The First Serbian Volunteer Division was formed on April 16, 1916 in the town of Odessa. It consisted of nearly 10,000 volunteers. Shortly before The February Revolution, the army corps consisted of approximately 40,000 volunteers. The town of Odessa was its headquarters. The First Division headquarters was in Voznesensky and the Second Division headquarters was in Alexandrovsky. The triumph of the Bolsheviks over the imperial dynasty could have been well anticipated. In such a revolutionary mood, new ideas started spreading among the Serbian Volunteer Corps soldiers. Towards the end of March of 1917, arrays officers started forming military unions within the Volunteer Corps. The proposal was supported and encouraged by the revolutionary unions of the Ukrainian citizens in the area between Odessa and Voznesansky, where the Serbian Volunteer Corps units were situated.
The Serbian Volunteer Corps Command attempted to prevent the spreading of revolutionary ideas among its members. Therefore, in April 1917, General Mihajlo Zivkocic introduced, by a decree, troop, regiment and division councils, as well as the Corps Assembly, intending to use them to influence the political mood in the units. The results, however, were insignificant.
In the assembly of Serbian Bolshevik-oriented volunteers in Odessa, the Federal Yugoslavia was proclaimed as the ideal. It was emphasized that “The Russian Revolution and the victory of the Russian democracy are a new era in the history of mankind and, thus, the Russian revolution cannot remain only Russian”. The volunteers established the Yugoslav Revolutionary Union in Kiev in summer of 1917.
The supporters of the Revolution started leaving The Volunteer Corps on a large scale, thus reducing it to one half.
Around 35,000 Yugoslavs were involved in the revolutionary activities – they joined the Red Army units. Towards the end of 1917, the Serbian-Soviet Revolutionary Unit was formed and in August of 1918 the First Yugoslav Communist Regiment was established in Tsaritsyn. Many of the Yugoslavs remained in the lasting memory as the Soviet Union heroes. Many participators, upon their return in their home country, got actively involved in the activities of the unification of the proletariat in the newly formed bourgeois state and they played a significant role in creating a revolutionary workers party.
In the beginning of World War I, social democratic parties were either prohibited in Yugoslav countries or their work was suspended due to war circumstances. In the final stages of war, under the influence of harsh social circumstances and the perspective of defeat of the Central Forces, they gradually renew their organisation and began to operate. From 1917, and in particular in 1918, in the Yugoslav countries, primarily those under Austro-Hungarian rule, there were many military, workers’ and peasants’ movements. Under the influence of those revolutionary developments and in the aftermath of the October Revolution, the renewal of the activities of social democratic parties was imbued with vehement political and ideological conflicts. Among the leaders of the recently renewed social democratic parties of Serbia, Bosnia and Hercegovina and Dalmatia the supporters of class struggle prevailed. They emphasized the solidarity with the October Revolution and accepted Lenin’s initiative to create a new, communist International.
In the time of establishing the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians in December of 1918, the leaders of Serbian and Bosnia and Hercegovina’s social democratic parties proposed an initiative for uniting workers’ organisations in the new country. The congress of united social democratic parties and organisations, held in Belgrade from April 20 to April 23, 1919, passed a decision to form the Social Democratic Workers Party of Yugoslavia (of communists) or SRPJ(k). They declared a revolution and a dictatorship of the proletariat, as well as acceding to the Communist International as their goals. On that occasion and with the participation of the same delegates, the Congress of the Trade -Union Unification was held where the unity of trade unions movement was declared and the Central Workers Trade Union Council was elected. A Conference of socialist (communist) women was held, too. They accepted the programme of the Social Democratic Workers Party of Yugoslavia. On October 10, 1919 in Zagreb, the League of the Communist Youth of Yugoslavia (SKOJ) was established and they also adopted the programme of the Social Democratic Workers Party of Yugoslavia.
Socialist workers party of Yugoslavia (communist) changes its name to the Communist Party of Yugoslavia at its Second congress in the following 1920.
The year of 1919 was marked by the rise of the revolutionary movement. The influence of the SRPJ(k) was increasing rapidly and soon it grew into a significant political factor in the country. In the municipal elections in March and August of 1920, the party won the elections in many municipalities in cities such as Belgrade, Zagreb, Osjek, Skopje, Nis, etc. In the elections for the Constituent Assembly in November of 1920, it won 59 mandates and was ranked third according to the number of MPs in the Assembly. In summer of 1920 SRPJ(k) had over 65,000 members and the united trade unions around 210, 000. At that time, it published its central newspaper – The Workers newspaper, as well as a number of province and local newspapers.
In the municipal elections held in March of 1920 in Croatia, Slovenia and Dalmatia, 490 communist councillors were elected. They won the majority of votes and absolute majority of mandates in Zagreb, Osijek, Vukovar, Knjizevac, Virovitica, Crikvenica, Cakovac, Valpov, etc. A communist Svetozar Delic was elected the mayor of Zagreb. However, the duke (ban) appointed by the Government in Belgrade annulled the results of the elections and appointed the city commissioner, justifying this act by a lawsuit for treason that had been filed against Delic. In response, Delic convened a session, but the police dispersed it. Communists did exceptionally well in the elections in Montenegro, particularly in Podgorica. In the municipal elections in Serbia, Macedonia and Kosovo in August of 1920, communists won in 37 municipalities, Belgrade, Nis and Skopje being among them. In many cases, similarly to Zagreb, the officials prevented the elected communist councillors from taking over the office; the same thing happened in Belgrade, where Filip Filipovic was elected the mayor but was prevented from taking over the office.
In April of 1920 the strike of about 50,000 railroad workers was held, which was one of the most major workers’ actions of that period. The strike was marked by the reinforced commitment of the regime to suppress the revolutionary movement (the first prohibitions of celebrating May 1, stronger censorship, arrests of SRPJ(k) leaders, suspension of communist councillors in municipalities and dissolution of the communist local governments, declaration of militarisation of railroad workers, armed attacks on strikers, etc.).
Calming of revolutionary movements in Europe, the support of imperialistic forces of Antanta to the office holders in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenians and its partial inner stabilisation, enabled the regime to carry out more resolute operations against the revolutionary workers’ movement in the country. In December of 1920 the Government, accusing the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CPY) of preparing a coup, took advantage of the conflicts with the gendarmerie and the army in the miners’ strikes in Bosnia and Hercegovina and Slovenia to ban communist activities and to impose dictatorship by a so-called “Obznana” law (Proclamation). The long period of dictatorship would last almost until the beginning of World War II. The Kingdom of Yugoslavia, which had been extremely reactionary and backward country even prior to the dictatorship, was dully characterized as the “dungeon of nations”.
During the dictatorship, the activities of the Party were forced underground by brutal repression, the entire assets of the Party were confiscated, trade union associations and organising of workers strikes and demonstrations were also banned as illegal, all Party front organisations were banned as illegal, mass arrests commenced, thousands of communists were persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and killed, and the CPY received a heavy blow, which dramatically affected its organisational disunity. It is interesting to note that the Kingdom of Yugoslavia was the last country in Europe to recognise The Soviet Union (USSR). This only happened immediately before the outbreak of the war threat, in 1940. The CPY faced World War II as an underground movement, but it did not prevent it from being the organiser of the magnificent antifascist rebellion. In autumn of 1941, Yugoslav partisans controlled a free territory size of the contemporary Belgium, where November 7 – the Day of the Great October Revolution was publically celebrated.