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August 22, 2007


Glory Liu

Djilas’ critique of the Communist system gives us insight into why Djilas believed that the goals of Communism were an illusion and that the system would eventually fail. I would summarize his argument into these three points:

(1) Marx’s theory can’t be applied everywhere; proletariat revolutions are NOT inevitable. In fact, the idea of a proletariat revolution is only applicable in societies that have an industrialized. Marx’s original ideas were lost throughout history and eventually became “dogmatized” and “tyrannized.”

(2) Communism is an ideology of the party controlling the state, all its functions, and all its people, and therefore cannot be regarded as a system where everyone is free.

(3) While it strives to create a classless society, Communism actually creates a new class—the privileged bureaucratic class—which essentially controls the state. This new class views the laboring classes as an endless source of replaceable labor that will fuel rapid industrialization and secure the power of the bureaucratic class.

I think the last of these points—the emergence of a “new class”—is the most important. And not only because it is the title of Djilas’ book! The rise of the new class represents the paradox of the Communist system. It aims for a classless society; yet, in order to do so, a “vanguard party,” as Lenin called it, must lead the way so the proletariat would realize their exploitation and then be mobilized for revolution. So, a bureaucratic class would have to inevitably be created to “safeguard” the rights of the proletariat. Yet, Djilas suggests that this contradiction is the reason for Communism’s bad reputation. Stalin, one of the most brutal authoritarian leaders of all time, was supposedly the embodiment of the “collective will,” so all his decisions were for the progress of society. There WAS freedom in a Communist society; however, freedom was limited only to activities that would promote the interest of the system. Communism abolished private property, yet the “new class” became the property owners. As Diljas said, these embedded contradictions of the “selfish interests of new class make it impossible to maintain a healthy and harmonious system.”

Djilas delivers a very convincing argument; he makes Communism seem illogical. But I think his biggest flaw is that he “umbrellas” Communism too much by making these very large points in order to prove the failures of the system without considering the fine print. I think Djilas forgets some of the primary goals which Communism attempts to deliver: liberty and justice. These are things that Orwell mentioned in our reading a couple weeks ago that are often forgotten by those who merely see Communism as a violent revolution seeking to destroy old ways of life. In more tangible terms: employment, housing, and education for all. Orwell was trying to convince people like Djilas that Communism could be useful, if only its most basic goals of delivering liberty and justice to all could be seen in a more benevolent light.

Obviously, it can be argued that Communism didn’t (and doesn’t) provide the greatest free housing or the most enjoyable jobs to people. For example, in the Stalinist era, people were given free housing in crowded apartment blocks, but at least people had housing and jobs! Jump ahead a few decades to Gorbachev’s miserable attempt to “free the economy” and “reform society” through transparency (perestroika and glasnost) and you have mass poverty, homelessness, and unemployment. People begged for the social welfare programs they once had under a Communist system. I personally don’t think that there would have been a better alternative than a return to some of the socialist policies at this point: something is better than nothing, especially if you’re the Soviet Union on the brink of collapse. Socialism can provide distributive justice which other systems cannot provide for all people in critical times. There are times when socialism ought to have existed (Gorbachev era). It is not a “way,” per se, that socialism “ought to exist,” but conditions that require the full employment of socialist policy to achieve socialist goals.

Adriana Gomez

Hmmm…. Well, I didn’t have an easy time finding a flaw in Milovan Djilas’ argument in his work The New Class an Analysis of the Communist System. Through it all, your view of the status of the people under communist rule is pretty optimistic (not wrong in the least, though!), Glory. Djilas’ argument was partially founded with the fact that “In 1936, when the new Constitution was promulgated, Stalin announced that the ‘exploiting class’ had ceased to exist. The capitalist and other classes of ancient origin had in fact been destroyed, but a new class, previously unknown to history, had been formed (p 38)” This class formed without its components being aware of it at first. Later on, when its members came to notice that they were an entirely new class, oppression of the working class began.

