Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

On Revolution: From Someone Who Was There

January 1, 1989 -

Next to Marshall Tito, Milovan Djilas was probably the most powerful communist in post-World War Two Yugoslavia. But in 1954 he was stripped of his power and then imprisoned for many years. He has written a number of books, including The New Class (1957), in which he exposes the hypocrisy and ruthlessness of communism. In the following excerpt from an interview with George Urban, Djilas responds to the question whether he considers himself a heretic of the Revolution.

"A revolution is always a tragedy in human affairs. I don't like to romanticize it, and dislike intensely people who do. The Yugoslav Revolution, too, was a great evil—although it would be erroneous to say that it could have been avoided. Our Revolution did resolve certain problems we inherited from Royal Yugoslavia, but it didn't satisfy the aspirations of the revolutionaries. Revolutions never do. There can be no greater insult to my conscience and intelligence than to be told that the "socialist" revolution was a "humanitarian" event that "changed the course of history." There are no such sudden watersheds in history; and I cannot quite see how enormous blood-lettings and sufferings can be termed humanitarian even in the embellishing light of retrospect. Yet, from time to time, revolutions are inevitable because the guilt and corruption of certain ruling classes seem to be an ineradicable feature of human history.

"I was, as you rightly say, a fully believing Communist. Communism for me was not just a social policy, not a means for manipulating people, not a stepping stone to advancement, not a way of acquiring and exercising power, but a deep personal, moral commitment as strong as religion.

"Only a true believer has the right to rise up against his own convictions and reject them at the risk of being damned as a renegade or a heretic. When I reject revolution and the dictatorship that follows it as great misfortunes, I speak as a man who believed in revolution fervently, but has learned from bitter experience and long reflection that while revolutions may be pleasing to the temper of revolutionaries, they achieve virtually nothing. That does not mean to say that revolution is not justified when enormous injustices pervade the lives of men and every peaceful means of putting them right has been exhausted. They must, however, be the last resort

"If you now describe me as the keeper of the conscience of the Yugoslav Revolution, a through-and-through heretic who rejects Revolution—that's identification I accept without demur." ("Djilas on Gorbachov: Milovan Djilas & George Urban in Conversation," Encounter, September/October 1988, pp.17-18)

This article originally appeared in Comment magazine, a journal founded by Harry Antonides. Find all of Harry’s pieces, and thousands more, at http://www.cardus.ca/comment