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El Concepto de Política Cultural en el Proyecto de Autogestión Yugoslavo

Vladimir M. Kolaric ; Vuk B. Vukicevic

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Companion: El Concepto de Política Cultural en el Proyecto de Autogestión Yugoslavo.

Corporación Educativa SER. 2020 Jan 1; 7(23)
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© 2020


In the process of establishing a socialist self-management system – which was at the center of the “third way” ideology (together with nonalignment) in the period of the bloc division of the world, set in SFR Yugoslavia after the conflict with the Soviet Union[1] – culture played an important role. In addition to being a sector that was subjected to institutional regulation and the field of achieving public interest through measures of cultural policy as a public policy in the field of culture [2], it also had the role of a motivational-integrative factor and was the goal of extensive social changes implied in this ambitious project.

The role of culture was rarely systematically presented in legislative and planning documents of different government levels and party bodies, and its role in social development was rarely separately analyzed, contrary to, for example, the education sector. But this does not mean that culture was not implicitly and comprehensively present both in the mentioned documents and in the standpoints of the founders and most important representatives of the Yugoslav variant of socialist self-management, to the extent that most of the key issues of the establishment, internal contradictions and conflicts, as well as the aims of the idea of socialist self-management can more or less be directly linked to cultural issues[3].

From the beginning, socialist self-management was conceived as a “creative” response to the conflict with the Soviet Union, presented as a primarily conceptual-doctrinal divergence, while the socialist self-management was presented not only as a critical response to the bureaucratic and etatist tendency in the Soviet practice of socialism, but also as a creative effort towards the realization of socialism based on the “correct” interpretation of Marxist and Marxist- Leninist ideas and ideological assumptions.

Pointing to the historical continuity of the idea of self-management, Yugoslav authors based their ideas on socialist self-management on Karl Marx’s idea about the revolutionary role of the working class and the theory of state extinction, Marx and Engels’ analyzes of the revolutionary experiences of the Paris Commune and Lenin’s conception of soviets, wherein “in this concept of socialism special attention is paid to social ownership, designated as the basis for self-management, abolition of the class nature of society and exploitation, and a complete abolition of dualism between those who rule and those over whom they rule” (Marković, 2001, p. 10). Self-management is the “essence of socialism” and its goal is “to achieve self-managing organization of the working class with other self-managing structures of society – from the basic self-managing production units to the highest spheres of society management” (Vranicki, 1985, p.8). In the doctrinal sense, the Yugoslav version of the “new path of socialism” was not based (only) on a cognitive and practical activation of the “Early Works” of Marx and Engels, but on the possibilities in Lenin’s interpretation of some of these authors’ ideas, cited in the book “The State and Revolution”. Overcoming the contradiction between Marx’s definition of the state as “the product and expression of irreconcilable class antagonisms” and the idea of the state as “a proletariat organized as a ruling class”, in the context of Engels’ ideas of state abolishment and its withering away, Lenin interpreted the relationship between the revolutionary class and the state in the following categories: in terms of abolishment, “Engels speaks here of the proletariat revolution “abolishing” the bourgeois state, while the words about the state withering away refer to the remnants of the proletarian state after the socialist revolution” (Lenin, 1979, p. 21), given that the proletariat needs the state “only to suppress the resistance of the exploiters, and only the proletariat can direct this suppression, can carry it out. For the proletariat is the only class that is consistently revolutionary” (Lenin, 1979, p. 27). This expressed tension between the notion of the state and the participatory idea of self-management, in the context of exploring the role and significance of culture in socialist self-management, leads us to first deal with a self-managing socialist understanding of the role of culture as a sector and the relationship between the state and culture in the system of socialist self-management, integrative functions of culture towards the realization of new social and institutional forms and, finally, the role of culture in the motivation for overcoming the state and existing social relations in order to achieve a universal transformation of society and human life in general.

