Raya Dunayevskaya 1957

Djilas’ New Class

Source: News & Letters, October 1957. This piece appeared as Dunayevskaya’s column, “Two Worlds.”;
Transcribed: by Kevin Michaels.

Milovan Djilas, former Vice-President of Yugoslavia, has written a journalistic piece on the Communist system from which he has broken. This has been put between the covers of a book [1] and given a million dollars’ worth of free publicity by the “free” capitalist press. Thereupon followed rave notices in all the papers and magazines, including “the leftist” press. It was climaxed by Life magazine’s claim that here is a book “that will rock Marxism.” What astonishes us is not the presumptuousness of this claim but the naivete of the journalists, book reviewers, editorial writers and State Department type thinking that believes this.

Here is a man who is a typical product of the Communist world – an alleged Marxist theoretician whose ignorance of Marxian theory is matched only by the enormity of the contradictions in his statements. Thus he claims that Marx “unintentionally” (our emphasis) laid the basis for a new concept of the world. Otherwise, says Djilas, Marxian philosophy was so threadbare that it “would have been forgotten – dismissed as something not particularly profound or even original if – “if the political need of the working class movement in Europe had not demanded a new ideology complete in itself.” That is how it happened that this philosophy which “was not important since it was based mainly on Hegelian and materialistic ideas” became “the ideology of the new, oppressed classes and especially of political movements” and as such “it marked an epoch, first in Europe, and later in Russia and Asia, providing the basis for a new political movement and a new social system.”

Having thus cleverly slipped in present-day Communist totalitarianism under the Marxian theory of liberation, Djilas feels that he might be call to account for this sleight of hand, so he says magnanimously, “There is no other type of Marxism or Communism today, and the development of another type is hardly possible.”

In this one-half of a sentence, that no other type of Marxism is possible, lies the whole secret for the naive belief that this poor excuse for a book will “rock Marxism.” If ever whistling in the dark passed for a method of thought, this is it. Thereby “the West” itself has put the seal of bankruptcy on its own thought.

While hoping that the working people do not find Marxism in its original form of Humanism, what is it that Djilas is passing off as the needed philosophy in his book The New Class? According to Djilas, there is “an immutable law – that each human society and all individuals participating in it strive to increase and perfect production.” This immutable law, to “perfect production,” has us all sacrificing for “the cause.” At least it has Djilas so much in its grip that he even forgives his present Communist enemies for their tyranny at least up until now since there was no other way to industrialize the backward countries.

Marx had a better name for this “perfect production.” It was “production for production’s sake” which drove the capitalists on, and they rode the workers so that it all ended in the two monstrosities, concentration and centralization of capital at the one hand, and the degradation of the worker to a cog in the machine at the other.

“It is the fact that capital and its self-expansion,” wrote Marx, “appears as the starting and closing point, as the motive and aim of production; that production is merely production for capital and not for vice versa, the means of production mere means for an ever expanding system of the life process for the benefit of the society of producers...The real barrier of capitalist production is capital itself.

The ultimate form of this is precisely its state-capitalist form now existing in Russia and Yugoslavia and calling itself Communist.

It is hard to believe that Djilas has chosen jail in order to expound the very philosophy which led to its form as state capitalism, and toward which the whole private capitalist world is moving. Djilas sheds very little light. The Communist tyranny has been analyzed long before he did it, and more seriously. He fails even to shed the light of experience on it. Indeed the one thing I did look for in this book – a live description of Tito’s Yugoslavia – is entirely absent.

What then, prompted “the West” to give this threadbare book this spectacular send-off? We can see the answer not in what they say, but in the objective world situation. Little Rock, Ark. [2], on the one hand, and the Sputnik, on the other hand, have combined to expose the hollowness of American democracy and the claims of superior technological know-how as well. Vice-President Nixon has been compelled thereby to call off his tour of Western Europe. The world see U.S. aching for a war with Russia over who will dominate the world. It is true that Russia aims for precisely the same thing, but somehow Russia manages to march under the name of “Marxism” and thus is winning the colonial world. The desperation of “the West” can be seen precisely in this running after “the democratic socialist,” the alleged Marxist, Milovan Djilas. They are running in vain. The American worker is not as dumb as they think, and not as helpless as the American intellectual without vision of a truly new society where the free and all-rounded development of the human being, not of “perfect production,” is the sole motive force.

– R.D.

1. The New Class: an Analysis of the Communist System. New York, Praeger [1957]. (Transcriber’s note)

2. The crisis over the racial integration of Central High School in Little Rock reached a climax in September of 1957 with President Eisenhower’s deployment of U.S. army troops. (Transcriber’s note)