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Irving Howe

World Politics

The Death of Mikhailovitch

(29 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 30, 29 July 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A sordid incident in international politics came to an end last week when the Stalinist-dominated dictatorship of Tito in Yugoslavia ordered the Chetnik leader, Mikhailovitch, to be shot as a war-time collaborator with the Nazis. The bitter struggle in Yugoslavia between the forces of Tito, representing a mass peasant movement under Stalinist domination, and the forces of Mikhailovitch, a monarchist serving the interests of Anglo-American imperialism, has come to an end; and Tito is the victor.

It is impossible to say in America just how much truth there is to the charge that Mikhailovitch collaborated with the Nazis; it is possible to say that such collaboration is by no means inconceivable. For Mikhailovitch was engaged in a bitter fight with Tito’s Partisans and he may well have worked out informal truces with the Germans in order to oppose Tito more effectively. That a monarchist reactionary should make deals with Nazis is neither inconceivable nor unlikely.

However, let us also remember that Tito comes from the camp of Stalinism: the very same Stalinism which made the infamous green-light-for-war pact with Hitler. Tito is a political brother of Molotov who made the classic remark that fascism was a matter of taste. Tito is the agent of Stalin who played the Horst Wessel Lied when von Ribbentrop came to Moscow. Tito, at the time of the infamous pact, adopted the line that Hitler was not responsible for the war.

In a word, it comes with poor grace – to put the matter most politely – for Tito to denounce, let alone shoot, anyone for having collaborated with Hitler; for that is precisely what his own movement did.

Tito – Vyshinsky’s Pupil

Nor can we have much confidence in the trials staged by Tito; he has apparently attended some of Vyshinsky’s classes in Moscow. Without in any way defending Mikhailovitch either personally or politically (quite the contrary!), without taking the slightest responsibility for either his politics or his past actions, we say nonetheless that it is impossible for anyone to get a fair trial from a Stalinist-dominated court; and that therefore the Mikhailovitch trial must be labeled a frameup. A frameup which does not nearly affect the working class as vitally as other Stalinist frameups, such as the Moscow trials, but a frameup nonetheless. We are neither Mikhailovitch’s defenders, nor are we Tito’s apologists. Thus far, one political bandit, Tito, has succeeded in murdering another political bandit, Mikhailovitch. We tell the truth about that murder: it is a condemnation on both sides – Mikhailovitch as a reactionary and a possible collaborator; Tito as a dictatorial frame-up artist.

The American liberals are sharply split on this matter, some of them supporting one side and some the other. Both groups thereby show their lack of political intelligence and imagination: they can think only in terms of which kind of dictatorship is preferable, which ruler is more charitable.

We are dealing here with a very complex situation, and any attempt to explain or to take a stand on the execution of Mikhailovitch must weigh the many factors quite carefully. Shortly after the war began and Hitler had succeeded in overrunning Yugoslavia, there was organized in that country a guerrilla resistance under the leadership of Mikhailovitch, a general in the service of that country’s reactionary monarchy, the House of Kaganowitch. This movement was highly nationalistic in nature, confining itself largely to Serbs and not very friendly to the minority national group in Yugoslavia, the Croats.

For a while it fought quite brilliantly against the Nazis and it became the darling, with Mikhailovitch the gilded hero, of many of the American liberals who were subsequently to support Tito and denounce Mikhailovitch as a traitor. The Stalinists, too, it should be noted, were ecstatic in their praise for Mikhailovitch and his “Chetniks.”

Organization of the Partisans

As the war progressed, however, and the fortunes of the Stalinist armies took a turn for the better, there developed an internal split in the Yugoslav resistance. Organized under the leadership of Tito, a Stalinist of long standing, and rallying considerable numbers of peasants and workers to its support by its use of reform slogans, the new “Partisan” movement gradually gained control of most of Yugoslav’s resistance. Supplied with arms and support by all three of the major allies, it pursued a bold military policy of open clashes with the Nazis; while Mikhailovitch apparently played a more passive role by retreating to the hills. The Partisans charged that Mikhailovitch had collaborated with the Nazis and it was on this charge that he was recently brought to trial.

For in the interim, with the support of the advancing Russian troops which arc the most powerful military force in eastern Europe today and with the Anglo-American imperialists more or less helpless in the situation, the Partisans had established a government, broken with the government-in-exile, dethroned the boy king and created in Yugoslavia a miniature replica of the totalitarian bureaucratic regime of Russia, which serves as the western-most outpost of Stalinist imperialism.

While for purposes of public palatability the Tito regime nominally allows opposition movements to exist, in actuality these oppositions are severely restricted; the dictatorship becomes, as in Russia, increasingly tight and criticism of it involves the danger of loss of work, imprisonment and persecution. Whether or not this regime really enjoys the support of the masses it is impossible to say: no free election has been held in Yugoslavia. A policy of agrarian reform has been instituted, somewhat similar to the land divisions achieved by the classical capitalist revolutions, and some of Yugoslavia’s meager industries have been nationalized.

But the country remains essentially a police dictatorship, resting ultimately on the support of the Russian army bayonets which if not physically present arc always within striking distance. Of freedom, of working class initiative or rule – there is none in Tito’s Yugoslavia.

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