Posts Tagged ‘Socialist Self-Management’

I’ve Offered Review Copies of My Books to the Marxist Press

February 8, 2023

In order to get a bit more publicity for my book and pamphlet against the privatisation of the NHS, I’ve done what a number of other bourgeois reformists from the Labour party have done, and just as senior members of the Labour party, including MPs, have from time to time written for the Communist party newspaper, so I’ve offered review copies of my pamphlet and book to the Morning Star. I’ve also offered copies of them, along with one of my book, For a Worker’s Chamber, to the Socialist Worker, the organ of the former Socialist Workers Party, now the Socialist Party. For a Workers’ Chamber uses Marx’s view that the state is an instrument of class oppression and the fact that 70 plus percent of MPs are millionaires, company directors or senior corporate employees, to argue that today’s democracy has left ordinary working people unrepresented and that what is needed is a separate chamber containing only working people, voted in solely by working people. I cite calls and experiments for such a radical reorganisation of democracy from the Chartist calls for a parliament of trades, the various syndicalist experiments, Fascist corporativism and the socialist self-management system of the former Yugoslavia. I’ll let you know if I get a reply.

Yugoslavian Workers’ Factory Councils: The Legal Basis

February 28, 2014

Self-Management Yugoslavia

I’ve blogged recently about the system of Socialist Self-Management, which the Communists set up in Yugoslavia under Tito. As well as the management boards in factories and other enterprises, this also set up a system of workers’ councils, which were given powers to supervise and review the decisions of the managerial board. These councils were co-ordinated at a national level through a chamber set up as part of the National Assembly. The first legislation laying the system’s foundations was the Directive on the Establishment and Work of Workers’ Councils of State Economic Enterprises of December 1949.

One of the objectives of the system was to give workers more experience of management, and to train them up to take their places as members of the executive. Article 1 of the Directive stated

Subject to a proper organization and functioning of workers’ councils, workers will be given an opportunity not only to acquire a better insight into the work and problems of the enterprise but also to exert a direct influence on production and the management of the enterprise. Workers will thus gain enormous experience, and every opportunity will be provided for executive cadres of the enterprise to be drawn from the ranks of the workers.

Article 1, paragraph 3 specified the councils’ duties. They were to

– review the proposed business plan of the enterprise, consider the elaboration of the basic plan of the enterprise for the various plants, and of the basic plan for construction of community amenities and give its opinion on them;

– review the house rules of the enterprise and give its criticisms;

– propose proper measures for the improvement of production, rationalization of production, raising of labour productivity, lowering of production costs, improvement of quality, new production developments, savings, and reduction of waste;

– propose measures for a better functioning of the enterprise and for the elimination of technical and administrative defects;

– discuss the work norms of the enterprise and make its recommendations;

– review the deployment of the work force and make its criticisms and recommendations;

– see to the proper training of technical personnel;

– make recommendations for the classification of administrative posts and the internal organization of the enterprise;

– review the draft rules governing work discipline in the enterprise, consider measures designed to prevent infringements of work discipline, absenteeism and arbitrary resignations, and make its recommendations;

– participate in supervising the utilization of public property, consider cases of vandalism, wastefulness and other cases of an irresponsible attitude towards public property, and recommend measures for the prevention, elimination and uncovering of such incidents;

– see to the proper application of occupational safety programmes.

Paragraph 4 stated that ‘The workers’ council has a special duty to do everything in its power to remove difficulties arising in connection with the fulfilment of planned targets and to combat all forms of indifference or hostility as seen in disparagement of our capabilities’.

The councils were to be elected at the beginning of each year by all the workers and office staff. These would be convened by the trade union chapter executive, but non-union members would also be allowed to vote. The work’s director was an ex officio member of the factory council. One elected, the members of the factory council were to elect a president and secretary from their own ranks. Moreover, if the trade union executive considered that the workers’ council or some of its members were not fulfilling their duties correctly, he had the power to call a meeting of all the workers and elect a new council, or replacements for those council members, who weren’t doing their duties properly.

