Tito and Stalin
An analysis into why the Soviet response to independence differed in Yugoslavia
Honors Research Paper
History 127 C
In 1956, the political situation in Hungary emerged as a threat to Soviet hegemony in East Europe. In the post-WWII years, protection of the political and economic dominance of the USSR in Eastern Europe was a top Soviet priority. Geoffrey Roberts writes that a new Soviet policy emerged after July 1947: “a strategy of isolation, and of the consolidation of Soviet and communist power in Eastern Europe.”(GB, pg75) The Soviet response in 1956 was predictable, yet to observers it reinforced the USSR’s anti- democratic, imperialist, and totalitarian convictions. The Hungarian incident illustrated what the Soviets would do when they felt their security was threatened. Yet during this same early Cold War period, there was an example of defiance of Soviet authority in an Eastern European nation. Yugoslavia, ruled by Marshal Tito, had severed relations with Stalin’s USSR in 1948. The falling out between Stalin and Tito, and the resulting Soviet acceptance of both Yugoslavia’s isolation and existence outside of the Soviet sphere of influence presents a historical paradox. How was it possible that Yugoslavia didn’t share the fate of Czechoslavakia(1948), Hungary(1956), or Poland(1956)? What strategic, diplomatic, or other concerns allowed Tito’s Yugoslavia to exist in relative peace? It is my contention that the explanations for the characteristic development of Yugoslavian history following 1948 are threefold. First, the autonomy that Tito enjoyed in the Yugoslavian Communist Party and in leading the fight against the Nazi’s made him less susceptible to being ousted from power by Stalin. Second, the international political scene and the heightening Cold War may have made Soviet intervention in Yugoslavia a disadvantageous policy. Third, the personal dynamics of the relationship between the two dictators may have had a role in the foreign policy decision- making process. Most likely it is a combination of the three factors that accounts for the difference between Soviet policy in the East bloc and the form it took indealing with the Communist regimes of the Balkans. During WWII, relations between Yugoslavia’s Communist Party and the USSR were strong, yet Tito had shown signs of independence from the Kremlin. During this time, Tito displayed an independence from Moscow that was based on both reality and possibly his character. Hamilton says of the Tito led Partisan guerilla war that transpired in Yugoslavia that “the German invaders…never possessed the country as a whole or governed it with security.”(FH, pg. 5) The independence of the Partisans, fighting under the banner of nationalism, must have certainly been a factor in Tito’s early clashes with Stalin. In 1944 Tito visited Moscow for the first time. Tito visited Moscow again in April 1945, to sign a 20 year treaty of mutual friendship and assistance. By this time, many of the decisions that the Kremlin had made had caused resentment for Tito. And the fact that it did had raised Stalin’s suspicions. Hamilton says of the conflicts during the late war years “Stalin’s hesitation about letting the Partisan movement become frankly and solely Communist was, as we have seen, disillusioning to Tito. So was Stalin’s failure to find any way of sending him military supplies. So was Stalin’s acceptance, even if only as a stratagem, of the Karageorgevich dynasty. So was Stalin’s agreement to divide influence in Yugoslavia 50-50 with the British.”(FH,pg.37) The fact that Tito didn’t try to hide his displeasure was verylikely a major irritant to Stalin. So, in reality, the first hint of a possible rift between the CPSU and YCP was visible during the final years of the Second World War. During the years 1945-1948, relations started to worsenbetween the two parties. The Soviets had sent military advisers, intelligence agents, and many other Soviet officials to Yugoslavia, and the Yugoslav Army and Security forces had watched them with suspicion. Stalin also had failed to deliver on bringing industrialization to Yugoslavia. In March of 1948, the USSR pulled all Soviet advisers out of Yugoslavia, on charges that they were “surrounded by hostility.” At the same time, a series of letters were sent between the two capitals. The newspapers in the USSR started to attack Tito at this time. By June 28, 1948, the Cominform passed a resolution dispelling Yugoslavia from its ranks. The break was now complete. There were many reasons given for the break in relations