Enver Hoxha – On the Intellectuals

Vilson Kilica - In the studio

Vilson Kilica – In the studio

More on Albania …..

Introduction

I came upon these theses of Enver Hoxha‘s (which I first read many years ago), when I was researching and considering the points to discuss in the post on the ‘Evolution of the Albanian lapidars‘. Although during a Socialist ‘Cultural Revolution’ it is the workers and peasants who should be leading things the role of the intellectuals (both ‘old’ and ‘new’) also gets pushed to the front.

(In this introduction I will refer principally to the situation and experiences of sculptors as being the representatives of the ‘intellectuals’ as this relates directly to the post on the evolution of the lapidars.)

‘Intellectuals’; who they are; what role they have in a Socialist society; how they should be ‘moulded’ as well as how they should ‘mould’; what levels of freedom they should, or shouldn’t, have and their relationship to the State and the workers and peasants, have been a bone of contention since the first days after the success of the October Revolution in Russia – even before the future of the new Socialist state was secure (ish) after success in the War of Intervention (Civil War) of 1917-1922.

The problem starts with the ‘old’ intellectuals – not necessarily by age but those who had been educated in a pre-Socialist society – bringing with them the baggage of that old society and often that can affect their thinking when it comes to adapting the the new social, political and economic environment.

As an example of this I would point to the some of the work of the sculptor Odhise Paskali, and especially his sculpture ‘Shokët – Comrades‘ in the Permët Martyrs’ Cemetery. The comparisons with Christian imagery are obvious as soon as you see the sculpture. This was one of the very earliest sculptural lapidars (1964) and I don’t think it would have been used if it had been created four or five years later.

Obviously, it’s not just the ‘intellectuals’ that being with them the baggage of the past – all those born and who have lived under capitalism cannot but carry some of the negative and self-interested traits of that social system. However, unlike the workers and peasants who have been living the harsh reality of capitalism ‘intellectuals’ were often insulated from the extremes of capitalist rule – artists starving in a garret notwithstanding.

But matters aren’t straightforward with the ‘new’ intellectuals’, i.e., those who had been fully brought up in a Socialist system, either. In the very early days of Socialist Albania, when there was a huge level of illiteracy amongst the adult population, it would mean that those who first went into higher education and the University system would have been those who had come from relatively privileged backgrounds.

That doesn’t mean that these were necessarily and consciously people who were working against the Socialist system. What it did mean, and this is one of the issues that Enver highlights in this piece, is that they should spend a great deal of time living with, working with and understanding the lives of the workers and peasants if they were then to produce works of art that would have any meaning to the vast majority of the population.

The other aspect of the lives of ‘intellectuals’ is that they have, in a Socialist society, a relatively easy time. They don’t have to get to a place of work at a particular time every day, they are not governed by the clock and the nature of their work is not as repetitive as it is for those who work in a factory or in agriculture. Physically it can also be less demanding.

Again, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The aim of Socialism is to eventually improve the conditions of labour so that there is some evening out of the work load throughout society. But that cannot happen on day one. There will be differentials and the life of workers can be hard, even more so in the early days after the Socialist Revolution when, normally, there’s a great deal of rebuilding needed to get to a situation that had existed some years before – historically revolutions occur in societies after wars and those bring with them untold destruction in terms of population as well as material and infrastructure loss.

The issue that then arises in such a situation is that there has been a tendency, historically in all countries which attempted to construct Socialism, for the ‘intellectuals’, both the ‘old’ and the ‘new’, to see themselves as a group apart, as being special and better than the rest of the population. That is why, in any Socialist Cultural Revolution, it is not just a question of instilling within the workers and peasants a desire to work for a new society it is also a time to remind ‘intellectuals’ of their role in society and, in a sense, their ‘place’ in that society.

This criticism and self-criticism of ‘intellectuals’ – in all spheres of live – was taken to its highest point during the Chinese Great Socialist Cultural Revolution. Here it wasn’t only the writers and artists who were asked to examine their own ideas but also those within the Party, the government and in the management of public and state enterprises.

This happened to a lesser extent in Albania, perhaps that was a mistake.

I intend to post other contributions on the role of writers and artists in a Socialist society, written by Enver Hoxha, at a later date.

 

ON THE INTELLECTUALS¹

[March] 1958

The early forms of division of labour in Greek Antiquity:

Plato and his ideal ‘Republic’².

Manual work and mental activity.

Mental activity – the privilege of the archons, the ruling classes.

Placing the question of society on such a basis must lead to idealism, which creates the idea of the independence of thought, that thought ‘predominates’ over material and practical reality, that thought is prior to matter.

The feudal regime preserved the philosophical idealist concepts and consolidated the division of mental labour from manual labour.

The nobles, the men of the sword, commanders, leaders. The clerks, the intelligentsia of that time, the representatives of philosophical and scientific thought.

Serfs and artisans, manual workers.

The capitalist regime caused the intellectuals to form a more homogeneous stratum, and the functions of the intellectual began to expand.

Various categories of intellectuals in the service of capital, like technicians, engineers, economists, judges, teachers, professors, and others, develop along with capital, not only because needs for them increase but because the capitalists, to make life easier for themselves, drop their technical functions.

The greater the number of intellectuals the more they become dependent on the capitalist economy.

From the economic standpoint, the intellectuals can be grouped into these categories: functionaries, salary earners in capitalist enterprises, judges, officers, and others of this kind; teachers, professors, and philosophers, whom the capitalists utilize to spread bourgeois ideology, but:

1) the decadence of the bourgeoisie;

2) Malthus’s economic theory³ which characterizes decadence;

3) the critical spirit of the latter category of intellectuals, which makes the bourgeoisie sacrifice culture to the interests of the army, the police, aggravate the situation of the intellectual, causing him to reject the capitalist yoke, and the bourgeois state to violate the traditions of alleged ‘university freedoms’.

The decadent bourgeoisie and its ideology reject rationalism, and trample the national honour underfoot. This makes the conscientious intellectual understand more clearly that the bourgeoisie can no longer be the sole leader of the nation and its culture.

The characteristics of the engineers and technicians:

The bourgeoisie leaves in their hands the management of equipment and the management of cadres, that is, direction and command of part of the workers. Although they enjoy better material conditions, spiritually they are close to the workers, living nearly the same way as they do.

The technicians of medium training live under poorer material conditions, they are in daily contact with the proletariat at work, hence they are in still closer spiritual contact with them.

The allegedly independent work of the artisan intellectuals, artists, and others, brings them closer to the bourgeoisie, but the sale of their works, which is subject to speculation, turns them towards the working class.

What is typical about the doctors is that they do not owe their existence to capitalist development. They try to maintain their traditional status quo, their individual character. This turns them into a closed caste, reluctant to admit elements from the proletariat into their ranks. But contact with the deplorable conditions of the working class makes them gradually aware of the actual situation of the decadence of the bourgeoisie and brings them closer to the working class.

Hence the intellectuals, who until yesterday were with the bourgeoisie and were used as its tools, begin to gain a better understanding of things.

Certain subjective considerations prevent the intellectual from becoming conscious quickly:

1) The vacillations which are typical of the middle and petty-bourgeois classes from which he comes.

2) Certain special illusions.

The abstraction, the division of mental from manual work means that he is not in conctact with things but with their symbols. This brings about idealist illusions.

His position between the classes makes him think that he is not prompted by any class interest and that everything is subject only to his judgement and knowledge. That is why he thinks that the ‘ideas’ that set the intellectual in motion are independent of the class relationships. He thinks he stands above the classes, and represents a morality independent of the economic forces and class antagonisms.

This idea, detached from manual work, from life, makes him think that he is the supreme power of the world order. This takes the intellectual out of the sphere of reality and makes him think that all the contradictions should be solved not by violence but by intellectual conciliation, by peaceful evolution.

These views predispose him to opportunism.

Herein lies the source of his reluctance to accept communism, because the concept of morality independent of class relationships and the abstract objectivity are diametrically opposed to historical materialism, and that conciliatory opportunism is in flagrant contradiction to the revolutionary concept of the class struggle and the dictatorship of the proletariat.

Another illusion is his individualism. The intellectual is not opposed to the proletariat. He is not a capitalist. He has no work implements like the medium bourgeois or handicraftsman. He is obliged to sell the product of his labour, and therefore, capitalist exploitation weighs heavy on him. But with regard to his living conditions he is nearer to the bourgeoisie than the proletariat.

The intellectual does not fight with physical force but with arguments. His means of production are his personal knowledge, his personal convictions, and he cannot create a position for himself except through his personal qualities. Therefore, he thinks he can achieve his ends only by expressing his individuality.

He does not accept discipline for himself but only for the masses. He places himself among the ‘elite’, ‘above the common man’, Nietzsche’s theory⁴.

