Stalin's Best Pupil


Perspectives STALIN'S BEST PUPIL BY MIHAXO MIHAIOV T|he reception accorded Milo-van Djilas' Tito The Story from Inside (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 192 pp , $9 95) dramatically illustrates the...

...Perspectives STALIN'S BEST PUPIL BY MIHAXO MIHAIOV T|he reception accorded Milo-van Djilas' Tito The Story from Inside (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 192 pp , $9 95) dramatically illustrates the difference in attitude toward the late dictator at home and in the West Even before excerpts appeared last summer m the weekly Der Spiegel, prior to publication of the book in Germany and the United States, the Yugoslav press bitterly denounced its author, the famous dissident, former Vice-President of the country and longtime personal friend of Josip Broz Tito Dozens of scathing articles alternated with pseudoprofound analyses by historians, philosophers and highly placed Party members in vilifying Djilas In contrast, the book has stirred little passion in the West, and especially in the United States has been received rather coolly Both the violent condemnations and the Western critics' unenthusiastic reviews, however, have resulted from the fact that the net effect of this firsthand biography is to destroy the myth surrounding the subject The Yugoslav Communist Party has reacted paranoicahy to the truth about the dead leader because for over 30 years his legend has been maintained by severe political repression and propaganda The concern is that as reports of Tito The Story from Inside circulate inside, they will undermine the image of the man who was portrayed almost as a demigod in photographs, films, statues, and the media Not that Djilas is unkind On the contrary, it could be said that out of a desire to be "objective" or some subtle political consideration, or perhaps to justify his own past, he has painted his once close comrade in brighter colors than are deserved Compared with the writing of his own son, Aleksa, or of the young Belgrade author Momchilo Sehch—whose seven year prison sentence for criticism of the Tito cult, handed down a year ago, recently was upheld by the Supreme Court of Yugoslavia—Djilas seems downright laudatory Nonetheless, there is no escaping an understanding of how a peasant boy from the Yugoslav provinces became first the leader of the underground Communist Party, then of the bloody revolution, then of the country—as well as an influential figure among the "nonaligned" nations A specialist in Eastern European affairs may find nothing that is new in Djilas' work, but bringing all the known facts about Tito together makes clear how starthngly similar he was to Stalin Hence the cool response in the West, where governments and the free press have long promoted the notion that exactly the opposite was true I do not believe there is another country in the world about which Westerners are more ignorant than Yugoslavia Frequently after my lectures, Americans ask, "Did you personally try to explain your views to Tito7" Although I lived my whole life in Yugoslavia, and Tito attacked me a number of times in public, I saw him only once, and that was as I marched past the reviewing stand in a May Day demonstration That such a question could be asked reveals considerable confusion about the nature of Yugoslav Communism This appears to have contributed to the widespread acceptance of statements by people of no less authority than Elizabeth Taylor, who has declared that Tito, a man she greatly admired, never signed a single death sentence Andldon'tknowwhatisworse?Jimmy Carter's calling Tito "a hero of freedom" in March of 1978 at a White House reception, or the way Newsweek (October 20, 1980) identified Tito's battles with present-day events m Poland, notably Solidarity's Mthajlo Mihajlov, The Yugoslav dissident writer now in the United States, is a frequent NL contributor This article was translated from the original Russian by Gloria Donen Sosin struggle for trade union independence When a famous actress, the President of the United States and an influential weekly magazine call black white, democracy would appear to have a serious problem In explaining the persistence of fables about Tito in the West, it is not enough to offer pragmatic excuses for the democratic governments' support of the Yugoslav dictator after his clash with Stalin After all, the U S also had pragmatic reasons for supporting the Shah of Iran, and he never wore the mantle of a freedom fighter The roots of the Tito myth run deeper Tito, it might be said, successfully fused the evils of both Commumsm and the bourgeois world Consequently he gave hope to Westerners that a Communist dictatorship could be liberalized, especially if that process were supported economically The West's spiritual and political poverty is evident in its continuing willful myopia As long as a cult of Tito exists, democracy's prospects for prevailing against the threat posed not only by the Soviets, but by world Communist totalitarianism in all its forms—from China to Cuba to Yugoslavia—will