On the terrain of capital – labour and gender regimes in Yugoslavia

1. A note on the Yugoslav gender regime

Picture 1. Stjepan Lahovski; Demonstration (Self-portrait as a female comrade in a procession), 1947.

In 1947, painter Stjepan Lahovski painted a self-portrait in gouache under the title Demonstration – Self-portrait as a comrade in a procession (Ilustration 1). He said, “That’s me, an old woman (baba)1 in an overcoat, a headscarf and military boots.” The author, who throughout his opus was involved in making self-portraits painted in different styles and techniques, taking over “the vesture of a certain historical style”, thought of himself as not being courageous and not having a sense for struggles and wars. Thus, in various self-portraits he sought to compensate for some qualities he did not have, such as youth and courage. Why then he portrays himself like an old woman in a scarf? Although his statement accompanying the picture can be understood as a mocking of old women participants of demonstrations, the painting still tells a lot about the models of depicting courage in that period. In addition to the famous heroic depictions of female Partisan as some kind of Amazons with guns in their hands, the depictions of women during the period of the People’s Liberation Struggle, as well as in the postwar period, included also images of old women with headscarves depicted as they learn to write, as they participate in elections and perform hard physical work, as we can see in the numerous illustrations in the Woman in the Struggle magazine2 (Ilustations 2, 3, 4). In its editorials, this magazine explicitly expressed the goal of creating and disseminating new models of femininity, which is in line with the very reason for the emergence of this “organ of the struggle”.

After the war, the position of women was more drastically changed than that of men, creating the need for a more precise creation of the character(s) of “new” women in order to consolidate them to the right place in the new society. The Partisan is not only an Amazon or a Spartan, but bent and stiff. However, persistent, hard working and brave. The figures of heroes and heroines aimed to be associated with an ethic of hard work, and gradually the heroism of work became the most prominent social value that replaced the heroism of the struggle. In the imagery of that time, women appear as heroes of socialist work, women in peasant cooperatives, women cutting the woods or working on afforestation. Although the organizers of the Anti-Fascist Front of Women (AFŽ) were mostly educated urban women, and among the “ordinary” fighters were women from the towns, the heroines represented were almost always as villagers, often shepherds. Besides the fact that this contrast (nescient villager oppressed by rural patriarchal relations→strong, emancipated fighter dedicated to the building of a new society) more explicitly emphasizes the transformative effect of the participation in the People’s Liberation Struggle, the character of an illiterate shepherd or an old woman makes the woman a kind of tabula rasa in which it is easier to incribe any desirable meaning. On the other hand, the urban intellectual differs much more from the traditional ideal of womanhood, and it can also bear associations of bourgeois habits, values ​​and lifestyles typical of the urban middle class from which she probably originates. By using the figure of a female comrade in a military overcoat and a headscarf for a self-portrait, Lahovski does two things: 1) he clears himself of his “negative” attributes – bourgeois lifestyle, cowardice, inadequate masculinity, “homosexuality” and the decadence and laziness associated with it3; and 2) shows that certain characters of the new woman – Partisans and heroines of labour – have in some way become iconic – symbols of certain values for the depiction of which certain recognizable models were always used. The fact that Lahovski somewhat ironically appropriates such a representation of women for the exploration of his own identity, already in 1947 suggests that the figure of the heroin of labour would quickly become emptied of its content.

Namely, after the end of the war and post-war reconstruction, a large number of women returned to their traditional gender roles. The representation of women in politics and workplaces radically decreases after 1950, and women’s representations, especially in women’s magazines such as The World (Svijet), but also in Women in the Struggle, became very similar to those from Western popular culture. This resemblance stems from a desire to present an image of prosperity, and the modern housewife in a comfortable interior who is not forced to work for money is certainly part of that image of well-being.

It is indisputable that a certain number of women in Yugoslavia have been given the possibility of “abandoning” their traditional roles through labour and participation in political bodies. It is also unquestionable that the general position of workers in Yugoslavia was more favourable then than it is today in ex-Yugoslavian countries. For these reasons, among today’s feminists in Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia and elsewhere, Yugoslavia is celebrated as a period of emancipation of women through labour. Graphics inspired by Yugoslavian depictions of Partisan women and heroines of labour4 are used as visuals for feminist groups and protests, Yugoslav slogans are used as well, works of art are made (see ilustration 6), fanzines and scientific papers are produced (for example, an interview with the researcher of female workers in Yugoslavia, Chiara Bonfiglioli, with the nostalgic title Remembering labour), banner with the words “Give us back our factories” are carried on the International Women’s Day marches, and individuals proudly point out that being workers is their primary identity.

Of course, from the current perspective of greater unemployment, and the marginalisation of woman that derives from it, a society that has celebrated women as workers seems very romantic. However, in our view, the glorification of women’s toil in the fields and forests, or on some idiotic repetitive jobs in factories, is not only questionable, but also grotesque if what we have in mind is a perspective of liberation. The purpose of this text is not to prove with statistics and other indicators that most of the women in Yugoslavia did not experience emancipation through labour, but try to show that the labour that existed in Yugoslavia and the social relations that derived from it were not liberating for anyone, women included. The aim is not only to criticize the patriarchy of the Yugoslav society and to state that despite the “good intentions” and the efforts of the political system, women were not emancipated because of the survival of patriarchal forms from the past. Rather, it is to discuss the idea that it is the persistence of capitalist forms of production that fixed women and gender non-normative persons in a position of oppression.

