Max Shachtman

Tito versus Stalin

The Beginning of the End of the Russian Empire

(August 1948)

From New International, Vol. XIV No. 6, August 1948, pp. 172–178.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Following is a somewhat condensed version of the speech by Max Shachtman, national chairman of the Worker’s Party, at Labor Temple in New York on July 9. – Ed.

Our epoch is rich in sensational events, richer than any other epoch in history.

At bottom, this fact expresses the conflict between two powerful forces: an unprecedented need and possibility of social peace and order, on the one hand; and on the other, an equally unprecedented social chaos and social uncertainty. Every time these forces collide violently, the world is taken by surprise.

The statesmen, editorial commentators, and bourgeois analysts are bewildered. Proceeding without scientific method, the best they can hope for is an educated guess stimulated by shrewd political intuition; what we get more frequently are wild speculations, tossed off in the hope that one of them may end by making sense.

Lacking scientific understanding and analysis, these commentators are also unable to distinguish between sensational events, between those only of temporary or superficial significance and events which, however brief their duration, have a profound symptomatic significance.

For example: the signing of the Stalin-Hitler pact in 1939 was an event of great importance which threw the entire world into stupefaction. While some observers underrated it, most of them overrated it enormously. Articles, pamphlets and even books were written to claim that the pact proved that Stalinism and fascism were exactly the same thing; that the alliance between the two was politically and socially “natural,” inevitable and unbreakable; and even that the war victory was absolutely guaranteed to these allies. When the pact was shot to bits in the war storm that broke out between these very same allies, the articles, pamphlets and books quickly disappeared from circulation. What proved to be of decisive historical importance was not the fact that Stalin had allied himself with Hitler rather than “democratic” capitalism, but the fact that the phenomenon of Stalinist imperialism had blossomed into the full light of day.

An example of a different kind was the outbreak of the struggle in the revolutionary Russia of 1922–24 between the Soviet bureaucracy and the Trotskyist opposition. The break between Trotsky and the Russian party leadership was the sensation of its day. Apart from Trotsky and a few of his comrades, the entire political world failed to understand the deep, lasting historical significance of the break. It is hard to believe, when we reread some of the writings of the time, that there were serious political persons who disposed of the question by describing it as a mere struggle for power among party leaders – something like a falling out between Roosevelt and Farley, for example. It is, or it certainly should be, clear now that the sensational news of that time signalized nothing less than the beginning of the end of the Russian socialist revolution.

It is this kind of sensational news that we have been reading about since the announcement of the break between Stalinist Russia and Tito’s Yugoslavia.

Regardless of the immediate outcome of the conflict between these two forces, the break has deep and lasting historical significance. Without awaiting any further developments, it is already possible to say with assurance that its symptomatic importance far exceeds its immediate political importance; it is hard to stress too heavily the importance of this spectacular breach that Stalinism has been compelled to drive into its own front.

It signalizes nothing less than the beginning of the end of Stalinism, Russian Stalinism first of all.


Up to only yesterday, Tito’s Yugoslavia was all but universally regarded as an integral and inseparable part of the world behind the Iron Curtain. Next to the Russians themselves, Tito was lauded by the international Stalinist press as its outstanding leader. Yugoslavia was the model of the new “people’s democracies.”

A shuttle service was organized between Belgrade and other world capitals for ten-day sightseeing tours by pastors, journalists, politicians and all sorts of Stalinoids, crypto-Stalinists and real innocents abroad – to bring back the joyous tidings that Yugoslavia was everything men wished: free, happy, on the road to prosperity and, above all, democratic; and that Tito himself was (for American consumption) a compressed Yugoslav edition of Washington, Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. On the other hand, the reactionary capitalist press had not a kind word to say for this paragon of Stalinist virtue.

On June 28, seemingly out of a clear sky, all this was shattered by the bombshell of the Cominform denunciation. The leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party was excommunicated with an uncompromising violence unknown in the ranks of the Stalinist hierarchy. Parallels to this document can be found only in the Stalinist attacks upon Trotsky or Bukharin – and then only long after their opposition to the official bureaucracy had been publicly established. A parallel inside the official leadership does not exist.

