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Titoism - seedbed of nationalism

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The political history of Titoism in Yugoslavia

In the face of the ethnic bloodbath in the former Yugoslavia, many there are looking back longingly to bygone days when Tito personally directed the destiny of the country. At least then there was no “fraternal” war, Yugoslavia was held in high regard internationally and even in material terms things were better for most people. However, the present cannot be separated from the past. Tito’s system was the incubator in which the germs of today’s massacres were nurtured.

Tito was no revolutionary communist. His career at the top of the Yugoslav Communist Party (YCP) was bound up with the Stalinisation of the international communist movement. He became the party leader in Belgrade just as the Show Trials of the Opposition were being prepared in Moscow.

During the Second World War, he was a Stalinist and immediately after it he took monarchists and other representatives of reactionary pre-war Yugoslavia into the popular front government. However, his position was different from that of all the other East European CP leaders: he had his own army and already had his own bureaucracy. He was not so dependent on Stalin and was, therefore, able to protest against the one-sided trade deals with the Soviet Union and Stalin’s other directives.

From the very beginning, the Yugoslav People’s Republic was not based on any democratic equality between the various nationalities but on an oppression of the non-Slavs, above all the Albanians and Hungarians.

It is true that there was approximate equality between the main nations of Yugoslavia—Slovenes, Croats and Serbs—and the national rights of the Macedonians were recognised. In this respect Tito’s Yugoslavia was a clear advance on the Serbian dominated inter-war monarchy.

However, the cohabitation of peoples is a dynamic process: solidarity and internationalism must be continually renewed. This was precisely what Tito’s bureaucratic system proved incapable of doing. The difference between the north and the south in levels of industrialisation, productivity and culture had to be consciously recognised as a problem to be overcome step by step.

For that there needed to be living workers’ democracy. In free discussions, plans which went beyond the borders of the nationalities could have been developed, progress towards equality could have been recognised as the collective task of the workers and peasants.

Instead of that, Tito constructed a bureaucratic dictatorship which was crudely disguised by the system of self-management.

Self-management was only an appearance of democracy. Firstly, because its rights, at central level, were only minimal. Secondly, no political forces other than the Communist League (the Yugoslav Stalinist party) and its mass organisations were permitted. Political oppositionists, including lefts and Marxists, were rounded up and imprisoned.

Apart from that, the possibility of conscious planning was effectively minimised, especially after the 1960s, by the increasing utilisation of the market as the regulator in the economy. Marxists have always recognised that a market economy creates inequality and crises. But the Titoists forgot that and hoped for a general acceleration of the rate of economic growth.

The possibilities for making profits promoted the individualism and nationalism of the republics. It was not long before this law proved itself politically. Already in 1971, the “Croat Spring” strove for full “national control” over Croat foreign currency earnings. Tito suppressed this nationalist upsurge but, again, it was not dealt with politically. It was opposed administratively, and purged bureaucratically.

Many Croat workers lost their faith in a joint workers’ state at that time. Tito reacted by granting additional rights to the Republics and Autonomous Republics in the new Constitution of 1974. Thus, instead of combating nationalism and the profit logic with political arguments, he answered them with repression on the one hand and concession on the other, both equally bureaucratic.

The logic of Tito’s system was demonstrated after his death by the suppression of the Albanian uprising in Kossovo in 1981. Titoism had taught the Serbian workers bureaucratic and short term thinking. This was why, despite a partially supra-national strike movement in the mid-1980s, Milosevic was able to build up a mass movement of Great Serbian chauvinism. That was the beginning of the end of the Yugoslav workers’ state.

The bureaucracies of the other republics switched over more and more to nationalism. What was missing (and still is missing) was any internationalist alternative in Yugoslav society which could have shown the proletariat another way out of the bloodbath. That is the measure of how fundamentally Titoism destroyed the internationalist instincts of the Yugoslav workers.