CHAPTER FOUR: THE 'LEFT ERRORS' AND THE PARTISAN CRISIS, c. FEBRUARY-JUNE 1942This chapter details the period when the Partisans began moving away from "a Serb-oriented resistance strategy, towards one that was genuinely multinational." But the transition wasn't smooth, and even as the Chetniks held the upper hand the Partisans committed serious errors of judgment and worse as they pursued often contradictory policies.
One major problem was that, partly due to the politically unformed nature of most troops and partly because of an embrace of extreme measures implicitly condoned by a shift in policy, atrocities against Croats and especially Muslims continued apace. These atrocities were now often carried out under the aegis of eliminating fifth columnists, but in the eyes of many Partisan troops and even some leaders all Muslims were fifth columnists.
Even as these massacres were eroding Partisan support in the countryside, the increasingly aggressive and confident Chetniks were carrying out putsches in Partisan units throughout eastern Bosnia, killing the Communist leadership and assuming command of military units.
This increasing threat even drove Tito to contemplate a temporary alliance with the Ustasha, a testiment to how precarious the Partisan situation was. Meanwhile, in eastern Herzegovina, a tragedy was taking shape--while this region had, in theory, a strong Partisan presence, in reality there was disconnection between the Serb-peasant countryside and the radicalized, multiethnic urban proletariat in Mostar. The dangerous brew of Leninist extremism proclaimed by the central command combined with the politically crude consciousness of the Herzegovina Partisans to form a perfect storm of revolutionary violence--much of the infamous and tragic "Left Errors" of the war happened here. Scenes of doctrinaire Communist violence against fifth columnists real and imagined (even "future traitors") were common, and the end result was predictable enough--the Partisans in the area completely lost the support of the local population. The remnants of the Mostar Battalion were forced to hide with family, as they had no network of support whatsoever.
Under the 'Third Offensive', the Partisan resistance in east Bosnia and Hercegovina collapsed; ultimately the Partisan leadership was forced to concede that they would not be retaking Serbia in the near future, so rather than stubbornly hold out in a doomed battle, they retreated towards western and central Bosnia--the Partisan "Long March." The remnants of some units from eastern Hercegovina and Bosnia were combined and reorganized; ironically, these stragglers who had escaped from a total defeat would form the experienced, dedicated, and politically mature core of a stronger, more enlightened and ideologically coherent Partisan movement.