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Joseph Vanzler

Socialism in Yugoslavia?

The Djilas Case and the Tito Regime

(Summer 1954)

From Fourth International, Vol.15, No.3, Summer 1954, pp.104-153.
Transcribed by Daniel Gaido.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The case of Milovan Djilas, Tito’s personal friend, formerly one of the top figures in Belgrade and once the acknowledged leading theoretician of the Yugoslav party, has attracted worldwide attention and comment. In a series of articles written from Oct. 11, 1953, to Jan. 7, 1954, for Borba, central newspaper of the Yugoslav party, and for the January issue of the magazine New Thought (Nova Misao), Djilas raised a whole number of theoretical and political issues. However, these pale into the background when compared with the theoretical and political issues posed by Tito himself at the emergency plenary sessions of the Yugoslav party’s Central Committee which was convened on Jan. 16-17, 1954, to take up solely the Djilas case.

Djilas’ views have received considerable notice. But Tito’s views in this same connection merit by far the greater attention; and, moreover, they place Djilas’ conceptions in correct focus. For this reason we think it fitting to discuss the Djilas case by starting with the official position as laid down by Tito.

At the January plenum of the Central Committee Tito presented two main—and mutually exclusive—propositions in the Djilas affair. In the first place, he said, it was simply a case of a single individual. Djilas’ actions and opinions, said Tito, were Djilas’ “own product — they represent, his own opinions.” Secondly, the actions and opinions of this single individual, unless counteracted, would have the most disastrous consequences; they would lead to nothing less than the liquidation of the Yugoslav regime, within a single year, and without any internal struggle.

Tito was quite emphatic on this point. Here is how strongly he put it:

“For if we were to permit this [that is, the propagation of Djilas’ views], within one year our socialist reality would not exist—it would not exist, I tell you,—and this, without even a bloody struggle.”

The official resolution adopted by the plenum of the Yugoslav Central Committee treated the same theme. It charged Djilas with having “confused public opinion and seriously harmed not only the League of Communists but also the interests of the country.”

The resolution further stated that by his activities Djilas

“provided a political basis for the splitting up of the ideological and organizational unity of the League of Communists, and for its liquidation.”

These formulations are obviously much milder than Tito’s own words, but the implications are identical.

New “Socialist Reality”?

Before dealing with Djilas’ views, however important they may be, it is obviously in place to take up this far more important question, raised by Tito and the emergency plenum—the question of how the views of a single individual, shared allegedly by no other’ prominent Yugoslav leader, could possibly lead to such far-reaching historical results as the speedy and bloodless overthrow of the Yugoslav “socialist reality.”

From the Marxist standpoint such a proposition is an absurdity. Even the shakiest of social regimes cannot be overthrown by the “opinions” and “conceptions” of isolated individuals, let alone those of a single person. Such overturns require the intervention of social forces, of classes. Tito and his colleagues, including Djilas, have for years maintained that a new “socialist reality” exists in Yugoslavia. If this has any meaning at all, it means that new social institutions, resting upon new productive relations, have come into, existence in Yugoslavia — and not at all a mere new selection of individuals on the basis of commonly held opinions or conceptions. Such new institutions and productive relations cannot be destroyed otherwise than by force; “conceptions” alone are here quite powerless. This is what Marxism has always taught. Belgrade now affirms the opposite.

The resolution of the emergency plenum makes only a perfunctory attempt to explain the source from which Djilas’ views derive their miraculous destructive powers. This explanation consists of a brief reference to “comrade Djilas’ functions in the League of Communists,” The Kremlin theoreticians have always distinguished themselves by their individualistic fetishism with regard to leadership. It is from, the leaders: above all the Leader-in-Chief, that all successes and blessings flow—that is the credo and cult of Stalinism. It was left for the Titoites to go the Stalinists one better, locating miraculous powers not merely in “leaders” but, if you please, in the “functions” of given offices! This is not Marxism, but a caricature of a caricature.

Tito personally made a more serious attempt at an explanation. He ascribed the vast injurious power of Djilas’ conceptions to the following three factors: (1) the prevailing moods in the country; (2) the instability of a certain section of the Yugoslav party; (3) the general conditions which prevail “during the phase of the peaceful revolutionary evolution.”

