Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Marxist-Leninist Party

The pretense is over: Riots in Albania

First Published: The Workers’ Advocate, Vol. 21, No. 1, January 1, 1991.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.

A year ago, old regimes in Eastern Europe fell one after another. Governments that swore that they were socialist fell in the face of tremendous popular opposition.

These societies had never really been socialist. They had been state-capitalist societies, where state conglomerates dominated the economy. Power wasn’t in the hands of the workers but in a ruling class of wealthy and privileged bureaucrats. The working class remained an exploited class.

Albania in the Balkans however claimed it was sticking to the socialist road. Its leaders attributed the other countries’ problems to their revisionist departures from Marxism.

But in fact, Albania too was in deep crisis, a crisis quite similar to the rest of Eastern Europe. And its leadership too had begun Gorbachev-style reforms – all the while shouting high and low against Gorbachev. The close of 1990 saw most of this pretense come to an end. Today Albania is rapidly following in the wake of the rest of Eastern Europe.

Albania, unlike most of the rest of Eastern Europe, did have a genuine people’s revolution at the end of World War II. In the 1960’s the Albanian leaders even tried to chart an alternative to the bureaucratic, state-capitalist status quo that they saw in the rest of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. But this effort only went so far and was itself marred by many revisionist ideas and practices drawn from the period of Stalin’s rule in the Soviet Union when the working class revolution there was degenerating.

As the years have gone by, Albania has continued to claim that it remains different from the rest of Eastern Europe. But in fact, politics and the economy in Albania have more and more reverted to those of its neighbors. Today, as Albania confronts its current crisis, it’s being revealed that this country has long been living a lie in its claim of steadfastness against revisionism. This is why it’s taking the same road yesterday taken by Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, etc.

Protests of workers...


Early December brought riots in many of Albania’s major cities. There were protests in Elbasan, Shkodra, and elsewhere. These are industrial, working class towns, and the protests appear to have reflected workers’ dissatisfaction with the economic situation. In particular, they confronted mass unemployment which has been spreading in the country.

The censored press did not give too many details of the protests, but there seem to have been sharp clashes between the people and security forces. Tanks were deployed.

In mid-December the government announced that 150 people had been arrested during these riots. A few days later, it was announced that already 18 people had been convicted and given prison terms of up to 12 years.

This was the second time during 1990 that the regime deployed its armed forces to suppress rebellious protests. The first time was during the summer when thousands of Albanians stormed foreign embassies in order to leave the country.

The repression shows how far removed the regime is from being a power “based among the people,” which is how the ruling party likes to describe itself.

...and students...


The weekend of December 8-9 brought student protests at the University of Tirana, the country’s main institution of higher learning. Students demonstrated against austere living conditions at the university. Unlike the workers’ protests, the government did not move to violently suppress them. The workers and unemployed are met with repression, but the government does not want to alienate the intelligentsia.

Within a couple of days, the protest developed into a strike by the university’s 12,000 students. They demanded democratic reforms. On December 11 the ruling party chief Ramiz Alia met with student leaders and agreed to deal with their grievances.

...force change from the government


Since then the ruling Party of Labor of Albania has made a series of changes, trying to meet the demands of the emerging opposition while at the same time retaining its overall control over power. On December 12 the PLA agreed to legalize opposition parties and allow multiparty elections. At the same time several high officials, apparently those who opposed the new policy, were removed from top posts.

The same day a rally of thousands at Tirana University announced the formation of the Democratic Party, with a program of democratic rights – freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly – and “gradual market reform.” In fact, this party appears to have many views in common with the Ramiz Alia wing of the ruling party; it only wants a faster pace of Western-style capitalist reforms. It appears to be based among students and intellectuals. It supported the student protests, but agreed with the PLA in denouncing the protests in Elbasan and other cities as “riots” and “hooliganism.”

On December 19 the government officially recognized the Democratic Party as an opposition party and registered it to compete in national elections, to be held in February. The Democratic Party however would like a longer time period to prepare.

Religion in, Stalin out


On December 21 the PLA called for the removal of statues of Stalin around the country, and removing his name from factories, streets, squares, etc. named after him. Typical of how the PLA functions, it was done without any explanation other than “times have changed.” There was no open reassessment of the PLA’s long-time support for Stalin.

The government also lifted the lid on religion and allowed public Christmas services to be held for the first time in 23 years. The religious service attracted thousands, thereby exposing another lie that the government has been pushing for decades, that the Albanian people have successfully overcome religious superstition and recognized the supremacy of a scientific world view.

Marxists hold that religion serves exploitation and that the people will, abandon religion as they build a society without exploiters. But the Marxist approach also believes that religion cannot be eliminated by repression or government decree, which is how the Albanian leaders tried to deal with it. During the 1960’s there were mass mobilizations against religion in Albania, in which young people played a big role. But the government went on to simply ban religion, relying on police powers instead of mass discussion and education to eliminate the influence of religion.

Angling for aid


On December 27 Ramiz Alia admitted that the Albanian economy is in dire straits. He declared that the government is trying to obtain foreign aid and credits to revive the economy. This, along with market reforms, are the magic solutions which the Albanian regime sees as the way forward. But as the rest of Eastern Europe is already showing, these are hardly miracle cures. In fact, they bring more disasters than the promised benefits.

The admissions about the economy exposed another bit of hypocrisy of the Albanian leaders, who have covered over many of the serious problems in the economy with phrases of official optimism. In 1990 most of these optimistic declarations have been shown to be threadbare.

Crisis goes from bad to worse each day


The December events showed again that Albania is sitting on a powder keg of discontent.

The Albanian leaders have been trying to keep a lid on the situation by keeping tight controls over the population while moving slowly to implement reforms from above. Every time there is a mass outburst, the leaders wonder aloud why people are not following their schedules and regulations for change. And then they respond with a new dose of repression and promises of reform. But events are moving faster than they can keep up with.

The present Albanian regime may find it hard to stay in power. The loosening of repression and dictate over the masses are clearly welcomed by the people. And they are bound to press their demands further. But the mirage of a free-market paradise does not offer progress to the working masses. It is not much of an alternative to the revisionist “socialism” of stagnation and lack of democracy, as Eastern Europe is showing. To go forward, the workers have to use the new freedoms they gain to organize for a really worker-ruled society, a society without bureaucratic tutelage, a society that can unleash the full energies and initiative of the masses.