on the World Today
YUGOSLAVIA has come a long way from the totalitarian dictatorship it was two years ago. But it is far from being a democracy. Now, standing somewhere between the two diametrically opposite poles, Marshal Tito is at a crossroads. There is little doubt as to where his personal preference lies. But Stalin’s repent-or-die ultimatum to the “renegade,” the need for defense and trade coöperation with the anli-Soviet nations, and the social-economic conditions in Yugoslavia itself have forced Tito to give up some of his political dogmas.
The mass arrests have stopped. A new liberalized penal code is being prepared. People are allowed to speak more freely and they do so on the streets, on trains, and in courtrooms. Trade unions pay more attention to the will and opinion of the rank and file. The highly overcentralized government machinery is being decentralized.
Probably the most spectacular change of policy has been the decision to end collectivization of farms. The collectivization of farms has been one of the chief objectives of every Communist state, but in Yugoslavia it turned out to be a dismal failure after a furious five-year struggle, and Tito admitted his defeat by ending the whole program a few months ago.
This decision is highly significant because a certain form of collective farming has been an old, firmly rooted tradition in Yugoslavia. The so-called zadruga, or family collective, has been in use for 1500 years. Members of the same family, following the patriarchical system, used to run their farms on a communal basis. The extreme lack of capital compelled farmers to establish coöperatives long before the war. Thus the people were well prepared, psychologically, for Tito’s Celacka Radna Zadruga, the Peasants’ Working Collective Farms.
It is the considered opinion of leading American farm experts who have studied conditions in Yugoslavia for years, that had Tito moved slowly instead of using dictatorial measures, he might have induced many to join. Eventually, it is believed, he could have gathered up to 40 or 50 per cent of the peasants in coöperative or collective groups on a sound economic basis and with healthy competition among them. But the Communist regime paid little attention to the peasant’s love for his land and home, the emotional attachment to the plot his forefathers had tilled for generations.
It is true that Tito did not demand nationalization of all land and all farm property. The typical Yugoslav village consists of two rows of small farmhouses connected by means of a wall or high wooden fence behind which is a small vegetable garden or orchard. The house, the plot (up to 2 acres), one cow, one sow, any number of rabbits, chickens, or geese, are permissible private properly of the farmer. But draft animals, machines, and all his fields with the exception of the little plot next to the house would go into the new collective.
The peasant down the garden path
Tilo tried to tempt the farmer into the new collectives by one of several offers. For example, a peasant can make a three-year contract, retain full title to his property, and receive rent payments; or he may merely retain land title without land income. Under most of the contracts the peasant — nominally — may withdraw after three years and take his land back. However, if his property has become indispensable to the collective, the group can keep his land and give him what they consider an equivalent piece somewhere else. This is the catch in the bargain. In many cases peasants have found that what they were offered as “equivalent” was of such little value that they could not make a living and they had to stay in the collective.
In short, the Yugoslav farmers did not like the bargain. They resented even more the ruthless pressure exerted by the Tito regime. Of course, a Communist police state has a simple way of ruining a stubborn peasant. Every farmer, whether he is independent or not, must deliver to the state a certain amount of his products at minimum prices. His delivery quota as well as the prices is fixed by the state. If a farmer refuses to join the collective the officials can impose on him an impossibly high delivery quota and leave him a choice between bankruptcy (through fines) and becoming a member of the collective.
The crisis came to a head with last 1 year’s drought. That prolonged dry spell was a catastrophic blow to Yugoslavia’s food production. But it was not the sole reason for the loss of about 50 per cent of the corn crop, a similar drop in the potato harvest, ! and a drastic cut in many other farm products. Without the 600,000 tons of emergency food gifts from the United States, Yugoslavia would have been faced with famine and political chaos last winter.
One major reason for the debacle, in addition to the drought, was the go-slow movement of the peasants. Tito accepted defeat, at least for the time being. He did not denounce collectivization. but he slopped it under a number of subterfuges. In 1949 more than 5300 farms had been collectivized. During the first six months of 1950 the number dropped to 340, and in the second half of the year to a mere 30.
There is no talk of collectivization now. And while Tito does not intend to break up the existing collectives, he is not creating new ones. In fact, Yugoslav government officials admit in private conversations that they have been unable to induce or to force the peasants to join. Only 450,000 families and 26 per cent of the land are in collectives today. More than 2 million families and three fourths of the nation’s land remain independent.
Since four out of every five people in the country earn their living on the farms, agriculture is Yugoslavia’s chief problem. Unfortunately, the temporary victory of the farmers over the regime does not mean that the crisis is over. Another equally important issue remains to be settled. The delivery quotas at fixed prices which range from one tenth to one twentieth of the prices on the free market have all but killed the independent farmer’s initiative.
FARMING without machinery
The German and Hungarian armies stripped the country of machinery and livestock before they withdrew. Actually there was not much to begin with. Yugoslavia has always been a desperately poor country. Even before the war many villages had to have an “eternal fire” because the peasants could not afford to buy matches. More than one third of them had no plows, half of them had no draft animals. Thus it took five farmers to do the same job it takes one in Denmark or two in Germany.
