Another Look at the Question of Yugoslav Socialism

The following is a comment by May9 from the debate about Slavoj Žižek. As always, posting this here doesn’t imply complete agreement on the part of the editor:

This whole conversation is ironic, considering [Mike] Ely’s earlier protests against the Comintern “universalizing” the Soviet model on everyone, but whatever.

The question of Yugoslav socialism is not as straight forward as the sectarian critique “Is Yugoslavia a Socialist Country?” would have you believe. Indeed, the Maoists themselves never had a clear position on this issue, as they vacillated between recognition of Yugoslavia as a socialist country and sectarian opposition, change which was dependent on Chinese relations with the Soviet Union, not ideology. For example, while Yugoslavia was one of the first countries to recognize the PRC in 1949, Mao didn’t reciprocate due to the split with the USSR. However in late 1954 the CCP reestablished party to party relations with the “renegade” Tito, which effectively meant recognition of Yugoslavia as a socialist country. In 1958, after the League of Communists of Yugoslavia published its draft before its party Congress in April, Yugoslavia came under fire from first and foremost the “revisionist” (or in Ely’s view, “capitalist”) Soviet Union. Following the USSR’s lead, China began polemical attacks against Yugoslavia and broke off party to party relations. In the early 1960s, the Sino-Soviet split began to be open and Yugoslav-Soviet relations improved. Chinese anti-Yugoslavism stemmed from the view that Yugoslavia was too close to Moscow. As a result, relations remained frosty until the late 1960s, at the height of the Cultural Revolution. The main reason for this is due to Yugoslav support for Czechoslovakia against the USSR. Relations from 1970-1977 were quite friendly, or at least not hostile. No longer would we hear any complaints about Tito from Mao. In 1977 Hua Guofeng, who most anti-revisionists uphold as a staunch Marxist-Leninist, reopened party to party relations with Yugoslavia – which again meant recognition of Yugoslavia as a socialist country. Not coincidentally at this time, Sino-Soviet relations were cold.

Now – what of Yugoslav revisionism itself? First I must discuss the origins of the Yugoslav-Soviet split, and the expulsion of Yugoslav from the Cominform in 1948. The misconception about this event is that the expulsion itself was caused by Yugoslavia’s revisionist deviations. This is incorrect. Revisionism in Yugoslavia took place as a result of their expulsion, it was not the cause. In 1948 Yugoslavia was the most “orthodox” of all the new socialist countries in Europe. Indeed if one looks at the letters written back and forth between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia in 1948, one can see that the Yugoslav Communists insisted that there were not following “their own road” to socialism. Later, they would say they were, yes. The 1946 Yugoslavia constitution was a carbon copy of the Soviet constitution of 1936. By 1948, Yugoslavia had moved farther on the path of collectivization of agriculture than any other Eastern European socialist state. They were virtually alone among socialist states at being almost totally collectivized in this sector [check out Ivo Banac’s book – With Stalin Against Tito, to verify this]. Yugoslavia also established a more firm dictatorship of the proletariat against collaborators, and bourgeois forces than most, if not all, other new socialist countries. They tried hardest root out bourgeois influence from the country.

Tito, Stalin, and Molotov

In 1948 Tito also did not question Soviet leadership over the socialist bloc, as is alleged. Soviet leaders from 1945-1947 stressed Yugoslavia’s loyalty. Yugoslavia made the Soviet-Yugoslav alliance its central foreign policy tenet. They were so loyal that it was Yugoslavia who most fiercely criticized Poland’s Gomulka at the 1946 Cominform meeting (which was held in Belgrade!) for his deviations from the Marxist-Leninist line. The Soviets held Yugoslavia up to other Eastern European countries as a role model.

The source of the expulsion from the Cominform was not revisionist economic policies or anything of the sort, but rather a conflict about the proper policy towards the Greek Civil War. Tito wanted to intervene and help the Greek revolutionaries defeat the imperialists. Stalin, ever cautious in his European foreign policy just after the war, was against intervention because he did not want to give the imperialists an excuse to attack the socialist bloc. Even after the Tito and Yugoslavia were expelled in 1948, Tito insisted that Yugoslavia’s “unwavering loyalty to the science of Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin prove in practice that we (the KPJ) do not deviate from the path of that science”
Now – and this is important – as things became nasty after Yugoslavia’s expulsion, the socialist countries implemented a blockade on Yugoslavia from 1948-1954. That means no trade. Yugoslavia was then forced to increase its trade with the capitalist countries enormously and adjust its economic policies. It didn’t have much of choice.

