Branko Pribicevic 1978

The Present Phase in the Development of Ideas and Movements of Workers’ Participation and/or Self-Management

Source: Branko Pribicevic; The Present Phase in the Development of Ideas and Movements of Workers’ Paricipation and/or Self-Management, Economic Analysis and Workers’ Management, Volume 12, No. 1-2. Beograd: 1978;
Transcribed: by Patrick Olofsson.


The ideas, demands and movements of workers’ participation, workers’ control, self-management, direct workers’ rule, workers’ democracy, etc., have a long-standing tradition and are deeply rooted. These ideas imbue and permeate, in one way or another, the entire historical era marking the rise of world socialism. Their ideological roots and origins lie in the interaction of two powerful and increasingly-determinating tendencies in human society’s latter-day history – socialism and democracy.

The evolution of these ideas, demands and movements did not follow a regular and straight course, but rather was always of an explicitly cyclical nature. It was marked by frequent ups and downs – penetrating breakthroughs and progress were followed by stagnation and relapse. Of course, there were always other concepts of a new society or of how to resolve the “social questions,” especially the social status of the working class. From practically the outset, the most important “other” concept, and political and ideological orientation, was represented by those forces which saw the state and representative democracy as the most important instrument for effecting a radical transformation of society, but no less as its optimum institutional framework. At the end of the last century, this second tendency, we shall call it statist or state-socialist, became dominant in international socialism.

The conflict between the self-management and the statist orientation lay at the Toot of many divisions within the workers’ and socialist movements. At times, the confrontation between these two orientations was direct and central, while at others it assumed considerably less importance. Yet, one cannot reduce the diversity of options in world socialism to a choice between these two orientations. During certain phases in the history of socialism, conflicts within one of these two fundamental choices (for instance, within the global statist concept) were greater in intensity than the confrontation with proponents of the other, alternative concept.

One can observe in the relatively short period embracing the years after World War II three distinct phases in the evolution of the ideas, demands and movements of workers’ participation, workers’ control and self-management.

The first phase covers the immediate postwar years. After a quarter of a century of almost inviolate domination by statist ideas and approaches within the workers’ and socialist movements, interest was revived in the problems of the worker’s social status in the process of production. More forceful expression was given to demands for workers to be at least partially and indirectly included in the decision-making process. In contrast to earlier historical phases, when this demand was often formulated in a radical way, chiefly within the context of projects for a revolutionary change of society, extremely moderate interpretations now prevailed. While these ideas and demands earlier reflected aggravated class conflicts, now those social forces advocating class compromise had the decisive say as to how they were to be formed. As a result, the majority of developed countries witnessed the birth of institutions of consultative participation, usually designated by the term industrial democracy. The role, competencies and tasks of these institutions were so restricted and modestly defined that the existing class order was easily able to absorb them. There is hardly a case in which they managed to destroy the existing balance of class and political forces. This was a reform which did not function as a factor of destabilization in the existing industrial and social establishment. However, one must not lose sight of the fact that there were attempts during this period to effect somewhat more radical concepts of workers’ participation. If one looks at the entire historical period, however, these were chiefly marginal phenomena.

The second postwar phase began in the early fifties and continued until the second half of the following decade. It is marked by the receding and declining influence of those forces in the workers’ movements which were in favour of various forms of workers’ participation, especially self-management. The advance made immediately after the war was short-lived and of limited range, and it gave way to a relatively widespread feeling of disappointment. Institutions of consultative participation, which were born in an atmosphere of class compromise marked by pronounced internal contradictions, did not live up to the expectations of any of the interested parties. The cause of these contradictions was that, in the majority of cases, these institutions were conceived in such a way that they served the interests of “one and the other side.” The workers’ and socialist left quickly realized that there were poor outlooks for turning these institutions into a beach-head which would later allow it to embark on genuine workers’ rule and society’s self-management organization. Employers and state representatives expected them to act as an incentive for greater productivity of labour, efficiency in management and class tranquility in enterprises. Once it became obvious that such results were not forthcoming, they, too, began to turn their backs on various mechanisms of industrial democracy. Reformist parties and trade unions, which had originally extended full support to these institutions, also began to lose interest. These institutions seemed unable to serve even those limited objectives which had been set when they were launched just after World War II.

