Michel Pablo

Remarks on the New Programme
of the Jugoslav Communists

(December 1958)

From Fourth International (Amsterdam), No. 5, Winter 1959, pp. 27–29.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Bureaucratic Deformation

The bureaucratic deformation of the workers’ state in the period of transition from capitalism to socialism is a basic question for understanding the evolution of both the USSR and the other workers’ states. A correct analysis of this phenomenon is an indispensable precondition for avoiding bureaucratic degeneration and for being in a position to fight adequately against it. Stalinism, the expression of this degeneration, is by its nature unable to analyze this phenomenon correctly in a scientific way. It is satisfied to speak from time to time of bureaucratic manifestations, which it pretends to combat, but it avoids going more deeply into the essential reasons which give rise to a lasting bureaucratic deformation of the transitional state, and the characteristics and trends of such a deformation.

The Jugoslavs make quite another approach to this question.

Bureaucracy and the bureaucratic deformations of the transitional state occupy a very important place in the theoretical developments of the Programme of the VIIth Congress of the League of Jugoslav Communists. These phenomena are considered by the Jugoslavs to be characteristic of the transitional workers’ state, especially under the present concrete historical conditions, i.e., when the revolution, having won, remains isolated in economically and culturally backward countries.

Their concrete reasoning on the question is the following: The centralizing role of the state is necessarily great, important, and positive for a whole period after the seizure of power; but by this very fact there is a tendency for the political and economic apparatus of the state to become “the master of society instead of its servant and executive agent.” The danger of bureaucracy consists in the fact that,

like any other disease, it enfeebles the whole organism of socialist society, and thereby stimulates and fortifies anti-socialist forces and tendencies. Bureaucracy, above all, inevitably cuts the ties between the leading forces and the working class, thus sharpening all internal social contradictions.

As long as it is a question only of a sporadic tendency and manifestations, the “statist bureaucracy” impedes the development of socialist democracy and the activity of social forces, deforms certain socialist social relations, depriving the working class of several of its rights and of aspects of its role of leadership. Developed to the extreme, bureaucracy can mean “a specific type of restoration of state capitalist forms.”

The Jugoslavs’ application of this conception to the concrete case of the USSR is naturally most interesting. The concentration of all political and economic power in the hands of the state has been accompanied, according to the Jugoslavs, by manifestations

of bureaucratic-statist tendencies, errors and distortions in the development of the political system of the state, and parallel with this, a more acute and convulsive phase permeated with contradictions typical of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism.

In the long run, this process in the USSR led to the personal power of a single man, and to the personality cult.

The judgment of the Programme of the Jugoslavs on Stalin is clear and categorical:

Stalin for both objective and subjective reasons did not fight the bureaucratic-statist tendencies engendered by the great concentration of power in the machinery of State and by the merging of the Party and State machinery and unilateral centralism. Moreover, he himself became their political and ideological protagonist. [Our emphasis]

Bureaucratic tendencies and bureaucracy are inevitably reflected on the ideological level by phenomena such as “conservatism, dogmatism, programmatic revision of the fundamental principles of socialism, and the personality cult.” In the concrete case of the USSR and Stalin,

a pragmatic revision of some of the fundamental scientific postulates of Marxism and Leninism was carried out first in the sphere of the Theory of State and Party, and then also in the sphere of philosophy, political economy, and the social sciences generally.

The Jugoslav Programme makes Stalin’s revisionism clear in these terms:

The Marxist-Leninist theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat as a political system of power in a State which is withering away, and as an instrument of working class struggle in the process of the abolition of the economic foundations of capitalism, and the creation of political and material conditions for the free development of new socialist relations, was gradually replaced by Stalin’s theory of a State which does not wither away, and which must strengthen itself in all fields of social life, a State whose machinery is given too great a role in the construction of socialism and the solution of the internal contradictions of the transition period, a role which sooner or later must lead to stagnation in the development of social and economic factors.

Nevertheless, the Programme adds, this fatal role of Stalin did not succeed in

doing serious or lasting damage to the development of socialism in the Soviet Union, because the socialist forces in that first country of socialism had grown and become so strong that they were able to break through the barriers of bureaucracy and the “cult of personality.”

In this evaluation, there is both a retreat from the erroneous position of Djilas on the USSR, the society of “state capitalism,” and an overestimate of the results of the XXth Congress and Khrushchevian “destalinization.” But, just thereby, the faults in the Jugoslav analysis of the USSR and of Stalinism clearly appear.

Nowhere in the Programme is there indicated the creation in the USSR of a whole new social stratum, privileged and all-powerful, which assumes political power in that country: the Soviet bureaucracy, of which Stalin was the ideologist. In the USSR we have what the Programme considers as a possible variant of a “full development of the bureaucracy,” bringing about a not yet social but qualitative political change of regime. [1]

The conclusion from such an evaluation of the present concrete situation in the USSR ought to be: the need for a political revolution in the USSR to overthrow the political regime of the bureaucracy, and not illusions – which furthermore vanish again so quickly – about an evolutionary peaceful “destalinization” from above which Khrushchev is supposedly carrying out. Despite this important omission, the analysis of the bureaucratic danger and of the concrete case of Stalinism in the USSR contained in the Jugoslav Programme constitutes a positive and very considerable contribution by a communist current other than our own movement.

The Theory of the Transitional State

The importance that the Jugoslav Programme attributes to the bureaucratic danger, and the experience it adduces from the Soviet example, leads it to develop more thoroughly the theory of the workers’ state in transition from capitalism to socialism.

