Max Shachtman

The Mihailovich-Tito Struggle

The Meaning of the
New Yugoslavian
Provisional Government

(January 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 1, 3 January 1944, p. 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The setting up of a provisional government for Yugoslavia by the Partisans led by “Marshal Tito,” in opposition to the government in exile of King Peter and General Mihailovich, is one of the most important political developments of the war.

The government of King Peter was one of the most reactionary in all Europe. Together with the government of Peter’s father, Alexander, it had a record of oppression and persecution of every democratic, working class and revolutionary movement in Yugoslavia – an artificial creation of the Versailles and St. Germain treaties – that was hard to equal in any other country.

From its inception, Yugoslavia – the “Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes” – was a prison of the numerous peoples who composed it. A minority among the Serbs, who themselves made up only a minority of the whole population of the country, exercised virtually all the power. The majority of the population, made up of Croats, Slovenes, Montenegrins, Dalmatians, Bosnians, and half a dozen other distinguishable peoples, felt the brutal hand of oppression under the Serbian reaction for twenty years, and the martyrs of the struggle against it number in the tens of thousands.

Background to the Present

In 1929, all pretense of constitutional government was discarded when King Alexander abolished the constitution, declared himself the dictator of the country, and proceeded to rule openly with those dictatorial and savage measures which Peter sought to continue when he assumed the throne and which he hopes to resume upon regaining it. After the occupation of Yugoslavia by the Germans and Italians, Mihailovich, Minister of War of Peter’s government, which fled to London and then to Cairo, made an effort to assemble a military force which was to be the basis for re-establishing the rule of Peter and the Serb reaction after the ousting of the conquerors.

Mihailovich sought to exploit the indignation of the peoples of Yugoslavia against their foreign oppressors in order to build up the popularity of Peter, and pave the way for his return.

It soon became apparent, however, that the aims of Mihailovich, like those of Peter and his reactionary gang, boiled down to the idea of restoring the old regime of Serb oppression. Having learned nothing from the new temper of the masses of workers and peasants, who have no desire whatsoever to return to the old and rotten state of affairs that prevailed before the Germans took over, Mihailovich soon found that all the inflated publicity in the world about his “Chetniks” could not succeed in winning the support of the popular masses in Yugoslavia. On the contrary, the latter regarded him and his forces with increasing suspicion and hostility.

These millions, ground into the dust for decades by the Serbian reaction, by the royalists and semi-fascists or open fascists with whom they were associated, by the Serbian landlords and by the reactionary politicians of the Serbian Orthodox Church, were in no mood to fight against the German and Italian oppressors in order to bring back the old oppressor.

Who Is Tito?

It is this mood which accounts, basically, for the growth of the forces and popularity of the Partisans led by Tito.

Tito, or Josip Broz, is not only the leader of the Partisans, but also of the Communist Party, whose general secretary he is. The Stalinists, who are the most active and influential elements in the Partisan movement, had neither the desire to restore the regime of Peter, nor the stupidity to advocate so violently unpopular an idea.

Instead, they went about organizing an armed force of all the peoples of Yugoslavia, in which neither national origin nor religious belief was made the basis of discrimination, as was the case in Alexander’s and Peter’s Yugoslavia.

The Stalinists wisely appealed to the democratic sentiments of the people, who had suffered for twenty years from a marked absence of any serious democratic rights. And, of course, they came forward as the most aggressive adversaries of the aspiration for national freedom of the peoples who were deprived of it, not only by the Serbs in the past, but were being deprived of it in the most barbarous, manner by the existing imperialist oppressors, the German Nazis and the Italian Blackshirts.

Mihailovich’s Decline

The result has been a striking decline in and discreditment of the position of Mihailovich and a corresponding growth of the Partisans and of the position of the Stalinists inside the Partisans. This development has been hastened by the fact that Tito’s fight against the German invader was uncompromising and uninterrupted, whereas Mihailovich either suspended the fight against the Germans for long periods at a time or, according to strong reports, even went so far as to collaborate to one extent or another with the Nazis, the Italian fascists, or their Serbian Quislings in his repeated attempts to crush the Partisan groups by force.

The bold move of establishing a provisional government in opposition to Peter, accompanied by a complete disavowal of Peter’s government and its Minister of War, Mihailovich, comes right on the heels of the Molotov-Eden-Hull conference in Moscow and the Stalin-Roosevelt-Churchill conference in Teheran.

There is every indication that it was agreed at these conferences to leave Peter and his crew high and dry, and to recognize Tito in their place. The official aid now extended to the Partisans, as against Mihailovich, aid not only from Russia but also from the United States and England, shows the way the wind is blowing.

What Stalin Gains

Recognition of the Tito regime by England and the United States, while not completely formal, is a sign that Stalin has, at, least thus far, won from his allies the demand for Russian domination of Yugoslavia, which is probably the most important key to the whole of the Balkans.

This latest development is another step in the plans of Russia, England and the United States to divide up shattered Europe among themselves, with so many half-colonies, vassal states and spheres of influence for one, so many for the other, and so many for the third.

Under the circumstances, the new Yugoslav government is of course a vassal regime of Russia. With the continuation and consolidation of Stalinist domination of the regime, that is all it can and will be. If there should be such a consolidation, then all the progressive and entirely praiseworthy aspirations of the peoples of Yugoslavia for national freedom, and freedom in general from all forms of exploitation and oppression, would be frustrated.

Stalin’s Great-Russian oppression of subject nations and nationalities is only a slightly more refined version of classic national oppression.

Right now, of course, while they are still seeking the support of the masses, the Stalinists in Yugoslavia are still singing very softly. These worshippers and practitioners of totalitarian oppression are presenting themselves to the world as the most idealistic of democrats.

In Yugoslavia, they have gained the collaboration of an assortment of capitalist liberals and even some priests, but the Stalinists are the force that dominate, both in the army and in the provisional government. Their program speaks of the “inviolability of private prpperty,” in order not to drive the capitalist elements away too quickly and above all in order not to arouse too much antagonism among the Anglo-American imperialists. But the Stalinists will have no difficulty and no hesitation whatsoever to expropriates private property and establish their own exploitive regime of bureaucratic collectivism as soon as they find it expedient to do so.

In the great and noble struggle of the peoples of former Yugoslavia for freedom from national oppression under German imperialism, it is not Peter and the Greater-Serbian imperialist reaction that is the main threat. Serbian imperialism and its banner-bearers are discredited beyond redemption among the people. The danger comes from the consolidation of Stalinist influence and rule, which would only mean a new national oppression under the Kremlin, and a new exploitation of the masses by the Kremlin bureaucracy.

Victory for the cause of freedom in Yugoslavia, as in the Balkans in general, lies in the overthrow of the German oppressor, and in setting up fraternal, federation of free Balkan peoples and republics, as part of a union of free peoples of Europe. The triumph of Stalinism means blocking the road to this goal. The triumph of the working class, free of all imperialist control, be it Anglo-American or Russian, means reaching this union with the greatest speed, and ending the agony of the Old World. The continent’s freedom, security, prosperity and peace depends upon the successful organization of the United Socialist States of Europe.

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