Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Ernest Erber

What Do the Stalin-Tito Charges REALLY Say?

(5 July 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 27, 5 July 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The bulk of both the Cominform attack upon Tito and Tito’s reply is composed of demagogical charges aimed at securing support in the ranks of the Yugoslavian Communist Party and among Stalinists in the rest of the world. However, buried between the lines of both documents are enough clues to compose a fairly comprehensive picture of what is at stake. A knowledge of Stalinism and its internal structure should cause any competent observer to dismiss all the charges of “Trotskyism,” “Bukharinism,” ideological deviations on the role of the party, lack of internal party democracy, “Turkish rule,” tactical errors in nationalization, etc., and seek the basic causes of Stalin’s concern over Tito’s role and the latter’s intransigent defiance of the Kremlin.

Stalin’s main concern is over Tito’s independence of Moscow dictation, regardless of whether this exerts itself in questions of major or of minor importance to Russia. It is part of the very essence of Stalinism that it cannot tolerate 99 per cent loyalty. A totalitarian structure demands TOTAL acceptance. Anything less than this is dangerous and must be overcome. If it cannot be corrected through pressure, it must be fought and “destroyed”.

The identification of “rule or ruin” as the basic operational principle of Stalinism may be an over-simplification, but basically it describes the only final alternatives before Stalinism in its relations with any other force, including those that are 99 per cent Stalinist.

Cannot Be an Equal

This factor works with special importance in the Kremlin’s relations with its satellite states. Russia can only tolerate a nation as a “sphere of influence” while in the process of reducing it to a complete puppet. It cannot achieve a status quo in its relations with another state on the basis of a division of power, such as capitalist imperialists have done historically.

The capitalist imperialists have succeeded in maintaining certain nations as their “sphere of influence,” like the United States in Latin America, for long periods of history because the domination of capitalist imperialism is basically an ECONOMIC one. Russian imperialism can only dominate through its military and political power, the latter exercised through its control of the international Stalinist apparatus which is essentially a secret police network. Every evidence of independence on the part of the satellite state, consequently, is tantamount to rebellion.

Were Tito to succeed in establishing even a measure of independence, every puppet leadership in the Russian empire would seek to do the same. To permit Tito to “become an equal,” as he insists, would mean the beginning of the disintegration of the entire web of Stalinist control. A comprehension of this fact explains what has puzzled so many commentators, namely, why Stalin acted so precipitously and so brutally against Tito. Stalin, like every authoritarian, knows that a system that rests upon authority dares not temporize with those who defy it. Disaffection in the ranks must be wiped out, quickly and decisively, lest it spread and become unmanageable. Stalin’s relation to the Yugoslavian assertion of rights to independence is the same as that of a military commander to mutiny in the ranks. To temporize with it, to negotiate with it, to compromise with it, can only destroy the system as such.

For Stalin to permit Tito any degree of autonomy is to permit Tito to influence the other Communist parties in his own right and in possible opposition to Russia. Stalinism cannot survive under these circumstances. It must remain monolithic or not exist. Stalinist parties cannot be confronted with a choice between a Stalin policy and a Tito policy. Such a situation requires party democracy, discussion and a democratic vote—all of them tantamount to a death sentence to Stalinism.

As a nation on the border between the Russian empire and the West and as a nation that is not occupied by Russian troops, Yugoslavia’s assertion of independent rights is especially dangerous, since it raises the specter of Belgrade seeking to play a diplomatic role of its own between Russia and the Anglo-American bloc. The Kremlin can tolerate a nation seeking to play such a role if that nation is not yet fully under Stalinist control but in the process of being coordinated, as was the case with Czechoslovakia. Russia permitted Prague to make gestures of diplomatic independence, because Moscow knew that such gestures would be made on a decreasing, not an increasing, scale. Stalin could afford to wait patiently, because he knew that Czechoslovakia would soon be “in the bag.” However, the reverse process was taking place with Yugoslavia. It was escaping “the bag.” Patience and toleration could only facilitate its escape. What was required was swift and drastic action. The Cominform resolution was the result.

Self-Interests Endangered

In seeking to understand what motivated Tito, one must begin from the premise that no ruling class willingly submits to dictation from another power when it receives nothing in return. The compradore classes in colonial countries have traditionally accepted imperialist domination of their foreign policy and; in less measure, their domestic policy, because the dominant imperialist power provided them with economic advantages by permitting them to share in the exploitation of the material and human resources of the country.

Russia had nothing to offer to Yugoslavia in this sphere. It could only take from it and give nothing in return. Furthermore, Yugoslavia was forced to deny herself the economic advantages of unrestricted trade with the capitalist world, not to speak of the possibility of Marshall Plan aid, solely in the interests of Russia’s strategy against the western imperialists. The new bureaucratic ruling class of Yugoslavia would tolerate this situation only as long as it was forced to tolerate it. As soon as Tito felt safe in doing so, he began to cast loose from his Russian moorings and seek means of resolving his problems at home without regard for Russian interests.

Aside from the fact that no ruling class plays an altruistic role and pursues its own interests whenever possible, Tito found himself in a position where adherence to Russia’s interests at the expense of those of Yugoslavia endangered his own regime. The deep-seated national sentiments of the Yugoslav peoples, fired by their liberation struggle against Germany, were not conducive to acceptance of subordination to the interests of Russia.

The references in the Cominform document to “a hateful policy toward the Soviet Union” on the part of the Tito leadership have their origins in this attitude. Tito came to power as a Yugoslavian hero and exploited nationalism in the most shameless manner to consolidate his regime. Much of his mass support and a large section of the officialdom is heavily saturated with such Yugoslavian nationalism, only slightly varnished over with devotion to Stalin’s version of internationalism. A policy that ran counter to these sentiments would find mounting dissatisfaction in the ranks of Tito’s supporters and undermine his position.

Economic Crisis

Another factor that forced Tito’s hand was the economic crisis in the country, related in the minds of a large section of the population to the economic measures forced upon Yugoslavia as part of the Molotov Plan for Eastern Europe and to Tito’s program of “Sovietization” of the country. Though Tito carried through further measures of extreme nationalization of small shops and trade as late as April 27, measures which practically wiped out any enterprise employing labor, he has followed an extremely moderate policy in reference to the peasants, who form the overwhelming majority of the population and furnish the regime with a large part of its mass support. An active policy of collectivization on the Russian pattern would jeopardize this base. The accusation of the Cominform that the Yugoslavian CP is a “pro-kulak” party stems from this situation.

The possibility of a breakaway by one of the satellites was not ignored by Moscow. However, their means of preventing it were limited, in the main, to infiltration of the Yugoslavian party and state apparatus with secret agents, directly under Moscow direction. Tito was fully aware of this technique of Moscow control and took steps to offset it by pitting his own secret police, the OZNA, against the GPU operatives. The Cominform document’s charge that Cominform representatives in Yugoslavia, including its head representative, Judin, together with Russian military and technical specialists, were kept under constant surveillance by Yugoslavian police agents, is rooted in this situation.

The reply of Tito to this charge confirms the fact that the secret police played a decisive role in Moscow’s efforts to control the Tito regime. Tito’s reply states that the GPU sought to recruit agents from among Communists and other citizens of Yugoslavia for purposes of espionage upon the regime. Tito’s break, successful as of this writing, indicates that secret police controls are exceedingly difficult to maintain against a regime that is itself a police slate.

Ernest Erber Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 22 May 2018