Hal Draper

Yugoslav ‘Decentralization Reforms’
Have Nothing to Do with Democracy

(20 February 1950)

From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 8, 20 February 1950, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The much-tooted “decentralization of economy reform” in Tito’s Yugoslavia, publicized in some sections of the American and radical press as being somehow connected with a tendency toward democratization, is purely and simply a technical measure with no political overtones. Details on the new setup were given this week by Edvard Kardelj and Boris Kidric, the latter chairman of the State Planning Commission.

Association of this economic reorganization of Yugoslav industry with democratization is strictly for foreign consumption. As a technical device it is not even confined in Eastern Europe to Yugoslavia.

However, not long after the break with Moscow, when Belgrade oriented toward seeding economic assistance in the West, the Yugoslav propaganda office started making every effort to convince American public opinion that Tito-Stalinism is not only opposed to but also “better than” Moscow-Stalinism. (One of their most successful publicity coups was a story planted with the New York Times correspondent at the Danube Conference last year, Camille Cianfarra, to the effect that the break with the Cominform occurred because the Yugoslavs refused to pledge military support to Russia in the looming World War III; this old wives’ tale achieved page one of the Times and then disappeared.)

At the present juncture, after having already received some economic assistance direct from the U.S., the Tito regime is desperately trying to secure more financial support from three other Western-controlled sources: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the Export-Import Bank. The three loans desired would total $36 million. Last Thursday, February 9, Foreign Minister Edvard Kardelj met with U.S. Ambassador George V. Allen for two hours in an attempt to get the U.S. to render its “assistance” in this matter – that is, give it the green light.

As Times correspondent M.S. Handler paints the background:

“The request ... was related to considerable strains that the Yugoslav national economy was undergoing. The export drive, which centered on the production of non-ferrous metals and the cutting and transporting of timber to ports, can go up only provided that new machinery is obtained on a considerable scale ...

“... Kardelj ... and Kidric ... emphasized the crucial nature of the export problem in relation to the five-year plan.

“Another solution that the government is offering is decentralization of industry and transferring operational responsibility from the central government to six of the republican governments. [Yugoslavia is formally a federation of republics; the “autonomy” enjoyed by the republics is a legal fiction of the standard Stalinist variety, as in Russia. – H.D.] Greater efficiency and higher production are hoped for under this new table of industrial organization ...

“The urgent nature of the problem explains the gesture of the Yugoslav government in seeking the good offices of the U.S. government in helping it to get fresh capital.”

No Step to Freedom

It should be understood that it is not the “new table of industrial organization” itself which is the fake; the propaganda dressing refers exclusively to the linkage of this purely economic move with any lessening of the political straitjacket blanketing Titoland. The new decrees transfer responsibility for heavy industries of regional importance to the governments of the republics. But:

  1. The governments of the republics are, as the Titoists would be the first to proclaim aggressively, as completely the creatures of the Titoist party (Communist Party of Yugoslavia) as is the Belgrade administration, all of them having the same relation to General Rankovic’s UDBA, the secret police or GPU.
  2. The regional committees which will assume the new responsibility for industry will consist of “chairmen holding federal cabinet rank, competent republican ministers, and persons appointed on the recommendation of Premier Tito.” If that makes any difference, not even a majority of the regional committees will be made up of personnel responsible to the regions even formally, it seems.

In addition, over each of eleven industrial sectors there will be a “collegium” which will preside over both the federal and republican industries within its jurisdiction. The collegium, of course, will be a body responsible to the federal state.

According to Kidric’s announcement, this reshuffling is not a new development; only its public proclamation is new. Three industries – textile, leather and rubber – were given over to the republics a year ago, presumably as a test run. Cement, glass and food products are slated to be next.

It is curious to read Handler’s dispatches in the Times as they alternate between deadpan delivery of Belgrade’s propaganda product and his own elementary realism. On February 8, the new decrees are “almost of revolutionary importance when considered in the light of the prevailing political doctrines of Eastern Europe.” But on February 9, “the program cannot be interpreted as a trend toward liberalism in the Western sense because the real power is vested in the Communist Party and not in the civil services, federal, republican or local.”

