Whence the Stalin-Tito Quarrel? – Part VI

“I must really say that he is a veteran Communist, this Herr Josip Broz, a consistent man. Unfortunately he is our enemy. He really has earned his title of Marshal. When we catch him we shall do him in at once; you can be sure of that; he is our enemy. But I wish we had a dozen Titos in Germany… “ (Heinrich Himmler)

“We have said, and we will always say again, that we are opposed to the intervention of foreign military forces. But which was the lesser evil? Chaos, civil war, counter-revolution, and a new world war, or an intervention by Soviet troops? … I say clearly that the first alternative was the worst thing that could have occurred, and the second, the intervention of Soviet troops, was a necessary evil.” (Tito on the Hungarian Revolution of 1956)

[Both quotes from Jasper Ridley, Tito: A Biography (Constable and Company Ltd., 1994]



Dear Readers:

Today finishing my review of this historical piece by Evgeny Krutikov. Where we left off, the Stalin-Tito feud was in full bloom.  Stalin was dispatching assassins to try to put a cap in Tito.  Tito vigorously defended himself and threatened to send counter-assassins, like, maybe give Stalin a taste of his own medicine.  Of the two men, Tito had more experience on the battlefield:  as a partisan commander his feats had been so legendary, that even his Nazi opponents gave him reluctant praise.  His physical courage was never in any doubt.

Josip Broz Tito

To those who claim that Tito was an anti-Communist, this is clearly not true, as even a glancing knowledge of his biography shows.  In fact, later, in 1956, after Stalin was dead and the feud had cooled down, Tito defended Soviet tanks moving into Hungary in 1956 to restore order.  Clearly not the act of an anti-Communist.  One could boldly state, that Tito never had a problem with Communism, or even with the Soviet Union.  His problem was just with one guy:  Stalin.  Once Stalin died, the problem went away.  “No people, no problem” as Stalin himself was once alleged to have said.  [A fake quote, I hasten to add.]

Not A Team Player

Where we left off yesterday, Stalin’s “favorite”, as the French say, was a Slovenian Communist named Pero Popivoda.  Stalin felt no pangs of conscience misusing Pero’s considerable military talents by attempting to turn him into an assassin.  One wonders why Stalin did not employ his best assassin for this dirty task, namely, Nahum Eitingon, the mastermind of the Trotsky assassination.  Well, maybe the latter was already gearing himself up for the infamous “Jewish Doctors Plot” soon to be on the horizon.

But Stalin possessed other resources, such as all the printing presses of the satellite nations.  In Czechoslovakia a new “émigré” Yugoslav paper came into being, called “Nova Borba” (“New Struggle”), as a jab at the official Yugoslav Communist newspaper “Borba” (“Struggle”).  The New Struggle went out all-medieval on the “Tito-Ranković” clique, practically spitting its venom all over the place like green ink.   As Krutikov remarks, these attacks against Tito were all-pervasive in the Soviet press.  You couldn’t even swing a dead cat in the Eastern bloc without hitting such a headline.

The Tito-Ranković clique

The Ranković in question, as we touched on yesterday, being this guy, Aleksandar Ranković, Tito’s second-in-command and better half, a tough hard-line Communist and Serbian patriot.  According to his wiki page, Ranković is considered a national hero by modern-day Serbs, perhaps a precursor to the martyred Slobodan Milošević. Ranković tended to balance out Tito (who would bend over backwards to accommodate the other nationalities) by defending traditional Serbian interests, such as Kosovo.  All in all, the two men made a good team.  Unlike Stalin who, as we have seen, was not a team player at all.  With Stalin, it was “My way or the highway”.

As to the allegations of “Nova Borba” and the other Stalinist mouth-pieces, as to the supposed counter-revolutionary inclinations of the Yugoslav leaders, one need only remind oneself, that this is the same guy who accused practically all the Old Bolsheviks of being Nazi spies.  Of Lenin’s entire team leaving just Stalin and a handful of his cronies as the only pure ones left who didn’t sell out to the fascists.

