Praxis: an attempt at ruthless criticism

Yugoslav socialism was a unique political experiment, not just because it said ‘no’ to Stalin in 1948 and implemented a system of workers’ self-management, but because of the uniqueness of the ‘left opposition’ and the critique of the political elite that emerged there. Unlike countries behind the ‘Iron Curtain’ Yugoslavia had a higher level of tolerance for political criticism – especially when it came from intellectual circles or opposition within the League of Communists.[1] When Aleksandar Ranković, head of state security service and prominent unitarist retired the space for free expression expanded, allowing cultural movements such as Yugoslav Black Wave cinema[2], and the new wave and underground music scenes to flourish [3]. There were obviously limits to this tolerance though. The League did not tolerate movements and initiatives that emerged in response to the realities of work life, such as workplace and other class-based struggles.

The emergence of the philosophical journal Praxis (1964-1974) and the Korčula Summer School (1963-1974) was an important political development as it was effectively the ‘left opposition’ within Yugoslavia. It was seen by some in ‘the west’ as exotic because few of its essays were translated and published in English. For this reason, a lot of ‘mist’ surrounds it. For example, Wikipedia and Marxist Internet Archive contain a lot of misinformation. The Memory of the World archive tried to rectify this by uploading most issues of Praxis and other miscellaneous material. However, the language barrier remains as their ‘international editions’ did not include the vast bulk of the content produced and published by them.

In this essay I will present their story and explain why they were and remain an important development in history of Yugoslavia and their successor states.

WHAT WAS PRAXIS?

Praxis was an academic journal published by Croatian Philosophical Society (HFD). Its founding members were: Branko Bošnjak, Danko Grlić, Milan Kangrga, Danilo Pejović, Gajo Petrović, Rudi Supek and Predrag Vranicki[4]; all members of HFD and professors at Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Zagreb. Danilo Pejović left the Editorial Board in 1966 because he joined the Croatian nationalist fraction within the League, and in the years that followed the Editorial Council expanded. The first issue of Praxis was published in 1964 and the last one in 1974.

The first public appearance of the entire editorial board of Praxis (Student Centre, Zagreb, end of 1964). From left to right: Rudi Supek, behind him (obscured from view), Branko Bošnjak, Gajo Petrović (editor-in-chief), Danilo Pejović (editor-in-chief), Predrag Vranicki, Milan Kangrga, Danko Grlić; far right (with back turned): the director of the Student Centre, M. Heremić, next to him, Antun Žvan.

In the first issue they explain their positions and set out their goals. This issue focused solely on the concept of practice/praxis, through which they elaborated their critique of Yugoslav socialism, statist dogma, and the lack of an academic and/or political critique. In their introductory text, “Why Praxis?”, they stated how they want a journal:

“that would not be philosophical in the sense according to which philosophy is just one of the special areas, one scientific discipline, strictly separated by the rest of them and from the problems of everyday human life. We want a philosophical journal in the sense that philosophy is the thought of the revolution, ruthless criticism of all that exists, a humanist vision of the human world and as an inspirational force for revolutionary activity.”[5]

What lay behind the notion of “ruthless criticism” was the idea that nobody has the right to a monopoly of criticism and thought. Or in other words they should be willing to freely and openly criticize socialist development, or the lack of it, in Yugoslavia. For them, it was primarily the task of Marxists to critically discuss the problems of their country, with an emphasis on socialist internationalism, and a strong rejection of nationalism of any kind. To this end, they stated that the:

“problems of Croatia today cannot be discussed separately from the problems of Yugoslavia, and the problems of contemporary Yugoslavia cannot be isolated from the big questions of the contemporary world. Neither socialism nor Marxism are something strictly national, so Marxism cannot be Marxism, or socialism – socialism, if we enclose ourselves in narrow national frames.”[6]

They stated, they were not interested in “preserving the truth” and “conserving Marx”, but in a broader discussion that would enable non-Marxists to participate too.

Right away in their introductory text, “Why Praxis?”, they state that the positions presented in articles published in the journal belong exclusively to authors and not to editorial staff as a whole as they were not an ideologically homogenous group.

