MIA: History: ETOL: Documents: International Communist League/Spartacists—PRS 4

Letter on Yugoslavia Sent to the IEC by the RCP (Britain)

Written: 1948
Source: Prometheus Research Library, Prometheus Research Series No. 4, New York, 1993
Transcription/Markup/Proofing: John Heckman.
Public Domain: Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line 2007/Prometheus Research Library. You can freely copy, display and otherwise distribute this work. Please credit the Marxists Internet Archive & Prometheus Research Library as your source, include the url to this work, and note the transcribers & editors above.

The following letter to the International Executive Committee of the Fourth International by British Revolutionary Communist Party leader Jock Haston is undated, but apparently written in the summer of 1948 and was never published in the internal bulletins of the American Socialist Workers Party. The text is taken from a photocopy in the collection of the Prometheus Research Library. Excerpts from the Open Letters by the International Secretariat of the Fourth International cited in the text are from a different translation than the English versions reprinted in this bulletin.

To the IEC

Dear Comrades,

The Yugoslav-Cominform dispute offers the Fourth International great opportunities to expose to rank and file Stalinist militants the bureaucratic methods of Stalinism. It is possible to underline the way in which the Stalinist leaderships suppress any genuine discussion on the conflict by distorting the facts and withholding the replies of the YCP leadership from their rank and file. By stressing such aspects of the Yugoslav expulsion, we can have a profound effect on militants in the Communist Parties.

However, our approach to this major event must be a principled one. We cannot lend credence, by silence on aspects of YCP policy and regime, to any impression that Tito or the leaders of the YCP are Trotskyist, and that great obstacles do not separate them from Trotskyism. Our exposure of the bureaucratic manner of the expulsion of the YCP must not mean that we become lawyers for the YCP leadership, or create even the least illusion that they do not still remain, despite the break with Stalin, Stalinists in method and training.

In our opinion, the Open Letters of the IS to the YCP Congress failed to fulfil these absolutely essential conditions. They failed to pose directly and clearly what is wrong, not only with the CPSU, but with the YCP. The whole approach and the general tone of the letters are such as to create the illusion that the YCP leadership are communists, mistaken in the past, and discovering for the first time the evils of the bureaucratic methods of Moscow, instead of leaders who have actively participated in aiding the bureaucracy and acting as its agents in the past.

The letters appear to be based on the perspective that the leaders of the YCP can be won over to the Fourth International. Under the stress of events, strange transformations of individuals have taken place, but it is exceedingly unlikely, to say the least, that Tito and other leaders of the YCP can again become Bolshevik-Leninists. Tremendous obstacles stand in the way of that eventuality: past traditions and training in Stalinism, and the fact that they themselves rest on a Stalinist bureaucratic regime in Yugoslavia. The letters failed to point out the nature of these obstacles, fail to underline that for the leadership of the YCP to become communists, it is necessary for them not only to break with Stalinism, but to repudiate their own past, their present Stalinist methods, and to openly recognise that they themselves bear a responsibility for the building of the machine now being used to crush them. Here it is not a question of communists facing a “terrible dilemma,” with an “enormous responsibility” weighing on them, to whom we offer modest advice: it is a question of Stalinist bureaucrats becoming communists.

The aim of such Open Letters can only be limited. By placing on record a correct and principled analysis of the role of the Stalinist bureaucracy and that of the YCP leadership, by offering aid to the YCP in a clearly defined communist struggle, the Open Letters could be useful propaganda, aiding the approach to the rank and file seeking a communist lead.

As they stand, however, by their silence on fundamental aspects of the regime in Yugoslavia and YCP policy, the letter strike an opportunist note.

It is not our experience that the most courageous and most independent communist militants “are today stimulated by your [the YCP] action.” The Cominform crisis has rather sown confusion in the CP ranks and disorientated its supporters. That is to our advantage. But although it is a relatively easy task to expose the Cominform manoeuvres, there is sufficient truth in some of their accusations against Tito—particularly with regard to the internal regime, the National Front—to cause among Stalinist rank and filers an uneasiness with regard to the leaders of the YCP. That gives us an opportunity to win these militants not to the cause of Tito, but to Trotskyism.

