Socialist Unemployment: The Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990

In This Review

Socialist Unemployment: The Political Economy of Yugoslavia, 1945-1990

by Susan L. Woodward
Princeton University Press, 1995
443 pp. $55.00

A seemingly narrow, albeit intriguing social science puzzle turns into, as Woodward attacks it, a sweeping exploration of fundamental assumptions of the postwar Yugoslav state. Her puzzle is how a socialist regime, whose reason for being held a promise of full employment, managed to survive politically with a rate of unemployment that eventually exceeded everyone else's, including the most anti-labor West European societies.

She finds the answer in a trap that Tito's regime set for itself, which not only led to unemployment, while allowing the state to deflate its political effect, but eventually to the collapse of the country. The trap originated in the regime's unnatural need to find resources abroad for its two most precious but uneasily related goals: economic growth and national defense. Unable to achieve self-sustaining export-led growth, the regime ran ever harder to keep the foreign credits and technology flowing. The consequences were rising unemployment and an increasingly pathological warping and weakening of the structures and ethos that had allowed the regime to survive.

Woodward's argument is big and bold, challenging almost every major interpretation, from capitalist assumptions misapplied in a reform socialist context by outside analysts, to explanations of the sources of Yugoslavia's particular dilemmas and failures, to the meaning of Tito's death in the ungluing of the country. It is intellectual discourse at a high level, marred, alas, by writing that in difficult conceptual passages blocks understanding.