My only critique is Djilas’ defending of democracy, which he claims will not end in such inequality or political turmoil & rebellion. Djilas writes, “In the developed countries the rapid rise in production and acquisition of colonial sources of materials and markets materially changed the position of the working class. The struggle for reform, for better material conditions, together with the adoption of parliamentary forms of government, became more real and valuable than revolutionary ideals. In such places revolution became nonsensical and unrealistic… The reason for this is that there is an immutable law- that each human society and all individuals participating in it strive to increase and perfect production. In doing this they come in conflict with other societies and individuals, so that they compete with each other in order to survive… To lag means to die” (P ll-12). It is apparent that democracy, though protecting the entitlements of people will also cause hierarchy and potential rebellion. Though Djilas appears to advocate for it in defense of a way to eliminate inequality, there is a possibility that one has a way to move up in the ranks of power through democracy. The reason why Djilas might be so pessimistic towards socialism is because he appears to “predict” an economic decline that will lead to a major crisis for the proletariat. This, I think, cannot be cured through any sort of political reform, but through the changing of the nature of human beings, which is something that is near impossible. The only difference with capitalist countries is that wealth and social rank are more based on merit than on networking as they are known to be in communist or socialist societies. So as long as there are more docile people in the society, there will continue to be people who exploit them. I’m sure many of you would agree that this is a problem. There seems to be no valid potential solution to this problem of an exploiting class, and if there is, it is certainly not in a political construct the way Djilas is suggesting. For this matter, we’d have to have a successful “industrial army” as that described in Edward Bellamy’s novel, LOOKING BACKWARD, in which every person looked out for the welfare of every other person and there was equal income and absolutely no poverty for anyone else (something I don’t see possible). I personally don’t think there’s a way to eliminate a social hierarchy, but what do the rest of you think? Is there a way to eliminate an exploiting, dominating and primarily benefiting class? If so, do you think democracy, communism or socialism are the answers? I don’t think so, but some of you might. I’d love to see it posted!

Eric Silverman

In many ways, I see Djilas’ New Class as a manifestation of the Keynesian ripple that transcended economics and has now found itself in the realm of politics. Djilas claims that it is the “adherence to obsolete dogma” which encourages their “senseless actions.” Much like the idea of the self-regulating market, the “religion” of communism has created a belief structure that is blindly followed and dangerously implemented. Just as Adam Smith never claimed there was an invisible hand “of the market”, Marx never claimed to be a Marxist. The free market was supposed to be the rising tide that elevated all ships, instead it made the gap between rich and poor all the more noticeable. Communism was intended to create a classless society, instead it created an extremely dominating new class vested with the power of holding wealth and then expected to distribute it fairly. Clearly, this was a conflict of interest. While Socialism did allow for the rapid development of industrialization, it left no room for the development of human capital. Academics were not given the opportunity to progress ideologically, effectively eroding any opportunity for the maturity of innovation.
While I strongly agree with Djilas’ prognosis of Communism, his conclusions imply the same rigid canon that he was criticizing. Specifically, he criticizes Socialism and Socialist rhetoric for being dismissive and uncompromising. Yet, The New Class concludes by slamming the door on an entire ideology as well as anything that may have stemmed from it. For decades, and especially when this book was written, Americans were taught to have an instinctive fear of Communism. “Better Dead than Red.” The battle of ideas has just as strong on the western front. While it is undeniable that Socialism led to dictatorships that were far from benevolent distributors of wealth, that does not mean that we should burn the philosophy to the ground. The fact it has captured to hearts and minds of so many people might be a testament to its fundamental merit. Perhaps the idea that the majority of the people should have the majority of the wealth in the world is a concept that we should keep in mind as we continue to evolve our polity and economy.

Ziwei Hu

Milovan Djilas writes that the establishment of the Communist system was supposed to bring about the establishment of a classless society, but in reality, created a new class of “[bureaucrats] that [rule] over the people”- a class that, in fact, resembled the one it toppled. From his perspective, the foundation of Communism is thus a contradiction, and Communism is synonymous with Totalitarianism. Djilas concludes that “world development has already demolished the Communist-Stalinist theory of the possibility of construction of a socialist, or Communist, society in one country, and has brought about […] the absolute dominance of a new exploiting class.”