The statement of the Cominform was, of course, conceived and written in the Kremlin by the highest, most authoritative and most responsible Russian Stalinist leadership. It is entirely typical: that is, it is coarse and brutal, crude and disloyal, vicious and unprincipled – an authentic product of the Stalinist police literature with which we are so nauseatingly familiar. Every single charge leveled against Tito & Co. is essentially fraudulent, but of that special kind of Stalinist fraud which contains a kernel of truth in every point.

Kernels of Truth

A few interesting examples:

The Yugoslavs are accused of being tolerant toward the capitalistic elements on the countryside, the kulaks, the well-to-do individual peasants, etc. It is entirely possible and even likely that Tito followed such a policy. That is the kernel of truth in the accusation.

What is fraudulent is the concealment of the fact that Stalin and his own bureaucracy in Russia followed exactly the same policy in their time, that they followed it for years in the face of attacks by the Trotskyist opposition, and that they followed it under conditions which, if anything, were ten times less justifiable than in Tito’s Yugoslavia. In order to consolidate himself over the working class, in order to starve or intimidate or crush it into submission, the Russian Stalinists did not hesitate for years to rely upon (indeed, to ally themselves with) the most reactionary elements in the country, above all with the reactionary agrarian elements. Even on the face of it, Tito has done no more than that.

The Yugoslavs are then accused of having made an adventuristic turn to forced collectivization, to liquidation of the kulaks as a class, to over rapid and overheavy grain taxation of the peasants, to hasty and unprepared nationalization of small enterprises, factories and retail shops. There is undoubtedly a kernel of truth in this accusation too.

What is fraudulent, again, is the concealment of the fact that the Russian bureaucracy in its own development set Tito a model on this score which he has apparently been following without deviation. Modern history records no more disastrous and adventuristic economic policy than that followed by Stalin & Co. in the period of forced collectivization, in the period of the overnight liquidation of the kulaks as a class, the period of the early ’30s.

It is an essential part of the history and social nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy that, once it has consolidated its power over the working class with the aid of capitalist and semi-capitalist forces, it turns sooner or later against these forces and proceeds to destroy them politically, economically and physically. It is an essential part of the social nature of this bureaucracy that it shares power with other classes only when they are strong enough to impose this partnership upon it, but that it drives incessantly and inexorably to deprive other classes of any and all kinds of power. It cannot share power with any other social layer.

That was and is the course of Stalinism in Russia and in the other countries where they have power. It is the course of the Stalinists in Yugoslavia as well.

The Cominform’s Camouflage

If the Kremlin now emphasizes these points in its Cominform declaration, it has three purposes in doing so:

  1. to appear to have a bigger case against Tito from the standpoint of Marxist theory;
  2. to appeal with customary demagogy, at one and the same time, to the rank-and-file Stalinist worker who may have wanted a more active policy against the peasant owners and to the peasant owner who certainly considers Tito’s new course to be “hasty” and “bureaucratic”; and
  3. to minimize the proportions of and thereby obscure the real reasons for the denunciation and the break.

No one in his senses who has the vaguest notion about the Stalinist movement can even entertain the idea that the Kremlin launched this attack upon its Yugoslav brethren because of their theoretical or even practical errors with respect to the peasant question. If Tito persisted in such errors and crimes for another ten years, he would still run far behind the Russian Stalinists in this field.

The same holds true with regard to the Cominform attacks on Tito for his police regime, bureaucratic domination of his party, intolerance of criticism, etc. Monstrous as the totalitarian regime in Yugoslavia incontestably is, and true as all these charges are, Tito’s real crime here is that he has only emulated the Russian party and governmental regime to the best of his ability. Here too he would need another ten years to catch up with the Russians’ record in infamy, terror and tyranny.

The real reasons for the attack – insofar as this hypocritical document gives real reasons – are contained in the very beginning and at the very end of the Cominform statement:

[The] Yugoslav leaders began identifying the foreign policy of the USSR with the foreign policy of the imperialist powers, and have behaved toward the USSR in the same manner as toward bourgeois states.

