Ernest Germain

The New Programme of the Jugoslav Communists

(Summer 1958)

From Fourth International (Paris), No. 3, Summer 1958, pp. 23–32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Ten years after the first Kominform resolution which condemned the Jugoslav communists for heresy, three years after Khrushchev’s sensational trip to Canossa, humbly begging pardon from his “dear Jugoslav comrades,” a new and open rift has broken out between Moscow and Belgrade. This rift was already potentially inevitable since the Hungarian revolution; but when Tito and Khrushchev -met last year in Rumania, they both seemed inclined to patch up their differences. But when the Jugoslav CP refused to sign the “joint declaration of CPs” assembled in Moscow last November, a general wave of Stalinist criticism was launched against Belgrade. The rift came into the open with the publication of the Draft Programme of the Jugoslav Communists, with their refusal to “correct” the Draft following the Kremlin’s instructions, and with the publication of harsher and harsher criticism against that Draft by various leaders of the bureaucracy and its henchmen.

It could naturally be pointed out that the crisis in the relations between Moscow and Belgrade has not yet reached the boiling point which we witnessed after the second Kominform resolution in 1949. Diplomatic relations between Jugoslavia on the one hand, and the USSR and the “people’s democracies” on the other, have not yet been severed; the conflict between parties had not yet been generalized into a conflict between states. Many signs, however, point in the direction of a new and severe aggravation of the crisis, the present period being only an interlude like the one between the first and second Kominform resolution. Already Khrushchev has called the Jugoslav communists “agents of the class enemy inside the labor movement” in his speech before the Rumanian CP Congress (New Road, Bucharest, 5 June 1958); already the Chinese Stalinists have called Tito and his friends “revisionists being used as spies by the imperialists” (article reprinted in Pravda, 10 June 1958); and just a few days ago, Khrushchev called the Jugoslav leaders “bandits” in his Leningrad speech. When one adds to these expressions the hysterical appeals of the Albanian Stalinists against the “Belgrade traitors,” the signs are indeed ominous! If the anti-Jugoslav campaign should stop before reaching a stage comparable to that of the second Kominform resolution, this would mean only that a new shake-up had in the meantime occurred in the Kremlin, and that new and powerful forces in Soviet society were energetically calling the leaders of the bureaucracy to a halt.

The Meaning of the New Rift

Why did the Soviet bureaucracy launch this new campaign of slanders and lies against the Jugoslav communists? Is it because they remain aloof from “joining the Soviet bloc,” and thereby “split the socialist camp”? This is indeed the main accusation which is generally advanced in Stalinist circles against the JCP leadership. We shall analyze further the positions of that leadership on matters of foreign policy; some of these positions are evidently unacceptable from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism. But we do not think that they are the real cause of the new Moscow-Belgrade rift.

First of all on international matters Tito’s position of “aloofness” from the two power blocs is nothing new. He has defended that position in a consistent way for at least six years; he did not stop defending it before, during, or after the reconciliation trip of Khrushchev and Bulganin to Belgrade. That position did not prevent the reconciliation; surely it could not be the real cause of the present rift.

In reality, Tito’s policy of “active neutralism” was used by the Kremlin in its general strategy of “easing international tension” after Stalin’s death. It was a welcome preparation for the first Geneva conference; it allowed Tito to play the role of initiator in forging the bloc between Moscow and colonial bourgeoisies like those of India, Indonesia, and Egypt. Tito’s trip to the Far East preceded similar trips of Soviet leaders. It could even be said that the whole line of international policy developed at the XXth Congress of the CP of the Soviet Union, with its heavy stress on “peaceful coexistence” and on “various peaceful roads toward socialism,” was to a great extent copied from or at least initiated by the Jugoslav communists. As there are no sufficient signs that the Kremlin has adopted a fundamental change in foreign policy and is opposed now to negotiations or compromises with Wall Street, evidently the Jugoslav foreign policy could today be of the same help it was in the 1954–56 period. It is therefore not in the realm of that policy that the secret of the present rift lies. This secret lies in the realm of ideology, or more exactly of the objective role which the Jugoslav communists’ programme plays and will play in the process of “destalinization.” The Kremlin’s new attack against Tito is a desperate attempt to smash or at least to condemn to silence all these critical and centrifugal tendencies within all the CPs, especially the CPs of the Soviet Union, China, and the “people’s democracies,” which have developed since Stalin’s death and especially since the XXth Congress of the CPSU. A direct line runs from this anti-Jugoslav campaign to the execution of Nagy and his companions. Every Communist is given notice that the time for discussing “revisionism” is over. It is no longer a question of discussion; it is a question of faithfulness or betrayal. And traitors – witness Nagy – will not escape the punishment they deserve.

The “Two Camps” and Peaceful Coexistence

Even on those questions on which the Jugoslav communists adopt incorrect positions, the criticism by the Kremlin and its henchmen is profoundly unjustified. It is unjustified because the Jugoslav communists could quote dozens of passages of speeches or articles by Khrushchev, Bulganin, Togliatti, Novotny and other “eminent leaders of the international labor movement,” which contain exactly the same ambiguous, “revisionist” formulae which are now objected to by the critics of the Jugoslav communists’ program. It is also unjustified because this criticism uses the same methods of gross falsification so characteristic of Stalinist polemics in general.

