Albania, Socialist People’s Republic Of

Albania, Socialist People’s Republic Of
   The 1944 liberation of Albania from the Third Reich led to the inauguration of a communist government led by the hugely influential leader Enver Hoxha. Over the next half century the Albanian regime was fairly successful in pursuing an independent path to communism, shunning other Marxist countries including the Soviet Union from 1961, and the People’s Republic of China from 1978.
   Given that the country was comprised mainly of vast agrarian lands inhabited by an illiterate peasantry, that communism took hold in Albania was something of a surprise, and as of 1941 the Marxist Albanian Party of Labor (PPSh) numbered just 130 members. Yet the PPSh gained popularity in World War II as it became intrinsically linked with the resistance movement. With German withdrawal imminent, the party turned its attentions to defeating royalist factions loyal to the Zog monarchy inside Albania. The PPSh was soon victorious and the monarchy was abolished in early 1945. The communists won an emphatic victory in elections held toward the end of the year, so forming a huge majority in the Albanian National Assembly. As 1946 began, the assembly announced that the country was to be renamed the People’s Republic of Albania, and though Hoxha wished Albanian communism to be relatively independent from the start, in order to gain economic assistance for his plans to modernize the country, a friendship treaty with Yugoslavia was signed. However, in a move that was later to be replicated with both the Soviet Union and China, Hoxha denounced the agreement and severed all ties with Josef Tito’s country in 1948, using the split between the Yugoslav leader and Moscow as a veil to eject Yugoslavians from Albania and commence a series of purges inside the PPSh. What followed was a period of concerted “Stalinization,” with Hoxha using an Albanian constitution that had been remodeled on Soviet lines in 1946 to implement extensive change. Engineered elections in May 1950 gave the PPSh a gargantuan 98 percent of votes and signaled the final phase of Stalinization in Albania. By the following year industry and business had been forcibly and briskly nationalized, the first of several centralized five-year plans begun, land collectivized, and the subordination of state to party and party to leader completed. Culture and education were adopted by the regime as weapons with which to indoctrinate the masses with the virtues of MarxismLeninism and “communist patriotism,” a form of Albanian nationalism that the PPSh was to use as a core value and motive behind its fierce independence in latter years.
   It was such fierce loyalty to the Stalinist route to communism that led Hoxha to call an official halt to friendly relations with the Soviet Union in December 1961. Unlike other East European countries, Albania steadfastly refused to de-Stalinize upon the Soviet leader’s death in 1953, with Hoxha blaming the 1956 Hungarian Uprising on the regional break with orthodoxy. The PPSh was constantly at odds with Stalin’s successor and condemner Nikita Khrushchev over this issue, and relations hit a nadir when Hoxha furiously denounced the new Soviet general secretary’s demand that Albania and Romania concentrate on agriculture rather than industry, a policy switch that would contradict the Albanian chief’s Stalinist plan of rapid urbanization. With Soviet–Albanian interactions formally ceased Hoxha brokered an alliance with China, tellingly at the same time as Beijing and Moscow severed ties.
   The new alliance brought much needed technical help to Albania, as well as military and economic assistance, and China opened its university doors to Albanian students. The bond was further strengthened when Hoxha determined that Mao Zedong’s 1966 Cultural Revolution should be replicated in Albania. The aim, as in China, was to rid the country of “deviationists” in order to reaffirm the authority of the PPSh over state and country. Scores of senior army, civil service, and cabinet officials were removed from power, and intellectuals’ work meddled with. In early 1967, Hoxha declared that the second phase of the Albanian Cultural Revolution was to begin, the cause this time the reinstatement of Marxist–Leninist ideological purity in opposition to the Moscow-style “bourgeois bureaucratism” that had infiltrated the country. As in China Red Guards were encouraged to pursue and vilify enemies, and by the middle of the year the revolution had climaxed, its aims, declared the regime, fulfilled. Hoxha’s adherence to Marxist–Leninist orthodoxy led to his pronouncement shortly after the Cultural Revolution that Albania was the first constitutionally atheist state on the planet. Instead, the deifying cult of leadership constructed around Hoxha meant that he was effectively the God the Albanian people should turn to. In 1968 Albania achieved another first, as it became the sole Eastern Bloc nation thus far to withdraw from the Warsaw Pact, as Hoxha berated as “imperialist” the Brezhnev Doctrine that had been used to justify Soviet interference in the Prague Spring.