While I do find his analysis of Eastern European Communism to be very enlightening and insightful [given the fact that he lived through it], I think the biggest flaw of his argument can be found in his application of this experience to the rest of the world. Perhaps there aren’t any pure socialist states that exist in the world right now, but several countries exhibit socialist proclivities. Depending on who you ask, some would say that Sweden’s welfare state is somewhat socialist in its ideals and application, and China describes its economic reforms as “socialism with Chinese characteristics.” As an idea, socialism doesn’t seem to be losing influence, even though it failed in Eastern Europe. Socialists are around in Berkeley and can be found many different places all around the world.

So my answer to the question as to whether or not “really existing socialism can be turned into something that ought to exist” is going to have to be a maybe. If it does, the means by which it is achieved will have to be humane and democratic…something more similar to Sweden than to China. I like how Glory put it: there need to be “conditions that require the full employment of socialist policy to achieve socialist goals.” Because the goals of socialism, in and of themselves, are noble -- the problem has always been the process of implementation.

Aditya Gandranata

In my opinion, I tend to agree with Adriana that there is no way to eliminate social hierarchy although there is a way to minimize the gap between the poor and the wealthy. Socialism, however, is not the solution because this principal is too utopian and a lot of things have to go right in order for a “real” socialism to happen. This is exactly the reason why socialism is considered a snare and I am in definite agreement with Djilas, because in theory it seems to be perfect when in reality, “classless” society is almost impossible to be created. The reason that this is true is because people was born in different family, have certain things to like, study different things, have different jobs, live in different areas, etc. There are way too many variables being involved in order to create a perfect society and besides, it is natural for human to be egotistical, competitive and wanting to achieve more than what they need. I want to respond to Glory’s comment about Gorbachev’s failure on trying to establish Glasnost and Perestroika by saying that the reason poverty, homelessness, and unemployment arose was because people got too independent on the welfare that was provided by the communist government. Remember that because equality means equal distribution of wage, people would rather get simple jobs than going to school and in the end get a much complicated and stressful job because eventually, the wage that they should earn is the same. Socialism unintentionally restricts human’s capability to think beyond what they are capable of because there is no extra incentive to do so. For people to think that socialism could exist and it would help the people achieve equality is truly delusional and we have seen the failure of this system in the past. If there is a way to minimize the gap between the poor and the rich I think it is best through the hybridization of both free market economy and partial government intervention (tax, breakdown of monopoly, laws, etc).

Vera Bersudskaya

Andreson argues that nationalism arose after the decline of “three fundamental cultural conceptions”: 1) the idea that a particular script-language was inseparable from the truth, 2) the belief that society was naturally hierarchically organized around a monarch, and 3) the “vertical” conception of temporality. He emphasizes the role of print capitalism and the creation of new literary genres such as a novel and a newspaper as having primordial importance for the development of “the idea of simultaneity” and of “the fixity of language”, which make “imagined communities” and thus nationalism possible. He criticizes the official nationalism as being a “conscious self-protective policy, linked with preservation of imperial-dynastic interests”, instrumental for controlling the national populations as well as those in the colonies. In addition, he is outraged by the necessity to remember/forget various infamous incidents in the nation’s history in order to construct national genealogies and national identity.
Anderson’s analysis of the origins of the sense of nationality is interesting and provides many insights. However, his belief that nationalism is a largely unnatural, because one person will never meet the majority of his/her compatriots, and might be precarious is flawed. Of course, nationalism is a construct which can become dangerous and extreme (i.e. Nazi Germany), there are, however, positive sides to it like the strengthening of societal ties and the feeling of solidarity. Nationalism does not have to be associated with racism and intolerance; it can work to enhance social cohesion. In order that nationalism be a positive force, it should not be conceived as being opposed to the “other”. It should just be a unifying force.

Kinzie Kramer

The way in which Djilas approaches the subject of industrialization seems flawed and also the area of his essay that could be “fixed” to make communism into something that ought to be.

To begin with, Djilas goes into detail on the despotism inherent in communism and how communism fails “to accomplish that in which it so fanatically believed.” As Glory already noted, a new class is created that really controls everything, but with communism there is supposed to be equality- this is a clear contradiction.

