From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.4, Fall 1962, pp.123-124.Transcribed & marked up by Einde O'Callaghan for ETOL.
Conversations With Stalin
This is probably the most valuable book yet written by Milovan Djilas. It is certainly more profitable reading than the much heralded The New Class; for in his latest work Djilas sets himself simpler goals. In Conversations With Stalin, unlike The New Class, Djilas is not trying to set forth a theoretical view of the society in the Soviet bloc. He is simply trying to give an account of Soviet-Yugoslav relations in the crucial period from 1944-1948. He begins this task, of course, with the tremendous advantage of having been a participant in this history. His three trips to the Soviet Union, in 1944, 1945, and 1948 form the body of the book.
Djilas makes a very worthwhile contribution in two areas. First, he provides a deeper understanding of the Yugoslav Revolution itself. Second, he depicts in marvelous detail the individuals who functioned as the political leadership of Stalin's bureaucracy in this period.
In many specific instances, Djilas illuminates the relationship between the Soviet bureaucracy and the Yugoslav Revolution. In his opening, Djilas tells us that "Moscow could never quite understand the realities of the revolution in Yugoslavia, that is, the fact that in Yugoslavia, simultaneously with the resistance to the forces of occupation, a domestic revolution was also going on." To this it need only be added that Moscow, in reality did not want to recognize any revolutionary developments.
The book abounds with examples of the theory and practice of peaceful coexistence as enunciated by the Stalinists. There is an especially excellent depiction of Stalin's cynical attitude towards the revolution in Albania. At one point Stalin says, "We have no special interest in Albania. We agree to Yugoslavia swallowing up Albania!" At another point in 1944 Stalin expressed great apprehension that the red stars on the caps of the Yugoslav partisans might frighten the English. In a meeting in Moscow in 1948 Stalin disposes of the Greek Revolution by saying, "The uprising in Greece has to fold up."
The author paints some valuable personal portraits of the top Stalinists. Of the descriptions of Manuilsky, Dimitrov, Bulganin, Zhukov, Malenkov, Khrushchev, Beria, Molotov, as well as Stalin, the portrait of Beria is perhaps the most brilliant.
"Beria was also a rather short man – in Stalin's Politburo there was hardly anyone taller than himself. He, too, was somewhat plump, greenish pale, and with soft damp hands. With his square-cut mouth and bulging eyes behind his pince-nez, he suddenly reminded me of Vujkovic, one of the chiefs of the Belgrade Royal Police who specialized in torturing Communists. It took an effort to dispel the unpleasant comparison, which was all the more nagging because the similarity extended even to his expression – that of a certain self-satisfaction and irony mingled with a clerk's obsequiousness and solicitude."
Following the Stalin-Tito split in 1948, Djilas continued as a top leader, in fact the right hand man of Tito. Unlike the vast majority of Stalinist political leaders then or since, Djilas began to question in a serious manner his entire political development and perspective. Around 1953, this re-evaluation resulted in a pronounced move away from Titoism as well as Stalinism. In his reaction against the basic character of the Yugoslav regime, he confused Stalinism with Marxism and Leninism, and threw them all out together. Djilas adopted for his political credo a variant of the Social-Democratic revision of Marxism. He has since become the darling of the Social Democratic and liberal spokesmen for "enlightened" capitalism.
The key to an appreciation of the latest book is that, notwithstanding Djilas' political degeneration, he was able to rely upon his rich personal experience to provide us with an extremely worthwhile study. The book is not adulterated by pro-imperialist propaganda, nor does the author digress from his main subject to theoretical areas in which he has already demonstrated his incompetent anti-materialist approach.
The fact that Djilas is now in jail for the "crime" of publishing this book cannot be ignored. Everyone knows that he poses no grave danger to the Yugoslav workers state. The action of the Yugoslav government confirms the bureaucratic nature of the regime. Although we have no sympathy for Djilas' politics we unreservedly condemn this brutal attempt to suppress his views.