Especially important is the fact that the relative failure of the mechanisms of consultative participation (industrial democracy) was used to substantiate the claim that the entire basic idea (genuine workers’ participation, i.e., self-management) is unfeasible. In many countries, advocates of these ideas became severely discouraged and their ranks thinned out. In some countries, these ideas seemed to have been “finally buried” and it appeared that the statist orientation, despite its countless shortcomings, was nonetheless the “only real alternative.”

The views and appraisals formulated at the end of the fifties by two authors are extremely indicative. Hugh Clegg, one of Britain’s leading experts on industrial relations and the problems of industrial democracy, published a book in 1951 in which he strongly appeals for putting into effect the idea and practice of consultative workers’ participation. In the late fifties a new book appeared entitled A New Approach to Industrial Democracy, in which Clegg thoroughly revised his own views. He admits certain earlier “errors” and firmly defends the stand that direct workers’ participation in management is utterly unacceptable for the developed society of the West. “The end of the movements for workers’ control,” (here, Clegg is thinking of the more radical current which believed that industrial democracy will be only a step towards workers’ self-management – B.P.) however is to be explained as much by flaws in their thinking as by these circumstances, which provided no more than the occasion of their downfall. The central tenet of their doctrine was self-government. They believed that working men and women could come together to run their own lives, not through representatives, not by controlling managements and governments, but directly and by themselves. This notion is now dead. No one -now believes that direct industrial self-government by workers could provide for the running of a modern industrialized society ... Modern society does not naturally adapt itself to working-class self-government... representative political democracy seems to be a natural mode of government for an industrialized society ... Men must have a bureaucracy to run a railway, an electricity supply system, or a government department. They must have centralized decisions to control a monetary system and to arrange a national investment programme. These things and working-class self-government cannot live together."[1]) At around the same time, Raymond Aron wrote that “... abstract theoretical analysis as much as practical experience lead to the conclusion that at this point in history enterprises must remain organized along authoritarian principles. Fundamental decisions must be taken by one person or by a small group of people – never by all” (he means all employees – B.P.), “nor can those who decide be under the control of all.” [2])

The only departure from the general trend at that time, the only exception “which confirms the rule,” was the programme orientation taken in Yugoslavia with the passing of the Law on Workers’ Councils and the opening of the process of developing self-management institutions and relations. At a time when the ideas of self-management socialism were being widely rejected as an anachronism of our age, as a vestige of long obsolete concepts of anarchism, proudhonism or anarcho-syndicalism, and in the best of cases were ignored as illusions entertained by certain “hotheads,” leading political forces in the country firmly opted for the road and concept of self-management socialism. Subsequent developments showed that this was a choice with far-reaching consequences. Despite numerous unfavourable domestic (the country’s low level of economic development) and external circumstances, the choice grew into a lasting orientation. An important foothold had been attained for the forces of the self-management alternative.

The first signs of the third phase appeared in the early sixties, when the conviction again gained ground in certain workers’ circles and organizations that the horizon of socialist aspirations could not be limited to state ownership and state management. At first these were only weak symptoms of the changes which were to occur somewhat later on in the prevailing mood, The new phase finally took shape and was established at the end of the sixties when the influence of forces calling for genuine workers’ participation, or self-management, again gained broad ground. The historical pendulum which reflects the centre of gravity of ideological options in the world of socialism began to shift in favour of various forces of the anti-statist orientation.