Yugoslavia is/was much smaller than either China or the Soviet Union, it cannot afford to be dependent on one or another country for essential goods, else it be cut off like it was in 1948 and be utterly devastated. The expulsion in 1948 had the effect of throwing Yugoslava into the clutches of revisionism. None the less at the time of 1963, when this polemic was written, Yugoslavia’s industry and trade was nearly totally socialized, while its agriculture was 15% socialized. Yugoslavia is criticized for giving up on any program of collectivized agriculture, but yet this model was followed by Cuba – the one socialist country that the Ely types don’t denounce as capitalist but rather a “work in progress”. Cuba never collectivized agriculture and Castro has repeatedly said to do so would be a terrible idea. Once again there are double standards about these things.

One must ask what do the anti-revisionists who actually live in Yugoslavia think about this question? After all we were scolded by Mr. Ely that comments made without ‘investigation’ hold little weight. The CCP didn’t investigate the conditions of Yugoslavia first hand in 1963 (or earlier), but nevertheless felt they could attack it. The leading anti-revisionist party in the former Yugoslavia today is the NKPJ – New Communist Party of Yugoslavia. They state, “The NKPJ is strongly against Titoism but is of the opinion that Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRJ) was a socialist country until 1990.” They also say, “Socijalizam koji je postojao u Jugoslaviji, SSSR i Istočnoj Evropi imao je stotine nedostataka i mana i hiljade vrlina. Za običnog čoveka, za većinu, bio neuporedivo bolji od onoga što ovde i tamo postoji danas.” Translate: The socialism which existed in YUGOSLAVIA, the USSR, and Eastern Europe had hundreds of failures and flaws, and thousands of virtues. For the ordinary person, for the majority, it was much better than what exists [in these places] today.”

Do they say that the breakup of Yugoslavia was a result of the capitalist economic policies of the Titoites, as Ely & friends bogusly charge? No. They say

“Socijalistička federativna republika Jugoslavija nije se raspala, kako neki tvrde i pokušavaju da dokažu, ona je nasilno srušena i razbijena. SFRJ je razbio zapadni imperijalizam.”

Translation: The SFRJ did not collapse, as some have tried to prove, it was violently torn apart and destroyed. SFRJ was smashed by western imperialism.

They go on to say that the planned destruction of Yugoslavia was done “uz inicijativu i uz podršku čelnika i krupnog kapitala NATO država, Vatikana, ekstremnog religioznog fundamentalizma, i uz angažovanje domaćih nacional-šovinističkih, separatističkih, profašističkih i drugih retrogradnih snaga.”

Translation: (It was done) with the initiative and support of the leaders and capital from NATO states, the Vatikan, extreme religious fundamentalists, and the involvement of domestic national-chauvinists, separatists, fascists, and other retrograde forces.

Why would they want to do this, if Yugoslavia was such a compliant capitalist state, as you claim?

NKPJ says “Najlakši način za rušenje socijalizma bio je podsticanje međunacionalnih sukoba koji su doveli do krvavog, bratoubilačkog, rata na ovim prostorima” – The easiest way to OVERTHROW SOCIALISM was to encourage inter-ethnic conflicts that led to civil war in the region. So they could divide socialist Yugoslavia up into a bunch of ethnically homogenous mini-states at once dependent on western capital for survival and unable to work together.
In summary: Your assessment of the events in Yugoslavia is outrageous, and your condemnation of Yugoslav socialism is one-sided and sectarian. No “learning” will come out of reading Kasama’s “Yugoslavia deserved it” line.

11 responses to “Another Look at the Question of Yugoslav Socialism

  1. Thank you for posting this. I am fascinated with the former Yugoslav people’s separate path to socialism, and I am happy to see the discussion continues on social self-managed societies and on the merit of non-aligned social movements. The legacy of Yugoslavia stands as a testament to the practical possibilities of humanist Marxism.

  2. A most fascinating and intriguing look at this topic. Even as a Marxist-Leninist, I am of some agreement that Yugoslavia was, more than less, Socialist. While not in line with the USSR (and even they betrayed Marxism-Leninism, to the point of destroying the Union), there are many things to be learned from the Yugoslav experiment.

