A few months ago I wrote about using Yugoslav workplace periodicals as sources. One very fruitful source in these publications is informal content – jokes, aphorisms, interviews with workers on everyday life topics, and cartoons. Much of this content was produced, written and drawn by workers for workers.
Cartoons in particular offer interesting perspectives on social relations. Visual critique often went far beyond the bounds of what would be appropriate for the textual content. Yet, in the workplaces I have explored, the cartoons and informal content did not appear to have caused major controversy.
What follows below is a selection of cartoons from various Yugoslav workplace publications. Some common themes are visible including divisions between blue and white collar workers, corrupt management, problems of theft, laziness and absenteeism and cynicism about the widening gap between theory and practice in Yugoslav socialism.
From Rakovica to Prizren and from Titograd to Pula cartoons in worker periodicals revolve around similar themes and concerns. They serve to remind that despite decentralisation and increasingly divergent conditions between the republics (autarky), common working class tropes of dissatisfaction remained remarkably similar across the country for much of the 1980s.
“If it’s for stablisation then I’ll tighten my belt too” (Minel, Beograd, broj 225-226, 1983, str. 4). Managers did not need to ‘tighten their belts’ to the same extent as workers who took the brunt of ‘stabilisation’ (austerity measures) in the 1980s.
Aphorisms “The Working class is in power 40 years already but hasn’t felt it”…… “In capitalism the differences are social but in socialism the differences are capital” (Uljanik, Pula, broj 1981, 1987, back cover)
“Instead of dinner, daddy will tell heroic adventures from our middle age national history!” (Uljanik Pula, broj. 107, 1987, back cover). A sarcastic comment on every growing nationalist hysteria.
“Man open your mouth already, you’re not at a meeting of your work unit!” (Uljanik, Pula, broj 22-23, 1982, back cover).
Stabilisation as a burden on the worker’s back “We’ll call someone to help you” say the white collars (Zetatrans, Titograd, broj 54, 1983, str. 14)
“The only road to success” (Uljanik Pula, broj 79/80, 1987, back cover)
“I don’t know about the others but I barely make ends meet” (Beogradski radik, broj. 8, 1984, str. 14). A fat manager referring to his belt but using an expression common to Yugoslav workers who encountered a sharp drop in living standards during the 1980s.
“Productivity, then and now” (Zetatrans, Titograd broj 70, 1984, str. 14). The implication is that previously factories were productive while now the empty words of officials are instead prevalent.
Marx’s legacy – “It’s really not ok. He left them [managers] capital but us [workers] only the manifesto!” Jugolinija, Rijeka, broj 106, 1984, str. 44.
Rory Archer, 15.04.2016