Economic Reform and Retreat in Jugoslavia

Courtesy Reuters

LAST spring the Soviet leaders, aroused by the solemn reiteration of Titoist principles in the draft program of the Seventh Congress of the Jugoslav Communist Party, chose to open a second ideological crusade against the Belgrade heresy. Surprisingly enough, Soviet recriminations, set forth in considerable detail in various issues of the Soviet magazine, Kommunist, made no direct mention of Jugoslav economic policies, permeated as they were with "revisionist principles." The battle against revisionism had to be waged by more subtle means: the Kremlin word-mongers aimed their invectives at Tito's notion of the "gradual withering away of the state" under socialism--a notion, of course, patently at odds with Stalin's old teaching about the need to strengthen the state in the period of transition to Communism in order to repress counter-revolutionary forces.

Tito's gradualist views had provided theoretical support for his policy of loosening the bureaucracy's hold over economic life. His doctrinal error could be assailed with impunity by the Soviets, whereas attacks on specific economic reforms ran the risk of backfiring if discerning Soviet readers happened to find the Jugoslav scheme of decentralization more consequential and more attractive than the one the Politburo had been seeking to impose on the Soviet economy since 1957. Already the idea of workers' management, which had been given concrete shape in the Jugoslav workers' councils, had been far too popular in Poland and Hungary after October 1956; and the other satellite economies would have been seriously contaminated if strong repressive measures had not been taken by the local Communist authorities. All in all, the Russians were wise to keep these infectious cultures as hermetically bottled as they could.

Even during the course of their first propaganda campaign against Titoism, which, starting in 1948, began to taper off only after the death of Stalin in 1953, the Kremlin agitators had steered away from serious debates over the merits and demerits of decentralized socialism.

At first, in the months following the Cominform resolution of June 1948, the Jugoslavs offered Stalin no ground for

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