Tito is attempting, and will attempt, to follow an independent course between Moscow and Washington, without altering the bureaucratic machine or turning to proletarian internationalism. A bureaucratic regime, resting as it does mainly on the peasantry, can have no independent perspective between the Soviet Union and American imperialism. The main emphasis of the letters should have been to show the necessity for a radical break with the present policy of the YCP, the introduction of soviet democracy within the party and the country, coupled with a policy of proletarian internationalism. The position must be posed to Yugoslav militants, not as a choice between three alternatives—the Russian bureaucracy, American imperialism, proletarian internationalism—but, first and foremost, as a choice between proletarian democracy within the regime and party, proletarian internationalism, and the present bureaucratic setup which must inevitably succumb before the Russian bureaucracy or American imperialism.

The IS letters analyse the dispute solely on the plane of the “interference” of the CPSU leaders, as if it were here solely a question of that leadership seeking to impose its will without consideration for the “traditions, the experience and the dealings” of militants. But the dispute is not simply one of a struggle of a Communist Party for independence from the decrees of Moscow. It is a struggle of a section of the bureaucratic apparatus for such independence. The stand of Tito represents, it is true, on the one hand the pressure of the masses against the exactions of the Russian bureaucracy, against the “organic unity” demanded by Moscow, discontent at the standards of the Russian specialists, pressure of the peasantry against too rapid collectivisation. But on the other hand, there is the desire of the Yugoslav leaders to maintain an independent bureaucratic position and further aspirations of their own.

It is not sufficient to lay the crimes of international Stalinism at the door of the leadership of the CPSU. Not only in respect to Yugoslavia, but also in respect to other countries, the Open Letter gives the entirely false impression that it is the Russian leadership which is solely responsible. To pose the relations in the international Stalinist movement in the manner of the IS letter—that the leadership of the CPSU “forced Thorez to disarm the French partisans,” “forced the Spanish communists to declare...that the seizure of the factories...was ‘a treason’,” “completely prohibits the leaderships of the Communist Parties in the capitalist countries from speaking of revolution”—can create illusions that the leaders of the national Stalinist parties could be good revolutionists, if only Moscow would let them. It is true that the degeneration of the CPs flowed basically from the degeneration in the Soviet Union. But the sickness of the Stalinist movement is also accountable by the utter corruption of the national leaderships who are bound up in the bureaucratic machine. These leaders actively participate in the preparation of the crimes. So also for Tito, it was not a matter of having been “forced” to carry out the wished of Moscow in the past.

It is impermissible to slur over the nature of the YCP, its identity on fundamental points with other Stalinist parties. Such a slurring over can only disorientate Stalinist workers. Yet every attempt is made by the IS to narrow the gulf that separates the policy of the YCP from Bolshevik-Leninism. What other conclusion can we draw from statements such as the following:

“...the Cominform accuse you of misunderstanding ‘proletarian internationalism’ and of following a nationalist policy. This is said by that same Russian leadership whose chauvinist propaganda during the war...is largely responsible for the absence of a revolution in Germany, whereas [our emphasis] in Yugoslavia the partisan movement was able to draw to its ranks thousands of proletarian soldiers from the armies of occupation. This is said by Togliatti, who has not hesitated to throw himself, alongside the real fascists of the Movimento Sociale el Italia (MSI), in a chauvinistic campaign for the return to the capitalist fatherland of its former colonies. This is said by Thorez, whose nationalist hysteria on the question of reparations for imperialist France delights the bourgeois heirs of Poincaré.”

