‘Social literature swindlers’: the r/evolutionary controversy in interwar Yugoslav literature
'Social literature swindlers': the r/evolutionary controversy in interwar Yugoslav literature
Ivana Perica 0
0 Department of Political Science, University of Vienna, Universita ̈tsstr. 7/2nd floor, 1010 Vienna , Austria
Political and literary controversies on the Yugoslav literary left, known as Sukob na ljevici (Conflict on the left), remain famous for their culmination points, such as Miroslav Krlezˇa's book of essays Moj obracˇun s njima (My reckoning with them, 1932), his ''Predgovor Podravskim motivima Krste Hegedusˇic´a'' (The foreword to the Podravina motives by Krsto Hegedusˇic´, 1933), Bogomir Hermann's (alias A.B.C.) subsequent invective ''Quo vadis, Krlezˇa?'' (1933), Krlezˇa's later ''Dijalekticˇki antibarbarus'' (Dialectical antibarbarous, 1939), and the one-issue journal Knjizˇevne sveske (Literary volumes, 1940). As the historiographic memory of these controversies is mainly concentrated on the authoritative personality of Krlezˇa himself, the arguments of his opponents are mostly remembered as arguments of 'the others' and are granted only marginal validity. This article gives an account of the debates of the Conflict's first stage (1928-1934), which were manifold and profound, and which foreshadowed the literary and ideological positions of the Conflict's later, culminating stages. By taking into account the dynamic and complex international context that serves as a backdrop to the Conflict, this paper explores the developments in the Yugoslav 'counterpublic' literary sphere, especially with a view to discussions, debates, and polemics over the emerging social literature. Particular attention goes to the group of authors gathered around Socijalna Misao, Zagreb's sociological and cultural journal edited by Bozˇidar Adzˇija. As this journal's most productive authors were derogated as 'social literature swindlers,' which affected their marginal position in the cultural historiography of this period, the aim of this article is to offer a proper analysis of their particular position on the literary and political left.
Evolution versus revolution
Art is said to be the mirror of life. As for literary criticism, one could say that it is a mirror of art. And if
journals contain both works of art and of criticism they are, accordingly, also mirrors—but mirrors of
mirrors. From artwork, as from criticism, one can reconstruct the life of an epoch: social, economic, and
‘‘Kabaret jugoslavenskih revija’’
The counterpublic sphere
Throughout the Yugoslav interwar decades, harsh political circumstances
precipitated the transposition of political activism towards the literary sphere that
functioned as ‘‘the only arena of political struggle’’
(Lasic´ 1970: 33)
. Being severely
limited by restrictive laws concerning the publishing sector
(cf. Sˇ ubic´ Kovacˇevic´
, the Yugoslav literary sphere gradually strengthened its own position as a
(Negt and Kluge 1993; Fraser 1990)
. Moreover, it ‘‘took on
even those assignments that earlier belonged to other forms and means of action’’
(Lasic´ 1970: 35, italics S.L.; cf. Mad¯arevic´ 1974: 19; Ivekovic´ 1970: 194; Bogdanov
1940: 36–37; Viskovic´ 2001: 121; Kalezic´ 1975: 71, 80, 98, 154)
. Throughout the
1920s and especially at the turn of the decade, these disobedient counterpublics
were propelled by international developments, such as Russian proletkult (until
1920), RAPP (Russian association of proletarian writers, 1928–1932), the Second
conference of proletarian and revolutionary writers in Kharkov (which began on 6
Nov. 1930), and the dissolution of RAPP (by Decree of the Central committee of the
All-Union Communist party [bolsheviks], issued on 23 April 1932). Aside from the
Russian ascendancy that in the 1920s came only with delay, the ‘infection’ by
revolutionary and proletarian literature stemmed also from Berlin, Vienna, Paris,
and the U.S.1
In what follows, I present a new perspective on the interwar literary
counterpublics insofar as I examine these counterpublics with a view to two major
political currents, their common ideological backdrop, and their political and
aesthetic disagreements: I call them communist revolutionary struggle and social
democratic evolutionary politics. Between the world wars, the greatest stumbling
block between the confronting sides relied on the following: in reaction to
communists advocating for a radical overthrow of the regime, social democrats
argued for step-by-step politics and gradual development towards socialism
2014: 61, 87; Redzˇic´ 1977: 290; Kalezic´ 1975: 35)
. In Croatia, for instance, the
prohibited SRPJ(k), i.e., KPJ (Communist party of Yugoslavia) maintained a
1 Although I discuss the Yugoslav debates with a view to their intersections with the counterpublic
literary spheres of Berlin, Vienna, Prague, Paris, and Moscow, in this article I delimit my scope on the
correspondances with Berlin and, partly, with Vienna. For the importance of German literary debates for
the Yugoslav discussions, cf. Jovan Popovic´’s article ‘‘O socijalnoj literaturi’’ (1933). For a recent study
on the development of committed literature in France, cf. Peyroles (2015).
continuous connection to the idea of revolution, whereas the reformist and legalist
party of SDS HS (Social democratic party of Croatia and Slavonia) consented to a
reformist agenda. This political difference between the communist revolution and
the social democratic evolution (gradual, deferred revolution) proved to be pertinent
also in the realm of cultural activism. Here, the most important political quandary—
henceforth called the r/evolutionary controversy—consists of the debate over the
priority of revolution or evolution, i.e., whether the liberating socio-political process
is something which is precipitated by means of the ‘‘liberation of whole classes in
economic and political terms’’
(Ross 2008: 101)
or whether it first and foremost
presupposes the ‘‘liberation on the level of the individual’’ (101). That said, their
interwar rivalry of revolution and evolution was a reflection of differing ideological
positions as to the character and the urgency of social (economic, political) and
cultural (spiritual) renewal: whereas the proponents of revolution asserted that a
social revolution (the revolution of the ‘base’) is a precondition of any possible
change in the realm of culture (‘superstructure’), the advocates of evolution upheld
the belief that there is no just social revolution before an appropriate cultural
evolution has taken place
(on, e.g., Cesarec’s outstanding position in this regard, cf.
Ivekovic´ 1970: 44)
. In sum, in the interwar period revolution and evolution
functioned as what is in political theory called ‘‘political concepts’’ (Norberg 2015:
647): pitted against one another, and being sites of perpetual argument (primarily
between communists and social democrats, but not exclusively), one served the
other as its counterconcept.
However, these schematic juxtapositions, reflecting the seemingly
insurmountable ideological, political, and social gap between interwar communism and social
democracy, should be scrutinized with due diligence and patience: although the
evolutionary position was supported predominantly by social democrats, it would be
misleading to assume that the communist idea of revolution advocated ‘‘a simple
upheaval of the forms of state’’2 and thus neglected the importance of cultural
agenda altogether. Similarly, social democratic evolutionary politics did not
necessarily commit itself to disreputable reformism and ill-famed ‘‘ministerialism’’3
but—as will be shown below with regard to several authors published in Socijalna
Misao, the journal that was representative of the left wing of the social democracy in
interwar Yugoslavia—it also jettisoned those who did not pursue progressive
political and cultural aims to the expected point. Therefore, rather than considering
the juxtaposition of interwar communism and social democracy as an ideological,
political, and social gap that would be gridlocked, permanent, and thus
transtemporal, this juxtaposition will be perused under thorough consideration of the
dynamics and turnabouts in the respective political and cultural field. In fact, it is the
supreme aim of this article to point to the importance of the social democratic
contributions to the development of leftist counterpublics, which in the post-WWII
communist historiography was severely understated, both by the historians
2 Jacques Rancie`re takes Marxist and psychoanalytic models of revolutionary change as exemplary for
such ‘‘simple upheavals’’ (2009: 99).
3 ‘‘Ministerialism’’ refers to numerous social democrats who abandoned the socialist-revolutionary cause
and entered the governments of reactionary and fascist regimes (cf.
committed to KPJ and by the anti-systemic historians, who challenged the official
communist historiography from liberal and nationalist positions.4
By way of playfully paraphrasing the title of the last chapter of Enver Redzˇic´’s
monograph Austromarksizam i jugoslavensko pitanje (Austro-Marxism and the
Yugoslav question 1977), one can surmize that the mutually exclusive opposition of
communism and social democracy in the postwar period experienced a ‘historical
negation.’5 Subsequent to Tito’s proverbial ‘no to Stalin’ (in 1948), the ideological
contrasts between communists and social democrats began to fade, which was partly
due to the establishment of the one-party state, where the ruling KPJ, thanks also to
Yugoslavia’s exemplary position in-between the globally confronted political
blocks, could tolerate the challenges and even appropriate the legacy of social
democracy. In the 1950s, Yugoslavia unfolded the dormant potential of originally
socialist ideas, according to which social reproduction should be governed directly
by producers and state property transformed into social property
(cf. Vujic´ 2014:
. Later, many prominent intellectuals were committed to the ‘‘demolishment of
the dogma’’ (first and foremost, of Stalinism), advocating the ‘‘freedom of creation
and research’’ in place of ideological ‘‘nihilism and liquidationism’’
. With that, social democratic authors such as Antun Vujic´ nowadays maintain
that the Yugoslav postwar political leadership rested on its denied interwar social
democratic legacy (2014: 21). Vujic´ even interprets social democracy as a ‘‘latent
and dimmed side of communism that periodically gains strength in times of its
democratization and stifles in times of bolshevization’’ (115). Therefore, the reach
of social democratic step-by-step politics is to be differently perused when dealing
with social democratic parties that attempted to rectify the injustices of the interwar
capitalist and protofascist regimes and when exploring social democratic legacies
that awakened the dormant emancipatory potential within the framework of an
established socialist state. Given that within the framework of interwar Yugoslavia
the reach of cultural evolution could not have been as comprehensive as when
endeavored in the postwar socialist regime, in what follows I will trace the limits
and possibilities of interwar cultural r/evolution as pursued by representative
communist and social democratic intellectuals.
The international backdrop of the Yugoslav counterpublic literary sphere
For the inspection of the Yugoslav counterpublics, attention to multiple turnabouts,
crossovers, and revisions of respective political positions is mandatory. The
discussions on the political and cultural left were conducted along various and often
changing axes: dialectical materialism confronted its simplified concomitant, the
so4 For a good illustration of these positions, cf.
as the advocator of the first and
as the proponent of the second one.
5 ‘‘X. Nacionalno oslobod¯enje Jugoslavena i stvaranje jugoslavenske drzˇave—Istorijska negacija
austromarksisticˇke teorije nacionalnog pitanja’’ (X. The national liberation of the Yugoslavs and the
creation of the Yugoslav state—a historical negation of the Austro-Marxist theory of the national
called ‘vulgar materialism’; political telos and revolutionary optimism opposed
pessimism and defeatism; the absolute of revolution competed with the absolute of
literature; the development of proletarian art was discussed with a view to the
appropriation of bourgeois literary traditions; the artistic invocation of talent
challenged the imperative of dialectical consciousness; revolutionary contents and
political tendency (Ger. Wirkungs a¨sthetik) confronted apolitical undertones of the
aesthetic form… As the strivings for emancipation were sometimes pursued by
emphasizing one side of the binary opposition in question and in the next moment
by emphasizing the other, and as abrupt reversals in proclaimed political aesthetics
were not uncommon, the interwar counterpublics need to be observed with regard to
these dynamic shifts and with an eye to the overall social developments to which
they were closely connected
(Ivekovic´ 1970: 222–223; Mad¯arevic´ 1974: 19)
For a start, let me mention that before 1928 in non-Soviet countries no consistent
cultural and literary front existed. As for Germany, in the early 1920s the debates on
the literary left were only beginning to address political questions (cf. Fa¨hnders &
Rector), which culminated at the end of the decade and in the first half of the 1930s.