Yesterday’s pessimism gave way to pronounced, sometimes even exaggerated optimism. A report prepared by a group of experts of the International Labour Organisation for a consultative meeting on self-management and participation, which was held in Oslo in 1974, says that at the present moment “the demand for workers’ participation in managing enterprises is a widespread world phenomenon which, as a fundamental assumption, is no longer denied; discussions chiefly revolve around the form of workers’ management “[a])

A change had unquestionably occurred, although its scope is not as (broad as ILO experts make it out to be. On the other hand, one should in no way underestimate recent changes in stands and the prevailing mood. Some political groups which until recently a priori rejected any idea of direct workers’ participation in management no longer maintain such exclusive stands, and the possibility is even allowed and the need stressed for ensuring certain forms of direct workers’ democracy and participation by the broader strata of working people in general. Where once support was extended chiefly to certain very elemental, rudimentary forms of participation, now somewhat more ambitious and in certain cases, quite radical demands are being made for expanding and intensifying existing forms of participation. The number of organized political forces calling for genuine radical changes in the position of workers has appreciably grown. Certain progressive political forces, which until recently omitted these ideas from their programme of social innovations, are now ardently interested in them. Power-holders whose authority and privileges are threatened or at least brought into question by new currents in the workers’ milieu react in a new way.

Certain ruling communist parties have somewhat altered their stand towards participation and self-management. While it was once felt that the working class can effect its management rights through “its” state, party or trade union, now considerable attention is being devoted to building up various mechanisms of participation. Institutions of production consultation conferences, which had been abandoned by Stalinism in the late twenties, have been revived in the Soviet Union. In addition to these consultation conferences, several other mechanisms of participation in the economy have been built up in other fields of social endeavour as well. Certain participatory institutions which had almost completely withered away during the years of Stalin’s domination have been activated. The majority of other East European countries have also established various collective bodies in enterprises through which workers’ representatives can, mainly in an advisory capacity, take part in the passing of certain decisions. In some cases, great efforts are being invested in building up the system of these institutions and stimulating their work.

Available data show that the results scored are relatively modest. They are not commensurate with the officially proclaimed goals or efforts invested. On the other hand, these difficulties are quite understandable. They stem from the fundamental contradictions inherent in the adopted “systemic” solution. The possibilities of participation are extremely limited in situations where rigourous emphasis is laid on the principle of “yedinonachalie” (one-man government), i.e., where all fundamental decisions within the enterprise are made by the director. Maintaining a high degree of centralism in managing the economy produces similar results. Workers’ participation is hard put to extricate itself from the narrow frameworks of consultative competencies in situations where heavy stress is laid on centralism and “yedinonachalie.” Parallel invocation of reinforcing centralism and the role of one-man organs of management (“yedinonachalie”) on the one hand, and genuine democratization of the system of management by including workers in the decision-making process on the other is a hard to resolve and relatively contradictory social task. In pointing to these objective difficulties and problems, we in no way wish to undermine the importance of new tendencies in the internal development of certain socialist countries. The emergence of these institutions testifies at least to the fact that there is an awareness that the existing system of management is in need of a democratic “corrective.”

Perhaps more important still are certain changes in the political theory of socialism, in the theoretical conceptualization of socialism and communism. While before, the existing form of state socialism was pointed up as the highest achievement of the new society, and state management over all fields of social endeavour was accepted as the most complete form of effecting the direct and long-term interests of the working class – now certain new notes are being struck. Self-management is no longer rejected a priori as an expression of ideological “deviation.” The idea of limiting, suppressing the state and its final withering away has again won recognition as a legitimate part of Marxist theory. The new Programme of the Soviet Communist Party, adopted at the XXII Congress, states: “All-round development and improvement of socialist democracy, active participation by all citizens in governing the state, in managing the economy and cultural construction, improving the work of the state apparatus and strengthening peoples’ control over its functioning – this is the main direction in the development of socialist statehood in the period of building communism. In the process of further developing socialist democracy, the organs of state authority are gradually to be turned into social self-management “

A broad-based debate followed the adoption of this programme provision and these stands were elaborated still further. There are certainly many points in these ideas with which the protagonists of socialist self-management can hardly agree. For instance, there is the initial stand that self-management is possible only in communism, i.e., that in the phase of socialism the state must continue to grow in strength and to direct or steer all fields of social endeavour. And so the term socialist self-management is avoided, and most often what is spoken of is communist self-management. Most important of all, the development of self-management is usually seen as the democratisation of the state, as drawing the popular masses into state decision – making or “management of the state,” but not as directly assuming decision-making powers on the part of the producers and working people as a whole. These points should not be lost sight of so as to remember the significant differences in content which lie behind similar terms. Use of the same or similar expressions (socialist and communist self-management) often implies different content and substance.

