Tito (Josip Broz) (1892–1980)

views updated

TITO (JOSIP BROZ) (1892–1980)


Communist leader of Yugoslavia.

Josip Broz—"Tito" was his wartime party code name—was born in the village of Kumrovec on the Croatia-Slovenia border, in Austria-Hungary. His mother was Slovene, but he always spoke the language of his Croat father in public. Tito, their seventh child, showed no aptitude for education, and in 1907 he became a metalworker's apprentice in Sisak, where he became involved in the Social-Democratic labor movement. Tito plied his trade widely across Central Europe during the years 1911–1913, until he was conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army. Captured by the Russians in 1915, he escaped in the chaos of the later months of the war and joined the Communist Party of Russia, returning in 1920 to the newly constituted Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes (renamed Yugoslavia in 1929).

Tito resumed his occupation in the metalworking trade and joined the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY), which was declared illegal in December 1920. By 1927 he was secretary of the Metalworkers' Union of Croatia and a known Communist activist. In November 1928 he was arrested and sent to prison for five years. Parliamentary government ended in 1929 and during the royal dictatorship that followed, relentless police offensives against prominent Communists were as likely to end in the Communists' murder as in arrest. When he was released in March 1934 Tito found a Communist Party demoralized by its losses and paralyzed by doctrinal factionalism. He showed no interest in Marxism-Leninism as a system of thought, then or later: the Soviet Union provided him with the only revolutionary model he needed. His genius lay in clandestine organization, rooted in the iron discipline imposed by democratic centralism, and this made him Joseph Stalin's (1879–1953) eventual choice to head the CPY. Early in 1935 Tito was in Moscow as a member of the Balkan Secretariat of the Communist International and by the end of 1936 he was charged with "consolidating" the Yugoslav Party, which he did, purging Trotskyites and crypto-liberals with equal zeal. Remarkably, Tito survived Stalin's purges, which claimed the lives of at least eight hundred Yugoslav cadres, including most of its top leadership. In January 1939 he was confirmed by Moscow as the Secretary-General of the CPY Politburo, and the party uttered no murmur of protest when the Molotov-von Ribbentrop Pact was signed in August.

The party numbered at least six thousand members on the eve of the German invasion of Yugoslavia (6 April 1941), young, but hardened by police brutality and prison experiences into uncompromising revolutionaries, and some were veterans of the civil war in Spain. The Politburo included three men who became Tito's trusted comrades: Milovan Djilas (1911–1995), Alexander Ranković (1909–1982), and Edvard Kardelj (1910–1979). Together with the "Old Boy," as they affectionately called Tito, they formed a governing elite within the party, and their lives were in different ways closely interwoven with his. Following Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union, the CPY placed itself at the head of a Peoples' Liberation Struggle, united (after November 1942) under the Anti-Fascist Council for the Liberation of Yugoslavia (AVNOJ). The Communist-led partisans fought their battles in mountainous Bosnia. Despite their heroism and endurance, they were never strong enough to take on the Axis occupiers in pitched battle, but they did succeed in destroying the Serbian Chetniks loyal to the king and to the government-in-exile in London. The decisive moment came when Churchill switched his backing from the Chetniks to Tito's partisans, following the capitulation of Italy, on 8 September 1943. The CPY had turned the corner in its undeclared civil war against the prewar royalist regime. Tito seized the moment to summon a meeting of AVNOJ (29 November 1943), which declared itself the sole legitimate government, and conferred on himself the rank of Marshal of Yugoslavia.

Tito always feared that the Allied influence on the postwar settlement might rob the party of power, but in the event the Red Army liberated Belgrade (20 October 1944) and then, with Stalin's prior agreement, swung northward, leaving the partisan army to complete the subjugation of Yugoslavia. The Communists were merciless in consolidating their grip on the country, in line with Tito's instruction to "strike terror into the bones of those who do not like this kind of Yugoslavia" (Malcolm, p. 193). The CPY was permeated by the Stalin cult and faithfully copied the Soviet blueprint for totalitarian rule. However, Tito saw himself as Moscow's ally, not its poodle, and his vision of an enlarged Yugoslavia as the basis of a Balkan socialist federation had no place in Stalin's plans for a satellite Eastern Europe. Stalin engineered the Cominform Resolution, which expelled Yugoslavia from the socialist fraternity of states in June 1948. Faced with the threat of liquidation the CPY leadership mobilized for war, and instigated a huge purge of Cominformist (pro-Moscow) elements within the party. Yugoslavia was now a maverick state within communist Eastern Europe, playing off east against west to maintain a degree of independence from both.


