From Fourth International, Vol. 11 No. 1, January–February 1950, pp. 18–23.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
The Yugoslavs claim that they have been the first to have grappled “theoretically” with the problem of relations between socialist countries. The second world war gave rise not only to “socialist” Yugoslavia but to a whole galaxy of “people’s democracies.” All of the countries gravitating around the USSR, according to the Yugoslavs, comprise the post-war “socialist” world. Theoretically there should be a peaceful co-existence and a close and unselfish cooperation between these “socialist” countries, say the Yugoslavs.
Yet in practice there is nothing of the kind. The leaders of the USSR, “deviating” from Marxism-Leninism, have established, “anti-socialist” relationships, against which the Yugoslavs have justifiably revolted. In two pamphlets, recently issued in French translation , two Yugoslav leaders, M. Djilas and M. Popovitch have undertaken a theoretical study of what, in their mind, relations between “socialist countries” should be, and what has happened under the leadership of the USSR.
Djilas’ study is mostly concerned with the political aspect of these relationships; the one by Popovitch with their economic aspects. One appears to be a necessary complement to the other but it is to be regretted that Djilas did not probe into the contemporary economic reality with the same penetration that characterizes Popovitch’s study. That would have saved Djilas from treading so precariously on the ground of “the law of uneven development,” which was “discovered by Lenin.” There is no perceptible disagreement between the two treatises, hut it is quite apparent that Popovitch, operating in the sphere of economic realities, is much closer to the idea of the universality of contemporary economy, the organic interdependence of national economies, which in reality are all part of a higher entity, world economy, and is therefore drawn to the international aspect of the building of socialism.
Let us now examine more closely, how each of the two authors elaborates his subject and arrives at his conclusions.
In the entire first section of his study, Djilas attempts to catalogue Lenin’s views on what the relations between countries and particularly between “socialist” countries should be, and by this method highlights the striking contrast between Leninist doctrine on this question and the present methods of Moscow and the Cominform. By citing passages of well-known writings of Lenin, “dealing especially with the national question and the self-determination of peoples, Djilas proves that Lenin was for a) the right of every oppressed nationality to have its own independent national state if it so desires; b) freedom of choice regarding the form of relationships which every people (every state) desires to engage in with other states (federation, confederation, independent states).
This equality of relationships between countries and between “socialist” countries, in particular, has been completely nullified by Moscow which has substituted for it the principle of the leading nation (in this case the USSR) which commands its satellites and imposes upon them its own views on all questions. That, Djilas correctly says, is the complete negation of Leninism and constitutes a deviation from Marxism-Leninism, which is not confined to the national question alone but “necessarily spreads like an epidemic to all fields of Marxism, from philosophy and the question of culture to the problem of the state and the future of socialist construction.”
There would be nothing to add to all this and to the whole indictment Djilas makes in his work against the practices of the Kremlin towards Yugoslavia, the other “peoples’ democracies” and the Communist Parties in general, if Djilas had not had the unhappy idea of stuffing his analysis with the “theory of the law of uneven development” which he attributes to Lenin. He borrows this conception from earlier studies from Stalinist manuals like “The History of the Russian Bolshevik Party.” According to this monument of vulgar Stalinist falsification, the law of “uneven development,” “unknown” to Marx and Engels was “discovered” by Lenin, and this law “deprives” the Trotskyist “theory” of “world revolution” of “reality”, (p. 46)
Djilas’ ignorance on this subject leads him to create (or, more precisely, to recreate by borrowing elements from the Stalinist arsenal) a veritable mythology on what he calls the “theory of world revolution.” The creators of this theory, Djilas says very seriously, “were in reality Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg: basing themselves on a passage from Marx erroneously understood which they defended in the name of ‘permanent revolution’.” Later Trotsky stole this “theory” from them and circulated it as his own. (p. 47) And of what does the “theory of world revolution (or permanent revolution)” consist, according to Djilas? In the assertion of “the impossibility of the victory of the revolution and of socialism in one country without a simultaneous world revolution.” (p. 47, my emphasis, MP) Later we find a slightly different definition: “The necessity of unleashing the revolution at the same time in the entire world, or in the majority of advanced countries.” (p. 73)