be dim Djilas reminds us that in 1928 Tito was arrested and tried for planning terrorist acts, and bombs were found in his possession, that for years he was a Soviet agent, as were all the Communists then, and that he spoke with gratitude of how his Soviet comrades "freed the party from factions" (1 e shot practically the entire Central Committee of the Yugoslav Party in 1937) and made him general secretary The most radical power after World War II, Djilas points out, was Yugoslavia When Stalin warned the Polish Communists about their "lack of gumption" in the struggle against class enemies, he cited his most assiduous student as an example "Good for Tito—he shot them " Tito's dictatorship was " incomparably more cruel and brutal" than that of Yugoslavia's King Alexander Djilas etlectively shows that the dictator's pnmary goal throughout his lite was total personal power Western readers should note that lie never inclined toward liberalization without pressure He was forced to introduce a market economy and "workers' self-government," but this hardly changed the essential barbarity of the single-party structure In foreign policy he suffered from having to soften his attitude toward the "capitalistic countries" because he was economically dependent upon them after the clash with Stalin As Djilas makes abundantly clear, the Yugoslav Communists followed the Stalin style, if not the actual Moscow line, in every way—from the opening of restneted stores for Party members, to the modeling of the hierarchy along the Kremlin pattern In 1945, for example, the UDBA (Yugoslavia's version of the KGB) extended its control of the entire country to the Party itself The Central Committee did not meet for almost 10 years Indeed, Tito The Story from Inside demonstrates how strong the kinship between Tito and Stalin was, despite their rift Tito, too, destroyed class enemies and the flower of his country's intelligentsia after liquidating his party adversaries and emerging victorious from the 1945 civil war In true Stalinist fashion, he used ideology as a weapon to advance his own power, while remaining personally indifferent to ideological questions When the civil war was over, he quite pragmatically announced that there was no sense in any further murder since " no one fears punishment by death anymore"—a statement echoing his Soviet exemplar Tito's opulent lifestyle was his one real difference from Stalin Right after the war, Tito appropriated for his personal use all royal palaces and estates, plus state properties and private lands "Tito himself did not know how many palaces he had," Diilas observes For years these seized lands served as his own hunting grounds, his personal domain Tito also seized private art collections, gold, precious gems, islands in the Adriatic, and even requisitioned a much-publicized babv elephant troni the Belgrade Zoo for the animal preserve on his island ot Bnoni As prisoners constructed new palaces on Bnoni Tito quipped, "Everything great in history was built by slaves " He loved to wear diamond rings, a heavy belt buckle of cast gold, and personally designed Marshal's uniforms as gaudy as any Third World potentate's Although his salary was nominal, Tito was, in Djilas' words, "the most extravagant ruler of his time " This did not prevent him from cultivating the public image of a typically ascetic revolutionary leader, as in the case of the clash with Stalin So persistent has the Tito myth been, that the West could find him endearing for his boundless love of luxury, liquor and beautiful women, and simultaneously swallow the fictions about a spartan socialist breaking with the Soviet Union Nothing could be more untrue than the assertion that Tito was a "national Communist " In Yugoslavia, a country comprised of many regional ethnic groups, the Commumst Party certainly was in complete control, just as in the Soviet Union But here again, Tito simply applied the Stalinist slogan, "building Communism in one country," a synonym for crushing ethnic rebellions and working against the freedom struggles of other countries Tito supported the Soviet invasion of Hungary and opened airports to Soviet military transports during the Middle East wars in 1967 and 1973 Genuine national Communism appeared only at the beginning of the '70s, during the "Croatian Spring," when young upcoming Croation Party leaders began to really represent the Croats against the monopoly of the Titoist supranational Commumst Party Tito put down the Croats, of course, and did the same with the Serbian Communists a year later It is therefore shocking to still hear him being praised in the \\ est tor his success in "uniting" these diverse nationalities The \\ cstern world simply does not want to behe\e the realities of reLent \ ugoslav history It prefers, tor instance, to icniain oblivious to the sig-niI icant tact that concentration samps, night arrests and puigcs comparable to those in the Soviet Union commenced in Yugoslavia only after 1948 The true horrors of these camps have not been revealed Djilas himself was still in power at the time