A Future That Works

A Future That Works
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Friday, 13 January 2012

The Yugoslavian attempt at workers’ self-management and the Marxist-Leninist concept of the withering away of the state, what a shame it didn’t last

Yugoslavia in the 1980's whether you lived there or just visiting


Yugoslavia [1945-1990]




Jugoslavija - Zemlja moja

Never forget the pain and hard times the partisans went through to make a better living possible for all people of Yugoslavia.


Zivela Jugoslavija



‘‘not even the most perfect bureaucratic apparatus, no matter how able the leadership at its head, is capable of building socialism, socialism can grow only from the initiative of the broad masses properly led by the proletarian party’’ (Edvard Kardelj cited in ‘Tito’ by Geoffrey Swain 2011, p101)

Proletarian Marxist-Leninism is internationalist rather than nationalistic (Milovan Djilas cited in ‘Tito’ by Geoffrey Swain 2011, p101)



  1. In Geoffrey Swan’s biography of Tito Comintern interventions in the Spanish Civil War held back communists from taking the initiative in 1938 on the advice of Stalin, rather than allowing grass roots popular fronts committees according to José Diaz leader of the Communist Party of Spain. This he argued led to the failure of the popular front. (Geoffrey Swain, 2011 p88) Joe Stalin’s concern was always the security of the Soviet Union rather than the advance of communist movements in Western Europe, this was also the case in Greece in 1944, Stalin ordered Greek communists to work with the bourgeois coalition government as he had intended Tito to do in Yugoslavia. In Czechoslovakia the popular front was led from bellow as it had been in the Yugoslavian revolution. Tito proposed a similar policy for Greece with support from Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia, this was vetoed by Stalin because he saw it possibly jeopardising the post-war agreement with the USA and Britain.

    Had Tito won the day and a Greek popular front succeeded then Italy may have also gone communist followed by Spain and Portugal. This could have led to success in France and a federation of Balkan and southern European communist states. This may be what Stalin feared as they could have followed an independent road to socialism as much as any threat to the Soviet Union from the USA and Britain, what it shows is the difference that personal judgments can make to the historical dialectics of the advance of socialism. Not only did Stalinism lead to the failure of the Soviet Union through the bureaucratic errors of the party leadership it may have stopped the advance of the communist popular fronts in Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal and France. Since the late1970’s the stagnation and collapse of the Soviet Union has been a contributory factor in the retreat of social-democracy across Europe and Scandinavia. So assessing the performance of the movement’s leadership is a very relevant question to the success and failure to advance the cause of socialism.

  2. Just as the conflict between the lines adopted by Josip Tito and Joe Stalin had consequences for the left across Europe in the 20th century, the conflict between Lothar Bisky, Pierre Laurent and the European Left with Hannah Sell, Rob Griffiths and the British Left have consequences for the left across Europe in the 21st century. Jon T, Robert and I am trying to see a way in which the broad left in Britain can become proactive rather than reactive and this is true for the European left as well. The key lies with the leadership of the left parties because at the end of the day we as individuals can come up with ideas about how the left may join forces and for historic blocs that could resonate with the fears and aspirations of a new popular front. But without the political organization of the parties of the left they will remain theories without any practice and this is where leadership with imagination rather than party bureaucrats are required.

  3. To what degree did the Yugoslavian project differ from the Soviet project? Both Tito and Dimitrov envisaged a federation of Balkan socialist states, Dimitrov’s vision was of a Yugoslavian and Bulgarian state as equals, Tito’s was for a federation of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovar, Bulgaria and Rumania as equal republics within a Balkan federation.

    This differed from the Soviet Union with Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Rumania which Tito described as an imperialist relationship and having deviated from Marxist-Leninism as a bureaucratic form of state capitalism. (Geoffrey Swain, 2011 p102) The question as to what degree the vanguard Marxist-Leninist party should play was at the heart of the ideological disagreement between Tito’s and Stalin’s vision of actually existing socialism.

    Within the Yugoslavian model there was argument between Milovan Djilas, Edvard Kardelj and Josip Tito as to what degree the vanguard party should play and to what level the grass roots labour movement should play in building socialism in a world where there were hostile capitalist forces on the one side and a hostile Soviet Union on the other side. Djilas wanted a greater role for grass roots workers councils. Kardelj was somewhere between Djilas and Tito who argued there was still a need for overall control with the vanguard party.

    I would argue that Josip Tito's attempt at workers’ self-management was an attempt at balancing the need for retaining overall control with the vanguard party and allowing the withering away of the state according to Marxist-Leninist principles as laid out in ‘The State and Revolution’ written by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1917 and that Tito’s internationalist theory and practice was based on ‘Imperialism the Highest Stage of Capitalism’ written by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin in 1916 and Tito’s charges that Stalin had deviated from Marxist-Leninist theory and practices after 1925 were totally valid.