To this “theory,” Djilas counterposes the conception based on the “law of uneven development” discovered by Lenin, that is to say, the “theory of the possibility and of the inevitable character of the revolution and of socialism in a single country.” This theory “has thus replaced the theory of Marx and Engels on the simultaneous revolution in several advanced countries which has become outmoded in the conditions of the epoch of imperialism.” (p. 48) “As everyone knows,” Djilas goes on to teach us, “Lenin dealt with the question of the world revolution by taking as his basis the law of the uneven development and the contradictions of capitalism, which come into especially bold relief in the era of imperialism; i.e., he deals with it as a question of the breaking of the capitalist chain sometimes in one place and sometimes in another, as a question of the inevitable, possible and necessary unleashing of the revolution, and of the victory of socialism first in several countries, or even in a single country, and then in the other countries.” (p. 48)
There are as many errors here as there are words, and an unpardonable ignorance, especially for revolutionists who are justly indignant at the methods of false information, lies and slanders introduced by Moscow on so gigantic a scale in the workers’ movement. To re-establish the truth about the history of the international workers’ movement, the Yugoslav militants would do better to go to primary sources instead of borrowing their learning and their arguments from Stalinist writings and of preceding like Djilas, who naively bases his references to “the works of Lenin and to his doctrine on imperialism and the revolution” on the version supplied of these works and of this doctrine in &The History of the Communist Party (Bolshevik)! (p. 37) Djilas finds that “even children” know today “that there is no simultaneous world revolution, that is, one embracing the entire world at the same time.” (p. 47) We can assure him that neither Marx, nor Rosa Luxemburg nor Trotsky ever went through this “infantile” stage in the elaboration of their revolutionary theoretical conceptions. And when Djilas attributes to them his conception of “world revolution” he is in reality breaking through open doors. There was never any question of a simultaneous world revolution, not for Marx, nor Rosa Luxemburg, nor Trotsky. Marx had other ideas on the development of the revolution, some of which are still valid and others are in part outdated by the present conditions of imperialism.
The first idea of Marx is that the revolution does not halt at its bourgeois democratic stage, but progresses in constant struggle with all the class forces which want to restrain it, to limit it to this stage only and to prevent it from flowering into a socialist and communist revolution (definitively abolishing all forms of class rule). It was in this sense that Marx spoke of the permanent character of the revolution in our epoch (capitalism). This idea established by Marx still remains valid, and all subsequent experience has confirmed and reinforced it. Moreover, in the imperialist epoch, it is impossible to conceive of a revolution halting at the democratic stage which would permit the proletariat to organize peacefully and so gradually, by broadening the conditions of democracy, to evolve into socialism.
This conception, which counterposes the democratic stage to the socialist stage is in reality that of reformism and of the vulgar “Marxism” of the Mensheviks, etc. This idea was revived by Stalin and Bukharin after Lenin’s death and applied with disastrous results in China (1925-27) and then in Spain. We come across it again as the basis of the theory of the “peoples’ democracy” as it was set forth by the leaders of the USSR and the Communist Parties until their switch in December 1948 when they began to identify “peoples’ democracy” with dictatorship of the proletariat.
The second idea of Marx was that the revolution would begin first in the most developed and industrialized countries of Europe (England, France, Germany) and then ex-lend to the less developed countries. Marx foresaw this because of the dynamism of the bourgeois democratic revolution in these countries, a dynamism capable of pushing the revolution to its socialist phase. We know now that the democratic revolution of 1848 was unable to turn into a socialist revolution, and for this self-same reason was unable to be consummated as a democratic revolution (i.e. to effectively resolve the problems of a “bourgeois democratic type).