Tito affirmed that “there still are incredibly large remnants of all possible conceptions” in Yugoslavia. Now “remnants,” even “incredibly large” ones, in the minds of people cannot represent a serious danger to an existing “socialist reality.” These “remnants” may fume and rage all they please, but they are powerless to do anything. Psychological mood—and even more so, “remnants” of these moods—weigh but as a feather against the power of social institutions and productive relations.

“Socialist reality” has advanced so far in Yugoslavia that it is possible to discuss not only the “withering away of the state” but also the withering away of the party as a long-range process, according to Tito—who added, by the way, that he was “the first to speak about the withering away of the party” in this long-range sense.

If “remnants” of psychological moods are dangerous, it can only be because alien class forces are raising their heads in Yugoslavia. But this can only mean that Yugoslav “socialist reality” is not a reality at all, but a delusion, if not a deliberate deception.

Elsewhere in his speech Tito describes the process as a sequence of

“incredibly harmful consequences [that] started to unfold like a ball of melting snow lolling down the roof.”

In other words, Tito uses the term “remnants” as a euphemistic expression for something that is just the opposite of “remnant”—namely, the new surge of boldness and confidence among the counterrevolutionary forces, still powerful inside the country. He admitted as much when he said that

“within a very short lapse of time ... reaction and all the wavering and unhealthy elements at home started to raise their head, to say nothing of reaction in the West ...”

Counterrevolution at home, aided and abetted by imperialism abroad—that is the real danger. But Tito preferred to skirt around it, to minimize it.

Situation in the Party

So much for the real situation in Yugoslavia as disclosed by the Djilas case. Let us now pass to the situation inside the Yugoslav party. Tito expressed complete confidence in the “enormous majority” of the party membership, but simultaneously warned sharply, not about a tiny minority, but about

“thousands upon thousands who would strengthen the ranks of the waverers and of various kinds of adventurers, and who could do immense harm.”

This is an astonishing admission. It is far more ominous than anything charged by Djilas. According to Tito, in the ranks of the victorious and ruling, party there today exist “thousands upon thousands” of potential, if not actual, recruits for the counterrevolution. As of March of this year, the total party membership was officially given as 700,030. (Vice President Rankovich gives the number of party members dropped or expelled by the end of 1953 as 70,604, or roughly one tenth of the total membership.)

This admission is far graver than any of the charges levelled against Djilas. It is indeed a dangerous situation. If anybody bears responsibility for such a danger, it is the Yugoslav leadership. Yet neither Tito nor the rest of the plenum proposed to do anything about it.

Worse yet. Tito tried to explain it away as a normal state of affairs consequent upon any and every victorious workers’ revolution. Here we come to Tito’s “general” and “objective” explanation of the situation. The gist of his explanation is this:

“During the phase of the peaceful revolutionary evolution, that is to say, when the situation becomes very difficult, and especially when things do not go along easily and as fast as some have reasoned and imagined they can go, then the weaklings slowly begin to raise hands, to throw the spear in the bush, or to seek to go faster, without asking whether it is possible to go faster at all. They look for all sorts of excuses, for all sorts of petty theories and philosophies, to condemn the slow development of the social regeneration. This is, concretely, the ease of comrade Djilas.”

The foregoing, on the face it, is nothing else than a description of moods prevailing among a certain section of the Yugoslav party. These moods have extended directly into the top leadership. But as Tito himself previously acknowledged, what is involved is by no means merely the isolated case of a Djilas. The description is true not alone of Djilas but of “thousands upon thousands” of other party members. It is also true of important layers of the Yugoslav population, including perhaps even layers of workers. Djilas’ articles could not and did not create this situation. Djilas and his articles were simply a by-product of the critical domestic situation. The Titoite treatment of the Djilas case was intended to muffle this crisis rather than deal with it directly.

At the March 1954, session of the Yugoslav central Committee, Vice President Rankovich, formerly head of the secret police, repeatedly attacked Djilas for causing “enormous harm to our country.” But at the same time Rankovich disclosed that long before the articles of Djilas there had occurred “serious appearances of political disorientation in some of the organizations of the Communist League.”

Ironically enough Rankovich did not blame Djilas for this “political disorientation.” He said that it had come as a result of “confusion” stemming from the policies adopted at the Sixth Congress of the Yugoslav CP in November 1972.