Amazing that there are some “Furries” out there in the world who still believe this crap.  And these same people will also believe that Tito was a British spy.  But I digress…

Krutikov writes that Stalin considered the option of direct military intervention to remove Tito.  As in, moving Soviet tanks into Yugoslavia to restore order.  However, these plans were rejected, due to the fact that the Soviets would have to rely on allies Bulgaria and Romania — whose military capabilities were dubious, at best.  Here the Soviet generals got the final word, and, Slava Bogu, were actually listened to.

Girl soldiers of the Yugoslav Peoples Army

The Yugoslavs, in turn, were preparing for an incursion and had a plan in place.  Their plan was to withdraw into the mountainous reasons of Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo, and there unfold full-out partisan war against the Soviet invaders.  Thank the gods it never came to that!  But the interesting fact, as Krutikov points out, is that the preparations themselves led to a change in the structure of the Yugoslav army, which persisted all the way to 1991, and even affecting the later Balkan wars of 1991-1995.  This consisted of the following:  In preparation for Soviet invasion, the Yugoslav army was divided into two parts:  the regular cadre army; and the local defense militias.  The latter were territory-based and possessed varying weaponry.  Due to their territorial nature, these militias later became prone to go over to the side of the nationalist forces, whereas the federal standing army remained pro-Serbian.

Conclusions

Krutikov draws the following conclusions from this interesting history:

  • Stalin was right to restrain Tito-Dimitrov from creating a Balkan “super-state”, this would have for sure provoked an Anglo-American intervention.  Or maybe not.  And maybe this super-state would have come crashing down even bigger than Yugoslavia eventually did.  Or maybe not.  Since real history does not concern itself with “What-If” scenarios.
  • For many Serbs, this era of history is associated with the geographical toponym of “Goli Otok”, which is Serbian for “Naked Island”.  This is a tiny island off the Croatian shore which was used as a prison even back in Austro-Hungarian times.  During the Yugoslav Partisan times, Croatian Ustashi and Serbian Chetniki were put in there.  A few years later, in 1948, “Stalinists” and “anti-Titoites” joined the latter in their cells.  Before one rushes to condemn this repression, one needs to recall that Pero Popivoda was not the only “deserter” nor the only wannabe assassin that Tito had to deal with.  Stalin had more than one arrow in his quiver.
  • Serbian film-maker Emir Kusturica made a movie about this island prison in 1985, called Otac na službenom putu (“Father went away on business”).  Which is how most Serbs know anything about this time in their history.
  • “Goli Otok” is now a museum, no more prisoners there.

THE END

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4 Responses to Whence the Stalin-Tito Quarrel? – Part VI

  1. Ryan Ward says:

    Useful and interesting article. There’s really far too little written in English on the Communist period in the Balkans. It’s good that Krutikov noted an important point which is often missed, which is that the ideological differences between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia weren’t actually the reason for the split between them. In fact, the causation was the other way around. It was the upheaval generated by the split with the Soviet Union that got Tito in particular and the Yugoslavs in general thinking more deeply about whether they wanted to follow the Soviet model in toto in domestic matters. Before the split, Yugoslavia seemed to be on the road to becoming a completely conventional Eastern European Communist country

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  2. et Al says:

    I never heard about ‘Tito’s plan to conquer Albania’ and I suspect it is rubbish. Why? If multiple divisions of Wehrmacht could not wipe out the Partizans in their mountains, then why would it possible to do the same with less in the mountains of Albania? There’s a reason they are called the ‘Cursed/Damned Mountains’*.

    Also, as pointed out, Tito was a battle hardened soldier, so these basic facts would have been more than evident to him. Add to that Enver Hoxa and followers were also battle hardened in mountain warfare and that everyone had had a tough time fighting the Nazis, then the likelihood of any invasion of Albania claim looks… ridiculous.

