National Communism in Socialist Federations

National Communism in Socialist Federations

Institute for Contemporary History of Czech Academy of Sciences, Prague; Study Centre for National Reconciliation, Ljubljana
Czech Republic
Fand statt
In Präsenz
Vom - Bis
14.09.2023 -
Adam Hudek, Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Tschechische Akademie der Wissenschaften, Prag

The Yugoslav Marxist intellectual Milovan Djilas stated in his famous book "New Class" that "no single form of communism, no matter how similar it is to other forms, exists in any other way than as national communism".1 This statement encompasses the central idea of the workshop, represented by the concept of "national communism". For contemporary scholars, it serves as a descriptive term encompassing the policies of certain communist parties, ideologists or intellectuals seeking a positive reappraisal of patriotic heritage and legitimizing the concept of national sovereignty. Although the term's actual content can vary, in general, it takes the form of applying the universalist Marxist-Leninist ideology to individual national political, economic, social, and cultural conditions.

In the multinational communist states and socialist federations, the complex relationship between the communist ideology and nationalism was particularly evident. The various "national communisms" competed or co-existed with each other and with state-sponsored supranational concepts such as Czechoslovak patriotism, Soviet patriotism, or Yugoslavism. The central points of discussion among the workshop participants were the interactions between the central or federal and the national structures. The developments before the establishment of communist regimes and after their fall were also discussed.

The keynote address delivered by TOMAŽ IVEŠIĆ (Ljubljana) established the primary themes of the workshop concerning the intersection of communist ideology and nationalism. The primary focus of the analysis was the evolving balance between class and nation in the Communist narrative and doctrine spanning from the 1920s until the 1980s. In his presentation, JAN MERVART (Prague) emphasized that the question of the primacy of universal (class) or particular (nation) emancipation has accompanied the socialist movement from its very beginning. These dilemmas were particularly significant during the Stalinist era and shaped the internal contradictions of the communist movement. The majority of the participants in the workshop pointed out that the communist ideologists, functionaries and intellectuals, in accordance with Djilas, did not see the class and the national as contradictory, but as complementary parts of reality. According to the case studies presented, this was true of the Bolsheviks in the 1920s, of the Czechoslovak Stalinists, as well as of the Yugoslav intellectuals and student leaders of the 1960s and 1970s.

However, there were also significant differences between the Yugoslavian, Soviet, and Czechoslovakian cases. These differences were reflected in the focal points of the case studies presented. As an example, Tomaž Ivešić pointed out the specificity of the Yugoslavian case where powerful identification was constructed. Compared to other cases the identification with supranational Yugoslavism remained present even after socialism collapsed.

HELENA STOLNIK TRENKIĆ (Cambridge) formulated the key questions on the subject: "The Socialist Federation of Yugoslavia was founded as a realization of South Slavic self-determination. Yet throughout this period, the ever-present accompanying question remained: self-determination for whom? What was the entity that claimed this right, and how?" In this sense, self-determination could become a rather fuzzy concept overlapping with the working class, the whole of Yugoslavia, or just one of its nations. According to Stolnik Trenkić, students in Zagreb linked the concept of self-determination to the rhetoric of the Non-Aligned Movement, which protested colonialism and neo-colonialism. However, they still made this argument specifically in favor of the Croats in Yugoslavia.

It is illustrative for the Yugoslavian case, that the contributions dealing with it focused mainly on the interactions between supranational and national contexts in the intellectual discourse, which was then translated into politics. MACIEJ CZERWINSKI (Krakow) and MARIJANA KARDUM (Zagreb) explored this process through the case studies of influential figures. One was Miroslav Krleža, a notable Croatian writer in the 20th century, who endeavored to blend the notions of Croat and Yugoslav identities in his works. The other was Savka Dabčević-Kučar, who served as the Prime Minister of Croatia in 1967, initiated the first "mass movement" within communist Yugoslavia, blending nationalist discourse with a plan for economic reforms. NIKOLA ZECEVIC (Munich) demonstrated how ethnolinguistic intellectual discourses gained potent political implications in the advent of exclusive Montenegrin nationalism in socialist Yugoslavia.

The panel on the Soviet Union was influenced by Terry Martin's concept of the Soviet Union as the first "affirmative action empire," which aimed to lessen nationalist sentiment by promoting national awareness among its people.2 STEPHAN RIDLICHSBACHER (Frankfurt an der Oder) highlighted the practical nature of this approach during the 1920s. Despite their materialistic and international ideology, the Bolsheviks prioritized national interests over economic ones. As he presented in the example of the Russo-Ukrainian borderland, only the process of national-territorial "fine-tuning" was dominated purely by economic considerations.

TILMAN LÜDKE (Freiburg) illustrated how on one side “affirmative action” was able to overcome the Muslim resistance to Soviet rule and enable the emergence of Muslim national communism. At the same time, the subsequent Bolshevik perception of pan-Islamism has shown limits of pragmatism and tolerance of the Moscow center. Despite initial approval, at the beginning of the Stalinist era, pan-Islamism began to be viewed as a threat to Soviet unity. Fear of foreign influence led to the abolishment of pan-Islamism, pan-Turkism, and other similar "nationalist deviations".