Djilas also touches on the contradictions/problems inherent in communism’s treatment of industrialization, but Djilas’s analysis seems incomplete. He says: “Communist revolution has brought about a measure of industrial civilization […] Material bases have actually been created for a future freer society. Thus while bringing about the most complete despotism, the Communist revolution has also created the basis for the abolition of despotism.” While the point that Communism has brought about despotism seems convincing, Djilas does not follow the statement up with how industrialization has created the basis for the abolition of despotism. The rest of his argument seems to say quite the contrary- that industrialization is clearly what caused despotism because the revolutionary party had to take control of the economy. He explains: “After the completion of the revolution, someone had to shoulder the responsibility for industrialization. In the West, this role was taken over by the economic forces of capitalism liberated from the despotic political chains, while in the countries of Communist revolutions no similar forces existed and, thus, their function had to be taken over by the revolutionary organs themselves, the new authority, that is, the revolutionary parties.” The new authority took control over industrialization, over the economy, and basically guaranteed some form of despotism. How is it that Djilas thinks that industrialization “created the basis for the abolition of despotism?” His argument is lacking here and thus flawed.

In regards to industrialization, there is a way to turn really existing socialism into something that ought to exist: thinking ahead. The revolutionary parties seemed quite set on industrializing communist countries, but did not know what to do after the revolution. As stated in the preceding paragraph, there was no force or authority to step in to manage the industrialization process, so revolutionary parties ended up doing it and subsequently became despots. The Communists knew “the inevitability of industrialization, but they could only guess about its social results and relationships.” The social results and relationships should have been thought about more in advance. As a result, the following condition arised: “Modern communism began as an idea with the inception of modern industry. It is dying out or being eliminated in those countries where industrial development has achieved its basic aims. It flourishes in those countries where this has not yet happened.” Communism can only succeed as far as it has planned- thus flourishes in countries where industrialization is still taking place and dies elsewhere. If this problem could be fixed by more long-term planning, then perhaps the communist system could manage society better.

Jelena Djukic

In his book, “The New Class” Djilas writes a critique of the communist idea about the creation of classless society. He argues that even though communism promises the creation of classless society, it ends up creating a new class. In addition, Djilas says that “the greatest illusion was that industrialization and collectivization in the U.S.S.R., and the destruction of capitalist ownership would result in a classless society”. Djilas continues to explain the failed proposals of the communist party that “difference between cities and villages, between intellectual and physical labor, would slowly disappear; instead these differences have increased”. This proves the disillusionment with the idea of classless society starting from far back into the history examining the environment which gave rise to the formation of communist movement; revolutionary spirit and action in the West and the lack of it in the Soviet and Eastern European regions, abolishment of private property and nationalization, and other communist ideals. The abolishment of classes did not happen the way the communist party argued it would, instead the new class was created, “this new class, the bureaucracy, or more accurately the political bureaucracy, has all the characteristics of earlier ones as well as some of its own”. The main difference is that unlike previous classes this class came “ to power not to complete a new economic order but to establish power over society”. This happened after all the private property was nationalized and the communist party with its “collective leadership” was put in control and management of it. This new class according to Djilas acts as “the champion of the working class” because it is dependent on it however Djilas claims that “the new class is also the most deluded and least conscious of itself”. There are many contradictions to what this new class is and does, for example it abolishes private property but it strives towards “preserving “socialist” ownership”, which gives it monopolistic control over the state property. These are just some reasons that make this system problematic in Djilas’s opinion.
I agree with Glory’s argument about the creation of this new class as the most important point of Djilas’ book because it shows the weaknesses and contradictions within the communist system. The main issue, in my opinion, is that communism abolishes private property but than it gives itself a “right” to protect the newly created state-property and soon establishes monopoly over it becoming its new owner.
Adriana brought up some interesting points about the socialism and democracy. She also raised some great but difficult questions to answer. I can see the point in Adriana’s argument about democracy and socialism, as well as pessimism towards the complete abolishment of the class society.
I would like to add to the socialist idea which at first may seem to be in some sense more “humane” as it can offer more “benefits” to people and “take better care of them”. However, I don’t find this to be that great and a right way to go because it influences creation of backward society. I don’t mean to sound heartless but financially supporting unemployed stimulates unemployment even more because people who have an option to work or not to work but still be helped out to make the ends meet, may chose not to work. Having this option is in microeconomic terms problematic because it creates more unemployment and hearts economy. At the same time there are good points to socialism as well, which makes it hard to chose which system could be less exploitative and better for the general population. Maybe some sort of a hybrid system with both democratic and socialist flavors?!

