Posts Tagged ‘Milovan Djilas’

Forced ‘Voluntary’ Labour in Communist Yugoslavia and Coalition’s Workfare

February 14, 2014


Milovan Djila, Yugoslavian Communist politician and leading dissident

I’ve posted a number of pieces attacking workfare and pointing out its similarity to the programmes of forced ‘voluntary’ work imposed in Stalinist Russia and Nazi Germany. A piece I’ve reblogged here from the website, Guy Debord’s Cat, has also reported on the government’s plans to use work camp labour in the construction of the HS2 rail link. This is another strong reason to oppose the link.

In addition to Stalin’s Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Yugoslavia also adopted a programme of forced ‘voluntary’ labour in the first years of the Communist regime after the Second World War. The Yugoslavian Communist leader and dissident, Milovan Djilas, describes the system in his book Rise and Fall (London: MacMillan 1985). Djilas was Vice-President of Yugoslavia and became President of the National Assembly in 1953. He was removed from office the following year for criticising the party’s abuses, arrested for ‘hostile propaganda’ and then sentenced to seven years in prison following the publication of his book, The New Class in 1957. This attacked the Communist party for becoming a new, exploitative class, which in its way was worse than the old bourgeoisie. Djilas considered that despite its corruption, the bourgeois capitalist classes had at least invested their own money in the businesses they ran. Its successor, the Communist party and its officials, were worse in that they did not do even that, just exploiting the state and its material advantages for themselves. Rise and Fall was Djilas’ account of his life and political career from his appointment as head of the Yugoslavian Communist’s agit-prop department in the new regime after the War, to his eventual fall from power, imprisonment and release.

He describes the Communist regime’s use of ostensibly voluntary labour in the following passages:

‘Reconstruction and renewal called for extraordinary measure. Arising out of wartime necessity, spontaneous workers’ efforts rapidly became important and even imperative for anything involving heavy, unmechanized work. Soon, renewal and reconstruction were no longer regulated by their own economic and human laws, but originated more and more with the state bureaucracy and its directors. As industrialization proceeded, labor shortages became the most critical problem. In propaganda and in official consciousness, therefore, renewal and reconstruction came to be understood as sacred, patriotic, socialist duty, in the wake of which came mobilization into “voluntary mass labor brigades” – a mobilization more and more forced. The police began to play a part of their own in the economy by supplying these brigades to agricultural co-operatives. They were composed mainly of peasants, though they also included convicts of all kinds. At that time convicts numbered in the tens of thousands. The whole system multiplied and spread, and who knows where it might have led had it not become more costly than it was worth-had we not found ourselves in a dead end of inefficiency and Soviet manipulation.’ (pp. 22-3).

Later on Djilas describes the wretched condition of the volunteers and the appalling conditions they were forced to endure.

‘Passing through Bosnia in the spring of 1946 or 1947, I reached the Romanija Mountains, to the east of Sarajevo, where I saw hundreds of people, half-starved and freezing, sitting idle in logging camps. Talking with them, I found that they were mostly from Serbia and that they had neither been sentenced to work nor had they truly volunteered. Although they were supposed to work for as long as two months, they got no pay, and their food consisted of soup without meat, plus half a kilo of corn. Such a listless, underfed force, unpaid into the bargain, could not possibly have been induced to work hard, even if the proper specialists had been on hand. I encountered similar “volunteers” elsewhere – in Yugoslavia they could be found all over. Upon return to Belgrade, I conveyed my impressions to leading comrades, most of all to Kidric. Everyone saw the disadvantage and unreasonableness of so-called voluntary labor, but no one knew how else our projected tasks could be carried out. Soon thereafter, Kidric and his staff figured out that the cost of it all, including transport, food, medical care, and so forth, exceeded the return. “Voluntary” labor was abolished. What remained was voluntary work for the young, as part of their ideological upbringing, and, on the local level, labor that was truly voluntary’. (pp. 143-4).

As Djilas’ book extensively show, the Yugoslavian Communist party was initially strongly influenced by Stalin and Soviet Communism, before breaking with them later on the in 1940s. Nevertheless, they recognised it was too uneconomic, as well as suffering it inflicted on those forced into it, and so ended it. Despite this, Ian Duncan Smith and the rest of the Coalition have backed its introduction as workfare in the UK, and George Osborne has proposed to expand it so that even those with no income through benefit sanctions will be forced to work for free. See the posts on this by The Void and Another Angry Voice. And like the Yugoslavian Communists’ use of such forced and voluntary work, there is an ideological dimension as well as commercial or economic one. IDS’ reforms are all to make signing on as humiliating for the unemployed as possible in order to save the state the expense of supporting them. They are also constructed with the deliberate intent of psychologically manipulating the unemployed into blaming themselves, rather than the government or wider economy, for their failure to find work.

In a recent article, Another Angry Voice has presented several arguments why Right-wingers should not support IDS’ workfare, and queried by the Tories still continue to back it.

IDS Stalin

He has also suggested a few answers to this, none of them pleasant. The question, however, remains a good one and should be taken seriously by anyone on the political right, who seriously cares about the sovereign rights of the individual.