Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Enver Hoxha, The Artful Albanian: the Memoirs of Enver Hoxha, edited and introduced by Jon Halliday, Chatto & Windus, London, 1986, pp394, £5.95
Material bearing upon the modern history of Albania is not at all rich. Analysing it is not made any easier by the fact that the better sources come from the Yugoslavs, the sworn enemies of the regime, whilst the standard bibliography was compiled by one of its supporters in Britain, Bill Bland, with obvious intent to distort the true picture. It must therefore be questioned whether a book about “a liar and his lies”, to misquote Trotsky, can possibly add anything to our basic understanding. But to take such a view would be to make a serious mistake. The editor of this book deserves real praise for setting about the thankless task of trying to distill some truth from Hoxha’s endless lying by checking it against the accounts coming from the Yugoslavs and British wartime intelligence. If he has only been able to succeed halfway, the reason perhaps lies in his ignorance of the testimony of Sadik Premtaj, joint leader of the Te Rinjte (Youth) Group, whichwe republished in Revolutionary History (Volume 3 no.1, Summer 1990, pp.21-6), and in the inadequate model he uses to understand Stalinism as a phenomenon, which at times tempts him to relax his keen criticism and give the unspeakable Hoxha the benefit of the doubt wherever there is any.
But in spite of Hoxha’s own intentions, this compilation does prove to be very revealing. Before we introduce it, let us state that the Albanian Party of Labour was not, is not, and probably never will be, a working class party of any sort, in spite of its name. An Albanian proletariat does exist now as a result of the usual accumulation that Stalinism produces, but before the war it was vestigial, or rather, there was an Albanian proletariat, but it worked on the docks in Trieste and Yugoslavia, so it did not live in Albania; and there was a proletariat in Albania, but it was not Albanian, consisting of Italian workers brought over to build the railway. Albanian society was itself too backward to produce a real working class, being divided into two tribal groups, the Gegs and the Tosks. Significant numbers of the leaders of the Albanian Communist Party derived from the more backward of these groups. Well over three quarters of the leadership of the Albanian Communist Party were from the middle class, and it had the lowest percentage of workers in it of any Communist Party in Eastern Europe. Only three workers played any part in the leadership at all – Tuk Jakova, Pandi Kristo and Koçi Xoxe, a tinsmith from Korçë and it is noteworthy that all of them were pro-Yugoslav, for the Yugoslavs after a while began to favour the thin working class element in the Albanian party. Against these people Hoxha’s class prejudices are barely disguised. His foremost opponent, Xoxe, is described as making “no efforts to extend his horizon and to raise the level of his knowledge”, and “who remained, you might say, ‘illiterate’”, and because he had been “brainwashed and inflated” by Tito, “emerged as one of the ‘persecuted proletarians’” (pp.72-3). This authentic schoolmaster attitude certainly does not extend to his intellectual superiors in the Albanian Communist movement, Lazar Fundo, the founder of Albanian Marxism, who was accused of Trotskyism and Bukharinism, enticed back to Albania, and battered to death with a club, or to the poet and scholar Sejfulla Maleshova, a “vain megalomaniac” (p.72), who was expelled and imprisoned in 1948. Hoxha’s own rather more primitive mentality emerges right at the start of the book with the revealing comment about Albania’s past invaders, that “we never mixed our blood with them” (p.39).
Readers aware of Stalin’s background of Georgian blood feud will spot the parallels in this book straight away, not only in the elimination of friends and families that accompanied every major purge, but even in the actual techniques used: “to choose the victim, to prepare the blow with care, to sate an implacable vengeance, and then go to bed ... there is nothing sweeter in the world!”, as Stalin himself put it (Souvarine, Stalin, p.659). Hoxha’s own distinctive contribution to this science where no witnesses survive to tell otherwise is to arraign his opponents as agents of a foreign power and then have them “commit suicide”, supposedly in remorse (Nako Spiru, pp.101-4, and Mehmet Shehu, pp.333-6). His own family and sidekicks of course rise with him, and will probably fall accordingly when the reaction seas in against his memory. His wife Nexhmije, for example, the leader of the party’s youth, now finds herself in the same position as the unlamented Madame Mao, fighting a last ditch resistance in defence of her husband’s autocracy, even from beyond the grave. As Halliday puts it, “Hoxha grew up in a world of blood feuds and skulduggery” (p.2).
