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New International, August 1948


Valentin Toma

Newsletter: Behind the Iron Curtain

Titoism in Poland and Yugoslavia


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 9, November 1948, pp. 278–282.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The news from the countries of “popular democracy” has lately announced sweeping purges in the Stalinist governmental circles. As usual the movement seemed to be coordinated by the Cominform center and carried through in accordance with the procedure established by Moscow. The purges which were started hit above all at the rank-and-file militants, sometimes at the second-line leadership.

Thus in the Rumanian Workers [Stalinist] Party, after the condemnation of Titoism by the Cominform, the “national-chauvinist” heresy of the former minister of justice Lucretiu Patrascano, who had been liquidated before the Yugoslav crisis, was denounced all over again. An example had to be made of someone – this always means, in the Stalinist book of methods, that the “example” is put into the category of criminals – and the deputy mayor of the Rumanian capital, Constantin Doncea, was elected as the victim.

Doncea had been a comrade-in-arms of the CP general secretary Gheorghiu Dej in the great railroad strike of 1933 at Grivitza and had been the principal defendant in court during the repression of the strike movement; but he was now accused of “bourgeois deviations” and graft. In this way the so-called deviation in the Rumanian party was demonstrated to be nationalist, chauvinist, bourgeois and corrupt.

In conformity with the tactics of Stalinism, after the preparation of the minor purges one waited for the spectacular example. It would necessarily have to be designed to give the Cominform the satisfaction of appearing to win a brilliant victory as a counterweight to the Tito setback, an appearance to be gained either through the size of the movement or because of the high personalities to be involved.

Thus came into being the case of Gomulka, the “champion of Polish national-communism.”

Unlike the crisis with Belgrade, which necessitated a concentration of Stalinist forces on the Cominform level, the errors of the Polish leader and his comrades were judged by the leadership of the Polish party itself. Before the trial was even begun, the conditions for the capitulation had been already set up by the prosecutors from Moscow, the party leadership and the defendants. This is the way in which the “masterly self-criticism” of the cashiered general secretary was prepared.

There has been an abundance of comment in the European and American press on the crisis of Stalinism in the satellite states after the break with Tito. For lack of acquaintance with the state of affairs on the other side of the Iron Curtain, some have even perceived the outlines of a vigorous anti-Moscow movement in the Communist Parties of the Stalinist empire. This is a grave error, for it mistakes the wish for the reality.

Certainly there is, among the rank-and-file members of the party, a barely restrained antagonism to the Stalinists’ governmental methods. There are vacillating elements even among the leaders. But their vacillations, as far as the line is concerned, were detected, and they were kicked out of their posts well in advance of the commanded purge. The least attempt at opposition has been mercilessly suppressed. The accused were not only removed from political life but also deprived of their liberty, as was seen in the case of Patrascano.

Why Gomulka Rose

The so-called heresy of Wladislaw Gomulka is a horse of a different color.

As a Stalinist militant of long standing and the inspirer of the Red Trade Union Opposition under the dictatorial regime of the colonels, the ousted general secretary of the CP is one of the few leaders of the Stalinist party who was well known in the proletarian circles in pre-war Poland. He survived all the storms which beat upon the illegal CP.

Dissolved in 1938 by the Comintern, the Polish CP was denounced then as a hotbed of agents-provocateurs and “Trotskyite diversionists” of the Defensiva (Ridz-Smigly’s secret police). The party leaders like Dombal who were recalled to Moscow were liquidated. Only after Hitler’s attack upon Russia were the illegal Stalinist groups re-formed in 1942 into a central organization, the Polish Workers Party (PPR).

The new party, which denied any historic link with its predecessor, barely succeeded in struggling against the current of anti-Russian hostility in Poland. For the people did not forget the Nazi-Stalin deal, which had wiped the country off the map for years. With the setting up of the Lublin Committee of National Liberation – created by Stalinist and semi-Stalinist elements, Polish refugees in Russia, and returnees in the territory liberated by the Russian army – the role of the Polish Workers Party as administrator of Moscow’s policies in Poland was fairly established.

