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Tito, Josip Broz

Source:
A Dictionary of Political Biography
Author(s):
Dennis Kavanagh, Christopher Riches

Tito, Josip Broz 

(b. Kumrovec, Croatia, 7 May 1892; d. Ljubljana, Slovenia, 4 May 1980)

Croatian; Yugoslav Prime Minister and Defence Minister 1945–53, President 1953–80 Born into a peasant family, Josip Broz trained as a locksmith and became an itinerant worker in central Europe. Conscripted into the Austro-Hungarian army in the First World War he rose to the rank of sergeant, was wounded, and captured by the Russians. Released after the Revolution he joined the Red Army, fought in the Russian Civil War, and married a Russian woman. Returning to Croatia in 1920 he worked as a metalworker and joined the Communist Party. He became a trade union leader and strike organizer and secretary of the Zagreb Communists. In 1928 he was arrested and, after a trial at which he became famous for his outspoken defence of Communism and revolution, was imprisoned for five years. In 1934 he was co-opted onto the Central Committee and Politbureau of the decimated Yugoslav Communist Party and adopted the underground name Tito. After the party was liquidated by Stalin Tito worked for the Comintern in Moscow. He was sent back to Yugoslavia to reorganize the party as its General Secretary in 1937. He soon transformed it into an effective pan-Yugoslav revolutionary organization, which was to form the basis of the partisan army when the Germans invaded in April 1941.

In his July Declaration Tito called for national unity on the basis of equality of all ethnic groups; he advocated immediate resistance and downplayed socialist revolution. These appeals gained the Partisans much cross-national support. After the Italian surrender in September 1943 the Partisans acquired a considerable quantity of arms and were able to defeat the forces of Mihailovic decisively and gain control of a large area of central Yugoslavia. In November Tito formed a provisional government and declared the creation of the Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia. From this time he also gained the crucial support of Churchill, who persuaded the government-in-exile to back him and drop Mihailovic. In 1944 Tito formed a provisional government with the royalist Subasic as Foreign Minister, but after the victorious Partisans entered Belgrade in 1945 the November elections ushered in a monolithic Communist government in which Tito was both premier and Foreign Minister and the monarchy was abolished.

Tito now established a tough Stalinist regime with harsh purges conducted by Rankovic's secret police. But the fact that his revolution had not been dependent on Soviet support encouraged him to take a more independent line from the USSR, as was seen in the negotiations on the Balkan Federation project. Disagreements with Stalin came to a head in 1948 when Tito refused to accept the total subservience now expected of the East European satellites in the new Cold War era and in February 1948 Yugoslavia was expelled from the Cominform. Massive US aid enabled Yugoslavia to survive the immediate trade embargo, but once Tito had accepted the break was final (which he did reluctantly) it was clear that Yugoslav strategy would have to be rethought if they were not to slip back into capitalism. With the help of Kardelj and Djilas he developed the alternative ideology of ‘self-management’ which he started to implement in 1950. In 1952 the name of the party was altered to the League of Communists of Yugoslavia and in 1953 a new constitution based on self-management was introduced. At the same time Djilas was arrested for criticisms of the leadership. After the death of Stalin in 1953 Khrushchev attempted to bring Yugoslavia back into the Communist fold but Tito remained wary and instead developed a new foreign policy role as leader of the Non-Aligned Movement. In the 1960s tensions in the country increased under the impact of the 1965 market-oriented reforms. In 1966 Tito was forced to sack security chief Rankovic because of his unpopularity with the other nationalities. In 1967 unrest developed in several republics which was resolved by devolutionary constitutional amendments, but nationalist pressure increased, especially in Croatia, coming to a head in the ‘Croatian Spring’ of 1971, when Tito replaced the Croatian party leadership. In 1974 a new constitution was introduced giving virtually confederal powers to the republics and provinces, nominally balanced by a reassertion of ‘democratic centralism’ in the party as a binding force, but this failed to stop the drift towards national particularism.

Tito's great achievements were as a resistance leader and a statesman who held his diverse country together for thirty-five years of peace and relative stability. On the other hand he had an inordinate vanity and love of luxury which ill accorded with his role as the socialist alternative to Stalinism.

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