Word After Words

It is often said, all in one breath and in a single sentence, that knowledge is light and that knowledge is power. However, so much as the claim that knowledge is light is indisputable, the other part of the saying is subject to many doubts. The entire history of knowledge and power — from Socrates and his hemlock, to Bruno and his stake, up to the renegades and heretics of today, i.e. their silencing, repentance or persecution! — testifies that knowledge cannot be simply equated with power. Galileo is reputed to have said defiantly before the Inquisition, or thereabout, „Eppur si muove, and this is regarded as a victory of knowledge — we all know today that the earth is going round the sun and not vice versa. But shouldn't this be rather viewed as a defeat of knowledge — to mumble it subsequently to one's beard, if he mumbled it at all and unless the enthusiastic admirers of knowledge made it all up to console themselves? Yes — although misunderstandings today arise over much more elusive and inaccessible matters than the earth and the sun, and are eliminated in the same way — never changing common fact doubtless remains: that knowledge is one thing and power another. True, power implies knowledge and counts on it, but it also counts on much more: ignorance and all kinds of illusion and confusion, every possibility of intrusion and transformation, seldom deception and sheer blackmail. Yes, knowledge is a man who thinks, and the power is the whole man, i.e. a man who thinks but who also engages in some other activities and who has some other wishes: to have a hearty meal, to harness as much as possible, even if he has to pound his fist on the table or, God forbid, hang the one who thinks on the nail. Thought discovers the truth, guided by a deep human aspiration that ego that thinks through the spirit may extend beyond all limits and reach the unreachable, and probably become one with eternity, while power does or does not recognize the truth, again guided by a deep human instinct that ego that wills is, it lasts and acts first even if it has to harness the truth itself only to jump out of the necessary transience and to some place else. And so, the man who thinks is always overshadowed by the man who decides what will be ultimately done with what has been invented. The situation has always been like that, irrespective of the fact that they are both sons of one and same human fate, both children and creators of one and only possible human history. Some know, and some use or do not use. If knowledge is used, it is then blazed, abroad so that even the one who knows may benefit from it in a certain way. If not, knowledge is passed over in silence or put aside — which is still better than if it were pronounced a senseless fabrication of malicious angle and again blazed abroad as heresy. This poses before knowledge by no means one perplexity and one trouble, one moral abyss before man and his power. Many human fates were broken on that issue, whole lives bent over£: should knowledge nod and change its voice, or should it lose it forever and remain hungry and pitiful? Should man see the whole truth, or all of his aspirations and all his power? Even books — as mere inventory objects in libraries, for example, closed and only bearing the year and place of printing, the number of copies printed, and the names of the publisher and the author — have become silent and patient witnesses of this tug-of-war with no beginning and no end.

In the second decade of the 20th century, a new state in the Balkans was born in struggle and formally proclaimed on the first day of December in the year of our Lord 1918, Originally named the Kingdom of Serbs, Groats and Slovenes, it later changes its name to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, an indication that its common and single history has been painstakingly forged since the very beginning. In 1941, it was razed to the ground by the German military might and the thought subjugated by it, which, blindly stretched to the outmost limits of its one-sidedness, also threatened the whole world. Much blood was shed until early in March 1945 when a new Yugoslavia was modestly and vaguely announced as Democratic Federative Yugoslavia, to become a People's Republic already on November 29 the same year. But already in 1948 another one-sided thought appears, this time in the east, threatening to turn the newly-created Yugoslavia into something else and of second-rate importance, into a tool and lick-boot of new one-sidedness and new power. One had again to rise in defense of one's own pulse. The indigenous thought was emerging with pain and effort, overshadowed by arms and besieged with want of all kinds. People wondered in disbelief: was this what great Marx really said, was this what great Lenin really wanted? The right answers had to be found. And the right answers were announced, not only in daily papers. Human thought in its purest form rose in defense of the truth. Philosophical essays appeared in philosophical magazines as the first reasonable perception and unmasking of the eastern one-sidedness. Knowledge raised its voice against threatening power. In 1955, victory appeared on the horizon. Naturally, knowledge was not sufficient there, our man in his entirety and all our power emerged victorious. And life went on from year to year — i.e. knowledge proved again to be knowledge and power to be power, even though ours. Much of what was thought and written as knowledge in the 1950s proved uninteresting. And so knowledge continued to germinate and grow for its own sake, while power did the same. Much of what was once written against one specific power (in the east) became, under new circumstances, a boomerang against the other power (at home) — something not only unnecessary, but also embarrassing which is better left unmentioned and pushed aside. Yugoslavia is also a country among countries, the Yugoslav option is one of the possible options in the world today. If Yugoslavs are Yugoslavs, and this is what they ultimately are, then this is by no means little. Neither less than it used to be in this world of ours, nor more than it will ever be.