Conversely, while Stalin actively restricted the federal aspects in the Soviet Union, he possibly viewed the federal model as an ideal instrument to govern Soviet satellites after the Second World War. ALEXANDER GOGUN (Berlin) argued that since the early 1920s, Stalin saw federation or at least confederation as an optimal format for the future Eastern Bloc.

The Czechoslovak panel covered the longest timespan, from the 1930s until the first half of the 1990s. It can be seen as proof that the issue of national communism had a noteworthy and ongoing presence in the politics of the Czechoslovak communist party well before it attained power in the state. Additionally, the paper presented by MARTIN IVANČÍK (Bratislava) demonstrated that Slovak national communism endured beyond the downfall of the socialist dictatorship. In the early 1990s, it functioned as both a “bogeyman” utilized by the liberal post-dissent elite as well as an inspiration for emerging nationalist and populist groups.

While the phenomenon of national communism in Czechoslovakia is commonly linked to Czech-Slovak relations, JAKUB VRBA (Prague) highlighted the frequently omitted fact that the Czechoslovak Communist Party in the interwar period had a predominantly Czech-German character. The oscillation of German functionaries between nationalism and internationalism, as well as their vacillation between rejection and support of the Czechoslovak state, had a profound impact on the Party politics development through the first half of the 20th century.

Jan Mervart and ADAM HUDEK (Prague) focused on changes in the class versus nation dichotomy in the Czechoslovak ideological narrative. Mervart argued against the established claim that Stalinist adherence to a primordialist conception of the nation completely excluded the class perspective. He suggested that class, and thus the internationalist standpoint, did not disappear from the perspective of Czechoslovak communists until the end of the Stalinist era. Hudek focused on the period of post-Stalinism and late socialism, when "the national discourse suppressed the Marxist one" 3 in almost all socialist dictatorships. In Czechoslovakia, Slovak national communism emerged as a dominant legitimizing narrative of real socialist orthodoxy in Czechoslovakia and socialist federalization as the best of possible worlds. Slovak national communists occupied a privileged position until the fall of the socialist dictatorship, after which they successfully offered their services to the new currents in Slovak politics.

The workshop presentations confirmed the long-standing argument that nationalism was never alien to communism. In most socialist dictatorships, nationalism provided a welcome source of ideological legitimization. A significant part of the communist party elite and Marxist intellectuals viewed nationalism as essential to their ideological self-identification. Moreover, nationalism significantly influenced the politics of the communist regimes. The workshop indicated that scholars researching the relationship between communism and nationalism in the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, and Yugoslavia focus on different periods and topics. As a result, this fact can potentially complicate the productive exchange of opinions among experts on individual cases. Nonetheless, the discussion during the workshop proved the relevance and usefulness of studying the history of various types of federations is significant. This line of research is likely to remain highly productive, especially in the context of the future development of the European Union.

Conference overview:

Keynote speech

Ivešić, Tomaž (Ljubljana): Concepts in the Marxist-Leninist Thought and the Socialist Nation-Building in Central and Eastern Europe

National Communism in Yugoslavia
Chair: Ondřej Vojtěchovský (Prague)

Maciej Czerwiński (Krakow): National Objectives and the Yugoslav Communist State. The Case of Miroslav Krleža

Marijana Kardum (Zagreb): Savka Dabčević Kučar: A Woman Heading a Communist Hierarchy and a National Reformist Movement

Helena Stolnik Trenkić (Cambridge): Self-determination and Socialist (Inter)nationalism in Croatian Student Politicisation, 1966-1972

Nikola Zečević (Munich): Forging Exclusive Identity: Montenegrin Nationalism in Socialist Yugoslavia

National communism in the Soviet Union
Chair: Monika Woźniak (Prague)

Stephan Ridlichsbacher (Frankfurt an der Oder): Borders in Red: Managing National Diversity in the Early Soviet Union

Alexander Gogun (Berlin): National Communism as the Way to the Global Socialist Federation Stalin and the Birth of the Real-Socialistic System, 1944-1953

Tilman Lüdke (Freiburg): Muslim National Communism in the Soviet Union: From Pan-Islam to Pan-Turkism

National Communism in Czechoslovakia
Chair: Petra Hudek (Bratislava)

Jakub Vrba (Prague): Czechoslovak German Communist: Between Sudeten German nationalism and Supraethnical Czechoslovakism

Jan Mervart (Prague): Class versus Nation in Czechoslovak Stalinism

Adam Hudek (Prague): Slovak National Communism in the Normalization Era

Matej Ivančík (Bratislava): Unfortunately, Communist Mafias Are Undefeatable, As Yet." National Communism in Post-Socialist Slovakia through the Liberal-Democratic Gaze

1 Milovan Djilas, The New Class, London 1957, p. 174.
2 Balász Trencsényi, et al. A History of Modern Political Thought in East Central Europe: Negotiating Modernity in the “Short Twentieth Century” and Beyond. Part II: 1968–2018. Oxford 2018, p. 13.
3 Terry Martin, The Affirmative Action Empire: Nations and Nationalism in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939, Ithaca 2001.