Hal Draper

Tito-Stalin Propaganda War Flares
into High as U.S. Grants Aid to Yugos

(29 August 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 35, 29 August 1949, pp. 1 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The recent intensification of the propaganda war between Moscow and Tito, combined with the new-open virulence of their charges and counter-charges, has led to a frank guessing game among all hands concerned, particularly the foreign correspondents.

Only guesswork – that is, informed speculation – is possible in a situation where, as usual in Eastern Europe even more than in the rest of the world, 99 per cent of the verbiage contained in speeches and articles is pure eyewash. But there is reason to believe that the most popular speculations being made miss the heart of the matter.

These are the speculations which center around the possibility of military action, in three different forms: (1) by Russian troops directly – to be dismissed almost out of hand; (2) in the guise of an invasion by one of the neighboring satellites; (3) guerrilla operations in the Macedonian mountains.

The second, which is associated with completely unsubstantiated rumors of troop concentrations along the Hungarian frontier of Yugoslavia (while at the same time 10.000 Yugoslav army officers attend a football game in Belgrade), is almost as Unlikely as the first. If neither can be dismissed as completely excluded, it is only because such action would represent, a state of extreme desperation on the part of the Kremlin in face of the effect of Titoism in the Balkan satellites – and there is no reason to believe that the inherently disintegrative effect of Titoism on the Russian empire has reached anywhere near such a point as yet.

Guerrillas Against Tito?

More credence is widely given to the possibility, that Moscow may reconvert its Greek Cominform followers from guerrilla warfare against Athens to guerrilla warfare against Belgrade, centering in the mountainous country of Macedonia. It is true that Macedonia has traditionally been the most pro-Russian section of Titoland; it is also true that the largest number of individual disaffections from Tito toward the Cominform have come from Macedonian officers in the army; and finally it is true that up to the recent flare-up the Cominform campaign against Tito has been emphasising the Macedonian question.

But it is interesting that even the speculations along these lines do not speak of guerrilla warfare on the part of the Macedonian population itself. Since the time of the border killing of the high Macedonian officer, General Jovanovic, presumably while he was trying to escape across the border, there have been no public rumbles from that direction.

The speculations deal with the use of Greek Stalinists, overlooking the fact that (1) of all the Moscow forces in the Balkans, the Greek Stalinists were among the slowest in lining up with the Cominform excommunication of Tito; (2) that the Greek forces were in the mountains not as mindless mercenaries at the automatic beck and call of the Kremlin but as fighters in a struggle widely popular among the Greek masses, the struggle against the tyrannous and corrupt Athens regime. This popular feeling was, to be sure, channelized by the CP. but it provided a dynamism which would be completely absent if arbitrarily given a different target.

No popular guerrilla force remotely approaching the Greek operation could be set up by the Cominform against Tito. The same goes for speculations about pro-Cominform internal revolt in Yugoslavia at this time. In tbe latter case, there is no doubt, of course, that Moscow has been bending every effort to lay the basis for it. (This must be understood as meaning internal revolt among the Yugoslav ruling bureaucracy, NOT among the people at large. The inflammatory Moscow and Cominform propaganda has not even been directed to the latter, but has been aimed exclusively, and explicitly at the bureaucratic strata of the Titoist CP and government.)

Reason for Flare-Up

But here again every straw in the wind indicates that the Cominform has made little headway in this direction and that such Cominform cells of disaffection as exist cannot possibly be looked on by their masters as challengers for power in Yugoslavia. The strident tone of the new Russian attacks on Tito may herald something, but not this.

The fact is well known that the weapon of internal organization for revolt has been one of the two main lines of attack by the Stalin-Stalinists but that it has been the subordinate one. Russia has hitherto put its main hope in the ECONOMIC strangulation of Tito’s Yugoslavia.

And if “educated guesses” have to be made about the current exchange of threats and insults, they have to be made on this background. It also leads to the least fanciful explanation of the flare-up at this time.

  1. The Russian blasts were triggered not by any planned initiative of its own but by the U.S. grant of a $3 million steel mill to Tito.
  2. Russia’s blasts are not primarily designed to impress the Yugoslavs behind Tito but are aimed at intimidating its branch agents in the other satellites.

The U.S. decision to let Tito have a steel mill, which does not seem to have impressed most of the observers as sufficient in itself to precipitate the Kremlin outburst, is the most impressive success for Tito since his break with the Cominform. This, so to speak, is what Tito has been waiting for.