The obscure Bierut, an old Stalinist militant who had passed every loyalty test in Russia, took the key position – president of the committee and later president of the republic. He is also the political chaperone of the weak president of the council, Ossubka-Morawski, who hails from the pro-Stalinist group in the Polish Socialist Party and who was unknown before the war.

That is why they were obliged to resort to Gomulka, the underground leader in Wieslaw, to fill the post of general secretary of the party. For the gang sent in by Moscow – headed by the intelligent Berman, the practical Minc and the diplomatic Modzelewski – had one quality very unfavorably regarded in anti-Semitic Poland: they were Jews.

In no other country is the almost general antagonism toward the agents of Moscow more in evidence than in Poland. This is one of the reasons for the continual efforts made to enlarge the political base of the regime.

The fusion of the old Polish Socialist Party (PPS) with the Polish Socialist Workers Party (PPRS) of Ossubka and Szwalbe, which included not only militants of the younger generation like Cyrankiewicz but also the old social-democratic trade-unionist Stanczik who had returned from London; the attempt to take over the party of Mikolajczyk, by splitting it and merging it with an agrarian group created by the Stalinists; their creation of a “democratic” petty-bourgeois pseudo-organization (the Stronitzwo Democratyczna), and their effort to line up Catholic elements of the Labor Party (PP) for the regime – all these illustrate their systematic effort to break out of the circle of isolation.

Working on another front, the Stalinists of the Polish Workers Party everywhere made a big display of patriotism. Here is the source of the myth which was widely spread among the peasants, workers and petty bourgeoisie, especially in the new territories, to the effect that Gomulka was first of all a Pole and secondly a Communist.

Placating Nationalism

There is nothing spontaneous about the origin of this belief. It is the result of the same systematic Stalinist maneuver. Of all the satellites it was Poland which made the most elaborate show of its intellectual and even political independence from Moscow – under the orders and with the permission of Moscow. They wished at any price to go along with the nationalist current, which was very strong, even among the CP members. They bought the neutrality of the peasantry and middle strata by concessions not paralleled in the other satellite states.

The policy of Gomulka and Minc must be understood in the light of the following figures which show the changes in the social structure: 62 per cent of the population work as peasants or artisans on the basis of individual economy; 14 per cent are employed in private industry; and only 24 per cent of the wage workers are involved in the nationalized enterprises.

It is especially in the so-called “recuperated” regions in the western part of the country, which had been German and were administered by Gomulka’s ministry, that a peasant policy was followed designed to create a well-to-do stratum of farmers capable of producing an immediate yield to take care of the food needs of the country. Here it is that one most often hears the self-confident slogan of the peasant cultivators: “The Peasant Is the Power.”

There is a history behind the accusation that Gomulka is guilty of Tito-like heresy. It dates back to 1946. By a dialectic jest of circumstances which bear little resemblance to today’s situation, the accuser was Cyrankiewicz, then the general secretary of the Socialist Party. At that time Tito was still the hero of the Stalinists in the satellite states and his example was obligatory.

Cyrankiewicz opposed General Secretary Gomulka’s drive to bore from within the SP. He liquidated the most hardened “cryptos” like the old priest Matuszewski, who was minister of information, and also put an end to the activity of the minister of justice, another Stalinist agent who had capitulated. In the course of an agitated conversation Cyrankiewicz reminded Gomulka of these maneuvers and exclaimed: “You will not get anywhere with me with your Tito complex!”

Stalinists First and Last

But Cyrankiewicz was brought into line. He ceased all resistance to the fusion of his party with the Stalinist party. Matuszewski triumphantly returned to the Executive Committee for the liquidation of the Socialist Party and prepared its predetermined fusion, carrying out the task of first purging its cadres.

Although at the Socialist congress in the winter of 1947 Cyrankiewicz had declared himself against the fusion, “because Poland has need of the Socialist Party,” he very quickly learned the new catechism. He was entrusted with the ungrateful job of throwing mud on world socialism. His “denunciation” of the “betrayal of the right-wing socialists,” written in the customary jargon, begins with a quotation from Lenin in the best style of the Muscovite church ...