They circulated propaganda and gossip

borrowed from the arsenal of counter-revolutionary Trotskyism, such as “the degeneration of the Communist Party of the USSR,” and “the degeneration of the Soviet Union,” etc.

They permitted

an undignified policy ... of ridiculing Soviet military specialists and discrediting the Soviet army. Soviet civilian specialists in Yugoslavia have been subjected to a special system of being watched, and have been followed about by organs of the state police.

The Russians insist on their exclusive monopolistic rights in this sphere, and they will not tolerate having their own police spies watched and followed by other police spies, especially not by the police spies of a country which is supposed to behave like a Russian vassal and no more!

Furthermore, the Yugoslavs

greatly overestimated the national strength and possibilities of Yugoslavia. They imagine they can secure Yugoslav independence as well as develop socialism without the help of the Communist Parties of other countries, without the help of the people’s democracies, and [this is the rub] without the support of the Soviet Union.

And they

think that by making a number of concessions toward the imperialist states they can secure their favor and negotiate with them over the independence of Yugoslavia, and gradually orient the Yugoslav nation toward these states – that is, toward capitalism.

It is on the basis of these accusations, even though they are couched in demagogical and obscurantist phraseology, that we can understand what has happened and why.


In the course of the war the Russian bureaucracy abandoned all pretense of adhering to the theory of “socialism in one country,” that is, of Stalinism in one country – that is, once again, of the ideology and even the practice of autarchy, national self-sufficiency, which had been a necessary preliminary step toward its expansion. Understanding far better than the world bourgeoisie the irreconcilable nature of the conflict, it proceeded (wherever politically and militarily possible) to extend its power abroad in order to preserve its power at home.

Why the Stalinists Mushroomed

It was able to do this for the following five reasons, primarily:

  1. Because of the conflict between the Axis powers and the Anglo-American powers;
  2. Because the countries which it was able to take over had a bourgeoisie which was either very primitive, weak and tiny, or very heavily discredited by collaboration with fascism-therefore comparatively easy game for the Russians and their agents to dominate and destroy;
  3. Because these countries had a working class which was either exhausted in bloody battles or demoralized and atomized by heavy defeats; and so distorted in its political consciousness that it saw in the Stalinist army a sort of representative of socialism, or at least of a progressive anti-capitalist force;
  4. Because these countries had a peasantry which had suffered so long under semi-feudal conditions that it could be attracted to an agrarian reform that seemed progressive, through the apparent distribution of the large feudal and semi-feudal estates among the peasants;
  5. Because these countries had a native Stalinist bureaucracy, or one could be developed, which could be relied upon to administer the government for the benefit of the Kremlin.

Almost overnight, this gave Stalinism a power in Europe which appeared overwhelming to many, which astounded all, and which brought into the working-class and revolutionary movements a degree of pessimism, demoralization, disorientation and doubt of the possibilities of proletarian action from which they are still suffering.

It is important to note, therefore, the reasons for the successful imperialist expansion of Stalinism in Europe are now beginning to disappear one by one; or else are beginning to be transformed into reasons for a crisis in Stalinism that can end only in its destruction. These transformations are different in kind and political weight, but all of them have their unmistakable effect.

Stalinism on the Decline

In the first place, the division in the capitalist camp is, to all practical intents, at an end. In any case, there is nothing like the division that existed from 1939 onward and which gave Stalinist Russia such tremendous room for maneuvering. In spite of all the differences that still exist among them, the capitalist world under American imperialist leadership and drive is developing an increasingly solid front against Russian imperialism.

Secondly: The Stalinists have effectively succeeded in wiping out the bourgeoisie as a class, as any kind of serious power, in all the countries they have taken over – at least of wiping them out to the point where all that remains, so to speak, is a “lumpenbourgeoisie.” This removes a social force which complicated the political picture for the working class in those countries. And above all it bares the Stalinist bureaucracy as the only class that exploits and oppresses the masses, the only class that can be held responsible for the situation in the country, the only class against which the struggle of the masses for freedom can be directed. Fewer and fewer people in these countries think of going back to capitalist private property and capitalist class rule; more and more think of going forward from Stalinism.

