Commentary Magazine


The Eagle and the Roots, by Louis Adamic

Tito, The White Violet
The Eagle and The Roots.
by Louis Adamic.
Doubleday. 531 pp. $5.00.

 

Seven months in Yugoslavia, in 1949, convinced the late Louis Adamic that his homeland was witnessing a great messianic rebirth of human and social values, called Titoism. This book, completed just before his mysterious, violent death last year, is his attempt to shout the good news. Like his previous writings, Adamic’s picture of the New Yugoslavia is presented with a missionary fervor which completely overrides any semblance of objectivity, with almost nothing in the way of economic or social analysis, and not one word of criticism. To give only one example: Adamic was inspired by the spectacle of people engaged in voluntary unpaid labor (construction, snow-removal) as their contribution to the common good; that Yugoslavs who are slow to “volunteer” for these tasks are often deprived of their homes or their jobs seems to have entirely escaped his notice.

In Belgrade, the white city, where there is an avenue named for Charlie Chaplin as well as one for Tito, Adamic met all the leading architects of Titoism: Kardelj, Pijade, Kidric, Bebler, Rankovic, as well as Tito himself. Each is “gigantic” or “vibrant” or “da Vincian” or “simply loaded with personality.” Tito is “almost too good-looking,” “the acme of glamour.” Yugoslavs tell Adamic: “Tito is everything to us. Everything.” Tito’s name is scrawled on sidewalks, chimneys, walls, the wings of airplanes. In the streets, Communist students sing of “Tito the white violet.” His appearance at a meeting is the signal for an explosion of rhythmic chanting and hand-clapping, bringing to the faces of the crowd a “curious fusion of . . . ecstasy and agony.” What is the difference, Adamic asks, between “Hero Tito!” and “Duce! Duce!”?—the difference is that Tito is our white violet, who simply “couldn’t be a tyrant; rather, he was the most obvious, perhaps the most emphatic nod in a vast, well-nigh incredible consensus.” The closest parallel Adamic can find is—Wendell Willkie!

A good half of the book is taken up by a biography of Tito, in which Adamic tries to explain this “complex leader-people ecology.” This is certainly the best part of the book, for Tito’s story is a real saga and Adamic tells it well. From Tito’s career as a Communist leader Adamic draws two leading ideas. The first is that the Yugoslav Communist party’s break with Moscow was more than justified, and indeed should have taken place in the 1920’s, for Moscow had for years been keeping the various Communist parties in a state of semi-crippled dependence, stifling every possibility of revolutionary action; Stalin the Russian imperialist, preoccupied with the struggle for world power, had become a counter-revolutionary, and a “revisionist” of Marxism. “Wasn’t Stalin a revisionist long before the Cominform outburst?” It is Adamic who asks the question, and Tito’s answer is “Yes.” “Then why label him [as such] only now?” To this there is no definite answer anywhere in the book, neither from Tito, who faithfully served Moscow for thirty years, nor from Adamic, who defended Soviet Communism through most of his career.

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Adamic’s second main idea is that Yugoslavia’s wartime experience has made her unique among the nations, politically and spiritually. The “Borba,” the civil war which was at once resistance and revolution, has left sensitive scars in Yugoslavia which excuse its attacks on American planes and justify its persecution of the church. The “Borba” called forth from the whole people a spirit of heroic self-sacrifice and communal purpose, which, carried over into the present, is epitomized in the symbol of Tito. The “New Man” of Socialism is emerging in Yugoslavia; Adamic is overwhelmed by his energy, his avidity, his enthusiasm. The whole country is caught up in a wild surge of creativity; at the Slovenian Academy of Fine Arts, all the models are aged men and women, for “no young person will just sit or stand still nowadays.” What can be said to this, except that less biased observers than Adamic have been able to find apathy and muddle in Yugoslavia without digging very deep at all?

But Adamic sees only a fervid will to the good life, and in this he finds nothing less than the hope of the world. Yugoslavia can lead the progressive forces of the world, hounded by American reaction, betrayed by Russian Stalinism, to a new birth of freedom. This alone can prevent the war between the imperialist giants; this alone can save America from impending spiritual collapse; “America needs Titoism.”

I have been able to give only a bare idea of the highly charged atmosphere of this book. Rambling and repetitious, it laboriously tries for an impression of artless free association. Adamic admired Moby Dick and Nos-tromo, and borrowed badly from both: Conrad’s romanticism and Melville’s hyperbole. And yet the intensity of his sense of mission does give this last book, despite its errors, some of the grandeur of prophecy, and offers a clue to the psychological need that led the author to a position sympathetic to Communism.

For Adamic, America was the land of opportunity, but never of fulfillment. Something was lacking in American life, and he went back to Europe to find it. Deeply disappointed that life was not a perpetual clapping of hands and chanting of the names of heroes, he found satisfaction in the malignant spiritual stimulant of leader-worship. But it was Adamic who needed that stimulant, not America.

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