EDUARD BENEŠ once described Milovan Djilas as the only Communist leader he knew who dared to think independently. Josef Korbel, former Czechoslovak Ambassador to Jugoslavia, to whom Beneš made this statement, added his own opinion that Djilas "does not like to conceal from himself the situation as it really is, which most Communists do."[i] Stalin is reported to have considered Djilas a very frank man, who said what he thought.[ii] Djilas seemed to enjoy being something of an enfant terrible--a colorful and cocky individualist who treated everyone, even Tito, with an air of informality. In short, Djilas had many of the very characteristics which are incompatible with discipline in a Communist Party, and it is surprising that he lasted as long as he did. Despite these qualities, Djilas became one of the three or four top figures in Jugoslavia. Among other things he was President of the People's Assembly, Vice-President of the Federal Executive Council, member of the Executive Committee (Politburo) of the Communist Party, and boss of the Jugoslav press and propaganda. He was regarded by some as Tito's most likely successor.

But last fall Djilas began publishing a series of articles analyzing the faults in various areas of Jugoslav life, and finally ending in an attack upon the Communist Party and the "caste" system of the new Communist "aristocracy." After a party trial, he was stripped of his honors and reduced to the rank of an ordinary citizen, but not until he had created an international scandal by writing about the love life of a Jugoslav general and a beautiful movie actress.

The Djilas case was not just another Communist purge like those of Beria or Slansky, but was unique in several respects. In the first place, almost all of the facts are available. About most Communist purges we can only speculate; for this one the world had a ringside seat. Djilas himself in his articles presented a revealing exposé of the Communist Party, the government and the private lives of the Communist hierarchs. His trial was fully covered by both press and radio, providing additional peeks into the Communist inner circle. Djilas apparently was not subjected to "brain-washing," was not accused of Trotskyism, of collaborating with the enemy, or of spying for foreign Powers, and he did not make the usual type of Communist "confession."

The case is revealing also for the light it throws on the difficulties which the Jugoslav leaders are having in developing a new kind of "Socialist democracy" which is neither the old-style Stalinism of 1945-48 nor Western-style "bourgeois democracy." Of additional interest is the fact that Djilas and his critics have reenacted with surprising similarity some of the classical controversies of Marxism which raged in the early twentieth century among Leninists, "Ekonomists," Mensheviks, Bernsteinists, etc.


The Djilas case was an outgrowth of important changes which have taken place in the Jugoslav Communist Party, government and economy since the Cominform break of 1948. The dispute with Moscow led the Jugoslav leaders to the conclusion that the U.S.S.R. was not the workers' paradise they had long imagined, but rather a centralized, undemocratic despotism--in a word, Socialist democracy had succumbed to "bureaucratism." The words "bureaucracy" and "bureaucratism" acquired a special meaning in Jugoslavia. They referred not so much to administrative inefficiency and red tape as to compulsion, arbitrariness and undemocratic methods, all of which were now recognized as being characteristic of the U.S.S.R.

The Jugoslav Communists knew, of course, that they had been pushing Jugoslavia along the same path, but they resolved that they would return to the "true teachings" of Marxism-Leninism and get rid of its "Stalinist deviations." Consequently, beginning in 1950 the Jugoslav leaders introduced a series of reforms intended to weaken arbitrary rule and increase to some extent the element of democracy in Jugoslav life. These reforms included the introduction of workers' management in industry, the dissolution of most of the forcibly-organized collective farms, the decentralization of economic and governmental administration, and some liberalization in the field of civil liberties. Changes in the government and the economy called for changes in the body which directed them both--the Communist Party. Thus the Sixth Party Congress was convoked in November 1952 and a new "democratic" program for the Party was set forth. The major change announced was that the Party should thereafter rule not by "administrative measures" (i.e. compulsion, arbitrary arrests, etc.), but should exert its influence through persuasion, education and example.

The Sixth Congress also proclaimed that the basic organizations of the Party (i.e. Party cells) should thereafter be more independent, that meetings should be open to the public, that the number of professional Party functionaries would be reduced, and Party secretaries would no longer hold the top positions in the local government. Communists were expected to continue to lead the masses along the path of Socialism, but to do it by genuine leadership rather than by force. To dramatize the new policy, the name of the Communist Party was changed to the Communist League.

