Hal Draper


Pro-Titoism and Democracy

(July 1950)

From The New International, Vol. XVI No. 4, July–August 1950, pp. 237–248.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In replying at some length to Comrade H.F.’s letter, I am frankly taking the opportunity to, discuss a viewpoint on Titoism which is evidently quite widespread among left and socialist groups in Europe. It is a viewpoint which raises what I think is the most important question of our day for socialist reorientation: the question of socialism and democracy. And it is a viewpoint which I believe is filled with risks and perils for such a reorientation of socialism.

It is not necessary to exaggerate the effects which a species of pro-Titoism has already had in the anti-Stalinist left in order to warn and argue against it, given the convictions which we hold. The sorriest example is to be found in the Fourth International-Trotskyists, whose line on Tito has long since ceased to resemble anything like Marxism. There are individuals outside that group who could be mentioned, especially in France. But it is not a question only of these. Comrade H.F.’s letter shows what the Tito question can mean for the fate of socialist clarification.

The question of Russia is the touchstone of socialist policy and theory today even more than when Trotsky used to insist that this was so. Attitude toward the Russian Revolution was in its day a dividing line between the revolutionary socialists and the reformists. A counter-revolution took place in Russia; the Stalinist monstrosity thereby born became the biggest single contributor to the present-day crisis of the socialist and Marxist movements. Attitude toward the Russian counter-revolution is still the big dividing line. It is the question of Stalinism.

Without a clear and consistent analysis of Stalinism one cannot hope to deal effectively with the problems of our epoch. I do not at all mean to imply that the possession of such a clear and consistent analysis is any automatic guarantee of forward movement or success. In the first place, a theoretical analysis is only an initial step. In the second place, though indeed “clear and consistent,” the analysis may be quite wrong! Very true, but what of that great majority of socialists today who are still trying to “fly by the seat of their pants” (as the early pilots had it) without any theoretical compass at all?

The Independent Socialist League has over a number of years developed such a clear and consistent analysis of Russia and Stalinism – based on the “theory of bureaucratic collectivism,” for short. There are not a few, even friends and comrades in the European socialist vanguard, who disagree with it or with this or that aspect of it; but there are fewer, I venture to say, who do not recognize the fact itself. It is because of this that we have approached the analysis of Titoism with a certain amount of confidence.

To Comrade H.F., this looks like “hurrying to condemn” Titoism. It is a harsh phrase but not a very helpful one. Certainly Trotsky and the Trotskyist movement, including many of us, did not “hurry to condemn” the Russian workers’ state as dead, killed by Stalinism. The official Trotskyists of the Fourth International are still in no “hurry” to do so. I would not boast of this lack of “hurry,” which meant that it was not until 1941 that even we of the ISL officially broke with the sterilizing workers’ state theory of Russia. Nor would I condemn it. And those comrades who still lack a clear and consistent theory of Stalinism – whether ours or another – are not to be “condemned” either for their “sin.” But I venture the opinion that it is this lack and no other which persuades Comrade H.F. “not to hurry to condemn” Titoism as a form of Stalinism.

A “let’s wait and see” attitude is excellent – when there is no alternative. There were, not long ago, not a few liberals who manifested their liberalism by insisting on viewing Russian Stalinism as a “noble experiment”: maybe this “form of socialism” will work, maybe it won’t, meanwhile it has all our sympathy and hope. Not a few of them had nothing but scorn and even hatred for the “anti-Soviet” Trotskyists who had already “hurried” to condemn the Stalinist regime on the basis of a theoretical analysis of “socialism in one country” and other such “sectarian” views.

There is, I repeat, nothing wrong with “let’s wait and see” – it is a necessity when one does not see now. But I would urge friends like Comrade H.F. not to make a virtue of necessity nor to look with a jaundiced eye on those whose developed analysis of Stalinism also points to a definite view on the nature of Titoism.


