Regarding the necessary participation of workers in the party and trade unions- bitter historical lessons for further organized struggle for socialism

Marijan Kubik


Numerous analyses were written about the weaknesses that accompanied the construction of socialism. The aim of this paper is to draw attention to the often neglected fact of the degradation of the party from within, its separation from the working class and popular strata.

Numerically, the LCY reached its peak in 1982, with more than 2.1 million members, or 9.6 % of the entire population and 28.6% of the employed population.19 The LCY was established in 1919 as the Socialist Worker’s Party of Yugoslavia (Communists). In 1920, at its second congress in Vukovar, it was renamed into the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY). With members numbering into the tens of thousands, it came in third in the Yugoslav elections for the constituent assembly in 1920 and organized large-scale strikes. But the party was soon banned. Party membership dropped from 65,000 in 1920 to 1,000 in 1924. On the eve of World War II, despite significant losses in the Spanish Civil War1 and repression from the Yugoslav regime, the Party2, somewhat managed to rebuild its ranks, particularly those of its youth organization. In 1941 it succeeded in organizing resistance against the Fascist invaders. After the war the CPY came to power.

Yugoslav–Soviet Split

The Central and Eastern European countries, which led bitter struggles during the years 1945--1948 to build socialism, had much less experience than did the Soviet Party. Ideologically, they were not solid: the fact that hundreds of thousands of new members joined, often coming from social-democratic circles, made them easily subject to opportunism and bourgeois nationalism.

At the time of the German invasion in 1941, the clandestine Yugoslav Party had 12,000 members; 8,000 of these were killed during the war. But it gained 140,000 members during the resistance and 360,000 more before mid-1948. Tens of thousands of kulaks, bourgeois and petit-bourgeois had joined the Party.

As early as 1948, the anti-Soviet social-democratic model was adopted by the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party.

The Party had no normal internal life, there was no political discussion, so no Marxist-Leninist criticism and self-criticism; the leaders were not elected but chosen.

In June 1948, the Information Bureau of the Communist Parties, including eight parties, published a resolution criticizing the Yugoslav Party. It underscored that Tito payed no attention to the increase in class differences in the countryside nor to the rise of capitalist elements in the country.

Once this criticism was published, Tito set off a massive purge. All the Marxist-Leninist elements of the Party were wiped out. Two members of the Central Committee, Zhujovic and Hebrang, had already been arrested in April 1948. General Arso Jovanovic, Chief of Staff of the Partisan Army, was arrested and assassinated, as was General Slavko Rodic.

But, a few months later, the Titoists publicly took up the old social-democratic theory of passing from capitalism to socialism without class struggle! Bebler, Vice-Minister of External Affairs, declared in May 1949: "We have no kulaks such as there were in the U.S.S.R. Our rich peasants took part en masse in the people's liberation war.... Would it be a mistake if we succeeded in getting the kulaks to pass over to socialism without class struggle?

In 1951, Tito compared the Yugoslav Communists who remained loyal Marxist-Leninists to the Hitlerian Fifth Column, thereby justifying the arrest of more than 200,000 Communists, according to Colonel Vladimir Dapcevic’s testimony. Tito wrote: "The attacks of the fascist aggressors have proved that much importance can be attributed to a new element: the Fifth Column. It is a political and military element that gets into gear in preparation for aggression. Today, something similar is being attempted in our country, under different forms, particularly by the Cominterm countries".

Milovan Djilas, member of CPY Politburo, called the Soviet state a "monstrous edifice of state capitalism" that "oppressed and exploited the proletariat". Still according to Djilas, Stalin fought "to increase his state capitalist empire and, internally, to reinforce the bureaucracy". "The Iron Curtain, hegemony over the countries of Eastern Europe and an aggressive political line have become indispensable to him". M. Djilas spoke of "the misery of the working class that works for the bureaucracy's interests and the bureaucracy's privileges." "Today, the USSR is objectively the most reactionary power". Stalin "practices state capitalism and is the head and spiritual and political leader of the bureaucratic dictatorship", continued "Some of the Hitlerian theories are identical to Stalin's theories, both from the standpoint of their contents and of the resulting social practice".

In 1948, Kardelj, member of CPY Politburo, was still claiming to be faithful to the anti-imperialist struggle. Two years later, Yugoslavia upheld the U.S. war against Korea. The London Times reported: "Mr. Dedijer sees events in Korea as a manifestation of the Soviet will to dominate the world ... if this is to be resisted successfully ... the workers of the world must `realize that yet another pretender to world domination has appeared, and get rid of illusions about the Soviet Union representing some alleged force of democracy and peace".