Conditions have improved very little. Today there are only 3000 tractors in operation among the farm population of more than 12 million. Most of these tractors are being held by the collectives and are not available to the independent farmer. To make matters worse, Yugoslavia has never yet manufactured a tractor. Experiments have been carried on for some time and one tractor model is in the blueprint stage. But so far, the West has remained Yugoslavia’s only source of those vital machines.
Another miscalculation has been the large-scale industrialization and construction program of the Communist government. It has brought close to a million people from the farms to the cities and made them food consumers instead of producers. Their contribution to the national economy has been quite remarkable but insufficient for the needs of the impoverished nation.
Low output, high prices
Yugoslav miners produced 6 million tons of low-grade brown coal in 1939; last year it was about 12 million tons. The total pre-war out put of crude oil was 1000 tons a year; it stands at roughly 110,000 tons now. But 600,000 tons is the country’s minimum requirement. Electric power has been doubled since 1939; but it was little more than half a per cent of the energy available in the United States. No wonder the average Yugoslav worker produces less than 10 per cent of the output of an American worker.
His living standard is correspondingly low. A semiskilled worker’s monthly wages would buy him not quite a yard of material for a suit, on the free market. His annual allotment of tickets for the purchase of furniture, luxury goods, or clothing at a reduced price is just enough to give him the material for one suit — it does not pay for lining, buttons, thread, or labor.
Moreover, once these tickets are spent he must buy everything else on the free market without reduction, and a pair of shoes would cost him his pay check for six weeks; the price of a pound of crude, homemade soap, which the peasants produce from waste fat, would equal two weeks’ income of the worker.
Even compared with European countries, Yugoslavia’s industry is pitifully weak. The country produces per capita roughly half the coal and cement and one tenth the steel and electric power of France.
On the other hand, Yugoslavia has great untapped resources. There are the large, rich, arable areas which await proper agricultural exploitation and there are vast deposits of important raw materials: Europe’s biggest stores of bauxite, lead, and antimony; the second largest mercury, copper, and zinc reserves. The country also has sizable deposits of more than a dozen other strategic raw materials such as chrome, iron, manganese, and tungsten.
Tito planned exploitation of these resources with the “dynamic” ruthlessness of the totalitarian dictator. It turned out that he had bitten off more than he could chew. Then came the Kremlin’s boycott, suddenly cutting Yugoslavia off from the Soviet market, which had accounted for 50 per cent of the nation’s foreign trade.
To find new customers and suppliers overnight was a colossal task. Tito was determined not to give up his grandiose dream of industrialization and construetion. He went ahead with the building of a new capital city, much too expensive for his impoverished nation, a few miles from Belgrade, and his “volunteer youth brigade” proudly finished the 200 miles of auto strada from Belgrade to Zagreb where one rarely meets more than six cars on the entire trip.
American aid in time
In order not to interrupt his FiveYear Plan, Tito continued to trade corn and wheat for Swiss and British machines last summer, even while a serious food crisis was evident. A few months later Yugoslavia faced catastrophe. American aid came promptly and saved the regime as well as the nation.
The effect was startling. The Yugoslav people are profoundly grateful. The Communist diehards who had been in the habit of sneering at Uncle Sam as the imperialistic, exploiting, capitalistic profiteer discovered that the United States was a lot better than its reputation behind the Iron Curtain. American aid was a goodwill gesture calculated to counteract Soviet blackmail diplomacy.
Tito felt encouraged to deal more frankly and intimately with the West, and to improve badly needed trade and diplomatic relations with the non-Communist world. This in turn made it imperative for him to speed up decentralization and liberalization of his regime.
Tito must decide
Perhaps the claws of the police state have been trimmed in the hope of winning the support of the masses during the present economic and war crisis. Stalin, too, in the late 1930s relaxed the grip of his regime. But he returned to his original program once the emergency was over. Will Tito follow a similar policy?
Some of the most experienced diplomats in Yugoslavia and other European countries believe that Tito will not move back toward the Kremlin because he knows it would be committing suicide. When he and his guerrilla fighters rejected German domination during the Second World War it was not, in order to submit to a rule from Moscow now. They remember too well the grim words of their folk song during the Partisan fighting in the bleak Yugoslav mountain hide-outs. “The stranger would drink to the last our blood, our home is his prey.” They are at least as convinced nationalists as they are Communists. And since Stalin is unlikely to give up his dream of world domination from Moscow, Tito is equally unlikely to go back to the Kremlin.
The mood of the people is strongly anti-Russian. Stalin’s ruthless campaign to destroy them because of their disobedience has been a profound shock from which they will not soon recover. But Tito cannot stand isolated between the Iron Curtain and the West indefinitely. He knows how valuable he is for the anti-Soviet nations; he knows, too, that in the long run he cannot exist without their good will and coöperation. Washington can advise, prod, and guide him, but it would be fatal to try to push him. If he had to commit suicide, he might prefer to die as a Communist martyr rather than make his faithful feel he was a traitor.