But if there is no sin in marking time to wait-and-see on Titoism, what is more alarming is the way in which seduction by Titoism threatens to lead to a retrogression in political thinking about Stalinism on the part of some in the anti-Stalinist socialist left. As I pointed out last year in the NI, the Fourth International has fled back to the Left Opposition days when it was just born – a retreat to the womb in the face of its insoluble dilemma. I think another form of political retrogression is also to be seen as the outstanding feature of Comrade H.F.’s letter.

But let us first consider Comrade H.F.’s “facts,” upon which he seems to lay such great store. The use of that word for the four points which follow it seems to be a matter of inaccurate language. Certainly it is only in point 4 that Comrade H.F. even purports to adduce “facts” as distinct from asserting and arguing his political views.

Now it is fortunate indeed that we do not have to argue over these “facts” as presented in point 4. I do not have to ask where Comrade H.F. got these statistics; nor to point to the hazards of accepting the Tito government’s statistics at face value, any more than those of any other of the East European dictatorships; nor even to point to the pitfalls of attempting to develop reliable over-all economic statistics for these lands from scattered non-governmental sources and reports. (That problem is bedeviling more expert economic analysts than either Comrade H.F. or myself.) Nor do I have to make a big debaters’ point about this: that the only statistic in his letter which is checkable at all – is wrong. (This is his figure for the proportion of the peasantry, which is a full 10 per cent too high – but like the other statistics the mistake has no bearing on the argument one way or another.)

So we shall assume the accuracy of his statistics in point 4. The Yugoslavs take away a much smaller proportion of the production on the collective or cooperative farms than do the Russians. What is taken by the Yugoslavs is paid for, “not confiscated” (at prices fixed by the state – what prices? but we have promised not to quarrel about these “facts”). The Russian kolkhoz has far more bureaucrats than the Yugoslav cooperative farm. In Russia the state dictates the plan of work; the Yugoslav farmers decide their plan of work themselves. There is no forced collectivism in Yugoslavia, as there was in Russia ...

And these “facts” about agriculture, he writes, prove that “the direction of the collectivization of agriculture” is “really different” in Yugoslavia as compared with Russia.

This is exactly what they do not even begin to prove at all; the direction. In two ways: (1) the direction of Titoist agrarian policy; (2) the direction of Titoist social development.

That Tito must try to keep peasant antagonisms to his regime at a minimum is a platitude known even to American newspaper correspondents who understand little else. That much would have to be understood no matter whether Comrade H.F.’s views or ours are accepted on the nature of this Titoism. A “fact” which is equally an integral part of two different analyses does not point to the truth of one or the other by itself.

That is the first trouble with Comrade H.F.’s “facts.”

Only a regime with the Russian power behind it could afford, in Yugoslavia, to begin by pushing the vast peasant majority (80 per cent of the people!) to desperation – and then only because it would openly become a proconsular regime nakedly ruling over a satrapy. Any attempt at a national-Stalinist course, breaking with Moscow, for a whole period must entail placating the peasantry – going slow with the peasantry – ensuring their toleration at the least.

But not even the satellite regimes still under Moscow’s thumb have acted much different to date. Comrade H.F., who himself emphasizes the newness of Tito’s power, compares his policy only to that of the “wholly completed” Stalinist regime in Russia! But if he is interested in testing Ttio’s Stalinism, why not the much more meaningful comparison with the other new regimes?

As Comrade Rudzienski has emphasized in his articles in Labor Action, the Stalinist power in Poland has been treading eggshells – in its peasant policy especially. Where so far has there been a wave of forced collectivization in the Stalinist satellites?

The Stalinists are only biding their time in those satellites? Why, certainly! But for the reason pointed out above, their satraps in the satellites can afford to put on the squeeze a thousand times more than Tito. Tito will have to bide his time much longer. In any case, what do Comrade H.F.’s “facts” prove about direction?

Take Comrade H.F.’s thesis point by point and apply it – not to Yugoslavia which has broken with Moscow – but to Poland, to Czechoslovakia, to the other satellites, which are Moscow’s puppets: to what conclusion is he led?

Comrade H.F.’s very first argument against considering Tito’s regime to be Stalinist is the fact that it is only seven years old and that is too short a time to construct any definite social structure. Obviously, the same applies to the Stalinist satellite states; and so if it proves anything, it would prove too much for Comrade H.F.’s purposes.