In his book, Practice/Truth (1986), Gajo Petrović wrote that the mission of Praxis was to liberate Marx from “Stalinist silts” to reveal and revive, and to further develop his authentic thoughts. For them the concept of praxis was a central concept of Marx’s thought, which is why they refer to it as a philosophy of practice. The primary concern of this philosophy was the human as a being of practice. According to Petrović, when talking about practice, Marx did not think about man’s economic and political activity, politics of some ‘socialist’ government or political party, but rather:

“Practice as a specifically human way of being that distinguishes man from any other being. It is through free creative activity that man creates and shapes himself and his human world and the historical activity that results from this force.”[7]

Furthermore, Petrović states in several places in their introductory text that Praxis see Marx’s thought as the “thought of the revolution.” According to which they understand the meaning of revolution in the right way – revolution is not just the highest form, but the essence of the practice.

KORČULA SUMMER SCHOOL

Aside from the journal they also organized the Korčula Summer School. The idea for both, the journal and the summer school, originated in a symposium, ‘Progress and Culture’, held in Dubrovnik in 1963, where Western academics, such as Erich Fromm, Henri Lefebvre, and Lucien Goldmann participated. The following year the first issue of Praxis was published and the first Summer School was held. Important contributions to the summer schools ended up in Praxis, and some would appear in its international edition.

Jürgen Habermas (Korčula, 1968).

The international members of Praxis‘s Editorial Council and permanent participants of the Korčula Summer School were: Kostas Axelos, Alfred J. Ayer, Hans Dieter Bahr, Zygmunt Baumann, Norman Birnbaum, Ernst Bloch, Thomas Bottomore, Umberto Cerroni, Robert S. Cohen, Marvin Farber, Eugen Fink, Erich Fromm, Lucien Goldmann, André Gorz, Jürgen Habermas, Erich Haeintel, Agnes Heller, Leszek Kolakowski, Karel Kosik, Henri Lefebvre, Lucio Lombardo Radice, György Lukacs, Serge Mallet, Herber Marcusce, Stefan Morawski, Enzo Paci, Howard L. Pasons, David Riesman, Ivan Varga, Marx Waroffsky, Kurt Wolff, Georg Henrik von Wright, Aldo Zanardo and Julius Strinka.[8] Obviously others also participated in the summer school and wrote for the journal too. This is not intended as an exhaustive list.

Luka Bogdanović explained in his paper, “Why Praxis? Or about historical origins of Praxis journal” that “Praxis and Korčula Summer School became a place of meeting, confrontation and exchange between philosophers from the East and the West.”[9]

Korčula Summer School was conceived as:

  1. “The professional training of people employed in high and middle schools, various institutes and social organizations as well as in journalism, in the disciplines of philosophy and sociology.
  2. The exchange of scientific experiences and thoughts in all areas of activity in the country,
  3. The exchange of thoughts and experiences between foreign and domestic scientists and experts in the domain, and the trends, of philosophical and sociological thought in Europe and the World, so that everyone would be in step with the substantial flows of thought in the world and aware of the newest literature in that field of work.”[10]

Thus, the Korčula Summer School had an academic character from the outset. We can see this in the themes of the Summer School, too:

“1963 – Progress and Culture (Dubrovnik), 1964 – The Point and Perspectives of Socialism, 1965 – What is History? (…), 1967 – Creativity and Enlightenment, 1968 – Marx and Revolution, 1969 – Power and Humanity, 1970 – Hegel and Our Time (…), 1971 – Utopia and Reality, 1972 – Freedom and Equality, 1973 – Essence and Boundaries of Civil World, 1974 – Art in the Technological World.”[11]

After 1974 the Summer School was banned by the “Stalinist bureaucracy”.[12] According to Kangrga, the Council of Korčula received a decree from the ‘state level’ to ban the summer school, and not allow any further activity of this type in their town. The Council accepted this decision even though they expressed their concerns, through private not public means, about the loss of out of season tourists.

Herbert Marcuse (Korčula, 1968).