Studying the documents from key party congresses, as the basis of the doctrinal (vs. institutional-regulatory) approach, we note that at the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia/League of Communists of Yugoslavia (KPJ/SKJ, 1952) culture had a quantitatively small, but functionally important place in the explanation and “defense” of declarative views stated at the Congress. It was thus stated that “the party must and should enable, encourage and direct development towards the creation of a socialist culture, and socialist culture can only develop under the conditions of freedom of thought and cultural creativity” (Imširović, 1991, p. 72). By integrating culture in the whole process of establishing state, social and ideological systems, the “Party” gave it a specific role in the so called “battle of ideas”, determining “adherence to ideas” as the basic criterion of freedom of thought and cultural creativity, i.e. expressing “beliefs that the Party perceives to be in line with the interests of the socialist community” (Imširović, 1991, p. 76). At the Seventh Congress of the KPJ/SKJ (1958), the doctrinal foundations of “social self-management” as “the socio-political basis of socialist democracy” were set, as well as the “forms of state and government extinction” (Imširović, 1991, p. 116). The state, in the “process of extinction”, is thus becoming “less and less a state power, and more a unified system of territorial and political self-managing organization at the early levels, from municipalities to the federation with its public professional services subordinate to self-managing electoral social bodies” (Imširović, 1991, p. 114). In the documents of this congress, the specificity of the culture sector in the process of building a new social system was not particularly emphasized but was still viewed from the standpoint of “adherence to ideas”. In addition to elaborating the concept of market independence of working collectives, the Eighth Congress of the KPJ/SKJ (1964) opened a new field of questions that would have significant implications for understanding culture in the context of the system of socialist self-management. In the context that we are exploring, the key consequence of “building a new economic system” in order to “de-etatize the means of decision-making at all levels of government” and the involvement of the Yugoslav economy “into the international division of labor”, initiated at the Congress, was the advocacy for “national economic solidarity”, that is, “free operation of the economic laws of commodity production”, creating the conditions for the realization of the “economic independence of every nation in the Yugoslav federation” (Imširović, 1991, p. 158). In this way, culture was included in a specific socialist variant of the “market game”, on the one hand, while on the other, it was linked to republican or national contexts both in the institutional and identity senses, with the proclamation of the so-called “delegate system” and “negotiated economies”, further emphasizing the challenges placed before the culture sector as a factor in the state socio-economic system. At the Tenth Congress, with the tendency to place the federation in the function of “the statehood and sovereignty of the republics and provinces”, the return to the ideological leadership of the Party, which “does not tolerate and will not tolerate different theoretical and methodological orientations in science and philosophy”, was explicitly emphasized ( Imširović, 1991, p. 191) with clear implications for culture. It can be said that during the 1970s, at the time of the Tenth Congress and the adopted SFRY Constitution of 1974, a systematic research of culture as a sector institutionally and doctrinally integrated into the state and socio-political system of the country began, as well as more fundamental research leading to the development of more precise and more detailed measures of cultural policy. This was certainly linked to both international trends in the development of cultural policy and internal needs leading to a clearer design of the role of culture in the “ideological struggle” and the continuation of an increasingly complex model of socialist self-management. One of the founders of cultural policy in Yugoslavia determined the subject of cultural policy as “the study of social, material, institutional and other aspects of development of cultural creativity and the possibility of spreading cultural values in the circle of all members of the community” (Prnjat, 1979, p. 7), advocating, in line with the trends of cultural policy of European countries and international organizations towards the democratization of culture and cultural democracy, for an integrative model according to which cultural policy appears “as a special form of regulating and harmonizing spiritual and creative energies of a society towards the ruling social relations” (Prnjat, 1979, p. 44). The place of culture in the state and socio-political system was, on the one hand, viewed from the point of view of the “economic success” of socialist self-management, according to which from 1947 to 1977 “the gross national product was enlarged six times”, with the growth rate of 8.6% in the period 1953-1964, [which] was one of the highest in the world” (Latifić, 1978, p. 13).[4] On the other hand, the management of the culture sector had to be in line with the general principle of socialist self-management, according to which “the management of social affairs and decision-making policies in society, in the conditions of public ownership of the means of production, loses traditional properties and gains a new social content” (Kožul, 1975 , p. 7). In this way, culture as a sector must be integrated into the system of socialist self-management, which “is not only a political but also an economic, public and sociological category”, in terms of organization and “ideas” (Kožul, 1975, p. 18). One research, therefore, clearly identified the League of Communists of Yugoslavia as an entity that “affirmed and established” the cultural policy, especially in the first years of development of socialist self-management, with a tendency to return to the ideological leadership of “Party” – having been suppressed by certain bureaucratic and technocratic “deformations”. Such a doctrinal setting of the issue of managing the culture sector allows for overcoming the discrepancy between the necessity of governance and the imperatives of the reduced role of the state, while preserving the idea of the important role of culture in the “ideological struggle”. Therefore, there was an insistence on the self-managing model of culture management, “which absolutely negates the budgetary way of securing funds for cultural activities and seeks to exploit some advantages of the market mechanism in the case of certain cultural goods and services” (Nemanjić, Đokić, Stojković, 1981, p.6). Taking into consideration the tension between “state-centralist” and self-managing tendencies of social development, this research differentiated several development stages of socialism in Yugoslavia, and the role and position of culture in each of them. The first phase, from 1945 to 1950, characterized by “revolutionary etatism and the beginning of socialist transformation”, was marked by “cultural uniformity” in the field of culture, as well as a significant increase in cultural needs. The second phase, from 1951 to 1964, represented the “beginning of the self-managing phase of society”, while the third phase, from 1965 to 1978, was characterized by “de-etatization of social activities”, which implied the introduction of the “principle of income” and the establishment of “self-managing culture communities“ (Nemanjić et al., 1981, pp. 10-29).