The general secretary of the Socialist Party, which was transformed into a “company in the process of liquidation” by the order of the Cominform and by the betrayal of its leaders, is going to have his little bit of satisfaction. Obviously repudiated by the mass of socialist militants, four-fifths of whom refused to pass before the purge tribunals instituted by the Jesuit Matuszewski, Cyrankiewicz is a general without an army; but he is no longer going to have to face his bête noire Gomulka in the leadership of the “unified” party. As a counter-service, it was Cyrankiewicz who, symbolically, offered the presidency of the fused party to Boleslaw Bierut, Moscow’s trusted agent.

A little by-play behind the scenes ... the roles have been reversed.

The Gomulka episode demonstrates that Moscow needs victories, especially victories against public opinion in the satellite countries. Gomulka has been cut down politically because – in the minds of many simple Poles (and international journalists) – he represented a desire for independence from the Kremlin. The time has come when Moscow can no longer tolerate the existence of even such a state of mind. He performs a great service for the Cominform by confessing his guilty responsibility for a policy which was decided on and initiated by the Kremlin.

From now on, the Polish peasant in Lower Silesia knows that Moscow is everything and Gomulka nothing. It is a necessary lesson to kill any dreams of independence.

If tomorrow Gheorghiu Dej or Zoltan Vasz follow in Gomulka’s footsteps, it will not be because of their supposed nationalist political heresies that they are dumped. It will be because the worker of Brasov and the peasant of Alfold have been taught to look upon them as a Rumanian or Hungarian first and a Communist second.


The struggle between the Yugoslav CP leadership and the Cominform has lately entered upon the phase of a grim struggle for influence in the state apparatus.

Nowhere is the right of the people to influence the policies of their country more of an illusion than in Yugoslavia (the “new-type democracy”) of, for that matter, in Yugoslavia’s twin-brother “popular democracies.” Thus, when I asked a Yugoslav friend about the repercussions of the Tito-Cominform clash, he referred me for answer to an anecdote which dates back to the years when the fierce conflict was raging between Tito’s Partisans and Draja Mikhailovic’s Chetniks.

This tale concerned a Serbian peasant who is whipped by one group of soldiers as an “enemy of the people” for saying that he supports the Chetniks; meeting another group of soldiers a little later and remembering the lesson, he is whipped again as a “traitor to his country” for saying that he supports the Partisans; finally, meeting a third group of soldiers, he skips the preliminaries and merely offers his back ...

The fact is that the struggle of the top cliques over control of the political and military apparatus does not touch the lower strata of Yugoslav society.

The living conditions are strictly regimented, and mobilization for extra voluntary labor goes on as always. “Tito needs soldiers” – this is the commonest tune which the citizens of Yugoslavia have to sing in their serried ranks.

Only a few days after the outbreak of the Tito-Zhdanov feud, the capital’s newspapers published a news item released by the official agency and no doubt emanating from the Ministry of the Interior.

In a statement issued by the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Socialist Party, its president, Dr. Belic, and its general secretary, Raikovic, make known the decision of this body to liquidate the party. One reads in the text of this statement that “under these conditions [!] the activity of the party is no longer possible.” The declaration is countersigned by the regional secretaries of Voivodina (Novisad) and Belgrade. The organization’s effects have been turned over to the Ministry of the Interior.

Thus ends the painful situation of Yugoslav socialism, as a result of the Tito dictatorship.

Yugoslavia’s Socialists

Up to now two organizations claiming to be continuators of pre-war Yugoslav socialism have been in formal existence in the Titoist “democracy.” The more important group, called the Socialist Party of Yugoslavia, represented the militants of the old party, led until 1944 by Zifko Topalovic. The other group harked back to the dissident social-democracy of prewar days whose central figure was the old militant and eminent university professor of biology Divac, who had virtually withdrawn from all activity since 1946.

These two organizations were subjected to a regime of strict surveillance under the political police; they had not the slightest leeway to carry through even the most modest course of political action; they had no headquarters, no press and no international relations with sister parties abroad; their leaders were blackmailed and often arrested without cause; their party workers had no liberty to carry on any propaganda at all since they would be fired from their jobs if they did so. Yet in spite of these rather discouraging circumstances both groups succeeded in securing the adherence of a large percentage of the militants of the pre-war socialist and trade-union movement.