   Suitably isolated from the Soviet Union and its allies, Albania continued good relations with China into the 1970s. Yet, as with the previous two international alliances, this was to come to an acrimonious end as a consequence of Hoxha’s ideological rigidity. From 1973, China had begun economic relationships with the capitalist West, in particular the United States. This proved to be anathema for Hoxha, and after repeated calls for China to halt this deviation from orthodoxy, Beijing slowed aid. By 1978, Chinese assistance had been completely halted, and Albanian unwillingness to bend from an entrenched, Stalinist approach to communism had rendered the country an international pariah. Hoxha declared that Albania, as the only pure Marxist–Leninist nation left, would pursue a policy of self-reliance, and announced a new wave of economic drives and initiatives. In tandem, he instigated a series of repressive measures to again reassert his and the PPSh’s authority, calling for the execution of high-ranking military figures and even the murder in 1981 of one of the forefathers of the Albanian communist movement, Mehmet Shehu. Such actions emphasized Hoxha’s strong adherence to the Stalinist mantra of eliminating potential opponents to ensure ideological purity, a motive that resulted in a tangible degree of paranoia among the Albanian government just as it had during Stalin’s term of office in the Soviet Union. Accordingly, Hoxha prompted a mass fortification scheme between 1978 and 1981 that saw 100,000 pillboxes erected and conscription introduced. A common enemy, whether internal, external or nonexistent, could bind the Albanians together in a frenzy of nationalism, or communist patriotism, in turn preserving the PPSh regime.
   Hoxha passed away in April 1985, leaving behind an Albanian economy in tatters, a state as pervasive as ever, and a crippling international isolation. His regime had, though, greatly modernized the once fully peasant land, brought about healthcare and literacy for all, and advanced the cause of women. The task of replacing the monolithic leader went to Ramiz Alia, something of a pragmatist who realized that ideological stubbornness was no longer an option if communist Albania was to endure. Alia set about reforming to preserve, allowing a renewal of relations with the West, albeit on a strictly limited basis. The watershed came in 1990, as Tirana began to communicate with both Washington and the rapidly democratizing Moscow, while domestically consent was given to the privatization of collectivized lands and the legalization of religion. The tide of instability sweeping through the rest of the Eastern Bloc and the Soviet Union in 1989 had proven irresistible for the Albanian government, despite their isolationism. Alongside this ran an economic crisis that left the country saddled with the unhappy fact that it possessed both the fastest growing population in Europe and the lowest living standards. In this intense climate, Alia’s reforms simply did not go far enough, and in December 1990 the Albanian people spilled onto the streets to protest against the regime and demand the introduction of a multi-party system. Having initially ordered the army to violently suppress the demonstrations, Alia realized the will of the people would eventually prevail, especially given the atmosphere in neighboring parts of the region, and consented to free elections. In spite of the antipathy toward the regime, the first general elections, in March 1991, returned a communist government. However, turmoil still reigned in Albania, and so it was no real surprise a year later that with communist implosion imminent, the electorate voted in the oppositional Albanian Democratic Party. The result meant the collapse of the last bastion of Marxism–Leninism in the Eastern Bloc as Albania mirrored the course of adjacent nations and headed for democratization. In pursuing a flexible foreign policy that eventually led to isolationism, unlike many other governments in the region, Hoxha’s regime was able to construct its own track to communism without Soviet interference. The Marxism–Leninism Albania pursued was essentially Stalinist to the core, but with a few nationalistic deviations necessitated by the fractious relationship with Moscow, and far less brutality.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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