Five Heroes of Vig – Skhodër

5 Heroes of Vig - Dobraç,

5 Heroes of Vig – Dobraç,

Celebrating solidarity and the willingness towards self-sacrifice in the common cause the statue of the Five Heroes of Vig once stood in one of the central squares of Skhodër, in northern Albania. After a period ‘out in the wilderness’ – close to the city rubbish dump and subject to crass, petty thievery it has now found a new permanent home in the centre of a roundabout to the north of the city.

The statue commemorates events that took place in the small village of Vig in 1944, just before the victory of the Partisans over the Germany Fascists, their hangers-on, collaborators and lackeys.

On August 21, 1944, at Vig in the Mirdita highlands, 5 long time partisans went to talk to the peasants who were under the thumb of the feudal chief, Gjon Markagjoni, ‘a tool of the fascist occupiers’.

5 heroes of vig

5 heroes of vig

From left to right: Ndoc Dedo (Teli), Ndoc Mazi (Minuku), Naim Gjylbegu (Besniku), Hidajet Lezha (Hida), Ahmet Haxhia (Tigri).

Informers let the fascists know of their whereabouts and 200 Nazi troops were sent to capture or kill the five. The fight went on for 6 hours, the Communists fighting to the last bullet, and all of them being killed.

5 Heroes of Vig - Pandi Mele

5 Heroes of Vig – Pandi Mele

The incident was depicted in an Albanian film of 1982 called Besa e Kuqe (Red Faith), directed by Pirro Milkani.

Ahmet Haxhia 1926-1944

Ahmet Haxhia 1926-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Tigri (Tiger). From a lower middle class family from Skhodër. Joined the Albanian Communist Party at the beginning of 1943 and worked in the town as part of the organising resistance amongst young people. In December of that year joined the Partisan unit based in the Miradita region. The youngest of the five.

 

 

Hydajet Lezha 1920-1944

Hydajet Lezha 1920-1944

 

 

 

Nom de guerre Hida. Born in the town of Lezha. Joined the Albanian Communist Party in early 1943 and, as an orphan, it was here where he found his true family.

 

 

 

Naim Gjylbegu 1920-1944

Naim Gjylbegu 1920-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Besniku (Faithful). Was involved in the Skhodër Communist Group, the forerunner of the Albanian Communist Party, when still in his teens. In October 1942 became a member of the regional Committee of Communist Youth. Soon after arrested and tortured for his activities but once released became commander of the local CETA – guerrilla organisation.

 

Ndoc Deda 1918-1944

Ndoc Deda 1918-1944

 

 

 

Nom de guerre Teli (Wire). Born in a village in the Milot region into a peasant family. Organised revolutionary activity in the ranks of the old army later leaving to join the Partisans in the middle of 1943 and in October of that year joined the Albanian Communist Party.

 

 

Ndoc Mazi 1920-1944

Ndoc Mazi 1920-1944

 

 

Nom de guerre Minuku. Was born into a poor working class family in Skhodër. Was a member of the Skhodër Communist Group before it morphed into the Albanian Communist Party, Suffered from tuberculosis but still worked underground in, first, Durrës and later in Skhodër before joining the Partisan army in the Mirdita region. 

 

 

 

The statue, whose name in Albanian is ‘Monumenti i Heronjve të Vigut’, is the work of Shaban Hadëri (28th March 1928 – 14th January 2010) who created the statue of Isa Boletini – also in Shkodër – and collaborated on two of the most important existing monumental statues in Albania – Mother Albania, in the National Martyrs’ Cemetery in Tirana, and the Independence Memorial in the city of Vlorë.

Hadëri joined the Partisan resistance to the Fascist invasion at the age of sixteen in 1944 and was able to follow his artistic education following the success of that war of liberation and the opportunities the Communists provided in terms of education.

This statue has gone through good times and bad. It originally started out as a concrete statue, of a little more than life-size, and was installed in the square beside the Rozafa Hotel in the centre of Shkodër in 1969.

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

5 Heroes of Vig in concrete

This original was replaced by a much larger, 5 metres high, statue of bronze. This new statue was similar, with the same idea as the original, but with a few differences. This was mainly in the form of dress and the way they carried their armaments. It remained there until 31st January 2009. On that date it was transported to a site beside the Martyrs’ Cemetery on the banks of the River Kir.

5 Heroes of Vig - Shkoder

5 Heroes of Vig – Shkoder

When this cemetery was established the location would have been enviable – outside of the city, close to a river and with the mountains of the Dukagjin highlands behind it. However, since the arrival of ‘democracy’ in the 1990s many things have changed. The river, which only has significant water just after the snow melts in the spring, is now a tragic site.

The town’s rubbish dump has been created beside the river, very close to the Martyrs’ Cemetery. One of the results of the greater availability of consumer goods has been a massive explosion in the number of plastic bags. Once they are just dumped in the open air (there’s no attempt at a landfill in Shkodër) all it takes is a light breeze and the bags are everywhere. OK if you like your river beds multicoloured but generally disastrous for the environment.

Rubbish in Kir River

Rubbish in Kir River

Another legacy of the re-introduction of capitalism is the job of sifting through rubbish dumps, a trade that now spans the globe where, on some of the huge dumps, people both live and work on the detritus of others. At the Shkodër dump there are small groups bagging up whatever there might be of value and now they are really the only ones who visit the area in any frequency.

I’m assuming it must have been someone amongst this group that decided, at the end of  2012, that there was monetary value in the bronze statue of the 5 heroes and have been helping themselves to bits of it. There were certain amongst the politicians of Shkodër city council who, I’m sure, were glad of this news, that being part of their plan in the first place. In the centre of town any vandalism would be obvious but outside in a totally unpopulated area anything could, and did, happen.

This is what you would expect from a council that has changed the name of the road to the railway station to ‘Hungarian Anti-Communist Revolution Road’ as well as pandering to the US with celebrating nationals of that country who have had nothing to do with Albania apart from trying to make it a vassal to a greater imperialist power either in the distant or recent past. It’s in such a fundamentalist Catholic environment that Mother Teresa appears everywhere and the anti-Communist paintings have been commissioned in the Franciscan Church.

