social requirement that they absorb all available labour in order to maintain full employment was replaced by the economic requirement for improved productivity, even if this meant shedding labour and sacking workers. Thus, Yugoslavia became one of the first socialist systems to experience structural unemployment, which socialism had supposedly eradicated. Despite being experienced traumatically by large sections of the working class, and causing a dramatic weakening in the social contract between the socialist state and society, the reforms also brought benefits. Yugoslav enterprises were able to access international capital markets and borrow in order to upgrade and replace outdated plant, something which other People’s Democracies found notoriously difficult to do. Yugoslavia was able to relax the autarkic border regimes which characterised the state socialist system. Once the extreme levels of protectionism and robust social security had been relaxed, the threat posed by exposure to the capitalist world economy was drastically reduced. Thus Yugoslavia was able to dramatically increase exports of manufactured goods and labour, in the form of outward migration, both of which brought in much needed revenue streams of hard currency. The country was also able to open itself up to tourism, and Yugoslavia rapidly became one of the most desirable holiday locations for tourists from Western and Eastern Europe alike. However, many of these immediate benefits created new long-term structural problems. Enterprises became increasingly burdened with debt and workers abroad were exposed to the degrading conditions imposed on migrant labour. Emigrant Yugoslavs (“Guestworkers”) consumed much of the additional income they earned. Most seriously, the carefully regulated and balanced development of the nations and regions of Yugoslavia began to break down.
A Terminal Decline
Regional inequalities rapidly increased and, by the end of the 1970s, industrialised Slovenia and Croatia were barely comparable to poverty stricken Kosovo and Montenegro. The weakening of centralised redistribution, and the substitution of solidarity for competition between regions, would have catastrophic consequences in the re-emergence of ethno-nationalism. Put simply, the stronger the integration of Yugoslavia into the global capitalist system, the weaker the integration of the component nations of Yugoslavia itself became. Further, the debt burden of large industrial enterprises which had taken advantage of the new influx of capital from foreign investors (including the IMF) forced the logic of austerity to take hold as these firms attempted to rationalise themselves in line with the expectations of their creditors. This era of unemployment, triggered by both the streamlining of profitable firms and the closure of non-profitable ones, combined with escalating regional inequality and was the precursor to a new era of industrial unrest in the 1980s. And yet, despite this, there is much value that can be drawn from the Titoist experiment. Yugoslavia progressed further down the path of democratic socialism than any other communist country. It demonstrated a capacity for independence, innovation and internationalism unmatched by its Eastern bloc neighbours. Despite — or as a result of — its position apart from both the socialist and capitalist blocs in the Cold War, Yugoslavia was beset by the contradictions inherent in both systems. Once the collapse of the world socialist system had kicked out the foundations of the Yugoslav political system, the stage was set for the tragic and violent death of the country.