We have explained elsewhere (in The New International last year) why the basic cause for Tito’s split is to be found in the conflict between the Yugoslavs’ paramount aim of industrializing the country, and the Russians’ stubborn opposition to such industrialization. Suffice it to recall at this point that in January of 1949 Tito publicly disclosed that this was indeed the specific cause of the break.

Russia replied by shutting off the flow of essential trade between itself and its satellites and the rebellious Titoists, in order to bring them to heel precisely on the field which caused their break in the first place – industrialization. Desperately needed machinery, tools and raw materials ceased to go to Yugoslavia. The Yugoslav leaders have been explicit in declaring that the ability of the Tito regime to survive depended on its success in its economic plans. And throughout 1949 the Yugoslav Five Year Plan has been in desperate straits.

What Tito could no longer get from the East he had to get elsewhere if he was to survive – and that meant from the United States. Behind the continual Russian accusation that Tito was “capitulating to capitalism” was the fact that the question before Tito was: Would the West give the necessary economic aid to Belgrade as long as Yugoslavia maintained its line of political independence from the Washington bloc and maintained its bureaucratic-collectivist social structure intact from concessions to private capitalism?

Washington Says Yes

The steel mill signifies that the answer is a provisional yes, on the basis of a high-level policy decision by Washington. It signifies – not that Yugoslavia’s economic problems are solved or that Tito’s vaulting ambitions for a modern industrialized Yugoslavia are assured – but that he has as much chance of achieving a sufficient measure of success as he would have had if Moscow had supported his industrial plans; maybe more.

It is to be assumed that the one steel mill is not the last thing the Yugoslavs will get. Washington, to be sure, has taken this step, after more than a year of hesitation, out of no charitable inclination and out of no love for the economy which Tito is trying to build in the image of the Russian totalitarian and statified system – an economy which has no resemblance to socialism but which is as exploitive and oppressive as the private capitalism it supplanted.

For Washington, even Tito’s brand of Stalinism is a lesser-evil pawn in the cold war against its major antagonist, Russia. In this world context, Titoist splitoffs from Moscow’s empire can expect economic aid without being forced to reconcile themselves to the re-establishment of capitalist property in their domains – not today, at any rate. Tito has succeeded in maneuvering his way between the U.S.-Russian antagonism without sacrificing his own social base.

Satellites Envious

As a success for Tito on a fundamental field, the same development removes one of the grounds for hesitation on the part of other satellite figures to follow in his footsteps, since to a greater or lesser extent all of them are pulled by the same nationalist-Stalinist tendencies which were able to come to a head first in Yugoslavia. This is what Stalin is most deathly afraid of.

The blasts from Moscow, more than ever, can have little effect on the Yugoslavs themselves. They had already burned their bridges. As if to symbolize the fact that the Russian notes are only formally addressed to Belgrade, the especially violent one of August 20 was delivered by the messenger of the Russian embassy to a charwoman in the Belgrade ministry of foreign affairs at five in the morning. The violence is intended as a warning to the Bulgarians, Hungarians, Rumanians et al. who, while dutifully repeating the Cominform anathemas against Tito, have been secretly hoping that he would show them the way in spite of all.

In the first big counter-demonstration against the Tito success reported from the satellites, a rally of select CP functionaries in Bucharest, the main cry raised against Tito (by Rumanian Vice-Premier Gheorghiu-Dej and Russian Marshal Voroshilov) was that he is “plotting to set ablaze the Balkan powder keg.” This is true, but the new powder in the old Balkan powder keg is Titoism.

On the same day, August 22, the Moscow correspondent of the N.Y. Times reported: “Dispatches published in the past few days [in Pravda] have reported ‘subversive’ agents of Marshal Tito at work in some Eastern European countries including Czechoslovakia and Rumania.” As a matter of fact, it can be added that Tito’s main target for infiltration is still Bulgaria.

The question mark before Stalin now is not what he is going to do about the Yugoslavs. These thorns in his flesh are going to be feeling more bumptious than ever, unless snags and obstacles develop in respect to further economic relations with the Western seat of power. (And these are far from out of the question in view of the tortuous line of Washington’s handling of any foreign-policy question which passes the limited understanding of the far-from-politically-intelligent bureaucrats in that city.)

The big question mark for Stalin right now is how to handle the envious satellites. If there ever was a safe prediction about Eastern Europe – a doubtful proposition at the best – it is that the next period will see a stepping-up in the purge tempo among Tito’s neighbors. Stalin has threatened that Tito’s head will fall, but there are some others that will fall first.

Last updated on 28 August 2021