Let us take a significant example. The central organ of the Chinese CP, Shenminshibao, published an editorial in its edition of 5 June 1958, where we read the following passage:

The draft program of the Association of Jugoslav Communists concentrates [!] its attacks against the proletarian revolution, attacks the dictatorship of the proletariat, slanders the socialist countries and the socialist camp, and offers apologies for the capitalist, imperialist countries and the imperialist camp [...]

They interpret the existence of two fundamentally different political and economic world systems – the socialist camp and the imperialist camp – as a “division of the world between two antagonistic military-political blocs.” They present themselves as people who stand outside these two “blocs” [the socialist and the imperialist one], i.e., who stand above those camps.

This is an absolutely slanderous attack against the present position of the JCP (in the past some Jugoslav Communists have indeed defended theses like these), against the Draft Programme, and against the speeches and decisions of the Ljubljana Congress of the JCP where, the Programme was adopted. Here for example are some passages of Tito’s main report to this congress, which indicate clearly that the JCP does not treat the imperialist countries and their alliances on the same level as the workers’ states:

The signature of the Atlantic Pact [constitutes ...] the building of a military bloc which was oriented toward carrying out plans of world conquest, and which tended to attain its goals from a “position of strength” [...] During the last years, the members of NATO have taken more and more actively measures for strengthening their strategic, technical, and military positions [...] In this way, the Soviet Union and the other Eastern powers have been encircled by a military strategical network [of bases]. [... The weakening of the Western European powers] has led to the building of the Western bloc, which is dominated not only militarily, but also economically and politically, by the strongest capitalist power, America. It faces the strongest socialist power, the Soviet Union, around which the newly constituted socialist states, i.e., the countries of people’s democracy, have grouped themselves. This grouping can also be explained for defensive reasons, especially if one takes into account the fact that the Western states cannot accept to this day the suppression of the capitalist system in these countries [...]. (Les Nouvelles Yougoslaves, No. 221, 9 May 1958, pp. 2–3)

These and many other quotations indicate clearly that the Jugoslav communists do not at all suppress the fundamental class differences between the imperialist and aggressive nature of the Atlantic Pact, and the historically defensive and working-class nature of the Warsaw Pact.

At the same time, however, the Jugoslav Party Programme states that Stalin’s postwar policies greatly helped the imperialists by welding together the Atlantic Pact. The Jugoslav communists refer in this respect to the attacks against their own country in 1948–9; one could also refer to the Berlin blockade and to the peculiar manner in which Czecho-Slovakia became a “people’s democracy”! All these narrowly military, bureaucratic “coups” undoubtedly violated the sentiments and consciousness of millions of workers and poor peasants in the above-named countries, disoriented and demoralized broad working-class layers in the West, and thereby facilitated the launching of the anti-communist “crusade” by US imperialism. It is understandable that those CP leaders who for many years servilely approved this policy of Stalin, do not like today to be reminded of their past sins. But that does not mean that the Jugoslav communists have suddenly lost the right to explain what really happened after the Second World War.

If we believe nevertheless that the Jugoslav Party Programme should be criticized from the standpoint of revolutionary Marxism, this criticism refers to two problems. In the first place, the analysis of the world situation by the Jugoslav communist leaders included unjustified illusions about the so-called “neutral” states (in reality about the colonial bourgeoisie). In the second place it underestimated in a dangerous manner the permanent war danger which remains as long as imperialism, and above all US imperialism,, still disposes of overwhelming power.

In his Ljubljana Congress report, Tito declared for example that the Jugoslav communists collaborate in a very close way with all those countries which are “independent from the power blocs,” and that

we could convince ourselves that we had identical views with the leading personalities [!] of these countries, on all [!] important international issues, especially the question of peaceful coexistence and the peaceful solution of different problems. [ibidem, p. 4]

If one remembers that these’ countries include not only Burma, India, Indonesia, and Egypt, but even Abyssinia, one feels immediately how much these declarations are unprincipled and unMarxist. It is really possible for a leader of a workers’ state to declare that on all (!) important international issues he has the same position as ... the semi-feudal Emperor of Abyssinia? We know that the bourgeoisie of colonial and semi-colonial countries is manoeuvring between the blocs. We know that, partly because of its inherent military-economic weakness, partly because of its fear of the revolutionary potential of its own masses, this bourgeoisie wants to prevent brutal international collisions. We cannot doubt either that a workers’ state, especially an isolated one like Jugoslavia, could under certain specific conditions and for certain specific purposes exploit this orientation of the colonial bourgeoisie. But it is evident that it should under no conditions slur over class limits, create illusions about the nature and the intentions of the colonial bourgeoisie, and especially never hide the fact that – besides its absolute incapacity to solve the internal problems of its own countries in a progressive manner – in the last resort this colonial bourgeoisie will line up with imperialism against the anti-capitalist forces, if a final dash takes place on a world scale.

On the other hand Khrushchev and his accomplices have no right to criticize the Jugoslav communists on these points, for they have consistently followed the same opportunist line toward Nehru, Nasser, and Sukarno, not to speak of the King of Afghanistan and even the Shah of Persia.