But changing the actual character of the organization proved more difficult. In trying to introduce both Socialism and democracy, the Jugoslav leaders ran into the same contradiction which Lenin faced after the Russian Revolution: How can you introduce Socialism democratically, when the majority of the people do not want Socialism? Lenin's answer was to sacrifice democracy in order to achieve "Socialism" through the dictatorship of an all-powerful Party. Since the Jugoslav leaders had no intention of abandoning the goal of Socialism, they ran into the same contradiction, despite their attempts to reconcile it at the Sixth Congress. Regardless of their declarations that the Communist League would thereafter use only democratic methods, the fact remained that Communists continued to hold a monopoly of power in the country. The government, the economic system, the police, the army and all means of communication were still firmly under Communist control, where, indeed, they were intended to be. Under such conditions one could talk of democracy, but achieving it was out of the question. Communists might speak more softly than before, but they still carried a big stick.

This contradiction between democratic declarations and dictatorial practice was reflected in the difficulties which the Party rank and file had in interpreting the decisions of the Sixth Congress. Some Communists believed that no change at all was intended, that the new line was merely "an agitation-propaganda tactic." They continued to operate in the old "bureaucratic" manner of issuing orders and using the power of the state to enforce obedience. Other Communists took the talk about democracy much too seriously, became passive, relaxed Party discipline, spread "petty-bourgeois-anarchist ideas of freedom and democracy" and failed to suppress "foreign and anti-Socialist manifestations."

These two "negative tendencies" among Jugoslav Communists were discussed and condemned by a plenary meeting of the Party's Central Committee (a body of about 100 officials) which met on the island of Brioni in June 1953. Although the Plenum criticized the "bureaucrats" within the Party, it concentrated most of its fire on the "democrats," those who favored a relaxation of Party dominance. The Brioni Plenum was the signal for a general tightening of discipline within the Party and of control by the Party over anyone who acted contrary to official policy.[iii]

Djilas did not agree with his colleagues at the Brioni meeting. He revealed at his trial that he felt the attitude of the Central Committee was "one-sided," that "the struggle against bureaucratism" was being forgotten. It was partly to overcome this one-sidedness, he said, that he began writing a series of articles for Borba, the official newspaper of the Communist League.


Djilas's articles, which appeared from November 1953 into early January 1954, added up to a most thorough critique of present-day Jugoslav society. His main ideas can be summarized as follows: 1. Jugoslav Communists are not willing to trust the Socialist consciousness of the masses, although actually the majority of the people are ready to support the régime. 2. Communism will come about in Jugoslavia spontaneously, regardless of, or even in spite of, the Communist vanguard. 3. The class struggle in Jugoslavia has been successfully brought to an end, except that despotic officials sometimes recreate it artificially. 4. The chief enemy in Jugoslavia today is not the bourgeoisie but the Communist bureaucrat, not capitalism but bureaucratic despotism. 5. Communist bureaucrats wield a monopoly of power, trample on the law and prevent freedom of expression, which is essential for progress. 6. The only way to avoid developing further into Stalinist bureaucratism is by permitting greater democracy. 7. The goals for which Jugoslav Communists should strive are democracy and Socialism--not Communism. 8. To achieve democracy the Communist League must be completely reorganized, with discipline greatly relaxed. 9. Leninism--and not only Stalinism--contains within itself the seeds of despotism.

At the basis of most of Djilas's arguments was his faith in the Socialist consciousness of the people of Jugoslavia. The revolution, he said, has been successfully completed and the old ruling class has been so thoroughly destroyed that there is no longer any danger of counter-revolution. Socialist relations have on the whole been established, he said, except among the private peasantry.[iv] Large segments of the population, especially the workers, support the policies of the government and have attained a high level of Socialist consciousness:

The conscious--or so-called subjective--forces today are not limited to Communists and Socialist-conscious workers alone . . . but they also include all those who are in practice in favor of an independent, democratic and Socialist . . . Jugoslavia, regardless of whether their ideological or other conceptions are identical with this or that . . . Socialist dogma.[v]

Communism in Jugoslavia is inevitable (continued Djilas's argument) and will come about spontaneously, as the result of the objective forces of society rather than because of anything Communist leaders might do:

Communism is not the product of geniuses or of noble wishes and purposes but of social necessity. And something that is necessary is . . . spontaneous, revolutionary and evolutionary, at any rate inevitable, like all other objective processes in history.[vi]

The class struggle in Jugoslavia, said Djilas, is for all practical purposes at an end, although some Communists continue a "futile search" for class enemies.[vii] Bureaucrats, he said, artificially create class struggle by arbitrary actions and violations of the law. They "justify their arbitrariness and rule over the people by the danger of counter-revolution, although by their pressure and despotism they are provoking the resistance and dissatisfaction even of ordinary working people."[viii]