The latter comment is so obvious that it needs no underlining. The former is demonstrably off-base. Not only has the “new table of industrial organization” nothing to do with, political doctrines, but it is also in the wind in Russian - controlled Eastern Europe as a technical economic measure.

In Czechoslovakia, for example:

“On December 27 Bratislava Radio said that in all 110 trades in all branches of industry had been earmarked for municipalization. This was a new form of nationalization, effected by the municipality instead of the state.” (The Weekly, East Europe, Jan. 12.)

Last week we discussed in these columns the recently announced “electoral reform” in Yugoslavia, according to which a candidate can get on the ballot by getting 100 signatures. This, it was heralded, undercut the single-party dictatorship and was the biggest step toward democratization – in principle, anyway. It was also claimed as being unique to Tito Yugoslavia. It is not.

Where’s the Candidate?

In the recently published book by one of the leading CP fellow travelers in England, Konni Zilliacus (who more lately has become pro-Titoist while remaining exactly the same pro-Stalinist he has been right along), entitled I Chose Peace and issued by Penguin Books, one finds almost an encyclopedia of the rationalizations whereby the Western liberal (neo-Stalinist type) convinces himself that the Iron Curtain domain is really democratic. One of these is on the last Czechoslovakian elections, as Stalinist an electoral farce as anybody has seen in East Europe. Zilliacus writes on page 214:

“Anyone who could gather a thousand signatures, however, was entitled to stand as an independent candidate. Two attempts were made, one in Prague and one in a small town. In both cases, the candidates were given every facility by the Czech Home Office, including the supply of paper for posters, but were unable to get as many as a thousand signatures.”

This writer confesses that he never heard of this wrinkle at the time. Apparently, no American correspondent wrote home that it represented a trend to “democratization,” as it does when employed by the Titoists. (It was not even hailed by the Fourth International-Trotskyists, world’s prize suckers in swallowing some kinds of Stalinist hogwash.)

As this is written, the press reports that no “independent candidate” has yet appeared in Yugoslavia with his 100 signatures (there will be a national “election” to the parliament on March 12). Time is getting short, and if the Belgrade stage managers are going “to trot out their symbol of “democratization” in the flesh they had better hurry to pick the supernumerary who will speak the lines, even if they have to release someone from jail to do the job.

Asian Jitters

The least they can do is produce an “independent” who will likewise fail to get his required signatures. If a suitably reliable “non-party” Titoist can be exhumed, he can even be allowed to fill his quota and actually make the run – even get elected ... why not? It might impress George V. Allen, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the International Monetary Fund, and the Export-Import Bank.

The last two weeks’ developments have made it necessary to stress in these columns the illusory nature of the wish-fantasies of those who are waiting with bated breath for Tito to go democratic. Such misunderstandings of the nature of Tito-Stalinism bode no good for the development of socialist anti-Stalinism on a healthy basis and have to be exploded. But meanwhile the REAL job which is being done by Titoism, despite itself, in shaking the foundations of world Stalinism goes on as before.

The Russian masters are especially jittery today about the development of national-Stalinist (“Titoist”) tendencies in their Asian movements. Here where nationalist hatred of imperialist control is firmly rooted, the danger to Moscow in this direction may be most acute. In any case, the latest issue of the Cominform organ, dated February 3, lays the warning to Asia hot on the line:

“The main activity of this espionage and diversionist Anglo-American Titoist center will be directed toward planting agents in the Communist Parties of India, Viet-Nam, Malaya, Indonesia, Japan and other countries.”

Making allowances for the Cominform’s special language, this is exactly equivalent to saying that it is in these areas that the Kremlin is most afraid of the heresy. In the name of the socialist fight for the annihilation of Stalinism as well as capitalism, we cheer it on: as national-Stalinism corrodes the Communist Parties, new vents can open for the building of a really independent socialist movement unattached to either of the world’s imperialist blocs and freed from ALL forms of Stalinism.

Last updated on 9 March 2023