In the late 1970s, the book „Philosophy and Marxism“ was available at any public library in Belgrade, the capital of Yugoslavia. Its author, Gajo Petrović, professor at the Zagreb Faculty of Philosophy, had also written another book, „Philosophy and Revolution“, which could be found only at major libraries which, for their part, did not always know what to do with it. Namely, if a person came and filled in a form requesting to read the book, he stood a five-to-one chance that the form would come back with „taken out“ stamped on it. There was nothing unusual in a book being taken out, if it was really taken out. The unusual thing, however, was that this particular book was rarely taken out and that the actual chances were five to one that it was „lost“ somewhere on the back shelves, i.e. that it was not where it was supposed to be. Only some uninformed librarian and his accidental persistence, or some special circumstances in this or that library could make the book accessible to an interested chance reader. Both books had the same canvas-on-paper covers in grey and orange, and both were published by „Naprijed“ of Zagreb. Although the flyleaf of the first book said the book was first printed in 1976, the introduction said differently: the book had actually been printed in 1965 and this was its second edition. The note in the book said that the entire contents had already appeared as contributions to various magazines and papers: as if at one time it was not only interesting to discuss these issues, but even desirable, i.e. socially useful, as the papers would put it. (Even if an occasional paragraph was a two-edged sword, well, this was permissible). The second book gave 1973 as the year of the first impression, but its fourth page said that the text had originally been written in German and published in West Germany in 1971: as if pressure, i.e. support from the international public (academic) opinion could decide whether or not the book should be published in Yugoslavia, where is no longer seemed desirable. True, a note in the Yugoslav edition said that the writer had already published a similar book in Yugoslavia in 1969. A limited edition of „The Possibilities of Man“ had appeared and aroused little attention in the press, as if already then it had raised the question of whether it was useful or harmful. The book was then revised and enlarged — the note did not say in what way — perhaps even in no basic and no important way, i.e. it is enough not rarely to omit the certain citation that the sense may become questionable or spiteful. If a criticism of something or somebody in socialism is being discussed, for example, and This Somebody, not to mention the very Marshal, is cited as a support and encouraging for that criticism, then it is not as the same as when he is not cited. At first ease it is supposed, This Somebody is omitted from criticism, at the other the question remains opened, i.e. suspected — and published as an original text in German in 1971. As for the German language and pressure from the world public, the first book, „Philosophy and Marxism“, also exercised some influence. It was translated into German („Wider den autoritaren Marxismus“), English („Marx in the Midtwentieth Century“), Spanish, Czech and Japanese — said the bibliographical note not only of the translated book which in its second edition carried no note on the writer's other major works, but also in the second book whose original was in German. The book of 1975 also had something which both the editions of 1965 and 1976 lacked a special note saying that, as certified by this or that republican secretariat, „the book is regarded as a product under Article 36, paragraph, item, law, „and is thus exempted from turnover tax: as if, gust in case, it was necessary to stress for this book only that the eye of the law had inspected it!