During the revolution and the consolidation of power, said Djilas, it was necessary for the Communists to conduct a struggle against the bourgeoisie and capitalism, but the chief danger today is not these but a new enemy--bureaucratism. According to Djilas, Soviet influence is still strong and there is a definite possibility that Jugoslavia is degenerating into a centralized bureaucratic despotism of the Soviet type, bossed by undemocratic Communists. These Communists "consider that freedom is not for everybody but only for them, because they regard themselves . . . as the most progressive, leading force of society."[ix]

Djilas argued that bureaucracy could not be abolished by the passing of resolutions; bureaucracy was inherent in any system where one political party held a monopoly of power:

Today no party or group, not even a class, can be the exclusive expression of the objective needs of the whole of society; it cannot assume exclusive rights to "manage" the productive forces without enslaving them, including the most important productive forces--people. . . . To weaken the monopoly of political movements . . . that is the demand of the times. . . . (Things have been reversed: from the necessary monopoly of the Party during the war, to the necessity of abolishing this monopoly during Socialism. . . .)[x]

With the establishment of Socialism, said Djilas, the objective conditions of society have changed, but the subjective forces (the Communists) have not changed. They still exercise all power, and they continue to behave in the old Stalinist manner. Although a new system of democratic, Socialist laws has been enacted, Communist "bureaucrats" violate the law on the assumption that "two kinds of citizens exist--one to whom law applies and one to whom it does not."[xi] Instead of the freedom of thought which is necessary for the development of new and better ideas, "there is still too much of a prescribed truth, a truth which is . . . revealed from above."[xii]

Jugoslav society, said Djilas, can now develop in one of two possible ways--Stalinist bureaucracy or Socialist democracy. "Today relations are such that those . . . who pretend that only their opinion is Socialist theory . . . must enter into conflict with the objective . . . processes. There is no and can be no other way out but more democracy."[xiii] "Liberation of human labor from any domination, i.e. constant struggle for democracy, is the only real and permanent purpose for us today."[xiv]

Djilas even went so far as to assert (as Eduard Bernstein had done many years before) that Communists should not look upon Communism as a final goal, since no such distant, final goal can be realized by the struggle of individuals. "The goal is not and cannot be Communism or a Communist society because in the end it will come anyhow."[xv] Instead of speaking about such a far-off goal as Communism, one should strive for constant movement toward the realization of specific, realizable tasks such as democracy and Socialism. "The goal today is . . . quick progress of Socialism and democracy through concrete and feasible forms--not Communism." Talk about an ideal Communist society, he said, merely "distracts attention from the bureaucratic reality."[xvi]

Typical of the un-Communist individualism of Djilas were his many statements in favor of freedom of ideas. All new ideas, he said, will at the beginning be the ideas of a minority and will "seem to the majority at the beginning as 'stupid,' 'mad,' and 'illogical.'" Yet such ideas must have free expression because "no one can know in advance which new idea is the progressive one." "The first task of Socialists . . . is to make sure that no one be really persecuted because of his ideas. Because only in such an atmosphere can these new ideas . . . come to the surface."[xvii]

In spite of the critical and even heretical ideas which they contained, Djilas's writings before December 27 did not attract much attention. President Tito, Vice-President Edvard Kardelj, Vice-President Alexander Ranković and other prominent figures were also writing and speaking along superficially similar lines in favor of "democracy" and "freedom" and against "bureaucracy" and "arbitrariness," etc. Tito himself admitted that some time in the fall of 1953 Djilas asked him what he thought of the articles, and he replied that, although he did not agree with everything in them, the good outweighed the bad and the articles should be continued.

Later, at Djilas's trial, several of the members of the Central Committee claimed that they had either neglected to read all of Djilas's articles, or had read them hastily, or had not understood much of what he was trying to say anyhow. While these might sound like simply alibis, the author is inclined to believe them, for he was in Belgrade at the time, reading Borba carefully every day, and his reaction was at first the same--namely, that Djilas's articles were usually abstract, obscure and wordy, and the ideas they contained were not particularly different from what other leaders were saying.

