Continuing my translation/summary/review of this piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, two old friends (Russians and Serbs) had become bitter enemies almost in the blink of an eye. Historians struggle to partition blame between Stalin and Tito, and to delve into the deeper root causes of the rift; for, verily, there had to be more to this than a simple pissing contest between two alpha males.
The Reluctant Revolutionary
Looking at the larger picture: The Communist International aka Comintern aka Third International, had been founded by V.I. Lenin in 1919. It was meant to be the spiritual successor to the Second International, which fell into disrepute during WWI and dissolved itself in 1916. After the Bolshevik Revolution, the Soviet Union became World HQ of the Communist International. Whose mission statement was the overthrow of world capitalism (and individual capitalist governments); but, under Stalin, eventually became more like an auxiliary to the Soviet Foreign Ministry and secret police, not to mention international espionage. (One only need recall how Burgess, Philby and the other famous English recruits believed fervently that they were working as agents of the Comintern and not just mundane Russian spies.)
Like its predecessor, the Third International dissolved itself in wartime, but for somewhat different reasons. In this case, the Nazi invasion forced the Soviet Union to ally with the Anglo-Saxon camp; and those nations, in turn, insisted that the USSR call off its revolutionary dogs. The Comintern had always been a thorn in the side of the international bourgeoisie, what with Soviet spies and local commies running amuck, fomenting strikes and disorder, etc. In return for their dubious “military aid” against Nazi Germany, the U.S. and Great Britain demanded big concessions and sacrifices from the USSR. It is said that Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt — peering into the post-war future and seeing the need to restore social peace on the backs of their own working classes — drove a hard bargain. On the Soviet side, Stalin got the big paycheck, and it was his job to make these tough decisions. Hence, he made the decision to comply with the demands of these cunning leaders. And so it came to pass, that on May 15, 1943 the Executive Committee of the Comintern sent out a declaration requesting of member sections:
To dissolve the Communist International as a guiding centre of the international labor movement, releasing sections of the Communist International from the obligations ensuing from the constitution and decisions of the Congresses of the Communist International.
Commies everywhere were told to lay down their manifestos and make peace with their own plantation masters. But wait! Barely was the war over, when a new, somewhat strange, form of the Comintern was brought back from the dead. But this time called the “Cominform“, and its goal being, not world revolution, but simply managing relations between and among the new socialist nations that had come into being, willy nilly, at the end of the war.
Prior to the war, as we know, Stalin had spent 2 tough decades removing all of his domestic political rivals, anybody that could remotely dream of replacing him as the leader of the Soviet government. Which was his dream job and really all that he had ever aspired to — in truth, Stalin had never been keen on undertaking international adventures — and yet world events conspired to push him on to even greater deeds. Hence, by the end of WWII the son of an Ossetian peasant had emerged as the undisputed leader, not just of the mighty Soviet Union, but of all the “workers democracies” and, indeed, the world proletariat as such. Not only that but, going even deeper, Stalin’s torso now filled out a third role as well, a role that went back a thousand years: that of the traditional Russian Leader, the head of the mighty Russian Empire and its Greco-Orthodox civilization.
But here’s the thing: Stalin was used to dealing with political rivals in a certain way that worked remarkably well in Russian politics. But now he was in Balkan territory, and Balkan politics are different and unfamiliar.
Recall: Where we left off, the Cominform had politely suggested that Comrade Tito abase himself, toss ashes on his own head, and admit all his mistakes to the world. Or else…
In other words, Stalin was treating the great military commander and world-level political leader Josip Broz Tito as if he were some Old Bolshevik schmuck who would readily capitulate and accuse himself of crimes too numerous to mention…
And so it came to pass, as Krutikov continues his saga, that the in the year 1948 Yugoslavia became the dearest friend and ally of the Soviet Union. And, unlike a, say, Poland, this was not due to military occupation, but according to the actual free will of the Yugoslav people, and the fruits of their own struggle against the Nazi invaders. Moscow laid huge hopes on Belgrade and spent an inordinate amount of money re-equipping the Yugoslav army.
To be sure, some conflicts arose early: Stalin had to restrain Tito when the latter, overly aggressively, attempted to annex some portions of land belonging to Italy and Austria, thus provoking the wrath of the Anglo-Saxons. Whom Stalin was still anxious to appease.
Despite such minor (and normal) friction, relations between Moscow and Belgrade were extraordinarily good. Not like Poland, which always behaved like a sullen problem child. Or Czechoslovakia, with its petty-bourgeois passive-aggressive attitude. Hungary and Romania were former satellites of Germany, hence by definition hostile to Russia; and the wily Bulgarians always knew how to balance on two stools. Albania was, and always remains, a grey zone of Medievalism which even the Yugoslavs could never tame. “Slavs can’t do anything with these people,” Tito declared (about the Albanians) in 1943.
And sure enough, it was Albania. It was always going to be Albania. It was Albania which caused the riff between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union!
[to be continued]