Throughout the 1920s, the term ‘‘proletarian-revolutionary’’ was primarily a
political term, used by communists to underpin their distinction from social
(Gallas 1971: 81)
, and did not refer to any particular literary movement.
Up until 1929, it remained unclear whether the proletarian-revolutionary literature
was literature written by the proles or written for the proles, or both: Is its
revolutionary character expressed in its contents or should it also be accompanied
by new literary forms? Should literature only mimetically depict life as it is or rather
offer perspectives for the proletarian struggle? (72)
As for the situation in Yugoslavia, in the years following the end of WWI and
throughout the 1920s, leftist literary reflections were predominantly published in
Miroslav Krlezˇa’s journals Plamen (Flame, 1919, co-edited with August Cesarec)
and Knjizˇevna republika (Literary republic, 1923–1927). Similarly as in Germany,
although highlighting their ‘inflammation’ by the spirit of revolution, these
journals—and this particularly applies to Plamen, whose name reflected
Lunacˇarskiˇı’s journal Plamia
(Flame, cf. Krtalic´ 1988: 174)
—did not yield
elaborate reflections on revolutionary or progressive literature. As Krlezˇa once
summarized, Plamen’s historical materialism had a ‘‘sentimental, romantic and
Sturm-und-Drang character; […] our Marxism petered out in a provincial and
pettybourgeois environment and was more resistance and rejection than some
systematized activity.’’ (1923: 38)
After Plamen and Knjizˇevna republika disappeared from the counterpublic
horizon, in 1928, a year rich in political events, a concatenation of new journals
ensued: In Zagreb, Stevan Galogazˇa reissued Kritika,6 an ‘‘uncompromising and
polemical’’ journal (Nova literatura 2.2 [
Balk, Th. (T.K. Fodor) 1929
]: 64).7 In the
6 Kritika was originally founded by Galogazˇa in Zagreb in October 1920. After editing three issues in
1920, in spring 1921 Galogazˇa moved abroad so that throughout 1921 and 1922 the journal was edited by
Ljubo Wiesner and Milan Begovic´, editors of a more traditional intellectual profile. After his return in
1928, Galogazˇa launched another journal, Vedrina (Delight), which was soon closed for the sake of taking
up Kritika again
(Ivekovic´ 1970: 100–105)
. Ivekovic´ also highlights that Kritika was the only literary
journal that on the eve of the dictatorship (6 Jan. 1929) upheld a direct connection with the idea of
same year, Bozˇidar Adzˇija launched Socijalna Misao (with Gojko Berberovic´), and
in Belgrade the Bihalji brothers began with the communist journal Nova literatura
(1928–1930), a literary community whose aim was to ‘‘connect the Yugoslav
literary forces with the best international ones’’ (Socijalna Misao 2.1 : 12).8
Simultaneously with Nova literatura, they founded the publishing house Nolit
(NOva LITeratura—new literature),9 which had a program consistent with the
famous German publishing house Malik
(cf. Mad¯arevic´ 1974: 127)
. Kritika and
Socijalna Misao were soon followed by Stozˇer (1930–1935), Literatura
(1931–1933), and Kultura (1933) that all meticulously tracked international critical
and literary production.10
Simultaneously, in the same year and month of Socijalna Misao’s first issue
(October 1928), in Berlin the association BPRS (‘‘Bund proletarisch-revolutiona¨rer
Schriftsteller’’/The association of proletarian-revolutionary authors) was founded.11
Footnote 6 continued
communist revolution (103–104). Because of such editorial activity,
Galogazˇa was arrested at the end of
; the journal was confiscated (
7 References consist of the author’s name and the year of publication, as listed in the reference list. If the
quote is part of a section without title and author, the year, issue, and page of the particular journal are
included in parenthesis.
8 Editors were Pavle Bihalji, Oto Bihalji-Merin (1–3 ), and Branko Gavella (4–12 ). The
journal’s editorial board gathered, among many others, international collaborators like Albert Einstein,
Georg Arco, Henry Barbusse, S.M. Eisenstein, Maksim Gorkiˇı, Aleksandra Kollontaˇı, George Grosz,
Pana¨ıt Istrati, Egon Erwin Kisch, Zdeneˇk Nejedly´, Gerhart Pohl, Erwin Piscator, and Aleksandr
Serafimovicˇ. Among the Yugoslav authors the most prominent board members were Branko Gavella,
August Cesarec, Stevan Galogazˇa, and Dragisˇa Vasic´. Besides the editorial office in Belgrade, there
existed branches in Paris, Brussels, Prague, Berlin, Vienna, and Bucharest.
9 The edition committee was composed of Oto Bihalji-Merin, Josip Kulundzˇic´, Milan Bogdanovic´, and
Gustav Krklec. Nolit developed a rich literary series, including Andre´ Baillon’s O jednoj Mariji (1936/
Histoire d’une Marie, 1921/The Story of a Marie), Upton Sinclair’s Metropola (1930/Metropolis, 1908),
Agnes Smedley’s Sama (1932/Daughter of Earth, 1929), Ernst Erich Noth’s Najamna kuc´erina (1933/
Die Mietskaserne. Roman junger Menschen, 1931/The Tenement), Ernst Glaeser’s Klasa 1902 (1931/
Jahrgang 1902, 1928/Class 1902, 1929), and many others.
10 In Stoˇzer, that was initially edited by the editorial board and from issue nr. 5 on by Jovan Popovic´,
several pertinent articles were published, such as Stevan Galogazˇa’s ‘‘Smisao knjizˇevnosti i duzˇnost
pisaca’’ (1931), Milan Durman’s ‘‘Pseudosocijalne tendencije u nasˇoj knjizˇevnosti’’ (1931), and Bogomir
Herman’s (B.H.M.’s) ‘‘Za ispravnost i jasnoc´u’’ (1931). Literatura was another journal launched by
Galogazˇa, a monthly focused on novellas ‘‘written only by the best authors’’ (1.1 : 23). The aim
was not to be just another literary journal but to offer insights into ‘‘truly best literature’’ (23). Some of the
most important Conflict articles are published here. Special attention goes to N. Simic´’s and Galogazˇa’s
attacks on surrealism
(Simic´ 1932; Galogazˇa 1932c)
, as well as to several texts where Galogazˇa ‘clarifies
the terms’ (‘rasˇcˇisˇc´avanje pojmova’) regarding social literature (1932a: 27). In this journal, the pertinent
‘‘Prilog tumacˇenju pojmova o socijalnoj knjizˇevnosti’’ (1932) was also published, written by Vaso
Bogdanov (alias N. Kostin). According to a small notice in Kultura (1.5 : 400), Literatura was
suddenly closed in 1933.
Finally, Kultura was launched as an ‘‘artistic and strictly scientific’’ journal (Kultura 1.1 : 1),
particularly oriented towards economic, social, and natural sciences that were inspected from the
standpoint of dialectical materialism (Kultura 1.2 : 57). It was edited by painter and critic Ðuro
Tiljak. After the first issue, Tiljak decided to dispense with belletristic contributions and to concentrate on
11 It was founded on 19 October 1928. Its first president was Johannes R. Becher
(cf. Gallas 1972: 11;
Mad¯arevic´ 1974: 127)
. BPRS was closely linked with the International union of revolutionary writers,
established in 1925 in Moscow (Gallas 1972: 16), that in 1930 organized the famous Kharkov conference.
It was active until 1933,12 which was also the last publishing year of Socijalna
Misao. Furthermore, Oto Bihalji-Merin, a prominent Yugoslav intellectual, founder
of the aforementioned publishing house Nolit, was among the members of the
editorial board of the utmost important Berlin leftist journal Die Linkskurve
(1929–1933), and for several years its chief editor
(Gallas 1971: 47)
was also the only one among Yugoslav intellectuals to participate in the Kharkov
conference in 1930, albeit as a German representative
(Kalezic´ 1975: 76)
Therefore, it is not only evident that the late 1920s and the early 1930s were rich
with publishing activities and debates but also that the Yugoslav counterpublics
were concurrent with the international literary and political developments. From this
it follows that the discussions in Yugoslavia need to be observed with view to the
international scene they have been part of. As in 1933 and 1934, both in Yugoslavia
and internationally, several essential cuts signaled the end of this abundant stage I
delimit my observations to the period from 1928 until 1934 as representative of the
early stage of Yugoslav literary counterpublics.13
In Yugoslavia, this period has been categorized as the ‘‘stage’’
‘‘movement’’ of social literature
. As this movement, however, did
not yield a uniform literary front but contained rather heterogeneous groups of
authors who nevertheless showed similar inclinations, Lasic´ speaks only of their
‘‘convergence towards a common platform’’ (1970: 71, 81). Authors who wrote
social literature and critics who reflected upon it were concentrated around the
above enlisted journals from Zagreb and Belgrade. Indeed, all these journals held
rather similar views and it is beyond doubt that they all comprehended literature as
a means towards social, socialist, both revolutionary and evolutionary ends. Thus it
follows that the primary perspective from which this literature should be perused is
not its artistic value but its political committment
(cf. Ivekovic´ 1970: 220)
. In this
sense, if one is tempted to interpret art and revolution as ‘‘two forms of total
transcendence,’’ as Lasic´ did (1970: 12–14), one has to keep in mind that, when
compared to Krlezˇa’s position—which is adamantly appropriated and propagated
by Lasic´ himself—these two forms cannot be equated and discussed as aquivalent
and exchangeable: neither does the political revolution necessarily lead to the
liberation of all, nor is the aesthetic, artistic, cultural evolution sufficient to propel
changes in the economic and institutional base. Paraphrasing Mikl o´s Szabolcsi, one
can capture this friction by claiming that the revolution is either political, or it is
none. At the same time, ‘‘a revolution without an [evolution] is really a
pseudo12 After 1933, it existed only as a small illegal group, with 7–8 members. It was officially closed in 1935
(Gallas 1972: 71).
13 Lasic´ discerns between four stages of the Conflict: the initial ‘‘period of social literature’’ (1928–1934)
and the subsequent ‘‘new realism’’ (1935–1941) were followed by the period of ‘‘socialist realism’’
(1945–1948) and the ‘‘new orientations,’’ i.e., the breakdown of the literary left (1949–1952) (1970:
27–28). Besides the ‘‘cartel of social literature’’ (authors Galogazˇa, Popovic´, Herman, Bihalji, Kersˇovani)
and the ‘‘social literature swindlers’’
(the ‘‘masked quills with leftist paroles’’: Adzˇija, Sˇ tedimlija,
Magdic´, 1970: 81)
, Lasic´’s categorization maps out individual positions of Vaso Bogdanov (who suffers
from leftist ‘‘infantile disorder,’’ collaborating with the cartel authors, however not sparing them from his
critique) and Milan Durman (‘‘straying social writer,’’ 1970: 81). Except for the last quote, the
expressions in the brackets are originally from Jovan Popovic´’s article ‘‘O socijalnoj literaturi’’ (1933:
revolution.’’14 Although after Krlezˇa’s ‘‘Predgovor Podravskim motivima Krste
Hegedusˇic´a’’ (The foreword to the Podravina Motives by Krsto Hegedusˇic´), where
he insisted on ‘‘artistic forces’’ (1933: 272) and refuted creation that abides by
‘‘rational resolutions and directives’’ (267), serious splits occurred, in the late 1920s
and still at the beginning of the 1930s the Yugoslav leftist journals did not make a
decision between literature and politics; in their perspective, literature was politics.
At that time, and especially when compared to Krlezˇa’s position, the fine
distinctions between these journals were less significant. Having this in mind, when
perusing the polemics these journals comprise one should adjust the optics and put
aside the ‘aestheticist’ standards of ‘high literature.’ Moreover, this requires
eliminating the perspective of literary critique altogether and reading the respective
texts with the eyes of a social scientist or a political theoretician.