Lenin says that the stratum of intellectuals is characterized by its individualism, by its inability to organize itself, and by instability. The proletariat should take them by the hand, and teach them the dangers of anarchic individualism, because individualism makes them hesitate, vacillate, and so on.

It is necessary for the intellectuals to shake off bourgeois ideology and become imbued with Marxist-Leninist ideology.

When a worker becomes a communist, he feels that something that had been latent in him is now flourishing, he discovers a culture which enlightens him on what he had been dimly aware of, he finds in Marxism the clear assertion of himself, becoming aware of what had existed in his subconscience. Hence when a worker becomes a communist, he builds and consolidates himself.

When an intellectual becomes a communist, events do not develop as in the former case. At every step of the triumph of socialist consciousness, the intellectual is compelled to destroy something from his past. Thus, he destroys and builds, and in the first steps he takes he has the impression not of creating but of a struggle against himself.

When the worker becomes a communist, he knows that he will fight, that he will go on strike, come into conflict with capitalism, and may even be killed, but he has only one enemy and this enemy is an external one, capitalism, while the intellectual must wage a battle on two fronts, against himself, that is, against his petty-bourgeois hangovers and against the external enemy, capitalism.

For an intellectual to acquire socialist consciousness he must be guided, tempered in practical work, re-educated and imbued with Marxist-Leninist theory. This constant work with him will be done by the working class and its Party.

Our National Liberation War and the struggle to build socialism have brought about a major transformation among our old intellectuals and have created a new intelligentsia, from the working class and the working peasantry, loyal to the working class and to socialism. We have created, kept up, and developed this process. We are successfully developing it even further.

But it would be mistaken self-satisfaction for us to say that our old and new intelligentsia have escaped from, or have been cleansed of, all the petty-bourgeois survivals, views which hinder them from linking themselves completely with, or from finding, the road to the complete formation of socialist consciousness.

First of all, our intelligentsia escaped from the capitalist yoke, escaped from exploitation. Our country won its freedom, independence, sovereignty and national dignity, and is guided by the progressive class, the working class. Entirely favourable conditions have been created for the development and flowering of culture, education, and so on, in the service of the working people. Thus, all the basic objective conditions have been created for the education of our intelligentsia along correct lines and for the elimination of the petty-bourgeois survivals from their consciousness.

This is the aim of the Marxist-Leninist education of our Party.

The capitalist countries are ruled by capital, the capitalists, the bourgeoisie; the state is in the hands of .he bourgeoisie, whereas in our country the dictatorship of people’s democracy, the dictatorship of the proletariat, has been established, the state is led by the Party of Labour, state power is in the hands of the working people, in the hands of the majority. In our country there are the state, the weapons of the dictatorship, the friendly classes of workers and peasants, there are officials, engineers, technicians, teachers, professors, artists, students, there are limited strata of medium and petty-bourgeoisie in the cities, new and old intellectuals, there are kulaks and remnants of the reactionary bourgeoisie, as well as elements of the expropriated feudal class.

But our new state is quite different from the state of the capitalists and the bourgeoisie, and the economic, moral, and political situation of all these strata has radically changed. Our duty is to educate the intellectuals, not only to grasp how this revolution has been effected, but also to feel for it and fight to strengthen it.

But we must pose the question: has the raising of people’s consciousness and the purge of petty-bourgeois remnants kept pace with the major reforms made in our country? Of course, the answer must be, no! But the changes are immense as compared with the countries dominated by capitalism, especially among the intellectuals and the petty-bourgeoisie. The changes are very positive in the uplift of socialist consciousness, first and foremost, among the working class, which is being tempered day by day, because it becomes conscious more rapidly than the other classes and strata, and it influences and immeasurably assists the other strata through its leading role in the state. On the other hand, it is true that in our country there has never really been the influence, in the true sense of the word, of an organized bourgeoisie, with its roots deep among the people, which would have systematically created an extensive caste of intellectuals to serve it efficiently in all directions, as has occurred in the capitalist countries. In our country the existing semi-intelligentsia, in certain given directions, had just taken the first steps in life, and these in daily struggle against the survivals of feudalism and semi-feudalism. Most of the officials of the old regimes were either without schooling or trained in the old Turkish schools, and very few of them in western bourgeois schools. Cadres had just begun to come from the western bourgeois schools, specialized in a few professions, especially in law and medicine, and very few in industry (for there was no industry and not even the prospect of it). Agriculture, of course, was considered a sector of slave workers by the feudal regime and despised by our commercial and intellectual bourgeoisie. Very rarely were boys of the bourgeoisie sent to higher agricultural or technical schools. Cadres trained for studies in natural or social sciences could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Hence these few intellectuals of higher training were destined to serve the regimes as state officials. Many of the doctors, sons of the bourgeoisie, formed, so to say, a caste of speculators. The teachers and professors formed a good group of intellectuals who, to a certain extent, served the requirements of the old regime. With the exception of a certain number of old professors, the teachers lived very much closer to the people, and their living conditions, although not very low, still left a lot to be desired. As to artists, they were very few, and I am speaking about painters; as to professional actors and musicians, they were either non-existent or extremely few, and they had become school teachers, so that there can be no talk of their free profession. As you see, this was the intelligentsia we inherited from the past, and such was their economic and social standing.

Our people’s revolution changed the form and substance of the regime and undertook the great task of developing the national economy on a new basis, it began building socialism. Parallel with this the cultural revolution also began. We started and will continue to work in two directions, namely, to train new cadres for all sectors, and to educate the old cadres in the socialist spirit and socialist consciousness. The formation of the young cadres of the socialist intelligentsia is going ahead at a rapid and satisfactory rate in all the fields of human activity, and the re-education of old cadres is not doing badly either.

But we must always keep in mind that neither the new people’s intelligentsia nor the old are immune from the old bourgeois and petty-bourgeois survivals, or from the influence of the propaganda of the bourgeoisie and bourgeois ideology. These survivals show up in the life and work of both the new cadres and the cadres of the old intelligentsia. They appear, first and foremost, in their method and style of work, in their way of family life, in their attitude towards common socialist property, in collective work, in their lack of proletarian discipline and morality, in individualism, self-importance and haughtiness, in arrogance and pseudo-independence, in stereotyped work, in their lack of perspective and creativeness, and in many other manifestations.

Hence, while recognizing such a situation, knowing these difficulties of growth and of training, it is impermissible for us to underestimate or belittle them, either to be content with what we have achieved so far, or to become alarmed, but we should build such a program of work and education for our people’s intelligentsia which will always bring up young and sound cadres, and will cure the others, too, as well as to continually purge young and old of bourgeois vestiges.

He who should be considered a good educator, a good propagandist, is not the one who is satisfied to deliver a theoretical lecture on Marxism-Leninism, copying phrases from the texts of the classics and reading them to the listeners, but the one who makes his lecture on Marxism-Leninism alive and concrete, who gives it vitality, choosing words and examples suitable to the different categories of the people of his audience. To deliver dry Marxist lectures is of little use, and it is a fact that few people come to listen, not because they do not want to, but because they fail to understand them. But to me, he who delivers such lectures is an ignoramus, a semi-intellectual divorced from practical life. He does nothing but repeat phrases from the classics of Marxism which, after all, the listeners can read for themselves. The main thing which our propagandist of Marxism-Leninism is ignorant of, and without which he cannot give a stimulating lecture, is that he doesn’t know the make-up of his audience, what sort of people they are, where they work, what they think about, what outlooks they have in their heads, what they have grasped clearly, dimly, or wrongly. Both sides are afraid of each others’ questions, and of free discussion. One fears lest he cannot answer, the other that his question may be taken amiss.

Thus, both parties work automatically. The listener often abandons the course because he fails to find in it what he wants, while the educator or propagandist thinks and pretends that he is in order, because he has his lecture prepared, as we have already said, in his pocket, goes to read it, but the course fails.

For cultured people the study of Marxist-Leninist theory may be easier, it may also be hard, and it may even become incomprehensible.

We must strive to have our propagandists cultured, or to have them acquire culture. Those who are cultured should weed out whatever is rotten in their old culture, that is, they should apply the thermometer of Marxism-Leninism to everything they have learned and when they see their temperature rise, when they have fevers, so to speak, about certain views, they should cure them. There are some who cure them, and Marxism-Leninism becomes a real guide. They are not easily misled and know how to teach this unerring method to other people. Those who do not act in this way, who have rubbish left in their heads, pose as if they understand Marxism, deliver stereotyped lectures, and often, although they speak about Marxism, they themselves do not accept it. Of course, in this case they are dangerous or harmful.