But secondly, his argument imperceptibly has changed the question at issue. The primary question is not that of a scientifically rounded definition of the social structure of Yugoslavia but of the Yugoslav state power. Seven years is a very short time to bring any new social structure to completion. But what is the nature of this state power which is seven years old?

Neither in Yugoslavia nor in any of the Stalinist satellites is Stalinism as a social system (bureaucratic collectivism) “wholly completed.” Just to demonstrate that I am perfectly aware of this, I made a bit of a point of just that idea in the NI last year. But where does it leave Comrade H.F.’s argument? It is the Titoist state power which is leading Yugoslavia’s social development in a given direction, and it is the Titoist state power which has to be examined.

The Tito bureaucracy, says Comrade H.F., is not yet a social class as it is in Russia. As mentioned, I have also made the point that the Tito bureaucracy is not yet a “wholly completed” social class. This is indeed one of the roots of the Titoists’ frenetic drive for industrialization. The bureaucratic-collectivist rulers, by their very nature, cannot develop as a social class before taking power, and the Yugoslav Stalinists are faced with the task of rooting themselves as a native ruling class in a very backward country, economically ill adapted to bureaucratic collectivism as a social system.

But again: it is not a question of conjuring up a “wholly completed” social class any more than of insisting on a “wholly completed” social system. It is the nature of the state power which is or should be under discussion.

If Comrade H.F.’s view is to be followed, what is the ruling class of Yugoslavia today, “wholly completed” or no? What is the class nature of the state?

More than that, in view of the kind of arguments given by Comrade H.F., we have to ask: What is the ruling class in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, et al.? What class society, what social system obtains there? Surely not a wholly completed one – but what? What is its direction, and by what standards does one judge? Comrade H.F. cannot use one set of standards for Yugoslavia, and a different one for the Stalinist satellites on a free-wheeling basis.

“Stalinism,” writes Comrade H.F., “is a totalitarianism in which the dictatorship of a single party and the police has been brought to the highest extreme.”

Not at all. Here it is he who is in a hurry to put a period too soon. Russian Stalinism is a totalitarianism which has been brought to the highest extreme so far seen in the world – that is all. It did not begin that way and we have perhaps not seen all it can do.

Fifteen or so years ago, the Marxist had to ask himself in what direction this society was evolving, not merely: Where is it now? He could answer only by attempting to analyze the nature of Stalinism, and the alternative to answering anything was “Let’s wait and see.” The same is true now for the new totalitarianisms. But now we have what we did not have then: one developed Stalinist state which points to the others their own future.

Throughout Comrade H.F.’s letter is the implicit assumption that unless a regime today looks, in degree, like Stalin’s it can not be called Stalinist. No reason is given for this assumption; it is simply there behind his arguments and “facts.” But not even Stalin’s regime always looked like Stalin’s regime of today, and even his regime of today may show a degree of difference from his regime of tomorrow.

Two other preliminaries have to be cleared out of the way to get to the heart of the matter. Is Titoism “only the pure manifestation of Yugoslav nationalism”? What confuses me about this passage is that Comrade H.F. writes as if he is discussing something he thinks I wrote. I don’t recognize the baby. Titoism is not “only a nationalist phenomenon.” It is a national-Stalinist phenomenon. This is what we have been stressing in every possible way. And as such it is “a new phenomenon in history.” Comrade H.F.’s reference to the Ukrainian old Bolsheviks who opposed Stalin’s un-Marxist anti-national policy is so much beside the point that there is obviously a misunderstanding on his part somewhere.

What are the ‘“perspectives” of Titoism in Yugoslavia? “In Comrade Draper’s consideration they are very vague,” writes Comrade H.F. I do not understand this. Since he specifically excludes fortune-telling, I assume he is not asking for a prediction on the fate of the Tito regime, with or without dates. He himself poses several possible alternative developments. In any case, all that Marxists necessarily ask from an analysis is to point political directions and to chart the political line which can best further socialist victory (“perspectives,” in other words). This we have done in several places, including the ISL’s 1949 convention resolution.

