Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

What’s going on in Albania?

First Published: The Workers’ Advocate, Vol. 20, No. 8, August 1, 1990.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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For many years, the tiny land of Albania in the Balkans had attracted support and admiration from revolutionary workers worldwide, including from our Party. During World War II, the toilers of Albania had carried out a mass revolution against fascist occupation and they proceeded to overthrowing the old exploiters altogether. The new power lifted Albania out of extreme poverty and backwardness. The Albanian communists also stood up to Soviet, and later, Chinese revisionism, and sought to establish a revolutionary society radically different from the revisionist model. However, they have faced many difficulties, due both to circumstances and to flaws in their conception of working class rule. Unfortunately, a decade ago, faced both with international pressure and the pressing need to improve their conception of socialism to deal with problems that had been accumulating they instead abandoned revolutionary policy. This has led the country to crisis today. They still try to maintain a revolutionary pose, but this is just a facade put over a revisionist policy.

When Gorbachev first launched his program of perestroika and glastnost in the Soviet Union, the Albanian leadership strongly denounced it. And it also condemned the Western-style reforms in other Eastern European countries.

The Party of Labor of Albania (PLA) rightly said those were capitalist measures. And it said that Albania, which had followed a different road from these other countries for many decades, would not veer away from socialism.

Unfortunately, this criticism wasn’t from a revolutionary communist standpoint. The PLA condemned the turn to open “free market” capitalism, but it appeared to find something positive in the bureaucratic state-capitalism in Eastern Europe. When the working people came out into the streets in Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania, the PLA showed no sympathy with their strivings and briefly even hinted at support for the beleaguered corrupt regimes.

But this posture soon became untenable. The fact is, behind the fancy rhetoric, things were rotting inside the Albanian economic and political order. Indeed, last year even as he denounced Gorbachev, PLA leader Ramiz Alia began urging economic reforms similar to perestroika. And after the utter collapse of the old regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and especially Bulgaria and Romania (its Balkan neighbors), the PLA escalated its talk about reform. At this point, not just economic reforms but also a program of “democratization” in the political realm was begun.

This May, a number of economic and political changes were finally put into legislation. And after the recent crisis at the embassies, even more changes have been announced. More are promised.

Albania’s perestroika

What do these reforms amount to? It turns out that they are inspired by the very same ideas of perestroika and glastnost that the PLA denounced last year – even though the PLA maintains the fiction it is doing something different. In fact, many of Ramiz Alia’s speeches could have been lifted from Gorbachev.

Albania has declared that it is going over to a “new economic mechanism.” This involves having the enterprises themselves determine jobs, wage levels, investment, etc., and giving wider scope for petty capitalism (in the name of cooperatives). This is nothing but the “market socialism” that many East European revisionist countries went over to decades back. (“Market socialism” is a fancy phrase for a capitalist mixed economy of state and private capital.)

Meanwhile, in the political sphere, the Albanians are introducing reforms which do away with various undemocratic measures which the PLA wrongly adopted even when it was revolutionary. Many of these measures were imitated by the Albanians from the Soviet Union of the 30’s and 40’s, when that country was already in a state of degeneration. Unfortunately, the reforms are not guided by the spirit of replacing bureaucratic tutelage with working class democracy, but merely as concessions to the masses at a time of growing crisis.

In short, Albania is adopting what Gorbachev advocated for the Soviet Union when he first took office. Many further changes have taken place in the Soviet leadership since, and the Albanians want to prevent things from going as far as they have in the Soviet Union. But they forget that Gorbachev didn’t intend that either. In today’s conditions, the road from “market socialism” to outright “free market” capitalism isn’t very far. The difference between them isn’t all that much. The Albanian leaders are deluding themselves if they think “market socialism” will solve their crisis.

A growing economic crisis

So why is this turn taking place? Nowhere is this squarely admitted by the PLA The PLA does not make available much detail about what’s been going on in the country. But if one closely reads Ramiz Alia’s speeches and reviews some of their writings over the last decade, a different picture emerges.

The PLA tries to give the idea that the current changes mark just the normal stage of where Albania was going, a natural evolution from the past. But this is a cover-up. In fact, the PLA did not plan for the current changes at all – they mark a turn away from where it proclaimed it was going. But it refuses to face that squarely.

The heart of the matter is that Albania faces an economic crisis, brought into being by a number of factors.

Harsh realities

Albania at the time of its revolution had been the most backward land in Europe, with the people living in semi-feudal misery. But it has succeeded in developing a good deal of industry and an improved agriculture, and the standard of living of the people showed much progress. Albania did receive outside aid for its development, from the Soviet Union until 1960, and from China into the 1970’s, but the PLA successfully prevented the country from becoming an economic satellite of either power.

Since the end of the 1970’s, Albania has had to do without any outside economic aid. When Albania was cut off by the Chinese revisionists in 1978, the PLA made a declaration then that it was going to be completely self-reliant, that it wouldn’t take credits from anyone.

This would be difficult for most poor countries, and especially for a tiny one like Albania. But this came at a time when the Albanian economy was apparently faced with a serious need to retool much of its industry. For example, reports from the early 80’s indicate problems with the old equipment in the mineral processing industry, a big source for foreign exchange earnings.

Meanwhile, the world recession in the early 80’s meant a sharp drop in the prices of many commodities that Albania exported, including oil. Albania has succeeded in building quite a diversified economy internally, but it remains heavily dependent for foreign exchange on the export of raw and partially-processed materials. This puts it at the cruel mercies of world commodity markets.