Thirdly: The illusions that existed among the workers about the progressive or revolutionary character of the Stalinist parties are being dissipated not only outside the occupied countries but also inside those countries, We have seen this directly in the decline of the Stalinist parties in Italy, Germany, Finland, Holland, Austria and other countries, We have seen this indirectly in the desperation with which the Stalinists drove toward totalitarian control in Czechoslovakia rather than risk the test of even a semi-free election. We have seen this indirectly in the hesitation of the Stalinists to take totalitarian control in Poland and totalitarian action against the working-class opposition which exists inside the collaborationist Socialist Party.

Fourthly: Reports on the situation of the peasantry are not voluminous or very clear, but it is becoming evident that many of the peasants who at first welcomed the fraudulent “agrarian reforms” of the Stalinists in the Iron Curtain countries are now turning in the direction of opposition, They are beginning to realize that the so-called reforms have meant nothing more than the replacement of the feudal lords by a tyrannical state-police regimentation on the land which yields them neither the benefits of private ownership nor the vaster benefits and real freedom of a socialist reorganization of agriculture.

And now, fifthly and finally, the situation has changed with regard to the native Stalinist bureaucracy of the conquered countries. The contradictions of the Stalinist empire, inherent and potential up to now, the conflicts between the national sections of the Stalinist bureaucracy, are beginning to manifest themselves in a most significant and welcome way.

Nature of the CP Bureaucracy

There is nothing idealistic about the Stalinist bureaucracy in any country. The Russian Stalinists do not reward the Polish Stalinists with office and power in Poland because they both believe in the same principles or theories, The Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia is concerned – first, last and always – with the preservation and extension of its own power.

It is a commonplace that an imperialist power can rule over another nation more easily by means of servile nationals of that country than by means of its own national agents. The former system is preferable from every point of view, and every imperialist power from the earliest down to Hitler and Stalin has been aware of it.

Russian imperialism has found in the Stalinist bureaucracies of the conquered countries a more or less reliable and servile agent through which to rule. Up to now it appeared to work smoothly – so smoothly that the very same people who scoffed at Hitler’s dreams of a thousand-year Reich began themselves to have the gloomiest nightmares of a thousand-year empire of Stalinism.

But if the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy is not animated by idealistic considerations, neither are the Stalinist bureaucracies in the countries where the Russians have installed them in power. The latter have their independent aims.

Our Workers Party made this point some time ago, and it is a point of fundamental and decisive importance. To this day it has not even been understood by the so-called “orthodox Trotskyists” – that is, those people who believe that, having labeled themselves “Trotskyists,” they have thereby acquired a lifetime dispensation from the burden of using their heads for the purpose of thinking.

More than two years ago, we pointed out that the Stalinist bureaucracy is not a tool of capitalism either in Russia or in the capitalist countries. In the capitalist countries the Stalinists remain agents of the Russian bureaucracy, loyal to that bureaucracy and in no sense a capitalist party – in fact, no more a capitalist party than they are a working-class party. Where they do the dirty work of the capitalist class it is only because such suits the needs and interests of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy – the only one with the commanding authority which comes with possession of state power.

In other words, in the capitalist countries the Stalinist parties are for hire to the capitalist class but not for sale to that class. And the hiring hall is not in New York or London or Paris or Berlin, but only in Moscow.

Not Merely Agents of Moscow

But, we pointed out. In addition, the Stalinist parties of the capitalist countries are not merely agents of Moscow, of the Russian bureaucracy. They are agents only up to the point where they are themselves established in their respective countries as powers that can play, or hope to play, an independent role – independent of the capitalist class, which they proceed to eliminate; independent of the Moscow bureaucracy insofar as they acquire the power to permit such a role.

This means that the bureaucracy outside of Russia docs not have as its aim in life the support of the Russian Stalinist bureaucracy. The former supports Russia only insofar as that support makes possible the realization of its own ambitions at home – power in its own name and in its own country. That is the great if not very elevating dream of every aspiring Stalinist bureaucrat throughout the world: Someday my friends and I shall enjoy the same power in our own country that my Russian comrades now enjoy in Russia ...

