Marshal Tito

The Yugoslav statesman Marshal Tito (born 1892) became president of Yugoslavia in 1953. He directed the rebuilding of a Yugoslavia devastated in World War II and the welding of Yugoslavia's different peoples into unity until his death in 1980.

From its creation in 1918 until is dissolution in the early 1990s, Yugoslavia was a multinational state composed of numerous ethnic and religious groups. It was made up of historical provinces which were first united into a single state in 1918. The building of a state proved a difficult task. The various ethnic groups were dissatisfied with their status in the new state, resented Serbian domination, and clamored for greater national and political rights. The national and religious groups were suspicious of each other. The country's economy was unstable throughout the interwar period, and the country was surrounded by enemy states dedicated to its destruction. Because of these conditions, Communist and fascist groups found fertile ground for their activities and sought to destroy established order. Among the Communists who advocated a revolutionary change was Josip Broz, who is commonly known as Marshal Tito.

Tito was born on May 25, 1892, the seventh of 15 children of a peasant family of Kumrovec, a village near Zagreb, Croatia. After apprenticeship to a locksmith, he worked in Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and Germany as a mechanic. In World War I he was drafted into the Austro-Hungarian army, was wounded and captured by the Russians, and spent time in a prisoner-of-war camp. Already a Social Democrat in Vienna in 1910, he joined the Red Army after the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and identified himself with the Bolshevik forces in the Russian civil war.

In 1920 Tito returned to Croatia and joined the Communist party of Yugoslavia, rising to the party's committee in Zagreb, and was sentenced to five years' imprisonment in 1928 for Communist activity. Thereafter he spent several years in the Soviet Union, in 1934 being elected to the Central Committee and Politburo of the Yugoslav party. In the Stalinist purges, all other members of the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party had been liquidated, and in 1937 the Comintern appointed him secretary general of the Yugoslav party as its only remaining trustworthy leader.

Advertisement

World War II

Tito was able to revive the Yugoslav party and to make of it a highly disciplined organization. He purged the ranks of members of dubious loyalty and gave the party a clear-cut and realistic policy with regard to nationality. For the first time, the party was firmly in support of the preservation rather than the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. As a loyal Stalinist, passionate revolutionary, and strong personality, Tito was able to develop the Yugoslav Communist party into a powerful political and military organization during World War II.

After the Axis invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941 and Germany's attack on the Soviet Union in June, Tito, responding to the call of the Comintern, ordered the Communist party to initiate guerrilla activity against Axis forces. At the same time, a royalist resistance movement headed by Col. (later Gen.) Draža Mihajlović gained the support of the royalist government-in-exile under King Peter II (reigned 1934-1945) in London. Initially, Tito's forces received no outside assistance, but Mihajlović's inactivity, combined with the success of Tito's partisans, led to a change in Allied policy. Allied liaison officers with Tito reported that his movement was more nationalist than Communist, and Allied liaison officers with Mihajlović reported that his forces, in fear of a Communist take-over in Yugoslavia, had found it expedient to collaborate with Axis troops. The conflict between the two resistance leaders led to a bloody civil war.

Advertisement

Communist Revolution in Yugoslavia

Tito's greatest accomplishment during World War II was the organization of perhaps the most effective resistance movement in the history of Communism. While engaging the Axis occupation forces, he simultaneously embarked upon a Communist revolution. His forces proceeded to destroy the class structure, undermine the old social and economic order, and lay the foundations for a postwar Communist state system. From a few poorly armed and clad guerrillas (partisans) in 1941, the Communist military force was expanded by Tito into a large army (National Liberation Army) by the end of the war.

Basic policies of the Communist party regarding the new Yugoslav state, such as federal organization of the country, were announced and partially implemented during the war. As a result of the two Anti-fascist Councils held in 1942 and 1943 under the most difficult conditions, Tito provided the country with a system of provisional revolutionary government—the Committee for the National Liberation of Yugoslavia. Skillfully and masterfully he exploited every social, economic, political, geographical, psychological, and ethnic opportunity in pursuance of Communist political and military objectives. Neither his domestic rivals nor powerful German, Italian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian occupation forces were able to cope with the widespread activities of Tito's followers.

