League of Communists of Yugoslavia

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League of Communists of Yugoslavia
1280px-Emblem of the SKJ (Cyrillic).svg.png
Fullname: League of Communists of Yugoslavia
Alias: Communist Party of Yugoslavia
Socialist Labor Party of Yugoslavia
Savez Komunista Jugoslavije
Origin: Kingdom of Yugoslavia
Foundation: April 1919
Headquarters: Belgrade, Serbia
Commanders: Josip Broz Tito (1936 - 1980)
Goals: Retain communist rule over Yugoslavia (successful until 1990)

The role of the Communist Party today lies in the necessity for keeping a sharp lookout to see that national chauvinism does not appear and develop among any of the nationalities. The Communist Party must always endeavour, and does endeavour, to ensure that all the negative phenomena of nationalism disappear and that people are educated in the spirit of internationalism.
~ Josip Broz Tito

The League of Communists of Yugoslavia, known until 1952 as the Communist Party of Yugoslavia, was the founding and ruling party of SFR Yugoslavia. It was formed in 1919 as the main communist opposition party in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and after its initial successes in the elections, it was proscribed by the royal government and was at times harshly and violently suppressed.

It remained an illegal underground group until World War II when, after the Invasion of Yugoslavia in 1941, the military arm of the party, the Yugoslav Partisans, became embroiled in a bloody civil war and defeated the Axis Powers and their local auxiliaries. After the liberation from foreign occupation in 1945, the party consolidated its power and established a single-party state, which existed until the 1990 breakup of Yugoslavia.

The party, which was led by Josip Broz Tito from 1937 to 1980, was the first communist party in power in the history of the Eastern Bloc that openly opposed the Soviet Union and thus was expelled from the Cominform in 1948 in what is known as the Tito–Joseph Stalin Split. After internal purges of pro-Soviet members, the party renamed itself the League of Communists and adopted the politics of workers' self-management and independent communism, known as Titoism.


When the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was created after World War I, the different social democratic parties that had existed in Austria-Hungary, Serbia and Montenegro called for a unification of their parties. The idea was widely accepted by parties and organizations from all over the country and in April 1919 a Congress of Unification was held in Belgrade, attended by 432 delegates representing 130,000 organized supporters of the workers’ class movement from all parts of the Kingdom except Slovenia. The ministerial branch of the Social democrat party of Slovenia was minorized in April 1920, when the Slovenes joined ranks with other social-democrats turned Marxist–Leninist revolutionaries. Slovenes joined officially at the Second Congress, held in Vukovar in late April 1920.

The congress was marked by opposing positions towards the concepts of the revolutionary and reformist currents. Bolshevik influence was introduced by soldiers who during the war had been captured by Russian forces and had experienced the October Revolution. The Congress decided to form a single political party (not a federation of parties) named Socialist Labor Party of Yugoslavia (of Communists) (Socijalistička radnička partija Jugoslavije (komunista)) which would be a member of Comintern. Its highest organs, to which all other organs were subordinate, were the Congress and the Central Committee, headed by Filip Filipović and Živko Topalović as political secretaries and Vladimir Ćopić as organizational secretary. The party program, the Basis of Unification, was a "synthesis of the Social Democratic ideological heritage with the experiences of the October Revolution", spoke in terms of an imminent revolution, while the Practical Program of Action was oriented to a long-term political struggle within the capitalist system. The party considered the national question to be solved by the events of 1918, supported a unitarian state merging the different "tribes" into one "nation" as the best basis of class struggle, and opposed ″federalism".

In the wake of the Congress, the United Socialist (Communist) Woman Movement (Jedinstveni ženski socijalistički (komunistički) pokret), and the Central Workers’ Trade-Union Council (Centralno radničko sindikalno vijeće) were also founded, while the Young Communist League of Yugoslavia was formed later that year.

On 6 January 1929, King Alexander I dispensed with the constitution and introduced a royal dictatorship. The Communist party, encouraged by the Dresden congress, in response called upon workers and peasants to start an armed revolt, considerably overestimating their influence. The majority of Communists observed this appeal but their actions remained isolated and only resulted in an increase of repression by the government: the top leaders of the Young Communist League and of the party, including Đuro Đaković, were killed, numerous members arrested and the party's organization destroyed. In April 1930, the Central Committee moved to Vienna and lost contact with the remaining organizations in the country.