Marx was wrong on the timing of the process but not on its methodological character. Marx never envisaged a simultaneous world revolution. He envisaged the possibility ot a revolution which could triumph in one country and then spread to the others, to be sure in a brief span of time which experience has now shown us to be much more protracted. But not only Marx was wrong on the timing of the propagation of the revolution from one country to another; but with him Lenin and the entire Third International. Doesn’t Djilas know that Lenin considered the victory in Russia as the first stage of the world revolution which would rapidly conquer in other countries, particularly Germany, and that the whole policy of the Soviet Union and the whole strategy of the Third International between 1919 and 1923 in reality revolved around his perspective?
There is no methodological disagreement between Marx and Lenin on the development of the revolution, for both shared the same understanding of the “uneven development” of capitalism. However this uneven development in Marx’ time actually placed the developed countries of Europe closer to the revolution than the backward countries. To the degree that we enter into the imperialist epoch, other links of the capitalist chain become “weaker,” and therefore more favorable for the victory of the revolution.
Stalin’s ignorance led him to say that the “law of uneven development” was first discovered by Lenin in 1915. This law in reality is a universal law characterizing the development of all human history, of all societies and no! specifically capitalism or its imperialist epoch. Mankind has never progressed uniformly neither on the economic nor on the cultural plane. It has progressed unevenly and in a combined manner both between peoples and different countries as well as within a given people or country. For example, capitalism developed as a new economic and social system on the ground of an extreme diversity, of extreme inequality inherited from the past of the different countries.
Capitalism did not abolish this uneven progress in its development; it acted upon it in a dialectic way which the Stalinist theoreticians never understood or never wanted to understand, for this knowledge was radically contrary to their theory of “socialism in one country.” On one side, capitalism, by extending itself over the world, by moving from country to country, from metropolis to the colonies, brings the economic and cultural levels of the different countries closer together and tends to equalize them.
But in this process, capitalism operates by its own methods which are not those of cooperation and of harmonious and balanced international planning; by its anarchic and antagonistic character, it sets one country against another, and within each country one branch of economy against another, in one place promoting the development of certain productive and cultural forces; and in other places stopping or even brutally destroying them. From this dialectical operation of the law of uneven development there results a complicated, combined process, both unifying and centrifugal, both equalising and differentiating. Far from moderating the dialectical unity of these two opposing tendencies, imperialism strengthens and deepens their content. The uneven development of imperialism makes possible and even inevitable the breaking of its chain at its weakest links, i.e., in the countries which have accumulated the most explosive charge of contradictions, countries which are often the most backward. Hence flows the possibility of the victory of the revolution in a single country without a simultaneous world revolution (or without a revolution simultaneously victorious in a large number of advanced countries).
But the uneven development of the imperialist chain should not lead us to overlook the chain itself, arising from the organic interdependence of all countries, tied by a thousand links over the whole expanse of capitalist development and the formation of world economy, the world market, the international division of labor. Consequently when speaking of uneven development one must not conclude that one country is independent in relation to the others.
When Djilas tries to deduce the possibility of the victory of the revolution and of socialism in a single country from “the law of uneven development” he is repeating a Stalinist assertion which gained currency in the workers’ movement only after Lenin’s death.
The uneven resistance of different capitalist countries to the pressure of the revolution permits its triumph, i.e., the taking of power in a single country, often a backward country. But the organic interdependence (which is now greater than ever) of all countries in the imperialist epoch does not permit the economic isolation of one country from the rest of the world market and thereby permit the building of socialism in each country separately with its own forces and on the basis of its own resources.
World economy today does not consist of the juxtaposition of autonomous national economic units. It is a higher economic entity than the national units of which they are organic parts. And if this is the case for capitalism, socialism, which will be characterized by an infinitely superior development of the productive forces than that of the most advanced capitalist country (now, the United Slates) can even less be conceived as the juxtaposition of autonomous national socialist units.
It must also be understood that “the law of uneven development” also operates within each country by causing the inadequate development of certain economic sectors on the one hand, and the “excessive” development of other economic sectors on the other hand. Only the equilibrium established by the world market can absorb surpluses and make up for the inadequacies of each national economy. The productive forces might not conflict with the national boundaries only if “the socialist country” is conceived of in the sense of a Malthusian and austerity policy which equalises and “socialises” poverty and deliberately obstructs the development of certain productive forces.