The pursuit of the last phase of socialist self-management “to provide funds for the development of cultural activities by means of a direct and free agreement between interested parties” (Nemanjić et al., 1981, p. 78) was the subject of comparative apologias and criticism in an effort to find a way for an optimal applicability of the principles of “negotiated economy” in the domain of culture. In doing so, it was regularly insisted on the necessity of overcoming the direct influence of state authorities on cultural activities within the “administrative-bureaucratic way of financing culture”, leading to the creation of conditions “for the formation of alienated centers of power which include the struggle for influence and privileges” (Hadžagić, 1979 , p. 166), and thus, we add, the increased influence of such centers on the “ideological struggle” as an important function of culture in the system of socialist self-management. All the perceived contradictions of this phase of self-management emphasize the need for a planned development of culture based on relevant research, but also for an increased ideological leadership of the “Party” in the area of culture as an integrative and directing factor.

In the advisory meeting of the Central Committee of the League of Communists of Serbia, held in April 1973 on the topic of “Culture and Self-Managing Development”, the conceptual problems for establishing the basis of self-managing development in culture were emphasized, stressing that, in the process of “liberation of creativity from the presence of dogmatism”, the League of Communists failed to devote enough attention to cultural policy to “radically prevent the mentioned sphere [culture] from being used to affirm the dogmatism of other ideologies””(Zavod za proučavanje kulturnog razvitka, 1973, p. 6). In the “Cultural Development Program in the SR Serbia 1971-1980”, as an important strategic document of cultural policy, “the establishment of self-managing socialist relations as a prerequisite for the democratization and socialization of culture, the gradual reduction of differences in the cultural development of individual regions, the integration of culture into general social flows, the contribution of cultural creativity and cultural activities to humanizing living conditions and the affirmation of the new role of personality” were marked as long-term goals of cultural development (Zavod za proučavanje kulturnog razvitka, 1970, p. 3). The program envisaged an increasing internal integration of the culture system, as well as integration within the entire socio-political system. In accordance with the document of the Federal Executive Council entitled “Approach to Yugoslavia Development Plan 1971-75”, the Program emphasized the important role of culture in economic and social reforms, with culture seen as “one of the initiators of economic and social movement” (Zavod za proučavanje kulturnog razvitka, 1970, p. 11). The analytical document, “Development of Culture in SR Serbia outside the Territory of SAP for the Period 1981-1985” (Zavod za proučavanje kulturnog razvitka, 1985, p. 11), even more clearly linked culture to the cultural and political imperative of achieving the public common interest determined at the level of the whole socio-political system, primarily seen in economic frameworks.[5]

