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Ian Birchall

Obituary: Enver Hoxha

Death in the family

(May 1985)

From Socialist Worker Review, No. 76, May 1985, p. 23.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Albanian Communism, it cannot be denied, has a certain sectarian charm. When the Russian Communist Party sent condolences on the recent death of Enver Hoxha, the Albanians promptly sent them back – a pleasing contrast to the hypocrisy which usually attends the funerals of world leaders.

Albanian diplomacy

A Party that can describe the late Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev [1] as ‘the greatest counter-revolutionary charlatan and clown the world has ever known’ cannot, one instinctively feels, be all bad.

But rhetoric butters no parsnips, and, as the western press has hastened to point out, after forty years of Hoxha’s leadership, Albania remains the poorest country in Europe. GNP per head is not much over £600 a year.

Albania has natural assets. It is self-sufficient in food, has some oil, and is the world’s third largest producer of chrome. But its efforts to industrialise have been painfully slow, and it is in great need of foreign technology.

But if Albania is poor, the fault lies with those powers which have repeatedly threatened its independence. In the Second World War Albania was occupied by Italy, and at the war’s end Yugoslavia had plans to annex it. Britain, too, is very much a guilty party. Britain still holds Albanian gold, now worth over fifteen million pounds, grabbed at the end of the Second World War. The pretext for this theft is the fact that in 1946 two British destroyers hit mines while within Albanian territorial waters. Albania has always refused to pay compensation.

Between 1949 and 1953 Britain and the US launched a series of clandestine operations to overthrow the Hoxha regime. Fortunately these were betrayed to Albania by Kim Philby.

It is against this background of poverty, underdevelopment and foreign threat that Albania’s bizarre history of political alignment must be understood. While Stalin was alive the Albanians had little to be grateful to him for. Albania was liberated from fascist occupation without Russian help. And Stalin seems to have felt little respect for the tiny Balkan satellite.

When the Communist Information Bureau (the Cominform) was set up in 1947, Albania, alone among East European countries where a Communist Party was in power, was excluded from membership. But when Stalin split with Tito’s Yugoslavia the following year, Albania lined up with Russia, hoping this was the best way to protect itself against a possible Yugoslav take over.

After Stalin’s death Albania initially followed Khrushchev. In 1956, after Khrushchev’s ‘secret speech’ denouncing Stalin, Hoxha addressed the Russian CP Congress, praising Khrushchev and not mentioning Stalin’s name. But in the early 1960s, China split with Russia. One of the issues at stake was China’s argument that Russia should give more aid to poorer countries in the Communist bloc, rather than spend it on unaligned countries. As the poorest country in the Eastern bloc, Albania had most to gain from such a line, and sided vociferously with the Chinese.

The pro-Chinese line meant the development of a grotesque cult of the memory of Stalin. But this was only the icing on the cake. Over the next 15 years Albania picked up something like four thousand million pounds worth of Chinese aid. But by the late seventies Albania was developing differences with China. The Chinese policy of loving up to the United states had nothing in it for Albania.

Towards Stalinism

The final straw came in 1977, when China renewed relations with Albania’s arch enemy Yugoslavia. Since then Albania has refused any political alignment, covering itself in doctrinal purity and total dedication to the memory of Joe Stalin.

It is not hard to see why Hoxha fostered the Stalin cult. At the cost of enormous brutality, exercised against the Russian working class, Stalin succeeded in industrialising Russia. Hoxha would have dearly loved to do the same thing – but Albania was too small and too backward for it ever to be possible.

So the rhetoric lived on in a vacuum. Radio Tirana and the party paper Zëri i Populitt churned out their endless clichés about ‘revisionism’ and ‘Marxism-Leninism’. For those who like their Marxism real, real simple this had a certain appeal, and for many Maoists in the sixties and seventies Albania was a second motherland.

But the rhetoric had no roots in practice. For all its talk of ‘internationalism’ Albania spread no revolution: it merely cultivated the rag tag and bobtail of a handful of irrelevant Maoist sects. On the one occasion when Hoxha had a real struggle in his own back yard he did little to help.

When Yugoslavia split with Russia in 1948, Tito’s government cut off aid to the Communists in the Greek Civil War and closed the border. Defeated Greek communists who took refuge in Albania were promptly interned by Hoxha.

For despite the rhetoric about ‘fortress Albania’ Hoxha could not keep his country outside the world economy. In recent years trade has increased, notably with Greece and Italy. A railway link is to be established with Yugoslavia, and a French ministerial visit is expected shortly.

Throughout his forty years in power Hoxha was impotent to achieve the world revolution he may or may not have believed in; impotent to achieve the national economic development he certainly aspired to. Behind the language of Leninism lay a squalid struggle for survival.

Of the forty members of the first central committee of the Albanian Communist Party in 1944, Hoxha was the only one to die in bed; all the others were purged and liquidated. One of his most recent victims was Mehmet Shehu, formerly his Prime Minister for 27 years. In 1981 Shehu was said to have committed suicide, but the Albanian press has subsequently revealed that he was a ‘secret agent of the Americans, the Soviets and the Yugoslavs’ – a heavy work load indeed. But we are assured that during 30 years as a member of the Party Politbureau he never succeeded in ‘distorting or modifying the Marxist-Leninist line’. Clearly Enver took all the decisions himself.

Now Hoxha is dead, but power stays in the family as his brother-in-law Ramiz Alia succeeds him. There may be more policy zigzags in store, but Albanian workers and peasants will continue to suffer from poverty and underdevelopment. The clichés may be ‘Marxist-Leninist’ or ‘revisionist’, but the reality will remain.

Note by ETOL

1. In the printed version the spelling is “Kruschev” – we have replaced it by the more common transliteration.

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Last updated: 16 October 2019