The present day ‘so-called’ Socialist Party made noises about the destruction of national heritage and that this showed a total lack of respect for those who had fought for the country’s liberation from Fascism. Despite their silence in the past – when such desecration has occurred and their almost non-existent opposition to the return of Ahmed Zogu’s remains to Tirana in November 2012 – their efforts have resulted in the re-siting of the (cleaned up if not renovated statue) on the northern perimeter of the city.

The Statue 

In its simple composition the statue epitomises the ideas of Socialist Realist sculpture. They form a tight circle so they are supporting, defending and depend upon each other and the direction in which they are looking gives the impression that they are covering the whole 360 degrees. It’s a defensive, rather than an attacking stance and in that way represents the way they dies – surrounded by an overwhelmingly superior force. But at the same time they wouldn’t have just been waiting for the enemy and the (imagined) depictions above try to give a more realistic representation of their ‘last stand’. What we have here is a symbolic representation of unity, solidarity and comradeship.

They are dressed in various clothing styles with one of them appearing to be dressed in a Partisan uniform but whether that would have been the case is unlikely due to the very nature of their mission – the elimination of a locally known tyrant and collaborator.

There’s a look of determination on all their faces together with a tranquillity as if they understand the circumstances and the inevitable acceptance of their lot, their fate. In the sort of war they were fighting any Partisan had to realise that once they had taken up arms they had to accept that all might not go well. This was total war and the Nazis would give no quarter – but then neither would the Partisans. Anyone who didn’t accept this should stay at home, let others do the fighting. Victory necessitated sacrifices – aim should be to make those as small as possible.

It’s very difficult with any degree of certainty to say exactly which of the five figures represents the real person and as they are in a circle there’s no real starting point so I’ll start with the figure that most clearly seems to be in uniform.

The uniform is typical of that seen on other lapidars throughout the country. He’s wearing a heavy jacket under which is a thick woollen jumper. He has a wide belt tied, not buckled, around his waist and into this is tucked a pistol. This pistol has a huge grip (similar to that carried by Bajram Curri in the statue to him in the town that bears his name). The pistol is attached to a twisted leather lanyard which goes around his neck, under the collar of the jacket. On his head he wears the typical Partisan cap, with the red star at the front. He is wearing sandals – with thick woollen socks – the strap and buckle on the left foot visible and cords crisscross the trousers of both legs, on the shins.

He is holding what looks like a Beretta Model 38 sub-machine gun with the forefinger of his right hand on trigger and his left hand supporting barrel in front of magazine, the bottom end of the magazine resting against his left knee.. Here is one of the examples of mindless vandalism which this monument has had to suffer and the end of barrel has been sawn off – this must have provided the thief with enough to buy a raki, not much else.

He stands with his legs slightly apart, standing steady, giving an impression of solidity, determination, of not going to move. He is looking slightly to his left.

5 Heroes of Vig - Solidarity

5 Heroes of Vig – Solidarity

One interesting, human touch is that the left hand of the fifth in the group is placed protectively, supportively, on his right shoulder. This again emphasises the idea that these are Comrades united in a common cause – whatever might be the consequences.

5 Heroes of Vig - Haderi 1984

5 Heroes of Vig – Haderi 1984

Carved into the rock against which he is standing, close to his feet be can see the name of the sculptor, Shaban Halil Hadëri, and the date 1984. As I have stated elsewhere, for example the Martyrs Cemetery in Lushnjë, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the name of the artist started to appear on Albanian lapidars, demonstrating a softening of the approach towards the idea of individuality in art. As I’ve stated above this particular statue (apart from moving around a lot more than most) existed in an earlier, plaster version which was created in 1969. Although it’s impossible for me to say given that that version was almost certainly destroyed when the new one was installed, I would very much doubt whether Hadëri’s name appeared on the original.

Hadëri also was responsible for the monument to 1920 in Qafe e Kociut (close to Vlora) and also worked with Mumtaz Dhrami and Kristaq Rama on the Vlora Independence Monument.  

I must stress, again, that here I’m in no way denigrating the art, skill and imagination of the artist. But, in the end, he was only one of a number of skilled individuals who produced this fine example of Socialist Realism – where are the names of the others?

5 Heroes of Vig - Peasant Partisan

5 Heroes of Vig – Peasant Partisan

The next in the circle is not in uniform but is wearing the comfortable, winter clothing of a peasant. On his head he has a qeleshe (the felt skull-cap) on his head with a long headscarf wrapped around his forehead with the scarf trailing behind him. He wears a tight-fitting shirt and an open xhamadan (the traditional tight, short waistcoat) which has decorated trimming on the edges. He wears the traditional tight-fitting peasant trousers (tirc) which have the V shape at the front at the bottom, as they go either side the opinga (shoes) but these are without the sheepskin pompom. There are signs of decoration on the opinga. It looks as if there is a great coat hanging from his left shoulder, almost falling to the ground – the bottom edge of the coat can be seen hanging down behind his legs.

Around his waist is an ammunition belt with 4 pouches visible and 5 bullets in each. In holds a bolt-action rifle, his right arm fully extended and gripping the weapon at the trigger mechanism, his forefinger pushed through the trigger guard. His left arm is bent at right angles with his hand holding the gun at the point where the barrel departs from the rest of the mechanism – so the rifle is across his body from bottom right to left by his elbow. This weapon is not in a firing position but we know he is prepared to do so at any moment. Another small detail is the broken ring to which a strap would be attached which can be seen on the butt of the rifle. The end of barrel has also been stolen by the short-sighted, ignorant, rubbish rats.

His head is turned almost fully to the left and sports a moustache – almost always the differentiation that demonstrates a background of the country rather than the town (as is the sort of clothing depicted).

The third is basically in civilian dress, in the clothes of the urban working class. There’s a woollen jumper (with vertical stitching) under his jacket and he wears normal, contemporary trousers. On his feet are closed toe sandals – the straps and buckles of both feet visible. Around his neck is a large scarf, tied with large knot – this is not for warmth as this is the red scarf of a Communist. He is bare-headed.

