Milovan Djilas was born in Montenegro, Yugoslavia, in 1911. He became a member of the Yugoslav Communist Party while studying at Belgrade University in 1932 and was imprisoned for his political activities (1933-36). In 1938 Djilas was elected to the Central Committee of the Party and two years later a member of its Politburo.
The Yugoslavian government headed by Prince-Regent Paul allied itself with the fascist dictatorships of Germany and Italy. However, on 27th March 1941, a military coup established a government more sympathetic to the Allies. Ten days later the Luftwaffe bombed Yugoslavia and virtually destroyed Belgrade. The German Army invaded and the government was forced into exile.
Djilas joined his friend Josip Tito to help establish the partisan resistance fighters. Djilas was commander of the resistance forces in Montenegro and Bosnia during the war. In 1944 Tito sent Djilas to the Soviet Union where he had meetings with Joseph Stalin.
Initially the Allies provided military aid to the Chetniks led by Drazha Mihailovic. Information reached Winston Churchill that the Chetniks had began to collaborate with the Germans and Italians and at Teheran the decision was taken to switch this aid to Tito and the partisans.
In May 1944 a new government of Yugoslavia was established under Ivan Subasic. Tito was made War Minister in the new government. Djilas and his partisans continued their fight against the German Army and in October 1944 helped to liberate Belgrade.
In March 1945 Josip Tito became premier of Yugoslavia. Over the next few years he created a federation of socialist republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia). Djilas was vice president in Tito's government.
Tito had several disagreements with Joseph Stalin and in 1948 he sent Djilas as head of a Yugoslav delegation to meet Stalin in Moscow. Negotiations failed and later that year Tito took Yugoslavia out of the Comintern and pursued a policy of "positive neutralism". Influenced by the ideas of Djilas, Tito attempted to create a unique form of socialism that included profit sharing workers' councils that managed industrial enterprises.
Despite these reforms Djilas remained critical of how communism was developing in Yugoslavia and wrote about these issues in the Belgrade newspaper Borba and the political review, Nova Misao. In 1954 he was expelled from the party and lost all his government posts.
In 1955 Djilas published The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System. In his book Djilas argued that communism in Eastern Europe was not an egalitarian society that it claimed to be. Instead, he argued, the party had established privileges enjoyed by a small group of party members (the New Class). Djilas was arrested in November 1956 and charged with "slandering and writing opinions hostile to the people and the state of Yugoslavia." Djilas was eventually sentenced to nine years in prison.
Soon after his release in 1961 he published Conversations with Stalin. This was based on his meetings with Joseph Stalin during the Second World War. This book led to a further period in prison (1962-66).
Djilas remained a committed socialist but argued that the dictatorship of the New Class inevitably carried within it the seeds of its own destruction. These views were expressed in books such as Under the Colours (1971), Land Without Justice (1972), Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class (1972), Memoir of a Revolutionary (1973), Parts of a Lifetime (1975), Wartime: With Tito and the Partisans (1980), Tito: the Story from Inside (1981), Of Prisons and Ideas (1986) and Rise and Fall (1986).