The Man And the Economic System
In February 1979, Joe Biden – the future American president – attended the funeral of Edvard Kardelj in Yugoslavia.
Kardelj, although scarcely remembered outside the former Yugoslavia, was a figure of enormous importance in his time. An early adopter of communism (at age 16 in 1926), he spent time in a Kingdom of Jugoslavia jail for his membership in the banned organization.
After intense training in Moscow, where he became close to the future leader of Yugoslavia, Josip Broz Tito, Kardelj fought fiercely in World War II, leading the Slovenian Partizans.
He then blended nearly effortlessly into the Tito administration, where his most important contribution to Yugoslavia came during the Tito-Stalin Split of 1948.
Anxious to demonstrate his independence from the Soviet Union and Soviet-style economics, Tito had Kardelj design a new economic system for the nation. This system, which became known as Socialist Self Management, emphasized the worker’s role in production. Factories and means of production were moved into the hands of workers, who would also share in profits. This system would be enshrined in the 1974 Yugoslav constitution. It was meant to decrease the power of the state bureaucracy, enabling the “withering away fo the state” foretold by Friederich Engels.
What Kardelj envisioned would be possible only by involving the Yugoslav population. “Attracting the masses to the state [would be completed] in such a way that each person will be for a time a bureaucrat.“
Unfortunately, despite all good intentions, the new bureaucrats didn’t merely exist “for a time”, and the system merely led to entrenched corruption, cynicism, and inefficiencies. Instead of decreasing the role of state bureaucracy, it created a parallel bureaucracy that made maneuvering the system even more cumbersome.
Edvard Kardelj’s role was certainly not merely academic. In 1959, during a boar hunt, he was shot when a bullet from Jovan Veselinov’s rifle ricocheted off a rock. Although officially dismissed as an accident, gossip at the time and continuing to this day attribute the event to an assassination attempt by another of Tito’s inner circle, Aleksander Ranković.
Kardelj had something of a minor political exile in the 1960s, but came roaring back in the 1970s and, until his death of colon cancer preceded the death of Tito, was considered to be Tito’s heir.
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