and he points out that Tito personally gave the orders for establishing the camps, without ever consulting the Politburo Djilas reports that more than 15,000 people, including some 7,000 officers, were put into camps, but he does not say how many failed to come out People in Yugoslavia are certain that one out of three never emerged, and that the actual number of prisoners was considerably higher than Djilas' figure In any case, Djilas is strangely ambiguous about the period following the break with the USSR He calls the situation in the country and the Party completely Stalinist, yet he claims that matters would have been worse if those who were imprisoned had come to power But these Yugoslav prisoners, condemned as "Stalinists" at home and in the West, had nothing in common with Soviet Stalinists Djilas loses all consistency when he writes about these victims of Tito's oppression He contends that "we did not treat the Stalinists as cruelly as Stalin treated his prisoners," yet a few pages later he describes the sophisticated methods—worthy of Stalin himself?perfected by UDBA to break the prisoners mentally and physically It has been reported that inmates conducted their own "investigations," just as in present-day Chinese camps, and attempted to carry out sentences Djilas says that there was actually so-called "prisoner self-rule" in the camps In fact, those who would not recant publicly and grovel in the dirt were murdered and terrorized by others seeking to stay alive The survivors of the camps when they were closed in 1956 were spiritually and physically crippled Djilas laments that Yugoslav writers still avoid taking up such issues as the camps or the 40,000-50,000 post-war anti-Communist guerillas who fought in the hills into the '50s before being overcome Incomprehensibly, he says that evidently the importance of these topics remains unappreciated Perhaps he means to convey sarcasm or veiled irony In speaking of these years, though, Djilas argues that only "by adopting Stalinist methods could we oppose Stalin " To the objection that had the country been democratic it would have opposed Stalin by its very structure, Djilas replies, but Yugoslavia was already Communist True—thanks to Tito and the Party I am not convinced that this excuses the iniquities of Yugoslav Stalinism Equally unconvincing are Djilas' assertions about the differences between Fascist and Communist dictatorships Overall, the weakest parts of the book are his attempts at philosophical generalizations and explanations Nonetheless, the first two men in recent Yugoslav history to achieve international stature were Tito and Djilas himself Tito became a Communist dictator independent of Moscow, Djilas became the father of the entire dissident movement in Communist countries Despite the many years Djilas spend in prison while Tito was m power, and contrary to received opinion, Djilas is also the brightest political star in Yugoslavia today Moreover, he fully understands that at present—and particularly for the near future—he is the most important political figure in the country When blamed for not having dissembled and maneuvered so that he could re-mam the number two man and Tito's likely heir, Djilas ironically asks "Where now are those who were able to maneuver back and forth7" For a long timeDjilas has stood at the head of a small group of people who have been telling the truth about Tito to no avail But the sharp reaction in Yugoslavia to the appearance of Tito The Story From Inside, besides saying a good deal about the opposite response in the West, is indicative of the real possibility that the Tito cult may soon be demolished A favorable atmosphere for radical changes in the Yugoslav system has been created by a number of factors Although not many Americans know it, Yugoslavia's $15 billion debt works out to $677 per capita compared with Poland's $567 per capita, and the country has one of the highest rates of inflation in Europe The economy is further hobbled by 12 per cent unemployment, a figure that does not include the approximately 1 million Yugoslavs in Western Europe as guest workers In addition, with political prisoners 100 times more numerous than in prewar days, pressure for amnesty is mounting, as are dissident demands for a free press If the liberal current manages to prevail in the contest for power no w taking place in the Party bureaucracy, then the hopes for democratic reforms would have a firm foundation Of course, there is the danger that the Yugoslav Party would call on Moscow for help at that critical juncture out of fear of losing its monopoly on power This scenario is likelier than an outright attack by the Soviet Union Still, the only way to save the country's independence and remove the threat of present separatist trends is to eliminate the cult of Tito, the basic pivot for the Commumst dictatorship, not only in Yugoslavia but m the West as well And therein lies the significance of Milovan Djilas' Tito the Story From Inside...

Vol. 64 • March 1981 • No. 5

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