On the question of “peaceful coexistence,” Eduard Kardelj declared at the Ljubljana Congress:

For Lenin, the slogan of coexistence was a means of defense, a barricade to protect the revolution [...] But Lenin also knew that in his time the slogan [?] of coexistence was a still weak barricade of the revolution, that the bourgeoisie was still powerful, that international capitalism was still solid and still capable of launching counter-offensives against the October Revolution, and actually prepared a war of aggression against the USSR. That is why Lenin declared normally: Coexistence – yes; but the masses should never forget that imperialism is not in favor of coexistence and will try sooner or later to destroy us. But the present world situation is very different from the one in Lenin’s time. Historically speaking, socialism has already won ideologically and materially. It is no longer encircled, no longer isolated, and no longer has to defend its very existence.

That certainly does not mean that the most reactionary leading circles of capitalism have abandoned the idea and hope of liquidating socialism. But the relationship of forces on a world scale today are such that these hopes become more and more unrealistic, even in the eyes of the most stubborn defenders of capitalism. Precisely for that reason the idea of peaceful coexistence finds more and more numerous supporters; not only among the popular masses but also among certain political circles of the bourgeoisie. [ibidem, p. 30]

We are on the contrary of the opinion [A] that Lenin’s formula remains as true today as it has been for the last 40 years. “Coexistence” – of course, in the sense that the revolution victorious in one or several countries does not start “revolutionary wars” in order to impose workers’ power on other countries where the majority of the toilers do not yet accept that idea. [1] But for coexistence, as for marriage, there must be at least two! As long as imperialism exists and still has powerful means at its disposal, it will and must try, according to its social nature, to destroy the workers’ states, i.e., to reunify the world market under the power of capital.

Our International was the first organization in the international labor movement to point out, at its Third World Congress, the fundamental change in the relationship of forces on a world scale in favor of the anti-capitalist and at the expense of the capitalist forces. But we have never drawn from this analysis dangerously irresponsible underestimations of the actual power of American imperialism. On the contrary, we have repeatedly pointed out that the permanent war danger results precisely from that peculiar dialectical combination of conditions, wherein the relationship of forces is already developing in favor of the Revolution, while at the same time American imperialism, growing weaker in a relative sense, still keeps in an absolute sense tremendous power to strike back and defend its dying cause. It is precisely under this combination of circumstances that one cannot arrive at the overoptimistic conclusion that imperialism can be “convinced” of peaceful coexistence, i.e. persuaded to leave the scene of history without making a last and desperate stand to defend its class power!

Only if one draws from the present world situation the conclusion that American imperialism has no more power left to put up a last fight for the sake of capitalism and “free enterprise,” can one conclude that the war danger is today less real and permanent than in Lenin’s days. But such a conclusion, we repeat, is absolutely unwarranted and criminally light-minded. It should not be forgotten that today the potential of American steel production is still double that of the USSR, and still much higher than that of all workers’ states combined. And even were this no longer a fact, the tremendous military power of American imperialism would be sufficient to destroy civilization and mankind as a desperate preference to passively accepting defeat at the hands of the Revolution. This is why the Manifesto of the Fifth World Congress of the Fourth International was absolutely correct, and much more responsible, when, while giving full support to all actions for banning nuclear and mass destruction weapons, it simultaneously warned the toilers of the world: THE ONLY REAL AND FINAL WAY TO ESTABLISH A LASTING PEACE IS TO WRING POWER FROM THE HANDS OF CAPITALISM IN ITS LAST IMPORTANT BASTIONS, especially in the United States.

As long, as this has not been done, the shadow of nuclear destruction will remain cast over mankind, as a terrible warning that the question of the abolition of capitalism has become today a question of life or death for the human race.

May we add that on this question also the Stalinist critics have no right to call in question the Jugoslav communists, for they are guilty of identical, if not worse, mistakes? It will be surely sufficient to quote in this respect the following foolish passage from an editorial of the Chinese CP’s central organ, dutifully reproduced by Pravda (2 June 1958):

Compared to powerful China and the socialist camp, led by the great Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and the whole imperialist camp are no more than midgets [sic].

If one recalls that the “midget” USA has a potential steel production 25 times bigger than that of China, one can fully measure the profundity and sagacity of statements of this kind!

“State Capitalism”

Important targets for Stalinist criticism are those parts of the Jugoslav programme which refer-to so-called “state capitalist developments” in advanced and underdeveloped capitalist countries. We should note immediately that the Jugoslav communists no longer consider these “state capitalist developments” to be a “new and final phase of capitalism.” Neither do they consider them to represent “objective socialist elements” in Western reality. These truly revisionist theses, developed in the beginning of the fifties under the influence of Djilas, have now been abandoned, and the affirmations to the contrary by Stalinist critics are – once more – pure and simple slander. In his important speech at the Ljubljana Congress, Kardelj correctly pointed out the dual nature of increasing state intervention in the capitalist economy. On the one hand, this intervention objectively expresses the fact that a further growth of productive forces becomes more and more incompatible with private property. On the other hand, it constitutes the provisional, transitory “solution” of this contradiction by the capitalist class in the absence of the socialist solution. Kardelj drew the attention of his listeners to the famous remark of Lenin, that there are no “absolutely insoluble” situations for capitalism. The growth of state intervention in the capitalist economy is nothing else but the price mankind pays for its failure to apply the proletarian revolutionary solutions. At the same time, it expresses objectively the growing disintegration of capitalism.