What else could the social-political psychology, the social ambition, of the Stalinist bureaucrats be? Every agent dreams of becoming the principal, even if it is not every agent to whom it is vouchsafed ever to become a principal. If the dreams of the William Z. Fosters and Eugene Dennises are pretty remote as yet, the dreams of the Ana Paukers in Rumania and the Mathias Rakosis in Hungary are much less remote, at least in their own minds.

Why indeed should they content themselves with remaining forever the mere parrots of Moscow, vassals and tools? Why, even more concretely, should they be content with accepting and carrying out the orders from the Moscow bureaucracy which provide for such an organization of the economies of their own countries as plunders them for the benefit of the Russian ruling class alone? They are not starryeyed idealists, and they are certainly not Russian idealists!

They are with Russia insofar as it is necessary to present a common front against their class enemies – the working class at home and the capitalist nations abroad. But in the long run they must strive for a greater and ever greater degree of independence from their Russian masters, in fundamentally the same way that the rising bourgeoisie of the colonial countries seek increasing independence from the big capitalist nations that rule them.

The proof of this inexorable tendency is given by the Tito split, and it is this tendency which gives the event its supreme significance.

When Tito is accused of behaving toward Russia “in the same manner as toward the bourgeois states,” the Russian Stalinists are speaking of nothing but this tendency we have analyzed. When Tito is accused of greatly overestimating the national strength of Yugoslavia, of trying to achieve “socialism” (that is, the consolidation of the Yugoslav bureaucracy) “without the support of the Soviet Union,” when the other denunciations we have cited are hurled, the Russian Stalinists are saying the same thing in different ways: You are exaggerating your own strength and. underestimating ours! Don’t get any grandiose notions into your head! Be content with the role of your fellow vassals in Poland, Rumania and Bulgaria ...

Tito’s Drives

Why did the break come with Yugoslavia and not with any of the other satellites? Why did Tito dare what the others only dream behind closed doors?

Stalinism in Yugoslavia differs from Stalinism in the other “people’s democracies” only in that it is in a more favorable and more advanced position.

Of all the countries conquered by Russia, Yugoslavia is the only one where the Stalinist bureaucracy came to power without the direct aid of the Russian army. While the leading Stalinist cadres in the other countries were brought to power riding on the gun carriages of Russian troops, Tito and his cadre fought their way to power in the course of a great national struggle on Yugoslav soil. They are thus not only less obligated to Moscow but they have a far greater feeling of self-confidence, as well as a mass base which follows them not merely because they appear as representatives of Moscow but because of their own achievements. It is obvious from the Cominform charges that Tito has stressed in Yugoslavia that the country was not freed by Russia, not even by “our great comrade, Stalin,” but by Tito.

There is evidently another reason for the stiff attitude of Tito toward Moscow. Yugoslavia is the Stalinist country which is furthest west from Russia and nearest the Western powers. The government has special interest in maintaining less hostile relations with them. Yugoslavia would be a victim of the war a long time before Moscow; it would be one of the first to be overrun by the capitalist armies – if these do any overrunning at all – whereas Moscow would be one of the last of the Stalinist strongholds to suffer.

Like all the European countries, Yugoslavia is extremely weak from the devastation of the war. It is, to be sure, not as poor as others but in any case it urgently requires aid. Where can aid be obtained? From Russia? Russia takes from its satellites and gives little or nothing in return.

Yugoslavia can think of emerging from its misery only by strengthening its economic position. The bureaucracy, typically Stalinist, has gone some distance in this respect, primarily by statifying production, eliminating the bourgeoisie as an economic force and by super-exploitation of forced labor. But this has not brought the country or the bureaucracy very far – certainly not far enough.

A next step is an old Southeast European dream: a Balkan federation which would pool the resources of all the Balkan lands. Such a Stalinist Balkan federation would be dominated by the Tito bureaucracy as the representative of the most important and advanced Balkan state. There is no possibility of doubting that Tito (and not Tito alone) has been working toward this objective for some time.

