Why did Stalin fail to gain control of Yugoslavia?



The importance of the present conflict lies in the fact that it is the first important crack in the international front of Stalinism since the end of the war.

Ted Grant, writing for Socialist Appeal (July 1948)

Socialist Appeal was a British anti-Stalinist Communist group




Why did Stalin fail to get control of Yugoslavia?

Yugoslavia was the only eastern European country which did not fall under Soviet control.

There were a number of reasons for this:

  1. Yugoslavia was not liberated by the Red Army. Instead, Yugoslavia was liberated by an army of Yugoslav partisans. This army was 300,000 strong, but it was led by the Communists.

  2. The Yugoslav Communist leader Tito was not a Soviet-trained Stalinist – he was an independent, greatly-respected national leader, and he refused to do as Moscow ordered.

  3. Yugoslav communism was as nationalist as it was communist.



Why did relations between Yugoslavia and Stalin break down?

At first, relations between Belgrade and Moscow seemed good – in fact, Yugoslavia joined the first Cominform in 1947, which was held in Belgrade. 


However, gradually after 1945, relations between Yugoslavia and Moscow were growing increasingly strained:

  1. Even during the war, in 1943, the ‘Committee of Liberation’ proclaimed the overthrow of the Yugoslav government in exile, banned the return of king Peter Yugoslavia, and declared Yugoslavia to be a Communist state ruled by Tito; this was in defiance of Stalin’s agreement with the allies to support King Peter.

  2. After the war, Tito tried to capture Trieste from Italy, which brought him into open fighting with the Americans (during the conflict, the Yugoslavs shot down four US planes). Stalin tried to stop Tito, because he did not want to fall out with Britain and America, but Tito ignored him.

  3. In 1946, Tito supported the Greek communists against the British in Greece – again against the wishes of Stalin, who had promised Churchill that he would stay out of Greece.

  4. In 1947 Tito, again without consulting Stalin, tried to organise a federation Bulgaria, Yugoslavia and Albania into a ‘Land of the South Slavs’.

  5. Tito wanted to apply for Marshall Aid, something else which Stalin did not want; in fact, after Yugoslavia was expelled from Cominform, Tito asked the United States for Marshall Aid and received more than $150 million.

  6. In 1948 Tito arrested a number of Soviet spies and Stalinists who were trying to get him replaced. The most prominent, Andrija Hebrang (Stalin’s candidate to replace Tito) was killed in prison in 1949.



1948: the break with Stalin

In 1948 Moscow sent a number of letters of complaint against the Yugolavian Communist Party. When one of these accused the Yugoslavians of being ungrateful to the Red Army, the YCP pointed out strongly that they had not been liberated by the Soviet Union! This kind of resistance was unheard of.


Therefore, Tito did not attend the second meeting of Cominform, which expelled Yugoslavia in June 1948.


Shortly afterwards, the Soviet Union, followed by the other Iron Curtain countries, broke off diplomatic relations with Tito. After 1948, ‘Tito-ists’ (communists who believed that national communist parties should be independent of the Soviet Union) were expelled from communist parties in the other Iron Curtain countries.


Source A

The leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party is carrying out a policy unfriendly toward the Soviet Union and to the All-Union Communist Party. In Yugoslavia an unworthy policy of belittling Soviet military experts and discrediting the Soviet Army has been permitted. Soviet civilian specialists in Yugoslavia have been … put under the surveillance.

All these and similar facts prove that the leaders of the Yugoslav Communist Party have taken up an attitude unworthy of Communists.

Declaration of Cominform, June 1948