These formulae contain more Marxist understanding than the many carloads of printed incantations about the “ever-growing general crisis of capitalism” which Moscow continues to pour out on to the unfortunate Communist Parties of the world. They also contain, however, one line of reasoning on which we cannot follow the Jugoslav comrades. Kardelj speaks about the “state capitalist bureaucracy” which “becomes more and more independent [?],” while remaining “a part of the capitalist class” and its “monopoly capitalist top layer,” whose collective interests it defends.

This seems to us a bit contradictory – in contradiction both with itself and with facts. In reality, as we had occasion to point out in our polemic with Djilas’s state-capitalist thesis, and as we also emphasized in a recent review of a fine book by America’s foremost sociologist on this question [2], one should not confuse two diametrically opposed processes: the expropriation of the capitalist class by a (workers’) state, and the direct appropriation of all directing organs of the state by the capitalist class. Russia and America today symbolize these fundamentally different, while formally sometimes analogous, processes. In the first case the power of the bourgeoisie is destroyed and the bourgeoisie itself disappears physically or at least as a class. In the second case the power of the bourgeoisie is consolidated and even strengthened, and it continues to enjoy past and to acquire new wealth and privileges. To equate these two processes for reasons of apparent similarities is really to succumb to infantile formalism.

The fundamental tendency in the American, British, French, and Western German economies, i.e., the economies of advanced capitalist countries, is not the “growing independent power of state [capitalist] bureaucracies.” It is on the contrary the growing personal union between the monopoly capitalists and the leading statesmen and leading militarists, i.e., the growing direct personal administration of state and army by monopoly capitalists themselves. Beside this fundamental tendency runs a secondary one, which is the periodic absorption by the capitalist class of the technically most successful administrators of the big stock companies, state administrations, and armed bodies. This is nothing else than the classical process of partial renewal of the capitalist class personnel which has been going on for four hundred years at least.

In the colonial and semi-colonial countries, on the other hand, there is being repeated a process which we witnessed in Western Europe between the XVIth and XIXth centuries and in America and Japan in the second half of the XIXth century: the process of exploitation of the state for the purpose of furthering private primitive accumulation (through theft, corruption, breach of trust, nepotism, etc.). The biggest ventures are undertaken first by the state, in order to be sold or actually given away later to individual capitalists. Decisive in both cases, those of advanced and those of backward capitalist countries, is the fact that the main goal of the “state capitalist bureaucrats” is in no way different from that of other capitalists: they aspire to accumulate private capital, to acquire private fortunes, and to leave the less secure administrative functions for the final security of property. In this sense, the idea of the “independence” of that “bureaucracy,” opposed in any sense whatsoever to the “proprietors of the means of production,” seems to us to be wrong and misleading.

The Class Nature of the Soviet Union

We have already said that the Jugoslav communists have substantially revised the wrong positions they adopted some years ago about the “identity” or the “similarity” of the “state capitalist tendencies” which they then discovered in the West and the East. The same progressive revision of past mistakes has also occurred on the subject of the class nature of the Soviet Union. It is interesting briefly to recall the successive positions which the JCP has adopted on that vital issue.

After the first Kominform resolution of 1948, and even briefly after the second Kominform resolution, the JCP substantially maintained the orthodox Stalinist position on the USSR as “a country which has victoriously completed the building of socialism and is on the road towards communism.” This position was expressed for example in the main documents of the Vth Congress of the JCP which met in Belgrade from July 21st to July 28th 1948. Late in 1949, especially after the publication of Melentije Popovic’s On the Economic Relations between Socialist Countries and after Djilas’s speech to Belgrade students on March 19th 1950 (On New Roads to Socialism), the Jugoslav communists began systematically to analyze the phenomenon of the Soviet bureaucracy, and the elements of exploitation and material privileges on which it was based.

This whole process of revision of Stalinist ideology corresponded to two contradictory motives. On the one hand it was a purely pragmatic answer to the attacks of the Kremlin, i.e., the result of experiences undergone in the course of the fight against the Soviet bureaucracy, and in that sense it retained the character of a posteriori apologetics for day-to-day politics. On the other hand it was a reflection of serious theoretical endeavor, or more exactly, the reflection, in the field of theory, of the new progress of the Jugoslav revolution, which culminated in the establishment of workers’ councils in the Jugoslav factories.

When the Korean War broke out, the pragmatic apologetic tendency clearly took the upper hand over scientific Marxist analysis. The ideological evolution of the JCP changed in its orientation; it stopped moving leftward, and started to move to the right amidst the panic fear of a Soviet military attack and under the great and growing pressure of “helpful” American imperialism. In that period, the terrible confusion of Djilas’s ideas played an important and regrettable role in the (dis)orientation of the whole JCP. After Djilas published his Contemporary Themes at the beginning of 1951, the theory of “state capitalism” in Russia, developing side by side with “objectively socialist elements” within “Western state capitalism,” became more or less official JCP doctrine. In fact, the Jugoslav communists began to suppress class criteria in theory just as they were doing it in practice (e.g., their votes in the UN, which objectively helped American counter-revolutionary intervention in Korea). But this retrogressive process was again a contradictory one, for inside Jugoslavia the system of workers’ councils and growing self-administration became consolidated during that very same period.