    Other points I have learned over the years. Post WWII, Yugoslavia tried to follow hard-core Russian (Stalin) style Communism. It made a lot of people unhappy, and not only those who fought the Nazis. As the article pointed out, the population had been decimated by the Nazis in word and in deed. So returning to war to ‘take Albania’ would not have been popular either and regarding that the new Yugoslavia was wholly inclusive of the different lots, ganging up on someone else, well…

    As for 1948, I learned that it was more about Tito looking for a third way, a softer form of Communism, even claiming that it would be more advanced and actually closer to Socialism. So yes, as the article stated that Stalin allowed no deviation from his interpretation of Communism, but more precisely he didn’t want to see the soft Communism of Tito, lest of all it would spread… and threaten Stalin at home. As pointed out, Romania and Bulgaria were already not exactly on side.

    The last point I can make that the article came tantalizingly close to mentioning is that Tito’s warning letter to Stalin about offing him if he doesn’t leave Yugo well alone, was found in Stalin’s desk when he finally kharked it.Possibly true, though some claim not. Slovenian historian Joze Pirjavec claims that Tito had Stalin poisoned with potassium cyanide.**

    * https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prokletije

    ** http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2175385/Did-Tito-poison-Stalin-Historian-claims-Yugoslav-dictator-killed-rival-target-22-Soviet-assassination-attempts.html

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    • Ryan Ward says:

      “As for 1948, I learned that it was more about Tito looking for a third way, a softer form of Communism, even claiming that it would be more advanced and actually closer to Socialism. So yes, as the article stated that Stalin allowed no deviation from his interpretation of Communism, but more precisely he didn’t want to see the soft Communism of Tito, lest of all it would spread… and threaten Stalin at home. As pointed out, Romania and Bulgaria were already not exactly on side.”

      This is a common narrative, but the timeline doesn’t work. The Yugoslavs didn’t make their first moves toward domestic revisionism until 1950, a full two years after the split.

      “I never heard about ‘Tito’s plan to conquer Albania’ and I suspect it is rubbish. Why? If multiple divisions of Wehrmacht could not wipe out the Partizans in their mountains, then why would it possible to do the same with less in the mountains of Albania? There’s a reason they are called the ‘Cursed/Damned Mountains’*.”

      It’s definitely true that conquering Albania would have been impractical, almost certain true that Tito had no such ambition, and highly likely that Stalin realized this. However, the issue of a direct and full annexation wasn’t the real issue at question. What was at issue was Yugoslavia’s attempt to build a regional order centred on itself. Yugoslavia, in seeking to use Albanian territory for military purposes, was revealing its ambition to be the chief centre of gravity in the proposed Balkan confederation. Stalin most likely wasn’t worried about actual border changes, but rather about the consolidation of a separate communist regional order in the Balkans. Albania, for its part, had a fierce and uncompromising sense of independence that led to a split with the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death. So it didn’t take much to convince them that they shouldn’t allow foreign troops to use their territory.

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      • yalensis says:

        Thanks to both for interesting discussion! Krutikov seems to think that Tito planned to annex Albania, but maybe not. Maybe his motive was just to move troops in to prepare for Anglo-American incursion from Greece, just like he said.
        Agree with Ryan that Tito’s “third way” came later, my own personal opinion is that there were no essential ideological differences between Tito and Stalin, just each taking into account the peculiarities of their own nations, history and culture, etc. It came to seem important later that national Communist leaders pretend to have ideological differences, and there was all the nonsense with Hoxha flirting with Maoism, etc.
        From my own POV, I think a crucial factor was that whole Greek Civil War thing. Both Hoxha and Tito wanted to see the Greek Communists win, but it seems like Stalin nurtured his traditional defeatist attitude, I believe that was a real issue of divergence, the rest was just window-dressing.
        et al, very interesting rumor about Tito and the cyanide – quite a delicious conspiracy theory!

        Like

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