Sometime towards the end of 1985, when fog and blinding sleet almost glued the winter sky over Belgrade to housetops, a man was walking down Vasa Čarapić street. He trod the grey pavement, passing by grey walls and colorful frost-covered shop windows, as cars and trolleybuses buzzed by between rows of sparse buildings. Above his head were power lines and moving trolleys, towered by rooftops. He was carrying something which resembled a large typing-size notebook bound in cheap shiny cardboard with no inscription, which could be got at any bookbinding shop. He was walking on the right-hand side of the street towards Students' Square, but when he was opposite the Stari grad restaurant and Beobank, he turned right into Zmaj Jovina street. The bare boughs of trees stuck out in the bleak sky, touching a balcony here, a facade ornament there. The man with the notebook was again walking on the right-hand side of the street. When he reached a house with a metal plate bearing the number 30 affixed on a concrete ornament just above the entrance, he pushed the heavy wrought-iron door and went in.

The heavy dark-paneled double door, of the kind which is no longer made, was opened on the 5th floor by a middle-aged woman with brown eyes.

They greeted each other with a curt „Hello and a smile, the way relatives do.

— I have brought it — he says, pointing to the bound manuscript in his hands.

They were walking down a spacious hall which one would have had trouble defining as either long, wide or high.

— Ljubiša will soon go to Zagreb and take it to Gajo. Don't worry! — she nodded reassuringly.

It was not until they came to the drawing room that one received the full impact of classical spaciousness and taste. To the right, a grand black piano, not a pianino; to the left, a sofa and armchairs, with an oblong marble plate for a coffee table, A light folding glass door opened on to another part of the drawing room which ended in a big window with heavy lace curtains.

The man put his manuscript on the marble-top table, and leaned back in the plush armchair with an expansive feeling of hope and promising future welling up inside him.

— Yes! — repeated the hostess opposite him, — Gajo is a true expert. He will know how to edit the manuscript and how to help.

And the man nodded with satisfaction. If there was a trace of anxiousness or caution in his satisfaction, as indeed there was, it was directed towards the manuscript on the table. Yes, the man was unaware of many things at the time, even some obvious things. Not far from the table with the bound manuscript on it, on the opposite wall near the folding door was a bookshelf made of dark carved wood. All he had to do was to lift his eyes and raise his arm unhesitatingly. Among the densely stacked books of all sizes and colors was one whose white spine bore the inscription „Petrović, Philosophie und Revolution“. On page two, just bellow the subtitle „Modelle für eine Marx-Interpretation mit Quellentexten“ it was modestly written: „To Ljubo from Gajo, Zagreb, 14 October 1971“. But the man was deep in his own thoughts, he did not look around and did not see it, let alone trouble with the inscription in a foreign language. Chapter seven, entitled „Kritik im Sozialismus“, for example, said that a free research spirit, i.e. criticism, had yet to flourish in socialism. Unfortunately, this is rarely understood and it is, rather, stressed that the field of politics and everything related to it should be exempt from criticism. If, according to this and similar opinions, criticism should after all be allowed in the field of politics, then it should under no circumstances touch the sphere of top politics, top comrades and top state officials, whose authority should remain sacrosanct owing to responsibility and sensitiveness of their jobs. However, the book went on, it is exactly there that criticism is badly needed and it is exactly because of that authority and responsibility that true revolutionaries do not shun criticism, but only spurious and corrupted ones, those around whom their boot-lickers have spun the theory of infallibility and sacredness of wise leadership. This is followed by an excerpt from one of Lenin's letters, only to show that even at that time, when there was not much philosophizing because of rifles ready to fire, even then he encouraged free criticism directed even against the top leadership, as he saw it as a guarantee against possible mistakes. Finally, what the quasi-Marxist theoreticians will use as their last-ditch defense is that at least basic principles of socialism and Marxism should be out of the critics' reach, since they, i.e. the principles, have allegedly been so carefully studies and are so infallible that they are now only studied by class enemies. However, it was also said in the book, in a living and open teaching, such as Marxism, one cannot clearly distinguish between basic and kind of secondary principles. The most comprehensive attempt at this so far, the Stalinist attempt, suffered a complete theoretical collapse. And so, generally, speaking, can we really be sure that all the principles now held finally determined are truly infallible?