Regarding the role of culture in the system of socialist self-management, it is reasonable to conclude that, despite the declarative and program attitude on “comprehensive cultural and scientific development as a goal of cultural policy”, in “the party interpretation of socialist culture and its development, this proclaimed versatility was reduced to its quantitative meanings” and in practice “obstructed and prevented by the ideological struggle in the name of adherence to ideas(ideological purity, partyism) of the new socialist culture” (Imširović, 1991, pp. 28-29). On the other hand, the Yugoslav vision of socialist democracy was built through, often polemical, dialogue with the experiences with cultural policy not only of the Soviet Union and the so-called “national democracies”, but also of the Western parliamentary democratic states, with active cooperation and participation in international institutions and initiatives from the domain of cultural policies. In that sense, in the system of socialist self-management, culture had a greater significance than the economic and political self-management and being a mere means of ideological control and symbolic self-regulation and self-reproduction of the ideological system, and even than the foreign policy legitimization of the one-party system.

The integrative role of culture in socialist Yugoslavia can be observed through several levels. As an “integrated pattern of human knowledge, values and behaviors” (Doknić, 2013, p. 191), culture can play a role in integration at the level of the ideological system. In particular, “with its cognitive, affective, pragmatic and value components, ideology was necessary for communism to “form” people, or create a new man who would meet the demands of existing existential conditions” (Doknić, 2013, p. 12), with culture having an unavoidable role in this.

In accordance with this understanding of the role of culture in the processes of sociopolitical and ideological integration, there is the understanding of culture as one of the three basic subsystems of the social system, in addition to economics and politics, whose role lies in the “integration of the individual into society”. Culture, according to this understanding, “determines economic and political organizations, but it is also determined by them” (Horvat, 1984, p. 236).

On the other hand, the possibility was perceived of socialist self-management to represent an integrative factor at the level of the Yugoslav federation in the conditions of contested centralization and the dominant role of the state. According to this understanding, as “the actual unification of the Yugoslav peoples encompasses the dialectic of connecting class and national interests in the context of the essential interests of the working class”, then “the social content of Yugoslavism today is nothing more than the articulation of the class and national interests of the working class in the area of the existence of the Yugoslav multinational community” (Bakić, 1985, p. 12). The peoples and nationalities of Yugoslavia are connected, above all, by “joint interests of the working class and socialist self-management as a revolutionary practice that opens the possibilities for national and all other equality” (Bakić, 1985, p. 29), thus making the basic integrative and identity factor in the state “a sense of common affiliation to a self-managing community” (Bakić, 1985, p. 133). In this way, socialist self-management acquired the integrative-identity role of a culture, so we can rightly discuss not only the socialist self-management in culture and the culture of socialist self-management, but also the socialist self-management as a culture, in terms of the ideological and symbolic identity- integrative matrix.

Since socialist self-management had been developing since the early 1960s in the direction of encouraging republican or national independence and even sovereignty in relation to the federation, culture was increasingly being developed in a republic or national context, and following the institutional, economic and infrastructural independence of the republics and provinces, it increasingly provided integrative functions at the national level. The focus of discussions was more often being placed on the issues of national equality as the condition for a proper development of the process of socialist self-management, inter-republic relations, which are basically inter-ethnic, as well as discussions on the issue of nationalism and national hegemony. Renouncing the project of a “Yugoslav nation” as an integrative factor at the federal level, viewed as “an ideological rationalization of the class hegemony of the bourgeoisie of the ruling nation in the conditions of a unitary-centralist state” (Bakić, 1985, p. 49), the socialist concept of self-management rested on advocating for equality and creative cooperation of all peoples and nationalities who, without losing their particular characteristics or identities, voluntarily enter a self-managing community representing “the embodiment of the aspirations and interests of equal people and nations” (Bakić, 1985, p. 186).

Nevertheless, the essential role of culture in the development of socialist self-management was to build a new ideological value system, transformed social relations, and a “new man” who would be able to respond to the challenges of creating a society built on significantly different values. Such a role of culture is in accordance with its definition as a “historically formed complex of normative and value bases of human activity” (Mamedov, 2013, p. 84), where the shift of historical epochs is not only “a change of the economic and political order, but primarily the changed view of the world, whose core lies in the values and culture” (Mamedov, 2013, p. 90).