1964-1968

Even before the first issue of Praxis was published, the individuals that made up its core constituted an ‘opposition’, within Yugoslavia, and especially the Socialist Republic of Croatia. Many of these people were involved in writing for and publishing the Views journal (1952-1954), edited by Rudi Supek. This journal published a number of interesting and noteworthy texts, such as Gajo Petrović’s “Philosophy in USSR from October Revolution to 1938” (1952), or Milan Kangrga’s “Problems of Ideology” (1953) – which outlined many of the ideas that would define Praxis. The early seeds of Praxis can be seen in Bogdanić’s use of Kangrga’s quote: “Praxis (…) is not just industry, experiment, economy, production, but the totality of human existence, totality of his manifestation, his substantially determination.”[13]

The first issue of Praxis set the agenda for what would follow. It warned about the discrepancy between the proclaimed theory and existing practice. It said that philosophers need to engage in practice and criticism instead of just writing about purely abstract subjects.

Texts published in the second issue of Praxis were attacked during the 8th Congress of the League in 1964. In particular Miroslav Pečujlić along with Gajo Petrović, Mihailo Marković, Boris Ziherl and Maks Baćae came under fire for their comments in a discussion about role of the philosopher-communist in criticizing politicians. And when 1968 happened, as it did elsewhere, it gave birth to a critical and radical student movement.[14]

Students at Korčula Summer School (Korčula, 1968).

The 1968 student protests in Belgrade were the biggest revolt against the government in the history of socialist Yugoslavia. On 2 June 1968, students, who were trying to reach the city assembly to give them their demands, clashed with the police. In their document, “Resolution of student protests”, they stated that the problems they wanted addressed were “social inequality, unemployment, existence of strong bureaucratic forces and bad situation on Yugoslav universities.”[15] Their demands were “firm action against enrichment in un-socialist way, reduction of managerial cadre without adequate qualifications, and the employment of young experts, the democratization of all social and political organizations, especially the League, equal participation of students in university bodies, and free access to university.”[16]

Events in Zagreb were inspired by events in Belgrade. Students started to gather in, student dormitories on 3 June to express their support for what students in Belgrade were doing and demanding. The movement in Zagreb culminated with a protest on 5 June at the Student Centre. League members, as well as professors, such as Vanja Sutlić, Gajo Petrović and Milan Kangrga addressed the protest. Students demanded to hear the opinion of the latter two. In his autobiographical book Smugglers of their own lives (2002), Kangrga recalls that he appealed to the students to behave in a ‘civilized’ way and in accordance with their social status because “we are not a rabble, we are the academics.”[17] He urged the students not to protest outside but to stay within the walls of the Student Centre and discuss. He was afraid that if students go outside they would get beaten up by the police. He stated that their demands were fully justified.

Svetozar Stojanović, Praxis member from Belgrade, spoke about in 1968 Praxis had to decide whether it was going to live up to its theory and put it into practice.[18] Unfortunately most of members of Praxis remained uninterested in these events. In Zagreb, only Petrović, Kangrga and Mladen Čaldrović showed some interest, but that was not enough, especially when you consider the role Petrović played in pacifying students on behalf of Pero Piker, the Secretary of the City Council. We can say that in Zagreb, Praxis was on the same side as the League: against the rebellious students. Unlike them, Praxis‘s Belgrade associates were equal participants and they participated on their own initiative.

To conclude, in the heat of 1968 Praxis decided to put its theory before political practice, even though their ideas, criticisms and demands were in line with those of the students and they had tried to put them into practice. In the pages of Praxis in the next few issues they tried to avoid conflict with the government by analyzing student movements and the ‘New Left’ around the World, by not mentioning what happened in Yugoslavia. This was a pragmatic move. According to Klasić, if they had participated in the student movement or advocated its ideas it would have meant the end of their journal. Also, there was one incident that year at Korčula Summer School which demonstrated a chasm between the students and the professors. A group of students, led by Šime Vranić, visited Korčula Summer School and decided to write revolutionary slogans on the walls of Korčula’s houses. This angered the town council, and they threatened to cancel the Summer School which resulted in Praxis condemning the students.

Korčula 1968.

CRITIQUE OF YUGOSLAVIA

A Croatian nationalist movement known as ‘the Croatian Spring’ emerged in 1971 demanding greater liberalization of the economy and the political system. This movement occupies a central place in contemporary Croatian nationalist identity and mythology.

From the outset Praxis took a strong anti-nationalist stance and this is why they did not support the ‘Croatian Spring’ movement, or any other nationalist movement within Yugoslavia, nor did they support unitarian/centralist forces. This episode pushed Praxis to deepen their critique of Yugoslav society and socialism. In Praxis #3-4, published in 1971, they explored what they called the ‘Moment of Yugoslav socialism’, in which they present a multifaceted – economic, political, cultural and philosophical – critique of Yugoslavia. Some of the essays in this issue were also published in issues 5 and 6 that year, and some were translated into French and English, and published in the ‘international edition’.

