Yugoslavia Table of Contents
Through the end of the 1980s, Yugoslavia remained a one-party state. All government officials at national and republic levels, and a very high percentage of local officials, were chosen from among the two million members of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY). The 1974 Constitution described the LCY as "the prime mover and exponent of political activity," using its "guiding ideological and political action" to foster self- management, the socialist revolution, and "social and democratic consciousness." In the process of government reforms in the 1960s and 1970s, the dominance of the LCY began to erode, especially in the area of economic policy. Through the 1980s, however, the LCY remained nominally the primary nongovernmental political institution, with continued heavy influence on matters of political policy at all levels of the federal state. In practical input to policy decisions, the power of the LCY leadership overlapped and often blended with that of the Collective Presidency and the Federal Executive Council. But party influence and respect in Yugoslav society at large lagged noticeably, and alternative political organizations proliferated. By 1990 the constitutional guarantee for the existence of LCY-sponsored organizations was being used to justify the formation of noncommunist parties without further amendment of the Constitution.
LCY membership decreased slightly in the 1980s. The last increase was recorded in 1982, and in 1988 membership fell below two million for the first time since 1979. The death of Tito deprived the party of its only unifying element, and after 1980 the party suffered from the same fragmentation and diffusion of power as government institutions.
Founded in 1919, the party came to power in 1945 and followed the organizational pattern of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the Sixth Party Congress (1952). The first major party decentralization occurred at that time, beginning a long, uneven process of reducing direct party authority in society. The Sixth Party Congress also changed the name of the party to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, to differentiate it from the other East European Communist parties.
Under Tito, a series of pragmatic adjustments were made after 1952 to counteract the decentralization trend, when more control was needed in the central party organ. The first major event in that series was the 1954 condemnation of Milovan Djilas, architect of the 1952 reforms. Beginning in 1963, major structural changes affected the national role of the LCY. Early changes were the introduction of direct channels of influence for self-management groups into policy-making (1963), and the mandated separation of top party and state positions (1966). Until the removal of Rankovic in 1966, a strong conservative element sought to restore the direct, central role that the party had gradually lost after the split with the Soviet Union. Beginning in 1966, however, the party assumed an atmosphere of open, regionally based disagreement that intensified for the next twenty-five years. In 1969 the failure of the prestigious Executive Bureau of the Party Presidium to act as a truly national mediator within the party signaled growing fragmentation in the LCY structure (see Political Evolution after 1945 , this ch.). The open rebellion of the Croatian party between 1969 and 1971 had negative repercussions for the LCY, despite Tito's decisive purge. Croatia remained tranquil in the 1970s, but the Serbian and Slovenian parties criticized the national organization periodically. The Serbs were especially restive after passage of the 1974 Constitution. In 1976 Najdan Pasic, in the name of the Serbian Central Committee, presented a document known as the Blue Book to the LCY leadership. That document was a list of damages suffered by the Serbs because of inequities in the Constitution. Tito suppressed the Blue Book, but six years later Pasic attracted more attention by suggesting that a commission study problems of government function.
Efforts to streamline Yugoslavia's economic and political systems always involved making changes in the LCY. All parties understood that no meaningful change was possible in those areas without cutting through the cumbersome lines of power held by party elites at all levels. All the major reform efforts of the 1980s (the Pasic letter of 1982, an open call for reform proposals in 1985, and the national working group report and Serbian Academy of Sciences document of 1986) listed party reform as the starting point for political progress (see Reform in the 1980s , this ch.). Nevertheless, in 1990 the LCY was still organized in substantially the same way as it had been at the time of Tito's death. By that time, the LCY was commonly called "not one party, but eight," a description that accurately reflected its fragmentation.
In theory, the National Party Congress was the highest authority of the LCY; it was mandated to meet at least every five years. Accordingly, the Twelfth Party Congress met in 1982, the Thirteenth in 1986, the Fourteenth in 1990. The main goal of recent congresses was reconciliation of regional differences on reform that would restore the party's leading role in shaping national policy. The 1982 and 1986 congresses each began with hopeful rhetoric and dissolved into renewed regional squabbles. The 1990 congress was the first since 1945 to be labeled "extraordinary" (meaning "emergency"). It was widely viewed as the party's "last chance" for constructive action to improve its sagging national image.
A commission on party statute reform met six months prior to the Fourteenth Congress to develop reform proposals for discussion at the congress. This commission reaffirmed the Leninist principle of democratic centralism--meaning that diverse views were to be heard, but the will of the majority would determine policy. The commission also recommended streamlining the party hierarchy for greater accountability. But the vague language of the commission report addressed none of the deep and controversial statutory changes universally acknowledged as necessary. The stimulus for change would thus have to come from a platform adopted by the Fourteenth Congress itself. By party law, such a platform was required to precede statutory changes. In fact, prior to the opening of the congress, no formal proposal for party transformation had ever been made.
The Fourteenth Congress included 1,688 delegates, of which 994 were elected by local commune party conferences (1 delegate per 2,000 party members). Each of the six republic party organizations then added 60 delegates. The two provincial party organizations added 40 each and the army, 30. Other party organizations sent a total of 204 delegates. Regional representation was divided as follows: Serbia had 360 delegates, Bosnia and Hercegovina 278, Croatia 240, Macedonia 166, Vojvodina 157, Slovenia 139, Montenegro 123, and Kosovo 112.