Regarding the subsequent changes and shifts in these debates, Vlado Mad¯arevic´
makes pertinent remarks as to the necessity of taking into consideration the
dialectical character of the r/evolutionary process. In Knjiˇzevnost i revolucija
(Literature and revolution, 1974), a critique of Stanko Lasic´’s study Sukob na
knjizˇevnoj ljevici (Conflict on the literary left, 1970), Mad¯arevic´ points to the
imperative of interpreting the Conflict ‘‘dialectically,’’ that is, to study the starting
positions and orientations of the confronted sides ‘‘with regard to their relative
developments, and not as absolutes’’ (1974: 19). In line with this, the confronted
groups that participated in the Conflict obtain their justification with regard to the
particular historical stage of class struggle. According to Mad¯arevic´, in times of
calm and stable social development art tends to invert to ‘its own’ questions, as well
as to the anthropological, emotional, and ontological problems of man. (This
corresponds with my understanding of evolution.) In contrast to this, in
revolutionary times, times of accelerated historical pace, not only anthropological but also (or
primarily) sociological and economic problems come to the fore. Here art becomes
‘‘the only possibility of aesthetically disguised expression and formation of the
revolutionary consciousness’’ (19). Art breaks out towards its ‘‘genuine creative
commitment’’ (19), notwithstanding the fact that the quality of its artistic expression
may lag behind its political scope. In fact, when reactionary social forces tend to
misuse the ‘‘traditionalist sentimental national romantics,’’ which are sometimes
nothing more than ‘‘‘privatized,’ self-oriented ‘pure’ literature,’’ used as a ‘‘medium
of stultification of social consciousness’’ (19–20), this passage to revolutionary
activism becomes imperative.
In line with these remarks on two historical phases of political struggle (evolution
vs. revolution) one can conclude that the major difference between social democrats
and communists relied on their diverging estimations of the current stage of the
political and cultural struggle. Whereas the social democrats believed that the
envisioned cultural aims could still be achieved by way of persistent cultural work
and gradual transition towards socialism, the communists believed themselves
already in the midst of a civil war.
14 Originally, ‘‘a revolution without an avant-garde [in art, A.E.] is really a pseudo-revolution’’
(Szabolcsi 1978: 14, qtd. in Erjavec 2015: 4)
. Erjavec paraphrases this when he says that avant-garde art
represented sort of a ‘‘precondition for an authentically radical political revolution’’ (280).
Due to the literary historians’ concentration on the later stages of the Conflict, the
journals from the Conflict’s initial phase, and especially the discussions over social,
committed literature are nowadays still by large overlooked. These discussions
revolved around the question of ‘swindled social literature’ and were conducted
between two groups of authors and literary critics: between the social democratic
journal Socijalna Misao on the one side and the communist journals Nova
literatura, Kritika, Literatura, Stoˇzer, and Kultura on the other. In querying the
thesis on the immanently political character of these literary disputes, I will first
delineate the common socialist—r/evolutionary—backdrop against which they
emerged. Then I will observe which fine distinctions became decisive when the
political-literary field split into the two confronting camps of the literary ‘swindlers’
and the so-called literary ‘cartel.’
A common platform: convergences and divergences
Criticism of the mere evolution
It has already been said that the discrepancies between communists and social
democrats depended on their differing views on the character and the urgency of
revolution: whereas the communists highlighted the preponderance of political or
social revolution (and thus strived to accelerate this progress), the social democrats
believed that there is no (just) social revolution before an appropriate cultural
evolution has taken place.
The communist critique of evolution is perhaps best exemplified by Vaso
Bogdanov’s (N. Kostin) review of August Cesarec’s study Psihoanaliza i
individualna psihologija (Psychoanalysis and individual psychology, 1932). In his
rather supportive presentation of Cesarec’s book, Bogdanov used the opportunity to
critically discuss the work of the Viennese social democrat Alfred Adler, an
AustroMarxist whose influential individual psychology gained many supporters in
(cf. Kalezic´ 1975: 56–66; Kovacˇevic´ 1987: 24–27)
belabored Adler for his claim that ‘‘[f]irst one needs to change the people and
then they will change the social constitution.’’ (1932a: 127) In other words, the
‘‘communism of goods’’ can only succeed but never precede the ‘‘communism of
souls’’ (127). On this occasion, Bogdanov was reminded of Adler’s Zagreb lecture,
where the author responded to questions from the audience. For those familiar with
the Austro-Marxist poetics of ‘‘hybridity’’
(cf. Perica 2017)
, Adler’s answers come
as no suprise: he did not make suggestions as to whether children should be brought
up as atheists or believers but suggested that it is important to establish harmony
between these two opposites; and he did not dismiss the possibility that even a
capitalist could make himself useful in society (128). By way of critically reacting
to Adler’s claim that the problem of modern society is not as much capitalism as it is
‘‘individualism and egoism’’ (130), which could be overcome by means of new
collectivism, and referring to Adler’s persuasion that—even under the given
circumstances—what needed be changed was not the prevalent mode of production
but the people themselves, Bogdanov dismissed individual psychology in toto. He
claimed it to be nothing more than ‘‘futile work’’ (130).
Besides this communist critique, published in the journal Literatura, one has to
consider that Socijalna Misao, although a social democratic journal, also was openly
critical of political compromises social democracy was prone to, both in the past
(WWI) and in the present (1920s), both in Yugoslavia and internationally. The
journal’s editor Bozˇidar Adzˇija was a former Prague student
(Seferovic´ 1961: IX)
originally influenced by Toma´sˇ Masaryk, the interwar president of Czechoslovakia.
Throughout the 1920s, Adzˇija was one of the fiercest critics of Croatian, Yugoslav,
and international social democracy. Subsequently, realizing its proneness towards
conformist and conservative politics towards the end of the 1920s Adzˇija developed
into a communist: finally, in 1935 he became member of KPJ
(Ivekovic´ 1970: 197)
Regarding Bogdanov’s communist critique of Alfred Adler, one has to consider that
even Socijalna Misao as the most influential organ of the left wing of Croatian
social democracy was similarly critical of the Viennese type of social democracy.
Nevertheless, even among the Viennese comrades discernible differences existed,
e.g., between Alfred Adler and another Adler—Max—who stood more to the left.
Socijalna Misao referred only to Max and never to Alfred. It also published Max
Adler’s text ‘‘Ostvarenje marksizma’’
(Realization of Marxism, 1933)
written especially for this journal.
Adzˇija’s critical stance towards social democratic evolution is manifest in his
statement that even if social politics can make achievements and conquer obstacles
delivered by capitalism, it should never be confused with socialism. The
evolutionary social politics is a child of capitalism: no matter its merits in the
struggle for the improvement of the working conditions, as long as these conditions
are defined by capitalists and not by workers themselves, one cannot speak of
(Adzˇija 1933: 2; cf. Seferovic´ 1961: XVII, XXIII)
. In this regard, Adzˇija
warned against the illusions social democrats were prone to in the past, in particular,
of expecting too much from social politics. From his 1928 caveat that one would
need ‘‘other, more radical means’’ if one intends to achieve a ‘‘full renaissance of
today’s society’’ (
) to later uncompromising critiques of social
democratic political losses (Adzˇija 1932), his development from the far left wing
of social democracy towards communism was evident. This statement that from a
certain point one would really need ‘‘more radical means’’ in order to transgress
towards socialism was, furthermore, a symptom of an important ideological shuffle
on the political left—a shuffle that spurred some of its agents towards the left and
others towards the right.15
Socijalna Misao’s overall criticism of the merely evolutionary or merely
reformist omen of the international and Yugoslav social democracy can also be
illustrated by an article by Milivoj Magdic´. In 1930, he published the text ‘‘Od
15 After losing the mainstay of their social democratic cultural front—the journal—its authors took up or
continued their collaboration with various other, compromising media and institutions. Besides Adzˇija,
none of them joined the communist movement. Some of them consented to compromises with NDH, a
Croatian satellite state of the Nazi regime (1941–1945), which is probably the main reason why they were
ignored by the postwar communist historiography. As leftists and social democrats, they were
uninteresting to 1990s historiography as well.
Proudhona do Forda’’ (From Proudhon to Ford), a critique of the Serbian socialist
Dragoljub Jovanovic´ who as a ‘‘French student’’
(Magdic´ 1930: 170)
of utopian socialism and of the forerunners of contemporary social democracy
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Anatole France, and Jean Jaure`s. Jovanovic´’s support of a
‘‘twofold struggle’’ is of great significance for the discussion of the r/evolutionary
controversy between communists and social democrats. Social democrats
maintained that as no ideology and no socialism can be simply imposed ‘from above’ or
‘from without,’ one needs to implement this twofold struggle, consisting of both
social and cultural action. The communists, although they did not neglect the
importance of the cultural agenda, were critical of the utopian and often
individualistic understanding of social action, from which the social democratic
cultural action commonly departed. In the second part of his article ‘‘Od Proudhona
do Forda,’’ published in 1931, Magdic´ briefly presented this contested tradition of
French utopian socialism. The text was opened by a quote from Jean Jaure`s’s
Histoire socialiste de la re´volution franc¸aise (1901–1907), where French
Revolution was interpreted as fulfilling two main preconditions of socialism: democracy
(Magdic´ 1931a: 7)
. Departing from the latter, Magdic´ presented the
bourgeois omen of the French Revolution with its Jacobin leaders Robespierre,
Danton, and Marat, who ‘‘were neither communists nor socialists’’ but merely
‘‘petty-bourgeois democrats’’ (7). Further on, he presented the reader with the
generation of utopian socialists Babeuf, Blanqui, Fourier, Saint-Simon, Cabet, Louis
Blanc, and Proudhon. Magdic´ claimed that Dragoljub Jovanovic´’s recourse to
Proudhon, whom Magdic´ characterized as the ‘‘most reactionary among all utopian
socialists’’ (9), displayed not only Jovanovic´’s petty-bourgeois character but was,
moreover, ‘‘typical of our society’’ (10). Therefore, with his essay, and especially
with this last remark, Magdic´ did not only criticize utopian socialism but, and
perhaps first and foremost, he criticized the overall profile of the local intelligentsia.
Contrary to the ingrained distance and pedagogizing stance towards peasants and
workers, Magdic´ envisioned a type of proletarian intellectual that was, still, only
becoming (8). Although he was of intellectually petty-bourgeois origin himself,
Magdic´ was particularly critical of the ‘pedagogic’ distances and hierarchies still
inherent in this first phase of leftist intelligentsia.
The petty-bourgeois profile of leftist intellectuals
Magdic´’s ‘‘Od Proudhona do Forda’’ is significant because it displays intensive
preoccupation with two evidently Gramscian (or Brechtian) problems: first, the
necessary extension of social, i.e., political action through cultural action and,
second, the precarious and often dubious position of leftist intellectuals. In what
follows, I will inspect these problems in more detail.