A narrow, leather strap comes over his left shoulder, across his chest, to an unseen bag/pouch on his right hip. There’s an empty holster on a waist belt, seen under the left hand edge of open jacket, rucking up his jumper. In his right hand he holds an automatic pistol – possibly a luger taken from the enemy (this has also been vandalised and the end, just a few centimetres are missing). This gun, yet again, is not in a firing position but gives the impression that he ready to do so. There’s a sense of dynamism, movement, in his stillness. His arm is away from his body, the wrist bent in towards his leg and the gun pointing down it but could come up at any time – a coiled spring?

His stance the same as the others, feet slightly apart and steady and he is looking partially to his left.

This statue is all about solidarity and comradeship and the connection between the third and fourth of the five heroes is something I’ve never seen before, not even in Albania where the lapidars celebrate unity in struggle and certainly never in any other country. Here we see the left hand of the Partisan being gripped by the right of his comrade.

5 Heroes of Vig - Solidarity, Comradeship and Unity

5 Heroes of Vig – Solidarity, Comradeship and Unity

Their arms are touching from the elbow to the wrist and the hand of the fourth partisan is over that of his comrade hand, with his fingers in the palm and the thumb pressed against the fingers. This grip is returned in the same manner. There’s an impression that this has just happened, it has a vitality and feeling of immediacy. It seems to encompass the fate of the group as a whole. They know their fate, they are heavily outnumbered and the chances of survival are minimal – capture certainly would have led to an end in a Nazi torture chamber. They were not separated in life and wouldn’t be in death.

This is a slightly more intimate, but telling the same story, as the hand on the shoulder of the first Partisan described above.

It’s these little depictions of intimacy and the unexpected introduction of something that is so far from fighting and warfare that makes Albanian lapidars so unique in 20th century Socialist Realist sculpture and art in general. Another example of the unusual and unexpected is the small bunch of flowers in the left hand of the statue of Liri Gero, behind the National Art Gallery in Tirana.

The fourth hero is another who is more in civilian rather than military dress. He is wearing the clothes of the urban working class of the epoch. He has a tight-fitting shirt and his trousers have a turn ups which rest on top of sturdy boots. There’s a long, heavy overcoat but only his left arm is in the sleeve and the coat just hangs across his back. With his right hand grasping that of his comrade this stresses the closeness between them. He is also bare-headed and his stance is the same as the others, steady, rock solid, not going to give in. He looks to his right but not directly at his comrade as he is covering an area around them not necessarily covered by any of the others. An idea of continual vigilance, knowing what’s happening and what might happen next.

Around his neck, and under the collar of his shirt, is a lanyard and unites to become twisted just on his chest, beside a shirt button – many of the lapidars have these tiny details. This is attached to a ring on the butt of a pistol, in a holster, which is attached to his belt and rests on his left hip – most of the gun being obscured by the overcoat.

5 Heroes of Vig - pistol in holster

5 Heroes of Vig – pistol in holster

In his left hand he holds a Beretta Model 38 sub-machine gun, just behind the magazine. This is pointing up from right to left, with the barrel pointing into the air. This is not a firing position and he’s not ready, as some of the others are, to get into a firing position within seconds. He’s a fighter but in this image he is representing more the idea of comradeship and solidarity – which rests very much on the willingness and ability to use arms – rather than depicting the role of a Partisan. Although the end of the machine gun barrel is away from the main body of the sculpture this is still in place, not having suffered the attention of the petty thieves.

The stance of the fifth in the group is different from all the others. He stands side on so we only see the right hand side of his body. He has the look and wears the clothing of a peasant rather than someone from the city. He has short-cropped, curly hair (uncovered) and sports a moustache – often, though not always, an indication of a peasant background. Although his body is in profile he looks straight out at the viewer.

He seems to be dressed in similar clothing to the other peasant of the group already described, with a xhamadan over, this time a loose, short-sleeved shirt, the tirc but with sandals on his feet. Around his waist we can see a couple of ammunition pouches attached to his belt, a full one holding six cartridges and a partial one with two cartridges showing. In his right hand he holds a very long, bolt-action rifle which extends to just above his feet to the height of the shoulder of his comrade on the left. The machine gun of his comrade on his right is almost touching his knee.

5 Heroes of Vig - Weapons

5 Heroes of Vig – Weapons

As I’ve mentioned before his left hand is on the right shoulder of the comrade on his left thereby completing the circle and the show of unity.

Although this bronze version is relatively late in the history of Albanian lapidars it encompasses all those elements which had developed over the 40 years of socialist thinking about art. Even though it had its genesis in the 1969 version, where many of these elements were introduced, the present day statue, created 15 years later took those elements and made them much stronger, providing a vitality which was missing in the original and physically tightening the group so their unity is emphasised. In a sense the early version shows the group falling apart whereas the 1984 version shows us that nothing will ever break them apart – even death.

When the ‘Five Heroes of Vig’ had been exiled to beside the Shkodër Martyrs Cemetery – once a clean, quiet and pleasant location beside the river but now the site of the sprawling city rubbish dump – it had a feeling of dirt and neglect, and then it was vandalised. Before it was moved to its present location it obviously underwent a certain level of renovation and looks almost as good as it would have done in the centre of the town.

Apart from the damage done to the ends of the weapons there’s a small amount of written graffiti, more of the ‘I wus here’ kind but things are much better now than when I first saw the statue in 2011.

It’s location is not the best, it’s literally on the edge of town, on the last roundabout before the road leads to the border with Montenegro, but being placed on a circular, stone plinth it’s now in a place where more people can appreciate the story it tells.

Location:

From the roundabout next to the Rozafa Hotel (and the buses to Tirana) head north-east along Rruga Qemal Draçini which becomes the town’s market as stalls start to spill out on to the pavement. Continue north until arriving at Sheshi Ura e Maxharrit. This is coming to the end of the town proper and this is where you can find furgons to the towns to the north of Shkodër and the Montenegran border at Hani i Hotit as well as the early morning (07.30. more or less) departure to Thethi.

From the square continue along the SH1, passing the old, now very much overgrown, town cemetery and after about 10 minutes arrive at the roundabout with the lapidar in the centre.