Since the beginning of the creation of the “Yugoslav path of socialism’, there was an awareness of the need to overcome an inevitable central planetary economic system, at one stage of socialist development, in the direction of building a “new socio-economic structure” based on what Boris Kidrič called “a planning-market system with democratic self-managing forms of governance and management of the social economy and society”, which required “a harmonization of the character of the economy with the character of government” (Merhar, 1979, p. XI-XII), that is, the harmonization of doctrinal, managerial and institutional structures at all levels of the state and socio-political system.

As noted by another important creator of Yugoslav self-management, Edvard Kardelj, “our society has become more complex and the structure of its productive forces has changed fundamentally”, which is a systemic issue that the “League of Communists must provide an answer for” (Kardelj, 1979, p. 19).

In social consciousness, according to Kardelj, “the problems of overcoming the old society are no longer dominant”, but “the relation to the present and future development of a socialist self-managing society” (Kardelj, 1979, p. 24). The advocates of the socialist self-management in its mature stage considered the historical transformation, both of individuals and of society, to be necessarily related to the participatory characteristics of self-management, therefore, according to one author, “there is no historical new democracy without the development of self-managing relations” (Vranicki, 1985, p. 28). It is only in this way that it is possible to achieve the goal that “participating in the governance, fighting for the continued expansion of participation until full self-management, workers learn every day how to control their destiny”, doing so “without the tutoring of all-knowing leaders” and “preparing for self-determination” (Horvat, 1984, p. 345), which becomes “the basic value of the new culture” (Horvat, 1984, p. 236).

The leading creator of the project of socialist self-management at its various stages, Edvard Kardelj, stated that “neither the state, nor the system, nor the political party can bring happiness to a man”, but that “only he can create it, by himself and for himself” and not “he as an individual, but only in equal relations with other people”. Accordingly, “the avant-garde forces of socialism and the socialist society can have only one goal, that is, according to the possibilities of a given moment in history, to create conditions in which a person will be as free as possible in such personal expression and creation to work and create his own happiness, which “is self-management” (Kardelj, 1979, p. 195). It is obvious from these words that self-management had cultural bases and goals related to its fundamental “mastering”, not only of nature - as it was often explained by the theoreticians of Marxism-Leninism, but also of the whole of human relations leading to a fundamental value-conceptual transformation both of the individual and of the whole society, even “humanity” as a whole. By his free creative action, man “cultivates” nature, himself and human relations in the direction of his own individual and collective self-realization as the goal of the historical process.

With this, in order to properly understand described ideas in the context of the official versions of Yugoslav self-management, a self-managing democracy cannot be separated from its “class essence”, that is, democracy “as a form of political system can develop only in a certain class structure and in a certain social consciousness corresponding to such a structure” (Kardelj, 1979, p. 281).

Consequently, within the framework of socialist self-management, the aim was to formulate a cultural policy that would, in a polemic and “creative” deviation from the traditions of bureaucratic and administrative management of culture in the countries of “real socialism” to the European concept of public policies relying on the ideas of democratization of culture and cultural democracy, be harmonized with the whole of the sociopolitical system whose declarative and structural goal represented the achievement of a socialist democracy, that is, a “true” socialist society.

In elaborating of the idea of cultural policy of socialist self-management, Stevan Majstorović went the furthest. For this author, culture is primarily an “interaction on the personal, local, national and international plan”, which implies a “constant review of the given conditions and framework of life”, and “hence, culture is not only a tool of thought but also a tool of social and political change” (Majstorović, 1978, p. 24).

The goal of cultural policy should not be to stimulate and regulate “quantitative changes” instead of “really changing the position of man”, that is, creating conditions “which enable man to creatively manifest and confirm in all forms of work and action, to create history”, whereby culture becomes the “inner essence and sense of all social movements” (Majstorović, 1978, p. 32).