The new phase is especially discernible in the workers’ movements of the developed capitalist countries. Many communist parties in this part of the world have somewhat relaxed their reservations, mistrust and resistance to the ideas of participation and self-management. It is increasingly being stressed that nationalization of the economy is not the ideal towards which these parties are striving. The nationalization of the means of production should be attended by various measures of democratic control and participation. At their meeting in Brussels in 1974, these parties adopted a final document which says that they are fighting for social changes which will “embrace the nationalization of the main sectors of the economy, i.e. extending the public sector under democratic control and with the effective participation of trade unions, the strengthening of workers rights and their role in factories, their participation in governing and managing social affairs.” Protagonists of direct socialist democracy could raise certain objections to this formulation (especially its final part), but it unquestionably marks an important evolution in the stands of these parties. The French Communist Party conducted an interesting debate on self-management between 1973 and 1975. Early in 1975, the leader of this party stated that “self-management will be the main method of running human affairs"[4]) in the society for which this party is fighting.

Socialist and social-democratic parties are increasingly adopting a critical stand towards existing institutions of consultative participation and are demanding that a step further be taken in democratizing relations in enterprises. The programme orientation of French socialists goes beyond the frameworks of consultative participation and stresses their endorsement of the self-management concept of socialism. A document prepared for a convention on the problems of self-management emphasizes that “ ... all of these new vindications engender a striving towards self-management, a striving which can be realized only in a socialist society."[5]) At their 72nd annual conference, Britain’s Labourites voiced their profound dissatisfaction with the results attained and called for the “socialization of all nationalized industries,” by which they mean “the introduction of significant and genuine elements of industrial democracy and workers’ control in all nationalized industries.” In the same document, they even stress that they do not want development akin to that brought on by the system of “discredited German co-determination”(!)[6]) Three years later, a proposal appeared in this country for what was really quite a radical change in the existing system of participation. The majority of the members on the Bullock Committee studying this problem proposed that the elected representatives of workers in larger enterprises be directly represented in organs of management. New initiatives were taken in the Swedish, Dutch, German and several other social-democratic parties. The proposals may considerably differ in terms of the details, but they all have one thing in common: the desire to improve at least somewhat the solutions adopted at the end of the forties.

Similar moods have gained increasing ground in many important trade union organizations. Here the stands of the Democratic Confederation of French Workers are a case in point. In a report for its 35th Congress, it speaks of its orientation towards self-management and says that this “presumes the expropriation of capitalists.” It disassociates itself from participation projects which are conceived as a means for “beautifying” or “stabilizing” the existing order. Other trade union organizations do not go so far but in many cases they call for more resolute expansion of the workers’ influence in managing enterprises.

In some countries, this evolution produced practical results. Under the influence of workers’ trade unions and parties, bills have been drawn up which provide for certain, usually rather modest extensions to the limits of the existing system of workers’ participation. In Austria, Denmark and Norway these bills have been passed. In Germany and the Netherlands, the social-democrats lacked the strength to push their ideas through. The change in government in Sweden has put off certain interesting initiatives on the part of Sweden’s Social-Democratic Party and trade unions.

Until recently, these ideas were almost exclusively in evidence in only the developed part of the world. The past ten years have seen the ideas of workers’ participation and self-management generate many developing countries as well. The study services of the International Labour Organization as well as some other sources show that in the mid-seventies, some thirty countries from these regions had started to apply various, most often consultative forms of workers’ participation in management or are preparing to establish such institutions. It is highly indicative and significant that these ideas are being widely adopted in countries with unusually progressive ruling political forces.