Praxis did not have an ‘ideological line’ that they all agreed on and defended. Different writers adopted different perspectives and attitudes to the questions and topics of the day. The diversity in opinion and freedom of expression was a defining feature of the journal. Thus, we will examine the most representative and important positions staked out in ‘their’ multifarious analysis and critique of Yugoslavia.

Rudi Supek wrote that self-management along with the Non-Aligned Movement[19] proved to be the most efficient instruments of Yugoslav socialism. He presented a critique of statist socialism that was simultaneously minimalist and maximalist. Minimalist in that he points to the ‘way of socialism’ in Yugoslavia, in distancing itself from the negative aspects of socialism in other countries; and the pluralist approach to Marxist analysis of political and social affairs. The maximalist critique centered on the claim that statism is rooted in Marx’s theory of the withering away of the state and his theory of alienation, which is in reality workers’ self-management. That the principle of self-management is not wrong in itself but what is wrong is the fact that it is not developed enough and integrated into the wider social system. It is not Marxist, according to him, but democratic-liberalism or Proudhonism.

According to him, workers’ self-management became the  “theme of the day” in the movement, with left intellectual circles and amongst the ‘progressive’ liberal bourgeoisie because: a) the development of modern sociology and social-psychology led to discovery of the “human factor” in the production, and by extension without Marxism it came to the conclusion that workers’ should participate in the decision making process at the enterprise level; b) the trade unions have through collective agreements got a right to participate in decision making processes in their enterprises; c) the creation of an “intellectual proletariat” through the growth of the third sector, and “enterprise unionism” and self-management became a vehicle for democratization and “normalization” of economic management; d) there is a need for an alternative to statist socialism; e) highly developed countries with a strong tradition of statism and centralization need to find a ‘way to socialism’ via participatory and direct democracy; f) the idea of workers’ self-management is a threatening and offensive force in developed countries that calls for action instead of waiting for liberation to come via the Second and Third World, and; g) the Marxist or socialist intelligentsia quickly became aware of the power of self-management.[20]

The contradictions of Yugoslav self-management, according to Supek, were: a) it allowed some self-managing organizations full autonomy, which in a market economy led to inequality in income and other inequities; b) the total freedom of market commodity money relations (there was an ideology about “socialist commodity money relations” and “socialist market”); c) a spirit of bourgeois liberalism – individualistic and “atomistic” understanding of social organization – prevailed; d) this type of political democracy shaped the economic life of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia combined horizontal self-management in the economic sphere with vertical statist power structures, which is why the system of self-management was dependent on the authority of the state.

Ljubomir Tadić, on the other hand, emphasized the ambivalence of the workers’ movement and revolutionary socialist theory toward the state, which he saw as deeply rooted in Marxism itself. He pointed out that unlike Marxism, anarchism had a clear anti-statist attitude from the beginning.

The problems of Yugoslavia, according to him, were: a) the internal organization of society and state, i.e., the relationship between centralization and decentralization, and; b) the classical question of state form. In addressing the latter point he made use of the writings of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon and Aristotle. Tadić’s response to this was federalism, with its principle of freedom. Central to this principle was the belief that more freedom ought to be reserved for that smaller collectives than the larger ones.

Tadić concluded that Proudhon’s theory of “workers’ democracy” is only possible in a decentralized society. Proudhon developed the idea of mutualism, i.e. the idea of justice understood as mutuality, exchange, a middle point with a balance.[21] In a “workers’ democracy” politics is a consequence of the economy.

