Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2


Ante Ciliga

Dear Editor

The last edition of Revolutionary History (Volume 8, no. 1, The Comintern and its Critics) contains an article by Ante Ciliga, How Tito Took Over the Yugoslav Communist Party, from 1961. At the beginning of the article, Ciliga states that in 1935 he heard that ‘Josip Broz Tito’s wife, Pelegea Denisova Belousova had been arrested and subsequently died in prison’. This is also asserted in several other parts of the article. The footnotes give no dates for Belousova’s birth or death.

Paolo Casciola’s contemporary introduction does not take up this issue, and neither does the editorial introduction. It does however, make reference to Jasper Ridley’s 1994 biography Tito. Yet any brief examination of this work tells a rather different story.

Ridley states on page 143 that the date of the arrest of Pelegea Belousova (Polka Broz) was 1938 and her period of incarceration as 27 months. At this time, Polka was not Tito’s wife, as stated by Ciliga, but his ex-wife. (His new wife Lucia Bauer was also arrested.) Pages 343–4 of Ridley’s work state that she refused to act as a Soviet agent for Stalin, and that Tito’s son by Polka Broz, Žarko, visited her in the Soviet Union in 1965, where she had lived unmolested after Stalin’s death. She died in 1967 without ever revisiting Yugoslavia. Ridley’s source was Žarko Broz, and it’s difficult to see what his motive would be for inventing this information.

Of course, Tito could be accused of having saved his own skin by not protesting against his close relatives’ arrest, but Ciliga’s intention seems to be to portray him in the worst possible light. Given Ciliga’s evolution to the right in the postwar period and the undoubted inconsistencies of his account, printing this article uncritically seems irresponsible.

Alex Nichols

Paolo Casciola adds:

I got a copy of your message dated 12 August from Ted Crawford of Revolutionary History. In the concluding paragraph you say that ‘printing this article uncritically seems irresponsible’.

Ciliga’s article How Tito Took Over the Yugoslav Communist Party originally appeared in the Italian magazine Corrispondenza Socialista (Volume 2, no. 7, July 1961, pp. 393–9), preceded by a short editorial note about Ciliga’s political biography which was not included in the English translation in Revolutionary History.

In June–July 1986, I drafted an introduction to that article where I focused mainly on the origins of Yugoslav Trotskyism, and I revised my introduction some three years later, in February 1989, when both pieces – my introduction and Ciliga’s article – eventually appeared as no. 12 of the Studi e ricerche series of the Quaderni del Centro Studi Pietro Tresso.

The sources available by that time were quite poor, and I listed only some of them at the end of my introduction, but that list, too, was omitted from the English translation.

At any rate, the book you quote as a reference source on the question of Pelegea Denisova-Belousova – Jasper Ridley’s biography of Tito – appeared five years later, that is, in 1994, after the collapse of the Stalinist regimes and the opening of many previously inaccessible archives.

In 1989, neither I nor you could have known anything about the true story of Pelegea Denisova-Belousova – a story which was also unknown to Ante Ciliga, who died in 1992 and who in all probability did not know that by 1938 Pelegea Denisova-Belousova was no longer Tito’s wife and who sincerely thought that, having been arrested at the height of the Stalinist purges, she had subsequently been a victim of Stalinism, like thousands of other Communists.

Finally, I agree with you that the Revolutionary History staff could, and should, have drafted some explanatory notes to Ciliga’s article. For a long time I had given them permission to publish my introduction to it, but I was never asked for any kind of advice regarding the publication of either piece, which happened completely independently of me.

Updated by ETOL: 16.10.2011