Tito and His Comrades.
In 2011 two biographies of Tito were published, my Tito: A Biography in the I.B. Tauris series "Communist Lives", and the Slovene edition of Joze Pirjevec's Tito and his Comrades. Despite our very different backgrounds, and the rather different approaches we took to our subject, our conclusions were the same: Tito was a pragmatic politician and an imaginative Marxist, but ultimately was rendered hidebound by years of training in Leninist concepts of discipline. Thus, in the early 1970s, rather than retreating into authoritarian orthodoxy, he should have backed the new young "democrats", particularly those within the Serbian Communist Party, who wanted further to democratize the workers' self-management system. As Pirjevec concludes, Tito failed "to develop the self-managing experiment into a modern pluralistic democracy" (456).
Pirjevec has an eye for a good story and the word-length for exploration in depth. His unique access to archives means he can devote extensive detail to the factional intrigue which brought Tito to the leadership of the Yugoslav Communist Party. Similarly, he provides chapter and verse on the break with Stalin and Stalin's aborted plans first to invade Yugoslavia and then to assassinate Tito. The book contains excellent material, as well, on Tito's opening up to the west, as well as the ruthless measures taken against those "Cominformists" who remained loyal to Moscow. That same level of detail continues into the 1950s and 1960s, years that are often ignored: Pirjevec gives an excellent account of the Trbovlje miners' strike of January 1958, which arguably sparked the sort of nationalist tension that would ultimately bring Yugoslavia down. The account of the economic reforms of the 1960s, however, is perhaps a little marred by some rather "gossipy" details surrounding the dismissal of Tito's one-time closest associate, Aleksandar Rankovic. Tito's break with his last wife Jovanka, as well as the gruesome attempts to keep the dying Tito alive, offer rather more sensationalism than scholarship requires.
For all the informative detail, Pirjevec fights shy of the ideological issues which explain why Tito acted as he did. He scarcely mentions why the self-management system was adopted in 1950, and he comments simply that, while this might have worked in industrially advanced Slovenia, it was always doomed in backward regions like Kosovo. He does not trace the origins of self-management, which surely date from the spring of 1942, when Tito realized that military aid from the Soviet Union was not coming and that his partisans had no other choice than to come to an understanding with the Yugoslav peasantry. It was then that the Yugoslav communists began to adapt their idealized version of communism to Yugoslav realities. Similarly, in the late 1960s, the economic debates surrounding the dismissal of Rankovic were mirrored by a long-running political debate about how to reform the party, renamed the Yugoslav League of Communists after the break with Stalin. That party reform was what the "democrats" of the early 1970s wanted to revive. Such criticisms apart, however, Pirjevec's biography is a considerable achievement and scholars should be grateful to the University of Wisconsin Press for making it available in English.
University of Glasgow
Geoffrey R. Swain
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|Author:||Swain, Geoffrey R.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2019|
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