But not all our propagandists are cultured people. We are far from what is required. Then what is to be done, should we have fewer courses of education? No! but we must train propagandists, we must teach them the fundamental principles of Marxist philosophy, linking them closely with life, with practice. They themselves should realize that these principles of philosophy are not ‘bogies’ but things that can be learned. Who will make these principles clear to these propagandists? First and foremost, life, struggle and their daily work.

Along with the courses of Marxist-Leninist education, a large number of lectures and discussions are conducted dealing with politics, technological problems, ethics, and so on. These are conducted wherever people work, create, strive. Though these lectures and conferences are a bit watery, it is here that the Marxist-Leninist education of the people and the intellectuals should begin. It is here we should link the process of daily work, of teaching at school, operating on a patient, diagnosing his ailment, rationalization, norms, pay, playing a role on the stage, and so on and so forth, with the principles of our Marxist-Leninist philosophy. If we link these problems properly, then the education courses will be much easier for the audience as well as for the lecturer. But the Party fails to attach the necessary importance to this problem. The party cabinets stand quite aloof from these problems, thinking that the education courses will solve everything, and finally they issue a statistical report. Likewise, the propagandists are not as interested as they should be in this preliminary and fundamental kind of education, and are not interested to test in life, in the practice of socialist construction, the Marxist formulae they have managed to remember. This is extremely serious. People say that these meetings become boring, and this may well be so. Hence, their nature must be changed. From boring they must become interesting. Who will do this? Of course, the Party. Not only those of little or no culture, but also the cultured ones will find it hard at first to grasp the Marxist-Leninist philosophy. But if theory is linked with practice, with life, then this is not difficult. There are very few among us who have a thorough knowledge of Marxism-Leninism and of the formulae as Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin and others stated them, but there are many who work, apply, create and do not make mistakes because they are guided by Marxism-Leninism. What does this mean? This means that the Party has taught the cadres Marxism-Leninism, that it has made it their sole means, their glorious weapon for leadership and action. This means that these hundreds and thousands of people in Albania are no strangers to Marxism-Leninism. They know it, they are guided by it in whatever they do, they cannot live, build or create without it. It is a fact that colossal things have been done, that we have a strong, a very strong Marxist-Leninist Party of the new type, that we have a Party that had a correct line and which stands loyal to Marxism-Leninism. The Party is made up of people, of vanguard people who are no strangers to Marxism-Leninism. Thus, the Marxist-Leninist education of our cadres, of our intelligentsia, must be strengthened even more, and we must not have a narrow view of this, that is, reducing it to the party courses, because if we think of it like this, we would be forgetting life, the struggle, the realization of our aim, and deal only with its theoretical aspect. This must be well understood by those who are engaged in agitation and propaganda in the Party, by the leaders of the Party in factories, cooperatives, schools, and hospitals; this must be well understood by the leaders of youth wherever people work, strive, and create. It is there that theory will be tested, it is there that the greatest aid will be given to the cadres to arm themselves with Marxist-Leninist theory.

There is a great possibility that neither the doctor nor the professor, both cultured persons, will understand a theoretical lecture on dialectical and historical materialism. Speak to them first about their own practice, about their own science, link certain fundamental principles of materialism with this practice, and they will understand very quickly. Then deliver a purely theoretical lecture, and they will certainly understand it this time.

This is also the case with the factory worker who is well aware of wages, prices, norms, and so on and so forth, with which and for which he wages a daily struggle and fights along Marxist lines. When you give a lecture about these things, don’t forget to link certain principles of Marxist philosophy with these problems, and they will understand it better. Then, speak to them later on the theory of surplus value, and you can be certain that this time they will understand, and understand so well that one might even say better than the agitator or propagandist. And this holds for all things and in all sectors.

We have comrades who, when theoretical matters are mentioned, hold up their hands and never fail to say, ‘These are difficult matters, political economy is difficult, this and the other are difficult!’ But in reality this is not so. These are comrades of great seniority in leadership, they have colossal experience in economic problems. They know political economy in life and practice better than in books, and can even leave the teacher behind. But they are scared by both the book and the teacher; or better, they are scared of phrases. Elegant phrases overwhelm them. It is enough for the Party that the people know the essence, to know how to use it correctly and well in life. Let the teacher keep his phrases. Let him keep well in mind the sequence of things, as he should, for that is his business, but he must not forget that it is also his business to make the theory understandable, simple, related to life, to practice, and not frighten people off with heavy philosophical phrases. I do not say that philosophy is an easy thing but neither is it a ‘bogey’. For us communists everything is understandable, but efforts are called for in this as in everything else.

[Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 2, pp725-738]

Notes:

1 Theses drafted for discussion at the meeting of the Bureau of the Party Committee for the city of Tirana which, on March 21, 1958, was to take up for consideration the report ‘On the work for the education of intellectuals’. Comrade Enver Hoxha did not deal exhaustively with all these theses at that meeting.

2 In his treatise ‘The Republic’, Plato described an ‘ideal state’ based on the division of work among castes of free citizens: 1) leaders (philosophers), 2) fighters, 3) artisans and farmers. Each caste, according to Plato, should carry out only its specific tasks without interferring with those of the others; the fighters were denied the right of private ownership and of creating a family so that they might deal exclusively with the defence of the state.

3 According to the anti-scientific and reactionary theory developed by Malthus (1766-1834), the impoverishment of the workers does not result from their oppression and exploitation by the rich classes, but is allegedly the consequence of the permanent disproportion between the arithmetical progress of the growth of the means of subsistence and the geometrical progress of the growth of the population.

4 From F. Nietzsche (1844-1900), bourgeois reactionary theoretician of the transitory stage from capitalism to imperialism, on which fascism was founded. According to this theory, will is the determining factor in society because the development of history depends on the will of the individual aspiring to power, while the masses are only ‘serfs’, the ‘mob’, destined to obey and submit to the ruling classes for ever.

More on Albania …..

Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Lavdi Deshmoreve - Glory to the Martyrs - Edison Gjergjo

Lavdi Deshmoreve – Glory to the Martyrs – Edison Gjergjo

More on Albania …..

Evolution of lapidars in Albania – part of the struggle of ideas along the road to Socialism

Introduction

It’s relatively easy to make a revolution – the difficult part is being able to survive the fury of the reaction from capitalism/imperialism and the death and destruction it is prepared to rain on any group of workers and peasants who dare to challenge the established order. If a society survives that onslaught – and many have not – then the building of the of a new, Socialist, classless based society is even more difficult. Of the few workers and peasants revolutions that were successful in the 20th century it’s worth mentioning from the start that they were all led by organised Communist parties which followed, and developed, the Marxist-Leninist ideology – thereby putting the Trotskyites, the Anarchists and any other ‘ideology’ in their place.

It’s also relatively easy to re-organise industry and agriculture in a different, collective manner from that which has existed since the early years of the 19th century. The term ‘relatively’ has to be taken in context. Industrialisation and collectivisation in the Soviet Union, for example, from the late 1920s into the 19030s, wasn’t easy and was fraught with difficulties. But the first step – taking the land and the means of production away from the big landowners and capitalists – was achieved by the organised workers (and especially their leadership) who knew force of arms, used by the majority of the population, was a winning argument.

However, the biggest hurdle a new workers’ state has to face in the effort to construct Socialism, the biggest challenge that has to be taken on and the issue that has to be resolved before a truly new society can be established is in the confronting the ideas of the old society which are entrenched within all who have been brought up in a society relying on oppression and exploitation. Some willingly confront these vestiges of the past, some do so reluctantly, some cling on to them in the hope the new social ‘experiment’ will fail but all within the new Socialist society have to take a stance on this matter – whether they are aware of it or not.

Not only do we need to put capitalism and imperialism into the dustbin of history, to the same wheelie bin we also have to consign the old ideas.

And that’s not easy.

In fact it’s so difficult that no society which has attempted to build Socialism has been able to exist for more than 46 years – barely two generations – but even that was a major achievement when we consider that the country in question was Albania which had a tiny population and was faced, from the very beginning, with the open hostility of the capitalist and imperialist forces who came out of the Second World War weakened (especially in Europe) but still hell bent on destroying those societies that had taken up the Red Banner of Socialism. Whilst overcoming those early attempts at the restoration of capitalism Albania later had to face the chaos, both economically and politically, caused by the revisionist degeneration of once proud Communist, Marxist-Leninist Parties.

In this article I want to look at how the Party of Labour of Albania, under the leadership of Enver Hoxha, sought to use culture, especially those monuments, mosaics and bas reliefs (known as lapidars in Albania) which were on permanent public display throughout the country, as a weapon in the idealogical battle against the old ideas of the rotten and moribund capitalist system as well as counter-acting the ‘new’ ideas of the equally rotten ‘modern revisionism’ which was aiming to destroy the Socialist state from within.

What is a lapidar?

