Michel Pablo

Remarks on the New Programme
of the Jugoslav Communists

(December 1958)

From Fourth International (Amsterdam), No. 4, Autumn 1958, pp. 10–13.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

We now have the final text of the programme of the League of Jugoslav Communists adopted at their VIIth National Congress. This enables us to form more exact, more overall, and more objective views of this remarkable theoretical document. A reading of it immediately reveals the deeper reasons for the frantic campaign launched by the Kremlin and Pekin against “Jugoslav revisionism.”

What is in question is, among other things, a thorough criticism of Stalinist revisionism, its doctrines and its practices. This revision of Stalinism is the indirect result of the Jugoslav Communists’ efforts to think the questions of socialism through theoretically in the light of their own experience.

What is immediately striking about their document is the spontaneity and freshness of a thinking that has rid itself of cliches and schemata, trying to grasp problems with the help of the creative method of revolutionary Marxism.

The Jugoslav document, far from “theorizing a posteriori the opportunist practices of a bureaucracy that has set itself up as a dominant privileged caste, as is the case with Stalinist political and “theoretical” literature, demonstrates a real and very serious effort at theoretical construction, broadly free, so to speak. Naturally, shortcomings in this construction, reflecting the incidence of the historical formation, the situation, and the present role of the Jugoslav leadership, are not lacking, and we shall point them out. But, by comparison with Stalinist productions, the Jugoslav document is unquestionably a remarkable contribution by a communist political current operating with a great freedom of thought. By this fact alone the document would, have a “subversive,” “explosive” character if it were known and acknowledged as a platform by a “brother” party in the USSR, in China, and in the other “people’s democracies.”

It would introduce there a method of anti-dogmatic thinking, while yet clearly bringing out the “present questions of socialism” and the general way of tackling them. That is to say, it would introduce there a method of thinking, ideas, and problems, that are flatly opposed to official “thinking.” It would at the same time strikingly demonstrate the unquestionable ideological superiority of the Jugoslav Communists both over the “theoretical” improvisations of the XXth Congress and the “reports” and “theses” of Comrade Khrushchev, and over the rudimentary pragmatism, often neo-Stalinist in essence, of the Chinese leaders. The Jugoslav document furthermore contains a devastating and scarcely camouflaged criticism of Stalinism both as theory and as practice. It was therefore necessary to cast absolute discredit on this “heretical” document and exclude any idea of causing it to be made known and discussed in even the most slightly amicable and objective manner. The articles thenceforward devoted regularly in each number of La Nouvelle Revue Internationale – on the model of the late For a Lasting Peace ... during the 1948-1953 period – to attacking “Jugoslav revisionism” are significant of the way in which the Kremlin and Pekin conceive of “objective” information and discussion. We shall later on give some examples. As for our movement, we can only be enormously pleased that a Communist current is trying by its thinking to reaffiliate itself to the creative method and ideas of revolutionary Marxism and has been led to a critical revision of the monstrous deviation represented by Stalinism in the field of theory and practice.


The new programme of the Jugoslavs ends with a fine sentence that summarizes the critical and creative spirit that animates their thought:

[...] we must remain critical of ourselves and our work, be uncompromising toward all kinds of dogmatism, and stay faithful to the revolutionary creative spirit of Marxism. Nothing that has been created should be so sacred to us that it cannot be transcended and superseded by something still freer, more progressive, and more human.

The Jugoslavs like to stress that Marxism is not a congealed teaching or a system of dogmas, but that it proceeds by the “bold and impartial search for truth” – which leads them quite properly to consider the “dogmatization” of Marxism – a term by which they mean its Stalinist deformation – as the most harmful “revisionist” aspect of Marxism at the present time.

The Jugoslavs in their thinking try to grasp reality not only in a merely critical but in a dialectical way, i.e., to grasp it in its contradictions in perpetual struggle. Such an approach to reality and “truth” is, furthermore, inconceivable without the free struggle of ideas.