In some of these countries, initial steps are already being taken from participation to self-management. Soon after having gained independence, the leading forces of the Algerian liberation movement adopted self-management as the Algerian revolution’s thrust of development. The ruling political organization’s basic programme orientation upholds the following stand: “Socialism is not determined exclusively by nationalizing the means of production. It is also and especially determined by self-management ... Self-management reflects ... the continued development of the popular revolution into socialist revolution[7]) The first steps towards workers’ self-management were taken in Chile during the time of President Allende. Orientation towards self-management had been officially accepted and supported. The socialized sector of the economy had begun building the nucleus of self-management institutions and relations. There were even important cases of establishing organs of direct workers’ and popular rule outside of the economy. In the early seventies, ruling political forces in Peru declared their support of the ideas of participation and self-management. In the public sector of the economy, work began on forming the first organs of workers’ self-management [8])

Actual development does not always answer desires and expectations. In Chile, the counter-revolution cut short and checked the process of self-management evolution. In Peru, too, things are at a standstill. Organs set up as self-managing in actual practice act more as institutions of consultative participation. In Algeria, the self-managing sector is still quite limited. The results which have been achieved are more or less modest. Yet, despite these difficulties and even defeats (Chile), these undertakings are of major importance as a symptom of the vitality and relevance of the idea of self-management.

In other developing countries there are various forms of workers’ participation. While in some cases these institutions have been mainly introduced in the public sector of the economy (Egypt and Tanzania for example), in others they are equally present in the private sector. Considerable experience has already been acquired in India, Sri Lanka and Burma. Over the past few years, Tanzania’s leading political forces have been making noticeable efforts to expand the role of consultative workers’ committees. President Nyerere’s presidential circular is highly characteristic. It says: “... quite apart from the workers’ committees which now exist and which discuss the conditions of labour, reprimands, the dismissal of workers, etc., there must be a possibility for workers to be represented in bodies dealing with production, sales and the general organization of enterprises.” In order to effect this thrust of development, it is proposed that workers’ councils be set up to ensure “workers’ representation in the affairs of planning, production, quality and marketing."[9])


The ideas, demands and movements of workers participation, workers’ control and self-management manifest themselves today in extremely different milieux and forms, and the roles given them are more different still. The aforementioned ILO study speaks of the “vast breadth of forms and formulae through which (these ideas – B. P.) are manifested ranging from workers’ self-management to collective negotiation” as the most important characteristic in the present development phase of these ideas and movements. This variety of forms, concepts, motives and roles to a great extent impedes efforts to fix certain general characteristics of the present phase in the genesis of workers’ participation, self-management and similar social projects. Nonetheless, we think it possible, at least in tentative form, to draw some broader, if not always general, universal characteristics.

Firstly, the ideas of workers’ participation, workers’ control, self-management, etc., today enjoy more support than ever before. This support comes from various sides and is of a varying nature and quality. There are numerous and diverse social and political forces which, in principle, accept and support these ideas. While before this, support came almost exclusively from traditional workers’ circles, now there are cases where a considerable role is also played by such social groups as students, parts of the intelligentsia and technical cadres. An especially distinct and noteworthy trait is that these ideas have won at least principled support in all major streams and groups in today’s workers’ and socialist movements, and that for the first time. In a large number of cases, this support is more of a principled nature and sometimes of a distinctly declarative one. In such cases, official declarations do not reflect true political orientation, a determination to act in accordance with the declared principles. It would be erroneous to conclude, however, that this breach between words and deeds can be applied to the present phase as a whole. Despite unquestionable verbalism, there is also a real shift being made towards those who advocate fundamental democratization, more radical changes in the position of the producers and their class.

Secondly, these ideas, demands and movements have now assumed truly universal proportions. Until recently, these problems were practically relevant only to the developed part of the world, to Europe, North America and several other countries which, in many ways, are an “extension” of European civilization. In the broad expanses of Asia, Africa and Latin America, these ideas were hardly present. If they did emerge, then this was often more the result of certain ideological and theoretical influences than of authentic aspirations and problems. It could hardly have been different in view of these countries’ level of development and international position. But now important changes have occurred here, too. Certain projects for workers’ participation and self-management in these countries increasingly reveal efforts of leading political forces there to settle certain genuine social problems in this way.