“The question of the gradual withering away of the State,” the Programme affirms, “becomes the fundamental and decisive question of the socialist system of society.”

Granted, it is not a question of immediately abolishing the state or of minimizing in any way its very important role for a whole period, after the seizure of power, in order to “liquidate the economic tendencies of the capitalist system and lay the foundations for socialist construction.” It is a question, however, of understanding that “the socialist state is and must be a state of a special type, a state that withers away.” (Our emphasis [no emphasis marked – MIA])

Granted, the period of the withering away of the state is a process that lasts “through the whole period of transition from capitalism to socialism.” During this time,

the State, with its specific elements, exists and plays a definite, indispensable, positive role in society, different in various phases of development during the transition period. But at the same time the role of the State decreases perceptibly, its bodies undergo transformation, direct democracy develops steadily, and the functions of various bodies of social self-government expand. The forms under which this process evolves have already been seen to be multifarious, and they will remain so in the future.

Thus the Jugoslavs come back to the classic Marxist theory of the withering away of the state and differentiate themselves radically from Stalinist “state socialism.”

Their original contribution in this field, however, is the following: Far from being satisfied with the statification of all the means of production and their administration by the state, as the unique, or highest, form of property and of social management, the Jugoslavs consider – and quite rightly – that this form is in reality the very first – and, admittedly, indispensable – stage of the society that will succeed capitalism.

This form of indirect social property must in reality tend “toward maximum direct social ownership, managed ever more directly by the emancipated and associated working people,” parallel with the material, social, and political strengthening of socialist society. The degree of withering away of the economic, social, and political role of the state must be shown precisely in the development of the direct management of production by the producers, and of the self-government of all social cells.

Socialism is not summarized in the statification of all the means of production and their management by the state apparatus, but in the replacement of old capitalist social relations by new socialist relations characterized by the more and more direct management of the economy and society by the producers and workers. It is only to the extent that this economic and social content of socialism materializes that the system roots itself effectively and can gradually do without the means of economic and political coercion that the state apparatus uses to maintain it.

As is known, the Jugoslavs put this conception into practice by setting up workers’ councils, communes, and other organizations of self-government. Workers’ management of the plants by workers’ councils, and direct administrative management of the commune as a basic politico-territorial organization – these, according to the Jugoslavs, bring about direct socialist democracy, in which must be reflected the withering away of the state and the attainment of the deepest essence of socialism.

That is, naturally, a way that fundamentally breaks away from the Stalinist religion of “state socialism,” which erected ownership and management by the state apparatus into the sacred and supreme form of socialism. That is also a way that is of great value in fighting concretely against the bureaucratic danger.

We have, however, had occasion to express our regret [2] that the Jugoslavs in practice limit the content of socialist democracy to economic democracy and do not extend it to political democracy as well. In theory, the Programme of the VIIth Congress contains excellent observations on the broadening of socialist democracy, synonymous with the withering away of the state and the only effective means of struggling against bureaucracy, as long as economic and cultural conditions do not yet permit of extirpating the very roots of the bureaucratic phenomenon.

But nowhere is it clearly stated that no matter what broadening of direct social democracy cannot replace the necessary parallel broadening of socialist political democracy, defining the latter as the right to tendencies inside the revolutionary Marxist party and the right to existence of other political parties operating within the constitutional legality of the workers’ state.

In reality, only such socialist political democracy can prove to be the most effective means for struggling against the constant danger of bureaucratization and bureaucracy during the epoch of transition.

The Jugoslav Programme, apart from the chapter on the role and conceptions of the League of Jugoslav Communists, contains a number of excellent references to the mission of communists as the vanguard of the socialist movement. We must stress and salute the fact that in this field as well the Jugoslavs are coming back to the teaching of Marx and Lenin, stating that communists are only the most conscious part of the class, but that they cannot substitute themselves for it either before, during, or after the revolution. The communist party must not lead or govern in the name of the class, but with the class, the class having primacy over the party. The Programme states:

The relationships between the Communist and the working masses cannot be either the relationships between the ruling Party and those who are ruled, or the relationship between teacher and pupil; it must increasingly assume the character of a relationship between equal partners.

Communists must reject any idea of monopoly both in the leadership of the struggle for the revolution and in the state built after the seizure of power. Primacy must always belong to the class, democratically organized and freely expressing itself. Communists must shake off the temptation – often rendered easy, it is true, by objective conditions – to confuse the class with the party, and the party with the state, and must always tend to cause the class as a whole to act as directly as possible.

In general, the Programme of the Jugoslavs shows a real return to the essence of classical Marxism, grossly deformed by Stalinism. Whether it be a question of the conception of the socialism of the transitional state, of the way of tackling the problems of socialism (planification, collectivization of agriculture, workers’ management, etc.), or of the necessarily liberal socialist policy in the arts and sciences, or of the deeper philosophy of socialism, centred definitively on the social individual, which concerns the creation of optimum conditions for his maximum flowering, the Jugoslavs seem to have seriously mastered the teaching of the classics of Marxism and to have themselves elaborated on these matters in a way that is often original, quite felicitous, and always spontaneous and sincere.

December 1958


1. It can naturally be supposed that the Jugoslavs say less than they really think, but in this case they are themselves proceeding in their turn to concessions starting from “pragmatic” and not strictly principled considerations.

2. See the first part of the present article in our last (autumn) issue.

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