To build, that is to complete socialism in a single country, must, according to Marxist doctrine, signify the disappearance of classes which is possible only in a society of material abundance. To complete socialism, to build a socialist society, signifies arriving at the threshold of the stage where, thanks to material abundance, it will be possible to apply the maxim of “from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” Such an aim is unrealizable in each country separately, even if that country is Russia for which Stalin in 1924 evolved the theory of “socialism in one country”, on the assumption that its exceptional “material resources” were “necessary and sufficient” for this task. 
Thirty years of effort since the October Revolution have not sufficed “to build socialism in the USSR.” Despite the lying declarations of the imposters who lead the USSR and the Communist parties, that country is still extremely far from socialism, the great majority of Russian workers and peasants still live in conditions of poverty, and only a thin layer of the population, some millions of bureaucrats enjoy a standard of living comparable to that of the bourgeoisie of the capitalist countries.
Thanks to the size and wealth of its territory, the USSR was able to permit itself an autarchic experiment, naturally to the greatest detriment of the standard of living of the great mass of the population. But what would happen to a country like Yugoslavia, Greece, Rumania, Hungary, etc., which attempts to “build socialism” by itself? What sense could such an undertaking have? In every step they take in the reconstruction of their economies, all these countries literally depend on the external aid of their exchange with the world market. 
Thus, whenever the Yugoslav leaders speak of the possibility of the “victory of socialism” and of the “building of socialism” in a single country, there is an ambiguity: Either they mean simply that the victory of the proletarian revolution and the beginning of the building of socialism – the national elements of the international socialist society of tomorrow – are possible in a single country, and we are perfectly in agreement on this point ; or they want to make us believe that they will succeed in completing a socialist society within the national boundaries of Yugoslavia. In the later case, their whole orientation is naturally false and can only lead to a repetition of the nationalist deviation which we have seen in the USSR and which has served in reality as “theoretical” camouflage for the Soviet bureaucracy.
It is true that neither Djilas, nor Popovitch deny the need for close economic collaboration with other countries, particularly the “peoples’ democracies” and the USSR. It is even true that Popovitch considers that in the absence of such collaboration and with the maintenance of relations only with capitalist countries, socialist development in each country will be greatly “hampered.” Nevertheless, the ambiguity on the meaning of “socialist construction” remains, and the Yugoslav leaders have nowhere attempted to clarify it. This is a cardinal point, one which can become the point of crystallization for a full-blown, opportunist position with all its consequences for the internal and external policy of Yugoslavia and its relations with the international workers’ movement.
It is impossible to ignore the way that Djilas presents the “theory of permanent revolution” which Trotsky presumably “stole” from Parvus and Rosa Luxemburg. Trotsky never concealed what he borrowed from other Marxist theoreticians because he never presumed to elaborate his line without basing himself on all the positive achievements of Marxist thought (and of human thought in general). In 1905, the period of the elaboration of his theory of the permanent revolution, Trotsky had views concerning the Russian Revolution of 1905 which were close but not identical to those of Parvus (the German Marxist who had achieved a certain standing before his degeneration). (Among other things, Parvus assigned exclusively democratic tasks to the dictatorship of the proletariat while Trotsky specified that the dictatorship of the proletariat would combine the solution of those tasks with placing socialist tasks and their solution on the order of the day.)
The theory of the permanent revolution, in its elaborated and systematized form, belongs exclusively to Trotsky who knew how to develop and synthesize into a coherent whole the scattered views of Marx and Lenin on the mechanism and dynamics of the proletarian revolution in our epoch as well as the practical experiences of the international workers’ movement on this point.
Some of the Yugoslav leaders have, thanks to the experience of their own revolution in Yugoslavia, very correctly grasped two of the elements of the permanent revolution, namely: a) That the democratic tasks (independence and national unity, agrarian reform, etc.) lead to the dictatorship of the proletariat and that it alone is capable of resolving them, besides placing the socialist tasks themselves on the order of the day; b) that once having triumphed, the revolution does not stop, it is not ended, but is in constant internal struggle against all opponent forces, and over a lengthy period transforms social relations (on the economic, technical, scientific, moral plane, etc).