Yet Kardelj noticed important differences, and on December 22 he voiced his criticisms to Djilas in a private conversation. Djilas responded with an astounding series of statements which showed what exceedingly heretical notions lay behind the comparatively vague ramblings of his articles. Djilas made the following assertions (as reported by Kardelj):

First, that Comrade Tito was defending bureaucracy, and that he, Djilas, would sooner or later have to fight it out with him. Second, that Comrade Ranković and I were in fact in agreement with him, but that we were opportunists, and therefore did not want to argue with Tito. Third, that, whether we wanted it or not, a Socialist left wing was emerging in our country. And fourth, that the possibility of two Socialist parties emerging in our country cannot be discounted.

Kardelj was understandably "dumfounded." He presented counter arguments, and thought he had convinced Djilas. But two days later Djilas published another article in which he rather scornfully rejected any criticisms.[xviii]


While Kardelj and a few of the other top policy makers were privately expressing their doubts, the public assumed that Djilas was speaking for the Party, as had often been his function in the past. It was not until December 27, when Djilas began to make his criticisms more specific, that the readers of Borba sensed something big was happening. On that date Djilas lashed out at the Communist ruling caste in a manner normally heard only in the whispers of "reactionaries:"

The bureaucratic and dogmatic theory that Communists alone constitute the conscious force of Socialism . . . is only a stimulus encouraging their separation into something apart and outside of society. . . . This theory conceals . . . a tendency for a special, privileged position in society, for functions based on political and "ideological" adherence and not founded on abilities and professional knowledge. Through such practice and theory Communists must become isolated from the masses and be turned into priests and gendarmes of Socialism. . . .

Having arrived . . . at the position where they can centrally control everybody and everything--ranging from morals to philately--many Communists have failed to change their conceptions and even less their practice . . . following the "sudden" appearance of the spirit of democracy. Democracy is gradually more and more revealing not only who is the true enemy of Socialism, but also that the new enemy, bureaucracy, is even more dangerous than the previous one, capitalism. . . .

Public astonishment was compounded when Djilas went further and called for a radical reorganization of the Communist League and the complete abolition of the People's Youth and the trade unions:

The basic organizations of the Communist League . . . have reached an impasse. From above they are requested to do something, and they do not know what to do! Indeed they have nothing to do in the old manner. The themes for the so-called educational-ideological work . . . are obsolete and tedious. . . . Complaints about frequent and barren meetings are a normal and daily occurrence. . . . In my opinion, they should hold meetings occasionally at long intervals. . . .

. . . Is there really any need for a centralized political youth organization of the kind that exists today?

And what about the trade unions?

In my opinion . . . professional Party, youth and other workers are superfluous.

In a subsequent article Djilas declared that during the period of the seizure of power, the old type of Communist Party had been necessary, but that today this kind of Party led inevitably to bureaucratism. What Djilas then proposed was the transformation of the Communist League from a centralized, disciplined Communist Party (which it had never ceased being despite the change in name) into a loose, undisciplined league of "ideologically close people." Meetings of the basic organizations would be held only "in exceptional cases;" they would be truly public and they would consist only of lectures. "No one would 'control' their work, nor would they 'receive the line,' but by discussing theses and lectures they would determine their own attitudes."

The present Communist League . . . would "wither away" as a classical party, while . . . the real, conscious, voluntary discipline of true Communists would be gaining in strength. The Communist League would be gradually gaining the character of powerful cores spread everywhere, and would be losing the character of a party. It would merge with the Socialist Alliance, and the Communist with the ordinary citizen.[xix]

Whereas his colleagues rejected only Stalinism, Djilas was now ready to go much further and reject Leninism, particularly Lenin's concept of the Party:

The basic thing in . . . [Lenin's] teaching is . . . his teaching about the state (. . . revolution) and . . . his teaching about the party. . . . These forms (a party of a certain type) were meant only for a certain period while the armed struggle for power was being prepared and while it continued in order to deprive the bourgeoisie of its power. . . . The essence of Stalinism lies in the fact that he has changed the revolutionary Leninist party, "consolidated" it, put it in the center as the only force of Socialist construction. . . . But even if Lenin's ideas and practice had remained unchanged in the course of a longer period of development, the result would be despotic forms resembling those of Stalin's. . . .

The Leninist type of both party and state (dictatorship by means of the party) has become obsolete and must become obsolete everywhere and always . . . when the conditions of revolution cease, as soon as democracy actually comes into being.