The political consequence of mutualism is federalism. A political federation arises out of industrial and agricultural association, which is why workers have no need for the state and ought to accept the principle of competition. In this schema competition is an expression of the spontaneity of the society, a sign of its dynamism. It should not be destroyed but balanced. The “power of decentralization” is founded on the principle of ownership, according to which the principle of justice (mutuality), which conflicts with the power in the state in the form of “monopolies and the concentration” of capital.[22]

In an essay entitled, “Bureaucratic Socialism”, Gajo Petrović distinguishes between three different conceptions of socialism. The first one sees socialism as a social system that negates capitalism. Linked to this understanding of socialism is a second conception that sees it as the movement that creates socialism. The third conception is distinguished from the previous two in that it is a theory that probes the possibilities for advancing socialism. In this way, it is a theoretical accompaniment to the first and second conception.  “Bureaucratic socialism” only understands the first conception, and for Petrović a bureaucrat is a “man who independently of his own ‘subjective’ beliefs and individual characteristics belongs to the social layer whose ‘objective’ social position is defined by his relationship to the ‘bureau.’”[23] Petrović points out that the bureaucratic view of socialism is systematized in Stalin’s “canonization” of socialism as the “lower phase of communism”, that ought to come into existence after a period known as the “dictatorship of the proletariat.” This “canonization” provides us with the following ‘scheme’:

capitalism → dictatorship of the proletariat → lower phase of communism (socialism) → higher phase of communism (full communism)

The roots of this ‘scheme’ laid out in Marx’s Critique of the Gotha Programme and later developed by Lenin and others. Petrović critiques this theory for singling out the dictatorship of the proletariat as a period between capitalism and socialism:

“[The] Dictatorship of the proletariat is indeed a dictatorship of the proletariat, only if it is already the beginning of socialism and communism. (…) If the dictatorship of the proletariat is understood as a special transitional period, which is neither capitalism nor socialism, it can be understood as a period of unlimited terror and violence.”[24]

What is the essence of communism? Petrović wrote, according to Marx, communism is the “creation of practical humanism.” For Petrović, communism is a transitional society from capitalism to humanism. Communism is as communist as it is humanist:

“According to Marx communism is the ‘reintegration or return of the man to himself’, [the] ‘abolition of man’s self-alienation’. And the abolition of alienation means ‘the return of man from religion, family, state to a human, i.e. social, existence’. Communism, therefore, is not just another socio-economic formation, it is the abolition of the primacy of the economic sphere and catches human life in its fullness.”[25]

In his presentation of ‘communism’, he mentions Lassalleau who thought that distribution according to “work” is “just”. He compares it to the position of Marx and Engels, who thought that the principle of distribution according to work done belongs to bourgeois society, in its search to impose a universal measure on the different types of work done, so that despite its formal equality it represented a violation of rights and inequality. Moreover, Petrović is perfectly aware that in the first phase of socialist development it will be impossible to abolish the injustice that is distribution according to work, but he believes later the conditions for transcending narrow bourgeois right and the fulfilment of principle of distribution according to needs will be realised.

In comparison to Tadić and Petrović who theoretically and philosophically criticized the ‘present state of things’ in Yugoslavia, Veljko Cvjetičanin tackled the concrete problems of Yugoslav socialism. The Yugoslav economy experienced a gradual slowdown in the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the growth of all shapes of consumption and unemployment (the economy needed to grow by 9% per annum in order to absorb the new work force). The pressures this placed on the economy risked crashing, especially when you consider the role debt played. Income derived from work fell in response to this, as more than 30% of income was accrued outside of work time. All this led to greater social stratification; the ruling middle class that occupied positions in the administration of the society were on the rise, while the working-class was in decline. The situation was even worse for the rural population that made up 45% of the population.

The gap between economic performance and social reality caused an ideological crisis. It was harder and harder for Yugoslav socialism to perform the integrative role it once did, once commercialization started to take root. The resulting erosion of Yugoslav socialist ideology and identity allowed nationalism to emerge in the creeping void created by this.

Praxis put a lot of faith in self-management as a process that could develop socialism in Yugoslavia, and in the rest of the world too. If we go back a little bit to Praxis 2, from 1964, Mihajlo Marković wrote that:

“True self-management presupposes the existence of rational, socialized, humane personalities that understand the wholeness of the social process, and are aware of the relative connections of personal, group and general interests and adhere to certain ideals of human purposefulness.”[26]

Furthermore, he claims under-developed societies do not possess such a population, which is why a revolutionary elite is needed to motivate the masses (even by force), to ensure “progress”. That same elite should shift its attention to the realization of self-management and slowly abolish itself. It is worth noting here that Svetozar Stojanović also had a conception of a ‘statist class’ in the sense of a ruling class that opposes the working class.[27] However, in case of Yugoslavia, Stojanović had no problem admitting that “there is no real evidence that the historical process of the withering away of the state and the transcending of politics as an alienated power dominated by professional groups started”[28], and continued, “it is really naive to believe that the state would die out while the Party ruled.”[29] The political crisis of 1960s and 1970s was rooted in an inability to radically “destalinize”.

