Josip Broz Tito

Josip Broz Tito (yô´sĬp brôz tē´tō), 1892–1980, Yugoslav Communist leader, marshal of Yugoslavia. He was originally Josip Broz.

Rise to Power

The son of a blacksmith in a Croatian village, Tito fought in Russia with the Austro-Hungarian army in World War I and was captured by the Russians. He served with distinction in the Red Army during the Russian civil war of 1918 to 1920. Several years later Broz returned to Croatia and, while a metalworker, became a prominent union organizer. He was (1929–34) imprisoned as a political agitator. In 1937 the Comintern assigned to him the reorganization of the Yugoslav Communist party, and in 1941 he emerged as a leader of Yugoslav partisan resistance forces after the defeat and occupation of Yugoslavia by the Axis Powers. It was then that he adopted the name Tito.

Although the core of his partisan army was Communist, Tito's rapidly growing forces included many non-Communists. Despite the opposition of the Yugoslav government in exile, which supported the Serbian resistance leader Draža Mihajlović, Tito's army and its successes soon eclipsed those of Mihajlović and his chetniks. Among the causes of his success were his swift guerrilla tactics, his own magnetic personality, and the appeal of his political program—a federated Yugoslavia—to the non-Serbian elements of the population. Although they cooperated at first, Tito and Mihajlović soon clashed.

By 1943, Tito headed a large army and controlled a sizable part of Yugoslavia, centered in Bosnia. Tito was supported from the first by the USSR, but in 1944 he also received the full support of Britain and the United States. In Nov., 1944, after the liberation of Belgrade, he negotiated a merger of the royal Yugoslav government and his own council of national liberation, and in Mar., 1945, he became head of the new federal Yugoslav government.

Already the virtual dictator of Yugoslavia, he won a major electoral victory in Nov., 1945, at the head of the Communist-dominated National Liberation Front, whose candidates were the only ones permitted to run in the election. With the opposition abstaining, Tito won almost 80% of the vote. King Peter II was deposed, and a republic was proclaimed (see Yugoslavia).

Tito's Dictatorship

As premier and minister of defense from 1945, Marshal Tito ruled Yugoslavia dictatorially. He suppressed internal opposition by such measures as the execution of Mihajlović and the jailing (1946) of Archbishop Stepinac of Zagreb, and he nationalized Yugoslav industry and undertook a planned economy. He did not attempt to collectivize the land of the Yugoslav small farmers, but he forced them, under threat of severe penalties, to furnish large portions of their produce to the state.

Although Yugoslavia was closely associated with the USSR and was a leading member of the Cominform, Tito often pursued independent policies and did not hesitate to curtail the activities of Soviet agents. In 1948 the Cominform accused Tito of having deviated from the correct Communist line. Tito denied the charges and refused to submit to the Cominform, from which Yugoslavia was then expelled.

Having already transformed Yugoslavia into an armed camp, built up a highly efficient secret police, and purged dissident elements in the Communist party, Tito succeeded in maintaining his position despite the hostility of the USSR and his neighbors. Although he accepted loans from the Western powers, he initially did not alter his internal program. In later years, however, he relaxed many of the regime's strict controls, particularly those affecting the small farmers. As a result, Yugoslavia became the most liberal Communist country of Europe.

On close terms with President Nasser of Egypt and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Tito unsuccessfully tried to develop common policies among nonaligned nations. Relations with the USSR were alternately friendly and hostile. In 1968, together with the Romanian party chief, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Tito led the opposition to the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia.

Tito was repeatedly reelected president from his first term in 1953, and in 1963 his term was made unlimited. In an effort to provide for succession to the leadership after his death, Tito established (1971) a 22-member collective presidency composed of the presidents of the 6 republican and 2 autonomous provincial assemblies and 14 members chosen from the republican and provincial assemblies for 5-year terms. In July, 1971, Tito was elected chairman of the new presidency.

During the 1970s the economy began to weaken under the weight of foreign debt, high inflation, and inefficient industry. Also, he was under increasing pressure from nationalist forces within Yugoslavia, especially Croatian secessionists who threatened to break up the federation. Following their repression, Tito tightened control of intellectual life. After his death in 1980, the ethnic tensions resurfaced, helping to bring about the eventual violent breakup of the federation in the early 1990s.


See the official biography by V. Dedijer (1953, repr. 1972); the biography by I. Ormcanin (1984); studies by W. R. Roberts (1973, repr. 1987) and N. Beloff (1986).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Josip Broz Tito: Selected full-text books and articles

Tito By Vladimir Dedijer Simon and Schuster, 1953
Tito's Communism By Josef Korbel University of Denver Press, 1951
Tito's Imperial Communism By R. H. Markham Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1947
Keeping Tito Afloat: The United States, Yugoslavia, and the Cold War By Lorraine M. Lees Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997
Tito and the Nagy Affair in 1956 By Granville, Johanna East European Quarterly, Vol. 32, No. 1, Spring 1998
The War We Lost: Yugoslavia's Tragedy and the Failure of the West By Constantin Fotitch Viking Press, 1948
Librarian's tip: Chap. 19 "Teheran Officially Endorses Tito," Chap. 20 "Tito Gets Official Support," Chap. 21 "Subasich - Tito," and Chap. 22 "The American Attitude toward Tito"
Yugoslavia and the New Communism By George W. Hoffman; Fred Warner Neal Twentieth Century Fund, 1962
Librarian's tip: "Tito" begins on p. 73
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