Jennifer Miller

I appreciate the though provoking responses posted so far and I will respond to Adriana later in this post.
I enjoyed reading how Benedict Anderson reflects on nationalism and its importance, power and utility in shaping reality, both utopian and concrete. He is concerned with the power and limitations of nationalism, as it has played out in history as a “fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings.”
Djilas not only critiques the Communist party but also reflects on the power of what Anderson describes as the “imagined community”, in this case the Communists. Djilas outlines how the nationalistic ideology of the party was dangerous. The belief in the necessary of temporary suppression to build socialism for the U.S.S.R, allowed high ranking members to be blinded to their own contradictions and brutality and remain unaccountable as he notes, “all words of the leading group do not correspond to its actions” (p.65).
I do not disagree with Djilas’ assessment of Communist government as an example of doublespeak and hypocrisy. My critique, similar to Adriana’s, relates to how he generalizes the nature of a free capitalistic society in comparison to that of the Communist party, particularly in relation to the legal system. He writes “ in Communism power and ownership are almost always in the same hands but this fact is concealed in a legal guise” (p.66), in contrast within capitalism, “the worker had equality with the capitalist before the law” (p.65) even if outside the court the worker was under the thumb of the exploiting class.
It is an important distinction that the law exists, but I question his idealized view and my critique is in regards to how he overlooks how this freedom arrived. Laws that protect workers and promote human rights were won by the working class rebelling against a brutal ruling class. The laws did not just magically appear with the onset of the ideologies of free market, democracy and freedom and are often under threat of being overturned or subverted via loopholes.
As Adriana pointed out there are hierarchies and ranks within democracy. Just as in the Communist party, a free society has a ruling class that adheres to particular ideologies that are utilized to maintain its power. If one challenges this class and its political network, there is a range of repercussions. The political element will seek to root out the revolutionary elements (such as labor leaders) just as the U.S.S.R did. I am not saying, of course, that democracies have used the same exact tactics, (i.e. thousands were not slaughtered as in the purgings of the U.S.S.R). I am suggesting the same mechanisms are in place to protect ruling class interests and suppress dissent that threatens it; and that laws cannot always provide a safeguard.
In response to Professor DeLong’s question about nationalism, I think it can be a force that unites people when it is used for a struggle for liberation, not for domination. The key distinction between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ nationalism is whether or not it calls for the killing, or subordination and control of the “other”, versus the liberation from oppressive control. Perhaps the same could be said for the actualization of a real socialism in that it may work better if it does not seek dictatorial power over, but more a ‘freedom from.’ The Zapatistas are an example how nationalism can be drawn on as a positive force. It is a particular type of cultural nationalism that is tied to a geography, whose goal is mainly sovereignty as well as international human rights for workers and indigenous people, not for power over or the violent overthrow of the “other.”

Shane Barclay

A couple weeks ago, George Orwell’s writing spurred discussion of why and how Socialism succeeds. Despite Orwell’s insistence that Communism is merely “common sense,” there is little evidence of it ever flourishing. One of the few examples of Socialism being implemented consistently over a significant period of time would be communist Russia. Milovan Djilas would disagree.

As above posters have detailed, Djilas points out not only why the Communism in the USSR was not actually Communism, by definition, but also why Communism, applied according to theory, will probably never exist. When Communism was explained by Marx and Engels, all other logics, thinkers, and precedents were ignored; Communism was their way and the only way. At first glance, things make sense, but as Djilas so thoroughly points out, things do not go according to plan when Communism is implemented.

So is there a hole in Djilas argument? Like Adriana, I had trouble finding one, but I agree with Ziwei that if Communism were to spring up today, it would have to be in a “humane and democratic” way. The process would not be a glorious revolution, but rather a slow process in which the workers slowly make gains at the minimal expense of those “exploiting” them. The result would be similar to the primary goals of Communism—the fair treatment of workers and the dissolution of class—but this would not exist under one, harmonious nation. Historical precedent says that the classless, utopian nation is impossible, but I think that if a country’s people (it would probably have to be a relatively small country) directed their favor towards this sort of Neo-Communism in which class lines fade, rather than dissolve, the change could happen.

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