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A Discussion of the Conflict in the Russian Empire –

Tito Crisis Widens, Threatens Bases
of Stalinist Rule in Eastern Europe

(21 November 1949)

From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 47, 21 November 1949, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Titoist crisis of Stalinism provokes greater apprehension every day, opening as it does the abyss of a new imperialist war.

The Yugoslavian delegate, Alex Bebler, has stated before the United Nations Assembly that “Hungarian artillery has thundered across the Yugoslavian frontier.” The war between Belgrade and the Kremlin is going beyond the “war of nerves” and entering the stage of military provocations.

Besides the incidents on the Yugoslavian frontier, new political clashes have occurred between Moscow and Belgrade: The first was the ousting of the Yugoslavian delegation at the Stalinist “Peace Congress” in Rome; the second, the pro-Titoist movement among the Italian Communists, headed by Giovanni Maras, the chief of the Italian Partisans, who fought under Tito’s command.

The ousting of the Yugoslavian delegation at Rome turned into a defeat for the Russian offensive. The chief of the Yugoslavian delegation, Osip Vidmar, issued statements against Russia whose repercussions have completely dwarfed the importance of the Stalinist congress.

Vidmar revealed that the unfortunate Dimitrov had told a member of the Yugoslavian Politburo, Milovan Djilas, that “Tito should remain firm, ho matter what happens.” This declaration raises the curtain on the struggle waged by the Balkan peoples against Russian expansion.

It is well known that Dimitrov was a partisan of a Balkan Federation, the old program of the Comintern which Stalin fought viciously as he considers it extremely dangerous for Russia’s imperialist expansion. Perhaps this declaration explains why Dimitrov was sent to a “sanatorium” for a “cure,” Stalin’s way of getting rid of those leaders he doesn’t want to bring to the prisoner’s bench. Vidmar declared that Yugoslavia “will never bow before the Cominform” and “that’ it has many friends in Europe.”

Moscow Frightened

These words were fully confirmed both by the pro-Titoist movement in Italy and by the arrests en masse in Bulgaria, not to speak of the recent trials in Hungary, the mass reprisals in Czechoslovakia and the symptoms of political unrest in Poland.

The Titoist schism is spreading with a speed and strength that frightens Moscow. Giovanni Miras represents an organization of Italian partisans numbering 4,500 members, who have defied the Italian Stalinist party which has begun to purge the rebels, expelling them from its ranks. Nevertheless, many Italian Stalinists have traveled to Yugoslavia to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Tito’s federated republic.

Vidmar is correct when he affirms that “Yugoslavia has many friends in Eastern Europe.” The reprisals in Bulgaria have caught up 30,000 prisoners suspected of pro-Titoist sympathies, among them various ex-ministers such as Kostov, former vice-premier; Pitko Kunin, former minister of industry; Manol Sekelarov, former minister of public works, Ivan Stepenov, former minister of finance and General Vasili Markov, a member of the central committee of the Communist party.

According to the latest news reports, repressions have begun in Poland. Various ministers and former ministers are being arrested such as Widy-Wirski, ex-minister of navigation; Kovalewsky, ex-minister of agriculture; Kochanowicz, ex-minister of labor; Dubiel, ex-minister of western territories; Lechowicz, ex-minister of food; and various others. With these arrests the brief political truce which I noted in a previous article comes to an end and a new Stalinist preventive offensive against “Polish Titoism” begins.

The vice-ministers arrested belong to the ranks of the “fellow-travelers” – that is, they are the leaders of the “shadow parties,” the Democratic, Labor, and Populist Parties, artificially created by the police in order to imitate and fight the real, historic Polish parties. Now their turn has come.

Although the arrests have not as yet reached the leaders of the Stalinist party itself, there is much uneasiness, because the GPU knows that the militant masses sympathize with Gomulka and Tito. Gomulka himself has protested against the content of the illegal Titoist leaflets distributed in Poland which praise him.