GPS:

N 42.089302

E 19.507358

DMS:

42° 5′ 21.4872” N

19° 30′ 26.4888” E

Anti-Communist paintings – Shkodër Franciscan Church

The Communist as Anti-Christ

An angry Communist threatens Franciscan friars

Religion is interesting in Albania. Travelling around you can’t help but notice the new mosques and churches (both Catholic and Greek Orthodox) that are appearing everywhere. Whether there’s a real need for so many is debatable, I’ve hardly seen any evidence of what could be called a ‘religious revival’. However, the Catholic Church, in particular, is on the offensive and that can best be seen with the anti-Communist paintings in the Franciscan Church in Shkodër. 

When I’ve gone past mosques after the call to prayer there’s hardly as much activity as there is on a regular basis at the mosque in Liverpool 8. And when I’m expecting there to be the 6 o’clock mass in the Catholic Churches there have been even fewer people in the church at that time than there might have been a few hours earlier. Or the churches are locked up. I don’t really know the timetable used by the Greek Orthodox church (and I’m hardly an authority on any other religious sect really) but I’ve not seen crowds streaming from their doors either.

I’ll no doubt return to religion in other posts but in this one I want to concentrate on one particular church and five paintings inside of that church. This is the Franciscan Church (known as The Big Church) in the city of Shkodër, in the north-west of Albania, not far from the Montenegrin border.

Having their headquarters outside of the country, the Franciscans, in 1946, were forced to cease their activities in Albania – as were the Jesuits. In January 1947 a cache of arms and ammunition was found in their church in Shkodër and that led to the state clamping down hard on the order. The priests maintained these arms had been planted by the Albania security forces – but they would, wouldn’t they – and pleaded their innocence. The Franciscans resented this greatly and held that grudge for almost 50 years. However, those were times when efforts were being made by countries such as Britain and the US to do anything, and everything, they could to get a change of government in Tirana, one much more amenable to their political philosophy. We may have to wait another half a century before any material in the secret British Government archives might reveal more definite proof.

In the intervening period the church had been used as a cinema and auditorium but with the counter-revolution of 1990 they got their church back and a few years after that commissioned three new paintings – two more were to follow in 2012.

These are unlike any paintings I personally have seen in any church, of whatever variety of religion.

Here they represent that the gloves are off. They are a declaration of war against any society that has the temerity to challenge their superstition and their right to peddle such ideas to the young, confused, frightened and impressionable. Nowhere have I seen a clearer representation of the virulence of their hatred for socialism and, perhaps, is only comparable with the attitude of the Catholic Church and priests in Spain during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9) and earlier still during the height of the Spanish Inquisition in the 16th century. The arch-reactionary Karol Wotjyla would have loved them.

All the post-Communist, political/religious painters in this church have been painted by P Sheldija – I haven’t been able to find out anything about him. I can only assume that s/he is a local of Shkodër and that s/he’s still alive – at least s/he was in 2012. To the best of my knowledge I haven’t come across any more of his/her work outside this building. 

Communists threaten Franciscan Friars

Who placed the arms in the Franciscan Church?

The first one is entitled ‘Shpifja e Madhe’, meaning the ‘Great Lie’ where the Franciscans maintain their innocence and is dated 1996. 

What is interesting in this painting, and one of the aspects that unites the first three, is the influence of the Socialist Realist style in the depiction of the images. They depict ‘real’ people in ‘real’ situations. There are those who are obviously ‘good’ and those who are positively ‘evil’. Here there is no muddying of the waters. Communists = BAD, Franciscans = GOOD. And the ordinary people are the ones who suffer in this eternal battle. 

Because it is an eternal battle and as the Communists are the Anti-Christ, they are literally the agents of the Devil. The Devil (or his disciples) are behind the Communists in both a literal and figurative sense. They are at the back of the Reds, talking into their ears, inciting them to attack the church and its loyal, faithful and non-violent servants. The Devils have horns, tails and bat like wings. The fires of Hell surround this group.

(We are encouraged to suspend disbelief here and forget the persecution that the Catholic Church perpetrated throughout the centuries, the deaths they precipitated, and the lack of sympathy for any ideas, or religions, which were not totally in accord with what was decreed in Rome. The ‘extirpation of idolatry’ was the term used in this context in South America following the arrival of the Spanish and entailed the physical destruction on any remnants of indigenous faith and beliefs.)

The principal Communist is aggressive, angry. His gun points at the Franciscans, his other fist raised in a threatening manner, a sneer on his face. Two of the Franciscans are in chains, forced to carry armfuls of guns. They are calm, stoical and have an angel of God looking over them. In a painting in a side chapel St Francis holds an infant Jesus in his arms.

At the bottom are the people. A mix of ages, social and ethnic backgrounds, gender and degrees of fear, shock, supplication, confusion displayed on their faces. They are begging, imploring that all this violence ceases.

(A Catholic raised friend who saw these paintings was shocked to see modern weapons depicted in a painting inside a religious building. I was a little surprised at that as I’ve seen an innumerable number of paintings and statues, world-wide, where St James the Moor-slayer is cutting off heads on all sides or where St Michael has been plunging a spear into the devil or his disciples.)

On either side of the painting are quotes from the Book of Psalms. The left hand side reads:

Qe, bakëqijtë harkun e shternguen

mbi kordë shigjetën vendosen

per t’i shigjetue fshehtas të drejtët.

This translates as:

For, lo, the wicked bend their bow,

they make ready their arrow upon the string,

that they might privily shoot at the upright in heart.

Psalm 11, v2

On the right hand side we have:

Per shkak të mjerimit të vorfenve

per shkak të klithmës së të ndryghunve

tashti do të ngrihem-thotë Zoti-e

do ta shpëtoj atë që e perbuzin.

Which means:

For the oppression of the poor,

for the sighing of the needy,

now will I arise, saith the LORD.

I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.

Psalm 12, v6 – but that’s not quite correct, at least in my Bible. The quote is from verse 5 and not verse 6.

The atheists meet while the Catholics hold Mass

The atheists meet while the Catholics hold Mass

The second painting depicts an atheist, anti-religion meeting in the city of Skodër. On a banner is the famous phrase from Karl Marx – ‘Feja eshtë opium per popullin’, ‘religion is the opium of the people’. This banner is the red one, placed above the entrance of the Franciscan church when it had been converted into a community centre after discovery of the hidden arms cache and the punishment of the perpetrators. On the white banner the slogan is ‘Fight against religious ignorance’ – ‘Lufte kunder paragjykimeve fetare’.