Praxis also published a critique of this issue of the journal written by Stipe Šuvar, a prominent Croatian politician, and it appeared in Praxis 5 (1971). Šuvar wrote that the reform of the League could not come to fruition if self-management did not function as a relationship of production.[30] According to him, self-management had conquered minds, but failed as a relationship of production.  This was, of course, because of the limits of the self-management: an under-developed material basis; the lack of a self-managed structure for productive workers and others; the failure to integrate self-managed economic units; the tendency for the rule of elite instead of the rule of the masses; and the discrepancy between self-management in work organizations and in the political system[31]:

“In our country the working class still does not have economic power, that power belongs to these social forces and social layers, which are according to their way of life, place in the social division of labor, share in division of social wealth, not only separated from the class but often objectively opposed.”[32]

All that Yugoslavia needed was to push self-management harder, and system would correct all its flaws.

The League did not look kindly upon the critical issues of Praxis published in 1971, especially not with the political changes that were happening in the background – such as the growth of nationalism. After long philosophical and political debates, media attacks and ‘conversations’ with prominent local leaders of the League, Praxis had to give up and stop publishing. However, they retained their university jobs, they were not prosecuted, or imprisoned. They stopped publishing the journal because the League stopped funding it – which was until then funded out of public funds.

FALLOUT OF… EVERYTHING

There is a lack of information about the activities of certain members of Praxis after they stopped publishing it. We do know that on April 1981, Praxis International was published in Oxford. This was mainly the work of the ‘Belgrade faction’. Only Supek supported it. However, the rest of the Praxis, with Kangrga being the most vocal about it, disagreed with publishing the journal with the same or a similar name because it reduced the chance of Praxis being published again, anytime soon, in Yugoslavia.

The ‘core crew’ of Praxis in Zagreb mostly retreated into everyday life, once their financial support was withdrawn, and got on with their university jobs. Some of them continued to write for other publications, but not in the way they wrote for Praxis.  Petrović and Supek died in 1993. Kangrga remained politically active in the 1990s. In 1997 Feral Tribune published a book of his essays and newspaper columns called Outside of historical events: documents of one epoch in which he openly criticized the authoritarian regime of then president Franjo Tuđman and his Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ). Feral Tribune also published his autobiography Smugglers of their own lives in which he presented the story of Praxis journal, but also his own sharp criticism of both Yugoslav and ‘post-Yugoslav’ (i.e. Croatian and Serbian) political elite, nationalism and his ex-colleagues and comrades. Of course, just like every autobiography this book ought to be taken with a ‘pinch of salt’, as it descends into the rants of an old man at times. In the book he also states that he was a supporter of the Socialist Workers Party (SRP), a tiny party led by Stipe Šuvar, based around Yugonostalgia. However, it is important to emphasize Praxis vanguard status as an intellectual force that promoted pro-European Union (neo)liberalism, as opposed to Croatian nationalism. This is especially true of the second generation of Praxis, with authors such as Žarko Puhovski.

Unlike Kangrga who remained a strong critic of both Croatian and Serbian nationalism, Serbian Praxis members went in other directions.

Ljubo Tadić was one of the founding members of Democratic Party (DS) in December 1989. His son Boris Tadić served as Serbian president from 2004 to 2012.  On February 3, 1990s, Mićunović, another founding members of DS, and he were installed as its president. In 1996, he formed another party – Democratic Centre. Trivo Inđić was the Assistant Federal Minister for Education and Culture of the Federative Republic of Yugoslavia[33] from 1992 to 1994, and the ambassador of the FR Yugoslavia to Spain from 2001 to 2004. He became the political advisor to Serbian president Boris Tadić in 2004. Mihailo Marković was one of co-authors of the notorious ‘SANU Memorandum’[34] and was one of the main supporters of the Serbian nationalist politics of Slobodan Milošević. Svetozar Stojanović served as a special adviser to former FR Yugoslav president Dobrica Cosić (1992-1993). He was one of the main critics of Milošević’s politics and participated in October 2000 overthrow of his regime. Later on, Serbian president Vojislav Koštunica appointed him to the Council for Foreign Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Serbia.