At first the people voting for the council, or placed on it, seem to have been very small. Article II, paragraph 5 states that ‘The membership of the workers’ council should represent between 1 and 5 per cent of the employed workers and office personnel. Article 10 of the Basic Law on the Management of State Economic Enterprises and Higher Economic Associations by Work Collectivities of June 1950 expanded and clarified this. It stated that the workers’ council of an enterprise shall consist of between 15 and 20 members …. In enterprises which have fewer than 30 workers and office personnel, the entre work collectivity shall make up the workers’ council.’

The workers’ councils were to meet once a month to discuss the enterprise’s monthly business. Decisions were to be made by voting with a show of hands. The enterprise’s director had to be abide by their decisions. If he didn’t agree with them, he had to refer them to an administrative-operational officer. The workers’ council similarly had the right to refer the administrative-operational officers decisions to the higher state executives, if they disagreed with them. Under Article 26 of the 1950 Directive, the management board of each enterprise was to be elected by the worker’s council.

This legislation clearly gave the workers a significant degree of power over the operation of their enterprises through their councils, though I don’t know much power they exercised in practice compared to the demands of the state bureaucracy. The two architects of the system, Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, later fell from power for ‘Anarcho-Syndicalist deviation’. Nevertheless, this legislation does point the way to how a similar system could be set and adopted elsewhere to give their workers a voice in the management of their enterprises. Similar legislation was introduced in Germany in 1952 and 1976. The Financial Times did a feature on factory councils in Britain back in the 1990s. They estimated that there were 200 or so firms in Britain, which had them. A spokesman for the Conservative Party stated in the article that they did not have any objection to them, they just didn’t feel they should be compulsory. My guess is that with the more aggressive attitudes to management introduced by the Tories, there would be considerable opposition within the Tory part to any such system. The similar German system of Industrial Codetermination was attacked, at least partly, by the employers organisations as an attack on property rights. Nevertheless, the Germans considered their own version of workers’ control as leading to social and industrial stability. It says something for practical common sense of modern, democratic Germany that this was achieved through drawing workers into the system and giving them more rights, rather than the complete suppression of workers’ rights by the Tories.

Workers’ Self-Management in Communist Yugoslavia

February 21, 2014

Self-Management Yugoslavia

I’ve put up a lot of posts about Communist Yugoslavia recently, pointing out the similarities between the Coalition’s policies of Workfare and secret courts with the same policies there and the consequent abuses of human rights. The Yugoslav Communist party also used forced ‘voluntary’ labour after the War, and used secret courts to try dissidents, including one of the leaders and architects of the regime, Milovan Djilas. Although Yugoslavia under Tito was very much a one-party dictatorship, there is one policy, which I do find attractive. This was the experiment in Socialist self-management in which the regime attempted to withdraw partly from the economic and political control of the country and hand over some of that to the workers themselves. workers in particular business were given the power to supervise and alter the business plans of the managerial board through a system of workers’ councils, similar to the workers’ soviets in the Soviet Union before they were taken over by the Bolsheviks and turned into a rigid instrument of Communist political control. The Yugoslavian Communists went further and created a producer’s chamber in government, through which these councils and their workers were to be represented in central government. The architects of that aspect of the regime were Djilas and Edvard Kardelj.


Milovan Djilas, Yugoslav Communist leader and architect of the Self-Management system.

In Rise and Fall, Djilas explains that they formulated the policy as a result of the Yugoslavian Communist party’s break with Stalin. They resented Soviet attempts to turn their country into a satellite of the USSR, dominating the country politically and economically so that it served Russian needs and interests, rather than their own. As they rejected Stalin, they also began to criticise Lenin and form their own, particular brand of Marxism. Djilas writes:

By late 1949 and early 1950, theoretical thinking among our top people not only had abandoned Stalin,, but als was working its way back to the roots, from Lenin to Marx. Kardelj maintained that one could prove anything with quotations, but that it was impossible to separate Lenin from Stalin completely. After all, Stalin was an outgrowth of Lenin.