These radical ideas, published in the official newspaper of the Communist League by one of the top men in the country, created heated discussion among Jugoslav Communists. Several newspapers published articles or letters expressing enthusiastic approval for Djilas's proposals. A writer who identified himself as "a Communist with 29 years of Party membership" endorsed Djilas's view that meetings of basic Party organizations were a waste of time, and predicted that "the Party . . . is headed for the museum."[xx] A citizen of Bosnia reported that a majority of the people were "fully in agreement with Djilas's ideas," while another declared that Djilas's articles came "as powerful sunbeams shining upon our life and people."[xxi]

What did Djilas expect to accomplish? His popularity among certain elements of the Party and the enthusiastic response to his articles seem to have gone to his head. He apparently began to think of himself as a hero chosen by fate to lead the people of Jugoslavia from bureaucratic despotism to democratic Socialism. It is difficult to believe that Djilas could have been so blind as to think that he could replace Tito, but his conversation with Kardelj does indicate that he imagined himself as the leader of a second Socialist (or Communist) party, or at least as the head of a faction within the Party. There is no evidence, however, that Djilas was taking any practical steps to organize a faction.

Perhaps Djilas felt that he and his program were so popular among both Communists and non-Communists that Tito, Kardelj, Ranković and the other "defenders of bureaucracy" would be afraid to attack him. Having failed to win the Communist leaders to his point of view at Brioni and after, Djilas appealed over their heads to the Communist rank and file. The majority of the Party, he apparently believed, would support his "democratic" aims in opposition to the "bureaucratic" policy of Tito. Tito would then be forced to adopt the "democratic" policy as his own or face a split in the Party.

The Party leadership was now in a quandary. To permit Djilas to continue publishing his heresies would add further to the confusion which reigned throughout the ranks of Communists. How serious this confusion was is shown by the fact that several members of the Central Committee of the Communist League later admitted that they had agreed with most of his ideas, and one confessed that he had even written an article propagating "Djilasism."[xxii]

Kardelj and Ranković spoke to Djilas in the early days of January and tried to bring him into line, but to no result. Tito was in Slovenia, trying to recover from an illness. What to do? To silence Djilas would reveal to the world the existence of a split at the very apex of the supposedly monolithic Communist League.

By this time Djilas apparently knew he was heading for a showdown, as he had been told by his fellow Montenegrin, Svetozar Vukmanović, that Tito did not approve of the article of December 27. Djilas's reaction was: "Will they convoke a plenum [of the Central Committee]?" But the prospect of being called before a meeting of the Central Committee did not bring him to a halt; it only spurred him to faster and more drastic action. He now prepared a new bombshell which removed any doubts which may have lingered in Tito's mind as to whether Djilas should be disciplined.

This bombshell took the form of a lengthy article entitled "The Anatomy of Morals" which Djilas secretly prepared and turned over to the printer without letting anyone see it except two or three intimates. It appeared on the streets in the January issue of Nova Misao, one of the top theoretical magazines in the country, and was promptly bought up by the public before Kardelj, Ranković, and apparently Tito, even knew of its existence. This article is probably the most devastating satire of top Commumunist society that has ever been published by a person currently belonging to it. The two chief characters were Djilas's Montenegrin friend, Colonel General Peko Dapčević, Chief of Staff of the Jugoslav Army, and Milena Vrsajkov, the General's 21-year-old actress bride. Although no one was named in the article, these two were described with sufficient detail for the public to identify them, and Dapčević later said the identification was correct.[xxiii]

"The Anatomy of Morals" was primarily a condemnation of the "caste" snobbishness of the wives of high government and Party functionaries. These "selfish monsters" who had once been heroic women, said Djilas, greeted Dapčević's young bride with "insidious hatred, scorn and icy boycott" because she was an actress and because she was not prominent in the Party. They also held it against her that she had not fought with the Partisans, in spite of the fact that she was only 13 at the end of the war.

While Djilas devoted most of his scorn to the wives of top Communist officials, he did not leave the husbands unscathed. His fellow members of the Central Committee must have burned at his references to the "closed world" which "had automobiles and Pullman cars, got its food and clothing from special stores, spent its holidays in special villas and summer resorts." This "inner circle," he said, maintained its solidarity "not so much from ideological and moral unity but rather from the same way of living and similar interests, from the nature of power and the manner in which it was attained."

The Nova Misao article was in a way the culmination of Djilas's attack on the whole Communist system in Jugoslavia. Greed, immorality, consciousness of rank and luxurious living were pictured by him as widespread among the Communist hierarchy. The heroes of the revolution, he said, had become not only despotic bureaucrats; they were also "sham aristocrats." In their private lives as well as in their official capacities, they were enemies of democracy. Djilas's piece of "political pornography" (as Moša Pijade called the article) constituted a frontal attack on the very Communist officials who would try his case. It was as if Djilas, in a final mad gesture, deliberately tried to rob himself of any support he may previously have had among the members of the Central Committee.