But after a remark like that by Comrade H.F., one has perhaps a right to expect something better than vagueness from the critic. Comrade H.F.’s perspective is: The threat of Stalinism “makes the degeneration of Titoism into totalitarianism (into Stalinism) quite impossible ... Logic says, therefore, that Tito is compelled to liquidate capitalism but not in the same way as Stalin did. About this ‘other way’ we cannot here elaborate; but one must assume that Tito is not so politically blind as not to look for this ‘other way’ and not to wish it.”

Now there may be “other ways” to liquidate capitalism, but the only other way I know of is – the socialist way, Lenin’s way. Is this Comrade H.F.’s “other way”? There are two difficulties for anyone who rushes to this conclusion. One is the fact that he indicates it is not something so simple; it would seem to require some exposition. The other is the fact that he does “not consider Titoism ‘on our side.’” But if Tito is oriented toward revolutionary socialism, Leninism, or whatever one wishes to call it, why not? If Titoism is not Stalinism, if indeed it is virtually impossible for it to degenerate into Stalinism, if it is ... everything else he claims for it, then why not openly recognize that it is coming over “on our side,” and that at any rate we certainly have to be “on its side”? That is, why not give Titoism our political support?

But if Comrade H.F.’s “other way” of liquidating capitalism is neither the Stalinist way nor roughly “our way,” but something else, then Comrade H.F. seems to be in a fair way to incubating a major contribution to Marxism. If this is the case, then his passing sentence is a tantalizing way of announcing the birth.


Perhaps there is another assumption in Comrade H.F.’s thinking. Perhaps it is this: that the mere fact of a break with Moscow calls into question the Stalinist nature of Tito’s regime. The assumption would be: If Titoism is really Stalinism, it would not break with the homeland of Stalinism.

I should like to hope that merely putting this assumption into black on white is enough to convey its shallowness. In any case, we have elsewhere often explained not only why such a break is possible but why the national-Stalinists are driven toward a break with Russian imperialism. This explanation was based on our view of Stalinism as a new type of social system. Contrariwise, the assumption can be based only on the view of Stalinism as a specific Russian peculiarity, inapplicable elsewhere.

Now this view exists, but in all fairness it must be pointed out that Comrade H.F. seems to repudiate it. “Stalinism,” he says, “is a new class society.” It is a “social system.” If he calls it “state-capitalism,” still we take it that by this he means a new social system different from unhyphenated capitalism. That is enough for the moment. It is, at any rate, a social system in its own right and presumably, like other social systems, it is not historically confined to the borders of one state.

Stalinism is a social system based on the state ownership of the decisive means of production and the uncontrolled domination of the state machine by the bureaucracy, not by the working people. The state owns industry and an uncontrolled bureaucracy “owns” the state.

Socialism, on the other hand, is the collective ownership of the decisive means of production under the democratic control of the working people themselves. The vast difference is determined by the existence of democracy for the mass of people.

This is so because of the very nature of the working class as a class. Unlike the bourgeoisie, which is by nature a property-owning class, it does not develop its economic and social power within the womb of the old society. The bourgeoisie could do this under feudalism because its social power is expressed in the first place through its ownership of the private property on which the wealth of society rests. The working class, which owns no property, can “own” and control the means of production only through a political intermediary, the state. And it can “own” and control the state only through democratic participation. Without democracy, statification points not to socialism but to what we know as Stalinism.

Democracy, therefore, is not merely of sentimental or moral value for the Marxists, nor is it merely a preference. It designates the only way in which the rule of the working class can exist in political actuality.

Take now Comrade H.F.’s two sentences: “The existing Tito dictatorship is really the regrettable, but at the same time also inevitable, factor. It is inevitable because any relaxation of it could lead inevitably to Stalin’s victory.”

Here we have exactly the rationale with which the more conscientious neo-Stalinist defends the Russian dictatorship. Wishing “not to hurry to condemn” Titoism as Stalinism, Comrade H.F. finds himself accepting the heart and soul of the Stalinist apologia.