The perspective from which we approach the subjects of work and gender is the following: everywhere we are forced to live the misery of a gendered life, and labour is one of the mechanisms that drives and maintains this misery because it needs gender for its functioning. The social character of commodity production requires and reproduces certain types of property, requires the existence of families with traditional gender roles, the existence of violence against women and all who deviate from gender and sexual norms, etc. One of the central elements of capitalism is the process of the strict separation of work5 which creates value and which is remunerated in money, and work that does not create value and which is generally not remunerated in money6. The second type of work is the so-called reproductive work, ie all the work that serves to maintain the lives of productive labour: household work, emotional, sexual work, etc. These two types of work are interdependent, but gender – gendered language, gender roles, gender-based violence against women and queer persons etc. – has a constitutive function for capitalism in maintaining the distinction between these two types of work. The “productive” workforce must have a privileged position in relation to the “non-productive”, although it depends on “non-productive” reproductive work in order to be able to put its workpower at the disposal of capital and to allow the extraction of surplus value. This privileged position is created by attributing certain characteristics to the productive and the unproductive workforce. These attributes (activity, strength, determination, etc. for productive workers, and tenderness, caring, lack of rationality, lack of strength and lack of will for non-productive workers) are gendered and naturalized, which means that they are considered essential characteristics of people with certain bodies – the characteristics of unproductive work are attributed to people whose bodies are assume to have the potential to bare children, although the realization of this possibility is not crucial. The extraction of the surplus value is therefore a gendered process. The private, household sphere is itself the product of labour, as it is also the domestic violence against women, as well as street violence against queers and trans persons whose function is to maintain and naturalize gender roles. Among other things, this violence keeps and controls the rhythm of work, as it keeps female workers in the home. Introducing more people in the society to formal labour just means expanding the relations of slavery, and it does not make a significant difference to these “new” workers since the logics of the factory already lives in the sphere of the home and the family.

Picture 2. Đuro Tiljak: Peasant woman carrying weapons, Žena u borbi, 1945.

In this essay, we do not just want to state that in Yugoslavia the basic elements of the capitalist mode of production are retained and that, over time, they were not overcome but strengthened. What we want to emphasize is that without destroying the basic elements of the capitalist mode of production, we cannot work on changing the material conditions outside the sphere of production that will lead to the transformation of the position of women and all of us who deviate from gender norms.

2. The Yugoslav ideology of labour and progress

In Yugoslavia, relatively little was written about the very nature of labour7. The issue of labour is most often approached in discussions about the self-management system. However, these discussions rarely touch questions of the very elements of production. It can be said that in these discussions, social relations are viewed from the perspective of class, rather than from the perspective of categorial interpretation8 represented here. While the class perspective implies a critique of capitalism from the perspective of labour, the categorial critique problematizes labour itself within capitalism. While the first attributes an almost ontological character to labour and sees it as an instrument in the hands of the working class which is at the same time constitutive of that class as a subject of revolution, the other perspective approaches labour as a historically specific form inherent to capitalism that produces abusive and enslaving social relations, and that, therefore, should be destroyed. From these different perspectives, completely different understandings of the sources of oppressive social relations and how they are to be overcome are derived. From the perspective of categorial interpretation, as long as there is the value form, abstract labour and the separation of work that generates surplus value from the work that does not create it, which were indisputably the characteristics of production in Yugoslavia, all labour, even when it is administered in a “rational” manner by workers themselves, is the materialized expression of abstract labour, which we want to destroy. Because of these fundamental differences between the approach of most Yugoslav authors and our approach, it is relatively difficult to enter into some fruitful discussion. Nevertheless, we will try to briefly present some of the topics that appeared in the discussions about labour.

Picture 3. Women on voluntary work, Žena u borbi, 1946.

Let us start with the official position on the issue of labour of the high-ranking state officials – Edvard Kardelj, since March 1945, the vice-president of the federal government and then the minister of foreign affairs, and Mijalko Todorović, AVNOJ councillor, AVNOJ presidency member and performer of many other political functions – whose approach to labour can be said to be characterized by economic and technological determinism. According to Kardelj, the liberation of labour means that everyone has the “right to work and freely choose a job”. Labour must be free from political management and be at “scientific service of technics”. Mijalko, in turn, in the text The Liberation of Labour from 1965, advocates free market9, and celebrates socialist self-management from the perspective of greater efficiency and productivity of labour and higher living standards of the workforce, which he shows with data on the trends of the gross domestic product and national income and then he compares the average annual rates of productivity growth with those of capitalist countries.