The insistence on learning before going to action and the belief that workers first
and foremost ‘‘need to apprehend the whole economic problem’’ (
was characteristic of the often criticized pedagogic attitudes of social democratic
intellectuals. This topic was, as noted above, critically assessed by the social
democratic authors of Socijalna Misao themselves. In ‘‘Socijalizam i inteligencija’’
(Socialism and intelligentsia 1930), an article that serves as a sort of introduction
into these matters, Adzˇija critically defined intelligentsia as the ‘‘social strata that,
thanks to its school education, obtains a certain social position’’ (14). This social
strata was particularly impervious towards socialism, the reason for which was
school education that—especially in high schools—taught the students the
‘‘imagined superiority over the others’’ (14), thus introducing distinctions between
‘‘patricians’’ and ‘‘plebeians’’ (14). Another reason was socialism’s critical distance
from nationalism: if ‘‘nationalism’’ implies state nationalism, chauvinism, and
militarism, then socialism must be both anational and antinational. However, if
‘‘nationalism’’ refers to common language, history, institutions, and traditions, then
‘‘the internationalism of the socialist movement is not synonymous with anationality
or antinationality. And as to the socialist movement, the ideal has ever and always
been exclusively free people.’’ (15) Adzˇija thus tackled the complexities of the local
intelligentsia but he also assigned it the duty to realize these problems, to solve them
and to take the lead on the road of social development (16).
Similarly, in ‘‘Smisao radnicˇke kulture’’ (The meaning of workers’ culture,
1930), Mirko Kus-Nikolajev departed from Max Weber and criticized both the
traditional (academic) style of teaching and the direct agitation: if the first is cynical
and pedagogizing, the latter is ‘‘vulgar’’ and dependent on paroles. With the help of
a neither-nor choice, Kus-Nikolajev insisted on genuine workers’ culture as the
alpha and omega of culturally committed work. In his opinion, the educator’s and
the pedagogue’s first duty was to acquaint himself with the psychology of the
proletariat (153). Thus he did not only maintain that comprehending proletarian
views and everyday experiences was more essential than knowing the ABC of
Marxism by heart; he also argued for proletarian pedagogy (154), encompassing
both the education of the student and the education of the lecturer. Herewith he
implied the instruction taken from Marx—‘‘We must emancipate ourselves before
we can emancipate others’’
(Marx 2000: 48)
—and explicitly referred to more recent
reflections on the proletarian pedagogy, authored by Angelica Balabanoff and
As expected, not only the pedagogic attitudes but also the literary production by
the local intelligentsia was jettisoned as petty-bourgeois. The first issue of the
relaunched Kritika in May 1928 was opened with the text ‘‘Tragikomedija
slobodnog pera’’ (Tragicomedy of the free pen 1928) that was paradigmatic for the
penitent auto-da-fe´ of many authors who decided to make themselves useful for the
revolutionary cause. The text was written by Stanko Tomasˇic´ who primarily
published in Socijalna misao and who in 1929 ventured the very first leftist critique
of Krlezˇa. In ‘‘Tragikomedija slobodnog pera,’’ an important aesthetic and political
dilemma was brought to the fore that soon became a persistent theme in the early
stage of the Conflict: the discrepancy between aesthetic idealism and brute
economic reality. Whilst petty-bourgeois authors were still writing about ‘‘a lady
with a rose on her shoulder’’ (3), the pertinent ‘‘economic question [of] one sack of
potatoes per month’’ (3) was thoroughly ignored. When glancing back at 10 years of
writing experience, Tomasˇic´ realized the ‘‘tragicomedy’’ of his earlier idealistic
writing and exclaimed, ‘‘I was a wig and a crinoline on the potato sack!’’ (3).
The ethical regime of literature
The possibilities of cultural action were most vividly discussed with a view to the
revolutionary role of literature, i.e., with view to the ‘‘symbiosis’’
of literature and revolution. The educator’s duty of acquainting himself with the
psychology of the proletariat was in Literatura explicitly transferred to the realm of
literary production: when speaking of ‘‘the organization of consciousness’’ by
literary means, V-S16 maintained that authors should learn to know the workers not
in order to teach them lessons in dialectical materialism but in order for they
themselves to make a professional contribution to the production of goods
: not only in this way can the risk of literary professionalism be prevented,
by conjoining workers and writers a new type of literary creation will arise (33).
Undoubtedly, such an apprehension of literature, its political-revolutionary ‘‘use’’
(Felski 2008), was close to what Jacques Rancie`re critically denominates as the
ethical regime: ‘‘In the ethical regime, works of art have no autonomy. They are
viewed as images to be questioned for their truth and for their effect on the ethos of
individuals and the community. Plato’s Republic offers a perfect model of this
regime.’’ (2002: 135) However, when discussing the interwar political literature,
one has to keep in mind that Rancie`re’s jettisoning of the ethical regime is a
brainchild of postwar—and also postrevolutionary—times and of the revolutionary
(not exclusively Rancie`re’s own) melancholy conditioned by the structural
inconsistencies of Marxist party politics.17 Departing from this disappointment,
Rancie`re reaches out for the tradition of Saint-Simonianism and utopian socialism,
political traditions that in the interwar period were radically discarded by both
communists and the left-wing social democrats: if in postrevolutionary, post-1968
period Rancie`re’s Saint-Simonianism is welcomed as a plausible way out of the
party authoritarianism, in the interwar discussions on the left it was precisely
utopian socialism that all aforementioned leftist positions, communists as well as
the left wing of the social democrats, were adamantly refuting
(here, cf. again
Magdic´ 1930, 1931a)
. Therefore, a straightforward rejection of the ethical regime,
as typical of the contemporary reflections on the ‘politics of literature’
or the ‘politics of literarity’
, cannot be taken as an
appropriate theoretical outset for a serious reconstruction of the interwar literary
politics. Instead, I chose Mad¯arevic´’s advice that the strong ethical overtones should
be understood historically and dialectically (1974: 39). As the new, emerging
political subject needed a stable ideological, humanistic footing—a ‘‘principle of
hope’’ that would help him ‘‘overcome social chains and spiritual alienation’’ (39)—
this ethical regime should be interpreted as consistent with the historical need of
‘‘the jump away from the mere immediacy of a troll and towards true humanity’’
(Luka´cs 1971: 662)
16 Pseudonym undeciphered.
17 Rancie`re rounds off his essay ‘‘The aesthetic revolution and its outcomes’’ with the following remark
on the necessary melancholy of art’s commitment: ‘‘Aesthetic art promises a political accomplishment
that it cannot satisfy, and thrives on that ambiguity. That is why those who want to isolate it from politics
are somewhat beside the point. It is also why those who want it to fulfil its political promise are
condemned to a certain melancholy.’’
(Rancie`re 2002: 151)
The first ethical demand, without exception, was to dispense with larpurlartism.
In Nova literatura, Oto Bihalji-Merin (alias O. Biha) asserted that ‘‘[l]’art pour
l’artisme is a matter of the complacent […]. The historical-materialistic critic must
apodictically refuse such creation. This is not because he is inclined to negate but
because he wants to gather forces that would, despite everything, make a decision
towards the future.’’ (1929b: 57) In Socijalna Misao, the critiques of detached
aestheticism were articulated against a similar backdrop. Stanko Tomasˇic´ jettisoned
larpurlartism as a criterion according to which literary styles and groups were
differentiated (1929a: 114). He asserted that the contemporary literary praxis ended
in deadlock, embracing the ‘‘intellectual absurdity of Tolstoi’’ (114). It ‘‘omit[ted] to
oppose the evil as well as the absurdity of the West-European larpurlatism’’ (114).
In his periodic report on new books, Tomasˇic´ mocked the apolitical morality of the
‘free will’: ‘‘Free will? A nice thing for meditation, sir, but thoroughly useless in
life. I used to find it only in novels written by authors who were younger than
forty… But yes—please pardon this small digression of mine—it’s the marmalade
at stake here, and not free will.’’ (1930: 60)
All contributors to the inspected journals advanced the idea of committed,
progressive literature. For them, the question whether literature was a political
phenomenon was beyond dispute: ‘‘There is one thing we are perfectly aware of: we
perceive literature exclusively as a means in a struggle.’’
(Sˇ tedimlija 1932: 10)
statement, forgotten for decades, was, in 2007, recaptured by Chantal Mouffe, who
in ‘‘Artistic activism and agonistic spaces’’ claims as follows: ‘‘This is why I
consider that it is not useful to make a distinction between political and non-political
art. From the point of view of the theory of hegemony, artistic practices play a role
in the constitution and maintenance of a given symbolic order or in its challenging
and this is why they necessarily have a political dimension.’’ (2007, italics I.P.) In
other words, there is no such thing as apolitical literature. Departing from a similar
premise, Stevan Galogazˇa inferred in the communist Kritika that ‘‘those who stake a
claim for neutrality have, in fact, already taken sides’’ (1928: 21).
From this follows another pertinent ethical dimension: as literature is inherently
always tendentious, a literary piece that explicitly formulates its tendency is not
necessarily progressive. So did Lazarevic´ posit that ‘‘every artwork, simply for the
fact that it exists, is tendentious. There is a purpose in every creation, which makes
every artwork tendentious.’’ (1932: 141) By the same token, tendency cannot be the
sole mainstay of literary progressiveness; more important than tendency itself is the
particular ‘‘critical light’’ that is thrown on social phenomena
(Lazarevic´ 1933a: 40,
. Lazarevic´ referred to an unnamed ‘‘social writer’’ who aestheticized
and glorified working people’s suffering as a ‘‘sublime moral beauty’’ (41):
according to Lazarevic´, such literature may bee tendentious, but it surely is not
social. In this sense, as literature is necessarily political, the question is only which
and whose politics it supports. Or, as Bogdanov put it, the question is: ‘‘whom do
you serve?’’ (1932b: 195)18 In the influential article ‘‘O socijalnoj literaturi’’ (On
18 This resonated with Milivoj Magdic´’s article ‘‘Pojave u nasˇem knjizˇevnom zˇivotu,’’ published in
Socijalna Misao, also in 1932. Magdic´ strove to scientifically clarify the terms and contradictions social
literature was freighted with. In line with the general leftist stance on tendency in art, he first refuted the
presumption of allegedly ‘‘pure,’’ ‘‘nontendentious’’ art (26). To those authors who claimed pure artistic
social literature), published in the journal Kultura, Jovan Popovic´ explained
tendency on similar grounds. He maintained that, principally, as every literature is
necessarily tendentious, tendency is not something that comes from without but
something that the author carries within himself, even unconsciously. Tendency
surely is not that ‘‘ugly, peculiar, vulgar, malicious’’ matter, as it is viewed by l’art
pour l’artisme (1933: 266).
These observations were accordant with the status of tendency in the
international theoretical literature. In 1932, Luka´cs suggested exchanging the
misleading term of ‘‘tendency’’ with ‘‘partisanship’’
(Luka´cs 1980; cf. Gallas 1971:
: as literature is necessarily tendentious and as proletarian-revolutionary
literature inevitably brings to the fore the revolutionary goals of the proletarian
class, explicit tendency necessarily is superfluous and enforced. Moreover, not only
Galogazˇa, Lazarevic´, and Popovic´ but even the ill-famed Yugoslav normativists,
such as Milovan Ðilas or Radovan Zogovic´, refuted the ‘‘vulgarized tendencies, that
is, the reduction of the artwork’s idea to watchword and catchphrase’’ (Lasic´ 1970:
134). Therefore, and contrary to common assumptions, in their endeavor to achieve
the ‘‘symbiosis’’ of literature and revolution
(Mad¯arevic´ 1974: 17)
, social writers
jettisoned both the ‘‘abstract absolute autonomy’’ and the ‘‘vulgar sociological
utilitarianism of literature’’ (179).
Another trait of the ethical regime was the orientation towards literary contents.
In the international discussions, the importance of revolutionary contents and of the
therefrom resulting realistic form was, first, put down to the historical urgency of
swift revolutionary action (cf.