After Stalin’s death and the beginning of “liberalization” by the Soviet bureaucracy, a second period of turn in the ideological evolution of the JCP occurred. It was the result of three different experiences:

  1. experience with the growing hostile pressure of Western imperialism on Jugoslav economy and society, which contradicted illusions about Western “democracy” of the Djilas type;
  2. experience with the growing differentiation of Soviet bureaucracy and society, impossible to explain in terms of the theory of “state capitalism”;
  3. experience with the logical conclusions to which Djilas drove his theories of “state capitalism” and of the “new class,” and especially the objective political results of these theories.

Now the theoretical appraisal of the Soviet Union’s class nature once again was changed, and once again the JCP went overboard on the other side. After Khrushchev’s 1955 pilgrimage to Tito, the Jugoslavs started again to talk about the “great socialist Soviet Union”; they now spoke about the problem of bureaucracy only with the greatest prudence, or did not mention it at all any more. “State capitalism” and “bureaucratic degeneration” were once again banned as heresies. But “peaceful coexistence” between the Kremlin and the Jugoslav revolution did not last very long: it broke on the rocks of the Polish and Hungarian October. And the pressure of these revolutions forced the JCP again to return to the problem of bureaucratic degeneration of the workers’ states, and to propose the building of workers’ councils and the exercise of power by them as universal solutions in the fight against bureaucracy. This was an important step forward, compared with the most progressive statements of 1950. Therein lies the real secret of the new rift between Moscow and Belgrade.

Whereas the JCP limited itself during the 1950–53 period, and even more so during the years 1954–56, to presenting the administration of factories by workers’ councils as the “Jugoslav road to socialism” – an “experiment,” interesting indeed, on which Soviet comrades commented in a patronizing manner during many tourist trips to that country – the Polish and Hungarian revolutions as well as the growing political awareness of the Jugoslav working class itself forced the JCP to declare today that the “Jugoslav road” is the only correct one. That is why that “way” is codified in a “programme”; that is why the Kremlin is so furious and desperate about these goings-on, for the Jugoslav programme launches a new discussion about “bureaucracy,” about “workers’ councils,” about “self-administration as the content of Soviet democracy,” in all Communist Parties, at the very moment that the Kremlin is trying to suppress discussions on these subjects.

As a matter of curiosity, we might mention the numerous variations in the evaluation of Trotskyism by the few international followers of Titoism, as a truthful mirror of the variations in the evaluation of the class nature of the Soviet Union by the JCP leadership. Till late in 1949, they considered Trotskyists just “fascist spies in the service of American imperialism,” remaining faithful at least on this point to the Moscow line. During the period from the end of 1949 till the autumn of 1950 there occurred a sharp turn: Trotskyists were now considered “honest communists coming to the aid of socialist Jugoslavia in its fight against the Kominform slanders,” but “slightly sectarian as a result of isolation,” and “with too little understanding of the new world reality.” From the end of 1950 till 1954, on the contrary, Trotskyists were considered “near-Stalinists, who objectively act like agents of the Kremlin by defending their theories about the Russian workers’ state and the defense of the Soviet Union.” As soon as the reconciliation between Belgrade and Moscow took place, however, the Trotskyists became “objectively counter-revolutionary” because they still insisted that a political revolution had to overthrow the bureaucratic dictatorship in the Soviet Union, whereas, as “experience had taught,” the bureaucracy was busy reforming itself. Has experience in the meantime taught these unfortunate disciples that the results of a scientific Marxist analysis are a little bit longer-lived in these tempestuous times of ours, than crassly apologetic justifications for tactical turns, disguised as “theories”?

The Social Nature of the Soviet Bureaucracy

We have already pointed out that the passages of the new Jugoslav Programme and of the speeches at the Ljubljana Congress which refer to the general problem of bureaucracy in a workers’ state constitute the most progressive part of the ideological work of the Jugoslav communists. It is necessary therefore to analyze these passages in detail.

The programme of the Jugoslav communists does speak about “socialist states”; but this formula has become an empty shell. In fact, the Jugoslav communists openly stated that they treat all the problems concerning the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic of China, and the so-called “people’s democracies” as problems of the transition period between capitalism and socialism. Thereby, they tacitly abandoned the Stalinist theory of “the completion of the building of socialism in the Soviet Union,” i.e., the theory of “[the completion of the building of] socialism in one country,” and returned to the Marxist conceptions which Leon Trotsky and the Fourth International consistently defended on this matter.

Kardelj dwelt extensively on the problem of bureaucracy in his Ljubljana speech, and stated among other points:

The programme points out that [this problem] does not arise only out of remnants of the bourgeoisie or of capitalism, but that bureaucratic tendencies develop inevitably in the transition period AS A RESULT OF THE INSUFFICIENT LEVEL OF PRODUCTIVE FORCES, and that, as social forces, they tend to consolidate transitory forms of social relations and even to give them a certain state deformation. (Les Nouvelles Yougoslaves, No. 221, p. 9)

And further:

If we deny these phenomena, if we do not discover their sources and causes, we are unable to fight them. Worse, we would even become ourselves their victims, under certain circumstances, and we would cease to be the most progressive social force. That is why we think that the fight against bureaucratism is one of the principled ideological and political instruments for building socialism. And in that respect the programme does not hold that bureaucratism is a question of quality of people (although of course it is related to that problem also), but that it is a question of quality of social relations in the transition period. [ibidem, p. 29]