The simplest English translation of the Albania word ‘lapidar’ would be ‘monolith’. It may also be useful to say it’s a word used to represent monuments in Albania long before the victory of the Communist Partisans in the National Liberation War on November 29th 1944. It is also true the vast majority of lapidars created after liberation were in fact simple monoliths which were often erected in locations where there had been a battle with the fascists – first Italian and then German – and where Partisans had been killed and buried (often hurriedly) in the vicinity.

They were normally a four sided pillar with the sides tapering as it got higher but which were truncated long before arriving at a point. These vary in size from ones just over a metre high to ones slightly more elaborate and 5 or 6 metres high. Normally there would be a plaque attached with the names of the Fallen and often a Red Star at the top indicating these were Communist Partisans. (As you will see later these red stars were like a red rag to the reactionary and fascist bulls after the restoration of capitalism in Albania in 1990.)

But as the revolution and the construction of Socialism in Albania developed, as the issues the country had to face became more difficult and complex, so did the lapidars evolve to encompass more statuary and architectural elements.

To get a visual idea of this evolution in Albanian lapidars it would be useful to have a look at a short film, called ‘Lapidari’ (Director: Esat Ibro, Screenplay: Viktor Gjika, 1984–6) which shows the evolution of a single lapidar in the countryside. From being a simple grave it evolves into a more elaborate structure as the society becomes more wealthy so that at the end it is faced with marble slabs.

There are a couple of interesting touches in this short video which put matters into its historical context. One is the capture of renegades who had attempted to subvert the society with the assistance of the imperialist nations, particularly the British. This is the scene where we hear aircraft noises at night and then the capture of these traitors. As they are led away in handcuffs the villagers surround the lapidar in a symbolic move of protecting what had been fought for in the past.

This lapidar sits in the middle of the community and ‘observes’ the changes that take place over the years with the collectivisation of the land, which brings with it machinery and at the very end we see an image of an electricity pylon which indicates the electrification of the country. Being at the centre of the community it also is the focal point for public holidays and this was an aspect of all the lapidars in the country, in the cities as well as the countryside, where children would play an integral part of the celebrations.

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs' Day May 5th

Pioneers stand as guard of honour on Martyrs’ Day May 5th

Children would lay flowers on the lapidars and stand guard at the tombs in the larger cemeteries on those national occasions. This was in an effort to educate children about the past, where their family members had fought against the invading fascists and had provided for the first time in Albania’s history a true liberation for the working people reinforcing the connection between the present and the past.

The Albanian Lapidar Survey

I first became aware of the lapidars on my first visit to Albania, in 2011, when I travelled extensively around the country encountering some of these remarkable structures from the window of a bus or a train. Once I realised what a treasure trove there was of these monuments I decided I would start a project to make a photographic record of these unique structures as the amount of deliberate vandalism I was seeing, together with general neglect indicated they would soon disappear from the landscape. The problem was there were only so many I could visit just based on chance encounters as I went around the country.

In Tirana I met, by chance, some people who were able to direct me to certain sources, especially the National Archive, but the problem is there you need to know what to ask for before you can get it – and then there’s the matter of the Albanian language – which I don’t have.

Then, by sheer chance and extremely fortuitously, I came across the Albanian Lapidar Survey project.

This was where members of the Department of Eagles (a project following artistic development in Albania) obtained funding to go the width and breadth of the country in order to record the locations and document as fully as possible those lapidars still in existence.

As a result of their work three volumes were produced recording the results – all available as downloadable pdfs. Volume One contains a number of introductory articles, some contemporary some historical, surrounding the lapidars. It then lists around 650 lapidars with their location and any other pertinent information, such as any wording on the lapidar, dates of of inauguration and artist/s involved (if known). Volumes Two and Three contain (normally) two images of each of the lapidars surveyed.

For me this was a godsend as in one fell swoop I was provided with a huge database that meant finding these (sometimes) artistic gems was much more than a chance encounter – although it did mean I often had to travel long distances in local transport just to have a few minutes to capture images for my own project and also having to walk long distances along deserted roads to get to, or back from, some of the most remote.

I’m also pleased to be able to say I was also able to make some additions to the list as the information the researchers were working on was never totally complete. Also, for reasons I will go into later, there was a cut-off point in what was considered a lapidar so there are many other artistic works from the Socialist period which I have identified in my travels and which I consider to be ‘lapidars’ but which are not part of the ALS catalogue. These included, especially, mosaics and bas reliefs – sometimes outside and sometimes inside buildings.

Sculptors and architects get involved

Why there was a move (or more exactly a development) from the simple, local, community lapidars to some amazing, truly monumental works of art I will address later. What is clear, however, is from the middle of the 1960s – and for a period of twenty years – the lapidars that appeared in Albania were the creations of trained sculptors and architects.

As was seen in the short video ‘Lapidari’ what might have started out as a simple grave became more elaborate as the wealth and skills in the community increased. Making a monolith higher and facing it with marble was well within the skills of local builders. If there was any decoration it would be in the form of a carved stone which might depict the eagle, the symbol of Albania, with the addition of a star to celebrate the Socialist Revolution. Yes, this needed skill and practice but this was the sort of artistic work which could be produced at a local level by a local artisan.

When it came to producing more than life size human figures, monumental arches or 10 metre high concrete stars, large bas reliefs, mosaics that cover an area of 400 m² or when you cast something in bronze the task and the skills needed rise to a new level.

Lapidars before the mid 1960s

However, as far as I can see there wasn’t a great deal of demand for such skills much before the mid-1960s. From all I have been able to gather (sometimes finding information about Albanian lapidars is like looking for a needle in a haystack) the development of the traditional lapidars depicted in the film ‘Lapidari’ was left very much to the local communities. Apart from a carved memorial stone there appeared to be little decoration – and certainly nothing as ornate as the monuments erected from the late 1960s into the 1980s.

When it came to state involvement in monuments it was very much limited to a few statues of the great Marxist-Leninist leaders, particularly VI Lenin and JV Stalin, as well as some busts of Enver Hoxha.

The first reference I have come across of any of these is a small painting by Abdurrahmin Buza called ‘Voluntary work at the ‘Stalin’ textile factory’ which is dated 1948. This depicts activity in the square in front of the entrance to the factory in the town of Kombinat, just to the south-west of Tirana (along the ‘old’ road to Durrës).

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory - 1948

Voluntary work at the Stalin textile factory – 1948

In the middle of the square is a large statue of Joseph Stalin. This is probably the statue which now stands in the ‘Sculpture Park’ at the back of the National Art Gallery in Tirana. I say ‘probably’ as there was an evolution of many of the statues erected in Socialist Albania that started out in plaster or concrete and which were subsequently cast in bronze. This was the work of Odhise Paskali, probably the most famous (and quite prolific) pre-Liberation Albanian sculptor. An exact copy used to stand in the oil producing city of which was called Stalin City, now renamed Kuçove, in the centre of the country, not far from Berat. Unfortunately, I think that one was completely destroyed. It was created in 1949 and originally of concrete – I’m not sure if it was ever replaced by a bronze version.

Joseph Stalin - Kristina Hoshi - Kombinat

Joseph Stalin – Kristina Hoshi – Kombinat

Consider the chunky nature of this statue and compare it with the Russian made statue of Joe, that’s also now in the ‘Sculpture Park’, which was presented to the Albanian people in 1951.

Joseph Stalin - Soviet - 1951

Joseph Stalin – Soviet – 1951

For about 17 years this statue stood in pride of place in the centre of Skenderbeu Square in Tirana until it was replaced by the 1968 version of Skenderbeu himself, the work of Paskali, with Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano. It was around this statue of Uncle Joe crowds gathered in March 1953 when news broke of the great leader’s death.

JV Stalin - Skenderberg Square, Tirana

JV Stalin – Skenderberg Square, Tirana

In 1954 Kristina Hoshi (Albania’s very first female sculptor) created the statue of VI Lenin – this now (sadly) vandalised and damaged statue is also behind the National Art Gallery. This was originally made of concrete, later a bronze version was cast, and it stood in the garden that was between the National Art Gallery and the Hotel Dajit, on the road leading from Skenderbeu Square to the Tirana University. (When Uncle Joe was moved from the main square he was placed across the road from Vladimir Ilyich.)

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

Hotel Dajit with Lenin statue

I’ve also seen a number of old pictures with various busts of Stalin in Tirana

Stalin bust - possibly Tirana 1990

Stalin bust – possibly Tirana 1990

and Durrës.

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

Bust of Stalin, Durres, main mosque, early 1960s

After his death there were a number of statues erected of Enver Hoxha in various parts of the country but I am only aware of one full statue and that was also created soon after Liberation, in 1948 and in concrete, by Odhise Paskali – though not quite a monopoly in the 20 years after Liberation Paskali never seemed to be short of work. This statue stood outside the Tirana Military Academy.