Tito spent the rest of his life making the transition from ruthless Communist revolutionary to internationally respected leader of the most "liberal" communist state in Europe. The economy was in ruins, struck down by the withdrawal of Soviet aid. Prompted by Djilas, Tito sponsored (1950) the Basic Law introducing workers' councils in factories: the seeds of economic reform were sown. A process of political and ideological regrouping took place. In 1953 the CPY was restyled the League of Communists of Yugoslavia (LCY), a pointed, anti-Stalinist invocation of the memory of Marx and Engels. The collectivization of the peasantry was abandoned, and the party relaxed its policy of mass surveillance, but the iron fist of the state security police (UDBa) was always poised to strike anyone who questioned the Communist monopoly of power. Djilas was one of its victims, imprisoned (1954) for advocating free workers' associations. Tito was capable of personal magnanimity, and he was close to Djilas, but the unity of the party overrode all personal ties. Ranković, the hard-line controller of UDBa and of party cadres, now emerged for the first time as Tito's heir apparent. Reformism froze, reviving only after the USSR invaded Hungary in 1956.

Underpinned by massive Western aid, these cautious modifications to the command economy and the mode of party control produced a degree of stability and growth that found optimistic expression in the historic Program of the Seventh Congress of the LCY, in 1958. Congress celebrated Yugoslavia's unique system of "self-governing socialism." The idea of "factories to the workers" had now expanded to encompass a broader theory of mono-party pluralism, the brainchild of the party's chief theoretician, Kardelj. The influence of Tito is clearly discernible in a second element, which stressed the position of Yugoslavia outside both superpower blocs, and its close ties to the emergent Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of states. He met with Pandit Motilal Nehru (1861–1931) and Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) in June 1956, and cooperation between them blossomed. Tito once more reveled in his role on a world stage, attending the UN anniversary celebrations in 1960 for a whole fortnight, and rubbing shoulders with international statesmen. In 1961 Belgrade hosted the NAM Conference of twenty-five states, and for almost two decades Tito enjoyed a high profile as one of its outstanding leaders. The steely, puritanical revolutionary was no longer to be seen in the figure appearing in the media. Tito favored a white, medal-festooned marshal's uniform (no one else ever held the rank), and he revealed a strong hedonistic streak, amassing cars, yachts, and villas for his exclusive use—the Adriatic island of Brioni was virtually his private property.

Economic reform proved the undoing of Tito's monolithic party. Forced by recession to devolve decision-making powers to enterprises in 1965, the LCY was also compelled to modify its central command apparatus, leading to mounting social inequalities and the dispersal of power to the republics. Ranković fiercely resisted economic reform, and in 1966 Tito removed him from political life, symbolically balancing the fate of Djilas, who had tried to democratize the party. Arguably, it was Ranković's personal challenge to his authority that brought Tito down on the side of economic reform, which he only ever accepted grudgingly, and with good reason. Aged seventy-three in 1965, he spent the rest of his life in a losing battle against the drift toward economic separatism and nationalist conflicts. In 1971 Tito was faced by a revolt of the communist leadership in Croatia, a crisis that he barely managed to smooth over, and could not resolve by means of the complex and unworkable checks and balances codified in the Constitution of 1974. Personally unassailable in his position as president-for-life and symbol of Yugoslavia's international status, Tito tried to shore up party authority by appealing to the political myth of wartime struggles. He awarded himself the Order of National Hero for a second and third time (1972 and 1977), but the jockeying for advantage by the republics at the Eleventh Congress of the LCY in 1978 demonstrated that the substance of his power was gone and his health was deteriorating. Tito died in May 1980, just short of his eighty-eighth birthday. His funeral was attended by dozens of heads of state and foreign dignitaries, an international occasion he would have relished. His political legacy, however, was flimsy. He left Yugoslavia with a monstrous burden of overseas debt and without a political framework within which democracy and federalism could develop. Communist Yugoslavia did not disintegrate because Tito was no longer there to lead it; it was simply a question of whether the man or his system expired first.

See alsoBelgrade; Croatia; Djilas, Milovan; World War II; Yugoslavia.


Primary Sources

Djilas, Milovan. Tito: The Story from Inside. Translated by Vasilije Kojić and Richard Hayes. New York, 1980.

Tito, Josip Broz. Jugoslavija u Borbi za Nezavisnost i Nesvrstanost. Edited by Vojo Ćolović and Vladimir Åuro Degan. Belgrad, 1978.

Secondary Sources

Benson, Leslie. Yugoslavia: A Concise History. Revised and Updated Edition. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire, U.K., and New York, 2004.

Carter, April. Marshal Tito: A Bibliography. Westport, Conn., 1990.

Malcolm, Noel. Bosnia: A Short History. New York, 1994.

Pavlowitch, Stevan K. Tito—Yugoslavia's Great Dictator: A Reassessment. Columbus, Ohio, 1992.

Ridley, Jasper. Tito. London, 1994.

Leslie Benson