Tito on the other hand openly stated that the fight against the bureaucracy can only be won if

the necessary material, political, and juridical conditions are created in order to allow the citizens of our country [...] to become really the effective administrators of the whole social life. [ibidem, p. 11]

Finally, he included in these conditions not only the self-administration organs of the working class in the factories, but also “the increase in the standard of living [of the workers] in direct proportion to the increase of the productive forces and of the productivity of labor”. [ibidem, p. 9]

We find thereby that the Jugoslav communists have themselves reconstructed the main elements of the Marxist, i.e., Trotskyist, theory of the bureaucracy in a workers’ state. These elements are:

  1. The bureaucratic deformation of a workers’ state is to a certain extent inevitable, both because of the pressure of the capitalist past and environment, and because of the new contradictions which arise in the transitional period from the still insufficient level of development of productive forces and of mass culture.
  2. These deformations can, however, be limited, or at least their development into bureaucratic degeneration can be prevented, if the communist vanguard understands, the objective and subjective preconditions of an efficient fight against the threat of bureaucratic degeneration. The role of the subjective factor is therefore decisive.
  3. The objective conditions for a successful fight against the danger of bureaucratic degeneration must be created by a correct policy of the communist vanguard at the head of the workers’ state, a policy which allows the self-confidence and the self-administration of the masses to make their broadest possible extension (under the given circumstances): workers’ democracy, workers’ councils, increasing standard of living, international extension of the revolution which allows a “tired” section of the working class to be replaced by a “fresh” one at the head of the revolutionary process, etc.
  4. If the communist vanguard does not understand the danger and the conditions necessary for fighting it, or understands them in an insufficient way, it ceases to be a revolutionary instrument. Worse, it becomes itself bureaucratized, it becomes itself an instrument for establishing and for consolidating the bureaucratic dictatorship (in general, however, this requires a complete change of its cadres, by physical or moral elimination of the old cadres).

It is true that Kardelj and Tito stated these points in a very prudent manner, and that they did everything possible not to “provoke” the Kremlin. Kardelj stated that he received “many amendments” calling for a sharper denunciation of Stalin’s policies and present conditions in “people’s democracies” and in the Soviet Union. But, generally speaking, the theoretical progress is real and important, and the new doctrine of the Jugoslav communists is a much greater danger for the Soviet bureaucracy than the theory of “state capitalism” which collided at every step with actual evolution and was far from being “explosive” in a communist movement.

Workers’ Councils and Workers’ Self-Administration in Jugoslavia

This theoretical progress corresponds to the new progressive conquests of the Jugoslav revolution in the last years, especially the consolidation of the system of workers’ councils, of workers self-administration, in the municipalities, and of the slowly increasing political activity of the Jugoslav working class. The first Congress of Jugoslav Workers’ Councils which was held at Belgrade from June 25th to 27th 1957 offered important material on the subject.

It is interesting to see that the Theses adopted at that Congress called the idea of self-administration of the workers in workers’ councils the “general tradition” of the international labor movement from the utopian socialists through Marx, Engels, the Paris Commune, the October Revolution, till the Spanish Civil War and the recent developments in Poland and Hungary. They thereby identify themselves with the tradition of revolutionary workers’ democracy, of soviet democracy, which is above all embodied in our movement.

Tito stated at that congress that 600,000 workers had been members of Jugoslav workers’ councils between 1950–51 and 1956–7, i.e., a full third of the Jugoslav working class! 77% of the current members of these councils were manual workers continuing to work at the bench. The statistical Manual which was distributed to participants at the congress states that, in 1956, 1,014 factory managers had been relieved of their jobs, only 20 by decisions of political (party) bodies, 352 by decisions of administrative bodies (state organs), and 501 by decisions of workers’ councils or general assemblies of workers of a shop (“workers’ collectives,” as the Jugoslavs call them).

Of course, we should not put into these figures more than they can tell. Bureaucracy has certainly not been “abolished” in Jugoslavia. But it is clear that a growing counter-pressure is being exercised by the workers against bureaucratic elements, and a growing awareness of the possibilities of workers’ democracy is manifesting itself. Even if one supposes that most of the councils are tele-commanded by CP members, there is an important difference from the Russian, Stalinist, system. In this system the party apparatus decides and applies its decision; the workers are “convinced” afterwards, by propaganda. In the Jugoslav system, even if the party apparatus still decides (it certainly does in most cases), these decisions cannot be applied without previous discussions in the councils. It is not necessary to emphasize what a tremendous school of self-administration is thereby built up, or to point out the de-bureaucratizing results this process has inside the CP itself.

The above quoted Theses themselves did not deny that the workers’ councils are still far from functioning perfectly in Jugoslavia. They pointed out that economic “decentralization” has created tendencies toward particularism and “shop-egoism” (anarcho-syndicalism). They admitted that powerful bureaucratic tendencies developed inside the councils themselves. They explained this process by the insufficient level of development of the productive forces. This explanation is correct but insufficient. Political, subjective, forces also play a decisive role here.