The third element of the permanent revolution which the Yugoslavs do not yet seem to understand consists in the international character of the proletarian revolution in our epoch, namely: that the revolution begun in an isolated country, progresses through internal and external difficulties which increase simultaneously with successes registered in the building of socialism and which are only finally resolved with the victory of the proletariat over an area embracing a decisive part of world economy. Viewed in this way, a revolution on a national scale is not an end in itself but only a link in the international chain.
These three elements form a coherent and organic whole, and this is the theory of the permanent revolution, which it must be said has been atrociously distorted by Djilas.
A final word on the explanation given by Djilas of the “revisionism” of the leaders of the USSR and the Cominform.
Up to now, Djilas. along with all the Yugoslav leaders seem to attribute this “revisionism” to a lack of understanding on the part of the leaders of the USSR, to “their refusal to understand what is essentially new in present conditions.” (p. 123) Popovitch refers to the “revisionism” of the Second International and to the “coup de grace” it received from Lenin. But in the case of the Second International, Lenin explained its revisionism and its opportunism precisely by exposing their economic and social roots in the corruption of the workers’ leaders (trade union and political) and of a whole layer of the proletariat, thanks to the superprofits of imperialism; by the formation of a workers’ bureaucracy based on the “aristocracy of labor.”
A similar phenomenon has appeared in the USSR, namely, the formation, under conditions of prolonged isolation of the USSR and its backwardness, of a powerful bureaucratic strata which has raised itself materially and politically over the masses of the workers, which has become omnipotent and follows a domestic and foreign policy which reflects only its own interests, necessarily distinct and even hostile to those of the Russian proletariat and the world proletariat. So long as the Yugoslav leaders do not grasp this sociological explanation of the revisionism they speak of, they will remain in the sphere of effects, epiphenomena and not the primary and profound causes of the evil. 
The aim of Popovitch’s study is to set forth two main ideas: a) that under the conditions of the world capitalist market, the more developed nations exploit the more backward countries from the twofold vantage point of prices and the structure of exchange; b) that in its relations with the “peoples’ democracies,” the USSR, intead of altering these capitalist conditions of trade and welding all these countries economically into a “socialist bloc” which could attenuate the effects of the world market on them, maintains and even often aggravates these capitalist trade practises.
Popovitch analyzes the first point in detail. He shows the concrete mechanism of world trade through which the exploitation of backward countries is effected by the more industrialized ones, and how there is actually established a hierarchy among all the countries, in which those possessing an organic composition of capital above that of the world average, obtain, thanks to the formation of world prices, a superprofit at the expense of countries whose organic composition of capital is lower than the world average. 
The exploitation of countries in this category is not limited to the question of prices but also extends to the structure of exchange, the countries in question exporting only raw materials and agricultural products.
As the capitalist era evolves, this twofold exploitation becomes aggravated because the monopolies exercise their influence over the world market in the following two ways: “a) By increasing the price of finished goods that the capitalist monopolies produce and sell to the backward countries; b) by reducing the price of agricultural raw materials furnished by the less developed countries and by the colonies.” (p. 25)
Different economic relations ought to prevail between “socialist countries”; according to Popovitch they should consist of the following; a) In each backward country the capital funds produced by the workers should be determined and not be permitted to be syphoned off through inequitable exchanges with oilier more developed countries. In other words, the more developed socialist countries should avoid exploiting the less developed socialist countries. The more developed socialist countries should give real economic assistance to the less developed ones which is impossible if they trade and grant loans according to capitalist rules of profit.
