The Battle Stalin Lost

The Battle Stalin Lost

Few writers have had so notable an opportunity directly to observe major historical events as has Vladimir Dedijer, Director of Information in the Tito government at the time the Yugoslavs defied Stalin. Dedijer was a close witness of the first major fissure within the post-World War II Communist movement: the refusal of the Yugoslav regime to obey Stalin’s edicts. In The Battle Stalin Lost, Memoirs of Yugoslavia, 1948-1953, copyright © 1970 by Vladimir Dedijer, the author has written his personal account of these events. We print below three sections of the book with the kind permission of Viking Press, which will be publishing it in early 1971.

Why Didn’t Tito Go to Bucharest?

WHY DID STALIN, and Stalinism as a system, not only demand death for heretics but also insist on forcing the rebel to undergo self-criticism or (better still) to kill his own conscience? This problem, which had been haunting me, came to mind again on May 19, 1948, when a youthful-looking fellow by the name of Meshetov, from the Central Committee of the CPSU, came to Belgrade bearing a letter signed by Suslov demanding that a delegation of the Yugoslav Central Committee attend the next Cominform meeting. They wanted Tito personally to attend. Yudin spread rumors that the meeting would be held in the Ukraine and that Stalin would be coming.

Discussions began in the Central Committee the next day as to whether a delegation should go. The majority was opposed. It was clear that there was to be no discussion of the Yugoslav situation; what was wanted was capitulation—confession of guilt. Here and there a contrary opinion could be heard to the effect that “the gravity of the unfounded charges, even the most horrible and most monstrous accusations against us, could not justify our absenting ourselves,” that “a plan was in the making which we would not perhaps perceive clearly from our vantage point.” But these opinions could not prevail. Some of the older comrades recalled that the youthful-looking Meshetov had participated in the liquidation of Yugoslav Communists in Moscow in 1937-38: this probably did not bode well for us at the Cominform meeting. The Central Committee unanimously decided not to go.

Back then, in the spring of 1948, I could not answer the question why Stalin demanded that the heretics kill their own consciences before being physically liquidated. In 1949, during the trials in Hungary and other East European countries, it was clear that they all followed the same pattern: like the old Bolsheviks at the Russian trials in 1936-38, the accused admitted their “errors,” criticized themselves, and confessed to being foreign spies. After having thus disgraced themselves, they got death sentences for their pains. Was it in the theological seminary that Stalin had learned that heretics must be forced to disavow formally and publicly their sa...