This was also painted by Sheldija and is dated 1997 (signature and date in bottom right hand corner). It is above the title ‘Pavdeksia e fese’ which I think best translates as ‘religion is Immortal’ or ‘Religion can never die’.

The figures in the foreground have turned their backs on all this ‘nonsense’. Like in the previous painting they are a mix of ages and genders. Traditional as well as contemporary dress is depicted. The central figure here is a priest whose stole (the long, narrow sash a priest would wear when saying Mass and which he kisses before putting around his neck) is resting on the head of a bowed man, presumably a form of blessing.

An old woman looks tired and weary and in her hand is holding a rosary, which a young girl shares with her. Another woman also has a rosary in her hand but this one has the cross hanging just above the head of a baby in a cot. A young woman is reading from a Bible and in the background is the building in which the painting now resides, the Franciscan church.

This also has two quotes from the Book of Psalms on either side. On the left is:

Q hyj, e pushtuen paganët pronën tande,

e dhunuen tempullin tand të shejtë,

Jerusalemin e banë një grumbull rrenojash!

ua dhanë kufomat e sherbëtorëve të tu per ushqim shpendëve të qiellit,

mishin e shejtenve të tu bishave të malit.

This translates as:

O God, the heathen are come into thine inheritance;

thy holy temple have they defiled;

they have laid Jerusalem on heaps.

The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven,

the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.

Psalm 79, verses 1 and 2.

On the right we have:

Kthehu, o Zot! deri kur kështu?

Deh, ki mëshirë për shërbëtorët e tu!

gëzona për ditët që na mundove,

për vjetët që i kaluem në mjerim.

Translated as:

Return, O LORD, how long?

And let it repent thee concerning thy servants.

O satisfy us early with thy mercy;

that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.

The carving says Psalm 90, verses 13-15 but it is actually verses 13 and 14. Perhaps the Albanian Bible numbers differently from mine.

Crucifixion of Franciscan Friars

Crucifixion of Franciscan Friars

The third doesn’t have a title but is a reference to the Crucifixion. Also painted by Sheldija it’s dated (I think) 1997. Instead of Christ hanging on a cross we have two Franciscan friars being tortured by being tied to a tree. One of them looks up to heaven, his face a mixture of pain and serenity knowing that salvation awaits him. 

Above him is another priest who seems to have been jammed into a fork of the branches although a rope comes from the branches to his left which presumably goes around his body to stop him falling. He has his eyes closed and is probably dead. It appears that his right arm has been cut off above the elbow as his sleeve is ragged and empty. What could be a tourniquet is around the upper arm. I’m not sure what is represented here.    

On either side of the tree, sitting on the ground, are two Communists, both armed and one with the red star on his cap. They are possibly asleep, resting on their weapons. There’s obvious references to the crucifixion of Christ and the way it has been traditionally represented, with Roman soldiers taking the place of the Communist Partisans. 

Although the idea is that the Franciscans suffered for their believes it seems to be bordering on heresy to imply that a mere mortal, Franciscan priest has the same authority as the (Son of) God. Even St Francis only went as far as to claim the stigmata. 

In the background there’s a depiction of the very Franciscan church, with a distorted entrance facade on the right and the bell tower on the left.

Whilst the first two paintings are in alcoves along the length of the left hand side of the nave the painting of the Crucifixion is in an alcove to the left of the altar, up a few steps.

These were the modern paintings that were displayed in the church quite soon after its reconsecration and that remained the case until 2012 when two more paintings, also by the same painter, Sheldija, appeared on the right hand side of the nave. These both share and differ in style from those of the 1990s.

The first of the latest additions is entitled ‘Fe e dëshmueme me gjak’ which translates to something like ‘Bloody [Religious] Martyrdom’, martyrdom being very much a religious concept and therefore, perhaps, the word religious is slightly redundant.

Bloody Martyrdom

Bloody Martyrdom

This follows very closely the style of the two paintings from the 1990s in that it is very much influenced by Socialist Realism but the image is as far from the principles of Socialist Realism as it is possible to get. In fact, this is quite a disturbing image and incorporates all those negative and pernicious aspects of capitalist, going-on fascist, society.

Whether it depicts an actual event I have been unable to ascertain, there’s no indication of such in the immediate vicinity of the painting, or it might just represent religious ‘persecution’ of the Franciscans in Albania’s past. If the previous paintings are anti-Communist this painting is anti-Islam and the devils are now Muslims in general.

As was the case with real Socialist realism imagery there was often a local reference in the painting or sculpture. Here we have reference to Rozafa Castle, which sits on a hill to the south of the present day city. The castle can be seen ion the top right hand corner.

At the base of the hill we have a small settlement of some kind where the only building which has suffered any damage is the small Christian church depicted on the left hand side of the panel. There are cracks in the wall, the roof is caving in and the small cross that would have been over the main entrance has been toppled over. The three or so homes in the picture seem to be intact.

Walking downhill from the building in the forefront (on the right) is a group of nine Albanians, all in traditional dress – seven men and two women. Outside of the church is another group of six Albanians – five men and one woman. What I don’t understand about these people is that they don’t display any emotion at all, unlike the very clear ‘distress’ shown by the Christians just a few metres away on the other side of the nave.

What I don’t understand here is what Sheldija is saying about them. Are they complicit in the ‘crime’ being committed, i.e., are they also Muslims and agree with the fate of the Franciscans or is it that they just don’t care? It’s difficult to tell as there’s no certainty about the date of the ‘event’.

Until the declaration of ‘Independence’ in 1912 the country had been dominated by the Ottoman Empire for centuries and although there might have been attempts by the Catholic Church to make an inroad in Albania (as they tried to do in all parts of the world as part of their imperial attitude towards religion) I can’t see them being able to actually build a church in secret, leading to its destruction when the Turks ‘discovered’ the transgression.

For the central image is the murder of two Franciscan friars by the Turks, represented by the five males in the right hand side foreground. We only get a fullish picture of one of them, the dark-skinned, bare-chested individual on the left of that group. He also holds the only weapon in view and that’s a long sword, blood covering its tip. The fact that there’s no firearms would seem to push this episode back a few hundred years – which I find even more confusing.