    On this basis it can be argued actually existing socialism existed between 1917 and 1925 in the Soviet Union and was attempted again in Yugoslavia between 1945 and 1992, and Ho Chi Minh’s Vietnam plus Fidel Castro’s Cuba which still exist but being forced to move from a socialist political economy to a capitalist political economy by the forces of global capitalism which I would argue verifies the Marxist-Leninist theory that socialism can only succeed as an internationalist project and will fail if followed as a purely nationalist project attempting to build socialism in one country as advocated by national bolshevism and Stalinist.

  4. Leaders - Do we need them and if so what for


  5. Say NO to radical nationalism

  6. what we seek is a leftalternative to new-labourism and that requires the broad left becoming visible in the current realization and fiscal crisis. This is why I tried to persuade comrades in the CPB that they needed to increase their visibility and credibility by allying themselves with the European and Scandinavian Left, also that they should give away party flags on marches and demonstrations which in my view would be much more effective than handing out copies of the Morning Star which invariably end up in the bin unread. Lenin's theory and practices which can be found in ‘What is to be done’ written in 1902 refers to basic tactics of propaganda and that’s where the broad left need to get back to basics. The right have been winning the propaganda war, and the best form of defence is attack, and that’s something the left seem to have lost the ability to do, whether it’s the Marxist or non-Marxist left it’s a common fault.

  7. It’s all about propaganda and the right and centre-right have most of the newspapers and Murdock’s multimedia empire at their disposal which as you say has promoted the obsession with celebrity and consumerism as the way to fulfilment and as you have highlighted. The centre-left have a few mainstream minority sympathetic newspapers and the Daily Mirror and the left have the Morning Star. Whilst the left remain divided along what to the average person in the street or pub would seem like childish sectarian arguments about reformism, revisionism and revolutionary roads to socialism rather than uniting against the cuts whether they are instigated by Westminster and the banks or Strasburg, Brussels, Berlin and the IMF/ECB they are not going to take Left-Labour, the Socialist Party or the Communist Party of Britain seriously. It seems to be a brick wall and that must be why union activists and officials call the left head bangers, we must like banging our heads against a brick wall.

  8. Socialism can grow only from the initiative of the broad masses properly led by the proletarian party just as Edvard Kardelj argued half a century ago, this is what the broad left seem to have forgotten.

  9. Josip Tito was a Marxist-Leninist radicalized by his life as a skilled metal worker, he was in Petrograd in 1917 when the Lenin’s revolution started and was in Prague when it was crushed by Soviet tanks drove through in 1968 against Dubček revolution. Tito led the second successful revolution after Lenin in Europe and rejected factionalism which he saw as the difference between Leninism and Stalinism which he saw as leftist sectarianism. Tito had hoped the second revolution would spread to Greece and to form a Balkan federation, but he also understood that Grigor Dimitrov wasn’t strong enough to stand up to Josip Stalin. That’s why in the end he rejected the idea of an alliance with Albania and Bulgaria.

    When Nikita Khrushchev replaced Stalin, Tito hoped this would bring genuinely progress development in the Soviet Union which looked increasingly possible until Khrushchev was replaced in 1964 by Leonid Brezhnev and the Soviet Union retreated into Stalinist bureaucracy and in 1968 prevented Alexander Dubček from introducing workers councils. At this point Tito acknowledged that the Soviet Union had returned to the reactionary imperialist policies of Stalin and abandoned Marxist-Leninist theory and practices. A real opportunity for socialist revolutionary progress was lost in 1968 due to the bureaucratic leadership under Brezhnev, which laid the ground for the neo-liberal/neo-conservative fightback of the capitalist classes in the 1970’s and 80’s led by Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

    Since the crisis of 2007 the neo-liberal/neo-conservative ideology has been discredited opening up a new opportunity for the advance of socialism. Josip Tito said ‘‘often the entire course of history depends on one person’’ or maybe two. In the first half of the 20th century the leadership of Vladimir Lenin and Josip Tito did so only to be reversed by the Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. If the left can provide leadership again in the 21st century capitalism can finally be replaced by socialism and the best prospect at present comes from Lothar Bisky of Die Linke and Pierre Laurent of the French Communist Party leading the European and Scandinavian Left parties. We have theorists like John Bellamy Foster, David Harvey, Joel Kovel and John Roemer which are the lefts equivalents to Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek what’s needed are leaders of the ‘left’ our equivalent of Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher.


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