In December 1943 the Allies, ignoring King Peter in London, declared Tito's partisans the Allied liberation force in Yugoslavia. Allied pressure forced King Peter to appoint Dr. Ivan Šubašić prime minister, a man acceptable to Tito. After meeting Tito early in June 1944, Šbašić agreed to delay deciding the form of Yugoslavia's postwar government until the war's end. This proved a fatal blow to King Peter's cause. Tito's forces and those of the U.S.S.R. entered Belgrade on Oct. 20, 1944. The partisans, however, drove the Germans from the country essentially by their own efforts, an event of the greatest importance in the future history of Yugoslavia. Unlike Communist leaders of other East European countries, Tito himself had commanded the forces defeating the Axis troops and had not entered his country with the victorious Red Army. The Communist-style single-list elections in August 1945 led to the proclamation of a republic on Nov. 29, 1944, and the creation of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

Advertisement

Postwar Years

From 1945 to 1953 Tito acted as prime minister and minister of defense in the government, whose most dramatic political action was the capture, trial, and execution of Gen. Mihajlović in 1946. Between 1945 and 1948 Tito led his country through an extreme and ruthless form of dictatorship in order to mold Yugoslavia into a socialist state modeled after the Soviet Union. In January 1953, he was named first president of Yugoslavia and president of the Federal Executive Council; the 1963 Constitution named him president for life.

By 1953 Tito had changed Yugoslavia's relationship with the Soviet Union. He refused to approve Stalin's plans for integrating Yugoslavia into the East European Communist bloc and thereby reducing the country to a Soviet satellite. For this reason Tito was expelled from the Cominform. He now embarked on his own socialist policies, which involved considerable economic decentralization and the relaxing of central control over many areas of national life. These policies also involved liberalization of Communist laws and courts. Although a formal reconciliation between the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia occurred when Khrushchev visited Belgrade after Stalin's death in 1955, Yugoslavia's relations with the Soviet Union never returned to what they were before 1948. Tito gave his country a "socialist democracy, " a form of government more tolerable and more democratic than the socialist regimes of other Communist countries.

Tito attempted to build a bloc of "nonaligned" countries after Stalin's death. He traveled to India, Indonesia, Ethiopia, the United Arab Republic, Ghana, and Morocco and sponsored a conference of nonaligned countries in Belgrade in 1961. Under his leadership, Yugoslavia maintained friendly ties with the Arab states and vehemently denounced Israeli aggression in the Arab-Israeli War of 1967. His relations with East European states were more variable than those with nonaligned countries. He protested the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968 and maintained friendly relations with Romania after Nicolae Ceausescu became its leader in 1965. Under Tito's leadership Yugoslavia was a staunch supporter and very active member of the United Nations.

Tito was married twice and had two sons. His first wife was Russian. After World War II he married Jovanka, a Serbian woman from Croatia many years his junior and a former partisan fighter. His wife often accompanied him on his travels. President for life, Tito ruled with vigor until his death in Ljubljana on May 4, 1980, maintaining several homes, where he entertained an array of international visitors and celebrities.

The breakup of the Yugoslav republics lead to ethnic unrest in the late 1980s, and ultimately escalated into war in 1992. Tito left behind one ethnic legacy in particular: a disagreement over the ethnic identity of the citizens of the nation which today calls itself Macedonia. Macedonia has a history which dates back some 4, 000 years, and is closely linked to Greece. However, during the Tito era, a policy of disinformation was conducted, such that now a dispute has arisen between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. In World Affairs, Chris Parkas wrote, "Since 1944, when Tito created the Socialist Republic of Macedonia as a new republic in the Yugoslav Federation, a revisionist history of Macedonian studies has been developed promoting the concept of a non-Greek Macedonian nation that encompasses all aspects of Macedonian civilization." Tito conducted this disinformation campaign against Greece during the Greek Civil War of 1944-1949. Tito's legacy erupted into a diplomatic conflict between Macedonia and Greece, because Macedonia sought United Nations recognition. Macedonia was officially admitted to the United Nations as an independent country in 1993.

Advertisement

Further Reading on Marshal Tito

Tito's official biography is Vladimir Dedijer, Tito (1953). Dedijer worked with Tito for years, and much of the book is taken from interviews with Tito and his friends. Dedijer recounted the Tito-Stalin break, which he witnessed first-hand, in The Battle Stalin Lost: Memoirs of Yugoslavia, 1948-53 (1970). A full-length biography is Phyllis Auty, Tito: A Biography (1970). Still useful is Fitzroy Maclean, The Heretic: The Life and Times of Josip Broz-Tito (1957). A more specialized study is John C. Campbell, Tito's Separate Road: America and Yugoslavia in World Politics (1967). Additional material on Tito and Yugoslavia is in Wayne S. Vucinich, ed., Contemporary Yugoslavia: Twenty Years of Socialist Experiment (1969). More recent biographies include Milovan Djilas' Tito: The Story from the Inside (1980), Ruth Schiffman's Josip Broz Tito (1987), and Duncan Wilson's Tito's Yugoslavia (1979).