Moscow Vetoes

It will be remembered that as recently as January of this year Dimitrov, the Bulgarian Stalinist boss, put out a trial balloon in his proposal for a Balkan federation. Pravda, the chief Stalinist paper in Russia, issued an exceptionally violent denunciation of the proposal; Dimitrov got the point, and pulled in his horns. What was immediately clear was the ambitions of the newly crowned Stalinists on the one hand, and on the other the impossibility of the Russians ever tolerating any confederation which would link their vassals into a bigger power that might acquire the strength to cease being vassals. Dimitrov was simply in a much less favorable position to pursue his proposal than is Tito.

Another next step, in the minds of the Yugoslav Stalinists, was undoubtedly the idea of tapping the possibilities of Marshall Plan aid for a Stalinist state which appeared to be somewhat less dependent upon Moscow than the others. This is almost explicitly stated in the Cominform’s charges. In other words, Tito played with the idea of maneuvering with American imperialism in much the same way as Stalin’s Russia has done on previous occasions – not in order to “sell out” to American imperialism, not in order to “capitulate” to it, but to gain the maximum benefits for the Yugoslav bureaucracy.

Here too Moscow stepped in with an iron-gloved veto. Its imposing political front in Europe would have been broken at one point, and an important one, thus opening up the possibility of its being broken at other points and in any case weakening the international position of Russia. It will be remembered that Stalin interposed a brutal veto several months ago against the Czechs even sending a delegate to the Marshall Plan conference.

The totalitarian Stalinist regime can no more tolerate the slightest measure of independence in its foreign empire than it can at home. The smallest crevice that is opened can become a gulf with amazing rapidity. The risk is intolerable. The attempt to keep the new Stalinist empire in a vise cannot succeed for long. As in Hitler’s case, the vise will give, then crack, then fall to pieces.

And this will be all the more true the tighter Stalin tries to turn the vise. It will be truer the more countries and peoples Stalin tries to hold in the vise. Stalinist imperialism is proving to be no stronger, in any fundamental sense, than the more familiar capitalist imperialism of our time.


It is important to note that not only have Tito and his gang refused to knuckle under and “confess” before the Cominform blast but that they have indeed openly and aggressively defied it – that is, defied Russia. Toward the smaller satellites of Russia like Albania, they have adopted an even more aggressive and (by the way) equally imperialistic and tyrannical attitude. It is obvious that, while far from secure, Tito is neither terrified nor without hope and perspective.

In the first place, as against Russian domination, he appears to have the support of virtually the entire population of the country. Given even a partial opportunity, the people have left no doubt as to what they think of the Kremlin tyranny and brutality, where up to yesterday we were allowed to hear only hosannas.

Tito also undoubtedly counts on being able to exploit the conflict between Washington and Moscow. More important, he also counts unquestionably on a growing sympathy from his brethren in the occupied countries. He is saying, in effect, to the Polish, Rumanian, Bulgarian and other Stalinist bureaucrats: “United among ourselves, we can be a more or less independent force, allied with Russia to be sure, but not her vassals; pursuing a course which will be a hundred times more favorable to us than the present one. If you allow Moscow to crush me today, you will remain crushed yourselves, or you will be crushed tomorrow.” And his listeners do not need to review or even read the documents to know what is at stake; they need only look into their own hearts and minds.

The “Hards” and the “Softs”

In the very nature of the situation, such an appeal must find a favorable echo among these Stalinist bureaucracies, even if their political and military situation at the moment does not make it easy to voice it openly. Whatever the fate of this appeal in the immediate future, whatever the fate of Tito himself indeed, the echo will continue to resound.

And the Yugoslavs undoubtedly count upon the possibility of a rift in the ranks of the Russian bureaucracy itself. That is the only possible meaning of Tito’s direct appeal to Stalin.

Not, of course, that Tito is under the impression that Stalin himself was other than directly responsible for the Cominform break. He must surely know that his appeal is not calculated to get Stalin to disown the Cominform action. It was directed toward other goals. If Stalin is silent or directly endorses the statement, it will be easier to discredit him and his authority inside Yugoslavia and to a certain extent in the other occupied countries, and enhance Tito’s new role of “protector” of the independence of Yugoslavia and the other non-Russian Stalinist countries.