"The Anatomy of Morals" was the last straw. If Djilas had been worrying earlier that a Plenum of the Central Committee would be convoked to discuss his heresies, he must have known that this article made it inevitable. Tito's analysis of Djilas's actions at this point may very well be correct:

Comrade Djilas was acquainted with my negative opinion before he published his latest article in Nova Misao. He published it in a rush. And what was to be achieved by it? . . . The intention was in fact to disqualify us, the "circle" which he attacked in Nova Misao, from the moral point of view. . . .[xxiv]

There was no point in trying to cover up the dispute any longer. On January 10 Borba published an announcement declaring that the articles of Djilas were "contrary to the opinions of all other members of the Executive Committee." The whole subject, it was said, would be discussed at a forthcoming Plenum of the Central Committee.[xxv]


The Third Plenum at which heretic Djilas was put on trial was unlike other meetings of the Central Committee in that the proceedings were fully reported in the press and many of the speeches were broadcast over the radio. For two days various members of the Central Committee attacked Djilas, and only one defended him--his close friend, Vladimir Dedijer, the official biographer of Tito, and former member of the Jugoslav delegation to the United Nations.

The brunt of the attack was launched by Tito and Kardelj, with the other speakers mostly repeating or elaborating the same points. Tito made it clear at the beginning that Djilas's primary sin was his call for liquidation of the Communist League as presently constituted. But while criticizing Djilas on this point, Tito made the rather surprising admission that he himself had been the first to speak of the "withering away of the Party." He emphasized, however, that this would be a long process, not something which could take place in six months or a year or two. The Communist League, added Kardelj, could not be converted "into some sort of debate club without any internal discipline." Nor was Jugoslavia ready for a multi-party or two-party system, which Djilas was accused of favoring.

A disciplined Communist League is essential, said Tito, as long as it is still necessary to wage the class struggle. "Until the last class enemy is eliminated," he said, "until Socialist consciousness embraces the widest masses of our citizens at large, there can be no question of the . . . liquidation of the Communist League, because the Communist League is responsible for the fruits of the revolution." In the meantime, asserted Kardelj, the Communist League is the "exclusive expression of the interests of the whole of society."

Whereas Djilas had written with optimism about the acceptance of Socialism by the majority of the people, his critics found themselves in the rather awkward position of having to argue that most of the population were not behind the government. Kardelj emphasized especially the prevalence of anti-Communism among the peasants, who represent "over 65 percent of our population," in addition to the other "class enemies" in the cities. Tito and Kardelj both showed by their statements that they had not been fooled by the results of the national elections of November 1953, in which 85 percent of the voters had cast their ballots for the régime in supposedly free voting. They also admitted that the government depended upon coercion to maintain its rule and carry out its program. "We are forced," said Kardelj, "to retain even in economic relations, let alone in political life, certain elements of coercion in order to get away from old and backward ways as soon as possible." To extend democracy to the bourgeoisie, said Tito, would lead "to anarchy, to a terrible uncertainty . . . If we permitted this, in a year's time our Socialist reality would not exist; it would not exist, I tell you, without a bloody battle." On this particular point of popular opposition to the régime there seems little doubt the Djilas was the visionary optimist, while his opponents were the hard-headed realists.

While Djilas had emphasized throughout his articles the primary necessity of immediately extending democracy, his critics insisted that Socialism was a prerequisite for the further development of democracy. Djilas, said Kardelj, had put forward the old slogan: "First of all democracy, and only after that Socialism." "Such a slogan," said Kardelj, "is senseless, especially under our conditions where any kind of democracy is impossible without Socialism, even bourgeois democracy." "True democracy," said Tito, "cannot exist without Socialism nor Socialism without democracy. But to preach and write about democracy for the sake of democracy, and at that about democracy of the Western type--formal democracy--is going back to old forms rather than going forward."

To put such emphasis on democracy, said Kardelj, was especially dangerous when, as in the case of Djilas, "democracy is reduced to the formula of free discussion." Such a proposal, he said, "means supporting petty-bourgeois-anarchic tendencies which are just as serious a hindrance for the development of Socialist democracy as bureaucratism itself."