In theory at least, the Jugoslavs seem to be perfectly conscious both of the contradictions of the period of transition from capitalism to socialism and of the need of finding the “path to socialism” through the free struggle of ideas:

Naturally these processes often go through difficult periods of struggle, convulsion, error, groping, and temporary setback. [...]

The construction of socialism in the transition period, therefore, cannot be left to peaceful, smooth and uniform operation by the leading forces of socialist society; it is an organic social progress developing through its own internal contradictions. In the course of this process socialist society gradually eliminates the vestiges of the exploitation systems and their ideologies, and at the same time it eliminates its own transitional and obsolete relations and forms – its own errors and conservatism.

The contradictions and conflicts of the transitional period cannot be solved administratively, by the intervention of an authoritative and all-powerful state, but only

gradually, through long evolutionary processes and the conflict of opinion, in line with the development of the material foundations of socialist society and with the formation of socialist social consciousness. [Our italics]

The theoretical developments contained in the programme of the Jugoslav Communists can be schematically classified in four main heads, concerning: state capitalism, state bureaucratism, theory of the transitional proletarian state, and role of the communist party. We shall also stress elsewhere their conceptions concerning foreign and cultural policies.

”State Capitalism” and the Transition to Socialism

Comrade Ernest Germain, in the article he devoted to the draft of the Jugoslav programme in the Summer issue of Fourth International, cast critical light on the Jugoslav conceptions about state capitalism. I must add the following remarks thereto.

The criticisms that the Kremlin apologists make of the Jugoslavs’ conception of “state capitalism” are, naturally, inexact and completely deform both the letter and the spirit of their writings. It is completely false that the programme of the Jugoslavs states that the capitalist regime “has ceased to be capitalist” or that the state “seems to be setting itself above the classes,” or is “balancing between the classes,” or that a “transformation by an evolutionary path from capitalism to socialism might be possible,” as Y. Ostrovitianov and V. Tcheprakov write in the October 1958 number of the Nouvelle Revue Internationale. There are whole sentences in the programme, as well as in the final report of Kardelj, which textually contradict these lying affirmations.

But what is true, and what Comrade Germain already pointed out, is a certain obscurity still existing in the text between very clear statements concerning the control of the capitalist state by monopolies and the distinguishing of a “state capitalist bureaucracy,” to which an autonomous role seems sometimes to be attributed. Now this “state capitalist bureaucracy” is composed of capitalists, i.e., elements themselves owning capitalist property, agglomerated with a majority of elements at the service of the bourgeoisie. That is to say that it is a question rather of a capitalist “state bureaucracy,” namely of a layer ensuring the functioning of the capitalist state controlled by the monopolies and the big bourgeoisie, than of a “state capitalist bureaucracy” to some extent distinct from such a role. The question is important for the following reasons: The term “state bureaucracy” covers different social contents and different functions, even though they have deep characteristics in common, depending on whether it is a capitalist state, the state of an underdeveloped country, or a workers’ state, that is in question. In the first case we have a bureaucracy that ensures the functioning of the capitalist state controlled by the big bourgeoisie; in the second, it partly takes on the role of stimulating the development of a national bourgeois class; in the third, the “state bureaucracy” deforms and hinders the socialist development of the new society, while being dependent on its economic and social foundations.

In the first two cases the “state bureaucracy” serves the development of capitalism. In the third case, it deforms and blocks the development of socialism.

Hence when speaking of a “state bureaucracy,” it is right to take into account the social nature of the state in question. But this is important also in connection with the transition to socialism.

If the “state capitalist bureaucracy” in the case of capitalist states is of a profoundly capitalist nature, and if at the same time the grip of monopoly capital thereon grows stronger, with evolution, instead of weaker, as the Jugoslavs admit in their programme, all equivocal allusions to a possible greater .participation or association of the working class in the power in these countries must in reality be excluded.