In this way, cultural policy must not be isolated from other areas of human knowledge and action, nor is its subject an area isolated and independent of the rest of social movement. Its true goal must be to lead to such a position of a man in a society “which enables his comprehensive personal and social confirmation”, i.e. “self-realization and socialization based on human reciprocity” (Majstorović, 1978, p. 34), whereby the “self-management perspective” can be seen as “the organization of labor which would be culture in itself”, where “culture, labor and society would be combined into one notion” (Majstorović, 1978, pp. 91-92).

In practice, this means that current ideas of democratization of culture and cultural democracy should be replaced by “a socialist cultural democracy, based on the acting role of working people and their collective creation of social and cultural forms”. Majstorović, in conclusion, states that self-management “does not have a special cultural program, nor does it presuppose a particular understanding of culture”, which is why “the cultural program of self-managing socialism is nothing but a program of development of self-managing society and self-managing socialist democracy” (Majstorović, 1978, pp. 92-93).

From the very beginning, culture had an important place in the project of Yugoslav self-management. Legitimizing itself as “originally socialist”, this project saw itself not only within the concept of “its own path of socialism”, but also as a possibility of achieving a desirable form of socialist society (“true socialism”), and a powerful creative momentum towards the transformation of social relations and the man himself, which was impossible without significant transformations in the field of culture.[6]

Cultural policy was, at different stages and perceptions of the realization of the project of socialist self-management, seen in different ways: as a regulatory and institutional mechanism for managing the culture sector, as a practical (public) policy aimed at achieving recognized common (public) interests, as an (inter)systemic mechanism of integration at various levels of the state and socio-political system and, finally, as an integral part of the “program of development of self-managing society and self-managing socialist democracy”, whose “core” and sense is actually culture, that is, the construction of a new value-concept system and the transformation of human society and man himself, with the aim of his “liberation” and “self-realization”. The “failure” of the project of Yugoslav socialist self-management, whatever its causes, could in this sense be viewed not primarily as a political or economic one, but as a failure in the field of culture.

With this understanding, the ideology of self-managing socialism was consistent with the current tendencies, especially in the then western world, of re-examining the so-called “traditional” social and cultural values and identities and pursuing sustainable alternatives, with awareness of the “cultural” nature of the “crisis” which had to be overcome, and the establishment of possible solutions. The potential exclusivity of the idea of Yugoslav socialist self-management was that, being as it was and regardless of how its results are evaluated,[7] it explicitly represented the official program at the level of the state in which culture was by no means at the last place, detecting, through the unsurmountable gap between the “ideal” and “reality”, both its capabilities and limitations.

[1] Socialist Yugoslavia from the end of the Second World War to its disintegration in the early 1990s will be referred to in this paper as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) or only Yugoslavia, regardless of the changes in its name.

[2] We have already discussed the notions of cultural policy, democratization and cultural democracy (see Vukićević & Kolarić, 2018), so we use these concepts in that sense.

[3] A somewhat typical view of the intertwined relation of culture and socialist self-management, in its mature stage, was expressed by Predrag Matvejević: “It is firstly important to establish self-management in order to build a progressive social and cultural self-management consciousness, but social and cultural consciousness is also necessary for building self-management.” (Pavlović, 1980, p. 94)

[4] These data were criticized in some recent studies (see Vuković, 2012, pp. 453-454)

[5] On the paradoxes of democratization and modernization in the sphere of culture in this period see Mrđa, 2016, p. 124.

[6] The hegemony aspect, in a Gramsci sense, of the idea of “creating a new socialist culture” was pointed out by Jakopovich (2012, p. 61).

[7] Many contemporary authors pointed out this “exclusivity”, highlighting “the Yugoslav experiment as a gold mine of experience”, from whose positive aspects and “errors and limitations” a lot can be learned” (Jakopovich, 2012, p. 57). Also, “Yugoslavia was the only national economy legally organized on the basis of self-management” (Flaherty, 1992, p. 99), “a lucid attempt at humanizing labor and relations among people” (Mitrović, 2016), “a lost paradigm” (Liotta, 2001, p. 1). The critics of socialist self-management from the Left, who see it as “a bureaucratic state capitalism adapted to the world market”, admit that “despite the collapse of that system”, it represented “the continuation of at least minimal traditions of struggle, solidarity and self-organization” (Unkovski Korica, 2015).


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