So Tito had become a simple pawn in U.S. anti-Communist strategy. Tito declared to the New York Herald Tribune that "in the event of a Soviet attack anywhere in Europe, even if the thrust should be miles away from Yugoslavia's own borders', he would `instantly do battles on the side of the West ... Yugoslavia consider itself part of the collective security wall being built against Soviet imperialism".

In the economic field, the socialist measures that Yugoslavia had taken before 1948 were liquidated. Alexander Clifford, the Daily Mail correspondent, wrote about the economic reforms adopted in 1951: "If it comes off, Yugoslavia looks like ending up a good deal less socialised than Britain: price of goods ... determined by the market - that is, by supply and demand; wages and salaries ... fixed on the basis of the income or profits of the enterprise; economic enterprises that decide independently what to produce and in what quantities; there isn't much classical Marxism in all of that".

The Anglo-American bourgeoisie soon recognized that Tito was to be a very effective weapon in its anti-Communist struggles. The April 12, 1950 issue of Business Week reads: "For the United States in particular and the West in general this encouragement of Tito has proved to be one of the cheapest ways yet of containing Russian Communism. To date the West's aid to Tito has come to $51.7 million. This is far less than the billion dollars or so that the United States has spent in Greece for the same purpose".

From its 7th congress of April 1958, the Yugoslav party held that Communists "should no longer be concerned primarily with questions relating to the overthrow of capitalism", that it was possible to achieve socialism without a revolution and those Communist parties need not enjoy a power monopoly in pursuit of socialism.

Yugoslav Self-Management: Capitalism Under the Red Banner

As Yugoslavia broke with the Soviet Union and initiated its own specific economic, political and ideological way. It was a system which publicly criticized “bureaucratic deviations” of the Soviet Union, which shouted “workplaces to the workers,” which “abolished” its own Communist Party and set its own path in Cold War politics. But it was also a system of its own contradictions, a system that criticized the bureaucracy of others while its own was growing, a system that stood for workers’ self-management only on paper while technocrats and managers ran the economy in practice, a system that “abolished” the One Party by just renaming it and a system that raged against imperialism while it took an active role in it.

The idea of self-management was never part of the Marxist tradition and it never was and never will be able to tackle capitalism and to replace it. Yugoslav self-management kept capitalist relations safe, declared the law of value, commodity production and market exchange as mere “economic tools” that exist in every economy, and solved every economic and political crisis with broader liberalisation as the main austerity measure.

Self-management is an ideology of the self-employed, craftsmen and peasants that want a market system without monopoly in which they can freely compete. Of course, in the case of Yugoslavia there were quite obvious monopolies and the market wasn’t as “free” as some would want. Also, the renaming of the CPY to the LCY wasn’t accidental. Its essence is the movement of the focus from “class” to “people,” i.e., declassing of the working class in the confusion of the term “people,” which made ideological excuses for the existence of classes, class society, but also of increasing nationalism.

The restoration of capitalism in Yugoslavia provides a new historical lesson to the international communist movement.

This lesson shows us that when the working class has seized power, struggle continues between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, struggle for victory continues between the two roads of capitalism and socialism, and there is a danger that capitalism may be restored.

The social composition and structure of the CPY

The social composition of the party has a great ideological-political significance. The Communist parties are inseparably linked to the working class, working people and the bright masses.

The CPY is a two-phase phase when it comes to its social composition.

First, the ban of the CPY. During the dictatorship, the activities of the Party were forced underground by brutal repression, the entire assets of the Party were confiscated, trade union associations and organizing of workers strikes and demonstrations were also banned as illegal, all Party front organizations were banned as illegal, mass arrests commenced, thousands of communists were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed, and the CPY received a heavy blow, which dramatically affected its organizational disunity.

The Communist Party of Yugoslavia (KPJ) had in the beginning of the Second World War 12,000 members.

Second, the conflict with the USSR in 1948. From 1948 to 1952 the Party expelled 218,379 members who were admitted to the CPY until spring of 1948. In the beginning of 1948 the CPY had 285,147 members. At the 6th Congress, the Communist Party of Yugoslavia changed its name to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia, adopted the new Program Party and abolished the candidacy for membership4. This will have major consequences for the fate of the League of Communists of Yugoslavia.

In the year before World War II, the CPY's top leadership consisted of 18 workers, 16 intellectuals, three officers and a peasant. At the first post-war party congress, this attitude changed significantly. Of the 109 members of the highest party leadership, 38% were workers, 5% peasants and 57% officials (59% middle class, 38% from rural families and 5% from working-class families). In the coming years, the number of members will increase from year to year, but also significantly oscillate the number of those who are excluded or left the Party. The most important wave of abandonment of the party occurred during the 1970s when many parties abandoned the party due to apathy due to the increasingly turning of the market and the strengthening of nationalism in Yugoslavia. On the other hand, this will open the door to the breakthrough and rise of bureaucrats and careerists, who in later years will play a key role in breaking the Party and its disappearance from the political scene. Those years the most represented in the Party membership will be the leading personnel - the so-called professional party workers, non-technical intelligence, administrative workers, and the worker will occupy only 8 places per representation of 13 groups. The largest decline in membership was among the rural population, which fell from 50.6% in 1946 to 7.4% in 1971. Simply from the end of the 60s, the party followed an increasing bureaucracy in the conditions when the official ideology continued to claim that it was acting on behalf of the working class and working people.