: 19) and, then, supported by the
argument of winning the masses
(cf. Gallas 1971: 62)
. Va´clav Be˘hounek’s article
‘‘Ruska literatura za doba pjatiletke’’ (Russian literature during the First pyatiletka),
published in Socijalna Misao in 1932, insisted that proletarian literature presents
‘‘typical images of a collective that definitively and energically dispenses with the
class epoch of humanity’’ (146). The thesis was that the proletarian literature writes
about ‘‘the heroes of communist work, fights passivity and petty-bourgeois
subjectivism’’ (146). This thesis, written in the aftermath of the Kharkov
conference, was appropriated by Branko Lazarevic´, who in the same issue of
Socijalna Misao interpreted proletarian art as a ‘‘sign of progress’’: ‘‘It is the
expression of the spiritual strength of the proletariat in its cultural endeavor towards
new life values.’’ (1932: 141) Lazarevic´ differentiated between the artwork’s
aesthetic value (its formal elements) and its moral, i.e., ethical value (contents):
whereas the form is a mere sublimation of the ‘real’ and is as such typical of
bourgeois art, the content cannot be detached from the artwork’s social origin. ‘‘As
long as there exist classes—capitalists and proletarians, the exploiters and the
exploited—the content cannot be universal to all people.’’ (141, italics B.L.)
Footnote 18 continued
ambitions he answered ironically: ‘‘Those Italian writers who accept the Fascist doctrine are not ashamed
of it. They admit that they can only be tendentious, that there is no objectivity, no ‘pure’ art. Why are
some local gentlemen ashamed of their positive ideal? They have the right to the affirmation of their
ideology […].’’ (26) In the following lines, Magdic´ defended social literature from attacks from the right,
thereby supporting the positions of Veselin Maslesˇa and Jovan Popovic´.
Similar demands on progressive literature were put forth by Vaso Bogdanov who
in the communist Literatura dismissed pessimistic literature, which ‘‘epitomizes the
vainness and senselesness of everything’’ (1932b: 193). Instead, Bogdanov argued
for literature that ‘‘bears the firm belief in the possibility of changing this
unfortunate life’’ (193): ‘‘This literature does not depict death. Death is extoled only
by those who have had enough of everything, even of life. In contrast, the great
majority of humanity has not even lived yet […]. That is why it wants to hear and
read about life, not about death.’’ (193) Bogdanov’s vitalistic and programmatic
criticism of the bourgeois death drive, his criticism of art’s servitude, and the
elaborations on the irrelevance of artistic talent present a perfect embodiment of the
political telos of the time, sustained by vitalistic and even militant optimism. The
bourgeois depictions of the world ‘as it is’ were discarded for the creation of the
world ‘as it should be.’
Sometimes, this even meant dispensing with the universalistic omen of the
proletarian struggle. Like Lazarevic´ in Socijalna Misao and Bogdanov in Literatura,
in his Socijalna Misao article ‘‘Marksizam i individualna psihologija’’ (Marxism
and individual psychology) Mirko Kus-Nikolajev contrasted the proletariat with the
bourgeois class. If the latter was thoroughly ‘‘individualistic and egocentric,’’ the
proletariat was ‘‘collectivistic’’: ‘‘Thus we face two worlds that are different not
only with regard to economy but also with regard to their morals, i.e., we meet two
moral qualities between which there are neither connections nor transitions.’’
(1932a: 42) In his subsequent ‘‘Uspon nasˇe kulture’’ (The rise of our culture), he
stated that the proletariat does not ‘‘promote ideas of universal human culture. Every
culture develops under certain social conditions that result from respective relations
(Kus-Nikolajev 1932b: 106)
As far as ‘‘our’’ social literature is
concerned, ‘‘there exists only proletarian literature as opposed to bourgeois
literature’’ (106). Similar antagonism was promoted by a Stozˇer article, ‘‘Smisao
knjizˇevnosti i duzˇnost pisaca’’ (The meaning of literature and the duty of writers),
where Stevan Galogazˇa claimed that
[i]f a writer does not struggle for those who work, he is not a writer. In such a
case, he provides services of a footman or a wageworker. This is then called a
servant and not a writer. He may sleep on soft bedding, but this bedding is a
very uncertain one, and he sleeps with his consciousness off. (1931: 106)
Therefore, as it is evident that in contrast to ‘pure art’ and its socially
disinterested aestheticism, all inspected journals departed from the same premises,
where were the stumbling blocks? What incited the discussions on the Yugoslav
‘Left radicalism’ against ‘left bourgeoisie’
Due to its sharp focus on the later controversy between Krlezˇa and his communist
(cf. Krlezˇa’s Moj obracˇun s njima/My reckoning with them, 1932)
historiography overlooked the importance of a dispute that marked the very
beginning of the Conflict: the controversy between the so-called ‘cartel’ (authors
publishing in Nova literatura, Kritika, Literatura, Stoˇzer, and Kultura) and the
‘social literature swindlers’ (Socijalna Misao authors). In contrast to the cursory
views that the ‘‘polemic discussions on literature’s role in society [were] spurred by
Serbian surrealists (Milan Dedinac, Kocˇa Popovic´, Marko Ristic´, Oskar Davicˇo,
etc.), gathered around the Belgrade journal Nadrealizam danas i ovde’’
, it should be stressed that the respective debates evolved aside from and
even earlier than the dispute on surrealism.
In Socijalna Misao, several texts presented criticism that was akin to what Walter
Fa¨hnders and Martin Rector called ‘‘left radicalism,’’ or to what Helga Gallas,
regarding the debates in Die Linkskurve, classified as ‘‘left opposition’’: as a reflex
reaction to the Russian RAPP, in Die Linkskurve a related group of authors, who
propagated proletarian literature (literature written by the proles and for the proles),
jettisoned elements of cultural action that were not authentically proletarian. This
group attacked the ‘left bourgeoisie,’ as represented by Alfred Do¨blin, Ernst Toller,
Kurt Tucholsky, Il’a Erenburg, Pana¨ıt Istrati, Boris Pil’nak, and Theodor Plivier
(Gallas 1971: 48–49)
. In Yugoslavia, a corresponding critique of the left
bourgeoisie was written by Stanko Tomasˇic´, the aforementioned author of the
auto-da-fe´ ‘‘Tragikomedija slobodnog pera,’’ published in Kritika in 1928, and of
the text ‘‘Knjizˇevni kriterij danasˇnjice’’ (Contemporary literary criterion), a
Socijalna Misao text from 1929, where he attacked larpurlartism. With his 1929
article ‘‘Knjizˇevni rad M. Krlezˇe (Marginalije uz premijeru ‘Gospode
Glembajevih’)’’ (Literary work of M. Krlezˇa [Marginalia considering the premiere of ‘‘The
Glembaj family’’]), Tomasˇic´ ventured the very first leftist critique of Krlezˇa. He
discerned three phases in Krlezˇa’s work: the ‘‘revolutionary’’ phase (Simfonije/
Symphonies, journal Plamen, with Krlezˇa acting as a ‘‘lunatic’’), the documentation
phase of ‘‘social physiognomies’’ (stories and novels published in Plamen and
Knjizˇevna republika), and the ‘‘domesticated’’ phase (represented by plays Golgota/
Golgotha, 1922; Galicija/Galicia, 1920, later entitled U logoru/In the camp; Adam i
Eva/Adam and Eve, 1922; Vucˇjak/Wolfhound, 1923; and especially by the
‘‘bourgeois’’ pieces U agoniji/In agony, 1931, and Gospoda Glembajevi/The
Glembaj family, 1929). Whereas Golgota and Galicija still contained ‘‘desperate,
neurasthenic’’ poetics, with Gospoda Glembajevi Krlezˇa’s literary ‘‘template’’
reached its climax (33). Predictably, this was the moment when Krlezˇa was finally
accepted by the domestic bourgeois intelligentsia: Tomasˇic´ concluded that with
Gospoda Glembajevi Krlezˇa had turned into the phenomenon he was earlier eagerly
refuting, both privately and as Marxist (33).
Tomasˇic´’s harsh criticism proved to be too radical and was soon dismissed by the
critics from the communist camp as well as by the authors publishing in Socijalna
Misao. Although Krlezˇa’s style was in no way proletarian, critics fond of Karl
August Wittfogel’s and other related transitional interpretations of literary
development perceived Krlezˇa as a pertinent literary figure on the way towards
‘genuine’ proletarian literature. Oto Bihalji-Merin (O. Biha), the aforementioned
co-editor of Die Linkskurve, co-editor of Nova literatura, co-founder of the
publishing house Nolit, and—significantly—a representant of the ‘left bourgeoisie’
himself, acclaimed Krlezˇa for his depiction of the disintegration of the bourgeois
epoch because Krlezˇa took into focus not only one individual perspective but
encompassed the ‘‘epoch’’ as totality (1929a: 203). Furthermore, he acclaimed
Krlezˇa as a milestone in the development of social drama (203). As for Socijalna
Misao, the journal did not uphold Tomasˇic´’s antikrlezˇian stance either: Milivoj
Magdic´, the critic of Dragoljub Jovanovic´’s utopian socialism, dismissed Tomasˇic´’s
texts as ‘‘talented novellas with no relation to the discussed matter whatsoever’’
(1932a: 60). Like Oto Bihalji-Merin, Milivoj Magdic´ acknowledged in Krlezˇa the
merit of attacking the bourgeois class at its weakest point
(cf. also 1932b)
Bihalji’s and Magdic´’s support for Krlezˇa were not of the same kind. Between their
texts, published in 1929 and 1932, tide change became evident insofar as Magdic´’s
1932 acknowledgment of Krlezˇa is already articulated against another backdrop
defense. Namely, already in 1929 Rastko Petrovic´ (R.P.19)
remarked that Krlezˇa was ‘‘intimately tied to baroque and Goya’’ and that he was
reluctant to join the artistic collective Zemlja (‘Earth’) because the ‘‘ideology these
artists bring along [was] foreign to him’’ (1929: 315–316). Around 1930, the conflict
was undoubtedly whirling below the surface (cf.
: 5) and in 1933, with
his ‘‘Predgovor Podravskim motivima Krste Hegedusˇic´a’’ Krlezˇa only brought it to
the fore.20 But already in 1932, when Magdic´ sided with Krlezˇa, it was in a
decisively altered atmosphere. In ‘‘Zadaci knjizˇevne kritike’’ (Tasks of literary
criticism), Magdic´ posited that ‘‘[p]roletarian art does not work with means that
imply a mechanical transfer of cliche´s from other fields of the proletarian struggle. It
works with literary means.’’ (1932d: 94) Although the criticism of the ‘‘mechanical
transfer of cliche´s’’ had been sound in many positions on the left (cf.
; for later positions, cf.
: 81–82), it is significant that in the years
1932 and 1933, Magdic´ (as well as Kus-Nikolajev) chose precisely Krlezˇa’s
understanding of talent as the proper measure of artistic value. This was the time
when the Kharkov theses rapidly imbued the Yugoslav literary debates. Although he
initially supported them, Magdic´ soon became their fierce critic, choosing Krlezˇa’s
viewpoint as the politically and aesthetically more justifyable position.
Concomitantly, Krlezˇa’s Moj obracˇun s njima had already been in preparation
.21 Although this book of polemics was primarily a confrontation with
conservative literary critics, as well as with several leftist authors publishing in
Socijalna Misao (Bozˇidar Adzˇija, Kalman Mesaric´, Stanko Tomasˇic´), the conflict
between communists and those social democrats who sided with Krlezˇa
(KusNikolajev, Magdic´) was undoubtedly whirling below the surface. Finally, Magdic´
opened his 1932 ‘‘Zadaci knjizˇevne kritike’’ with a quote from the recently
published Obracˇun: ‘‘I am convinced that around me there are people who believe
that in literature results can be achieved only by literary means and by nothing
(1932d: 94, italics I.P.; Krlezˇa 1932b: 304–305)
About a year after, in
‘‘Krlezˇina estetika’’ (Krlezˇa’s aesthetics), Magdic´ glanced back at the development
of Marxist literary critique, which culminated in the Kharkov demand for ‘‘full
19 I thank Vesna Vukovic´ for deciphering the pseudonym.
20 Lasic´ also remarks that criticism against Krlezˇa is noticeable already in 1931 but not ‘‘constituted’’
before 1932 (1970: 95).