More recently, Albania has faced several years of drought. Not only has this affected agriculture, but also its industry, because a major part of its energy comes from hydro-power. Awhile ago, Albania was able to export electricity, but now the country has had to import electric energy. And it has even had to shut down factories, such as in the crucial ferro-chrome sector, at least partially because of a lack of power. (From Ramiz Alia’s speech to the 11th Plenum of the Central Committee in July.)

A tight squeeze

As a result of all these problems, the country has faced a tight squeeze, especially in terms of investment either into retooling or new development. This comes at a time when the country has to find jobs for nearly 60,000 new job seekers every year. Meanwhile, the expectations and wants of the population have been on the rise. The end result has taken the form of shortages in consumer goods and public services, as well as the onset of mass unemployment.

Until now, the economy has grown, although the government has found it hard to get the extent of growth that it thought it needed to meet the needs of the masses. A series of the recent plans have not reached the targets the PLA had set. But now far more serious problems have appeared. What is more, the recent upheavals in Eastern Europe spell more trouble ahead. Albania had entered into many economic relations with these countries, including subcontracting for Eastern European firms. These ties are now in jeopardy as Eastern Europe moves towards hard-currency exchanges and many of the firms there are even shutting down.

The PLA’s blunders

Many of the reasons for Albania’s economic crisis are harsh realities that the country has faced. But there’s more to it than that.

For one thing, the PLA has made some serious blunders in economic policy. They don’t give too many details about these, but the biggest one mentioned so far involves livestock.

Since the revolution, the PLA had succeeded in enlisting its small peasants into collective farming. All accounts indicate that this was done carefully, with the voluntary participation of the peasants among whom the PLA had strong support from the days of the anti-fascist partisan war.

However, about a decade ago the PLA tried a scheme to collectivize the personal herds of animals belonging to the cooperative farmers. But it appears this was pushed artificially. They ended up with a sharp drop in production. Among other things, peasants responded by what Ramiz Alia describes as the “en masse slaughtering of cattle” in all the districts. (Speech to 10th Plenum, April 1990) This problem had been mentioned at the 9th Congress in 1986, but its scale was obscured. This no doubt placed a major squeeze in agriculture, as well as on the availability of food for the masses. Only now says Alia have they returned to the same number of cattle the country had on the eve of 1980.

Problems in the system

What’s most serious isn’t this or that mistaken measure, but what they show about how things are being run in Albania – what they show about the very system of rule itself.

The very fact that a blunder of this proportion can have been minimized for a whole decade shows something about the style of “official optimism” which the PLA has more and more cultivated in its approach towards the Albanian people. This is the method of constant declarations that things were fine, even getting better and better, while reality was taking a different course. For a long time there had been a tendency in the PLA leadership to obscure its weaknesses and problems, but in the last period this has become worse than ever.

Fundamentally this reflects a wrong relationship between the state and the working people – it implies the bureaucratization of a state which was once revolutionary. It reflects a refusal to trust the laboring masses and mobilize them squarely to confront problems and move forward. Instead, problems get swept under the rug or juggled within the bureaucracy. In the past there was at least a certain commitment to developing methods to mobilize the working people into taking part in running the country. But over the last decade this stagnated.

The onset of the 1980’s coincided with the PLA taking a turn away from revolutionary ideas. The MLP has criticized how the PLA abandoned support for the revolutionary struggles of the workers worldwide in favor of currying favor with reactionary, and even the worst hangmen, regimes – like the Turkish dictatorship and Khomeini in Iran.

At home too, the PLA abandoned interest in building a different model of society than has existed in the revisionist Soviet Union or Eastern Europe. Despite weaknesses, mistakes, and problems, the PLA had in the 60’s and 70’s striven to build an alternate model of a workers’ state. This included attempts to mobilize the working class into the running of the country, measures against privileges at the top, etc. Such efforts made Albania attractive to anti-revisionist communists around the world, including our Party. But in the 1980’s, the PLA reverted back to copying the political and economic model in Eastern Europe of the 1950’s. The masses were no longer to be mobilized into any mass campaigns, political information and activities were not spread among them, and they were simply to act as producers. They were to work harder and harder to confront difficult conditions, but the principal motivator the PLA offered was nationalism. Albanian society fell into a deep stagnation.

Today in Ramiz Alia’s speeches, you can get a picture of what this stagnation has amounted to. He describes an economy run on bureaucratic orders, stagnation in political and government structures, stifling lack of creativity, etc. – all of which are typical features of the Soviet-bloc Eastern European countries.

The capitulation

In the conditions of Albania, even a strong workers’ state trying hard to keep itself rooted among the toilers and follow socialist principles would be faced with a difficult time. But it isn’t just objective difficulties that bring Albania face to face with disaster, but the fact that especially over the last decade, it has turned its face away from revolutionary policies, away from the toilers. It has been stagnating towards becoming a cousin of the revisionist East European countries.

And unfortunately because the degeneration of the Albanian political system has gone so far, its leaders cannot come up with revolutionary, communist answers to the country’s problems. Instead, like the Eastern European revisionist regimes tried yesterday, the PLA is looking for solutions in the same type of capitalist economic and political reforms. These changes mean a major turn to the revisionist “market socialist” system that’s existed in Eastern Europe. In other words, the road back to a typical capitalist country.