Milovan Djilas Biography


(History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Djilas was a leader of the Partisan forces in the resistance to the Axis and its allies and collaborators in the Yugoslav Revolution during World War II, and he was a founding father of Titoist Yugoslavia. In the process he became a major theoretician and critic of postwar communism as well as a major European writer.

Early Life

Milovan Djilas was born the fourth of nine children to peasant parents on June 12, 1911, on the Podovo Plateau, overlooking the village of Podbišće, Montenegro. His paternal grandfather, Aleksa, was a hajduk, an anti-Ottoman bandit leader, reportedly assassinated on orders from the then king of Montenegro’s father-in-law. Djilas’ father, Nikola, served in the Montenegrin army during World War I and, as a police commandant in Kolašin afterward, resisted the incorporation of the old Kingdom of Montenegro into the new Yugoslavia. Djilas’ mother, Novka, came from Siberia from a slightly better background than his father. Djilas’ childhood was nevertheless one of a peasant growing up on a battlefield.

Djilas’ early education was completed in Podbišće, Kolašin, and Berane (now Ivangrad). In these years, through his teachers, he was exposed to not only the ideas of Karl Marx and Vladimir Ilich Lenin but also the works of Fyodor Dostoevski, Leo Tolstoy, and other great writers. By the time he went to study literature at the University of Belgrade in 1929, he was already a confirmed Communist. He put action before theory and became a radical student leader opposed to the royal dictatorship of King Alexander of Yugoslavia.

In March, 1932, Djilas was arrested and jailed for eight days as a warning, which he failed to heed. Consequently, in April, 1933, he was arrested again, tortured, and sentenced to three years in prison, where he for the first time met influential Communists such as Moša Pijade and Alexander Ranković. In prison Djilas became one of the most dedicated Stalinists in the local Yugoslav Communist leadership.

Upon his release from prison, Djilas went underground, leaving literature temporarily behind, to pursue a revolutionary career. He sided with Tito against Joseph Stalin’s attempt to gain greater control of the Yugoslav Communist Party and recruited fifteen hundred Yugoslav volunteers to fight with the republican forces in the Spanish Civil War. In 1938, Tito therefore appointed Djilas to the Central Committee of the Yugoslav Communist Party and to its ruling Politburo a year later.

Life’s Work

During World War II and the Yugoslav Revolution, Djilas was, along with Tito, Pijade, Ranković, and Edvard Kardelj, one of the leaders of the Partisans in the resistance against the Axis Powers and their collaborators. He held the rank of general and was in charge of the Montenegrin theater. In addition to being in the thick of the fighting to liberate Yugoslavia, he also played an important role in Partisan agitprop activities and was the editor of the Party newspapers, Borba (the struggle) and Nova Jugoslavija (the new Yugoslavia). He also served as chief negotiator between Partisans and their Axis enemies and the Partisans’ Soviet allies, including Stalin himself.

At the end of the war, Djilas was made Minister for Montenegro in the Yugoslav Government for National Unity and was awarded the Order of Kutuzov by the Soviet Union. In 1946, he was promoted to minister without portfolio. Djilas also was an architect of Titoism, Yugoslav national Communism, after the rupture in Soviet-Yugoslav relations in 1948. In 1949, he explained the new Yugoslav position before the world in the United Nations. By 1953, he was Vice President of Yugoslavia, President of the Federal Assembly, and Tito’s heir apparent.

Djilas’ wartime experiences and encounters with Stalin gradually led to his disillusionment with Stalinism and the Soviet Union and eventually communism itself. In 1953-1954, he published a series of highly critical essays (republished in the West in 1959 as the volume entitled...

(The entire section is 1679 words.)