21 Some of its constituent texts were previously published in journals, e.g., the opening article ‘‘Pro domo
sua’’ was published in Knjiˇzevnik in 1930 (3.2 : 58–67).
fidelity and loyalty of the proletarian writer to the goal of the proletariat and its
struggle’’ (1933: 67). He notified that these demands went too far and that their
realization turned out to be impossible. Regarding this, he completely endorsed
Krlezˇa is well aware that ‘‘every particular artistic emotion is of social origin
and that the proper higher scope of art should be to elevate this aesthetic
emotionality towards higher levels of social harmonic uniqueness.’’ However,
he is also aware that the main question in poetry remains that mysterious
power of expression, that is not the same as its technical shape or the formal
accomplishment of the poetic material but first and foremost the power of
The second attempt at a radical leftist critique of Krlezˇa, this time coming from
the communist side, occurred with Bogomir Herman’s (A.B.C.) ‘‘Quo vadis,
Krlezˇa?’’ that was published in Kultura in 1933. The text unmasked Krlezˇa’s views
as biased, which was due to his ‘‘solypsistically bizarre egocentrism’’
paraphrase of Herman 1970: 120)
. Herman read Krlezˇa politically and asked as
follows: Is the creative ‘I,’ the talent—as extensively advocated by Krlezˇa—
necessarily and always a result of social context or can we account for its
spontaneous emergence ex nihilo? If it is necessarily a social fact, then the disregard
of its social embedding would lead to serious political flaws, as characteristic of
aestheticism and l’art pour l’artisme. Namely, it is through the ‘I’ that political ideas
enter literature and make use of it as an ideological weapon. And it is only by means
of ‘‘solipsistic mystification’’ (1933: 307) that one can abstract from these material,
social conditions to such an extent as to acclaim literary experience and creation as
‘‘dark as the sea at night’’
(Krlezˇa, ‘‘Predgovor,’’ qtd. in Herman 1933: 307)
, that is,
as impervious towards political decisions, artistic goals, and social purposes. This is
why Herman warned against the mystification of the ‘I’ and argued for its
problematization in terms of homo politicus (307). The Communist Party reacted to
this and commissioned a letter that was published as written by ‘‘a group of readers
of social literature’’ but actually by the Politburo Secretary Milan Gorkic´ (real name
Josip Cˇ izˇinsky; cf. Gorkic´ 1933). Herman’s critique was dismissed as ‘‘sectarian’’
and ‘‘Trotskyist’’ (
: 201). With that, a preliminary appeasement was
At this moment, notwithstanding his heterodox aesthetic views and thanks to his
political activism and the huge influence he exerted on many generations of
Yugoslav communists, Krlezˇa was still able to ‘rescue’ himself. Moreover, in the
aftermath of the Kharkov conference, it became clear that the prospective cultural
front needed authors as influential as him. It suffices to recall that the dissolution of
RAPP in 1932 opened the gate for a progressive appropriation of the classical
literary tradition and the renewed inclusion of the artist who were previously
considered as insufficiently proletarian. To illustrate, by the time ‘‘Quo vadis,
Krlezˇa?’’ was published, pertinent rearrangement of positions in the German journal
Die Linkskurve had already been completed: after in 1931 the journal’s chief editor,
Oto Bihalji-Merin, was forced to resign from his position
(Gallas 1971: 47)
after Georg Luka´cs (in office since summer 1931), Johannes Becher, and Karl A.
Wittfogel were outmaneuvered as well, with the 1932 dissolution of RAPP the left
opposition in Die Linkskurve lost its support and the recently ousted ‘bourgeois’
editors were back in office again. Thus, a new epoch for progressive literature arose:
RAPP’s exclusivist ideas of proletarian culture were exchanged for the idea of an
encompassing, collective socialist culture that addressed the masses. In his article
‘‘Unsere Wendung’’ (Die Linkskurve 3 ), Becher argued that the Party needs
to reach the people and that this is possible by means of the ‘‘novel for the masses’’
(Gallas 1971: 63)
. This turnaround on the international literary and political scene I
believe to have been the fulcrum point where Krlezˇa was expected to enter. The
Yugoslav literary field had already made theoretical steps towards a unified cultural
front and what the scene was waiting for was Krlezˇa’s literary commitment to this
new stage of progressive literature.22 Indeed, in 1932 Krlezˇa allegedly agreed to
write a novel on the ‘‘military-Fascist dictatorship’’ in Yugoslavia (Ocˇak 195). As
such a book would imply exile and publication ban, he asked for the support of the
Comintern. Concomitantly, throughout 1933 he awaited a response regarding the
financial support for a new journal. However, due to manifold and nowadays almost
incomprehensible reasons, Krlezˇa relinquished this commitment. When on 1 Jan.
1934 Krlezˇa launched the journal Danas in Belgrade, with the co-editor Milan
Bogdanovic´ and without the patronage of the Comintern
(cf. Ocˇak 1982: 195, 209,
211; Ivekovic´ 1970: 227)
, this already marked the final schism on the literary left,
with no prospects for reconciliation.
A conflict at the roots of the Conflict: social literature swindlers
Preceding and simultaneously with the first exchange of blows between Krlezˇa and
his ‘others,’ in Stozˇer, Literatura, and Kultura,23 a series of texts epitomized the
clash within the group of advocates of social literature. This early dispute between
the so-called literary ‘swindlers’ and the ‘cartel’ evolved around several aspects of
the ethical regime, which were even more relevant to the leftist r/evolutionary
controversy than the part of the Conflict that evolved around Krlezˇa’s persona. As
already shown, in Yugoslav debates many reflexes and follow-ups to the
international literary and political developments can be observed. However,
whereas on the international literary left the disputes primarily focused on the
‘proletarian’ and ‘revolutionary,’ i.e., ‘proletarian-revolutionary’ literature, the
Yugoslav clash of opinions pivoted around the term social literature
speaks of social literature as an ‘‘unmistakenly Yugoslav movement,’’ 1970: 69)
22 Mad¯arevic´ remarks that when compared with the debates on the international left, such as the one
between Bertolt Brecht and Georg Luka´cs, the Yugoslav left had a personality comparable to Brecht–
Krlezˇa—but that it undoubtedly lacked a personality like Luka´cs (1974: 63). I believe that it was precisely
the opposite: whereas the discussions on the Yugoslav literary left were theoretically preparing the field
for the popular front
(as it was at the beginning of the 1930s advocated by Luka´cs, Becher, and others)
was the ‘Yugoslav Brecht’—or, even more—the ‘Yugoslav Becher’ who was missing.
23 As Nova literatura was published until 1931, and Kritika only in 1928, they did not partake in these
For this reason, some theoretical lineaments of the term and its historical precedents
The term social literature reflected the fact that the Yugoslav proletariat as a
political subject was almost non-existent when compared to countries with more
‘developed’ capitalism. Social literature addressed and included not only factory
workers (urban proletariat) but also peasant masses that in Yugoslavia far
outnumbered the factory workers
(the peasants constituted more than 2/3 of the
population, whereas the workers made up only 10%; cf. Janic´ijevic´ 1984: 252)
indicated above, despite the political differences between the authors gathered
around the social democratic Socijalna Misao on the one side, and around the
communist journals Stozˇer, Literatura, and Kultura on the other, all disputants held
rather similar positions regarding the contents and the political reach of social
literature. Up to a certain point, each side published respectful reports on the
activities of the other.
Throughout all journal issues, Socijalna Misao authors upheld the stance that art
is necessarily a social (sociological) phenomenon, dependent on the ‘‘economic
structure’’ as the ‘‘final soil whereupon all ideological phenomena are based’’
: 69). In 1932, Branko Lazarevic´ repeated Kus-Nikolajev by saying
that ‘‘artistic style is economic necessity’’ (1932: 139). A year later, Lazarevic´
maintained that literature is an expression or reflection of ‘‘the historical movement
of new productive forces’’ (1933a: 42). Lazarevic´ attempted to vindicate social
literature from ongoing conservative criticism, according to which social literature
was dogmatic and lacked a sense of aesthetics and beauty. He repeatedly stressed
that literature is a ‘‘reflection of necessary socio-economic events in the historical
development of society, manifesting itself in class opposites and struggles’’ (1933b:
38). Therefore, if social literature is attacked as an invention of some ‘‘dogmatic
sect’’ (38), this dogmatic element is contained in its essential social character: as the
standard of the modern man’s social consciousness, literature is necessarily reliant
on this man’s belonging to a particular social class—either bourgeois or proletarian
But more interesting than the vindication of social literature against criticism
from the right was the quarrel over its contents and political horizons as it evolved
on the left. The quarrel was incited by Stevan Galogazˇa’s Stozˇer article ‘‘Smisao
knjizˇevnosti i duzˇnost pisaca’’ (1931). Galogazˇa defined literature as
antagonistically representing the very material conditions that engender literature in the first
Literary development is a reflex of a struggle between two kinds of people,
placed at particular places and determined by the system of production. […]
Literary content implies the understanding of reality from the point of view of
the one or the other type of people. Therefore, literature is
economicopolitically conditioned; by the same token, literature acts upon the social life
in return. (105)
In Stozˇer’s next issue, in the article ‘‘Pseudosocijalne tendencije u nasˇoj
knjizˇevnosti’’ (Pseudo-social tendencies in our literature) Milan Durman noticed the
‘‘phenomenon of social mystifications’’: as literature is always social and something
like ‘non-social literature’ would be contradictio in adiecto, he tried out other
criteria for defining social literature instead (1931: 139). Durman interpreted social
literature in connection to modern social movements: literature is social only when
it is ‘‘consistent with modern social movements, which are in return conditioned by
the development and progress of productive social forces. [Thus, social literature]
acknowledges the primacy of material life conditions.’’ (139) Durman proved to be
deterministic about these conditions when he declared that there is no progressive
literature without progressive developments in the economic base. As the social
base in Yugoslavia was still underdeveloped, he concluded that one cannot expect
anything but pseudo-social literary production, written by pseudo-social writers,
who are nothing but petty-bourgeois intellectuals (140). Now, even if these
conjectures did present the mainstream of Yugoslav left literary criticism, and
although the petty-bourgeois profile of Yugoslav intellectuals was disclosed and
belabored by these intellectuals themselves, Durman’s sweeping materialism was
nevertheless challenged. In the same journal, Bogomir Herman (who was soon to be
remembered as A.B.C., that is, as the author of ‘‘Quo vadis, Krlezˇa?’’, here however
writing under the pseudonym B.H.M.) noticed that Durman’s materialism led to
defeatism and passivity: the assumption that there can be no social literature where
there are no modern relations of production ‘‘seems very materialistic. But—what
can we do!—it is not correct.’’ (1931: 171) Herman maintained that it is misleading
to observe literary work only as an expression of ripened social forces. Writers can
also be social forerunners, ‘‘affecting still amorphous but possibly mobile elements
of their milieu in the direction of their appropriate spiritual organization’’ (171). In
other words, he claimed, instead of ‘‘scholastic rigidity,’’ literary criticism needs
‘‘dialectical versatility’’ that takes account of particular time and space (171).24
Only thanks to this dialectical skillfulness is it possible to regard Erich Maria
Remarque as a reactionary in Germany and Miroslav Krlezˇa as a progressive in
From this it follows that both vulgar materialism (according to which political
and historical processes are completely dependent on material relations in the
economic base, which is Durman’s position) and proletarian-revolutionary
24 This was attempted by Milivoj Magdic´ in his article ‘‘Zadaci knjizˇevne kritike’’ (1932d). Refusing the
exclusivist perspective, that was characteristic of the earlier stages of proletarian literature (e.g., RAPP),
Magdic´ presented the thesis on the threefold character of Croatian social literature: the peasant, national,
and proletarian character. These three types of social literature were perceived in their temporal
succession: the type of the modern proletarian intellectual (that was still inexistent) was expected to
emerge from the contemporary social intelligentsia. Similarly, as ‘‘national-democratic maximality’’ was
followed by ‘‘peasant maximality,’’ so too should the currently emerging social literature result in a new
type of ‘‘social maximality’’ (95). As for the contemporary state of social literature, Magdic´ again
acknowledged its merits for erecting several pertinent literary assumptions, which altogether allowed for
the creation of truly proletarian literature (94).