What is interesting about Todorovic is that he refers to the desire of some people to immediately eliminate the value form10, although in his text it is not indicated with whom was he debating and how much was that perspective actually present. He believes that it is good that it is recognised that the value form exists in socialism as well. Nevertheless, he still feels that it is bad that in the actual planning, these concepts are still used idealistically and bureaucratically. According to him, economic planning in socialism must count with the value form and manage it. He maintains that the desire to abolish the value form immediately (“as soon as we take power”) is romantic, idealistic and even religious, although it is a realistic ultimate goal based on scientific knowledge. The tendency to change society according to “dreams” and “books”, he believes, exists where material-productive forces are lagging behind. For him, on the one hand, the idealistic wish to abolish the value form immediately, leads to a strong bureaucracy, and on the other, adhering to the laws of commodity production, leads to the glorification of liberal-capitalist forms which are perceived as natural forces. For him, the “bureaucratic” and “liberal-bourgeois” or “bourgeois-anarchist” orientations arise from the objective contradictions of the transition period. He considers that in the first fourteen years, Yugoslavia has consistently applied the Marxist-scientific orientation and he advocates that a scientific-socialist view should dominate in public discussions.11

Another author who in a way recognizes the logic of the value form is Zoran Vidaković, who, in the text Two Approaches to Protest Suspensions of Work (Strikes), essentially wants to reconcile the capitalist mode of production with the realization of the interests of the workers. He says that the logic of production of surplus value contains this tendency for someone to have proprietary monopoly, and that management led by the interests of the workers would be irrational because it is not compatible with the production of surplus value. According to him, striking workers use their “half-power” to preserve “backward ways of work and production” and, in this way, they oppose the processes of modernization and rationalization if those processes fail to affirm their rights. He argues that the idea that the development of production is in contradiction with the interests of workers can only be “challenged by the evidence that the realization and unification of workers’ interests in the process of self-management decision-making may have a rational character also from the standpoint of the development of production, material progress and value-oriented production that meet the needs of the workers.” As an evidence for this claim, he stresses that among the strike demands are also demands for a more rational production, more efficient organization of work, improved research and scientific work, better technological and economic integration and planning, faster development of production, etc. However, he does not say how many such demands were presented, nor the source for his claim.

In the text Sociological Aspects of Dizalienation in the Conditions of Self-Menagement and the Distribution “According to the Individual Quantum of Labour”, Dragomir Drašković writes about labour from the point of overcoming alienation. Although he emphasizes that alienation is present in the transition period, he claims that socialist self-management is the first step towards dizalienation. Nevertheless, he emphasizes that this does not mean that social ownership over production means that alienation is abolished, and that the first appearance of self-management has freed human labour of rental relations. As another mechanism that promotes dizalienation, Drašković states the principle of distribution according to the “individual quantum of labour” from Marx’ Critique of the Gotha Program12.

Picture 4. Žena u borbi No 2, 1950, cover.

According to him, if producers are involved in the redistribution of the surplus, or if the surplus does not become profit appropriated by the capitalist, then we cannot speak of alienation in Marx’ sense. “(…) The distribution according to the quantum of labour that has so far been carried out in accordance with the established rules and internal norms in the working collective, must be such that it implies a scientifically proven value of the object, of the operation or part of the operation, that is, of the value of the reified labour, so that every worker has a clear perception about that social value. Money as an equivalent of that invested labour will be less alien, and the monopoly understood as an economic necessity in the process of liberation of labour and man, ie dizalienation, will be inadequate ‘to be able to prevail over others.’ “13

As in many other texts, the central idea in Draskovicć’s text is that social ownership of the means of production, as well as the “rational” and “scientific” management of them can gradually lead to liberation. However, the existence of private property which is here considered to be one of the primary problems of capitalist societies, is not the cause of the subordinate position of the workforce, but the consequence of the capitalist mode of production. That is why collective ownership, in this case state ownership, is only a form of private property. The state here is an external abstraction that overshadows a society of scattered producers that continue to act in accordance with all principles of commodity production. The awareness of the existence of these principles and their supposedly scientific mastery does not at all bring society closer to their abolition. This kind of reasoning sees the principle of commodity production as some natural force which only needs to be understood and mastered, and it will no longer be a source of alienation. However, it is questionable if tt is possible to put Marx’ theory of commodity production in the service of building socialism and dizalienation since the elements of capitalist production which this theory explains are inseparable from their function in capitalism. In addition, the idea of the​​distribution according to the individual quantum of labour, implies the notion that everyone should contribute to society by working, which implies the idea that work as such is something good and useful for both the individual and the society. However, there is no essence of work to be liberated, or that will appear once the capitalist does not appropriate surplus value. Likewise, there is no use value that will be freed within socialism for the benefit of all people, but this is a purely analytical term – the opposite of the exchange value. Furthermore, there are no pre-ideological needs of people that can only be met by useful things if we rationally control the production.14 Labour, value (use and surplus value), needs, etc., are concepts that relate to a historically specific mode of production, and as such, they are not partially or fully usable to conceive a society that strives to overcome this mode of production.

Two texts that are critical towards the at the time dominant ideas about labour and its liberation are the texts The Liberation of Work or Liberation of the Working Class by Ljubomir Tadić from 1962.15, and the text Protest Suspensions of Work Yesterday and Today by Olga Kozomara from 1968. Tadić approaches the subject from a more theoretical perspective, while Kozomar discusses strikes as evidence of the poor social position of manufacturing workers.