Thirdly, as compared to certain earlier phases when these ideas made broader advances as a result of pressure from the workers’ base, and the intensification of the class struggle, now the initiatives from political top echelons carry far greater importance. Some of these initiatives do not reflect changes in relations between basic class groups (the intensification of the class confrontation). Of course, this is not a general rule – in many cases even today one can establish a more or less direct correlative link between the trends these ideas take and the state of interclass relations. The impulses which come from the workers’ base remain extremely important, sometimes even crucial, especially in countries with a more developed working class. Here we wish only to underline that there are many more situations today in which not only concrete solutions but also the principled choice are initiated by diversely-motivated political upper echelons. Obviously, one cannot draw a solid line between initiatives “from the top” and the authentic desires of the masses. In some cases it is entirely possible that proposals “from the top” are only an answer, “a response” to latently present or growing aspirations in the societal base.

Fourthly, here again the old rule holds true that the spreading influence and support of an idea almost inevitably goes hand in hand with a watering down of its content and substance. Acceptance of ideas in various milieux surely requires certain adaptations. Such adaptations often lead to an enrichment and to the further evolution of the source ideas. On the other hand, sometimes elements are introduced and interpretations given, under the guise of adaptation, which considerably alter the original meaning of the idea. As a general observation, one can say that today many projects for workers’ participation are considerably less ideologically coloured. There are many instances in which these ideas are launched neutrally with respect to class, as a form of “social modernization” which can be built into any existing type of class society for the purpose of its “democratization,” greater effectiveness, more harmonious functioning, etc. There is an evident effort to separate these ideas from their root class meaning, especially revolutionary connotations. One should not lose sight of the fact, however, that today there are over-growing numbers of and ever-stronger forces which, through both theoretical analysis and political struggle, oppose the tendency towards involution in interpreting the ideological and social substrates of these ideas.

Fifthly, elements of manipulation have visibly grown in strength. There are more and more instances which show that ruling forces, different representatives of alienated political and social power, find it more in their interest to accommodate such demands of workers than frontally to reject them. The idea has become so attractive that it is “wiser” to make compromises than to directly oppose it. This experience has been confirmed time and again by ruling classes and other ruling social and political forces in their recent political history. Hence, one should count on an ever-growing number of “enlightened” representatives of the property classes, technocracy and bureaucracy who will evince “understanding” for these “responsible” and “moderate” demands. (In the past few years we have had a proliferation of declarations and proposals from these circles with the common aim of using partial compromise and concessions to blunt the blade of radical workers’ demands and thus effect the stabilization and consolidation of their own power and social privileges.)


Today, the protagonists of participation and self-management work under far more complex conditions and face far more complex tasks. New social and political ground has been gained, positions have been reinforced but the problems are considerably more weighty and the responsibilities greater. Especially important is the fact that the forces of !radical social change today already boast of considerable experience in workers’ participation and self-management. It appears that in the present development phase of these ideas and movements, certain adjustments in the politics and strategy of their protagonists are essential. In some cases, new approaches, accents and priorities are needed.

First of all, today it is not so necessary to prove the desirability of direct workers’ democracy as it is its possibility. The primary task no longer lies in fighting to have the socialist legitimacy of the self-management concept of a new society accepted. What is most important is theoretically to prove and in practice confirm the possibility and advantage of socialist self-management over other, especially statist interpretations. New conditions encourage but also demand a more comprehensive and profound study and resolution of certain problems pertaining to the theory and practice of self-management socialism.

Second of all, theoretical efforts must be doubled in singling out from the multitude of various ideas and institutions the authentic search and arduous penetration of the new (type of social relations) from various forms of manipulation by forces with a vested interest in maintaining the existing. It is important to discover the real meaning behind given ideas and practical measures so as to avoid various errors and cut back political losses.

Third of all, “pure” (in terms of principles) and systemically-consistent solutions are not always possible in the actual implementation of workers’ participation and self-management. In many cases, compromises must be made. The problem, of course, lies not in accepting compromises, but rather in failing to see the nature of the accepted solutions. Two equally deficient approaches can still be seen in workers’ movements: a) acceptance of initial, halfway and compromise solutions as the final realization of the working class’s aspirations, and b) frontal rejection of such solutions. The forces of radical social change must be prepared to use the most diverse, sometimes even rudimentary forms of participation as a means for gradually expanding the influence and power of the working class. What is important is that they (these forces) do not fall captive to the initial forms attained.