It was at this Congress that the Yugoslav party was converted into a “League” and fused with the so-called “Socialist Alliance.” It was at this Congress that the theory of the withering away of the state and of the withering away of the party was promulgated. This brings us to the heart of Djilas’ conceptions.

“Withering Away” of State and Party

There is nothing complicated about them. They are the current ideas of the Tito regime drawn to their logical conclusion. The starting point of Djilas, as of Titoist thought generally, is the “socialist reality” now allegedly existing in Yugoslavia. This reality is unceasingly, even if slowly, evolving and changing, creating entirely new conditions, throwing up entirely new social forces, en route to the “withering away of the state.”

All these absurdities and mockeries of Marxism flow not from anything in Yugoslav reality but from the blind Titoite adherence to Stalin’s infamous theory of “building socialism in one country.” One can read in Pravda this same sort of tripe about the Soviet “socialist reality” creating entirely new conditions, throwing up entirely new social forces (a “new” Soviet “intelligentsia,” etc.) — plus the constant admonitions of the danger of “remnants” of bourgeois moods. All this is allegedly taking place en route to ... communism. But there is one difference. The Stalinists place stress on the “strengthening” of the state, because of the “capitalist encirclement.” The Titoites emphasize the alleged “withering away” of their state, because of their alleged successes in building “new democratic socialist relations” in Yugoslavia. Both proceed on the basis of the same falsification of reality (that “socialism exists”—whether in the USSR or in Yugoslavia). The Titoites simply put a minus sign over the state where the Stalinists put a heavy plus sign.

Djilas simply dotted all the “i’s’” and crossed all the “t’s” in Tito’s version of Stalin’s theory of socialism in one country. Djilas announced that since the withering away of the state was an immediate requirement, it therefore followed that the party must likewise immediately “wither away”, otherwise the party could degenerate into a bureaucracy of the Stalinist type. Lenin’s type of party was needed only for the revolution; after that, it must degenerate into Stalinism. In other words, this profound thinker locates the source of Stalinist degeneration in the most progressive feature of Bolshevism, its creation of the democratic-centralist party. This discovery has been made by every renegade from Marxism—and long before Djilas.

In his verbose, muddled articles, Djilas stated his central thesis with relative clarity as follows:

“We must learn to respect the opinions of others though they may appear to be foolish and conservative. We must also accustom ourselves to be in a minority even if we are right, without thinking that because of that socialism and the revolutionary achievements are doomed.

“The question arises whether the interests of a party, or a group or leaders, must always be identical with the people, with society—and when do they enter in conflict? During the revolution [in Russia and in Yugoslavia—G.V.] these interests in the main coincided. This is not so today. Today no party or group, not even the class itself, can be the exclusive expression of the objective needs of the whole society; it cannot assume the exclusive right to ‘manage’ the movement of the productive forces without stiffening and enslaving them, including the most important part of them, the men ...

“The demand of the time, particularly under socialism, is to weaken the monopoly of political movements on the life of society. There is no road but the road of more democracy, freer discussions, freer elections, more adherence to the law.” (Djilas, General and Particular, Borba, Dec. 20, 1953.)

It is noteworthy that Djilas, the latter-day champion of “democracy” as a force that rises above history and above the classes, preaches it only “in general.” Nowhere does he demand “more democracy,” “freer discussions” or the “struggle of ideas” inside the Yugoslav party, which is run not on the Leninist principle of freest discussion and greatest democracy but along the Stalinist lines of “monolithism.” Djilas demands “democracy” and the “struggle of ideas” only “in general.” Never for the workers, never for the party. So far as the party is particularly concerned, his chief demand is not for its Leninist democratization, but for its liquidation, as an “outdated” instrument. His adversaries, from, Tito down, have likewise remained silent on this score.

As we already know, it is Tito’s claim that Djilas’ views were Djilas’ “own product—they represent his own opinions.” From the foregoing this is clearly incorrect. In the same speech Tito admitted as much. Djilas, it turns out, did consult Tito. As Tito recalled:

“On one occasion during the autumn, he (Djilas) asked me: ‘How do you Stari (Old Man) look upon my writings and what do you think of my articles?’ I replied: ‘To tell you the truth, there are certain things with which I do not agree, but mainly there are things which are good, and I believe that, as regards these other aspects, there is no reason why you should not write, so go on writing.’ I told him this because the articles also contained views which we ourselves express in our own speeches and writings.” (Our emphasis.)