    While Tito’s policies did include “market Socialism” or “revisionist” ideas, I do agree with the opinions of the NKJP (as mentioned in the article). Actually, I’ve never had too many criticisms of Yugoslavia. The People’s Republic of China on the other hand…

  3. 4 Leaf Clover

    i must say that , the majority of NKPJ members think that SFRJ economical and ideological road was fron and failing. as they like to say “we criticize Yugoslavian socialism in front of other progressive leftist, but defend it in front of bourgoisie democrats and reactionaries”

    which means that only anti-revisionist party in Serbia , NKPJ is holding the same statement as all other anti-revisionist parties in the world. Yugoslavia was revisionist and its split from USSR was wrong

    • I’m not sure it is the same view.

      NKPJ, believes Yugoslav socialism was worth defending, and existed until 1990. Many others, including those being polemicized against above, said Yugoslav socialism ceased to exist in 1948 or never existed at all. This is an important difference, as I see it.

  4. yes socialism existed untill 1990 but quite bad one. New economical model in 1948 brought inside concurence. Thats inacceptable. Party members formed their national bureaucracies , which led to first national tensions , which republic gets more money , and what republic has the main role. Federal model was bad. Splitting from the bloc that was unique at the time was big error. Practicaly for nothing. No one thought Stalins suggestions are bad for any reasons. Yugoslav national bureaucrats just wanted their seats for themselves. Including Tito with his charisma vision of leading country into socialism. He just enjoyed his excentricism and trips around third world

  5. I think May9’s article is very interesting and helpful. It recognizes that Titoism was a revisionist trend, recognizes much of the context in which it was discussed, and takes the correct position that despite Tito’s revisionism, Yugoslavia remained a socialist country until 1990 and ought to have been defended.

    I think there is a contextual point that needs to be made about the “sectarianism” of the CCP’s polemic, which May9 correctly challenges. The CCP’s polemic on Yugoslavia that May9 discusses here was written as part of a struggle against Soviet revisionism over whether or not to uphold the Moscow “Declaration” and “Statement” of 1957 and 1960. These two meetings in Moscow are where the struggle between Marxism-Leninism and revisionism developed, and the open polemics between the Chinese and Albanians, on the one hand, and the Soviets and their supporters on the other, are all dealing with points developing from those meetings.

    Importantly, the Chinese and Albanians were able, against the wishes of the Soviet Party, to get language into these documents condemning revisionism as the main danger within the international communist movement, as opposed to dogmatism, as Khrushchev and co. insisted. The struggle that unfolded from this was a struggle over the direction of the international communist movement, and the question of Yugoslavia was an important part of this struggle, if for no other reason than Titoism was the referent of the term “modern revisionism” prior to the open polemics against Khrushchev. (For a fascinating discussion of all of this, see Enver Hoxha’s memoirs, The Khrushchevites. While there is certainly much to disagree with in this book, I find it very helpful in terms of contextualizing the unfolding of the anti-revisionist struggle at that time.)

    So, in my mind, it is unreasonable to call the Chinese polemic “sectarian” when, right or wrong, it was based on the line developed by the whole international communist movement at those meetings.

    Second, it is worth exploring the criticisms of the Yugoslav communists that were accepted by the international communist movement at the time. James Klugmann, in his 1951 article “Titoism, A Tool of Capitalism and Imperialism” (originally a chapter of Klugmann’s book From Trotsky to Tito, though I’m reading it in the collection Collapse of the Soviet Union: Causes and Lessons, from the International Communist Seminar. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to locate the article online.) argues that the main criticisms levelled at the Titoites in 1948 were that they (1) were putting forward a theory of smooth and peaceful transition to socialism, (2) they were refusing to recognize any class differentiation among the peasantry, and (3), they were rejecting the Marxist-Leninist principle of the leading role of the working class by declaring the peasantry, not the working class, the most stable foundation of the Yugoslav state. The argument is that they were building a bourgeois nationalist Kulak Party, and that their opportunism arose from this class basis.

    So based on this, it would appear that the 1948 Cominform resolution, put forward by the Soviet Party and adopted by the whole of the Socialist bloc, had more with which to take issue than the Yugoslav Party’s policy on Greece. This contradicts May9’s contention that revisionist opportunism arose in the Yugoslav party after they were expelled from the Cominform in 1948.

    What should we make of this? Was Stalin just cooking these charges up out of nowhere to get rid of Tito? I tend to doubt it. I think this needs further study and exploration.