Tadić emphasizes that the bourgeois society is the first economic formation based on free labour, and that free labour does not exclude alienated work. “The ideology of labour is a typical bourgeois ideology, … Since the essence of man is in that very activity itself, the worker (proleterian) expresses the whole meaning of human enslavement. His existence as a worker and the existence of labour as an economic category of the commodity economy personify the relations of the bourgeois society and represent a sure indicator that human emancipation has not been completed.” He uses the term state capitalism and emphasizes that with state ownership over production means, labour does not lose the character of a commodity. “.. And it is precisely labour ‘determined by trouble and external expediency’ is the labour within the framework of the bourgeois society in the so-called transition period from capitalism to communism. However, misfortunes and necessities should not be proclaimed virtues or freedoms, for the liberation of labour does not exclude but presupposes wage slavery. As a heritage of bourgeois civilization, therefore, it can not, in itself, be a socialist goal. “

Tadić emphasizes the goal of abolishing labour as a “class characteristic and as an economic category,” but says that it will only be achieved if affiliated producers through self-management organizations organize their production on the basis of a planned economy from bottom to top, but without state-bureaucratic mediation and management. Although Tadić emphasizes the necessity of overcoming labour, he still sticks to the idea of associated producers who organize the production themselves as a step towards this goal. But the question is: production of what? From the positions of labour, including labour in self-management, the qualitative content of production has no different social role than content of production from the standpoint of capital. There is no common discussion on the meaning of people’s activity here. If concepts like employment, surplus workers, unemployment, etc. appear, this means that no autonomy of production can exist.

Discussing the issue of strikes, which was for a long time a controversial issue in the Yugoslav society, Kozomara says that the strike is a form of class struggle of the subordinated class which is the object of power, and she points that the very fact that the proletariat is forced to use the strike as a way of political struggle tells us that he is actually the object, and not the subject of power. She underlines that the inequalities in the Yugoslav society are increasing and that the cause of strikes is mainly the inequality of income, although this is not just a matter of economic distribution, but also of distribution in the political sense, or, in other words, a matter of the social position of the working class.16

In addition, Kozomara polemicized with attitudes such as those of Todorović and Kardelj, according to which the success of self-management is measured by quantitative indicators such as the number of unemployed17, Yugoslavia is compared with capitalist countries, while remuneration for labour is applied in accordance to market success. She states that sometimes labour stimulation is applied through the differentiation between workers by competitive working conditions, which she considers to be a characteristic of capitalist societies, rather than socialisms which is based on solidarity. Kozomara considers that the organizational form of the unions also contributes to the disintegration of the proletariat, as some unions protect the interests of the workforce of some areas, others the interests of a branch of production, some on ideological grounds, eg nationalist, etc. She cites examples of cases where those who produce higher surplus value, have higher incomes than those who produce something useful, just because they do not produce surplus value. She believes that these technocratic tendencies are opposed to the building of socialist relations, and that the existing political structures such as the League of Communists and the Alliance of Trade Unions, which were quite passive and volatile in this regard, could not eliminate these tendencies.

Apart from the texts we have reviewed, there are still a number of texts dealing with production and self-management, especially in the context of the debate on strikes. The texts we have mentioned vary according to whether they are, and in what way, critical to the idea of liberation of labour and are critical of the existing system of self-management. Almost all texts are nominally critical of the state and bureaucracy, but it is only a mandatory element of every text and statement after the “break with Stalinism”. In addition to the mantra of the critique of bureaucracy, in many texts there is also the mantra of the “contradictions of the transition period” which provides answers to all illogical attempts to reconcile official socialist ideology and the capitalist mode of production that has never really been called into question.

Picture 5. from Narodni list, 25.02.1950.

The idea of the abolition of labour appears only in the text of Ljubomir Tadić. However, he does not see the abolition of labour as an immediate task in overcoming capitalism. Since all of these approaches come from a class perspective, the horizon of their ideas is the concept of socialism as a more rational, scientific, just and humane application of industrial capitalism. But the realization of the interests of the proletariat as a revolutionary subject realized in socialism, is not coextensive with the demands of destroying capitalism.

Labour, value, technology and industrial production can not be neutrally appropriated for revolutionary purposes. To put labour under the control of workers or the state only means to generalize it and expand it as a social relation. Work is not part of the “human nature” and, more importantly, it is not a principle opposed to capital. Because the social antagonism of labour and capital takes place on the terrain of capital, on the terrain of commodity production. Governing labour from the perspective of abolishing capital is absurd, since labour as a process, implies abstract labour, the value form, and the strict separation of labour that produces surplus value from the one that does not produce it. Workers who manage the production process manage themselves as commodities, they own themselves as property. Whether self-menaged or not, collective or not, labour within the commodity production system remains the same, and it needs gender as one of the mechanisms that reproduces the social relations that it necessitates.

3. The ideology of labour and gender relations

At the end of the 1940s, AFŽ’s Main Board discussed the desirable visual identity of the Yugoslav woman. It was concluded that women in the Russian print were badly dressed, giving the impression that this was a need for socialism, and that, on the contrary, Yugoslavia wanted to present joy, beauty and diversity. In other words, women must remain women – different from men; creatures who amaze and regenerate the male worker with their beauty and delight, while they are themselves workers and consumers if necessary. Like in other capitalist countries, the gender regime in Yugoslavia is not singular and monolithic – it varies over time and between classes. However, at the same time it presents people with contradictory requirements on how to perform a model of a given gender. Like the models which were presented to Yugoslav women, today’s girls and women are also sometimes presented with pictures of women as fighters for social justice, sometimes as workers, sometimes like cute house creatures who like cooking, practicing yoga, and commenting on series – or whatever the current ups and downs of capitalism require from them, and that can be presented as emancipating. Like the Yugoslav women yoked in the struggle and the construction of the state by unsparing toil, and then as housewives and consumers, today’s feminists and leftists – the glorifiers of Yugoslav workers – are also yoked in the tireless activist work of rescuing marginalized groups, warning on these and that social problems and the revitalization of the bureaucratised workers’ unions. At the same time, they are involved in the various low paid jobs of reproductive work for society and in the presentation of images of stylized combat femininity. Though the dedication to such tasks is certainly noble, if it is mediated by a state or NGOs, it leads to, among other things, characteristic political positions: these activists are often nominally against capitalism, but at the same time they are in favour of many social forms that support or constitute it: the state, the civil society, NGOs, parties, hierarchy, gender, the family, exclusive romantic relationship … Their horizon is essentially the same as that of the Yugoslav ideologists – capitalism, but more just. And in order to make it more just and to overcome the crises of reproductions less painfully, we have to work tirelessly.

