Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index  |   ETOL Main Page

George Breitman

Yugoslavia and the Shachtmanites

(May 1951)

From Fourth International, Vol.12 No.3, May-June 1951, pp.84-85.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

For two and a half years the scribes of the Independent Socialist League, formerly the Workers Party (Shachtmanites), wrote scores of articles to demonstrate that “Titoism” is only another form of Stalinism, and just as reactionary. Simultaneously, they hysterically denounced the Socialist Workers Party and the Fourth International for approaching the Yugoslav Communist Party sympathetically and trying to influence its development in a revolutionary Marxist direction.

Now, however, judging from an article by Henry Judd in the March-April issue of the New International, the ISL line seems in process of change. Judd was one of the noisiest critics of our policy on Yugoslavia; only four months before the present article his summation of the entire Yugoslav development since the split with the Kremlin was that “the direction in Yugoslavia is away from socialism and Workers’ Statism.” Now — after throwing up the smokescreen that “all” parties suffered from “short-sightedness, superficiality and a failure to grasp the full significance of this [Yugoslav] development,” with the Trotskyists “of course” being the “outstanding example of this” — he declares:

“Titoism must now be redefined as a legitimate and serious international tendency, politically and ideologically, within the revolutionary movement; it must be recognized as the first of many other similar developments which, springing out of the world of Stalinism, must be accepted as harbingers of new, hitherto unknown, ideological currents with which socialists must sympathetically collaborate.”

This is the position that we have taken, both in words and actions, ever since the Tito-Stalin split three years ago. And this is the position that Judd and the ISL kept denouncing not only as shortsighted, ignorant, etc., but as a capitulation to Stalinism.

How account for this sudden turnabout? Judd tries to explain it away (even while apologizing for the old ISL line in the past) in the following manner:

“The real fact of the matter is that both in terms of internal political ideology and international politics, Titoism has already passed beyond its early characteristics which permitted it to be defined more or less correctly, if abstractly, as a Stalinist movement, or a bureaucratic clique seeking to retain power by a neutralist position in a divided world.”

Judd does not explicitly indicate what “early characteristics” he is referring to, and he remains very vague about when it was that Titoism passed beyond them. But because this is the central issue, we ourselves must stress that the policies of the Yugoslav leaders have undergone important shifts since 1948, and show both what these shifts were and when they took place.

  1. From the middle of 1948 to about the middle of 1949. This was the period when the Yugoslav CP leaders tried to minimize their differences with the Kremlin, withheld from the workers the full details and history of the split, refused to engage in any criticism of Stalin and Stalinism, and in general left the way open for a reconciliation.
  2. From the middle of 1949 to the late summer or fall of 1950. Now the Yugoslav leaders, faced with a tightening Cominform blockade and openly designated as targets for assassination by the GPU, took a decided turn to the left. They began to re-examine some of the fundamental theories of Stalinism, the nature of the Soviet bureaucracy, etc., and to move toward conclusions in accord with those of Marxism. They disclosed the full history of their dispute with the Kremlin, called on the workers of the world to return to Leninism, and undertook a number of democratic reforms within their own country. At the same time they proclaimed a foreign policy of independence from both Washington and Moscow, although (his policy even then was not without serious faults.
  3. From the fall of 1950 to the present time. The outbreak of the war in Korea brought an increased danger of a Kremlin-directed assault on Yugoslavia together with increased pressure from Washington for concessions from Belgrade in return for material aid to combat the famine threatening the country. The Yugoslav leaders drew back, especially in, their foreign policy, endorsed the UN policy on Korea, promised to go to war on the side of the UN anywhere in Europe, and began to make compromising advances to the international Social Democracy.

When was it, according to Judd, that Titoism changed from “a Stalinist movement” into “a legitimate and serious international tendency, politically and ideologically, within the revolutionary movement?” Was it in 1949, when the Yugoslav leaders were moving to the left? Or was it at the end of 1950, when they were unmistakably moving to the right and collaboration with US imperialism?

Judd evades a direct answer. But it sticks out all over his article — in the timing of his decision that a “redefinition” of Titoism is in order, in the way he denounces us for criticizing the present anti-internationalist foreign policy of the Yugoslav regime, and above all in his insistence that “Titoism is clearly deepening the gap between itself and Stalinism.”

What does Judd mean by this? A year ago Titoism was engaging in a furious ideological struggle against Stalinism and dealing the Kremlin damaging blows that reverberated all over Eastern and Western Europe — and from the left. But nothing Tito did then could produce the slightest expression of support from the ISL. What new thing has been added that persuades Judd a genuine change for the better has taken place within Titoism? Only one thing — Tito has abandoned his hesitant moves to the left in the international field, submitted to the pressure of Washington and apparently decided that his future is linked with the camp of US imperialism.

From the viewpoint of Marxism, Tito is actually less anti-Stalinist today than he was a year ago, for now he has completely reverted to the kind of foreign policy he learned in the Kremlin school — collaboration with imperialism, apologetics for the imperialist powers he hopes will aid him as allies, dependence on the UN, and so on. In other words, the very changes in Tito’s policy which endanger the revolutionary future of Yugoslavia and merit the sharpest criticism of revolutionary socialists are just the ones that have earned Judd’s admiration and endorsement.

Thus the thinking that underlies Judd’s revision is far more revealing than the revision itself — thinking that Judd shares with most of his fellow ISL leaders, including some who are not yet ready to subscribe to his new position on Yugoslavia.

The fashion on Titoism, so far as American petty bourgeois radicals and Stalinophobes are concerned, is set in Washington. Judd may not be aware of this, but he reacts to it instinctively; that is why he is the most reliable weathervane of the ISL leadership. Proceeding in the belief that his policy of both yesterday and today contributes to the struggle against Stalinism, which the ISL regards as its No.1 enemy, he is actually twisted and turned by the pressure of the tail-end of American imperialism.

The Shachtmanites don’t know where they are going, but almost everyone else does. Long before Judd began his “redefinition,” it was predicted by our movement. As Murry Weiss put it in his political report on the Yugoslav question at the SWP Convention last November:

“The Social Democrats and centrists, who belatedly recognized the importance of the Yugoslav affair, are attracted to the worst features of the Yugoslav Communist Party and its policies. They are ‘Titoist’ whenever there is any indication of a swing to the right [on the part of the Yugoslav leaders] ... As for the Shachtmanites — they are not in our class camp but are simply a special case of left Social Democracy.”

A special case of left Social Democracy, but one which is steadily losing its special traits. This is manifested not only by their policy on Yugoslavia, but by their advocacy that labor participate in capitalist party primaries, their unceasing internal dispute over whether or not to support US imperialism in Korea and the next world war, the increasing concessions which the openly social-patriotic and pro-war wing of the organization wrings from its opponents.

The Shachtmanites are an instructive example of the consequences of Stalinophobia in the present tense world situation. They originally split away from the Socialist Workers Party in 1940, saying they could not remain in one party with advocates of the defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism. Today they feel at home in one party with advocates of support of imperialist war against the Soviet Union. What price Third Camp?

Breitman Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 2.2.2006