  6. Well, I should add that it was not just Greece that was the cause of consternation, but Albania (you could argue Albania was actually more central than Greece, in a way). Tito wanted Albania to join Yugoslavia (as did Hoxha initially, until Stalin opposed the plan, Hoxha had been a loyal ally of Tito before ’48, and had purged anti-Tito forces in Albania – for example Naco Spiru – who held an anti-Belgrade line). Yugoslavia signed a treaty with Albania in 1946 that almost brought Albania completely into the Yugoslav economic system. Yugoslavia even had top level agents working in the Albanian Party which had decision-making authority over membership in the Albanian Politburo. Stalin did not want this integration plan to go forward too quickly, again for fear of inducing western attack on Albania to prevent it. Stalin had until 1947-48 always viewed Albania as a state in Yugoslavia’s sphere, and asked Yugoslavia for permission to invite Albanian representatives to Moscow for example. No Albanian reps even came to the Cominform meeting in ’47, because it was seen as essentially part of Yugoslavia. So initially the Soviets seemed to give the greenlight to Tito’s plan.

    Greece figures into all of this, because it was precisely when Tito became more involved with Greece that Stalin started to have misgivings about Tito’s overall Balkan policy, and especially plans re: Albania. Tito’s efforts in Greece stemmed from his goal of strengthening the integration efforts with Albania, as well. Yugoslavia increased their presence in Albania as a result of the Greek civil war.

    When the Soviets began sending advisors and specialists directly to Albania, this frustrated Yugoslavia as they believed it would reorient Albania to want to keep their independence. That’s exactly what happened. Albania came to see the Soviets as a bulwark against Yugoslav influence. There was a power struggle within Albania between the pro-Belgrade and anti-Belgrade forces. Yugoslavia went to the Soviets to consult about purging Albania of “traitors” (anti-Belgrade forces). The Soviets registered concern about integration of Albania against its will.

    Yugoslavia believed it had at least received tacit approval from Stalin to go ahead with their plan of increasing their influence in Albania, including a merging of their armies. An act which angered the Soviets severely was their stationing of troops in Albania near the Greek border without consulting the Soviets about it. Molotov said that this was viewed in the west as an act of “occupation” and would serve as a “pretext for intervention”. Tito responded by saying that Yugoslavia was defending Albania from Greek monarcho-fascists, and that if they left the fascists could take over southern Albania. Tito said it this creates a stir in the western press, that’s not his concern. But that if the Soviets want to abandon this project (Albania/Greece), they would accept their recommendations.

    The tone from the Soviets became very sharp after Tito sending the army to Albania. This is clear from the memos sent from Molotov. They demanded to meet in Moscow about these differences. At the meeting, Stalin scolded both the Bulgarians and the Yugoslavs for various things, among them was their position on the Greek Civil War. Stalin felt the Greeks couldn’t win, and that they should pull back to avoid antagonizing the West. He believed only military intervention could bring about a Greek victory, and that this would certainly provoke a western reaction. He did not want to cause a crisis over a lost cause.

    Essentially, Tito ignored Stalin’s requests about Greece, told the Greeks Stalin wanted to end the fight in Greece, and upped his assistance to the Democratic army there. They also continued with plans to send troops to Albania. Tito sent Albanians to try to convince Moscow of the need for a Yugoslav-Albanian merger.

    Overall it’s hard for me to believe in a span of less than a year, Yugoslavia had gone from model socialist country and hosting the inaugural Cominform meeting to committing all these ideological errors in terms of economic policy, dictatorship of the proletariat and whatever else. The big difference between 47 and 48 was tensions over foreign policy.

  7. On the same meeting Stalin suggested union of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria , and criticized acts that Yugoslavia and Bulgaria made without any contact or advising with Moscow , that probably includes Yugoslav actions about Greece and Albania and Bulgarian plans to make union with Romania. However i must note that Yugoslavia led the politics of practically “conquering” albania by political intrigues, in the way of supporting Koci Xoxe as a replacement for Enver Hoxa , Xoxe being pro-Tito line. Certanly , Yugoslav national bureaucracy was dishonest towards Albania , and lead some weird vacuum socialism

  8. Ely's best friend

    It should be noted that in the larger discussion of dogmatism revolving around Ely’s blatant revisionism, he cited an essay Mao wrote on Yugoslavia to “prove” it wasn’t socialist. Ely claiming FRSO is dogmatic is hysterical, considering he takes as pretty much axiomatic all the views that come from China during the Sino-Soviet split.

  9. Can you provide a source for the several statistics you put forth? Such as the 15% socialized agriculture, the existence of the blockade and such?
    I passed 2 hours trying to find any source, nothing.

  10. Yugoslavia was one of the greatest socialist country ever.
    It had the best living standards in eastern Europe and Asia.

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