A sad, but not so unexpected, end to this story.

FINAL WORDS

So, “why is Praxis important?”

For me, personally, they were a really important discovery in my intellectual ‘coming of age’, opening a lot of doors. Their discussion and writing styles were different and unique to each author but they all shared a common characteristic: intellectual curiosity, openness, respect and the ability to ‘agree to disagree’. Furthermore, all of them were authentic intellectuals that were not limited to their contributions to Praxis but also numerous other publications, academic and non-academic, numerous books, and translated and edited the most important authors of their time. They were a bridge between the East and the West and kept the flame of intellectual life and discussion alive.  A flame which has long since been extinguished, with mediocrity taking its place. They also presented their own critique of Yugoslavia, a ‘left’ one, that is incredibly important.

However, they suffered from various contradictions and problems – like we all do.

First of all, they limited themselves to an abstract critique and academic activity. Despite Stojanović’s call for them to “put their theory into practice”, Praxis sided with the League in 1968 in order to secure its existence, and this fear of their own existence pushed them away from a wider political engagement. This was partially because they viewed themselves as a ‘socialist intelligentsia’ and did not see potential for change without their involvement as such – as an ‘intelligentsia’, an elite. Which is why they took care not to jeopardize their own social position.

Furthermore, while their critiques were a ‘thorn in the side’ of a lot of Yugoslav politicians and the League itself, they were really outdated and shallow at the level of Marxist-Humanism. Here I have no intention of getting drawn into the most overrated and useless discussion of Marxist academia, Structuralism vs. Humanism, but I just want to compare the works of Praxis with the works of the more well-known Marxist-Humanists such as Raya Dunayevskaya and C. L. R. James. While Praxis criticized Yugoslavia for being ‘statist and a bureaucratic socialism’, following the theories developed by Bruno Rizzi, whereas the work of Raya Dunayevskaya developed around the same time probed deeper and paved the way for a more rigorous and Marxian critique. Once again, it is not really important what theoretical interpretation of Soviet Union and Yugoslavia you subscribe to, it is more about the fact that their analysis did not go as far as others of their period and remained loyal to the economic and political co-ordinates of workers’ self-management developed by Edvard Kardelj and Boris Kidrič following the ‘Tito-Stalin split’. Of course, Praxis was aware of Dunayevskaya and James’ works as they corresponded with them and exchanged books, and Dunayevskaya even wrote for Praxis. Furthermore, she even developed a kind of a friendship with Marković, a friendship which ended with his nationalist turn.

Their theoretically limited and shallow critique of Yugoslavia advocated similar solutions from different standpoints were published in Praxis. These included calls for a multiparty system and political liberalization, and to deepen workers’ power within the system of self-management. However, they never questioned the nature of self-management as such, or the nature of Yugoslav economy which was characterized by market relationships and exchange value.

Their calls for a multiparty system were a product of their own limitations, i.e. them being ‘socialist intellectuals’. They were university professors, and the majority had a deep and abiding interest in German classical idealism. This fascination with philosophers such as Hegel brought them to the Marxist-Humanist camp, but also helps explain their theoretical limitations and the policy solutions they advocated as well as the emphasis they put on the individual rather than social class. Or in Stojanović’s words: “In the center of Marxist-Humanism is not the man (realist and collectivist deformation of Marxism) but the individual.”[35]

These limitations shaped their political lives in turbulent 1990s. Since they were opponents of nationalism, a majority joined the (neo)liberal camp, some of them remained loyal to the left in the shape of modernized Western European social-democracy, while some of them embraced the nationalism of their new state out of a fear of ‘the nationalism of others’. An outcome that is incredibly tragic when you consider they were left wing intellectuals in a ‘socialist’ country that sought to grasp the issues of their day. They provide an important window into the intellectual and political discussions of their era.

Praxis was an attempt at ‘ruthless criticism’, a critique that was destroyed by its own limitations.


[1] The League of Communists of Yugoslavia was the name of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia after its Six Congress in 1952. Name was changed because of new narratives of workers’ self-management and an emphasis on withering away of the state.