Probably the least successful part of the editor’s work is due to his lack of a coherent overall working model of Stalinism. Yet all the evidence is presented to show that Albanian Stalinism is a classic manifestation of the type. As Halliday points out: “Hoxha’s path to powe and is power, was littered with the corps of his old foes, and his old friends. No Communist regime has experienced such repeated purges and decimations as Albania’s” (p.3). Equally typical is the ideological baggage, such as when Hoxha utilises the anti-Marxist and thoroughly idealist argument so beloved of Stalin and Mao that a regime can change its class character purely by a change in the head of its rulers:
Yet with all this evidence the compiler can still say when dealing with Hoxha’s more blatant lies that “he manifestly relies too heavily on a faulty memory” (p.1), and unable to discern that it is a social mechanism at work he goes on to discuss Hoxha’s massacres in the ‘psychological’ way that used to be used when looking at Stalin:
Halliday even appears to be taken in by the “apparent paradox” that Hoxha could be “an out and out Stalinist” and “unusually well read and intelligent” (p.6). What does he think the ‘Red Professors’ were who for so long defended Stalinism in the British Communist Party before 1956, whose names now glitter among the New Left? Intelligent Hoxha may well have been, but that says nothing about the deep backwardness and barbarism of his regime, or of himself as embodying it. The notes to this book outline Hoxha’s techniques with almost clinical accuracy, how anybody who had at any time ever disagreed with him was then discovered to have been a spy all the way through; that ideological differences are a cloak for treason, and all of them are reflections of manipulation from abroad; and that any ‘mistakes’ Hoxha himself may have made were not really committed by him at all, but by somebody else who was really one of these spies. “Hoxha even lists the fact that every single Minister of the Interior in Albania between Liberation and the end of 1981 was a foreign agent, allegedly”, comments Halliday, and yet can still express amazement that Hoxha “refuses to confront ... the possibility that the accusations are false” (p.10). This is probably because Halliday appears to believe that Stalinism is a purely Russian phenomenon, and he is thus prevented from using the normal techniques of analysis for its Albanian variant. He makes a point of describing the Albanian Communist Party as “a highly specific formation ... set up without any known direct contact with Moscow”, and hence “not at all a ‘Moscow creation’” (p.22). He is also obliged to pose the problem in this way because he is reluctant to accept the fact that the Stalinist nature of the Albanian Communist Party was imparted to it by the Yugoslavs, to whom it owes its creation, as we shall see.
Hoxha’s party had the method of the Moscow Trials well worked out long before it got into power. We are told at one point (pp.57-8) that Anastas Lulja and Mustafa Gjinishi were both involved in a plot with the British in 1942. Yet Lulja was eliminated for alleged factional activity in 1943, Hoxha and Shehu personally taking part in his ‘execution’, whereas Gjinishi, supposedly Britain’s main agent (pp.48, 61) was in fact made the scapegoat for signing the Mukje agreement, and shortly after being expelled from the Politbureau in 1944 was then killed in an ambush, allegedly by the Germans. Spiru, who is supposed to have “committed suicide” in 1947, is variously described as an agent of the Yugoslavs, then as one of their opponents, and finally as an agent of the Russians (pp.74, 105, etc.). The scenario does not vary greatly right up to Hoxha’s death. Koçi Xoxe, no more an ‘agent’ of the Yugoslavs than Hoxha himself had been earlier when they had made him leader of the party, was supposedly ‘shot’ in 1949, though in all probability he was strangled by Shehu with his bare hands (p.9); Liri Gega, made out to be a Yugoslav agent since at least 1943 (pp.75, 205), was shot whilst pregnant in 1956; and Shehu himself, who apparently served as many masters as Spiru, being an agent successively of American, British and Yugoslav intelligence (pp.34, 331-2) began his spying career in an American schoolroom before the war. Yet again, by now somewhat monotonously, he is alleged to have “committed suicide” in 1981, whereas other reports suggest he was shot with a revolver at a meeting of the Political Bureau. It is therefore with some sense of astonishment that we encounter the editor explaining that Hoxha “was not a ‘Stalinist’ in other important respects. He was a cultured and well-read man. He was also in much closer contact with the population of his country than Stalin” (p.16). This is a ludicrous way of explaining human political behaviour. Was Catherine the Great any less an autocrat because she enjoyed French culture, or Hitler less a Nazi because he appreciated Wagner?