But as virtually all images of martyred Catholics I’ve seen in any part of the world the death has to be made even more cruel, more horrendous, more sadistic that it would have been in reality – this by a religious faith that has been destroying religious locations and the people holding non-Catholic faith for centuries.

What we see are two, sharpened wooden stakes that have been set into the ground and, presumably, the friars have been sat on the point so that their own weight forces the stake through their bodies – a favoured form of execution of the 13th century Mongol emperor. This seems to have been used by the Ottoman’s, even into the early 20th century, and the spike is called the Khazouk. If done by an expert the victim could live in agony for a matter of days. The fact that it was in occasional use by the Ottomans is accepted but I have been unable to find any documentary proof that in was used in Shkodër against Franciscans.

But in many ways that’s not what Sheldija is saying. He wants to make the point that the Franciscans were persecuted and the more hideous he can make this claim the better to attract his chosen audience – the ignorant and frightened of Albania who can’t make any sense of the society in which they live.

But as with some of his earlier works Sheldija dabbles in the heretical, equating the martyrdom of the Franciscans with the crucifixion of Christ, there being many references here to what have become, over the centuries, the traditional accouterments surrounding that supposed event.

The base of the Khazouk

The base of the Khazouk

Here is depicted the desecration of those items that are an integral part of the Catholic ritual: a crucifix laying in the grass; a chalice used for the Eucharist knocked over and spilling the wine (an allegory of the spilling of Christ’s blood); what looks like a discarded alb – the long, white vestment worn by a priest during a Catholic Mass; and a couple of books, one of which will be the Bible. The tip of the bloodied sword held by the Ottoman in the foreground is touching the cover of on of the books here stressing the idea of violence against the Christian church.

In the bottom right hand corner are the tools used to erect the khazouk; a mallet, three wooden stakes and a couple of stones used to maintain the khazouk vertical with the writhing of the victim.

What of the two victims of this martyrdom? As is always the case with Catholic martyrs not only are they shown with the instruments of their martyrdom they always have a serene look on their faces. And that’s the case here.

The friar on the left looks towards Heaven and holds a small wooden crucifix in his left hand, holding it close to his chest. His right hand hangs down at his side, pointing towards the ground. Behind his head protrudes the sharp, bloodied end of the spike and as he is still alive his own blood runs down the lower end of the stake and blood drips from his feet onto the alb.

The central, and presumably the more important, of the two has his arms outstretched on either side of his body, in emulation of a crucifixion. His right arm is bent slightly and he holds a small wooden crucifix towards the light of the Holy Ghost which emanates from the sky above. This is a common motif found in those paintings of Francis of Assisi as he ‘receives’ the stigmata – the wounds of Christ.  As with his companion the blood covered spike appears a couple of feet above his head and his blood flows towards the ground along the wooden stake and from his bare feet.

One of the problems with this painting, in a society that is supposed to be ‘united’ now that Socialism has been dismantled, is that these images perpetuates the divisions within the country that are never far from the surface when religion is concerned.

In many Catholic churches in southern Europe you will encounter paintings, sculptures, of Sant Iago (St James) Matamorros – Moor Killer. The commissioning and the present day existence of these images can be put down to a less enlightened age but the fact that they are commissioned in the 21st century says a lot about the hypocrisy of the current wearer of the Triple Crown in Vatican City.

Most Albanian Muslims won’t be aware of such images – people with strong religious beliefs would never be seen dead in the ‘holy’ place of another faith – but they will tend to harden the attitudes of fundamentalist Catholics (of which there are many in Shkodër.

The other 2012 addition to the Franciscan Church’s decoration is entitled  ‘Për fe e atdhe’ – ‘For God and Country’, and depicts (amongst others) the images of eight Franciscans who would later, at the end of 2016, be Beatified – plus one other who was obviously not considered to be saint material. 

For God and Country

For God and Country

They were all charged with counter-revolutionary activity and died in the ten years following liberation. Many of them had been ordained and had worked in Fascist Italy and were openly ‘friends’ of the United States. When the US and Britain were actively attempting to subvert the young Socialist state; refusing to accept the revolutionary government and the Albanian Communist Party as the legitimate representatives of the people; sending flotillas of warships to intimidate the people who had suffered so much to rid their country of two fascist armies; and supporting the collaborating monarchist Fascists in neighbouring Greece in a Civil war against the working people and peasantry it was no wonder the state took a hard-line against any such counter-revolutionary activity.

It wasn’t as if the Roman Catholic Church had a spotless reputation when it came to popular movements. The Church was an open and fervent support of Franco, in Spain, against the legitimate government in the Civil war of 1936-39. Eugenio Pacelli (also known as Pius XII) was still in control of the Vatican after collaborating with both the Italian and German Fascists during the Second World War. He had no love of Socialism and supported the violent suppression of the attempts of building socialism in Bavaria (where he was Papal Nuncio) in 1919. And in Albania itself high ranks in the Catholic hierarchy opening consorted with the invading forces of both Italy and Germany.

Catholic priest in league with Hitlerites

Catholic priest in league with Hitlerites

So claims of ‘innocence’ by these priests have to be taken with a significant pinch of salt. The time of the ‘revolutionary priests’ of South America were a few decades into the future. All these priests had been brought up in an environment of Fascism and anti-Communism. they wouldn’t easily have dropped that stance and stood with the people. 

We know the names of the Franciscans in the picture as their names are stitched into their clothing – as if their mothers didn’t want them to lose their cassocks. The image was painted four years before the decision about the ‘Blessed martyrs’ was taken and in 2012 the expectation must have been that Luigj Palio (the one at the top with the mustache) would have been among their number. He didn’t make the cut, however, for a reason I don’t know. 

I don’t find this a particularly good painting – on any level. It lacks the bitterness and hatred of the other three in the building and also any lack of humour. By inter-twining the colours of the Papacy (yellow and white) with those of the Albanian stated (red and black) the artist seeks to give the impression of the close relationship with the present day capitalist country of Albania. However, the Catholics are very much a minority, their heartland being the area around the town of Shkodër itself.