In addition, the appeal is directed at the “soft” sections of the Russian bureaucracy. An intelligent bureaucrat himself, Tito understands the mechanism of bureaucracy and is aware of the basic trends in the Russian apparatus.

What is involved here holds especially for a totalitarian bureaucracy. This most imposing of mechanisms, which looks so solid, is solid only in “normal” times. At every critical moment, whenever faced with a critical decision, it must by its very nature reveal a “hard” wing and a “soft” wing – those who are in favor of reaching the goal immediately by driving through full steam ahead, and those who are in favor of reaching the goal a little later, by indirection, by seeking a breathing spell.

It is this inevitable division in the ranks of every tyrannical bureaucracy that opens up, at every critical moment, the possibility of its disintegration and collapse. We have observed this throughout modern history, from the last days of the czar to the last days of Hitler. We will undoubtedly see it in the last days of Stalinism. A division of this kind, once it becomes serious, impels one or the other wing to seek support outside the ruling circles. And that means opening a rift through which up-to-then dormant masses may pour and inundate the bureaucracy as a whole.

Tito’s appeal to Moscow is an attempt to open or deepen a rift in Moscow – to pit those who are for holding the front by making concessions to Tito, against those who are for holding the front by crushing Tito instantaneously and ruthlessly.

The Beginning of the End

Immediately, anyone of many outcomes is possible, The situation is at its beginning and not at its end. I would exclude one variant out of hand; any possibility that Tito will make peace with Western capitalism by capitulation to the extent of liquidating the bureaucratic-collectivist state established in the image of the Russian regime, by moving toward the restoration of capitalism. That is excluded because it is the conscious road to suicide for the bureaucracy, which has nothing whatsoever to gain by restoring economic and therefore political power to the capitalist class – a foreign capitalist class at that, since there is nothing left of Yugoslav capitalism except the insignificant lumpen-bourgeoisie.

What measures and pressures Stalin can apply on Yugoslavia are yet to be seen. Certainly Stalin cannot possibly allow the status quo continue there through impotence. Tito’s’ example is infectious, and if he survives after his defiance the whole process of disintegration within the Stalinist empire will only be speeded up. Moscow must try to cut him down.

The biggest crisis in its history is now faced by Stalinism, The mutiny of Tito has become a sort of symbol of rebellion against Russian slavery on the part of millions of people who do not necessarily have any illusions about the character of Tito’s own totalitarianism. It is enough to record the upsurge of enthusiasm for the mutiny on the part of the Yugoslav people. It is enough to mention the defiant demonstration of tens of thousands of Czechs which took place in connection with the Sokol parade in Prague – marching men and women who, though having nothing in common with Tito’s Stalinism, yet shouted his name as a challenge to the Gottwalds, Slanskys and Zapotockys, the quislings who usurped power in their land. It is enough to add the rout of the Stalinists in the Finnish and Dutch elections which followed on the heels of the Yugoslav events and which were undoubtedly heavily influenced by them.

We do not know, I repeat, what the immediate outcome of this particular conflict will be. But we can already say with utmost confidence: the road to the consolidation of Stalinism is beset with obstacles which are insurmountable!

The wider the spread of Stalinism the closer it has come to convulsing crises which bring down upon it not only greater discredit but also the sharp edges of the sword that has always dangled over its bloody head. The yearning of the peoples for freedom, for independence, for self-government – which are, in the last analysis, their yearning for socialist liberty – is incompatible with Stalinist tyranny and will come into ever more deadly conflict with it.

In the darkest days of Stalinist power, as in the darkest days of Hitlerite rule, we insisted that this is not the era for the consolidation of a new slave empire, that it will not be able to immunize itself against upheavals and crises, that it will not be able to withstand the murderous process of the development of its own contradictions.

Now this seemingly monolithic bureaucracy has broken wide open, and the people once again have the opportunity to move. To both sides of the rival tyrants we say:

Go to it bandits! Deepen the rift between you! The people will surge through the opening which you create because you have to create it. And when they do, your knell will have sounded, the knell of all of you – and the hour of the people will begin to strike its challenging, liberating note!


Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 27 December 2015