It is true that the Yugoslav Stalinists settled, with some success, the national problem inside their own country. It was their programme with regard to this question that enabled them to win over members of the quisling armies. But the comrades must be aware that the propaganda of the YCP towards Germany was of the same chauvinistic character as that of the Russian and other Stalinist parties. The IS letter deals with the necessity for proletarian internationalism in the abstract, without taking up the concrete question of YCP policy today and in the past. It was surely necessary to point out concretely what this proletarian internationalism means, by dealing with the past and present policy of the YCP, which has been no whit less chauvinistic than that of other Stalinist parties. The IS mentions Togliatti’s chauvinism, and Thorez’ nationalist hysteria, and leaves the impression of a favourable comparison between the policy of other Stalinist parties and that of the YCP. We cannot be silent on the YCP’s chauvinistic campaign around Trieste, their attitude towards reparations, their uncritical support for the Russian bureaucracy’s demand for reparations from the German people. It is necessary to take up these questions so that it shall be clear precisely what the gulf is between a nationalist and an internationalist policy, and precisely what it is that Yugoslav militants must struggle against.

But there is another aspect of the IS letters which cannot pass by without the IEC adopting an attitude and expressing an opinion.

The World Congress majority adopted a position that the buffer countries, including Yugoslavia, were capitalist countries. It rejected the resolution of the RCP that these economies were being brought into line with that of the Soviet Union and could not be characterised as capitalist. The amendment of the British party to the section “The USSR and Stalinism” was defeated. But it is evident from these letters that the IS has been forced by events to proceed from the standpoint of the British party, that the productive and political relations in Yugoslavia are basically identical with those of the Soviet Union.

If indeed there exists in Yugoslavia a capitalist state, then the IS letters can only be characterised as outright opportunist. For the IS does not pose the tasks in Yugoslavia which would follow if bourgeois relations existed there as the dominant form. The letters are based on conclusions which can only flow from the premise that the basic overturn of capitalism and landlordism has taken place.

The second Open Letter gives several conditions necessary if Yugoslavia is to go forward with true revolutionary and communist progress. Yet nowhere does [it] call for the destruction of bourgeois relations in the economy and the overturn in the bourgeois system and regime. The tasks laid down in the latter are:

“The committees of the Front...must be organs of soviet democracy....

“To revise the present Constitution [based on that of the Soviet Union]....

“To admit in principle the right of the workers to organise other working class parties, on condition that these latter place themselves in the framework of soviet legality....

“To procure the broadest participate of the masses in the sphere of planning....

“To establish the full sovereignty of the factory committees...to set up a real workers’ control of production.”

And so on. Nowhere did the IS deem it necessary to call on the Yugoslav workers to overthrow capitalism. Had the IS been able to base itself on the World Congress document, that would have been their foremost, principled demand. The comrades will remember that the Congress document gives as its first reason why “the capitalist nature of the buffer zone is apparent,” that “Nowhere has the bourgeoisie as such been destroyed or expropriated.” Why no mention of this in the Open Letters? Of all the seven conditions given in the Congress document as making “apparent” the capitalist nature of Yugoslavia and other buffer countries, the IS letter mentions only one—the nationalisation of the land. But even here, the question of the failure to nationalise the land is raised not from the point of view of proving the capitalist nature of Yugoslavia. It is raised to point out, correctly, that the nationalisation of the land is necessary in order to combat the concentration of income and of land in the hands of the kulaks. The question is raised in the general context of the letter, as an aid to the socialist development of agriculture in a country where capitalism and landlordism have been overthrown, but the danger of a new exploitation is still present in the countryside.

Not only are the main tasks posed in the Open Letter identical to those to be carried out to cleanse a state similar in productive and political relations to the Soviet Union, but we must add that the impression given is that these relations are a great deal healthier than in Russia.

The articles appearing in our international press revealed one thing: the thesis adopted by the World Congress failed to provide a clear guide to the problems that arose from the Cominform-Yugoslav split and the tasks of the revolutionaries in connection with the regime and its economic base.

We appeal to the IEC to reject the orientation in the Open Letter, and to correct and repair the damage which has been done, by re-opening the discussion on the buffer zones and bringing our position into correspondence with the real economic and political developments of these countries.


With fraternal greetings,
J. Haston
on behalf of the Central Committee, RCP