Extensions of “state capitalism” by “nationalizations” and other interventionist measures, though economically they approach socialism, politically – as assumed by a state of a profoundly capitalist nature which, from this viewpoint, grows stronger – only render more imperious the working class’s need, not to associate itself with this mechanism, not to appropriate it gradually, but to break it and to reconstruct it.

Now in the Jugoslav programme and the explanations of such leaders as Kardelj, there are several unquestionable ambiguities and contradictions about the so-called “peaceful,” “evolutionary” path toward socialism. Let us take for example the section – a very interesting one, incidentally – of the programme subtitled The People’s Government as a Form of Dictatorship of the Proletariat. It states there:

The steady growth of the forces of socialism on a world-wide scale, and the increase of their influence on the general development of society, will cause an even greater abundance of diverse political forms of dictatorship of the proletariat to appear in the future – from revolutionary dictatorship to parliamentary government in which the working class and its social and economic interests wield decisive influence. It is possible for the class struggle, while developing toward a dictatorship of the proletariat, to increase this diversity even further with various transitional forms of specific dual rule and compromise in which the growing influence of working class interests will be in evidence – until that influence becomes predominant in the political form which results from the concrete conditions of the class struggle. [Our italics]

Is a “parliamentary government in which the working class and its social and economic interests wield decisive influence” a form of “dictatorship of the proletariat,” or rather a yet further transitional form of “dual rule” evolving toward the “dictatorship of the proletariat”?

The question is raised both because in practice a “parliamentary government” that is not exclusively proletarian has not yet been seen to be in fact a form of the “dictatorship of the proletariat” and because by its very nature the dictatorship of the proletariat, according to the programme itself, is “the social substance of a government and political system in which the leading role of the working class is undisputed.” (Our italics)

Now the programme correctly adds:

In that sense the undisputed leading role of the working class means not merely the simple presence of a workers’ party in the government, but such relationships between class and political forces in the country whereby the working class and its leading socialist forces [...] are in a position to change social relationships, in accordance with their social and economic interests, and really do change them.

Consequently, a distinction must be made between transitional government toward the dictatorship of the proletariat, including “workers’ and peasants’ government” and dictatorship of the proletariat, in which the working class is socially and politically dominant. Can that final form be reached by the “evolutionary” path, “gradually,” the working class gradually increasing its influence over the economic and political apparatus of the capitalist state by its growing role in for example the “nationalizations” and “parliament,” as the programme here and there intimates? The clarification brought to this question by Kardelj is also not satisfactory, in our opinion. Kardelj says:

The programme starts out from the idea that the peaceful path in reality constitutes only one form of the revolution.

Essentially evolution constitutes a quantitative accumulation of factors in social development, and these factors, having reached a given degree, inevitably require a jump from quantity into a higher quality.

This is in fact the substance of the revolution. In this sense, evolution and revolution represent two sides of a single process. The jump itself, however, may be made by means of a violent revolutionary conflict or by a series of such conflicts, but it’ can equally well be made by means of a relatively peaceful process, during which the working class and the vanguard socialist forces gradually win a leading role in the power and in social life, and gradually bring about a socialist transformation by a series of measures abolishing exploitation, nationalizing the means of production, and assuming the incontestable leading role of the social and economic interests of the working class in overall social developments, i.e., by a series of measures of an essentially revolutionary nature.

Can the jump itself be broken down into a series of economic and political measures taken “gradually”? In this case, would it not be a question rather of a prolongation of the evolution, causing the revolution, which constitutes the “jump,” to disappear?