thatoccurred in 1948, but it all hinged on a power struggle between thetwo leaders . Both sides were responsible for the situation, but the initiative for the break belonged to the Kremlin. Stalin had noted with displeasure Tito’s independence and unwillingness to simply subvert his authority to Stalin. At this time, Stalin could not accept Communist leaders who weren’t subordinate to his authority. Hamilton writes of Soviet policy at the time that “Having built Socialism, the satellites would be more than ever subject to the laws of Socialist planning and everything pointed to these being interpreted towards one single end, the strengthening of Russia, and the perpetuation of her predominance.”(FH pg. 30) Tito, for his part, had tried to embark on his own plans for Yugoslavia. And in doing this, along with the aggressive tone he had taken in his correspondences with the CPSU, he had challenged Stalin’s power. Principally, it was Tito’s unwillingness to adhere to the Soviet policy that led to the break. To international observers, Tito was now a marked man. It was only a matter of time before Stalin replaced Tito with someone else. The USSR and Yugoslavia were now enemies. As many international observers at the time thought, as reflected in the internationalmedia, it was only a matter of time before the Soviets made a move.Dedijer writes “On July 29, Le Monde published a United Press report from Istanbul under the headline “Does Stalin Intend to Use Force?”Because the Russians had supplied Yugoslavia with much of its economic trade, Yugoslavia was now in a state of crisis. Facing enemies on all of their borders, the Yugoslavs decided to turn to the Western bloc nations. For both Tito and Yugoslavia, the break had brought many possible dangers. It was speculated that Stalin would order an assassination, a civil insurrection, or an outright invasion in order to bring Yugoslavia back into the Soviet sphere. However, though they may have been plotted, none of these ever came to fruition. Yugoslavia would find isolation and peace, and Tito’s regime would last as long as the USSR. Tito’s autonomy made any coup short of military invasion unlikely to succeed. Tito had a loyal following in the military, as Brzenzinski writes “The Yugoslav army was highly politicized and fiercely loyal to Tito.”(ZB pg.121) He also had been relatively independent of the Kremlin from the beginning, as Dedijer comments thatYCP “had had the most autonomous revolutionary development.”(VDpg. 34) Both of these factors made it unlikely that the CPSU could instigate an inter-party conflict, or guerilla war. An assassination, though probably effective in this case, hinged its success on chance and fate. It should be noted that Dedijer talks of battles between the Soviet and Yugoslav security forces inside Yugoslavia during this period. Also, the Kremlin did everything it could short of declaring war from 1948 to 1953. Propaganda broadcasts, troop movements, economic isolation, were some of the tactics employed by the Soviets. However, all of these attempts to punish Tito came up empty handed in delivering their main objective. The international scene made it difficult to invade Yugoslavia. The heightened tensions between the West and the USSR were growing at this time, and any and every policy had to be analyzed in the new postwar context. Dedijer writes of two schools of opinionDeveloping within the Soviet leadership at the time. “But there were differences of opinion among the policymakers in Moscow as to the strategic and political consequences if Yugoslavia put up a strong resistance and the war dragged on. One group warned Stalin of the possibility of a world war, whereas another felt that that war would remain a local conflict, as in Korea.”(VD, pg.79) The West might not neccessarily feel the need to engage in a war with the Soviets over another Communist dictatorship. However, the possibility always loomed that the conflict become international. Dedijer also says that a senior Yugoslav official told him that the Soviets wouldn’t use force “simply for foreign policy reasons.”(VD pg.205) Would a conflict in Yugoslavia embolden the West? At the time it was hard to tell, and this ambiguity made a declaration of war a complicated decision. However, there were other reasons why the USSR didn’t invade Yugoslavia. Although the consideration of how war with Yugoslavia would play out internationally was definitely a factor, it wasn’t the only one. Tito’s defiance of Stalin would, in most circumstances, be met with full retribution. It was only because there were many disadvantages to a Soviet invasion that one didn’t occur in 1948. First, the strength of the Yugoslav military was enough to make the Soviet Politburo think twice. Armstrong attests to the Yugoslav military’s strength “for apart from the Soviet army, the Yugoslav army is the strongest single land force today on the European continent.”