The party work was further hampered by factional struggles within the Paris branch, irregular contacts with the Comintern and the cessation of financial aid and the unclear position of the party's representative within the country, Josip Broz. However, Josip Broz (using the pseudonyms of "Walter" and "Tito") was able to unite the party and won the confidence of the Comintern. In May 1938, he set up a temporary leadership inside the country. In August he went to Moscow, through the mediation of Georgi Dimitrov, leader of the Bulgarian Communists, reached an agreement with the Comintern. Tito was authorized to reform the Central Committee within the country, which was accomplished in March 1939 with Tito as general secretary. Tito succeeded in removing the centers of "factionalism" and also lessened the party's financial problems.

The party was also faced with the controversy created by Stalin's purges and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, which both disturbed and alienated many intellectuals. Tito responded by trying to focus on Yugoslavian issues. Such controversy however gradually ceased due to the independent policy towards the Comintern.

With World War II on the horizon, the issue of war became prominent. Yugoslavian Communists accepted the Comintern's evaluation of the "imperialistic character of war" but at the same time insisted on the right of a country to defend itself against aggression.

Economic difficulties and political oppression strengthened the Communist party's appeal; prompting the government to respond with a crack-down on trade-unions in December 1939.

After various regional party conferences analyzing the situation, the 5th state conference was held in October 1940 at Zagreb, which stressed two tasks: the defense of Yugoslavia's independence and the mobilization of the masses in the struggle to solve the most acute internal social and national problems. Regarding the national question, the conference espoused self-determination and cultural autonomy of all peoples, including smaller groups like Albanians, Germans, Hungarians, Romanians.

The other parties formed before the war were banned by the Communists. Eight of them entered the coalition with the Communists and founded the People's Front of Yugoslavia (Narodna fronta Jugoslavije), while the Democratic Party of Milan Grol boycott the first post-war elections of 1945 because the elections were held under undemocratic conditions.

The elections were held in the form of a referendum: the People's Front candidate list received 91% of the vote while the option of "no list" won 9%. Yugoslavia became a republic and the other parties were banned. The People's Front (later called the Socialist Alliance of Working People of Yugoslavia, Socijalistički Savez Radnog Naroda Jugoslavije) remained open to those who did not consider themselves to be communists, such as members of the clergy.

In 1948, the party held its fifth Congress. The meeting was held shortly after Stalin accused Tito of being a nationalist and moving to the right branding his heresy Titoism. This resulted in a break with the Soviet Union known as the Informbiro period. Initially the Yugoslav communists, despite the break with Stalin, remained as hard line as before but soon began to pursue a policy of independent socialism that experimented with self-management of workers in state-run enterprises, with decentralization and other departures from the Soviet model of a Communist state.

In the 1960s, the centralized command structure of the League of Communists began to be dismantled with the fall of the hardline OZNA and UDBA chief Aleksandar Ranković in 1966, culminating in the social and political movements that would lead to the de-centralized and regionalized Federal Yugoslavia of the Constitution of 1974.

After Tito's death in 1980 the party adopted a collective leadership model, with the party presidency rotating annually. The party's influence declined and the party moved to a federal structure giving more power to party branches in Yugoslavia's constituent republics. Party membership continued to grow reaching two million in the mid-1980s but membership was considered less prestigious than in the past.

Slobodan Milošević became President of the League of Communists of Serbia in 1987 and combined certain Serbian nationalist ideologies with opposition to liberal reforms. The growing rift among the branches of the Communist Party and their respective republics came to a head at the LCY's 14th Congress, held in January 1990. The LCY renounced its monopoly of power, and agreed to allow opposition parties to take part in elections. However, rifts between Serbian and Slovenian Communists led the LCY to dissolve into different parties for each republic.

The Communist associations in each republic shortly changed their names to Socialist or Social-Democratic parties, transmuting into movements which were left-oriented, but no longer strictly communist.