The crown of thorns on the crucified Christ morphs into thick thorns bushes that line the inside of the arch at the top of the picture and then transform themselves into barbed wire around the crosses in the centre of the picture and creeping down to the church candles, symbolising what Sheldija considers to be persecution of religion. 

As this is a Franciscan church an image of St Francis of Assisi is included, standing before the crucified Christ, his hands facing the viewer so that the ‘stigmata’ (the wounds of Christ) can be seen in the palms of his hands together with a spot of blood on the outside of his cassock on the right hand side.  

One of the friars, Bernardin Palaj, standing on the right hand side of the image, holds a large green book in his hands, symbolising his ‘intellectual’ status.

An image of the very Franciscan church dominates the centre of the picture with the clock and bell tower rising up into the top right corner.

At the apex of the arch is an angel dressed in a purple dress, carrying a large bunch of branches. It’s difficult to make out exactly what they are, they don’t look like olive – which would be a symbol of peace (and also victory – after all the Catholic church has got back what it always wanted in Albania, that is a capitalist state). Another theory would be that the angel is bringing vegetation to cover the guns that the friars were to hide on the basement of the church.

Sheldija was obviously educated and trained under a Socialist system and the influence of Socialist realist style was still great in the 1990s, such that – apart from the content – it would have been stylistically indistinguishable from works by his contemporaries. However, like so many ‘intellectuals’ Sheldija sought to bite the hand that had fed him and used his skills to attack Socialism for the benefit of ignorance and obscurantism. 

These have been the most political paintings I’ve seen in any of the churches I have visited in Albania. It’s not surprising that these should be in Shkodër as this was the Catholic heartland. In that city you don’t come across any Greek Orthodox churches, although there are at least three mosques.

At the same time Shkodër was also the place that the first Communist cells were established that later led to the foundation of the Communist Party of Albania (later the Party of Labour of Albania). Not surprising really, it’s in those locations of the greatest reaction that the seeds of revolt germinate and grow. Then and in the future!

Location:

The Franciscan church is in the narrow street Rruga At. Gjergji Fishta which passes to the left hand side of the Intesa Sanpaolo Bank at the bottom end of the pedestrianised street Rruga Kolë Idromeno in the centre of town, just beside the Big Mosque.

GPS:

N 42.067372

E 19.515415

DMS:

42° 4′ 2.5392″ N

19° 30′ 55.494′ E

The definitive split between Albania and China, 1978

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

Chairman Mao and Enver Hoxha

In July 1978 the Party of Labour of Albania published (in an open and public forum, that is, as a supplement to the July/August, No 4, edition of Albania Today) a letter which the Party had sent to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This letter was promoted by the sudden – though not totally unexpected – move of the Chinese to remove all support, materially, financially as well as personnel, from Albania, a country which, up to that time, had held the closest fraternal links with the much bigger Party, country and people.

Not only did the publication of this letter spell the end of the special relationship between the two Parties it also prompted a split in various Marxist-Leninist parties throughout the world with groups taking ‘sides’ in the argument. At times the argument became bitter with both sides forgetting the principle of comradely debate over issues before becoming entrenched in an irreversible stance.

If the International Communist Movement was too slow in denouncing the Soviet Revisionists in the 1960s it was too fast in coming to a decision in the late 1970s.

This (late) contribution to the debate is written in the form of a letter to those who might hold the (mistaken) belief that all was running smoothly and in perfect harmony with the tenets of Marxism-Leninism in China before the death of Mao in September 1976.

Less than two years after Mao’s death the revisionists and ‘capitalist roaders’ were in firm control of the People’s Republic of China and were already dismantling many of the achievements made by the Chinese people since the Declaration of People’s Republic on 1st October 1949.

The counter-revolution doesn’t come from nowhere. Revisionism within a Communist Party does not come from nowhere. Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Hoxha all knew that the poison of revisionism was an integral part of all communist parties. They wrote hundreds of thousands of words on the topic; fought against the individuals peddling defeatism and an anti-proletarian ideology; warned of the consequences of a lack of vigilance; instigated ‘cultural revolutions’ in an effort to prevent such ideas getting a hold in Communist Parties; purged parties of those who were identified as promoting such counter-revolutionary views; yet it was still able to get a stranglehold on parties throughout the world – in fact no party was free of the disease.

Matters moved quickly in China and it wasn’t long before the pro-Chinese stance became untenable – the restoration of capitalism was obvious to all. But the pro-Albanian side had to look to its arguments when the country started to lose grip on the revolution after the death of Hoxha in 1984 and then everything hit the fan in 1990.

In a sense I believe those who were so upset that the Chinese Party (and Mao as well) was being heavily criticised by the letter of the PLA of July 1978 fell into a similar trap that many in the pro-Soviet camp found themselves in the 1960s – failing to accept that even the most revolutionary parties can get it wrong and refusing to look at matters and events in an empirical, Marxist-Leninist manner.

This post is a minor contribution to the debate. If I’ve got it wrong let me know.

‘Communists must always go into the whys and wherefores of anything, use their own heads and carefully think over whether or not it corresponds to reality and is really well founded; on no account should they follow blindly and encourage slavishness.’

(‘Rectify the Party’s Style of Work’, (February 1st, 1942) Mao Tse-tung Selected Works, Vol III, p 49)  

Comrades

I never thought (especially in the 1970s) there was any contradiction in supporting both Albania and China and their respective Communist Parties and leaders. To this day both the Chairman and Enver are celebrated on my walls as outstanding leaders of the Marxist-Leninist movement and true heroes of the working class.

If the debate between the Maoists and Hoxhists raged in any sense in Britain I was not part of it. From 1986 onwards I started to spend more and more time out of the country and was more concerned with understanding the society I was in at the time rather than what, on occasion, seemed like esoteric and pointless arguments of the relative merits of the two, now dead, leaders. Also I was no longer a member of a ML party as I had disagreements with the Party I had been a member of for 12 years on changes in its policies toward the British Labour Party nationally and the approach towards Soviet Union internationally – a break that took place after this was enshrined in the Party’s Congress document in 1982.

