The new constitution of 1945 brought ninety per cent. of Yugoslav industry under State control. Only those which were not worth bothering about were allowed to escape, such as shoe making, watch repairing, inn-keeping, etc. Agrarian reform dispossessed the old landlords and distributed the land to the peasants according to family size. “The land should belong to those who cultivate it,” was the cry, but this was no common ownership, only the handing over of land from one set of private owners to another.
In any case, the peasants’ troubles were by no means at an end. They still had to sell their agricultural produce in a market, capricious and uncertain as markets are. So that in times of glut it was less costly to leave salad stuff and soft fruit to rot, than to try and sell it. An old and familiar problem, by the way, and one of the many which prompted the start of collectivisation in 1949.
As we mentioned in Part 1, there was much reconstruction and industrialisation to complete, and as early as 1946, the government had announced a five year plan aiming at 400 per cent. increase in industrial production. Belgrade called for workers to assist with voluntary labour, and the response found expression in such projects as the gigantic iron works “Lilostroy” of Ljublijana, the Samac-Sarajevo and Doboj-Banjaluka Railroads and the Cetinje hydro-electric power station.
But in other ways also, Yugoslavia was making her presence felt. Tito had visited Stalin in 1945, and signed a treaty of mutual assistance. Russian technicians and military advisers went to Yugoslavia as a “help to fraternal countries” and quite clearly the country was earmarked for inclusion in the Soviet sphere of influence. Tito and his henchmen began to doubt the wisdom of allowing so much Soviet infiltration and signs of a rift were apparent at an early stage.
It has been said that the 1948 disagreement between the two states was a battle waged for Yugoslavia’s “Socialism” against Russian “Stalinism,” but this is quite untrue, if only for the reason that there never was any Socialism in Yugoslavia anyway. Tito himself came nearer to the mark when he said at the time:
The real issue is the relation between one state and another. In my view they are using ideological questions as a pretext for putting pressure on us and our state.
The Yugoslav government strongly resented the Russian attempts to regulate buying and selling between the Cominform Stales, seeing it as a threat to their already weak economy.
Nor must we forget the part that Yugoslav/Albanian relations played in widening the breach. Moscow and Belgrade had agreed in principle to the unification of the two states and already their economies were becoming linked, with Yugoslav influence predominating. But the Russians were taken unawares by the subsequent agreements (signed without consulting them) to allow Yugoslav forces to be stationed in Albanian territory. According to Milovan Djilas, who was deeply involved in the dispute with Moscow, it was this military move most of all which persuaded Stalin that in Tito he had a rival rather than an ally. Yugoslavia was promptly expelled from the Cominform to the accompaniment of the most violent abuse.
In 1955, there was some reconciliation between Yugoslavia and the USSR, and since then Tito has managed to sit precariously on a rather wobbly fence, obtaining economic aid from both sides of the Iron Curtain, but refusing to join either power bloc, at least for the time being. It remains to be seen how long he can play one side off against the other in his efforts to win economic elbow room for his ruling class. Only recently, America has scaled down her financial assistance to Yugoslavia, causing Belgrade to go into a panic-stricken huddle. One result has been a renewed demand for farm collectivisation, although many of Tito’s colleagues remember its previous failure and are not enthusiastic. Neither are the peasants, who want to remain proprietors in their own right and not become agricultural wage workers.
Yet this may well be the future tendency, as industry develops and the demand for labour increases. The old peasant family proprietorship will be regarded as wasteful of labour and efficiency, and there is likely to be increasing interference by the State. There is a growing working class today in Yugoslavia facing the same sort of problems as their brothers elsewhere. Sooner or later they will have to get down to an appreciation of the need for Socialism, but there is no sign of this happening, as yet.
In the meantime, it is interesting to speculate on the future role of Yugoslavia in the changing pattern of capitalist world politics. A glance at the map will show the strategy of her position with an Adriatic coastline facing Italy and frontiers with Rumania, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Austria and Italy. As her industries develop, we may well see her jostling for a share of the markets in an increasingly competitive world. But it is difficult to view her future as other than that of a minor capitalist power at most. This does after all make sense in a world where even Germany, France and Britain—the major powers of yesterday—have been ousted from dominance, and the arena left to America and Russia, two colossi of capitalism, glaring at each other in sullen anger.