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

Enver Hoxha, Tirana (Military Academy)

There was another statue which appeared in 1949 and that was the ‘Monument to the Partisan’ by Andrea Mano (another of the ‘old school’ of Albanian sculptors). This still stands in its original location, in the square behind the library and Opera House in the centre of Tirana. This is not one of my most favourite statues. He’s too angry. I’m not against anger but this Partisan seems to be putting all his energy into his anger and not saving it to defeat of the fascist invader.

Partisan, Tirana

Partisan, Tirana

Although the work of a pre-Liberation artist it does contain, in the two panels on the sides of the plinth, many of the ideas and images which were later developed and improved upon by those young artists who were the product of the new, Socialist education system. Many of the ‘old school’ artists (Kristina Hoshi, Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço, Abdurrahmin Buza, amongst others) became teachers in first the Tirana Artistic Academy and later (from 1960) the Higher Institute of Art – part of Tirana University.

Before moving on it might be pertinent to mention here that in the immediate years after Liberation Albanian artists didn’t have access to foundries to cast any metal statues and therefore depended upon their work finally being realised, and Budapest seemed to be the place of choice. By the 1950s things had changed but artists didn’t use commercial foundries but ones specifically for artists which made the structure in pieces, which were then welded together.

And this was the state of Albanian public lapidars until the middle of the 1960s. So what happened to make a significant change in emphasis in Albanian Socialist Realist Art?

The emergence of the unique Albanian lapidars

The short version of the chronology of events. March 5th 1953 Joseph Stalin dies. February 25th 1956, on the very last day of the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev gives a ‘secret’ speech denouncing Comrade Stalin – modern revisionism was now entrenched in the first Communist Party to achieve success in a Socialist Revolution. This caused confusion in many Communist Parties world-wide but there was more clarity in the Party of Labour of Albania and also in the Communist Party of China (as well as groups within various parties in some other countries).

From February 1956 until the end of 1960 meetings were held, letters went back and forth and the debate got more acrimonious. This all came to a head at an extended Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow in November and December 1960. At this meeting Enver Hoxha gave one of the most courageous speeches in defence of Marxism-Leninism (Speech delivered at the Meeting of 81 Communist and Workers Parties, in Moscow, on November 16th 1960), with a stinging criticism of the revisionists in their own home.

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

Enver at 81 Communist Parties Meeting 1961

But for such a stance there were consequences – and a price to pay. Within days any support from the Soviet Union withered away and links with China had yet to be strengthened. For a while Albania was virtually alone – surrounded by hostile forces – whether capitalist or revisionist. A new approach was needed.

Albania’s Cultural Revolution

The new approach was what can best be described as a Cultural Revolution. People know more about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution in China but it had an equally important impact upon Albanian society. It’s also no coincidence both countries arrived at the same conclusion at the same time.

The events of the previous five or six years had shown the problems facing the world’s proletariat and the International Communist Movement. If the Soviet Union, the first ever Socialist state, with its achievements in collectivisation and industrialisation, with the huge sacrifice the nation had made in the destruction of the Nazi beast, could succumb to revisionist betrayal then matters were not as secure as all had thought in the heady days of the late 1940s when the number of people attempting to construct Socialism had increased exponentially.

Any comparison with Albania and China in respect of their Cultural Revolutions would serve no purpose here and would be a vast topic. But if I were to choose a particular event when the decision on the way forward for Albania was laid out for the future it was at the 15th Plenum of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania which was held in October 1965. Ramiz Alia gave the main report (which I haven’t been able to track down) but Enver Hoxha made a contribution towards the end of the meeting where he made (to date) his clearest and most succinct analysis of the role of culture in the next stage in the development of the Revolution.

Enver Hoxha on the Cultural Revolution

The cultural activity with the masses should aim at propagating the ideas of our Party, at creating the materialist world outlook. In this field, attention should be given to the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths, by spreading scientific knowledge among the working masses.

[Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 2, p550. Report to the 3rd Congress, May 25th 1956]

The speech in October 1965 was later published as ‘Literature and the arts should serve to temper people with class consciousness for the construction of Socialism’, but the page numbering to the quotes below refer to Enver Hoxha, Selected Works, Volume 3.

I won’t comment on what Comrade Enver says in this speech, just list those sections which I think are most relevant in the context of the development of the lapidars.

From this stems the great role which literature and the arts should play in the inculcation and development of this consciousness, closely linked with the period we are going through, with the efforts, the struggles for the construction of socialism, with the struggle on a world scale against imperialism, the bourgeois ideology and its variant, modern revisionism, etc.

The consciousness of man and that of society is not something petrified, unchanging, formed and developed once and for all. It undergoes positive and negative changes, it alters in accord with the material-economic forces, with the class struggle, the revolutionary situations, the relations between the antagonistic and non-antagonistic classes, with the ideas which inspire the class struggle, the revolution, and so on. p833/4

In such conditions the tasks of the Party, and those of literature and the arts in particular, in tempering the people with working class consciousness, with the morality of the working class, in order to go ahead successfully with the construction of socialism, are glorious, but by no means simple. p835

I want to turn to the concrete reality and to emphasize with what a sacred duty and a heavy burden of responsibility our Party and people have charged you writers, poets, artists, composers, painters, sculptors, etc. Like everyone else, you, too, must carry out these tasks conscientiously, with your struggle and toil. Your valuable and delicate work must be inspired by the Marxist-Leninist ideology, because only in this way and by basing yourselves on the people, on their struggle and efforts, will your militant and revolutionary spirit display itself and burst out in your creative works and activity, and thus you will become educators of the masses who accomplish great works. p836

There are some who think, and think mistakenly, that by making a flying visit to the base, by sitting in a cafe, cigarette in hand, in order to see the various types whom they want to put in their work passing in the street, or who think that by walking through some factory or plant, they have gathered the necessary material and go home, where they start to write superficially, and sometimes entirely back-to-front, about those things and people that they ‘photographed’ in passing. Thus the world of such a person is restricted by the narrow petty-bourgeois concept of the role of the writer, and he thinks that his head is capable of doing great things. But can it be said that the engineers of the hydro-power stations or those who drain the marshes do not work with their heads, and that the writers alone have this privilege? No! But the engineer, quite correctly, works with the people, studies the environment, the nature, draws plans, checks them again with the people, with the best experience of others, encounters difficulties, struggles with them till he overcomes them. But should not our writer and artist work in this way, too? Then why do we have to point this out to him so many times? p838

You cannot become a real writer simply because you have talent, if you do not develop this talent, this means, by learning, if you do not work on it, test it, and hammer it into shape on the great anvil of the people and if you do not study a great deal, and first of all, the social and economic sciences. Only in this way will the writers provide the working class and the peasantry with worthwhile works. p839

I do not want to repeat anything of what was said in the report delivered by Comrade Ramiz in regard to the range of themes and our objective of tempering the new man of the new socialist Albania, of inspiring him with the heroism of the National Liberation War, with the heroism and the sacrifices of the people and the Party, with the ideas of the partisans, with their aspirations and dreams, in order to inspire and educate him with the rich, exalting, living reality of the construction of socialism in our country, this period which is one of the most brilliant in the history of our people. p840

The aim of the Party is to create new values. p842

In order to combat the negative consequences of the past, we have to explain to the younger generation the origin, the reasons that caused the development of these things. Our fathers and our generation have experienced those situations, but the others have not. p843

A great inspiration is urging onward a new generation of wonderful writers and artists, who are winning renown and becoming dear to the people. Our Party, through its work and maternal care, must protect, educate and encourage these young people with all its means. p843

The Party’s policy in the field of art and literature has been and is clear to everybody. It will always give powerful support to the good works, the correctly inspired works, those that educate, mobilize and open perspectives. p846

In regard to literature and the arts which are developing in our country, as in regard to the other issues, there are not two moralities, but only one, the proletarian morality of the working class. The ideas expressed in the works should conform to this morality. p847

The Cultural Revolution and lapidars

However, there were a couple of more elaborate lapidars which proceeded this 1965 meeting. Both were inaugurated in 1964, both were in Përmet and both were by the same sculptor, Odhise Paskali. They also gave an indication of what was to come – both in a positive and in a (possibly) negative sense.

The first one to discuss is called ‘Shokët – Comrades’ and is located in the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – a short distance from the town centre along the road to Tepelenë. The image is instantly recognisable by anyone who has ever entered a Catholic church. The ‘inspiration’ for the image was that of the ‘Pietà’ which first appeared in Germany in the 14th century but really took off during the Italian Renaissance.