In our not so systematic search we have not found texts from the Yugoslav period that are critically related to labour from a gender perspective, apart from the text of Blaženka Despot, The Women’s Question and Socialist Self-management from a book with the same title, published in 1987. Like other authors before her who were in any way critical towards labour (except for Tadić), Despot does not move from the model according to which labour is a tool in the hands of the workers, and it is a force opposed to capital. In addition, she considers positive that in self-management socialism, unlike ethatist socialism, producers rationally regulate their relations with nature, as well as gender and family relations.

Although her text is positively inclined towards self-management socialism as opposed to ethatist socialism, while writing about ethatist socialism, Despot describes its characteristics in terms of the women’s issue. These characteristics can, in effect, be applied to Yugoslavia as well. She points out that dogmatic and Stalinist Marxism vulgarly reduced the women’s question to the question of class, which led to the women’s question not being raised at all. The fact that the woman’s question always stands under quotation marks means that this issue is not considered to be relevant, but it is rather seens as a particular issue whose solution is passively left to the classless society of the future. She emphasizes that when the women’s issue is resolved in a normative way – with laws that, on the one hand, promote women’s equality in the economic and political spheres, and on the other, encourage female care for the family by advocating support for employed mother without at the same time worrying about the employed father – this means that the patriarchal division into the private and public sphere is reinforced even more. Most importantly, Despot emphasizes that the subordinate position of women in ethatist socialism stems from the relations of production themselves, and not from the survival of patriarchal patterns from the past:

“Everyday forms of discrimination against women are considered as remnants in the consciousness of people, that have no basis in the new mode of production. … The way of emancipation in ethatist socialism is therefore generality. Its generality towards the working class, in terms of everyday working conditions, is in the brutal takeover of the forces of production of capital, primarily science and technology. Since this science and technology have been invented as part of different production relations, rental relations, for another purpose – creating profits – they produce alienation; dizalienation is seen in production relations, the domination of the general over the particular, of politics over the economy. The abstraction of this generality necessarily assumes the authoritarianism of the division of labour stemming from the scientific organizations of labour, authoritarian relations among people, authoritarian relations of individuals towards the state, bureaucracy, the technocracy, authoritarian relations of men towards women. … The authoritarian production of material life necessarily corresponds to an authoritarian family and an authoritarian socialization of personality. So the women’s question cannot only not be solved, but not even posed, since the patriarchal family with patriarchal morality and the division of labour is the precondition for such a production of life. … So the circle closes: authoritarian production seeks an authoritarian family, as an authoritarian family socializes authoritarian people, who in their special interest are assimilated to the general interest of the state and the party. Such a way of production of life is considered necessary, the emancipation of the working class for the time being, and a complete emancipation of the classless society will come tomorrow. Socialist morality is considered as the cement of such a society, which is based on the patriarchal family morality, on the authoritarian and productivist morality. “

Although Despot says all this when describing etatist socialism, if one reads between the lines it can be seen that all of it can be said for Yugoslavia. Still, in Despot’s writing, like in the writings of many other authors, the failure of the potential for the liberation of women in Yugoslavia is attributed to the survival of patriarchal forms of the past: “… in Yugoslavia there is no feminism that would go beyond the class issues of the working class. … Women, who most strongly feel the authoritarian pressure in their lives, represent a powerful potential for the fulfilment of the culture of socialist self-management. But only the most empowered women are ready for this today … Women will be able to be more involved in institutional forms of self-management only when society becomes free from patriarchal mortgages. “

The women’s question in Yugoslavia has been subordinated to the class issue since the very beginning. According to the Communist Party, it had to be solved with the achievement of the people’s socialist rule. The war and postwar period were marked by the mass mobilization of women, through the Anti-fascist Front of Women, through reproductive work extended to the whole society (care for the wounded, the children, the illiterate, etc.) and free “heroic” labour on labour actions. Mass voluntary labour on labour actions sre soon replaced by paid industrial work. With the aim of institutionalizing the heroism of labour, in 1948, a system of special acknowledgments for labour was introduced: hero worker18, champion of socialist work, hero of socialist labour of the people’s republic, hero of socialist labour of the Federal People’s Republic of Yugoslavia (FPRY); meritorious agriculturist, meritorious cooperative agriculturist, prominent cooperative agriculturist of the people’s republic, prominent cooperative agriculturist of the FPRY; for working collectives: hero collective, collective champion of socialist labour, collective champion of socialist labour of the people’s republic, collective champion of socialist labour of the FPRY; for cooperatives: cooperative high yield fighter, meritorious cooperative, cooperative champion of the people’s republic, cooperative champion of the FPRY.