Tito and Kardelj also accused Djilas of "reformistic opportunism" in the tradition of the famous revisionist of German Marxism, Eduard Bernstein. Djilas imitated Bernstein's ideas, they said, when he advocated the renunciation of Communism as a final goal. Djilas's ideas were not new, they said, but were merely a restatement of the well-known phrase of Bernstein: "The final goal of Socialism is nothing, evolution is everything." Djilas wished to renounce the goal of Communism, said Kardelj, because in fact he no longer desired Communism. By calling for the abandonment of Communism as the final goal he was "taking the compass from the hands of the Communists" and permitting the smuggling in of "various tendencies consciously or unconsciously aimed at disrupting or weakening the ideological unity of Communists."

Kardelj denied Djilas's charge that bureaucratism as a system had established itself in Jugoslavia:

We have shattered gradually the bureaucratic system of the first years . . . by a number of measures of decentralization, by developing social self-government, by organizing workers' councils, by new methods of work in people's committees with producers' councils, by the democratic organizational mechanism of social management which will enable every citizen to decide on all questions of social life.

This, said Kardelj, was the way to build democracy and not, as Djilas seemed to say, "through intellectual arguments and disputes in debate clubs."

Other speakers at the Plenum painted a picture of an egotistical Djilas wasting his time in abstract theorizing about freedom and democracy while his comrades wore themselves out day after day in the concrete job of building Socialism. Djilas, they charged, was "an intellectual with his head in the clouds" who refused to tackle any of the practical tasks in the political or economic administration, and who consequently had lost touch with Jugoslav reality. He had come under the influence of Western ideas, they said, through his trips abroad and his friendship with Aneurin Bevan, who had been his guest the previous year.[xxvi]

In contrast with most Communist trials, the accused in this case did not make much of a confession; in fact his first statement was hardly a confession at all. The second day he was more contrite, and admitted that if he had continued with the articles, he "would have become the leader of the Opposition against Tito." But he still defended his principal ideas.

The only one to take Djilas's side was Vladimir Dedijer. He threw some rather bitter taunts at his fellow members of the Central Committee:

I am no robot to accept a matter immediately only because of the authority of the man who said it. . . .

A week ago Milovan Djilas's postulates in Borba were more or less adopted by the majority of us who are sitting here. . . .

Then, all of a sudden . . . the Executive Committee made an announcement that it disagreed with Milovan Djilas's articles. All at once the very same people who approved of these articles are attacking Milovan Djilas fiercely. . . .

. . . How can we think one thing today and all of a sudden change our opinion overnight?

No one supported Dedijer; in fact, Djilas himself immediately repudiated his speech. The Plenum then voted to expel Djilas from membership in the Central Committee, to relieve him of all functions in the Communist League and to give him a reprimand. Djilas himself resigned from the Presidency of the People's Assembly. The constituency in Montenegro which had elected him to the Assembly with the record figure of 99.9 percent of the votes now demanded his recall. Three months later Djilas unexpectedly took the further step of resigning from membership in the Communist League.[xxvii]

Neither Djilas nor Dedijer has been executed or even imprisoned. Djilas moved from his villa to a modest apartment, where he is living with his wife and son on a government pension. In August 1953, an article by Dedijer appeared in the official magazine, Review of International Affairs.


What conclusions can be drawn from the Djilas episode?

One thing clear is that Tito is still the boss. No decisive action was taken to curb Djilas until Tito entered the scene, but once Tito had spoken the entire Central Committee excepting Dedijer was against Djilas. There is probably a considerable amount of "collective leadership," i.e. collective decision-making and division of responsibility within the Jugoslav hierarchy. But the Djilas affair confirms the impression that Tito's voice carries by far the greatest weight.

It is probably safe to speculate that the Djilas affair will lead to a slowing up of the liberalization program of the past few years, in spite of official protestations to the contrary. Liberalization has led to deviation, even among members of the Central Committee, and it would be logical for Tito to conclude that there has been too much of it. The masses of the people, and many Communists, automatically welcome any relaxation of the dictatorship; a taste of democracy whets the appetite for more. Hence the Djilas affair will probably lead to a tightening up of discipline not only in the Communist League but in Jugoslav life generally. The fact that Djilas could publicly deviate from the official line over a period of several weeks indicates a certain laxness in controls at the top level, and measures will doubtless be taken to prevent a recurrence. At the Fourth Plenum in March 1954, Ranković announced that somebody would be put in charge of "guiding" publishing activities.

The heresy of Djilas also shows that, despite their denials, some of the top Jugoslav leaders are being influenced by the West. They have taken many small steps in the direction of Western democracy, although they balked when Djilas wanted to take a big step. They are frightened by the mere thought that they might be abandoning Marxism and approaching "bourgeois democracy," but the past five years have shown that they can take Western influence in small doses, a bit at a time.

