Bakarić helped organize Partisan resistance in Croatia during World War II. From 1948 to 1969 he was the chairman of the CroatianLeague of Communists, and as such was a close collaborator of President Josip Broz Tito. Even after stepping down from the top post in Croatian communist hierarchy, he retained much influence and was in fact considered to be the most influential Croatian politician.
Together with Edvard Kardelj he belonged to the more liberal wing of the Yugoslav political elite and was known for his statement on the need for "federation to federate" (federiranje federacije), a reference to the struggle between Yugoslav unitarists who advocated giving more powers to the central government and federalists who wanted to shift power to the republics. Still, Bakarić was usually extremely careful in his public pronouncements on policy and wary of radical statements.