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Milovan Djilas' The New Class: A Critique of the Communist System

Milovan Djilas was a Yugoslav communist leader, writer, and dissident who became one of the most prominent critics of the Soviet-style communism. His book, The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, published in 1957, was a controversial and influential work that exposed the flaws and contradictions of the communist regimes and their ruling elites.

In this article, we will provide a summary and analysis of Djilas' main arguments, as well as some historical and political context for his book. We will also discuss the reception and impact of his book, both in Yugoslavia and abroad, and its relevance for today's world.


Who was Milovan Djilas?

Milovan Djilas was born in 1911 in Montenegro, then part of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. He joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) in 1932, while studying at the University of Belgrade. He became a prominent member of the party's youth wing and a radical student leader. He was arrested several times by the royalist authorities for his political activities and spent several years in prison.

During World War II, he joined the Partisan resistance movement led by Josip Broz Tito, who became his close friend and ally. He fought against the Nazi occupation and the collaborationist forces in Yugoslavia, rising to the rank of general and becoming a member of the Supreme Staff of the People's Liberation Army. He also participated in the negotiations with the Western Allies and the Soviet Union, representing the Yugoslav communists.

After the war, he became one of the most influential figures in the new socialist Yugoslavia, holding various positions in the government and the party. He was vice president of Yugoslavia from 1945 to 1953, and president of the Federal Assembly from 1953 to 1954. He was also a prolific writer, publishing several books and articles on history, politics, and literature.

What is The New Class about?

The New Class is Djilas' most famous and controversial book, which he wrote while he was still a member of the CPY. He began working on it in 1954, after he was expelled from the party's Central Committee for criticizing Tito's policies and advocating for more democracy and decentralization in Yugoslavia. He finished it in 1956, but it was not published until 1957, when it appeared in English translation in the United States. The original Serbo-Croatian version was published in 1990, after Djilas' death.

The book is a political analysis and critique of the communist system, based on Djilas' personal experience and observations. He argues that communism is not a revolutionary movement that aims to liberate the working class from exploitation and oppression, but rather a new form of class society that creates a privileged and powerful elite that dominates all aspects of social life. He calls this elite "the new class", which consists of party officials, bureaucrats, managers, intellectuals, and military officers who control the state apparatus, the economy, and the ideology.

Djilas claims that the new class emerged as a result of the historical conditions that shaped the communist revolutions in Russia and other countries. He says that these revolutions were not genuine expressions of popular will or class struggle, but rather coups d'état carried out by a minority of professional revolutionaries who seized power by force and violence. He also says that these revolutions were not motivated by genuine socialist ideals or principles, but rather by national interests and ambitions.

Djilas criticizes the new class for its corruption, hypocrisy, authoritarianism, dogmatism, and inefficiency. He says that it exploits and oppresses the masses by imposing a rigid system of political repression, economic planning, and ideological indoctrination. He also says that it alienates itself from the people by creating a cult of personality around its leaders, such as Stalin and Tito. He warns that the new class is doomed to decay and collapse because it cannot solve the problems it creates or adapt to changing circumstances.

How was The New Class received?

The New Class caused a sensation when it was published in 1957. It was widely read and discussed both in Yugoslavia and abroad. It provoked various reactions from different audiences and perspectives.

In Yugoslavia, the book was banned and denounced by the authorities as a traitorous and subversive attack on the socialist system and the party leadership. Djilas was arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison for "hostile propaganda". He was released in 1961, but was arrested again in 1962 for publishing another book, Conversations with Stalin, which revealed his negative impressions of the Soviet dictator. He spent another four years in prison, and was finally released in 1966. He continued to write and publish books and articles, but was under constant surveillance and harassment by the regime. He died in 1995, at the age of 83.

In the West, the book was hailed as a courageous and insightful expose of the realities and dangers of communism. It was praised by many intellectuals, politicians, and journalists who saw it as a valuable source of information and analysis. It was also used by some anti-communist activists and propagandists who exploited it for their own agendas. It influenced many dissidents and reformers in Eastern Europe and other communist countries who sought to challenge the status quo and promote democratic changes.

In the East, the book was ignored or condemned by the official media and institutions of the communist bloc. It was seen as a hostile and slanderous attempt to undermine the socialist cause and the solidarity of the communist movement. It was also criticized by some Marxist-Leninist theorists and ideologues who disputed Djilas' arguments and defended the communist system as a progressive and revolutionary force.

What is the relevance of The New Class today?

The New Class is still a relevant and influential book today, as it offers a unique and original perspective on the history, nature, and fate of communism. It also raises important questions about the role and responsibility of intellectuals, the relationship between power and ideology, the dynamics of social change and conflict, and the prospects for democracy and human rights in different contexts.

The book can be seen as a precursor and inspiration for other works that have explored similar themes and issues, such as George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism, Raymond Aron's The Opium of the Intellectuals, Ralf Dahrendorf's Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society, Leszek Kolakowski's Main Currents of Marxism, Vaclav Havel's The Power of the Powerless, Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, and Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

The book can also be seen as a challenge and a warning for contemporary societies that face new forms of class division, inequality, exploitation, oppression, corruption, authoritarianism, dogmatism, and alienation. It can help us to understand and critique the sources and consequences of these phenomena, as well as to imagine and pursue alternative visions and solutions.

Where can I find The New Class?

If you are interested in reading The New Class, you can find it online or in print. Here are some links to help you:

  • You can download a free PDF version of the book from [the Internet Archive].

You can buy a paperback or hardcover edition of the book from [Amazon](

You can read a summary and review of the book from [the New York Times](

You can watch a video interview with Djilas from [the Open Mind](

We hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them below.

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