That sounds harsh, especially when directed to anyone whose hatred of Stalinism is demonstrably beyond dispute – but that is exactly the point to be made about the retrogressive effect of pro-Titoism on anti-Stalinism.

Titoism is a one-party dictatorship. No party can exist other than the CP and its controlled “People’s Front.” No opponent of the regime can speak, write or present his views to the people. These are not accusations; this is proclaimed by Tito. No organization or group opposed to the regime can exist. This is proclaimed as a principle by the Titoists in full conformity with their teachers. Rankovic’s secret police operate on principles and in a manner no whit different from the GPU.

This is the regime which, says Comrade H.F., is “not yet totalitarianism.” What does it lack? Is it the existence of slave-labor camps which defines totalitarianism? Does he mean that it is not (yet) as bad as Russia’s? (Neither is the regime in Poland, et al.) Is it forced collectivization which is part of the definition of totalitarianism, as he seems to indicate in a parenthesis?

The Titoists believe in controlling, and do try to control, from above, every avenue of opinion, expression, social action and thought: what can Comrade H.F.’s definition of totalitarianism possibly be?

“Inner-party democracy had existed hitherto,” he asserts, “and that could be proved, for instance, by the lively discussions in the party press.” Democracy inside this totalitarian movement but none outside it – that would be a sight to see. But imagination need not stagger before the idea, because it is not true.

During the wartime guerrilla fighting, there was of course a fair amount of looseness (the Trotskyists among the Partisans were not shot right away), but presumably Comrade H.F. is speaking of the Titoist party in power. This party called its first congress in twenty years only under the impact of the Cominform’s denunciation. “This is a unique example in the history of the working-class movement,” were Tito’s unique opening words at that Fifth Congress.

I would be interested to learn what Comrade H.F. considers to be the “inner-party democracy” manifested by what “lively discussions” in the party press. Discussions on what? Criticism of Tito and/or the Yugoslav CP leadership – and criticism on what? I have read literally reams of English translations of the daily broadcasts of the Yugoslav radio, much of it being long quotations and summaries of the press – especially for the months after the break and including the day-by-day reports of the discussions at the Fifth Congress; and Comrade H.F.’s offhand reference remains mysterious. Not a word can be found outside of or against the Yugoslav party line. If Comrade H.F. has any other kind of lively discussion to offer in evidence, it would, at least, be news.

But while Titoism is “not yet totalitarianism,” admits Comrade H.F., it is a “dictatorship”–regrettably. As we have seen, this dictatorship is totalitarian enough, despite Comrade H.F.’s verbal distinction, to permit no political life or expression outside the ruling party machine. The mass of

workers and peasants have no democratic control over the regime. They are not “united in the People’s Front” – this is an expression taken straight from the Stalinist lexicon in all of Eastern Europe, including Yugoslavia; they are imprisoned in the People’s Front, which is the only official avenue of totalitarian politics.

All this, we are told, is a regrettable but inevitable necessity. If it is “inevitable,” then any government at the head of Yugoslavia in this situation would have to be as much of a dictatorship, even a government headed by you, or us – or H.F.

Why? Because Yugoslavia is beleaguered on the east by Russia and on the west by capitalism. It cannot afford democracy, which would weaken it before Russia ...

Obviously a basic issue is joined here, for I would maintain the diametrical opposite: that a democratic socialist regime would be Yugoslavia’s strongest defense against both Russian and Western imperialism, because socialist freedom and only socialist freedom could make that appeal to the peoples of both West and East which could bring the only real ally a revolutionary Yugoslavia could rely on – the revolutionary working class.

And if I did not think so, I would know of no political reason for opposing Stalinism, however much I might be outraged by humanitarian, moral or personal objections to that regime. For the Stalinist dictatorship established itself in Russia as the “practical” answer to the beleaguerment of the revolution.

Stalinist Russia is beleaguered today. It is menaced by a whole world of capitalism around it. The talk about the coexistence of the two systems is simply diplomatic doubletalk. There is scarcely an intelligent Stalinist I have ever met who will not give precisely this rationale for the political regime in Russia (while denying that it is totalitarianism): Russia cannot afford democracy “in the Western sense.” By this is meant democracy in any sense, including and most especially the Marxist sense.