In her speech at the AFŽ Croatian congress in June 1945, Kata Pejnović summarized the following tasks of this organization: 1) strengthening brotherhood and unity, cleaning the country from the remains of fascism, 2) consolidating the people’s power, 3) building and restoring the homeland by developing wide-ranging initiatives, finding new labour methods, changing people’s relations towards work, 4) raising young generations, taking care of children, assisting health services and the Yugoslav army, and 5) combating illiteracy. For the new rule to be strengthened, it was necessary to work “heroically” and to transfer this new work ethic of infinite toil to new generations. Women needed to become the new massive labour force and to raise new generations of pliable labourers.

However, after the ideological conflicts and economic stagnation in the 1950s, the criticism of bureaucratization, state ownership and state management of production became regular parts of the official ideology. Therefore, in 1952, the market mechanism was introduced in most manufacturing and sales spheres. The indications of these ideological and social changes have been noted in the work of the AFŽ since 1950, at their third congress in which the focus is shifted from heroic labour to maternity and child protection issues, and employment is promoted as the basis for equality. As is well-evident in women’s magazines from the 1950s, patriarchal-consumer patterns begin to dominate women’s social position, which is not surprising for a society in which labour heroism is suddenly equated with market success.

Another contribution to Despot’s claim that the patriarchal division to the private and public sphere was reinforced is the fact that workers needed to pay for the state services that were supposed to “socialize” reproductive work! – pay for them as market services if they could afford them. Furthermore, the users of these services were mostly middle-class families. As it can be seen in the documentary film by Krešo Golik, From 3 to 22, many working class families had to leave small children alone at home while they were working, and known are the experiences of people who were tying their children to radiators. For the idea that a woman as an emancipated citizen, thanks to her purchasing power, freely buys and consumes these services on the market of “newly achieved” women’s rights, it is certainly an element and indicator of capitalist relations of production that push reproduction into the private sphere. An additional indicator is that there was no word about the abolition of the family in Yugoslavia. The possibility to freely sale their own workpower and to freely purchase support services for performing reproductive work were the greatest reaches of the “emancipation” of women, by which emancipation, in the words of Tijana Okić, “was reduced to a contractual, wage form”.

This is manifested in the position of women which is equivalent to the position of women in other capitalist countries: since 1950, mass layoffs and female labour force have been reported, the strengthening of the gender division of labour in the household, the feminisation of lower paid occupations and industry sectors (textile, tobacco, services). In addition, many resources were distributed through memberships in work organizations: meal coupons for restaurants, apartments, winter holidays, healthcare, scholarships, loans, etc., and women were largely unemployed. Self-management in the case of Yugoslavia meant the introduction of the market competition between the factories and firms, which necessarily meant a more unfavourable position for women.

Picture 6. Adela Jušić: We long for work and toil, in collaboration with Andreja Dugandžić, 2015, collage on a wall, Tuzla.
Part of the text:
Where are you headed threadbare and barefoot, and who do you work for?
When comrade Tito says “we need more help” – we will help!
Women of Tuzla and Kreka work without rest. They consider this work as their own need and duty. But they can barely manage to keep up, because the choirs and duties are multiplying from all sides.
Women of Tuzla exceeded their commitments.
Our backs are tired, but our faces radiate with the joy of socialism.
The forest work is also done by women. We see women working on the repairs of bridges, construction of houses, well repairs, repairs of toilets, repairs of houses in the workers’ centers, planting forest seedlings, the forest holdings and loading coal. To these tasks, women contributed 5,563 working days. The total amount of the overall work was 14,085 working days.

4. Against work and against gender

The goal of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, neither before the war nor after it, was not the struggle against capitalism. Work essentially remains wage labour, which plays an important role in the reproduction of a system that manages human resources with gender regimes characteristic for capitalism. Although based on existing literature, the relationship between labour and gender could only be discussed based on the position of women, what we wanted to do was to consider how damaging and anachronistic is to celebrate the Yugoslav labour regime, especially from a contemporary gender-critical perspective. During the postwar period, the moral of hard work was a feature of both capitalist and socialist countries, and the experience of Yugoslavia only structurally cemented the identification of workers, labour parties and many leftists with the position of labour. In other words, with the position of capital. The other complementary aspect of the moral of hard work is the moral of the family with strictly regulated gender roles, as evidenced in Yugoslavia by the criminalization and pathologization of gay men and lesbians who accused of perversion and idleness, that is, of a defective and undisciplined attitude towards sexuality and work, respectively, for being a threat to social reproduction.