Fourth of all, the present task is to draw a clear line between socialist self-management as a radical alternative to all existing forms of hired labour, class divisions, exploitation and alienated existence and various aspects of workers’ participation in the decision-making process which are developed and accepted, as an appendage to the existing class society or as a means of alleviating certain contradictions in the system of state socialism. For concerted efforts are being made to treat self-management as just one of the ways in which to “include” the worker in the process of management. Obviously this is an attempt to conceal the profoundly revolutionary nature of the idea of workers’ self-management.


Protagonists of the self-management alternative to the existing systems of hired labour must use far more arguments in refuting the most important theses of their opponents. There is some truth to the claim that some of their failures to date were at least partly due to the fact that they failed convincingly to refute some of these theses. As is known, opponents most often stress that the actual idea of self-management “isn’t bad,” moreover, that it is desirable, but that it cannot be carried out in practice or that it entails too high a price in relation to effectiveness. They say that every system today is tested on the grounds of effectiveness. A system based on genuine participation, or on self-management, allegedly cannot satisfy some of the fundamental demands of the modern economy and developed society in general. Stress is especially laid on the following:

– the system of broad participation and self-management is by definition decentralized. Self-management is incompatible with centralized decision-making in running social affairs. It is also stressed that the modern economy presumes a high degree of coordination and planning. Critics of self-management claim that it cannot resolve this antinomy, that by opting for all economic organizations and other units of social work it consciously sacrifices all the positive sides stemming from the ability to coordinate;

– there is a quite widespread view that one cannot find satisfactory solutions in the self-management system for defining and delineating the functions of social management and operative management;

– there is the broadly elaborated thesis that true participation and self-management cannot be made compatible with the technical and technological imperatives of modern economy. Self-management, allegedly, can be a satisfactory societal and institutional framework in relatively small enterprises with more or less a simple organization of labour but it is inapplicable in titan enterprises with ultra-modern technology and organization of labour;

– some theoreticians feel that self-management is possible in society’s base cells but that it is illusionary to expect it to become a constituent principle and feature of the entire social and political system. As one moves up towards the apex of the social pyramid, one increasingly notices the ever-stronger manifestation of the principles of technocratic and bureaucratic rule and organizations. In the final analysis, these elements of the social structure will endeavour to subordinate self-management institutions established in society’s base and to disparage them;

– it is claimed that the worker, especially .in today’s consumer society, is becoming the victim of its values and myths and that as a result the simply “doesn’t want” to “lose time” by discussing things which are not in his direct interest, etc.

Sometimes one can recognize in some of these theses, and still more in how they are formulated, prejudices, views, arguments as well as the Interests of traditional advocates of the class division of society, of the concept of state socialism, but also of technocratic visions of economic development. It would be fallacious, however, to discuss these questions exclusively on the plane of an ideological confrontation with the opponents of self-management. They unquestionably also reflect some real problems encountered in building a society of integral socialist self-management. Hence, this should be seen not only as an intellectual challenge but also as a stimulus and incentive for the broader assembly and the commitment of the theoretical and political potentials of the self-management socialist alternative. A successful consideration and resolution of the aforementioned problems requires and presumes exploratory efforts of a truly large-scale proportion. These efforts must focus on examining the various aspects of self-management practice and the problems being encountered by self-management socialist forces in daily life instead of abstract opinions, generalized declarations and principles.


1. A New Approach to Industrial Democracy, Oxford, Basil Blackwell, 1900,

2. Revue economique, November 1958.

3. ILO, Labour Management Series, No. 48, Workers’ Participation in Decisions Within Undertakings, Oslo Symposium, p. 35.

4. Le Monde, February 17, 1975

5. Convention national sur l’autogestion, Suppl, No. 41.

6. Report of the 72nd Annual Conference of the LP, p. 178.

7. Programme of the Front of National Liberation of Algeria.

8. ILO, Labour Management Series, No. 48, p. 5.

9. Code of Regulations on the Participation of Workers in the Management and Control of Enterprises, Institute for Comparative Law, Belgrade, 1971, p. 679.