This is the image of Christ after he had been taken off the cross and is in the hands of his mother – and often the Magdalen or others. In Përmet a wounded/dying Partisan is tended by two of his comrades, one male one female. His situation is desperate and he is unlikely to survive but his comrades attempt everything they can. This is an image of comradeship but, I would argue, too close to the imagery of Christianity. You could even argue there’s a suggestion of ‘resurrection’ in the final Liberation that occurred within a year or two of the death of the Partisan.

Shoket - Comrades

Shoket – Comrades

I don’t think it is surprising Paskali came up with this image. He stayed in the country after Liberation and produced works of art for the Revolution as well as passing on his knowledge to a younger generation. But he was born in a different world where religion held sway. I think it’s certain no such image, even one produced by such an esteemed sculptor as Paskali, would have been produced after 1968 – when Albania pronounced itself the first atheist state in the world. I also think this sort of image falls into the category Enver was thinking about in 1956 when he wrote about ‘the struggle against meaningless prejudices and faiths’. Putting a Partisan uniform on the subjects and a Red Star on their caps doesn’t make the image any less Christ-like. But as an indication of the way forward the placing of such a monument in a Martyrs’ Cemetery was something repeated throughout the country and there is no town of any size which doesn’t have a sculpture of some kind.

The second work by Paskali is a bronze statue of a Partisan, fully armed and looking very determined, which is part of the lapidar commemorating the Përmet Congress of May 24th 1944 – where the Albanian Communists decided on the Provisional Government structure six months before their eventual victory over the Nazi invaders in November of that year. It was inaugurated on the 20th anniversary of the Congress.

Permet Congress

Permet Congress

The trend which this sculpture started was the commemoration of the sacrifice and achievements of the Albanian Partisans and their defeat of the Italian and German fascists. Now I’m not against this trend necessarily. As a tool in the education of future generations they should be made aware of what their (now) great grandparents fought for to finally achieve true liberation of the country and lapidars had a role to play in the process.

But Socialist Realist Art has two functions; remembering the past and indicating the road for the future. It’s a matter of proportionality.

Alongside this celebration of the more or less recent past in the 1960s was also the celebration of the life and Skanderbeu, the 15th/16th century nationalist leader. There are many monuments to him and his acheivements throughout Albania, virtually all erected during the Socialist period including the large equestrian statue which stands in the centre of the main square in Tirana bearing his name. When this statue was first erected in 1968, the 500th anniversary of Skenderbeu’s death (the work of Odhise Paskali, Janaq Paço and Andrea Mano) the Russian made statue of Joseph Stalin had to make way and he was moved down the road to accompany VI Lenin. Most, though not all, of these statues to the mediaeval leader are some of those which get the most attention in the present day capitalist Albania – with one, in Krujë, being totally reconstructed in 2012 (but it’s far from one of the best lapidars.)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Obelisk of the Battle of Zidoll (April 24, 1467)

Whatever was to become the trend through the 1970s into the 1980s 1966 did see the inauguration of a lapidar representing the new, Socialist future. This was the Monument to Agrarian Reform (that is the commemoration of the first Cooperative farm established, in 1946, in the area of Krutje, just south of the town of Lushnjë). The lapidar is the work of the sculptor Kristaq Rama (whose son, Edi, is presently Prime Minister of the country) and was unveiled to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the event. Representing a Socialist and collective future it has not been treated with a great deal of respect in the last twenty years.

Monument to Agrarian Reform - Krutje

Monument to Agrarian Reform – Krutje

The movement of monumental lapidar construction takes off

There are close on 200 lapidars, still in existence, in Albania which have some artistic and/or architectural significance (whilst in no way denigrating the simple monoliths commemorating the fallen Partisans), some in better condition than others. I’m in the process of producing a ‘close reading’ of the many I have had the chance to see but it’s a long process and the project has yet to be finished.

Some tell a simple tale, some a more complex one. Here I’ll chose one of each as a means of an introduction to the uniqueness of the Albanian lapidars.

For me the most truly monumental of the monuments is the Arch at Drashovicë, which is located in the beautiful valley of the Sushicë River, which runs parallel to the coast on the other side of the mountain range above the port town of Vlorë. It is the work of one of Albania’s finest post-Liberation sculptors Muntaz Dhrami (with the assistance of architects Klement Kolaneci and Petrit Hazbiu) and was constructed in 1980. It tells the story of two victorious (for the Albanians) battles against the Italian invaders, first in 1920 and then in 1943.

Drashovice Arch

Drashovice Arch

This is history written in stone and it’s a joy to look at all its elements and try to interpret that story – a story too long to tell here. However, although the lapidar is really in the middle of nowhere, Drashovicë is only a small country village, there is obviously a great deal of respect for the story it tells and the way it has been told as on my various visits I have never noticed any serious damage or blatant vandalism – something which can’t be said for many monuments whether in towns or in the countryside.

The simple story is represented by a statue of a Partisan and a young girl in the village of Borovë, in the south-east of the country, not far from the mountainous border with Greece. In July 1943 a Nazi convoy was attacked not far from the village and, as was their wont, the fascist retaliated three days later, on the 19th, and ended up killing a total of 107 people (some being burnt alive locked in the local church) and all the buildings were destroyed.

Partisan and child - Borove

Partisan and child – Borove

In 1968 a lapidar was erected to commemorate this massacre but it underwent radical changes a number of years later and the statue of the Partisan and child was separated from the main memorial and placed on a plinth beside the main road running south. Although the separation does take away somewhat from the story (the main monument to the atrocity now being on top of a hill and can easily be missed if you didn’t know what you were looking for) I still think it is one of the most charming of the Albanian lapidars.

Before I move on from the story of the sculptural lapidars it might be of interest to know that until some of the later monuments (basically those constructed after the death of Enver Hoxha) it wasn’t the norm for sculptors to ‘sign’ their work. Although that, today, makes identification of the artist sometimes difficult I’ve always thought it was a good trait in the history of Albanian Socialist Realist Art.

Enver Hoxha and the Vlorë Independence Monument

I’ve already said there was a great emphasis on the historical, pre-Socialist Liberation struggles in the construction of the lapidars from the mid-1960s. One of the largest of these – both in size and in importance to the Albanian nationalist movement – is the Vlorë Independence Monument which commemorates ‘Independence’ in 1912 from the Ottoman Empire. The reason I mention it here is because Enver Hoxha took a personal interest in the design of this monument, visiting the sculptors in their studio to have a look at the proposed maquette and then sending the artists a letter with his ideas.

I have no problem with this as I don’t see why artists who depend for their livelihood upon the rest of the working population shouldn’t be directed and monitored in the work they produce. Although I’ve come across little concrete evidence such discussions took place before some of the lapidars were installed it would have seemed bizarre, to say the least, if a monument was to sometimes dominate a locality was not first discussed with and became a matter of consultation with the local people.

When it comes to the involvement of the leader of the country, from the time of Liberation in November 1944 till his death in April 1985, I think it was Enver Hoxha’s personal enthusiasm for such monuments which pushed their construction after 1965. The latest lapidar I’m aware of is the large statue ‘Toka Jone – Our Land’ in the middle of the main square of Lushnjë, which is dated 1987. Lapidar construction seemed to stall after Enver’s demise.

Mosaics and bas reliefs

As I’ve said before it’s not just in the public monuments and statues the story of Albania, its nationalist past, its victory over the fascist invaders and its hopes for the future, are on display – although as with the lapidars there physical state varies depending where in the country they are found and with what respect they are held by the local community.

The mosaic seen by virtually all visitors to the country is the ‘The Albanians’ on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Skenderbeu Square in Tirana. Images depicting a couple of thousand years of Albanian history covers a space of around 400m². Unfortunately this is starting to feel the effects of neglect and every time I see it the damage looks worse. My real fear here is that one day a catastrophic accident will occur with pieces falling off and it will be removed ‘for safety reasons’.

One point to stress about the images in this mosaic, and which is repeated in virtually all the lapidars I’ve seen, is that when women are represented they are almost invariably armed, when often the men aren’t. Here the policy of the Party of Labour of Albania attempting to overcome the traditional, secondary role of women in Albanian is reinforced by showing them the way to achieve equality.

National Museum Mosaic - original

National Museum Mosaic – original

Of the other mosaics of interest one is on the side of the town hall building in Ura Vajgurore, not far from Berat,

Bashkia Mosaic - Ura Vajguror

Bashkia Mosaic – Ura Vajguror

and those on either side of, what used to be, the main entrance to the Vlorë Palace of Sport.

The Pickaxe and Rifle - Vlora Palace of Sport

The Pickaxe and Rifle – Vlora Palace of Sport

When it comes to bas reliefs a few examples are:

the one commemorating a demonstration by high school students and their teachers against the occupying Italian fascist forces in Gjirokaster,

Gjimnazi School Revolt - Gjirokaster

Gjimnazi School Revolt – Gjirokaster

one with a completely different approach, the bas relief on the front of the Radio Kukes building in the north-eastern town of Kukes, not far from the border with Kosovo,

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

Bas relief on Radio Kukesi

and the magnificent panel beside the entrance to the historical museum in Ersekë.