I have never met Gajo Petrović. I have only heard about him, from my relative who at one time took my manuscript to Nikola for his evaluation. Naturally, I do not remember on what occasion and how I heard about him. Her husband Ljubiša and Gajo are related in the same way as I and she are related, and it probably happened that way. When I finished the essay in late 1975, she again reminded me of Gajo. He is a philosopher by profession, and not just any philosopher at that — idealism-materialism, wrong-true — but a true philosopher, and what would I say if Ljubiša took the essay to him? He might be able to help. So, sometime in early 1976 Gajo already had the manuscript.

— I took it — reported Ljubiša, — and he said he would look at it.

Indeed, sometime in February, Gajo telephoned his cousin in Belgrade to say that he would look at the manuscript, that he had not read it yet, but that he would do so in a month at the latest. All right, I thought, a month is not a long time and there is no need for a deadline, but this is exactly what he said, my cousin explained. And the month passed. And more time passed without a word from Gajo. Around that time I accidentally came across the 1974 double issue of Praxis, a magazine of which Gajo was editor-in-chief. Actually, I cannot say it happened by accident, just I cannot say that it was not by accident. I was visiting a cousin of mine, actually my uncle, who is also an uncle of the earlier mentioned cousin of mine, Vera.

— What happened to your essay? — he suddenly asked me.

— What do you mean by that?

— Is somebody reading it?

— I suppose Gajo is!

— You suppose?

— Well, nowadays it is not easy to find time and courage for some manuscripts. And I don't know Gajo.

— He is a brave man, that Gajo.

— How do you know that?

— Let me show you something that he has published!

And he brought the magazine, a thick yellow-bound volume with the plain black letters in Latin on it — Praxis — and with the same word in smaller Greek print bellow πραξϊζ.

— All the way back from 1974. Where did you get it?

— Vera gave it to me. Take it and have a look!


The first issue of Praxis was published in the early autumn of 1964.

This was the time when Yugoslav knowledge had already risked a break with any power for the sake of its own development according to the laws of thought and truth, and not because of this or that recommendation, or a guideline from here and an applause from there. This was not simply Stalinism and the cult of personality, rather, deeper roots were anticipated, both on the theoretical and everyday scenes. The Bled symposium of philosophers had already been held in I960. The doubt whether the basic question of philosophy was that of matter or spirit was already expressed loudly. If there is no church and God, as indeed there are not, who is forcing us to artificially separate the spirit from the matter and put it against the matter, when matter and spirit are the needle and the thread of the same cloth: of all that is, whatever it is. Possibility — even the slightest one, the thought itself — is imminent to matter, as is every embodied possibility of material nature, not only one that happens among all the others which could have happened and did not, but also a new field of new possibilities. In connection with this, an abstract picture of the world is not only a subjective reflection of the otherwise objective world, but also a part of this world. It is by no means something with which truth, such as it is, is comprehended, and something which barely influences the world and barely changes something a posteriori. Not on one occasion it is also a co-creator of truth, as man himself is the co-creator of nature, by the very fact that he exists he cannot but influence even the distribution of the gravitation potential around the earth, for example. If Janko delivers speeches and travels around, and Marko works and shares the bread he earned with Janko, than either injustice or coercion are involved, or love and gift according to merit. The truth here depends exclusively on what Marko thinks and feels about it. Naturally, Janko will not like the announced possibility that he could lose the confidence of Marko, who will start to think differently. And he would therefore say: No, the truth is objective — private property over the means of production has been abolished, etc. — and we can only comprehend it, i.e. express it subjectively. Yes, regardless of the fact that Lenin wrote, among other things, about the objective property of matter and its subjective reflection; and regardless of the fact that a vulgar materialistic sense can be detected in Engels' works too. And it is exactly due to this that it is the duty of thought to critically review the circumstances under which the classics of Marxism worked in order to unmask all later oversimplifications and deviations, the dogma and the violence, and to retain the authentic and true sense — these were the messages from the Bled symposium and the symposium in Arandjelovac in 1963.