[2] Yugoslav Black Wave is an umbrella term for Yugoslav moves made between late 60’s and early 70’s that were characterized with dark humor and critique of Yugoslavia. For those who are interested more I would recommend book Surfing the Black: Yugoslav Black Wave Cinema and Its Transgressive Moments by Gal Kirn, Dubravka Sekulić and Žiga Testen (Jan van Eyck Akademie, 2011).

[3] Yugoslav punk and new wave music was well known for its critique of Yugoslavia. For example, punk band Paraf made a song called “Goli Otok” after Yugoslav gulag for Stalinists and songs which were making fun of Yugoslav slogans and police, while hardcore punk band UBR made song called “Revolution is a whore” with the lyrics: “Revolution is a whore / dictatorship of the proletariat is lie and Utopia.”

[4] Milan Kangrga. Šverceri vlastitog života: Refleksije o Hrvatskoj političkoj kulturi i duhovnosti. (Split: Kultura & Rasvjeta, 2002), 31.

[5] “Čemu Praxis?” Praxis 1, 1964,  4.

[6] Ibid. 5.

[7] Gajo Petrović. Praksa/Istina. (Zagreb: Kulturno-prosvjetni sabor Hrvatske “Kulturni radnik”, 1986), 33.

[8] Kangrga 86.

[9] Luka Bogdanić. “Čemu Praxis? Ili o historijskom porijeklu i mjestu Praxisa”. in: Aspekti praxisa i refleksije: Uz 50. obljetnicu, ed: Borislav Mikulić and Mislav Žitko. (Zagreb : Filozofski fakultet u Zagrebu, 2015),  p. 26.

[10] Kangrga 347.

[11] Ibid. 349-50.

[12] Ibid. 350.

[13] Bogdanović 31.

[14] See Fredy Perlman’s “Birth of a Revolutionary Movement in Yugoslavia” for an interesting take in English.

[15] Hrvoje Klasić. Jugoslavija i svijet 1968. (Zagreb : Ljevak, 2012), 123.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Kangrga 142.

[18] Klasić 208.

[19] Non-Aligned Movement is the name for group of states that stood against block division during the Cold War up to the present day. It was formed in 1961 in Belgrade and Yugoslavia played a leading role in its creation and politics.

[20] Rudi Supek. “Protuvuriječnosti i nedorečenosti jugoslavenskog samoupravnog socijalizma”; Praxis 3-4 (1971): 350.

[21] Ljubomir Tadić. “Radnička klasa i država“; Praxis 3-4  (1971): 449.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Gajo Petrović. “Birokratski socijalizam”; Praxis 3-4 (1971): 487.

[24] Ibid. 484.

[25] Ibid. 485.

[26] Mihailo Marković. “Socijalizam i samoupravljanje”; Praxis 2 (1964): 172.

[27] Marcel Van der Linden. Western Marxism and the Soviet Union. (Leiden-Boston : Brill, 2007), 202.

[28] Stojanović, Svetozar. “Od Postrevolucionarne diktature ka socijalističkoj demokratiji.” Praxis 3-4 (1972): 385.

[29] Ibid. 386.

[30] Stipe Šuvar. “Tri riječi o ‘Trenutku jugoslavenskog socijalizma’” Praxis 5 (1971): 678.

[31] Ibid. 679.

[32] Ibid. 680.

[33] The Federative Republic of Yugoslavia is the name that Serbia and Montenegro used after the breakup of Socialist Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Later, the country was renamed Serbia and Montenegro (SiCG).

[34] The Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts ( SANU Memorandum) was a draft document produced by a 16-member committee of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts from 1985 to 1986. Document protested against decentralization which was leading to disintegration of Yugoslavia and discrimination of Serbs by the new Yugoslav constitution. It also claimed that development of Serbia was eroded by support of other parts of Yugoslavia. This document was denounced for its Serbian nationalism and many authors and scholars see it as key moment in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

[35] Svetozar Stojanović. “Slo,oda i demokracija u socijalizmu” Praxis 2 (1964): 204.

Juraj Katalenac Written by:

Juraj Katalenac (Osijek, 1990) is the world's number one Rosa Luxemburg fan, heavyweight Slavsquatting champion of the Non-Aligned world, writer and a member of Ritual's Editorial Board. In his free time, he eats ice-cream with his chickens, cries at Future's songs and makes sure all deadlines regarding Ritual are respected. Yeanknow?