Has Stalin less “right” to a one- party dictatorship than Tito? Was it any less “inevitable” – while “regrettable” for Stalin?

Yes, yes; in the midst of a bloody civil war, ringed by fourteen invading armies, as was Russia’s situation during the interventionist civil wars after World War I, emergency restrictions on democracy may be “regrettable” and “inevitable” – but even in the midst of that hell revolutionary Russia was a utopian democracy compared with Tito’s Yugoslavia. And the “emergency restrictions” and bureaucratism which took root in this period in Russia played no small part in laying the juridical and psychological basis for Stalin’s developing counterrevolution. With the defeat of the revolutionary wave in Europe by 1923 and the damping of the revolutionary elan of October, they flowered into – inevitable dictatorship. Inevitable not because of its necessity for defending the revolution, but an inevitable product of the counter-revolutionary degeneration.

But what a comparison we are anticipating! There are no fourteen enemy armies rampaging over Yugoslavia – not even one. There is no civil war burning red over the land. There is not a single class or social grouping in Yugoslavia sympathetic to the Russian enemy – as there were whole classes and social strata and parties inside revolutionary Russia anxious to aid the interventionists. (Even the leaders of the Yugoslav Socialist Party in exile are for supporting Tito as against Russia.) There are only Cominform agents and hirelings and malcontents. For this a dictatorship is necessary, not to speak of totalitarianism!

If Yugoslavia, virtually united against the enemy to whom Comrade H.F. points, Russia, cannot afford democracy – who can? Not Russia, as we have seen. Turn the tables: neither can the capitalist states, on the basis of H.F.’s implicit views on the impotence of democracy. The tensest nonshooting war in history engulfs Europe; the world is at stake. What right has H.F. to demand that France, for example, allow itself the “luxury” of democracy? Or Western Germany, right on the front? Or for that matter the United States? Do we make this demand, and become indignant at its increasing violations, only because we are not interested in the victory of capitalist France or capitalist America? But then, besides the fact that we are at least as much against its defeat by Russia, the capitalist rulers would have a perfect right to say to us: You socialists, who demand that we commit suicide by relaxing in democratic luxuries while you tell Tito that HIS dictatorship is necessary to survival, you are not partisans of democracy, as you claim to be; you are only enemies of capitalism. To defend ourselves – and surely you do not become indignant because we want to defend ourselves – your own teachings show us the way. Democracy is impotent to defend us, you say; ergo, we shall be as smart as Tito.

And the bourgeois liberals would have an equal right to say to us: You hypocrites with your talk of socialist democracy as the alternative to both capitalism and Stalinism! Suppose you take power: all you need is serious threat of war and a threat to your regime and you inevitably embrace dictatorship!

That on the negative side. But it is not a question of winning an argument in debate with either the capitalist rulers or the bourgeois liberals. What is at stake is only indicated by that. It is the conception of socialism and its very reason for existence.

Only the widest democratic involvement of the masses into the life of the state, making it their state in very truth, can guarantee the defense of a revolution. When a socialist revolution has to choose between democracy and defense – as the Russian Revolution did or thought it did – it is already and by that very token balanced on the brink of disaster – as the Russian Revolution was. Lenin and Trotsky did not expect the revolution to survive unless the European-wide revolution were victorious. But that victory did not come; and it was first its delay and then its defeat which posed or seemed to pose that dilemma before the beleaguered Russian fortress of the proletariat: democracy or defense. That, at any rate, was the way the developing bureaucracy saw it. They found the means to avert the overthrow; the revolution did not survive the means.

Comrade H.F. writes: “It is precisely the Stalinist totalitarianism that has led the Russian Revolution to degeneration.” Diametrically wrong. It was the degeneration of the Russian Revolution which led to Stalinist totalitarianism. Here again he writes as if Stalinist Russia started as a totalitarianism. But even as late as 1927 when Trotsky was expelled from the party, there was more democracy still left inside and outside the party than there is under Tito today!