Clearly, in the last two decades within the Party, the bureaucracy was increasingly dominating, which unleashed the path to the breakdown of socialism in Yugoslavia.

The League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY) was the dominant political force in socialist Yugoslavia. It collapsed after its 14th extraordinary congress, which took place in Belgrade from 20 to 22 January 1990. It is worth noting however that in the 1990s, not a single bullet was fired in the defense of Yugoslav socialism. In the 1940s, when Yugoslav socialism emerged, old exploitative classes responded with fierce and armed resistance in defense of their property, status, political power and privileges. Working people in the 1980s, on the other hand, responded to hardships and the gradual disintegration of socialism with waves of strikes that took place in all the republics and provinces and were the most intense in 1987-1988.5 Workers eventually failed to defend social property and powers and rights formally granted to them by the Yugoslav Constitution. It is, however, important to note that throughout the 1980s, workers' actions were in most cases limited to classical forms of industrial conflict: battles for higher wages or better working conditions and actions against corrupted management.

To sum up, in the 1980s the working people of Yugoslavia found that they could not use the institutions of socialist-self management in their favour while the LCY was experienced by them not only as alien but also as hostile to their interests. While these facts alone do not explain why the workers failed to organize, they do reveal the reasons for their weakness, reasons which would become ever more apparent during the transition and especially today. They also provide an explanation for why the ideological transition of the national constituents of the LCY went – due to the defeat and substantial ebbing of working class mobilizations as both a challenge and potential corrective to party structures – relatively smoothly and why, as “reformed” or normal bourgeois political parties, they accepted capitalism in the guise of market and democratic reforms and eventually embraced neoliberalism.

Perspectives and conclusions

Yugoslavian history shows us that the restoration of capitalism in a socialist country can be achieved not necessarily through a counterrevolutionary coup d'etat or armed imperialist invasion and that it can also be achieved through the degradation of the leading group in that country. The easiest way to capture a fortress is from within. Yugoslavia provides a typical case in point.

Marx wrote “It isn’t important what the worker as an individual thinks or does, but it is important what workers as workers, as a class have to do in order to fulfill their historical task”.

In thoughts and in actions, the place of the Marxist-Leninist parties is always in the vanguard. And if thoughts are to be combined with actions, we must not go into battle alone, but at the head of the working class and its allies. In order to go into battle together with them it is necessary to penetrate into their ranks and become one with them. It must be said, however, that unclear views, hesitation, fear and lack of perspective still exist in this direction.

The working class cannot follow us, our Marxist-Leninist groups or parties, if it does not see us in action, because in regards to the means of propaganda which the capitalist bourgeoisie and its parties possess, their means of propaganda are far more powerful than ours. Therefore, the masses of the people have to see us, the communists of action, in concrete actions against the imposed order, against the status quo, against the flabby activity which the propaganda of the bourgeoisie creates.

At these difficult moments, when capitalism in crisis is seeking to establish its savage dictatorship, sacrifices on the part of Marxist-Leninists, the working class and progressive elements are indispensable, but every revolutionary task requires courage, intelligence and vigorous action. There must be no retreat in the face of this situation.

Our Marxist-Leninist theory teaches us that: Every revolutionary activity must be guided by the Marxist-Leninist revolutionary theory which the Marxist-Leninist party masters, defends and faithfully applies. The objective of every genuine revolutionary movement must be to establish the hegemony of the working class. This hegemony does not in any way imply that the working class and its Marxist-Leninist party should not link up with all those classes and strata of the population, which are very interested in opposing the oppressive capitalist order. On the contrary, the hegemony of the working class presupposes alliance with the working peasantry, the progressive intellectuals, etc.

The emerging force, the working class, with its revolutionary movement can play the leading role in the cause of social progress, in the transition from the old mode of production and organization of society to the new communist one.

Only those who fight can count to win, and better and righteous life for people is attainable only under socialism. Capitalism cannot be repaired, but destroyed as obsolete and harmful. This revolutionary act is a lawful dialectical stage in the development of mankind. Hence, NKPJ proudly highlights its slogan "Marxism-Leninism, tear down capitalism."

Proletarians of all countries unite!