The revolution consists, not in the “revolutionary” nature of the measures, of “reforms” “gradually” applied, but in the complete seizure at a given moment of the political power of the bourgeoisie, which enables the revolution to break the old state machinery, to remake it, and only thus, under the new political regime of the dictatorship of the proletariat, with new state machinery, to be able radically to transform the former society economically and socially. Whether this revolutionary act can be performed in a “relatively peaceful” way depends on the resistance of the bourgeoisie. But any illusion about a gradual and peaceful penetration of the working class in the economic and political management of the capitalist state can only prove fatal to the proletariat. The recent example of France is there to show once more that this “new path to socialism” is in practice excluded for the proletariat of capitalist countries. [1]

On the other hand, one cannot fail to be completely in agreement with the Jugoslavs on the various forms that will be taken by “dual rule,” the last step before the dictatorship of the proletariat, as well as the latter. One can also only be completely in agreement with them about the possibility that a form of the dictatorship of the proletariat will be assumed not exclusively by the revolutionary Marxist party alone but in alliance with other soviet parties, i.e., parties that accept the constitutional legality of the proletarian state.

And that is a new and important progressive development in the thinking of the Jugoslav Communists. Their programme states:

The League of Yugoslav Communists is also of the opinion that the proclamation of absolute monopoly by the Communist Party of political power as a universal and “perpetual” principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of socialist development is an untenable dogma.

This idea is the result of the conception that neither the revolution nor socialism are the exclusive work of the revolutionary Marxist vanguard but of the initiative and the action of the democratically organized class as a whole.

The Jugoslavs are thus engaged in abandoning the Stalinist bureaucratic conception that substituted the party for the class (and in reality, the leadership for the party) [2] and in theoretically considering, for the moment at least, the system of several parties as a possibility in “socialist democracy.”

In the chapter titled The Political System of Government of the Working People, the programme says:

Hence, the Communists are not faced with the alternative of a multi-party or a one-party system. Both alternatives may be valid during a particular period in socialist development in different countries. They are faced with the problem of deciding what new forms of democracy should be brought into being by socialist development; what new forms are required by social relations based on social ownership over the means of production ? When referring to the multi or one-party systems as initial forms of socialist democracy, one should not lose sight of the fact that socialist democracy does not exclude, but rather presupposes a variety and versatility of concrete forms of democracy in different countries, [...] during various phases of socialist development. [Our italics]

This very important idea is completed by the affirmation that “Socialist democracy does not involve the abolition of political organizations in general,” which are on the contrary indispensable, among other things as “a platform for the airing of divergent points of view, thus giving expression to objective social contradictions.”

It is another question whether the application of these ideas in the Jugoslav case is still summed up in the existence of organisms of “direct democracy” and the political organizations of the League of Communists and the Socialist Alliance of the Working People, without the existence as yet of the right to create other political parties operating within the Jugoslav constitutional framework.

We shall speak of these questions again when we examine the Jugoslavs’ theory of the proletarian state.

[In the next issue: State Bureaucratism, Theory of the Proletarian State in Transition,
and the Role of the Communist Party


1. Kardelj’s explanation seems to us to be close to that which Mikoyan gave on the same question at the XXth Congress. Khrushchev, for his part, has jumped with both feet into what may be called “revolution by evolution”. As for the Communist Parties, they immediately interpreted this conception as a theoretical justification for their opportunist practice of class collaboration and the “popular front.” It is consequently comic, to say the least, to see the theoreticians of the Nouvelle Revue Internationale now reproaching the Jugoslavs for their “evolutionary revisionism” and drawing themselves up as the stern defenders of the revolutionary struggle “to break the old machine of the capitalist state and create a new socialist state”! (Article of Y. Ostrovitranov and V. Tcheprakov in the October number of the Nouvelle Revue Internationale)

2. The theoreticians of the Nouvelle Revue Internationale recall for us the No. 1 article of faith for all good Stalinists: “The Communist Party is the supreme form of organization of the working class, and the dictatorship [of the proletariat] can be ensured only by the vanguard that has concentrated in itself the revolutionary energy of that class.” (Our italics) (Vide Nouvelle Revue Internationale, September 1958: article by Glaeserman and B. Oukraintsev)

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Updated on: 10 October 2015