Hal Draper

U.S. Aid to Tito Grows; Cominform
Heads Meet to Plan Counterattack

(5 September 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 36, 5 September 1949, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

AUGUST 31 – The Yugoslav-Russian crisis still remains essentially what it was last week, a drama in the dark. While the motivating reason for the flare-up at this time has become clearer and less speculative, the noises from the Russian-Cominform quarter of the stage indicate feverish planning and activity but there is as yet little light on what can be expected from that direction. The speculations go on.

The economic deal between Belgrade and Washington, which we pointed to last week as the source of the violent Russian reaction, has expanded publicly. Tito has applied for a loan of about $25 million for the purchase of machinery, especially mining machinery, to be repaid through the export of its metals, particularly copper, lead and zinc, all strategic materials needed by the U.S. The fact that these metals are also needed by Russia and its satellites underlines the importance of the deal.

Hot on the heels of the announcement, indicating that the albication of a $3 million steel mill to Yugoslavia last week was not an isolated act, comes the news today that a $1,800,000 shipment of copper and lead from Yugoslavia has already arrived in New York harbor. This shipment is twice the size of any previous consignment.

Will Lissner of the N.Y. Times reports that “U.S. buyers have received assurance that Yugoslav shipments will continue in comparable quantities.” All this means that the Tito government has been granted by the U.S. the main type of economic aid it has been seeking to outweigh the effect of the Cominform blockade – machinery. Secretary of State Acheson, it is publicly announced, is for the loan to Tito.

Barking at the Elephant

This confirms the fact that the Yugoslavs have scored their greatest success since their break with the Cominform, and are at least on the way to plugging up the main hole through which Russia has been trying to strike down its maverick satellite, namely, through economic strangulation.

The latest Russian note, published today, indicates that the Russians fully understand that Tito has a right to feel cocky at the moment. The note, repetitively describing the Titoists as “deserters,” “malicious deserters,” and “wild fascists,” bitterly adds that these “deserters” somehow feel like “heroes,” and says: “Just like Krylov’s fable where ‘the puppy is feeling so big that she’s barking at an elephant.’”

The threat of military action by Russia in open or disguised form still is the central subject of journalistic guesswork but seems no more probable than before, in spite of the well-publicized presence of three Russian mechanized divisions on the Yugoslav-Hungarian border, and two more in Rumania, the presence of Russian and satellite uniforms in Sofia coincident with what is described as a “Cominform meeting,” and the rumor of a Russian gunboat in the Danube (the latter rumor denied by the Yugoslavs).

Correspondents’ reports from Yugoslavia (where they have adequate freedom of movement to find out) show no sign of counter-activity, and it must be kept in mind that Tito still notoriously has highly-placed and reliable sources of information with regard to the intentions of his neighbors. If a military attack comes in spite of all, apparently it will be as great a surprise to Belgrade as to outside observers.

What Russia Can Do

The big question mark of what Russia can do “short of war.” This means, as we emphasized last week, what it can do not only to undermine Tito but more immediately to counteract the effect of Tito’s success upon his envious neighbors. There has been no doubt that, in spite of their ritualistic denunciations, significant sections of the new Stalinist bureaucracies in the satellites would have liked to follow Tito’s line if they had as much independent power to do so.

Short of open war, the following possibilities seem to lie before Moscow. The first three have been given emphasis in the press.

(1) Intimidation by military threat. It is absurd to suppose that this is intended to intimidate Tito and his government. If anything, it is a fist-shaking pressure upon the broader strata of his bureaucracy, to whom the Russians have been appealing primarily up to now.

(2) Industrial sabotage. On August 22, a high Yugoslav official publicly spoke of the possibility of such an attack; less than a week later, the largest oil refinery in the country was set ablaze. But it would be useful to remember that from here on in, anything untoward that happens in Yugoslavia can be conveniently assigned by the regime to Cominform machinations; the Russian Stalinists set the pattern for this themselves in the days when every breakdown of a worn-out locomotive was ascribed to “Trotskyite train wreckers.”

(3) Guerrilla warfare. We discussed last week the prediction by the Times’ Sulzberger that the Greek Stalinist partisans may be reconverted to anti-Tito guerrillas.

There is, however, the possibility of the establishment of a guerrilla operation, not by any popular masses (which, in our opinion, can be recruited by the Cominform neither from the Yugoslav people nor from the Greek partisans) but by comparatively small cadres of Russian-supplied and Russian-armed commandos.

Such an operation would not by itself be a threat to the Tito regime but might conceivably (a) be an economic drain upon Yugoslav resources, and (b) set up a center of disaffection from the Outside as a nucleus for anyone drawn into opposition to the regime as the result of other anti-Tito measures.

(4) A new Yugoslav CP. On July 22, the Prague radio announced: “It is clear that a new Marxist-Leninist Party should be formed in Yugoslavia from loyal Communists, who could spread their propaganda by means of illegal duplicators. They can obtain material for their work from the broadcasts of Moscow and the people’s democracies.”

Hitherto the Cominform Stalinists have been talking in terms of “reforming” the existing. CPY through an upheaval from within.

New Show Trial?

(5) Compromising the Titoists in the eyes of their East European sympathizers, through “proving” the Russian claims that they are simply agents of Western imperialism. Tito is, in fact, faced with the question whether he should take his struggle with Stalin to the UN in any form. The British have officially asked him what he would do if the subject is brought up in UN channels. If the Yugoslav UN delegation (which now includes the two top leaders just below Tito himself, Kardelj and Djilas) prosecutes, or aids the prosecution of, the Russian saber-rattlers at Lake Success, the Cominform will utilize this for all-out propaganda. Their line has been: any break with Russia automatically means an alliance with Western imperialism; there is no possible third ground.

(6) A staged confession trial. One is being prepared at the present moment which could serve the purpose. Laszlo Rajk, top Hungarian leader who was recently purged, is awaiting trial in Budapest, accused among other things of being friendly to Tito.

The weekly East Europe (August 11) reported:

“Well informed quarters in Budapest say that L. Rajk is proving very stubborn, and is still far from ‘ready’ for public trial; that the Inspector-General of the army, General Palfi-Osterreicher, and the assistant secretary general of the Workers Party [CP], Marosan, have been arrested for their complicity in the Rajk affair; that all members of the government are still being screened for signs of deviationism; that 200 members of the ministry of the Interior have been sacked.”

We may yet read that Rajk (or another) has obligingly “confessed” that he personally acted as go-between for Tito’s dealings with the Ustashi (Croatian fascists), whose name is the local equivalent of the devil ... Or that, “as is well known,” Tito has been Winston Churchill’s personal valet since before either of them was born.

(7) The meeting in Sofia, which has been advertised in the U.S. press as a gathering of the top Cominform leaders – that is, a political conference, announced itself to be a meeting of the East Europe Economic Council. It may well have been just that, at least in part.

For if the Russians are going to make any effective appeal for disaffection within the ranks of the Yugoslav Bureaucracy, they are going to have to offer more than saberrattling at this stage. Tito’s strength derives from the desire in Yugoslavia for a tempo of industrialization which was turned down by Moscow, which tried to keep the country agrarianized, a supplier of raw materials to the industrialized sectors of its empire. Tito’s economic deal with the U.S. is a smashing success for him because it makes this perspective possible.

Stalin will not now offer any concessions to Tito, but (whether sincere or not) promises of economic concessions to an anti-Tito Yugoslav rebellion is another matter. It would be up to the Economic Council to decide what is to be dangled in front of any anti-Tito camarilla.

Last updated on 28 August 2021