“Real economic equality,” Popovitch states “does not exist among present socialist countries, the USSR and the ether peoples’ democracies.” (p. 120) “Instead there is inequality, plunder and exploitation.” He says (pp. 134–35) that “socialist” relations are necessary for two principal reasons; a) So that the development of the productive forces of socialism in a given country are not “objectively hampered and curbed to a great degree” by subjection to the laws of the capitalist world market; b) so that they can effectively and even successfully counterpose to the world capitalist market a socialist bloc, a “union of socialist states with equal rights forming an economic whole” whose very constitution would “demonstrate its vital and far superior force to that of imperialism” and would deliver “the most effective blow” to the Marshall Plan and to the other imperialist plans.
The understanding which Popovitch brings to this question, although it still does not lead him to the conclusion of the Utopian and completely irrational character of the building of “socialism in one country.” is completed by another progressive point which we believe necessary to underscore.
“The internationalism of the communist parties of the capitalist countries,” he writes, (p. 113) “should above all be that of a stubborn intransigent struggle against their capitalism, against their bourgeoisie, which at the same time constitutes the most effective and the most real aid they can furnish the countries which are building socialism.”
This conception essentially differs from that of the Stalinist leaders of the USSR who in practice assign as the first task of the international proletariat “the defense of the USSR” through the medium of compromises and pressure on the bourgeoisie of each country.
1. M. Djilas: Lenin and Relations between Socialist Countries; M. Popovitch: Economic Relations between Socialist States. Published by Yugoslav Publishers.
2. Lenin never spoke of the possibility of building, of completing socialism in a “single country.” Lenin often used the expression, “victory of socialism in one country,” either in the sense of the possibility of the victory of the revolution in one country, of the taking of power in a country, or in the sense of the necessary and sufficient political prerequisites (statification of the means of production, dictatorship of the proletariat, etc.) for building socialism in a country. This is clear to any careful reader of Lenin’s writings, who has freed himself of the scholastic Menshevik method and of the dishonesty of the Stalinist leaders, who by flinging quotations and phrases arbitrarily torn from context, try to “prove this or that.”
3. The case of Yugoslavia itself is very striking; it actually trades with 46 countries and its reconstruction effort is actually maintained only thanks to exchanges with the world market. What would happen to Yugoslavia if, for example, there was added to the present blockade by the USSR and the other “people’s democracies” a more or less general blockade by the capitalist countries?
4. There is nothing pessimistic about this perspective. On the contrary it is the only realistic, the only true perspective, one which consolidates the revolution on the national scale while awaiting its extension on the international arena. In reality it signifies the following orientation: Instead of pursuing the Utopian aim of building, within national boundaries, a “socialist society” independent of world economy, the aim is to attain the most favorable tempo of socialist construction from the point of view of conditions, namely those which flow from internal and external economic conditions, by strengthening the position of the proletariat, by preparing the national elements of the future international socialist society and at the same time and above all systematically improving the standard of living of the proletariat and strengthening its ties with the non-exploiting masses of the countryside.
5. In the last issue of the magazine Communist, theoretical organ of the Yugoslav CP, there appears the first installment of an article called Some questions on criticism and self-criticism in the USSR, which seems to grapple with the problem of the Soviet bureaucracy and the internal situation in the USSR. Unfortunately we have only a synopsis of the article. The writer accuses the Kremlin of leading the USSR in a manner “unbelievable for a socialist country,” and emphasizes the fact that the foreign policy of a country is only an expression of its domestic policy. The writer denounces the situation in which criticism of aspects of Soviet life is monopolized by the Central Committee of the Russian Bolshevik Party and by Stalin in particular; this monopoly makes all “conflict of opinion” impossible. Throughout the country, the leaders conduct themselves as aristocrats “strangling even the economic development of the people.” This monopoly by the leaders leads to the exploitation and subjugation of the Soviet masses. We shall probably return to this study which appears to be the most advanced in its criticism and understanding of the leaders of the USSR and their policy.
6. In accord with the Marxist theory of value, he takes into consideration the socially necessary labor time on a world scale in the formation of world prices. It follows that national inequalities in the intensity and productivity of labor operate in favor of the developed countries to the detriment of backward countries, and that as a result, as Marx said, “the favored countries (the more developed ones) receive more labor in exchange for less labor.”
Updated on: 10 April 2015