And the editorial in the first issue of Praxis did announce a program „in the sense in which philosophy is the thought of the revolution, i.e. merciless criticism of everything existing“ — it is interesting the very words originate from Marx: „die rücksichtslose Kritik alles Bestehenden“ — which immediately aroused suspicion of power. Explanations were in vain that, naturally, such criticism does not mean saying no to everything, but only that everything should be the object of speculative re-examination, without prejudice and desirable conclusions made in advance — precisely because of the firm conviction that socialism is the only future for mankind. In vain! …………..

And like that from year to year until on 21 February 1975, Politika* published on page 10 a brief and clear headline: „Praxis Stops Publication, but the subhead was long and vague: „The communists on the magazine have decided that there are no conditions within the editorial staff to eliminate unacceptable idea-theoretical activities. To say that „there are no conditions was probably just another way of saying that there are no conditions for retreat, in the same way as deciding or realizing that an activity is unacceptable does not necessarily mean agreeing that it is wrong or that it is not right. What „the communists on the magazine — Vranicki and Bošnjak, and then also Cvetičanin and Puhovski — really thought remained unclear. What was indeed missing here was an additional interpretation by Praxis itself. But it stopped publication. This way the end of probably the only magazine in Yugoslavia which, in inviting the authors to send their contributions, added a note quite unusual for our intolerant conditions, saying that „the published articles do not necessarily reflect the views of the editorial board.


Naturally, I need not have known all this about Praxis to see that Gajo could not help me in any way. It was enough to look at the issue of Praxis which my uncle gave me, the one from Vera actually, the double issue 1-2, 74. It was enough to read, for instance, „the stand of the editorial board“ on some of the latest criticism of Praxis. „An enormous amount of effort and long-standing work on deepening the Marxist thought“, it said, „the work which is already gaining due recognition in the world, was degraded to the level of ‘guilt’ “.

Sometimes it really seems that our country abounds in everything, and particularly in people: if we do not export them as skilled or unskilled labor, we squander and obstruct them at home. If man is indeed our greatest value, as it is pointed out, „what purpose then is served by creating an atmosphere and situation of destroying people?“

At that time, in March 1976, I almost completed preparations for publishing the essay. I only had to find the printing house and then take a break and look on things. On 26 June I mailed a copy of the essay to Gajo. Instead of the usual inscription, I wrote the following;

„I know,

Professor Gajo,

That for a true intellectual (which I aspire to be) there is no excuse for such a belated interest in Praxis, a genuine and truly authentic moment of history. But it can at least be understood: I needed to write such an unorthodox essay, or, more precisely, to discuss it with people who might know and those others who could do something for it, to be able to guess all the complexity and multi-meaningfulness of the situation (to which, after all, Praxis itself was perhaps the best witness).

I therefore take this opportunity to personally ask you the following: if possible, I would appreciate it very much to have the following issues of Praxis in my library...



Naturally, I did no expect his reply, any reply would necessarily have to be an explanation, and silence was the easiest and wisest explanation under the circumstances. However, I did what I could.


Four years after the last word was published in Praxis, when all had passed and the covers were shut, an incidental but interesting news item appeared in Politika. The date was 16 September, the year, consequently, 1978, and a report on page 13 headlined „Philosophy and Science“ and subheaded „On the 16th international congress of philosophers in Düsseldorf“, ended as follows:

„Mihailo Marković and Gajo Petrović attended the congress was by. Some of our philosophers were also present, but unfortunately not as active participants. Our future attendance at this international forum should probably be better organized, so that we can be adequately represented there.“

Gajo Petrović and Mihailo Marković, both Yugoslavs in Yugoslavia, were no longer our philosophers.


* Politika is the main daily newspaper publishing in Belgrade.


translated by Danica-Biba Kraljević)

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