In any case Tito and the other Jugoslav communist leaders were forced to acknowledge these facts after the January 1958 strike of the Slovenian miners at Trbovlje. They sent the now famous Circular Letter to all Communist branches in February 1958, in which they denounced bureaucratic tendencies within the communist movement. It is interesting that, on that occasion, and for the first time since 1941, Tito was forced to approve an action of the masses – i.e., this Slovanian miners strike – against the CP apparatus. Under heavy pressure from both Moscow and Washington, he cannot resist without supporting himself on the masses, and must give in to their demands to a large extent. But the question remains: how is it possible that, notwithstanding “economic decentralization” and workers’ councils, there are powerful bureaucratic tendencies today in the Jugoslav communist movement? Isn’t there a flaw in the Jugoslav communist theory and practice? There is one, and it is a political one.

One or More Workers’ Parties?

Both the new Jugoslav Programme and the speeches at the Ljubljana Congress mention the problem of the multi-party system – in a resolutely negative way. Tito stated (ibidem, p. 8) that Djilas proposed the readmission of several parties and (!) the restoration of capitalism. Kardelj launched the formula of the “new reactionary romanticism” which has for its purpose a “return to bourgeois-democratic forms.” In other words, the Jugoslav communist leaders maintain the one-party-system dogma.

It is, however, evident that in taking that position they involve themselves in a series of inextricable contradictions.

They declare on the one hand that socialism is today immeasurably stronger than in Lenin’s day – and at the same time they support themselves on Lenin’s banning of factions, avowedly justified at that time, but only by the great weakness of the first workers’ state at the beginning of the NEP. They even declare that socialism has already triumphed materially and ideologically in the international field – and at the same time declare themselves so threatened by a Djilas [3] that they condemn him to many years of jail on the basis that he “greatly harmed” socialist Jugoslavia! On the one hand they state

that there are no infallible ideological judges, who can determine what is right and what is wrong [...] The only definite judges are experience and history [Kardelj’s speech, ibidem, p. 31];

they add that

without a struggle of opinions and freedom of criticism, one cannot [...] guarantee the creative activity of an organization. One would on the contrary develop routinism, formalism, and dry-ness, which kill revolutionary ardor [Rankovic’s speech, ibidem, p. 23];

and they even say that it is necessary “constantly to expand inner-party democracy” and to safeguard “criticism from the bottom toward the top”. (Rankovic, ibidem) But at the same time they maintain the dogma of the one-party system, which can only be justified if one assumes that the members of the Central Committee are to such a degree “infallible” and sure to find the correct answers, that one considers the building of factions and other working-class parties a greater evil than the risk of constant errors which threatens that unchecked leadership.

Indeed, without the right to build factions, the leadership is really unchecked, and no really free discussions are possible. For once that discussion transgresses the borders of one party section, once communists try to contract other communists, in other sections, towns, or regions, in order to fight for the triumph of what they consider to be correct ideas, the accusation of “factionalism” will force them to draw back in order not to be expelled,; or worse, the threat of” such an accusation will lead them right from the start not to fight for their correct ideas and thereby allow the organization to succumb to a dangerously wrong line.

And without the right to build several working-class parties, the right of building factions cannot be wholly and effectively granted. For there is always a point in a faction fight where the accusation of “preparing a split” or “building in fact a second party, a party within the party” can be launched, wrongly or rightly. If such an accusation means not only expulsion from the party but also an end to all political activity, nay, an end to individual freedom, then of course there exists such a severe check on any development of the faction fight, that most workers will prefer to remain silent with their correct opinions, and will leave the party leadership alone with its wrong line, rather than take all these risks.

The absence of freedom of factions and of freedom for building other working-class parties in fact means that no real political discussion is possible against the national leadership, on issues of national policy. It reduces discussion to second-rate problems, consolidates the more or less permanent character of the central leadership, and puts local and regional leaders in a position where they fear being removed only by action from the top, not by action from below.


That is why so many Jugoslav communists continue to have “an inhuman attitude towards criticism from below”. (Tito, ibidem, p. 14) They dare take such an attitude, notwithstanding the existence of workers’ councils, because they know that the apparatus is based on the principle of collective solidarity, and that it takes a lot to have a bureaucrat removed by bureaucrats. Should they, however, know that they could be removed from below; nay, should they fear that any grave mistake would cause a faction fight against them on a local and regional scale, with all its nasty consequences for the national party, then such a risk would already be a very powerful check, a powerful means of debureaucratizing the party itself and causing it to adopt a strictly principled attitude of proletarian democracy. “Paradoxically” (but this is one of those dialectical truths which appear paradoxes only to people who have not learned to think), the proclamation and effective application of the right to build factions and other working-class parties would be, in practice, the best means of reducing to the utmost the likelihood of really witnessing a multiplication of either such factions or such parties.

As for the argument that such a multiplication of factions or parties would weaken the workers’ state, the Jugoslav communists themselves have answered it in advance when they state that economic decentralization, while somewhat weakening the state apparatus, has immensely strengthened society, for it has allowed the workers to identify themselves with it and to participate more actively in the administration of their own affairs. Why should that argument, correct in the field of economics, suddenly cease to be true in the field of politics?

The Withering Away of the State

The question of the party leads to the question of the state. On this question also Jugoslav communists have made a good step forward, by abandoning the incorrect and crassly hypocritical theory of the “immediate withering away of the state” in Jugoslavia today. Basing himself on Lenin’s State and Revolution, Kardelj correctly points out the dual nature of the process: in the transitional period between capitalism and socialism, society, the proletariat, still need the state; but that state is a state of a specific type, at least if it is of legitimate origin. It is a state which begins to wither away from the day of its birth, inasmuch as it tends to draw greater and greater masses of toilers into the immediate day-to-day process of (self)-administration of the economy and of society as a whole. The withering away of the state is thereby neither postponed into the far distant future, nor established as a definite goal which can be reached in a short time, within a single country. It is an aspect of the growth of socialist forces within the transitional period itself, a proof of the consolidation of socialist elements within the workers’ state, the surest sign that the process is an unequivocally progressive one, heading towards the victory of socialism.