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Erseke Museum Bas Relief

Then came 1990

Immediately after the success of the counter-revolution it was the statues of Enver Hoxha, most of them only having been erected after his death in 1985, in various parts of the country, which were the target for those who hated Socialism.

The first one to go was the large statue erected in Skanderbeu Square, on a platform created between the National Historical Museum and the Bank of Albania. This went down on 20th February 1991.

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square - Inaugaration

Enver Hoxha in Skanderberg Square – Inaugaration

Others were to follow in different parts of the country (although the actual chronology is uncertain). Perhaps the biggest of all was the marble statue placed in Gjirokaster Old Town, Enver’s birth place. This huge statue was destroyed by local reactionary forces from the Greek community in August 1991. The platform created to hold the statue is all that now remains – the site being turned into a bar area in the summer.

Enver in Gjirokaster

Enver in Gjirokaster

I don’t agree with the destruction of these statues or the ransacking of the Enver Hoxha Museum (often called the Pyramid) in Tirana. However, I don’t consider these statues fitted into the concept of Socialist Realist Art. There were many busts of Enver in public buildings and there was a small industry (based in Kavajë) producing ceramic busts for peoples’ homes. But I think it was a political mistake to have created these very big (many times life size) statues after his death.

Or perhaps it wasn’t a mistake. The enforced isolation of the country had been putting strains on the system for a while and as happened in the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and in the People’s Republic of China after the death of Mao it was obvious reactionary forces would come out of the sewers to sow dissension and reap the harvest of discontent. The anger directed at the statues of Enver at least meant they didn’t break the head of Ramiz Alia – who seemed to bow down to any pressure to save himself when the reactionaries were able to convince the enough disaffected of the working class to take to the streets. (He has gone down in my estimation during the process of writing this.)

But once the reactionary wave gained force the lapidars which celebrated the achievements of the Socialist past were soon to be fair game. Statues of Uncle Joe were taken down on the orders of the gutless and traitorous Ramiz Alia on the night of the, then considered, anniversary of Stalin’s birth, 21st December 1990. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was spared that night but was taken down on the June 21st 1991.

And those few that had images of Enver Hoxha also became targets of concerted political vandalism. Such was the fate of Monument to the Berat Meeting (held in October 1944 to decide on the structure of the Government after the imminent defeat of the Nazi invaders). This large lapidar was in the centre of town and was inaugurated in 1969.

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Monument to the Berat Meeting, 1969

Another tragic loss was the statue of the Four Heroines of Mirdita. This was a monument to four women from the area around the town of Rreshen, in the northern part of the country, who had played a part in the defeat of the fascist invaders before Liberation in November 1944. They were assassinated by reactionary (often foreign supported) forces operating in the north of the country for their continued efforts in both the construction of Socialism (in 1948 and 1949) and in attempting to build a society where women played a full and equal part with men, thereby challenging the old ideas and thinking.

The Four Heroines of Mirdita - and the sculptors

The Four Heroines of Mirdita – and the sculptors

As an example of the hatred in which pieces of bronze are held by the reactionaries in charge of present day Albania is the story of the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig. The original statue stood in the centre of a roundabout in the centre of Shkodra. It was later moved to be beside the town’s Martyrs’ Cemetery – which originally would have been a glorious site, right beside the River Kir but, for a time, it became the town’s rubbish dump. Here the statue was subject to mindless theft vandalism as the pieces of bronze easily removable were stolen for scrap. After a long, and sometimes heated debate, the statue was moved yet again, this time to a roundabout on the northern edge of town on the main road north. Not the place of honour it once occupied but at least a dignified location – for the time being.

5 Heroes of Vig - plaster, 70's

5 Heroes of Vig – plaster, 70’s

And that’s not to mention Red Stars. Obliterated, damaged or painted over. If there was a target second only to Enver Hoxha it was the stars.

What has ‘democracy’ offered in its place?

The simple answer; not much.

When the sitting right-wing government in 2012 realised it was on its way out they went on a spending spree when it came to the commissioning of public monuments. I have no intention in discussing what was produced here, merely to give an idea of what the capitalist Albania considers is the art for the people.

Words aren’t really necessary.

This was placed in the middle of the roundabout close to the bus station for buses and furgons to the south in Tirana;

Fascist Eagle - Tirana

Fascist Eagle – Tirana

And one to make you wonder where the present day Albanians have placed their dignity and pride is a statue of the coward Zog – he ran away when the Italians invaded on April 7th 1939. This one is in Burrel, in the centre of the country, there’s at least one more in Tirana.

Zog in Burrel

Zog in Burrel

By way of a conclusion

I believe the Albanian lapidars (and the other public works of art) produced between 1964 and 1990 were a unique and distinctive addition to the catalogue of Socialist Realist Art. It served its purpose but other factors meant it didn’t achieve, or maintain, what it set out to do – the creation of a socialist mentality.

Whether matters will change in Albanian such that they recover the respect they had in the past is unlikely in the short term but they do provide, at least, an example of what is possible when art and culture is created for the working class.

March 2020

More on Albania …..

Turning a problem into a crisis – Tory inactivity (and hypocrisy) in the face of the covid-19 pandemic

More on covid pandemic 2020

Turning a problem into a crisis – Tory inactivity (and hypocrisy) in the face of the covid-19 pandemic

The article below was originally written in response to a very interesting and detailed article that addressed ‘How Should Marxists View the COVID-19 Pandemic of 2019-2020?‘ This appeared on the Marxism-Leninism Currents Today website.

This is obviously still and ongoing situation and things can change by the hour let alone the day or week. That being the case we are likely to face many issues in the next few months which could well have consequences that will stay with the people of Britain long after the virus is brought under any sort of control. This article is, therefore, just some initial thoughts on the matter to date (23rd March 2020).

As I type this it is being stated that the planned Emergency Powers Act going to get passed by Parliament later today (likely with little opposition) will include a clause that it will have to be presented to Parliament every six months for ratification rather than lie on the statute books forever.

However, we have the example where the ‘Prevention of Terrorism Act’, which was introduced in 1974, had the same stipulation that it had to be ratified every six months but it soon went through with no discussion at all until 1989!

Dear Comrades

An interesting and informative article on the present virus. However, I’m not sure I totally agree on the way to deal with it. And what follows is based upon how I see, and have seen, matters in a UK perspective.

I am loath to say this (as it means agreeing with the Tory buffoon) but I thought the idea of keeping things relatively ‘normal’ for as long as possible was the best way forward. I now have to accept that I was naïve (to say the least) in believing anything the Tory incompetents and liars say. Having spent too many years of my life where the people of Britain have decided to choose the Conservatives to be the government my only excuse is that I’m forgetting history and put that down to the dotage that comes with age.

To justify my initial agreement I assumed (again foolishly) that there was a plan behind the ‘sit tight’ argument. I thought there might have been a real strategy they were following. After all, we were being told that the response to such an event had been planned for in different exercises over the years.

Even if that ‘planning’ was flawed there was the expectation that all governments (or at least some of their ‘experts’) would have learnt from the experience in Asia, the methods they had used and the tactics they had followed. But that wasn’t the case. The British government took what they wanted from that experience (the so-called ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’) but nothing that was proactive. Their approach can be summed up by ‘do nothing and hope it will go away by itself’.

I’m not sure that any country has really learnt from recent outbreaks (SARS, Ebola, ‘bird flu’, ‘swine flu’ – and many others I can’t even remembering hearing about in the last 40 years) and certainly not from the last worldwide killer pandemic – the so-called ‘Spanish Flu’ of 1918 (as some of Trump’s cronies are trying to do this time by referring the virus as the ‘Chinese virus’ we haven’t developed much as a society in wanting to blame someone else, preferably someone ‘foreign’). In fact, response has seen little development since the ‘Black Death’ of 1348. Technology, which some believe have the answer to all issues (e.g., climate emergency, pollution – in all its forms – etc.), certainly hasn’t come to the rescue when it comes to this infinitesimally small coronavirus.

In the second half of March (four months since the issue arose in China) health workers in Britain are complaining that they don’t have adequate protective gear and testing is only taking place on those people when they are in hospital and have probably already contracted the disease. The testing in this situation confirms the diagnosis but doesn’t help in any preventative strategy.

It’s possible to criticise the process in China but they did a great deal more testing than has taken place in Europe in general and the situation seems (I accept that this is not definitive) to be getting better in Asia in general. And the testing seems to be the key in any success that China, Taiwan, South Korea and Singapore have registered.