What was this degeneration of the Russian Revolution which led to totalitarianism? It was, in a few words, the process whereby the working masses were gradually separated from all democratic control over the state. It took many forms and had many effects – including under given circumstances the bloody period of forced collectivization – but that is what it was. It was not inevitable nor inherent in the nature of totalitarianism that every one of the manifestations of Stalinization in Russia (including forced collectivization) had to happen the way it did. But Comrade H.F. will be in no hurry to condemn Titoism as Stalinism until it too has a forced-collectivization massacre! And he will not be convinced it is a form of Stalinism until it is as totalitarian as Russia – nothing less will do!

There is another thing to be kept in mind in comparing the development of Stalinist power in Russia and in Yugoslavia. Paradoxically worded as it may seem: Stalin did not begin by being a Stalinist; Tito did.

Since we Marxists do not view Stalin as the personal devil of the drama, we have no difficulty in admitting – nay, proclaiming – that doubtless Stalin started on his course in the sincere belief that his way was the only one to preserve the revolution. It is entirely true that the end justifies the means, but the end justified only those means which really can effectuate that end. Stalin’s means of preserving the revolution meant the degeneration of the revolution and finally the abandonment of the socialist end. The bureaucratic suppression of the masses, the crushing of democratic initiative, was first conceived as an emergency measure, generalized in the name of regrettable necessity as a means of preserving the beleaguered fortress of the revolution, and finally institutionalized as an end in itself for the benefit of an intrenched bureaucracy. Thus Stalin became a Stalinist, as we know Stalinism today.

In 1927 it would have made sense to ask: Will Stalinism degenerate into totalitarianism? It was coming from a different past. But it is in 1950 that Comrade H.F. poses the question: Will Titoism degenerate into totalitarianism, that is, Stalinism? As if Tito’s political career and ideas have lately begun!

This leader of the Yugoslav dictatorship – about whom Comrade H.F. asks: will his regime become Stalinist? – has been a Stalinist hatchetman, agent and GPU operative, for most of his political life. Up to yesterday, so to speak, he was as true-blue a model of a Stalinist as Moscow had to offer, steeped in its ideology, firmly convinced of its every essential tenet, from socialism-in-one-country to the saving grace of GPU thought control.

This is no revolutionary leader faced with the danger of becoming a Stalinist. The poison is in every nerve cell of his political thinking. It would at least make sense to ask: can Tito, under the impact of the break, divorce himself from Stalinist ideology? I am merely noting that this is not the way Comrade H.F. thinks to put it.

Nor is it a question of Tito the individual head of state. Will Titoist Yugoslavia become Stalinist? Here again: what was it only yesterday so to speak, before the break, if not a Stalinist regime? But I have already asked a similar question before, and it comes up again only because Comrade H.F. refers to the “social origin of Titoism which is, by the way, different from Stalinism too.”

What Comrade H.F. means, I do not pretend to know. (He cannot surely be referring to the “social origin” of Titoism in the wartime nationalist struggle or “revolution,” because Stalinism also came to power by bridling a revolution.) But whatever it is he has in mind, it is precisely the social- political origin of Titoism I am here discussing. Whatever Titoism may be claimed to be now, it was Stalinism only a little while ago, it arose out of Stalinism, and if it is touted as being something different from Stalinism now, something more substantial will have to be said in favor of the view.


The way in which wishes (or “wish- fantasies”) can shape political thinking is frequently enough seen but unfortunately is not susceptible to political proof. I cannot and need not seek to prove it against Comrade H.F. One should, however, be aware of the sources of the powerful pull of pro- Titoism on the socialist ideology of the anti-Stalinist left.

The background is the state of the Marxist movements today, hurled back by the outcome of the imperialist war, hurled back by the rise and growth of Stalinism, to a low point of weakness and organizational ineffectiveness. And in the face of this, what tasks! Over us hover the two world-threatening scourges, the war of the atoms and the barbaric night of Stalinism. Something must be done! A way out must be found! There must be a new road! A power must be wielded to break the slide to doom!