This thesis is correct, and is on a much higher level than the primitive apologies of Stalin (“the state becomes stronger and stronger even after the victory of communism in one country”) or than the petty-bourgeois anarchistic fancies of Djilas. When the Jugoslav communists add that they openly proclaim the right to control key functions in that state for a long, period, we are inclined to approve them, under one condition:


Only under these conditions is that control healthy and progressive. Only under these conditions are the communists leaders and not tyrants, do they convince and educate instead of commanding, are they followed instead of being obeyed.

With all the criticism that can be made of the remnants of Stalinist ideas in the Jugoslav communist programme, which are only the ideological counterpart of the remnants of bureaucracy in Jugoslav society, it is easy to understand after this analysis why the Kremlin’s henchmen are out to “get Tito” and launch their new slander campaign against socialist Jugoslavia. For the idea of the socially privileged and parasitical nature of the bureaucracy, the idea of the workers’ councils and the democratic self-administrative organs of the toilers which do not weaken but strengthen the workers’ state – these ideas are today dynamite within the realm of the Soviet bureaucracy!

It is because they tremble lest these ideas undermine, not the “unity of the socialist camp,” nor the “purity of Marxism-Leninism,” but their own power and privileges, that these bureaucrats try to prevent by all means a discussion of “Jugoslav subversion” in the Communist Parties of the world.

They cautiously opened the doors for a little bit of discussion after 1953; they even proclaimed that “all flowers were allowed to flourish.” They thought in that way to canalize dissent; but they could only stimulate social criticism which, on the waves of rebellion against exploitation, oppression, police tyranny, and violation of national freedom,, had to advance towards the inevitable political revolution. In Poland and in Hungary they got a first taste of things to come; they didn’t like it a bit. So they are now trying to sweep back the tide with the iron broom of “fighting revisionism.” But the attempt is vain; it is even slightly incongruous. One cannot denounce Stalin’s crimes in February and apply Stalin’s most bloody repression methods in November, and hope the party will remain silent! One cannot first explain calmly that the Kominform condemnation of Jugoslavia was “a product of the treacherous activities of those arch-enemies of the people, the imperialist spies Beria and Abakumov,” and three years later explain with equal calm that this same Kominform resolution in fact ... was substantially correct, without sowing doubts and debates in one’s own ranks.

The attempt to “liberalize” the bureaucracy’s government started with a new approach towards Tito’s Jugoslavia; it ended, for the time being, at least on the political field, with the Polish and Hungarian revolutions. But the attempt to re-establish a new kind of Stalinist monolithism failed because of the courageous resistance of the Jugoslav communists. They have a right to the full and enthusiastic support of all revolutionary Marxists, because by that resistance they have for a third time in one generation served the best interests of the international labor movement and of mankind. Their ideas today are a powerful ferment in all Communist Parties. Their ideological progress, with all its contradictions and shortcomings, corresponds to the objective progress of their admirable revolution. And so, once again, Marx’s great prediction has come true:

[...] proletarian revolutions, like those of the nineteenth century, criticize themselves constantly, interrupt themselves continually in their own course, come back to the apparently accomplished in order to begin it afresh, deride with unmerciful thoroughness the inadequacies, weaknesses, and paltrinesses of their first attempts, seem to throw down their adversary only in order that he may draw new strength from the earth and rise again, more gigantic, before them, recoil ever and anon from the indefinite prodigiousness of their own aims, until a situation has been created which makes all turning back impossible, and the conditions themselves cry out:

Hic Rhodus, hic salta!


1. Incidentally, the only time that Trotskyism was mentioned at the Ljubljana Congress was at the point in Kardelj’s speech where he attributed to our movement the absurd idea that it was opposed to “coexistence” in that sense, and in favor of immediate and universal “revolutionary war” by workers’ states. This is of course a typical product of Stalinist falsification.

2. Ernest Germain: La théorie du “capitalisme d’Etat” in Quatrième Internationale, May-July 1951. Ernest Germain: Sociology of the American Owning Class (a critique of Wright Mills’ The Power Elite) in Fourth International, Spring 1958.

3. We are irreconcilably opposed to Djilas’s ideas. At the same time we are opposed to his arrest and imprisonment, and ask that he be freed and allowed to defend his ideas in speech and writing.

Note by MIA

A. The printed text originally read: “We are opposed to the opinion ...” Corrected in line with Erratum:

A misunderstanding in editing the text of Comrade Ernest Germain’s article, The New Programme of the Jugoslav Communists, in our last issue, caused him to seem to be saying the exact opposite of what he meant. On page 25, 2nd column, 3rd paragraph, the sentence beginning “We are opposed to the opinion that Lenin’s formula remains as true ...” etc., should have read, “We are on the contrary of the opinion that Lenin’s formula remains as true ...” etc. (Fourth International, No. 4, Autumn 1958, p. 22)

Last updated on 9 October 2015