What does the glorification of Yugoslavia and of labour, from the part of contemporary feminists and leftists, mean in today’s context of the labour crisis? What does the celebration of female toil mean to us today? What is it that we need to build today with heroic labour? At the present moment countries develop different programs of employment, subsidies and other measures that should alleviate the existing instability, and various NGOs, including feminist and LGBTI, try to engage with various unemployable subjects and bring them into the world of labour through various campaigns and policy proposals: women, queer people, young people without experience, elderly people, homeless people, people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, etc. In the context of these sad efforts there is a nostalgic view of the false image of the Yugoslav labour society and the position of women in it, for which we believe that it undoubtedly leads to perspectives which strengthen the role of the state as well as of the labour and gender terror. For modern capitalism calls for more flexible, but still gender-specific identities, so the “progressive” labour policy and “progressive” gender-related policies (gender equality, legal gender recognition, etc.) continue to control and manage different subjects in accordance with already established gender concepts. These progressive policies do not suggest ways of life that are different from the existing system. Their aspirations are limited to clearing the ground and establishing a dialogue with power in order to overcome the economic crisis in a more equal and decent manner. People need to stay busy – so labour has to be fairer and more enjoyable, and women, queers and various “unproductive” subjects need to have the impression that they are too, because of their working status, citizens and that they participate in decision-making. The modern crisis does not create unemployed people only among the unskilled and the “hard-to-employ”, but also among those who crave for managerial positions and who, in the forms of social work students, NGO-careerists, socially engaged artists, young union associates, etc. want to educate, manage and govern the workers, or some of their construct of workers, in order to create some fictional functions and positions. There is no greater pleasure for them than to say, when speaking about some social group, that “they are workers too”, or for some social problem that “it is a class question”, as if those statements themselves are solving something. What these statements achieve is that they reduce people to a pliable and controllable entity that they will be able to represent by their NGOs and parties, according to the well-known leftist recipe of the “avant-garde” that manages the production and the state during the “transition period”.

That is why they continue to impose Yugoslav workers who toiled for the state and the party as role models. However, let’s consider the possibility that refusing to identify with the figure of the worker, or by refusing to identify with labour, could lead to the rejection of other social roles, such as gender roles, that are here to functionally structure our lives and move us away from our cravings and affinities. In addition to the refusal of labour in the “productive sphere”, of course, there has to be also a rejection of the work in the non-productive, reproductive sphere, ie the rejection of the state and its role of enabling the reproduction of labour by codifying and managing the heterosexual household. For, as a maintainer of the division of the capitalist mode of production into productive and unproductive work, gender requires continuous reproduction through violence, and the state is there to support this violence.

Because of the role that gender and the state have in the capitalist mode of production, our struggle against labor and gender cannot have the characteristics of labor struggles for a better position in the production system. As long as we strive to participate in the dialogue with power, and politicize our struggle by seemingly associating with the working class and proclaiming our issues class issues, as long as we resort to rationalist and democratic demands for political equality, as long as we strive for representation by the parties, trade unions and NGOs, we remain in the field of capital.


Bædan 1: Journal of Queer Nihilism, baedan.noblogs.org

Bodrijar, Žan, 2011. Ogledalo proizvodnje [The Mirror of Production], Anarhija/ blok 45, Beograd

Bonnano, Alfredo, Let’s Destroy Work, Let’s Destroy the Economy!, theanarchistlibrary.org

Jovanov, Neca, 1979. Radnički štrajkovi u Socijalističkoj Federativnoj Republici Jugoslaviji od 1958. do 1969. Godine [Workers’ Strikes in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1958 to 1969], Zapis, Beograd

Dauvé, Gilles, Get rid of work, libcom.org

Dota, Franko 2017. Javna i politička povijest muške homoseksualnosti u socijalističkoj Hrvatskoj, 1945–1989. [Public and political history of male homosexuality in the socialist Croatia, 1945-1989] Doktorska teza, Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, Odsjek za povijest.

Grupa Kriza, Manifest protiv rada [Manefesto against Labour], gerusija.com

Kovač, Leonida, 2007. Zelene vrpce. Samoreprezentacijski radovi Naste Rojc i Stjepana Lahovskog iz zbirke Dr. Josipa Kovačića [Green Ribbons. Self-representative works of Nasta Rojc and Stjepan Lahovski from the collection of Dr. Josip Kovačić], Muzej suvremene umjetnosti, Zagreb

Kozomara, Olga 1968. “Obustave rada juče i danas” [Protest Suspensions of Work Yesterday and Today], u: Kulturni radnik, Zagreb, 2

Mraović, Boriša, 2016.”Heroizam rada – Antifašistički front žena i socijalistički dispozitiv 1945-1953″, u: Izgubljena revolucija: AFŽ između mita i zaborava [Heroism of work – Antifascist front of Women and the socialist dispositive 1945-1953], CRVENA, Sarajevo

Okić, Tijana, 2016. “Od revolucionarnog do proizvodnog subjekta: alternativna historija AFŽ-a”, u: Izgubljena revolucija: AFŽ između mita i zaborava [From the revolutionary to the productive subject: an alternative history of AFŽ], CRVENA, Sarajevo

Perlman, Fredi, Rađanje revolucionarnog pokreta u Jugoslaviji [The Birth of a Revolutionary Movement in Yugoslavia] (originaly published in the USA 1969 – Red&Black, Detroit, repupublished in this issue of Antipolitika)

Postone, Moishe 2006. Time, labor, and social domination. A reinterpretation of Marx’s critical theory, Cambridge University Press, libcom.org

Semprun, Jaime, Notes on the manifesto against labor, libcom.org

Scholz, Roswitha 2009 Patriarchy and Commodity Society: Gender without the Body, mediationsjournal.org

Tadić, Ljubomir 1962. “Oslobođenje rada ili oslobođenje radničke klase”[Liberation of labour or the liberation of the working class], u: Pregled 11-12, Sarajevo

The Situationist Manifesto, www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/si/manifesto.html

Todorović, Mijalko 1965. Oslobođenje rada [ The Liberation of Labour], Kultura, Beograd

Vaneigem, Raoul, The Subsistence Society, u: From Wildcat Strike to Total Self Management, www.cddc.vt.edu/sionline/postsi/ratgeb.html

Vidaković, Zoran 1968. “Dva prilaza protestnim obustavama rada (štrajkovima)”[Two approaches to supensions of work (strikes)], u: Gledišta 1, Beograd

1He uses the word “baba”, which can be an offensive way to reffer to old women and generally to women.

