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Ernest Erber

Sees Tito Striving to Head Balkan Federation
Inside the Stalin Bloc

(12 July 1948)

From Labor Action, Vol. 12 No. 28, 12 July 1948, pp. 1 & 4.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Tito’s main aim in his opposition to Moscow emerged more clearly in the past week in the form of a series of moves designed to force Stalin to permit Yugoslavia an independent role within the Russian bloc, with the opportunity of building a Balkan federation.

It has become apparent that Tito is banking heavily upon the strategic position occupied by Yugoslavia in the Russian defense system to force Stalin to accept Tito’s terms and keep Yugoslavia as an ally, rather than lose her to the Western powers.

This supposition assumes that Stalin will consider the military loss entailed by Yugoslavia’s going over to the Western camp to be more dangerous than the political loss entailed by granting Tito an independent role within the bloc.

The military effects of a complete break with Yugoslavia would be exceedingly serious for Russia. Yugoslavia protects the southwestern flank of the Russian empire. In actuality, Yugoslavia protects more. It is the key to the Balkans and the Danube valley. Were Yugoslavia, together with Albania, to become a base for the American bloc, the Hungarian, Rumanian and Bulgarian plains would be difficult to defend in time of war. A successful thrust to the east would place Russia’s enemies on the shores of the Black Sea. A successful thrust to the north would place Russia in danger of losing the rich industrial regions in western Czechoslovakia. The immediate effect of losing Yugoslavia to the West would be the virtual liquidation of the civil war in Greece, for which Yugoslavia is the main base of operations on the Stalinist side.

In a counterblast addressed to the Czech, Bulgarian and Hungarian Stalinist leaders, Milovan Djilas, Tito’s propaganda chief, said:

“We do not feel isolated. This conclusion may seem funny to you. But we do not feel isolated, because we arc convinced that the Soviet Union will not and cannot abandon Yugoslavia in her relations with the imperialists.

“This arises from the Soviet Union’s anti-imperialist policy. Besides this, the Soviet Union is an existing reality and not an abstraction and is the leading peace-loving power. Yugoslavia takes that into account as a realistic factor in today’s relations and has no reason to feel that she is being abandoned to the imperialists.”

Djilas sought to underscore his view that Russia has no alternative but to maintain the alliance by comparing it to a marriage that brings a couple together “for better or for worse.”

Tito’s Immediate Aims

Djilas’ reference to Russia as “the leading peace-loving power” and such similar remarks are, of course, mere observance of the ritual of the Stalinist faith. The essence of his argument is the remark that Russia “will not and cannot” permit Yugoslavia to join the West.

It is of the highest significance that Tito’s statements have been addressed, mainly, to the Bulgarian, Hungarian and Czech Stalinist leaders. He is saying to them, in effect, that they too can assert themselves against Russia without fear that Russia will abandon them to the Western powers.

This approach links up with Tito’s program for a Balkan federation, a proposal severely condemned by Moscow when it was advanced by Dimitrov in Bulgaria last year. Tito’s Balkan federation can only be realized, therefore, against the will of Moscow and as a result of Bulgaria, at least, following in the footsteps of Yugoslavia in asserting its freedom of action against Russia.

Tito’s immediate aims are for a federation of Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Albania. However, Stalin is well aware that such a federation would only be a stepping-stone toward the inclusion of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and, ultimately, Rumania. A federation of such dimensions, which Tito, of course, hopes to boss, would represent a considerable concentration of economic and military power. Though its industrial base would be relatively weak, it would certainly not be less, and probably would be more, than Russia possessed at the start of the first Five Year Plan. Tito may dream of several five-year plans establishing an extensive industrial base for such a Balkan-Danubian federation.

It is interesting to note in this connection that Djilas stated that he would leave unanswered the question of whether Yugoslavia had sufficient strength to build socialism without the help of the other “socialist nations,” but stated that it would be strange if the others were to force Yugoslavia to prove that she can or cannot build socialism herself. The underlying thought in Djilas’ reference to other countries is not about whether Russia helps Yugoslavia, but whether the Balkan and Danubian countries do. Djilas is here appealing to the widely known resentment, which even the Stalinist leaders of the Russian puppet states feel, against Russia’s draining the economies of its satellites for her own needs. Tito seeks to hold out the prospect of the Balkan and Danubian countries pooling their resources to build up the economy of the proposed federation, and carrying on economic relations with Russia as equals. Such a relationship would almost nullify the great economic potential Russian imperialism established for itself in Southeastern Europe.

It is, above all, the far-reaching implications of Tito’s fight for an independent role that may cause Stalin to consider seriously the alternative of an all-out struggle to force Tito’s capitulation, even risking the loss of Yugoslavia to the West. Stalin thoroughly realizes, as does Tito also and all others who know the inner mechanism of the Stalinist state and party system, that the latter would receive their death blow if two totalitarian power centers existed in the Iron Curtain world.

As we explained last week, the existence of two centers means two policies and a struggle for domination in the world Stalinist movement. Yet such a struggle would shatter one of the indispensable pillars of the Stalinist’ system – monolithism. Tito’s defiance of the Cominform has already given evidence of this result. A fierce internal struggle has broken out in the Communist Party of Trieste, between a Stalin majority and a Tito minority. Without a doubt, pro-Tito wings will take form in the CPs of the neighboring countries, just as a pro-Stalin wing will oppose itself to Tito in the Yugoslavian CP.

These deep-going threats, which Tito’s program represents, may yet cause Stalin to choose the loss of Yugoslavia to the West as the lesser of two evils. Though such a course would mean an immeasurable weakening of Russia’s military situation, it would permit the Kremlin to consolidate what remains and integrate it even more closely into the Russian political and economic order.

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