The conduct of the trial itself is an indication of the differences which exist between Jugoslav and Soviet Communism. The treatment which Djilas got would be inconceivable in Russia. His articles would never have been published, the trial would not have been as genuine, the accused would not have gotten off with only half a confession, and he would no longer be alive. The contrast with the treatment accorded Beria could hardly be greater.

The Djilas case is, further, a demonstration of the difficulties which the Jugoslav leaders are having in finding a new kind of "Socialist democracy" which is supposed to be different from both Soviet Communism and Western democracy. With no other models to go by, there is always a temptation for them either to continue to imitate Soviet methods or to move in the direction of Western democracy, although actually they want to copy neither. The disillusionment resulting from their ejection from the Cominform has enabled them to see many of the faults of Stalinist Communism and they have tried to break away from this despotic pattern in a number of minor ways. But they have refused to see, as Djilas did, that Stalinism is a natural outgrowth of the undemocratic nature of Leninism. Djilas was the only one of the top leaders who was honest enough to admit that the fundamental basis of Soviet "bureaucratic despotism" is Leninist vanguardism--the concentration of all power in the hands of a centralized, disciplined Party, which in turn is controlled by a small group of Party hierarchs.

In his attacks Djilas pointed up once again the old conflict inherent in attempts to introduce democratic Socialism in a backward peasant country. The Jugoslav Communists, like their Russian predecessors, are determined to build a Marxian society based on Socialist ownership, economic planning and materialist philosophy. But the majority of the Jugoslav people want private ownership, free enterprise and freedom of thought. Hence the government cannot permit democracy. Since the people will not freely choose Communism, it must be imposed upon them by force. The leaders assume that after a transitional period (which is not expected to last very long), the people will voluntarily support the government's program. But as Djilas pointed out, the very process of imposing Communism by force antagonizes the people still further and indefinitely postpones the day when democracy can be permitted.

In imposing Marxism the Communists sacrifice democracy, and once democracy has been suppressed it is difficult to turn back. It is on this essential point that the Jugoslav leaders have not broken away from the Stalinist pattern. As long as the people are not permitted freely to elect or reject their rulers, Jugoslav Communism will remain basically similar to Soviet Communism. Until that time comes, all "democratic reforms" in Jugoslovia exist only at the whim of the rulers and can be withdrawn at their pleasure. The Jugoslav régime may be a liberalized dictatorship, but as Djilas came to see, it is still a dictatorship.

[i] "Tito's Communism," by Josef Korbel. Denver: University of Denver Press, 1951.

[ii] "Tito," by Vladimir Dedijer. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1953.

[iii] The decisions of the Brioni Plenum were published in Kommunist, July 1953.

[iv] "The Importance of Forms," Borba, November 8, 1953.

[v] "Subjective Forces," Borba, December 27, 1953.

[vi] "Is There a Goal?" Borba, December 6, 1953. The "Ekonomists" and Mensheviks used much the same arguments against Lenin in the controversies of 1900-1917.

[vii] "Subjective Forces," Borba, December 27, 1953.

[viii] "Is It for All?" Borba, November 22, 1953.


[x] "General and Particular," Borba, December 20, 1953.

[xi] "Respect for Law," Borba, November 15, 1953.

[xii] "Subjective Forces," Borba, December 27, 1953.

[xiii] "General and Particular," Borba, December 20, 1953.

[xiv] "Is There a Goal?" Borba, December 6, 1953.



[xvii] "Concretely," Borba, December 22, 1953.

[xviii] Speech by Kardelj at the Third Plenum of the Central Committee, Borba, January 18, 1954.

[xix] "League or Party?" Borba, January 4, 1954.

[xx]Vjesnik u Srijedu, Zagreb, January 6, 1954.

[xxi]Oslobodjenje, Sarajevo, January 8 and 9, 1954.

[xxii] Krste Crvenkovski in Borba, January 19, 1954.

[xxiii] Speech by Dapčević at the 3rd Plenum, Politika, January 19, 1954.

[xxiv] First speech by Tito at the Third Plenum, Borba, January 18, 1954.

[xxv] The proceedings of the Third Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist League were reported in detail in the January-February 1954 issue of Kommunist. Most of the speeches were also published in Borba, January 18-21.

[xxvi] Speech by Petar Stambolić at the Third Plenum, as reported in Borba, January 19, 1954.

[xxvii]The New York Times, April 22, 1954.

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