Tito tried to absorb the socialist cadres into the Popular Front. For this reason two socialists, who were widely known for their popularity and their participation in the national-liberation struggle, were elected to the Front. But, since the socialists remained hostile to the dictatorship, their organizations were subjected to strong and unremitting ideological pressure and police pressure, and they were denounced in the government press and in meetings as “traitors.”

What were the reasons motivating Rankovic, the minister of the interior, in liquidating the Yugoslav Socialist Party? (For of course no one can seriously swallow the story that the organization requested its own dissolution.) As a result of the struggle with the Cominform, the position of the Titoist leadership was certainly weakened. The consequence would certainly have been that the prestige of democratic socialism, which opposed the terror, would have grown in the eyes of the majority of the worker-militants who were disgusted with this Stalinist quarrel. To prevent such an ideological development, the Socialist Party was suppressed and socialism was labeled “subversive.”

Stalin’s Fifth Column

If anyone had been uncertain about the character of the clash between the Titoists and the Stalinists – a struggle between the bureaucratic tops of the state apparatus – the dispute between the “Red Books” and “Blue Books” in Belgrade was enough to dissipate any doubts.

In the Cominform’s Red Book (a pamphlet), the Titoists are accused of treating Russian experts in Yugoslavia in a manner insulting to their position. The prompt reply of the Blue Book shows that the demands of the Russian bureaucrats had been satisfied to a degree which indeed shocked the Yugoslav following of the Tito dictatorship. According to the Titoists’ revelations, a Russian expert received four times the salary of a cabinet minister and as much as ten times the salary of a higher-echelon officer.

The call to battle issued by the Cominform against Tito is not addressed to the people – as the Stalinists do in the bourgeois countries – but to the Yugoslav CP itself. And according to the news which leaks through the almost impenetrable barrier of the Tito party’s organizational life, Moscow addressed itself not even to the simple militants of the party but rather to the influential leaders of the political and especially military apparatus.

The most serious center of anti-Tito opposition is in backward Montenegro, a region which produced a big percentage of the Partisans.

In a speech at the Congress of the Popular Front of the Republic, at Cetinje, Blajo Jovanovic (president of the council in this constituent republic of the federated Yugoslav state) declared in so many words: “There are people in our party who approved certain points in the Cominform resolution. There is no longer any room in our ranks for these traitors and cowards.” He was here alluding to the purge of the Montenegrin government. His deputy president of the council, Bajo Ljumovic (former Yugoslav ambassador to Warsaw), and four other ministers found themselves among the “traitors and cowards.”

The opposition has its centers in the army and diplomatic corps. Those who make up the core of the opposition are, in their majority, Montenegrin fellow countrymen of Jovanovic.

The former chief of staff, General Arso Jovanovic, who was killed by a border guard near Vershetz (Banat) while attempting to flee into Rumania, was Montenegrin. This second Jovanovic was a former captain in the royal army who rallied to Tito’s Partisans from the very start. Considered one of the closest collaborators of the dictator, he had participated in the last congress of the party at Topcider in the suburbs of Belgrade; he was in fact one of the principal delegates from the army and voted for all of the unanimous resolutions backing Tito’s line.

Lieutenant-General Branko Petricevic, who was arrested when he tried to flee the country, was also Montenegrin; he had been a pre-war political commissar. So also was the third of the would-be refugees, Colonel Vlado Dapcevic, who succeeded in reaching Rumania. The last-named, who had been the political commissar of an artillery corps, is the brother of the legendary commander of the First Proletarian Army Division, Peiko Dapcevic, who left, the country before the congress and is at present in Moscow.

From the same military clan come the staff officers Lukic and Garcevic who fled to Hungary, and General Popivoda, former deputy commander in chief of the air force, who succeeded in landing a military plane in Rumania.

The existence of serious defections in the diplomatic corpses due to the fact that the Yugoslav diplomatic apparatus abroad was integrated into the Russian apparatus, to which it was subordinate; this is true also of the diplomatic staffs of the other “popular democracies.” Among the diplomats there is the Montenegrin Radonja Golubovic, ambassador to Rumania up to his resignation; after the arrest of Zujovic and Hebrang, he was slated to become the rallying point of the Yugoslav Cominformists, together with Generals Dapcevic and Popivoda.

