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Curtis McNally

Albanian Roulette

(February 1982)

From Socialist Review, 20 February-19 March 1982: 2, p.7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Nearly all the news about Eastern Europe in the last few weeks has come from Poland. But strange things have been happening in Albania. Curtis McNally looks at them.

The Polish coup has largely distracted attention from another political crisis in Eastern Europe. On December 17th it was announced that the Prime Minister of Albania, Mehmet Shehu, had killed himself ‘in a moment of nervous depression’. Shehu had been Prime Minister uninterruptedly since 1954, and before that he had established his reputation in leading the purges and executions of pro-Tito elements after the Tito-Stalin split in 1948. Not the sort of person that one would at first sight expect to be prone to fits of suicidal melancholia.

Hence it is hardly surprising that within a few days of his death there were widespread rumours that in fact Shehu had been killed. Some reports even suggested that there had been a shoot-out at a dinner-party between Shehu and the regime’s leader, Enver Hoxha, and that possibly Hoxha himself had been killed or injured as well.

It was also reported that portraits of Hoxha had been removed from public buildings. However, these reports mainly emanated from official Yugoslav sources, which scarcely have a vested interest in ensuring political stability in Albania. And it is now clear that Enver Hoxha is alive and well and living in Tirana, the only member of the original central committee of the Albanian Communist Party to have survived all the purges of the last forty years.

However, a certain degree of mystery still surrounds the affair. There has been no official mourning or public funeral for the late Prime Minister, and Pecol Shehu, Mehmet Shehu’s nephew, has been removed without any explanation from his position as Minister of the Interior in the new government formed on January 15th.

The political reasons behind the events are even harder to decipher. Le Monde (16.1.82), relying on Yugoslav sources, suggests one factor may have been divergences on the question of agricultural policy. Apparently at the Party Congress last November, Hoxha insisted on ‘ideological purity’ and on the ‘eradication of the remnants of capitalism in the country’, proposing the confiscation of the last remaining individual plots of land. Shehu, however, stressed ‘economic difficulties’ and ‘emphasised the necessity of improving social relations in the countryside.’

Another factor in the tortuous situation may have been Albania’s international situation, especially its relations to Russia. Albania has always been fiercely loyal to the memory of J.V. Stalin, although Stalin does not seem to have returned the compliment. Albania, for example, was the only East European Communist country not to be represented in the Communist Information Bureau set up in 1947. At the same time, Albania, trapped between Greece and Yugoslavia, had to pursue a cautious

foreign policy sometimes at odds with its own rhetoric, as in 1949, when Hoxha interned Greek Communist partisans seeking refuge – in order to avoid a clash with Greece.

From the time of the Sino-Soviet split Albania became loyally Maoist, but by the mid-seventies that friendship too was cooling. In 1977 the Albanians attacked the Chinese theory of the ‘three worlds’, alleging that the logic of this was that Russia was worse than the USA, something amply borne out by Chinese foreign policy. In 1978 China withdrew all economic and technical support from Albania, and Albania has subsequently backed Vietnam against Cambodia and China.

With no political allies in the world, Albania had to aim at agricultural and industrial self-sufficiency. The economic difficulties which were concerning Shehu before his sudden death may have led some sections of the Party to consider a rapprochement with Russia. There had been rumours of such a move for some time, and Izvestia recently published a friendly article about Albania, a distinctly unusual move.

However, such moves have probably been stopped for the time being. The new Prime Minister, Adil Carcani, announced on coming to power that Albania will ‘never have relations with the two superpowers, the USA and the USSR’. But ‘never’ is not always a long time in Stalinist rhetoric, and when Hoxha, one of the last survivors of the political generation of 1945, departs this life things may well change.

Events in Albania may have some small repercussions on the international left. In the sixties and early seventies Albania was for most Maoists a beacon of socialism in Europe. When Mao died and the ‘gang of four’ were ousted, many of the more radical Maoists jumped off the Chinese bandwaggon and went over to support for Albania alone. If Albania were to enter into serious political crisis or to patch up things with Russia, it would mean the final death agony for Maoism as a political tendency. The recent uncritical support for the Polish military government and the Russian attitude to it by the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) may be a straw in the wind.

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Last updated: 25 March 2010