I don’t know what people were told in their respective countries by their respective ‘leaders’ but it couldn’t have been (or can be – as this will go on for ever) worse than what we have had to tolerate in Britain.

To list all the errors, mistakes and muddled thinking of the present government in Britain in the face of the pandemic of covid-19 would take forever, and we are still just at the beginning of the crisis. But to pick some of the ones that stand out;

  • turning every announcement into a Party-political broadcast (attempting to put themselves in a good light

  • continuing to play by the same political game and pandering to those precious individuals who see themselves above the rest of us (telling MPs first so they don’t feel left out)

  • allowing rumours to spread through the course of the day and then grandstanding with the announcement which all expect

that’s the political game.

Perhaps more seriously in determining how the virus might spread;

  • having no real overall strategy

  • bringing ‘experts’ to the forefront in order that if/when things go wrong they have ready made scapegoats

  • not having a concept of testing to help slow contagion and then throwing around meaningless figures in order to divert criticism (25,000 tests a day – at some indeterminate time in the future – is nothing in a population of more than 60 million)

  • not providing protective equipment for those ‘on the front’ line – even when there have been calls for this to be distributed for weeks – therefore demonstrating their lack of preparedness

  • no central guidance to the likes of dentists (and other groups) although they are calling for it

  • making ‘recommendations’ (as in pubs and restaurants) leaving everyone concerned in a quandary – just so they can maintain their Tory credentials

  • moving the responsibility upon the population to cover for their inaction

  • having no ‘exit strategy’ to their policy of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self-isolation’

  • providing baffling and incomplete messages and therefore causing confusion which leads to panic and fear

  • not anticipating that such a lack of clarity leads to panic buying and hoarding

  • ‘negotiating’ with private health providers in place of requisitioning facilities which only exist thanks to publicly funded and trained professional – and then paying them ‘at cost’

And then we must add on hypocrisy (which British politicians have in spades)

  • praising health workers (and the general concept of the National Health Service – NHS), when for decades they have been making massive cuts which led, at the end of 2019, to unprecedented strikes by nurses

  • giving the impression they care about the elderly and infirm after an equal number of years making cuts in social care expenditure

  • stating that ‘we are all in this together’ and not remembering that the same meaningless phrase had been used by another Tory leader in relation to the purely greed manufactured and avoidable financial melt-down of 2008 which led to the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer

  • finding mind blowing quantities of money after years of stating ‘money can’t be created from nowhere’ – unless it’s to buy votes in a General Election or in the belief that everyone/thing has a price and that the virus can be bought off

  • using the health crisis to transfer unknown quantities of public wealth into the hands of private corporations

  • keeping quiet about the fact that this money must be paid for by someone, sometime in the future, i.e., the young, who are the least at risk from the present virus

  • prepared to bail out private firms with payments per employee up to £2,500 per month whilst at the same time considering millions of people on Universal Credit can live on £94 per week and any increase would risk bankrupting the country

  • perhaps the supreme irony – the Tory buffoon, at the press conference of 22nd March 2020, standing behind a card which declares ‘Protect the NHS’. Those who have spent decades trying to destroy the institution now claim to be its saviour

That is the way it’s now being ‘managed’ in Britain.

This is the result of putting the biggest social crisis since 1939 in the hands of chancers and opportunists who are only in the game for self-aggrandisement and financial advancement. This is all that ‘Parliamentary Democracy’ – or more accurately Parliamentary Cretinism’ – boils down to.

The idea of ‘social distancing’ (the sum of the government’s suggestions) only makes sense if it is accompanied with a comprehensive and strict regime of testing and follow-up which targets and identifies infection hot spots. What is done is important but having the infrastructure to deal with the consequences is even more so. The situation developed in China a matter of months before it really broke here and there was plenty of opportunity for the government to have put things in place for when the inevitable arrived. They didn’t because they hoped the virus would decide to give

This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England

(William Shakespeare, King Richard II, Act 2, scene 1)

a miss. The problem was the covid-19 hadn’t read Shakespeare – and probably have ignored line 5 if it did.

At the time of the spring equinox the government accuses the people for not taking the threat seriously enough – yet they have been guilty of that since the first news of the outbreak in China was made public last year.

We are given mixed messages about how the population is reacting. Selfish panic buying in the supermarkets is condemned by all and sundry – but a billion pounds worth of groceries (the amount spent in the last two to three weeks over the same period last year) isn’t being spent just by the super-rich, not all workers are rational and selfless.

And we can’t be surprised that many people react in this way as any community feeling has been under attack since the early 80s. It takes a long time to change people’s thinking but I would argue that up to the 80s there was a greater ‘community spirit’ in this country than there is now. For example, the majority of the population didn’t blame the unemployed for their situation in the 70s – I don’t think that’s the same now. We are living with the results of the poison of individualism spread by Thatcher and her acolytes since (both Tory and Labour).

There are, nonetheless, reports of people coming together to help those less able to face the new challenges. This is obviously to be welcomed. If the government doesn’t care for us then we will have to look after ourselves. This was something that developed during the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985 with Miners Support Groups established throughout the country. If such a structure is developed in the near future we should ensure it doesn’t get forgotten when the present crisis passes. If those who seek to ‘rule over us’ don’t do what they are there for what need do we have for them?

Yes, we are allowing ourselves to be ruled by a bunch of incompetents but will people remember this further down the line. We saw that in December last the people of the UK have little ability to analyse the economic and political situation and have even less ability to remember even recent history. The Tories’ new Georgie mates must have been disappointed they weren’t given special treatment when the pubs were told to close – they probably thought their new favoured status would mean an exemption from this ban on the Federation clubs.

I agree with some of the pundits that the present ‘strategy’ is fraught with difficulties. Like their ‘solution’ to the 2008 crisis (when all the problems were just kicked to some indeterminate point on the future) the way of ‘dealing’ with the virus outbreak is to spread it so thinly that it will be manageable. But it will never be so – due in no small part to the way things have been going on in this country since the 1980s – it’s not just a matter of post-2008 ‘austerity’.

Figures that are constantly coming out from every direction only serve to cause more uncertainty, more fear and therefore will create more panic. France’s solution to bad management seems to be to send the troops out on the street and basically institute a situation of martial law. Italy seems to be doing the same now. How long before it happens in Britain? In such a situation how long will it be before some stupid squaddie pulls the trigger and kills someone? And then watch the balloon go up.

For Communists yet another capitalist crisis and the chaos that is developing presents opportunities – but only if we have a Marxist-Leninist organisation capable of directing the way the working class, as a class, should go forward. There are few of them anywhere in the world now – the most recent ones that looked like they were getting there making fundamental mistakes just before the potential for success was realised (here I’m talking about Peru and Nepal).

Billions of pounds that wasn’t there in the past is now being promised to private industry. Large companies, e.g., airlines and train companies will be re-nationalised – but only to pull them out of the shit. When they are healthy again they will return to private hands. Where’s the idea of laissez faire capitalism? When capitalism is in structural crisis it’s now become the norm that the people have to pull them out of their crisis – whether of their own making (as in 2008) or with factors (slightly) out of their control, as now. Only slightly as the much vaunted ‘globalisation’ together with international liberalisation has destroyed (or at least weakened) much of the infrastructure which could have dealt with this situation in a much more positive manner in the past.

There are political dangers associated with this present crisis – and we have a precedent which it would be dangerous to ignore. In a situation where the State is able to manipulate information, and especially when they are denying people the right to congregate (even if there are valid reasons for this) then this provides it with an ideal opportunity to introduce ’emergency’ legislation to ‘better deal with the potential dangers’. Such legislation tends to stick around for a long time.

In the United States the Patriot Act was snuck in after the twin towers came down in September 2001. In the UK the Prevention of Terrorism Act came into force first in 1974 (in response to the situation in Ireland) and then went through the British Parliament every six months, on the nod, until 1989. Various British governments since 2000 have brought in other ‘terrorism’ acts which would need only a slight tweak to be extended to make anyone challenging a government diktat to be declared a ‘terrorist’.

Capitalism will never be able to deal with such crises as any meaningful action will go counter to self-interest and profit. Any idea of closing down London – the epicentre of the pandemic in Britain – would almost certainly see the demise (or at least a severe weakening) of the financial centres and the Stock Exchange in the City. And capital has been wanting when it comes to dealing with the climate emergency.

The search for a vaccine – upon which all capitalist governments place their hopes – itself is fraught with contradictions. Supposedly to prevent death of the vulnerable whoever gets the patent in first is set to make a fortune that would make the California and Yukon gold rushes of the 19th century seem as wealth producing as a church hall raffle.

With a world population of more than seven billion it doesn’t take a genius to work out who will get the first batch. It would be a gambler (or a fool) indeed who would bet on it being the world’s most vulnerable who received it first.

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