Doctrinal reform was the central task of the Fourteenth Congress. The congress voted to relinquish the LCY's monopoly of political power and allow multiparty elections, in response to similar moves in neighboring communist countries. But the meeting was cut short when the Slovenian delegation departed in protest of the defeat of its proposal to restructure the LCY as a league of republican organizations freely associated under the national party. The departure of the Slovenian League of Communists left the national organization weakened and uncertain, especially because national television had revealed acrimonious conflicts in what was supposedly the strongest unifying political force in the country. In the months following the congress, the status of the party remained unknown, as Serbian and other members attempted to reconvene the congress and complete the much-needed new party platform. Both the passage of electoral reforms and the interruption of the congress by the Slovenes dampened Serbian ambitions for using the party to control national politics.
The procedure and structure of the LCY remained largely unchanged during the 1980s. The party was directed between congresses by the Presidium, the twenty-three member steering body for the Central Committee. The Presidium oversaw a variety of commissions and organizations and implemented party policy. Specific Presidium members directed party activities in ideology, organizational development, socioeconomic relations, political propaganda, and international relations. Nationalities were apportioned in the Presidium according to republic and province (three members per republic, two per province, one representing the army, plus the president, who was elected by the party Central Committee). Of the Presidium membership, fourteen were full members; the others were ex officio members (one from the army, plus the presidents of the party presidiums of each republic and province). Ex officio members could not be directly removed. Because the Presidium thus provided the Yugoslav army a direct role in decision making, that organization strongly opposed legalization of other political parties that would not provide it such input (see The Military and the Party , ch. 5). Tito's last major adjustment to the party system had established rotation of major party leadership positions, which after 1979 were assumed by a representative of a different region every one or two years. When Tito died, the Presidium seemed to be increasing its influence on national policy making. That trend ended in 1980, however, when the position of party president was abolished in favor of collective leadership in the Presidium.
In the late 1980s, the Central Committee comprised 165 members. Those individuals were nominated by the central committees of the republics and provinces. The national Central Committee was called into plenary session at irregular intervals to discuss urgent policy questions. In less than one year in 1988-89, ten such sessions--some held consecutively--were called to discuss party reform. Both the Presidium and the Central Committee were targeted in reform agendas; reform efforts removed five Presidium members in 1989, and an 1989 LCY commission proposed reducing the size of the Central Committee to 129 members.
Membership policy for the LCY differed markedly from that for other communist parties. Until the reforms of 1952, Yugoslavia followed the Soviet model. Recommendations for party membership were required from two party members, then a candidate for membership was placed on probation for eighteen months. Both those requirements were dropped in 1952; after that time, nominations also were accepted from nonparty Yugoslavs in good standing. During the 1970s, party membership nearly doubled, despite the large-scale expulsions of the Tito era (170,000 left the party forcibly or voluntarily between 1972 and 1979). Membership reached two million in 1980. From 1983 until 1988, however, the number decreased slightly every year, although massive expulsions did not recur after the purge of the Kosovo party following the 1981 riots. About 5 percent of party members left voluntarily in the 1980s, and the percentage of worker and peasant members declined. In 1987 workers comprised only 30 percent of the total membership and 8 percent of the Central Committee, while peasants made up only 3.5 percent of total party membership. Increasing party elitism was indicated by the stable percentage of the intelligentsia, who depended on party membership for upward professional mobility. In the mid-1980s some 95 percent of top managers and 77.6 percent of professionals in Yugoslavia were party members. In 1980 only 25 percent of party membership was younger than twenty-seven, including only 1 in 200 students.
Authoritative studies and surveys in the 1980s showed that most Yugoslavs, whether party members or nonmembers, viewed the LCY as a practical avenue to success, not as a leading force in the ideology or ethics of the nation. Many LCY members did not participate in political activities, and power positions remained in the same hands for long periods of time. A considerable number of Central Committee members served more than one term, some as many as seven.
Party organization at the republic and province level was identical to that of the national party. A group of executive secretaries of the national Presidium served as the liaison between the national party and the next level in the hierarchy. In the 1980s, the republic and provincial parties were the most important arenas for formulating and expressing the positions of their respective jurisdictions toward national political and economic issues. For example, the central committees of Slovenia and Serbia framed much of the political polemics between the two republics. Slobodan Milosevic used the presidency of the Serbian presidium in the late 1980s as a platform to advocate Serbian nationalism and recentralization of party and state institutions. Approval by the Slovenian and Croatian Central Committees for multiparty local elections in 1990 signaled a major breakthrough toward a true multiparty system in those republics (see Regional Political Issues , this ch.). And the purging of provincial party leaders in Vojvodina and Kosovo under pressure from the Serbian party in 1988 marked a turning point in Serbia's struggle to reassert control over its two provinces.
Thus in 1990 the LCY was decentralized in exercising authority, but increasingly elitist in terms of who occupied positions of power in the party organizations. Party configuration was the most formidable obstacle to reform of the national political system, but structural change could come only from a centralized authority whose mere existence would threaten regional elites. Even as actual LCY power waned, Tito's legacy of party policy--making dominance remained the theoretical, paralyzing basis of government operations.
Data as of December 1990
Yugoslavia Table of Contents