Purges and Peasants

The disintegration of the former CP leadership is evident. Among the principal Stalinist leaders condemned by the Yugoslav CP congress as agents of the Cominform, Sreten Zujovic, former secretary of the Yugoslav Popular Front, member of the party Central Committee and minister of finance in the government, was one of the five top colleagues of Tito. His party name Zirni (The Black) was as popular among the Partisans as that of Leijka-Rankovic or that of Jica Ianko (Moise Pjade). Andrej Hebrang, who was accused of anti-Titoism along with Zujovic, was a member of the Politburo of the party and is a Croatian leader like Tito himself.

The inexorable purge organized by the UDBA (the secret police – formerly known as the OZNA) is directed at all circles suspected of the slightest heresy. The former “Department for the Defense of the People” (this is what the initials OZNA stood for) – renamed the “State Security Administration” (UDBA) – was set up to suppress anti-Stalinists, but now specializes in the business of detecting and liquidating supporters and semi-supporters of the Cominform-Stalinists in the party itself.

From the economic standpoint, the blockade organized by the Cominform countries is making itself felt. In the last eight months, prices have gone up 100 per cent, while wages have gone down. Bread is of bad quality (80 per cent of the mixture is Indian-corn flour). In this fertile country there is a lack of textiles, of industrial products, of agricultural implements, even of fruits and meats. The Five Year Plan is in danger, since the one-sided organization of economic relations with Russia and the “new democracies” served the country in poor stead after the outbreak of the conflict.

As counter-measures, an internal loan of 3½ billion dinars has been floated; dealings with England, America and Argentina have been resumed; a $500 million loan from the World Bank has been requested. But the question still remains whether all of that is capable of ensuring Yugoslavia’s shaken economic stability.

Tito’s refusal to collectivize the Yugoslav countryside has deep-rooted reasons. The peasants have been lying low up to now but they have created insoluble problems for the regime. They work almost only for their own needs. Why sell – they ask – if it is impossible for us to buy what we need?

Collectivization would have created extraordinary disturbances in the country. The Tito regime would have been obliged to fall back on the support of Russia to a greater degree than before. And this is exactly what Tito wanted to avoid. So would the leaders of the other “popular democracies” like to avoid this, but they have no other choice.

Present in all of the recent utterances of Titoism is the consciousness that they represent a regime Which emerged from fierce struggles against the foreign invader, that they represent a national-liberation movement. Consider, for example, the speeches of Lazar Kulicevski, head of the Macedonian federal republic of Yugoslavia and leader of the Macedonian Partisans, and of Colonel-General Vukmanovic (called Tempo): they hurl reproaches at the Bulgarian Stalinist leaders for their double-dealing and above all for their absence from the struggle against the Nazis, a struggle “which they launched only after the arrival of the Red Army made it possible for them to emerge from their safe havens.”

The Hungarian CP and its leader Mathias Rakosi is bombarded with attacks by the Croatian premier Vladimir Bakaric, who accuses Rakosi of having returned from Moscow by airplane only after the victory.

Widespread comment has been provoked by Tito’s latest speech, delivered to the First Proletarian Division, an elite army unit which elected him as its delegate to the party congress. After attacking the Cominform, instead of the usual formulas protesting fidelity to the Soviet Union and Generalissimo Stalin, the marshal called upon his listeners to struggle for the unity of the fatherland, of the Yugoslav army, and of the Communist Party.

The last reshuffling of the cabinet, which strengthened the position of the Titoist leaders by eliminating the petty-bourgeoisie and pan-Slav fellow travelers, confirms the line of resistance to the Cominform. By every means at their disposal, Tito and his gang are fighting Moscow’s drive to bore from within the leading circles and middle strata of the bureaucracy.

For they are well aware that the maintenance or reversal of the relationship of forces, which is at present favorable to the Belgrade regime, depends in large measure on which way the state bureaucracy goes. It is the state bureaucratic apparatus which will (except in case of war) determine the outcome of the quarrel between Tito and Moscow; for the people of Yugoslavia are excluded from all democratic rights.

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