Whence came this obvious, deliberate and pronounced Stalinism? Halliday reproduces Hoxha’s own repudiation of “the absurd anti-Marxist claim that allegedly the Yugoslavs had created our party, that allegedly they had kindled the fire of our national liberation war” (p.12l), and though put on his guard by Hoxha’s mendacity, the furthest he will go is to say that the problem of the foundation of the Albanian Communist Party is a “subject of unresolved disputes” (p.349 n4). Is it really so ‘unresolved’? Long ago Sadik Premtaj pointed to the Yugoslavs as the de facto organisers of the Albanian Communist Party, as well as being the source of the complete Stalinisation of its structure (Revolutionary History, Summer 1990, pp.21-6). Hoxha implicitly confirms this story in this book, when he admits that contact was maintained with Moscow via the Yugoslavs (p.69). This use of other parties to hand down instructions where contact was difficult was a well established practice in the Comintern, such as for example how Moscow kept in contact with the Indian Communist Party via the British Communist Party. It was sometimes maintained where there was no real need for it, for example under the Cominform arrangements, where the British Communist Party itself was placed under the tutelage of the French. Hoxha even confirms Premtaj’s story when he talks about the “service” of Yugoslav agent Dusan Mugosa “in the region of Vlora in the spring and summer of 1943” (p.75), by which he can only mean the part played by the Yugoslavs in the murder of Lulja and the leaders of the Vlore regional committee. Whilst it is true that the only figures in the early history of Albanian Communism who spent any time in Moscow were Ali Kelmendi, Lazar Fundo and Sejfulla Maldshova (none of whom took part in the actual conference that united the three groups to set up the Albanian Communist Party), Stalinism does not have to be imparted at first hand, especially if it reflects the backwardness of the country in the first place. In any case Tuk Jakova revealed the true picture at the plenum of June 1955, when he came out with the “Trotskyist” and “bourgeois nationalist” sentiments that “the party history be rewritten so as to make clear that it had been founded not only by Hoxha but by ‘certain foreign persons’ [the Yugoslavs], and that all those purged be rehabilitated” (W.E. Griffith, Albania and the Sino-Soviet Rift, Cambridge 1963, p.22). The same is confirmed by Milovan Djilas, by no means uncritical about the myths of his own regime (Rise and Fall, London 1985, p.112). Halliday himself admits that “since the Yugoslavs have a much better track record on truth, their version is inherently more plausible” (p.25). As a matter of fact, Miladin Popovie’s first attempt to organise a real Communist Party in Albania at Tito’s behest dates from as far back as 1939, some two years before its founding conference, when he first made contact with the Shkoder group. At this time Hoxha’s Korçe group, in fact, was still hostile to the idea of unification.
This brings us on to the basis of Hoxha’s own career. It was the Yugoslavs who appointed him leader of the new party, and gave all the strategic positions in it to his Korçe group. All the indications fromthe earliest period are that he first rose as a pliant tool of the Yugoslavs, seeing his chance at ultimate unfettered power by siding with the Russians at the time of the Stalin-Tito split. Halliday is mistaken in taking as good coin Hoxha’s frequently expressed nationalist sentiments, claiming that we should accord “due recognition to the long-term nationalist component in Hoxha’s policies”, or that he was “first and foremost an Albanian nationalist” (p.25). Apart from the fact that Stalinism is always a nationalist deviation from true Marxism, the truth is that Hoxha was merely a Stalinist dynast of the usual sort, using and being used by his superiors until the opportunity arose to cut loose on his own, like Mao, Togliatti, and Tito himself. This emerges quite clearly from his behaviour at the time of the conclusion of the Mukje agreement in 1943. At that conference with the Balli Kombetar (an alliance of right wing nationalists and the Djarri group, influenced by Greek Archeiomarxism) Ymer Dishnica signed a pact for a joint resistance struggle on behalf of the Albanian Communist Party. One part of the agreement was that after the war the future of Kossova should be decided by a plebiscite, Kossova being the Yugoslav province with a high proportion of Albanians in it. The Yugoslavs, enraged, ordered the Albanians to repudiate it immediately, which they did, Hoxha himself making an abject ‘self criticism’ some time afterwards. The truth about the whole episode shines out clearly through Hoxha’s lies and evasions. First he tries to blame the Yugoslav emissary, Vukmanovie Tempo, for trying to start a “fratricidal war” by advising an outright attack upon the Balli Kombetar (p.63). Then he manufactures a long, dialogue that is meant to clear him for the responsibility of the decision to negotiate the agreement in the first place (pp.64ff.). Then at last he has to admit that “immediately the party learned of this betrayal by its delegates, it denounced it” (p.65). Hoxha shows himself to be a true protege of his Yugoslav mentors here, and there is not much evidence of a defence of Albania’s national interests at this time. Even four years later Hoxha was careful not to support Nako Spiru when he allegedly came out against Yugoslav influence (pp Miff). Hoxha’s patriotism can thus only be defined in the sense employed by Dr Johnson, when he described it as the last resort of a scoundrel.
All these limitations do not, however, prevent this from being a very useful and informative book. Only with the judicious use of it, along with the accounts of Premtaj and Pipa from the Albanian side and those from Yugoslavia, is it now possible for the first time to sketch out the main lines of the political development of this small and still mysterious country - if development is not too dynamic a word to use for this strange Stalinist fossil left over from a bygone age.
Updated by ETOL: 23.7.2003