25 It is interesting how in this article, published in 1931, Herman acknowledged Krlezˇa for his
‘‘socialcritical works’’ (171), which radically changed in his 1933 invective ‘‘Quo vadis, Krlezˇa?’’ If in 1933
Herman rebuked Krlezˇa for solipsism and defeatism, in 1931 he still maintained that, casting a
restrospective glance at Krlezˇa from some future point of view, one would indeed criticize his ‘‘lack of
belief in progressive forces of our milieu’’ (172) and his skepticism and individualistic ideology that ‘‘still
contains much of the idealistic-aristocratic material’’ (172). However, it is indisputable that Krlezˇa’s
social criticism was not ‘‘swindle and mystification’’ (172) but a ‘‘precious pioneer work’’ (172).
exclusivism (according to which only proletarian writers can create genuine
revolutionary literature, which is the position of Stanko Tomasˇic´) have in the
aftermath of the Kharkov conference been recognized as misleading. This is evident
also among the authors of Socijalna Misao. It is worth reading ‘‘Uspon nasˇe
kulture,’’ a 1932 text by Kus-Nikolajev, who departed from Karl A. Wittfogel as
‘‘an outstanding proletarian cultural worker’’ (1932b: 106). Simultaneously with
Magdic´ (cf. note 24), Kus-Nikolajev elaborated on three successive stages of
proletarian literature: In the first phase, reflecting resignation and pessimism,
bourgeois culture dominates the proletarian attempts at liberation and the working
class remains completely dependent on the ideas of the bourgeois intelligentsia.
This first, ‘‘anti-burgeois phase’’ (106) is the phase of the proletariat’s gravest
socioeconomic weakness. The second phase is already characterized by the proletariat’s
gradual liberation from bourgeois influences. Here, radical jettisoning of every trace
of bourgeois traditions is typical. For this reason, although outstandingly active, this
phase is still only defensive. Kus-Nikolajev depicted it as the phase of ‘‘analysis and
critique,’’ as it could be found in works by Upton Sinclair, John Dos Passos,
Friedrich Glaeser, Henry Barbusse, and others (107). It is only in the third phase that
the proletariat reaches full ‘‘social and spiritual strength’’ (107). This phase is not
destructive and defensive but constructive and offensive (106). Its peaks are
epitomized in works by Vladimir Stavski, Fedor Ivanovicˇ Panferov, and Fedor
Glatkov (106). Kus-Nikolajev observed that Yugoslav literature, social literature
included, still lingered in the first phase. Here, Kus-Nikolajev shared the belief with
Milivoj Magdic´, but also with Jovan Popovic´ and Bogomir Herman
, that Krlezˇa was a rare but outstanding Yugoslav representative of the second
Notwithstanding Herman’s criticism of Durman’s determinism,
‘‘Pseudosocijalne tendencije u nasˇoj knjizˇevnosti’’ is important not only because Durman was
the first one to use the word ‘‘swindlers’’ (‘‘sˇvindler[i]’’ 142) but because he also
attempted to critically revise the whole panoply of literary works that claimed to be
social. Durman maintained that social literature cannot be judged by one-sided
standards of literary form or of literary content. Only naive swindlers believe that
social literature is about workers, factories, and suffering; it ‘‘is not about what is
written but about how it is written’’ (142). A writer who feels obliged to sympathize
with workers and to demonstrate his humanism without ever becoming a worker and
writing from the proletarian standpoint is, as Ernst Toller observed, nothing but a
‘‘privatier who aestheticizes’’ (143). Durman concluded that the only way to
distinguish between an authentic social writer and a swindler is to take into
consideration his whole life and attitudes, including not only his social background
but his private life as well. This standpoint was also supported by Stevan Galogazˇa,
who in his programmatic text ‘‘Sˇ to se ne mozˇe primiti kao socijalna knjizˇevnost’’
(What we cannot accept as social literature), published in Literatura, departed from
Rosa Luxemburg’s claim that ‘‘only someone who is inflamed can inflame others’’
(Galogazˇa 1932b: 146)
. Thus, as a criterion for the inspection of texts submitted to
Literatura, Galogazˇa suggested not only the inspection of the literary piece in
question but also of its author. Furthermore, he refuted the ingrained individualistic
belief that ‘‘style is what a person is’’ and posited that ‘‘style is what the class is’’
(148). He observed that just as a petty-bourgeois author adopts the views and
attitudes of the working class so too, unfortunately, do proletarian authors begin to
write as petty-bourgeois (of which Galogazˇa provided several examples). The
reason for this proletarian misproduction was that the petty-bourgeois style was
generally viewed as the epitome of literature ‘as such.’ Accordingly, Galogazˇa’s and
Durman’s advocating for an unmistakable proletarian perspective implied that only
those authors who did not adopt literary ‘‘tools of individualistic worldviews’’ (148),
as typical of the petty bourgeoisie, could be conceived of as social writers.
If Durman’s ‘‘Pseudosocijalne tendencije u nasˇoj knjizˇevnosti’’ and Galogazˇa’s
‘‘Sˇ to se ne mozˇe primiti kao socijalna knjizˇevnost’’ appeared in Stozˇer and
Literatura,26 similar invectives against ‘social literature swindlers’ were also
published in Socijalna Misao, the alleged refuge of the ‘swindlers.’ In this journal,
social literature was primarily defended against the invectives from the right, e.g.,
in Magdic´’s article ‘‘Pojave u nasˇem knjizˇevnom zˇivotu’’ (Phenomena in our
literary life, 1932c: 26). Likewise, Kus-Nikolajev critically inspected the very term
social literature, trying to dissociate it from conservative writing. Namely, ‘‘even
the most reactionary literature under certain circumstances can be social, taken that
it observes social complexity as a whole’’ (1932b: 106).
The schism was spurred by Savic´ Markovic´ Sˇ tedimlija’s 1932 article ‘‘Simulanti
u socijalnoj literaturi’’ (Social literature swindlers). Sˇ tedimlija took a critical stand
on authors who due to ‘‘mercantile or personal reasons’’ merely ‘produced’ social
literature, without, however, sharing the ideology of the rising social classes and
without partaking in collective emancipatory strivings: that is why the ‘‘social
writer’’ was a very unprecise term and should be exchanged for a better one (10).
Sˇ tedimlija defined one of the mainstays of social swindling: he mocked the common
belief that ‘‘literature ought to sprout from life, to take its juices from life, to root in
life’’ (12, italics S.M.Sˇ .) because such literature, once it gets inspired by life, hovers
above reality, disconnected and disinterested in life’s ‘‘facts’’ (12). Sˇ tedimlija
attacked several representatives of social literature: Petar Lazic´, Novak Simic´, and
Rade Drainac. Although still applauding Galogazˇa for his Stozˇer article ‘‘Smisao
knjizˇevnosti i duzˇnost pisaca’’ (1931), at the end of the paper he nevertheless
defended Krlezˇa, whose play Gospoda Glembajevi was at that time criticized by an
article written by ‘‘Josip Dombaj’’ (Novak Simic´), published in the Sarajevo journal
Mlada Bosna. Here the story becomes tricky and begins to resemble a thriller novel:
although an admirer of Krlezˇa himself, Novak Simic´ followed Galogazˇa’s
instruction to critically review Gospoda Glembajevi as bourgeois and decadent
). Interestingly, at the end of ‘‘Simulanti u
socijalnoj literaturi’’ Sˇ tedimlija added a footnote where he mentioned another text
he had submitted for publication in Stozˇer in 1931. He says that ‘‘then it was
impossible to publish it’’ but does not say why, only that ‘‘[l]ater I have withdrawn it
for personal reasons and it will not be published at all.’’ (13) Given the fact that
almost simultaneously, when it was ‘‘impossible to publish’’ Sˇ tedimlija’s article in
Stozˇer, in this very same journal Durman criticized the ‘‘pseudo-social tendencies’’
26 One should not forget another pertinent article, ‘‘O socijalnoj literaturi’’ (1933), written by Jovan
Popovic´ and published in Literatura (cf. note 13).
and the ‘‘swindlers’’ (1931), one can conclude that as early as in 1931 the
constitutive fissures on the literary left became evident.27 Therefore, against the
assumption that it was Krlezˇa who sparked the Conflict or that it was Krlezˇa who
was its main ideological relais, in the Conflict’s first stage the main controversy
arose between the communists and the social democrats, and not between
communists and Krlezˇa. Even if Krlezˇa did mark the trigger point where the
subliminal controversies between the communists and the social democrats came to
the fore, the conflict between the ‘cartel’ and the ‘swindlers’ was an autonomous
phenomenon, with its agents reaching out for or refuting this author just as with the
help of an authority they defined their own political and aesthetic standing.
The dispute over social literature swindlers reached its peak with Sˇ tedimlija’s
second article on this topic, ‘‘Kartel socijalne literature’’ (Cartel of social literature),
published in Socijalna Misao’s first issue in 1933. Sˇ tedimlija departed from Krlezˇa’s
and Cesarec’s Plamen and Knjizˇevna Republika as journals with clear
socialpolitical orientation. Contrary to these two journals, Sˇ tedimlija asserted that all
journals that appeared afterwards developed into ‘‘purely commercial companies’’
(1933a: 9). The journals were not mentioned by name but one easily guesses that
Sˇ tedimlija was referring to Nova literatura, Kritika, Literatura, and Stoˇzer.
According to the author, these journals were ‘‘companies’’ that expected profit in
return: ‘‘Therein consists the reasons for the failure of these journals, both
ideological and commercial.’’ (9–10) Whereas the commercial interest in these
endeavors was so evident that it aroused suspicion among the readers, even in the
ideological regard they did not reach the standards set by Plamen and Knjizˇevna
Republika. Due to their struggle to win readers, competition occurred in the field of
social literature. This precipitated the establishment of literary cartels whose aim
was to outrule the competition and to establish a monopoly. Another effect was that
the cartel subdued criticism: when confronted with a critique whose ideological
orientation was not a proper Marxist one, the editors promptly accused the
respective critic ‘‘of being a capitalist servant, perhaps even a denunciator’’ (10).
According to Sˇ tedimlija, those who remained outside the cartel were easily and
quickly identified with the nationalist positions of, e.g., Milosˇ Crnjanski, Rade
Drainac, and Ivan Nevistic´ (11). In the final result, the social literature cartel made
its authors dependent—both ideologically and financially—and therefore loyal (11).
By disabling criticism, the ‘‘cartel’’ was reluctant to any kind of ‘‘control’’ (12), thus
authorizing itself with a self-righteous ‘‘etiquette of entitlement’’ (12), which in the
end did not allow for literary development. Unfortunately, for these provocative
theses, Sˇ tedimlija offered neither precise information (journal titles, authors) nor
other facts that could support them.
