The Boss

Tito: The Story from Inside

by Milovan Djilas, translated by Vasilije Kojić and Richard Hayes
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 185 pp., $9.95

Tito; drawing by David Levine

Simply as a piece of writing, this little book is a big mess. There is no clear thematic development, there are no discernible divisions of subject among the chapters, and there are a good many sentences that don’t make sense. Djilas’s publisher would have done him a service by returning the manuscript and suggesting that he take more time, more care.

This much almost every reviewer has said, but to stop here is quite to miss the point. For in its awkward, exasperating way—Djilas has always had more trouble with exposition than with narrative—the book matters. Djilas was close to Tito through the war years; he has remained, both in prison (nine years!) and in Belgrade, a critical witness to the Titoist reign; and despite handicaps imposed by a Stalinist past and lengthy intellectual isolation, he really tries to think about the nature of twentieth-century authoritarianism. Perhaps the most moving aspect of his work is its evidence of a man struggling for articulation after waking up from nightmares of history.

Especially if taken together with his earlier, richer book Wartime, Tito contributes to an understanding of a major social type cast up by modern politics: the proletarian (or plebeian) bureaucrat who, when successful, becomes the proletarian (or plebeian) autocrat. We see him everywhere, this intelligent and assertive worker who achieves, through the leverage of Marxism and the energies of his party, a measure of self-definition and then, whether consciously or not, uses his new powers of mind and speech to rise above both his class and his comrades. The sociological literature has some suggestive fragments about this figure, and a look back into Michels would also be profitable; but as usual it is to imaginative literature that we must turn for the most prescient of anticipations.

In The Princess Casamassima Henry James draws a brilliant portrait of a proletarian bureaucrat still in the embryo stage. Paul Muniment has to keep working as an artisan but is clearly preparing himself for greater things. He is strong, self-assured, not given to intellectual babble, a radical who could as easily become a social democratic parliamentarian as an anarchist conspirator. James, with his uncanny intuition, allows the issue of Muniment’s future to remain open, since he is portraying a moment in the development of English radicalism when political categories and organizational structures have not yet become fixed.

In Zola’s Germinal the young worker Etienne reads a Belgian socialist weekly “gripped by the uneducated man’s methodless passion for study”—these few words alone revealing the writer’s mastery of the subject. Zola is writing about a phase of working-class consciousness more highly formed than that which James treats, so that in describing the life of the French miners he can show that in the very emergence of plebeian solidarity there also arise new potential rulers: keen, ambitious proletarians and semi-intellectuals raising themselves to the status of leaders and bureaucrats.


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