I shall not speak about the impulse to grasp at straws. Titoism is not a straw. It is a power in the world – that is precisely one of its attractions for those oppressed by present powerlessness. Moreover it arises as the enemy of our enemy. Maybe this is the way ... At any rate, how can one “hurry to condemn” it? Let us rather fix our eyes upon its virtues ... How thankless a task it is to convince the thirsty man in the desert that the gleam of water is a mirage!

Politically speaking (since we shall not speak of “wish-fantasies”) what results is a double standard of judgment. We are familiar with the Stalinoids (not to speak of the Stalinists) who are wound up automatically to denounce any beam in the eye of capitalism and to justify any mote in the eye of Stalin – and with the American apologists who reverse the field. This question of the double standard is not a simple one, of course: it is obviously true that superficially similar acts in different social contexts cannot be equated, but the standards by which the acts are judged cannot be arbitrarily shifted to suit one’s wishes. There is no evidence in the world which can convince the believing devotee of the Kremlin that Russia is neither socialist nor “progressive.” He knows that the evidence is crooked, or out of context and one-sided, or that there must be some good socialist reason for the proved fact. He knows this because he wishes to believe, and he wishes to believe because the end of faith would deprive him of his only hold on the conviction that there is a power on his side. Hence the double standard.

Let the Czech Stalinist regime announce that candidates can run for election by getting petition signatures, and no one pays any attention, except those who were already convinced that democracy reigns there – like Konni Zilliacus. Let, however, Tito announce the same, and from the New York Times to the Fourth International-Trotskyist press, articles get written about the trend toward democratization in Yugoslavia. The electoral “reform” turns out to be pure fakery, but enthusiasm is scarcely dampened. Has not Tito announced the decentralization of industry? Hasn’t he set up “workers’ committees” in the plants? The announcement of “workers’ committees” in a Russian satellite would bring unmerciful heehaws from some of the same people who become entranced by each propaganda blast from Belgrade.

For over a year before the break the Titoists spoke among themselves about the “degeneration” of the Russian leaders and party. Now Kardelj makes speeches along the same lines, about the bureaucratization of Russian “Bolshevism,” about the “crisis of socialism” in Russia, and sundry harsh attacks on the Russians – most of them entirely true. Ah! one sees how “theoretical clarification” is proceeding apace among the Yugoslavs!

The limit is far from having been reached to the pretty (and also true) things which can be poured out in speeches by the Yugoslav Titoist leaders. They may even discover tomorrow that this Russian imperialist against whom they have to mobilize their people is no longer socialist; that – lo! – Yugoslavia alone upholds the banner of socialism and people’s democracy in the world. True, this seems some distance from happening yet, but such a turn may be easier than to try to convince the Yugoslav people that the enemy which is seeking to enslave them is still the hearth- land of socialism in the world.

Let those who will search the speeches by Djilas, Kardelj, Pyade and Tito (Rankovic is less interested in making speeches) for new evidence that they are devoting their spare moments to diligent perusal of Trotsky’s The Third International After Lenin. Comes the day when Moshe Pyade denounces the Stalin regime as “Bonapartist” – why not? – hats will fly into the air.

Our own standards of judgment, founded on our own understanding of Stalinism, will not depend on the latest handouts from the Tanjug Agency. As long as the Yugoslav people are excluded from all control over the state, held in subjection by the totalitarian vise of the Titoist dictatorship, denied every real vestige of democratic control over their destiny, the regime that reigns is national- Stalinism. The test for Stalinism in Yugoslavia is the internal political regime.

Statification plus totalitarianism equals Stalinism. Collective ownership plus democracy equals socialism. The equations are shorthand and curt and do not pretend to include all the wisdom about Stalinism which will some day be the property of the historian, but that is where to start.

Nowhere more than in Eastern Europe, the fight for socialism is the fight for democracy. The world socialist movement cannot even hope to be reborn without this on its banner. Its edge is directed equally against capitalism and Stalinism. And because it is so crucial, apologies for Tito’s dictatorship as a regrettable necessity can be the beginning of the end of socialist reorientation.

Last updated on 19 October 2018