Several years ago in a conversation about politics and history, a friend asked me something about the durability of Tito’s regime in Yugoslavia (35 years). I cannot remember what was my answer, but I remember that he summarized it by saying that Tito must have been a charismatic leader. That statement struck me as odd. My friend lived in Argentina for a decade or more, and I thought that perhaps it came naturally to him to associate the long rule and popularity of leaders with their “charisma”. Yet, as far as Tito was concerned, no one could claim that he was a charismatic leader. Towards the end of his life, he was quite popular, liked by most, even adored by many—but “charismatic”: never.
That is very true.
I remember early post-soviet years when people still had an allergy to anything flashy.
American manner to smile without explicit reason was alien and seen as super manipulative.
If not for Americans people expected you to be from totalitarian sect or some hustler or have hidden sexual agenda.
Service was also believed to be inferior work no matter it was always well-paid.
People had a lot of rage to advertisement and to any marketing trick.
I understand that a major (if not the most important) quality sought in CPC cadres is the ability to "mobilise the masses" ('动员', dongyuan). I think it's the key to China's success in eradicating extreme poverty. Grassroots cadres go to each village or community, attend closely to their actual situation, and find solutions to '脱贫' (tuopin, eradicate poverty).
Sometimes, this involves getting the people to help build bridges, roads. Sometimes, it is about collective agriculture. In exceptional cases, they even move entire villages to more accessible locations. But in all cases, "mobilising the masses" is an inherently democratic process. The people get together and decide (with guidance from experts) how to improve their own lives.
Who cares about "charisma" in leaders!
Please write more about this 😃
You are very right that „greyness” was part of the ideological image of communist leaders. Gomulka, also with his ascetism, was a model of it. He had no charisma for sure, but there was a moment in history when he managed to gather huge crowds listening enthusiastically to his speach: October 1956 in Warsaw.
Zhivkov had a folksy appeal, FWIW.
The bare concrete formalisms of "socialist modernism" and "brutalism" are often grey and dusty and beautiful on their own terms. It's an aesthetic like that of black-and-white photography or film-making that was once more widely appreciated than today.
Oh boy, let me tell you, you're missing out big time if you haven't watched "Conversations with Tito" (Razgovori sa Titom)- it's the ultimate guide to smoking cigars and living the high life! Tito spills all the beans about how he learned to puff like a pro, thanks to a Russian Jew Zino Davidoff, while he was hiding from Lav Trocki in the Ural mountains. And get this, only the best Tobacco leaves from Cuba's best plantation were used to make his cigars. While he states that Winston Churchill did not know how to smoke cigars and was getting only the cigars made from leaves form the shade from the same plantation, Sorry Winston you were smoking the wrong leaves, mate!
But that's not all, Tito was a true baller - he used to chill with Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on the beautiful Adriatic islands of Brijuni. While Richard Burton portrayed him in the movie Battle of Sutjeska. And if that wasn't enough, the one and only Pablo Picasso designed a poster for one of Tito's movies, "Battle of Neretva."
So yeah, don't listen to those naysayers who try to paint Tito as a dull old man - he was a straight-up legend wearing golden framed Ray Ban's, my friend!
I think most people prefer the rainbow.
Yes, the 'charisma' label doesn't belong on Mao.
He certainly discussed it openly and employed it once or twice. He was well aware of the inevitable fate of cult leaders, discussed that, played with it, set it aside.
He was far to busy to bother with charisma, and his staggering track record of success made it immaterial. The Chinese will choose success over charisma every time.
Tito was an elective MONARCH (of a kind that A. Hamilton wanted to institute in the US, and of a kind that Simon Bolivar wanted to become in Colombia) and the only reason we fail to recognize this is because of the blindspots in the Western taxonomies of political systems / the idea strikes us as silly in communism...
What about Slobo and the post-Yugo leaders of Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, etc.? Charismatic underlings unleashed post-Tito? Or were they products of Marxist thought, bland bureaucrats?
As a young student coming from post-Franco Spain, which was waking up to consumerism and films by Almodóvar, I visited Poland for 10 days under Jaruzelski, and came in touch with students who were critics of the regime. I was delighted by their interest in "serious" books and music, and by the absence of coloured packaging in food shops, and advertising in general. It was like crossing the mirror.
You depict this greyness as a characteristic of Russian Communism and its epigones. Did it play any part in its downfall? The obvious contrast of colourful capitalism, exemplified by the West and East Berlin contrast, seems very seductive as a storyline: the people voted with their feet. China escaped the dilemma by embracing a form of politically regulated capitalism (I hesitate to call it state capitalism) which resulted in cities which seem little different to their East Asian neighbours. North Korea remains grey.
This is a very good article Branko. It puts something I always thought was the case in perspective, and in words.
But I am having a hard time wrapping my mind about Tito not being charismatic. Throughout my whole life, I always thought that both those who loved Tito and those who hated him, agreed on one thing, that he was charismatic. Or perhaps just "an exceptional leader". But what is the definition of "charisma"? According to the Merriam Webster it is "a personal magic of leadership arousing special popular loyalty or enthusiasm for a public figure (such as a political leader)".
I believe that Tito did have that. I believe that Stalin did as well, at least according to the above definition. But Stalin was also very dull and boring in person, his was a horrible speaker, his "charisma" was just well constructed and nothing else. So I see your point here.
Tito was also not a good speaker. He spoke with a (for a typical Serbo-Croatian speaker) strange Kajkavski accent, which created a lot of conspiracy theories around his true background. And I don't think he was able to give passionate and arousing Castro-like speeches. But from everything I have seen and read about him, from everything that people who met him said about him, it did seem he did have a certain "presence". He certainly did not dress up like the rest of them. And he had an image that he cultivated. There was a mystery around him, specially from before his rise to power and from WW2. And those who did meet him, from Queen Elisabeth and other heads of state, to celebrities like Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, did seem to be captivated by him (perhaps some of it had been just propaganda, but some of it was definitely not). One only needs to take a look at his main photo on Wikipedia to get that "you can't * around with me" and "I've got this" feeling about him. He also had his way with women and did love to party (Gianni Angelli supposedly called him "the most interesting men he ever met").
So, I don't know, perhaps I still need to shake off some bias that I might still have about him. But I think it depends on how we define charisma. Is Trump charismatic? To me he looks and behaves just like another idiot. His speeches are ridiculous. But there are people, a lot of people, who are willing not just to vote for him, but to kill and die for him. Is that charisma? If not, then why others can't achieve that status? What about Putin?
I know nothing about Tito as a person, but I think you are a bit wrong on Stalin and Brezhnev. Maybe on others too - I'll elaborate. Yes, neither of the two could enrupture large audiences. But Brezhnev, before his mental decline, was very lively, charming and full of humour on a personal level, according to pretty much everyone who bothered mentioning him in his memoirs. Stalin, again, if you read anyone else but Trotsky, from whose works the Western understanding of him as a person seems to be derived (curiosly not from Churchill), although not charming, is reported to have been super sharp, humorous (of a very wry ilk), and certainly larger than life.
So maybe as you said, since these guys were preaching averageness for the masses, they simply didn't attempt to be charismatic in public, while being rather charismatic in private?
But the medals were cool though, come on!