Several months after Sˇ tedimlija’s polemic text, Jovan Popovic´ published an
article in Kultura that seems to have repeated this criticism of the mercantile
interests in social literature: in ‘‘O socijalnoj literaturi,’’ he maintained that what
was sometimes derogatively called social literature sought to give the modern man
orientation in new economic and political circumstances. Popovic´ suggested a
‘‘clarification of the terms’’ regarding social literature (1933: 266). Like Sˇ tedimlija,
27 Cf. note 20.
he noticed the mercantile reasons that subdued its revolutionary orientation. The
‘‘speculative spirit’’ (266) of bourgeois publishing enterprises discovered in social
literature a new alluring commodity so that gentlemen refurbished their companies
and sold social literature surrogates. However, unlike Sˇ tedimlija, Popovic´ went a
step further and openly enumerated the respective mercantile agents—detecting
them among the very collaborators of Socijalna Misao, the journal where Sˇ tedimlija
published his ‘‘Kartel socijalne literature’’! Besides the ‘‘literary eunuchs from the
right,’’ he pointed to the ‘‘masked quills with leftist paroles,’’ who published for
Zagreb publisher Binoza and in journals Socijalna Misao and Snaga (267).
Sˇ tedimlija and Magdic´ were nominally mentioned, and Vaso Bogdanov was
described as suffering from ‘‘leftist infantile disorder’’ (267). Undoubtedly, this was
the point where tacit mutual disapprovals on the literary left were released to the
fore. Moreover, if in the beginning the criticism of swindling in social literature was
common to all literary critics on the left, and addressed against sentimental and
conservative aestheticization of social subjects, from this moment on the scathing
criticism was exchanged among the protagonists of this very same literary left.
Sˇ tedimlija’s subsequent ‘‘Sloboda umjetnicˇkog stvaranja i socijalna literatura’’
(1933b), published in the very last issue of Socijalna Misao, was an implicit reaction
to Popovic´’s invectives. More distinctly than before, Sˇ tedimlija bounced back to
Krlezˇa’s invocation of talent and artistic freedom, as put forth in ‘‘Predgovor
Podravskim motivima Krste Hegedusˇic´a’’ (published in April 1933). He endorsed
the ‘‘freedom of artistic creation,’’ ‘‘the freedom in chosing and addressing the
subjects of art,’’ as well as ‘‘the freedom in choosing the particular art form’’ (195).
He did acknowledge that ‘‘in times of acuminated class and social conflicts’’ (195)
the admission of artistic liberties could jeopardize the ‘‘necessity of the consistent
and uniform presence of the class’’ in question but he nevertheless insisted that art
must be approached from a different angle than the ‘‘practical-utilitarian’’ one (195).
If the expectations on art were articulated in a way that required the artist to change
his aims and methods, then this clearly led to the ‘‘destruction of freedom of artistic
creation’’ (196). Sˇ tedimlija found flaws in the argumentation of literary
‘utilitarians,’ accusing them of utterly nonmaterialistic atittudes and expectations, because
they ‘‘assume[d] that the results and the nature of artistic creation could be regulated
and determined by means of previously adopted measures and plans’’ (196). Here,
Sˇ tedimlija insisted on the persuasion that the freedom of artistic expression relies in
the free shaping of life’s conditions and circumstances, as experienced by the
individual artist. Besides the endorsement of artistic freedom, in the last paragraph
Sˇ tedimlija came back to the previously adumbrated slavish position of authors who
belonged to the ‘cartel.’ He concluded that the obedience the cartel demanded was
in no way different from the obedience of authors who wrote for bourgeois journals
and publishing houses. Moreover, it was hypocritical. Departing from this
persuasion, Sˇ tedimlija saw no reason why an author who was a servant to a
bourgeois master would change to a socialist one (196). In other words, the
expectation that the exploited artist should move from his old capitalistic employer
to the new one (the ‘‘cartel’’) and thus simply exchange one company for another
was based on the misconception that ‘‘one can remove the consequences
irrespective of their causes’’ (196).
Interestingly, this text provoked no significant reactions. In 1933, in ‘‘Kulturna
kronika’’ (Chronicles of culture), a regular division in Literatura, Stevan Galogazˇa
invoked Sˇ tedimlija’s speculations on social literature as a ‘‘social shop,’’ on the
‘‘cartel of social literature,’’ and on the chicane to which the authors from without
the ‘‘cartel’’ (1933: 14, italics S.G.) were putatively subjected to. He appealed to
Sˇ tedimlija to provide exact proofs of his accusations and payed no further attention
to this topic.
Finally, the development of Socijalna Misao from ‘allied company’ towards a
competitor and, moreover, ideological antipode can be demonstrated on the articles
by Milivoj Magdic´. It has been noted that Magdic´, similar as other critics (e.g., Oto
Bihalji-Merin), was an outspoken supporter of Krlezˇa
(cf. his two articles on
Krlezˇa’s The Glembaj family 1932a, b)
. What shifted him to the ‘right,’ was the fact
that he never abandoned Krlezˇa.
His ‘‘Zadaci knjizˇevne kritike’’ was introduced by quotes by Miroslav Krlezˇa and
Aleksandr Tara´sov-Rodio´ nov. Two main theses were relevant here: First, Magdic´
maintained that the petty-bourgeois character of the Croatian literary and cultural
field did not allow for any other protest than the individual one. Proceeding in a
Krlezˇian manner (cf. Krlezˇa 1932
c: 177–178), Magdic´ enumerated forged literary
and cultural formations by counts who were not counts (Ivo Vojnovic´), by noblemen
who were not noblemen (Ksaver Sˇ andor Ðalski), by aristocrates who were not
aristocrats (Dragutin Domjanic´), and by peasants whose peasantry was delimited to
mere paper inventions (Petar Popovic´ Pecija). Somewhat epigonally, Magdic´
summed up with a reference to Krlezˇa’s Moj obracˇun s njima: the presence of
peasantry in local literature was hypocritical because it was nothing but the ‘‘village
viewed through the glass rectangles of a smoky Zagreb coffee house’’ (92;
c: 178). After ‘‘Pojave u nasˇem knjizˇevnom zˇivotu,’’ that also was published in
1932, Magdic´’s ‘‘Zadaci knjizˇevne kritike’’ is significant because it attempted to
analytically extend the notion of social literature. Literary texts that belonged to
social literature were multiple: according to Magdic´, they also encompassed
literature that was related to the Croatian peasant movement (here he implied
HSS—Croatian peasants party) because this literature presented a considerable part
of Croatian society and therefore could not be excluded from something which was
denominated as social literature. Precisely for this reason, Magdic´ insisted that
literature usually perceived as ‘‘social’’ should stricto sensu be called ‘‘proletarian’’
(1932d: 93). In contrast to authors emerging from the peasant movement, which was
primarily national in character, a proletarian writer must be a ‘‘dialectical
materialist’’ (93). To such a writer, the positions of bourgeois writers are necessarily
alien. Magdic´ asserted that the proletarian literary movement should not, however,
be exclusive but that it should involve people from other classes as well: people who
by way of struggle and revolutionary change have been transformed and joined the
proletariat. In contrast to his later text ‘‘Krlezˇina estetika’’ (1933), where Magdic´
was already critical of the developments that came in the aftermath of the Kharkov
conference, here he implemented the Kharkov conclusions without reservation:
from proletarian writers he demanded dialectical consciousness and that they write
from the standpoint of their class. Consistent with the Kharkov conclusions was also
his criticism of the dangers coming from both the right and the left: especially
dangerous was the so-called ‘‘leftist opportunism’’ that masked itself with ‘‘‘left’
radical paroles’’ (1932d: 94) and forbade any other literature than that of the
proletariat (meant was, undoubtedly, Stanko Tomasˇic´). It is in this context that
Magdic´ argued for an elaborate classification of various streams of contemporary
literary production and that he maintained that ‘‘[p]roletarian art does not work with
means that imply a mechanical transfer of cliche´s from other fields of the proletarian
struggle’’ (94). However, the fact that he chose Krlezˇa for the illustration of this
(the aforementioned Krlezˇa’s statement ‘‘there are people around me who
believe that in literature, goals are accomplished by literary means only and by
nothing else,’’ Magdic´ 1932d: 94)
was unequivocally polemically addressed against
the ‘cartel’ critics.
The in-depth inspection of the Conflict’s first stage demonstrates that the debate
over social literature presented the groundbreaking political controversy on the
Yugoslav literary left, one that mirrored the overall ideological gap between
revolution and evolution, communists and social democrats. As oppositional
political activity was forbidden, literary counterpublics were used as a plattform
where this r/evolutionary controversy over political orthodoxy and renegades, true
activists and swindlers was carried out. Regarding the particular role of the journal
Socijalna Misao, and although I disapprove of many of his analytical standpoints, I
agree with Lasic´’s notice that this journal ‘‘pleaded for proletarian literature and
culture—both in its programmatic or theoretical and in concrete critiques. Thus it
cannot be erased as inexistent.’’ (1970: 64) Indeed, although Socijalna Misao was
one of the forerunners and mainstays of Yugoslav leftist literary discussions, literary
and cultural historiography, interested primarily in the opposing fronts of the
communists on the one side and Krlezˇa on the other, foreclosed the important role
this journal played in the early development of interwar leftist, revolutionary, both
political and literary counterpublics.
As demonstrated above, the literary positions of Socijalna Misao’s social
democrats undoubtedly were far more to the left than hitherto supposed. The
journal’s contributions to the contemporary literary and cultural debates were
openly critical towards the tradition of utopian socialism, social democratic
ministerialism, Austro-Marxist individual psychology, and numerous other
international trends in social democracy. Although since approximately 1931 Socijalna
Misao authors were especially inclined to Krlezˇa
(and particularly after Herman’s
ferocious 1933 article ‘‘Quo vadis, Krlezˇa?’’)
, the significance of their contributions
to the r/evolutionary controversy relies on the fact that during the Conflict’s first
stage, their views on literature undoubtedly were far more to the left than Krlezˇa’s
own. Moreover, it is thanks to them that various problems of leftist and
revolutionary aesthetics entered Yugoslav literary discussions for the first time.
Finally, in the watershed year 1933, when Krlezˇa became the central axis of the
Conflict, the r/evolutionary controversy shifted away from the debate over social
literature towards social literature. After Krlezˇa’s declaration that ‘‘it is not up to us
to determine the art of the future’’ (1933: 10) and that art’s origin is not of ‘‘rational
kind’’ (11) but that art comes from ‘‘cerebellum […], from the intestines, from
bowels, principally from hidden corporeal wants, dark passions and egotistically
impure drives’’ (11), the authors publishing in Socijalna Misao began to openly
oppose communist literary programmatism not by demanding more evolution
(which still would be defined in political terms) but by invocations of artistic
autonomy. Taking the year 1933 as a fulcrum point, my central argument is that in
contrast to the later developments, in its first stage the Conflict presented a genuine
political controversy over revolution and evolution in art and literature. In the
period 1928–1934 the dynamic literary debates, carried out against the backdrop of
and in strong connections to the discussions on the international left, were more
democratic, more versatile and pluralistic, and also more political than in the
subsequent stages, in which the debate over the politically appropriate literary
forms, contents, and aims gave way to the question of Krlezˇa’s and surrealists’
vindication of literary autonomy. In other words, as these debates began pivoting
around Krlezˇa’s persona and his political heterodoxy they successively lost their
r/evolutionary force, thus personalizing a dispute whose original significance was
ideological, political, and undoubtedly cultural.
Acknowledgements Open access funding provided by University of Vienna. The paper goes back to a
fellowship granted by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW/JESH Program). The project ‘‘Factory
of literary practice’’ was conducted during a research stay at the Institute of Ethnology and Folklore
Research in Zagreb (IEF).
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0
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