Acheson Hopes

And not only in.Eastern Europe, but in Italy, Germany, France and England, Tito has “a great many friends.” The. Titoist schism is spreading in such a manner as to threaten the Stalinist influence in Europe, opening a profound breach in the ranks of I totalitarian Stalinism. The development of this crisis can have grave international consequences; for this reason we are obliged to anticipate these consequences and their dangers for the cause of revolutionary world socialism and for the whole workers’ movement.

Undeniably, the Titoist crisis threatens the bases of the Stalinist system in conquered Europe, and even of the regime itself. The American secretary of state, Dean Acheson. was quite correct when he declared that Titoism “is a more important event and fraught with greater consequences than is generally believed.” Both Acheson and Walter Lippman believe that Russia will withdraw to its 1939 frontiers. Acheson places his hopes on the Titoist crisis as the cause of this withdrawal.

However, these gentlemen do not understand that a totalitarian system such as Russian Stalinism cannot retreat peacefully, because this would signify the beginning of the end. Only the revolutionary workers’ opposition inside Russia could compel the Stalinist autocracy to retreat, but such an opposition as an actual factor does not exist.

The hopes of those ‘officials who make American policy that Titoism will do the job for them, for American expansion, compelling Stalin to withdraw peacefully, are as naive as were the hopes of British Conservatism and the French Right with regard to Hitler’s offensive.

Horse Trade?

On the contrary, I would risk the prediction that should the Titoist crisis reach such a pitch as Acheson desires, Stalin would feel compelled to act directly, that is, by way of armed intervention in Yugoslavia in order to radically crush the rebellion at its center. The technique of such intervention would be secondary, either through the satellite countries or through direct Russian intervention; the tactic and the means would depend on American . policy, on whether it would answer Russian intervention with war or not.

Stalin is ready to pay the Americans any price for abandoning Yugoslavia to its fate, and we know that the Yankees are excellent horsetraders, ready to make a deal when it looks good. The Russian military offensive in Yugoslavia would be accompanied by a “peace offensive” and a “diplomatic truce,” supported by concessions and propositions to the American bourgeoisie, whose important Republican sector is isolationist and somewhat troglodyte in its international program, and backward in relation to the enormous and rapid growth of American imperialism. It is possible, therefore, that Russian intervention against Yugoslavia could be accomplished successfully without provoking international war between the United States and Russia.

In such a case the Yugoslavian regime would be wiped from the face of the earth in a Stalinist “blitz,” initiating in Central-Eastern Europe a period of Stalinist slaughter, a tremendous purge that would make what has happened till now appear insignificant. The purges against the Trotskyist and Bukharinist opposition would be mere child’s play in comparison to the eventual “Titoist butchery.”

The hangmen of the GPU would drown Yugoslavia, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Rumania, and Bulgaria in a sea of blood, with one stroke liquidating not only the CP opposition, but the entire peasant, bourgeois, and social-democratic opposition as well. Under these conditions, Russia would not withdraw to its 1939 frontiers, but would strengthen its power and position in Eastern Europe, contrary to the expectations of Lippman and Acheson.

However, it would be a serious error to exclude American military intervention in the conflict and the beginning of the third world war. The Yugoslavia delegate to the Italian “Peace Congress” was correct in saying that “foreign intervention, whether from the East or the West, threatens to convert the Balkans into a powder barrel.”

The world socialist movement must concretely discuss the eventualities flowing from the development of the Titoist crisis, and its position concretely adapted to the case. Without pretending to having exhausted the theme, I limit myself to declaring that the deepening and maturing of the Titoist crisis, whatever its consequences may be, is a crisis of Stalinism, and is in the interests of the revolutionary workers’ movement.

Without identifying ourselves with Tito as the Fourth International has done, we must defend the Yugoslavian people, and all the other peoples subjugated by the Kremlin, against Russian aggression as well as against capitalist intervention.

It must be recognized that the present dispute in the Balkans will not remain at its present stage much longer, and that socialist policy must be defined for the eventuality of open conflict.

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