(FA, pg.285) Armstrong also hints that the Yugoslavs would be difficult to overcome since they were expert guerilla fighters and had tied up numerous German divisions during WWII. In contrast, however, Dedijer notes that the Yugoslav army was backward and relied on the Soviets for much of its equipment. But regardless of military equipment, the sheer size of Yugoslav manpower, along with the guerilla experience, and the rugged, mountainous, terrain of Yugoslavia were truly forces to be reckoned with. A conflict with Yugoslavia would require an enormous amount of committment from Soviet forces. Indeed, war with Yugoslaviawould be a difficult task. Second, the specter of Communist brethren pitted against each other in war could offset opinion in international left wing circles against the USSR. While the Soviets were trying to spread revolution into the Third World, a longtime Communist goal since Lenin’s 2nd Communist International, news of a Soviet-Yugoslav conflict could hurt the Communists ideologically. It would have been difficult to justify a long, destructive war to many who felt that capitalist imperialism was the enemy. And Tito, as Dedijer says, was merely claiming his independence from the USSR. It is likely opinion would have sided with him in a war, as it must have for many for the break. It’s possible that a war with Yugoslavia would have been a moral defeat for the USSR. Personal dynamics between the two dictators, despite what has been stated above, actually had little to do with the absence of Soviet military intervention. Only in the case of Stalin’s animosity towards Yugoslavia did it play a part in the relationship. Stalin’s attitude to Tito was hostile, and as long as he was alive it was possible Yugoslavia would be invaded. But beyond that, the personal relationship doesn’t seem to have played any other role. The third point of my argument, which was that personal relationships helped to offset a military conflict, has been discovered to be a non-factor. Instead, the death of Stalin was the final and ultimate blow that ensured the security of Tito’s regime. The death of Stalin was an important factor in ending the animosity in the later Soviet-Yugoslav reapproachment of 1955. Stalin, the man who ruled the USSR with absolute power, was the principal decision maker in the Soviet Union. During Stalin’s life, the Yugoslav leadership always had to worry about the problem of a Soviet invasion. The campaign the Soviets carried out against Yugoslavia during 1948-1953 was directed by Stalin. Dedijer writes about the constant Soviet troop movements “In analyzing the technique of those provocations, some future military historian will fully discover the drama in which Yugoslavia was involved during those thousands of nights and days when no one knew when the enemy would strike next.”(VD pg. 278) Dedijer also writes of the break”the battle with Stalin lasted five years…its intensity rose steadily until the death of Stalin.”(VD pg.278) From thepersonal opinions of Dedijer, who had close ties to Tito, it could besaid that while Stalin was alive until his death the tensions between the two sides were so strong that war was not an impossibility. With Stalin’s death, Tito escaped the dreaded results that would come of having dared to defy Stalin. In return, Yugoslavia had a small political price- isolation. This was a far better fate than Benes enjoyed in Czechoslavakia, or in Hungary.There were principally three reasons why Tito’s Yugoslavia escaped the fate of Czechoslavakia, Hungary, and Poland. These reasons were: the autonomy Tito enjoyed made it hard to replace him short of military invasion, the international political climate along with other factors made invasion an risk-filled proposition, and the death of Stalin, the leader directing the policies of the Soviet state. In fact, it can be argued that had Stalin not died in 1953, and had lived another 5 years or so, it is very likely that there might have been a war between the Soviets and the Yugoslavs. Thus, Stalin’s death was really the most important factor in ending the Soviet- Yugoslav standoff, the long life of Tito’s regime, and the reason Tito defied Stalin and nothing concrete happened in return.