Broz fought in the Red Guard during the Russian Civil War but returned to Croatia in 1920 to take an active role in the Yugoslav Communist Party (YPJ). His underground work, often conducted from jail, brought his rapid rise in the party apparatus as a member of the YPJ Politburo and Central Committee. He took the pseudonym "Tito" for security reasons.
Imprisoned from 1929 to 1934, Tito became secretary general of the YPJ in 1937. Following the German invasion of Yugoslavia in April 1941, he assumed command of the Communist Partisan movement, with the twin goals of expelling the Germans and ultimately securing control of the government. Tito and the Partisans employed guerrilla tactics to compensate for their lack of advanced weaponry. His Partisans were in competition with the Serbian-dominated Cetniks (Chetniks) led by General Dragoljub "Draza" Mihajlovic, minister of war in the exiled government. For the most part, the Cetniks were unwilling to embark on the types of actions that would bring widespread reprisals by the Germans against the Yugoslav population, whereas the Partisans had no such inhibitions. In a controversial decision that had far-reaching repercussions for the political future of Yugoslavia, the British government, which provided the Allied military support for the Yugoslav Resistance, shifted all support to the Partisans in 1943.
Tito's Partisans grew to a force of 800,000 men and women by the end of the war, tying down a large number of Axis divisions. By then, Tito was in full control of Yugoslavia, and he insisted that the Red Army ask permission to enter Yugoslavia in pursuit of the Germans. Tito's forces attempted to annex the southern provinces of Austria, moving into Carinthia. The seizure of this territory was only prevented by the timely arrival of the British V Corps. The Yugoslavs were finally convinced by threat of force to leave Austria in mid-May 1945.
Tito took his revenge on the Croats, many of whom had been loyal to the Axis powers, as had the Slovenes. Perhaps 100,000 people who had sided with the Germans were executed by the Partisans without trial within weeks of the war's end. The majority of German prisoners taken in the war also perished in a long "march of hate" across Yugoslavia.
With the support of the Red Army, Tito formed the National Front and consolidated his power. He nationalized the economy and built it on the Soviet model. He often went his own way in matters of foreign policy, leading to a break with the Soviet Union in 1948. After that, he became more pragmatic in economic matters and allowed a degree of decentralization. He claimed there might be "different paths to socialism," giving birth to what became known as "polycentralism."
Tito traveled widely and became one of the principal leaders of the nonaligned nations. By 1954, however, he had ended reform, and in the mid-1970s, the Yugoslavian economy began to falter and nationalist pressure from various ethnic groups threatened to break up the state. Tito died on 4 May 1980, in Lubljana, Yugoslavia. The complicated federated state system that he had decreed did not long survive his death, as the various ethnic groups asserted their independence. Jeremy C. Ongley
Djlas, Milován. Tito. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1980.; Lindsay, Franklin, and John Kenneth Galbraith. Beacons in the Night: With the OSS and Tito's Partisans in Wartime Yugoslavia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1993.; Pavlowitch, Steven K. Tito, Yugoslavia's Great Dictator: A Reassessment. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1992.; Roberts, Walter R. Tito, Mihailovic, and the Allies, 1941–1945. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1973.; West, Richard. Tito and the Rise and Fall of Yugoslavia. New York: Carroll and Graf, 1995.; Wilson, Duncan. Tito's Yugoslavia. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1979.
Jeremy C. Ongley