Djilas’ Views No Secret

There is no mistaking the meaning of these words. Djilas’ views coincided in the main with Tito’s “own speeches and writings,” In fact, toward the end of December, when most of Djilas’ articles, had already been written, he was elected President of the new Yugoslav Federal Assembly, only to be removed a few days later from this post as well as from all other high party and government posts held by him.

Moreover, Djilas’ views, which apparently go beyond even what he has put down in writing, were never a secret to the inner ruling circles. As Tito himself said:

“Comrade Djilas has always had every opportunity to say whatever he wanted within our circle, and to say even more than he has written. We all knew him and we all discussed things together with him. And we were also making jokes, and one can say all kinds of things when one is joking.” (Our emphasis.)

The meaning of these words is likewise plain enough. Djilas’ political views, which led to his downfall, could not possibly have come as a surprise to Tito and the rest of the ruling tops, of whom Djilas has been a part for the last 17 years, and among whom he evidently has said “whatever he wanted” and “even more than he has written.” In the course of these uninhibited inner-circle discussions, was Djilas ever called to order, or was he on the contrary encouraged? Tito does not say. He tries instead to wave the whole matter aside as if nothing more than intimacy and joking were involved.

Things came to a head when Djilas started to spell out in public his conviction that a Stalinist-type bureaucracy was in process of formation in Yugoslavia. He stated this quite openly in his 10,000-word article, Anatomy of Morals, which appeared in the January issue of the magazine New Thought.

Tito himself did not decide until some time late in December that comrade Djilas has gone too far. He then “asked that the articles be stopped immediately.” Apparently Djilas went over Tito’s head. He had his last article published “hurriedly” in the magazine. (This incidentally, could not have done without the agreement of Veljko Vlahovich, editor of both Borba and New Thought, who since Dec. 20, 1953, published 13 of Djilas’ articles in the course of 17 days and paid him 220,000 dinars—about $7,500. After recanting publicly, Vlahovich was permitted to get off scot-free, and was later elected Chairman of the Committee on Education in the new Federal Council.)

Djilas’ political position is a shameless capitulation to reformism. It is nothing more than a rehash of the ideas of Bernstein and Co. These renegades from Marxism applied their revisionism to what they called the “democratic reality” of imperialism; Djilas has applied it to the alleged ‘socialist reality ’ of Yugoslavia. The Tito regime did not have the courage to denounce Djilas’ revisionism as such, because they are cuddled too close to the Social Democrats and do not wish to offend them; and also, because such a characterization would strike too closely home, inasmuch as Djilas’ line is precisely the line of the Yugoslav Sixth Congress drawn to its ultimate conclusion. So the official resolution of the Central Committee contented itself with declaring Djilas’ line to be “basically contrary to the political line adopted at the Sixth Congress.”

In April of this year, Djilas formally dropped his membership in the Yugoslav CP. But this does not constitute the termination of the Djilas case, which is basically a phase of the entire unfolding crisis of the Tito regime and party.

In June 1953, celebrating the fifth anniversary of the Yugoslav-Cominform split, Edward Kardelj, Djilas’ rival as party theoretician and first Vice President of Yugoslavia, boasted that the Titoite cadre

“remained united all that time, and have succeeded in the midst of cruelest struggle to build new democratic socialist relations.”

By the end of 1953 this boasted “unity,” was proved an illusion. The Djilas case represents only the first breach, for the Titoite ranks are corroded by revisionism. In the unfolding crisis of the Tito regime, its adaptation to imperialism, most crassly expressed in Yugoslav foreign policy, is a central factor. But it is not the only factor. Highly important is the refusal of the Titoite leadership to break with the ideology of Stalinism, in particular with the Stalinist lie of building socialism in one country and with the Stalinist conception of the party.

All this will act to aggravate the crisis of the Tito regime and party, which has been so clearly revealed in the Djilas case. And that is the real meaning of this celebrated affair.

Last updated: 29.12.2005