As we made our way back to Marx, we often paused in our critical ponderings on the Leninist type of party. It was not only the source and instrument of victory, but a means of moving on after power had been seized. In accepting Marx’s theory of the withering away of the state- and the more decisively we broke away from Stalinism, the more firmly we believed Marx on that point – we realized that such withering away required a change in the role of the party. yet in the domain of party problems, progress was minimal and slow. We kept running up against a solid wall of ossified functionaries and a layer of party bureaucracy already formed and consolidated. (p. 267-8).

Djilas and his comrades found the solution in the passages in Marx’s Das Kapital dealing with associations of producers.

And so, as I perused in Marx those passages dealing with a future “association of immediate producers” as a form of the transition to communism, it occurred to me that our whole economic mechanism might be simplified by leaving administration to those who worked in the enterprises, the state only securing for itself the tax. One rainiy day in late spring, while we sat talking in a car in front of my villa, I presented this idea to Kardelj and Kidric. Both thought it premature. At the same time, trade union officials meeting with Kardelj proposed, among other things, discontinuing the workers’ councils, which had long existed as anemic, purely advisory forms. Kardelj, however, urged that the councils be strengthened. The one day Kidrc phoned me: “You know that idea of yours-now might be the moment to introduce it”. Kardelj was to link my idea to the workers’ councils. (p. 268). They then presented the idea to Tito and the other ruling Communists at the National Assembly’s Hall of Ministers. Tito adopted it, and then defended it to the National Assembly on June 26th 1950. (pp. 268-9).

Edvard Kardelj, in his essay ‘The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’, also points to the passage in Marx’s Das Kapital on social property as one of the influences on the self-management system in Yugoslavia, as well as the comments about the nature of capital in the Communist Manifesto. He also refers to the passage on the Paris Commune in Marx’s The Civil War in France.

The passage in Das Kapital runs as follows

The capitalist mode of appropriation, which springs from the capitalist mode of production, produces capitalist private property. This is the first negation of individual private property, as founded on the labour of its proprietor. But capitalist production begets, with the inexorability of a natural process, its own negation. This is the negation of a negation. It does not re-establish private property, but it does indeed establish individual property on the basis of the capitalist era: namely cooperation and the possession in common of the land and the means of production produced by labour itself.

In the Communist Manifesto Marx also discussed the nature of private property under capitalism.

Capital is therefore not a personal but a social power.
When, therefore, capital is converted into a common property, into the property of all members of society, personal property is not thereby transformed into social property. it is only the social character of the property that is changed. It loses its class character.

In the passage on the Paris Commune, Marx wrote

It wanted to make individual property a reality, by transforming the means of production, land and capital, which now represent the means of enslavement and exploitation of labour, into the instrument of a free and associated labour .. If cooperative production is not to be a falsehood, if it to repress the capitalist system, if the associated cooperatives are to regulate national production according to a joint plan and thus take it undere their own control and put an end to a continual anarchy and periodical convulsions, which are the inevitable fate of capitalist production – what, gentlemen, would this other than communism, the ‘possible’ communism. (See ‘Edvard Kardelj: The System of Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia’ in Blagoje Boskovic and David Dasic, Socialist Self-Management in Yugoslavia 1950-1980: Documents (Belgrade: Socialist Thought and Practice 1980) 9-49 (23-4).

Marx was wrong about the Paris Commune. The Communards were motivated less by Socialism – Socialists were in the minority – but by local, Parisian traditions of activism and a patriotic revolt against the regime that had been humiliatingly defeated by the Prussians during the Franco-Prussian War. The Yugoslavian self-management system is interesting as it went further than other experiments in workers’ control, in countries such as Germany and Austria, to try and give workers a larger degree of power in the administration of their businesses and the regulation of the economy. There was, however, a cost to this, in that when Djilas and Kardelj fell from power, the regime used the system they had created to accuse them of ‘Anarcho-syndicalist deviation’, and therefore Marxist heresy.