2 The organ of the Anti-Fascist Front of Women which was issued from 1943 to 1974, but changing its name into Women in 1957.

3 During the war, non-normative sexual behaviour was under strict control and was harshly punished. In 1951, male “homosexuality” was criminalized, and the official rhetoric associated it with the remains of the ousted bourgeois society and depicted gay men as a threat to the a new socialist society because of their decadence, corruption of youth and laziness (see Figure 5). Thus, certain non-normative sexualities are associated with a certain work ethic, or in this case, the lack thereof. In addition to this official position, there was also the view that the condemnation of different sexual behaviour was the remains of bourgeois morals. However, the persecution of gay men continued until 1977, when consensual relations were decriminalized in Montenegro, Vojvodina, Croatia and Slovenia. Nevertheless, gay people continued to be pathologized in the official medical discourse. From the late 1970s to the 1980s, positively intoned articles on LG themes started to appear in pop-cultural magazines. The first positive shift in the field of science was the book Framed by One’s Own Sex by Marijan Košiček released in 1986, in which the author combines liberal ideas about tolerance with socialist ideas of egalitarianism and invites other physicians and scientists to depatologize and normalize “homosexuality”. We have no knowledge of the experiences of persons of other sexual and gender identities in Yugoslavia.

4 A special term was used for workers who performed “heroic” labour – udarnik and udarnica.

5 For this separation, Roswitha Scholz uses the concept of value dissociation.

6 This work is valorised when it is performed by the state. This is one of its crucial functions of the state which is most intensively managing reproductive work in times of crisis.

7 At least this can be deduced from the literature we have gathered for this essay.

8 A term used by Moishe Postone.

9 According to him, the rise of the standard of living is also reflected in the “diversity and variety that the free initiative of direct producers and the direct voluntary influence of consumers and other users and stakeholders impose and ensure, unlike the administrative-centralist planning and monopoly dictates of every kind.” He also advocated the elimination of the small-scale peasant economy.

10 He uses the sintagm ‘zakon vrijednosti’ which literally translates as the law of value. However, we will use “the value form”, as it is more accurate.

11 In the text The Liberation of Work or the Liberation of the Working Class? (a chapter of the book Social Conflicts – A Challenge to Sociology, Official Gazette, 2008, the first issue of 1983 was banned) Nebojša Popov commented Kardelj’s and Todorović’s attitude towards labour: “The specificity of this variant of the ideology of labour lies primarily in the fact that it wants to distinguish itself from both capitalism and Stalinism, but ends up standing half way between both. Its protagonists would like to dismiss the Stalinist command over labour characterized by the elements of the pre-war mode of production … but without letting the political monopoly from their hands, as they would also like to legalize bourgeois economic relations, but without a classical property monopoly and without parliamentary democracy. This creates a mixture of ideas combining pre-bourgeois political, and bourgeois economic relations. In any case, the prospect of socialism becomes blurred, even unthinkable. The economic and political emancipation are so apart one from the other that the social emancipation becomes unimaginable.” Popov further points out that the goal of ending the class society is lost in sight, and that the ideology of the liberation of work becomes a barrier to the liberation of the working class.
In the words of Fredy Perlman from the text The Birth of the Revolutionary Movement in Yugoslavia from 1969, the social organization advocated by Kardelj, Todorovic and others is “… a distribution system that can be summed up with a slogan “from everyone according to their possibilities, to each according to their market success, a slogan describing a system of social relations widely known as capitalist production of goods rather than socialism.”

12 “However, the distribution according to the individual quantum of labour and the system of self-management within the economic unit create a favourable social atmosphere in which the reified human labour, the labour as a measure of a certain value of goods, no longer appears as a power aliens to the producer, though some forms remain, albeit modified, adapted to the needs and the spirit of the system of free distribution of income, which carry the elements of alienation (money) and which as such opposes the producer whom he sees as an unvanquished mean of exchange, as something alienated.”

13 Quoted from Jovanov, Neca, 1979. Workers’ Strikes in the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1958 to 1969, Zapis, Belgrade

14 In The Mirror of Production, Jean Baudrillard says that Marx did manage to denaturalize capital, labour and private property, but failed to denaturalize the useful purpose of commodities as a function of needs.

15 It was also published in the book Order and Freedom, Kultura, Belgrade, 1967

16 “It is, however, possible to prove that the working class responds to the slowing down of the overcoming of class relations which is reflected in 1) the suppression of the working class to the positions of the object of power; 2) the breaking up of the unity of the working class, and 3) supporting the tendency towards technocracy instead of socialist democracy, a tendency very pronounced today in the world and, among other things, expressed in the attitudes that many problems are unique to all industrial societies, whether capitalist or socialist. This tendency [technocracy] is, in Yugoslavia, also expressed in statistical comparisons justifying any social injustice. ”

17 Apropos unemployment, she believes that “surplus labour” both as a term and as a phenomenon, should not be present in the socialist economy.

18 Udarnik