My time in Zimbabwe in 1986-7 meant I was trying to understand how that society had changed since the declaration of ‘independence’ in 1980. Yes it wasn’t a truly socialist revolution I would have wanted, nor what some people I met there wanted as well. But at least it was a move forward from the racist Smith Regime and, I thought then and still think now, there was a potential with Mugabe. The fact that it hasn’t been achieved is complex and too complicated to go into here. The reason I mention it is that I was literally half a world away when some of the disagreements between the two groupings started to get more entrenched – although the exact chronology of that particular polemic is unknown to me.

When everything hit the fan in 1990 and riots on the streets of Albania led to the toppling of Enver’s statue in the centre of Tirana I was in the Andes of Peru, attempting to improve my Spanish as well as understanding more of the struggle of the Communist Party of Peru – Sendero Luminoso. I was so immersed in those activities that I wasn’t truly aware of what was happening in Europe. The socialist development there was going through a crisis and I was in a country where it looked as if – at least in 1990-1 – that success could well be on the horizon. The fact that the struggle collapsed there is something which should be studied (as I don’t think it has, partisan views with individuals and groups holding their own corner making any objective study of the disasters that occurred in Peru being analysed in a dispassionate manner an impossibility).

Whilst not being part of the debate (between Maoists and Hoxhists) I didn’t think it was all entirely pointless. However, I did consider that it should have taken place in the manner that Mao talked about debates and disagreements taking place among the people in a Socialist society – i.e., in an non-antagonistic manner. Unfortunately, for reasons I don’t really understand, many decided to throw accusations at the opposing side and then ideas became entrenched. Such a climate is not one Marxist-Leninists should tolerate as it gets us nowhere.

I have read the letter of the CC of the PLA to the CC of the CPC a number of times and I have a much more positive attitude to what it contains than would be the case for those who still maintain the ‘Maoist’ approach of the 1970s. Not only positive in the sense that it introduces some important ideas about relationships between fraternal parties but also in that it brings to light matters which are some times forgotten (or brushed over) from the ‘other side’.

The fact that the three socialist societies involved no longer exist as workers’ states cannot be ignored. That very fact means that mistakes have been made, mistakes of such gravity that what many of us held up to be the future for the workers in out respective countries was attacked, or at least allowed such advances to be taken off them, by the very workers themselves in those states.

Mao, in the pamphlet ‘On the question of Stalin’, stated that Uncle Joe was 80% correct in what he did as leader of the Soviet Union. I always thought it difficult to quantify such achievements in that manner but if it is possible to do so for one individual what sort of result would we get if we applied the same reasoning to both Mao and Enver? However, I don’t think that such an approach really helps us understand the errors of the past so that they are not made in the future.

I also have difficulties in placing such a responsibility on individuals in the first place. If Joe, Mao or Enver were responsible for the defeat of the revolution and the victory of, first, revisionism and then outright capitalist restoration, where were the rest of the Party? What did the workers and peasants of those countries think and do? Don’t they have to take some responsibility? Why are all people victims?

If I stated the success of the October Revolution was solely down to Lenin and Stalin I would be rightly criticised for ignoring the role of the workers and peasants in that momentous occasion. Likewise following the wars of liberation in both China and Albania. Yes, such leaders are crucial for those successes but leaders without followers prepared to go into the unknown are nothing.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing but one of the merits of the letter from the CC of the PLA is that it DID foresee what was likely to happen in China if it continued along the path it started to take after the death of Mao. However, by analysing some of the points the letter raises we can see that the seeds of the rot were sown some years before Mao’s death.

The main reason for the letter was the unilateral removal of economic and military support that China had provided to Albania, in increasing levels, after the removal of virtually all similar support by the Soviet Union in April 1961. So a small socialist country, surrounded by enemies of both the revisionist and imperialist variety, was being weakened by a previously fraternal country which had declared that it was also was in opposition to such reactionary forces.

So the anger and frustration that is obvious throughout the document is fully understandable and accounts for the manner in which Albania brings up other disagreements which had previously been kept secret, which, in themselves don’t amount to irreconcilable differences, but when taken together show a dangerous and disturbing trend.

In the UK ‘the size of Wales’ is often used to describe the smallness and, often, insignificance of a particular part of the world. Albania is almost exactly the size of Wales in land mass, geographical features and (in 1990) population. Albania, however, had strengths which Wales never had or will have (unless the situation changes radically) and that was its liberation war led by a Marxist-Leninist Party and the attempts to construct socialism in a hostile world. Albania also had (and still has) an abundance of natural resources. Therefore a fertile climate for the construction of socialism – a revolutionary leadership with a clear ideology and a politically conscious population having the possibility of being able to exploit the country’s resources for the benefit of the whole population. But it needed help from fraternal countries, it needed those skills which they had not yet had time to develop internally, they needed time to learn how to stand completely on their own feet.

Perhaps we should remind ourselves of the situation which Albania found itself in November 1944 when they succeeded in defeating, without the aid of any other external army, first the Italian and then the German Fascist occupiers. Tens of thousands of Albanians had died, either through combat in the Partisan army or by the policies of the invaders which punished the civilian population for the successes of those Partisan forces.

Albania didn’t suffer the level of infrastructure damage as other European countries did between 1939 and 1945, mainly as there was little infrastructure to be damaged. The collaborationist governments prior to the invasion of the Italians in April 1939 had used the country more as a fiefdom and didn’t have a concept of development that didn’t have a direct effect on their own desires. And the population at the time of liberation in November 1944 was only hovering around the one million mark.

No sooner had the war against Fascism in Europe come to an end when the imperialists started their war against any attempts to spread Communist ideas in those parts of the continent not already under the influence of the Soviet Union and the Red Army. (The question of the construction of Socialism in countries that did not liberate themselves and with an unproven Communist, Marxist-Leninist leadership is yet another one that needs to be analysed but, again, here is neither the time nor the place.)

The Greek Civil War started in 1946 and at exactly the same time the British imperialist navy made threatening manoeuvres in the narrow channel between the Albanian mainland and the Greek island of Corfu. This so-called ‘Corfu Channel Incident’ led to damage to a couple of British warships and the death of around 50 British seamen. The US/UK alliance was able to sway the United Nations and one of the upshots of this was the sequestration of Albania’s gold reserves, denied the official and legitimate government of Albania until the start of anarchy in 1991. Military threat hadn’t achieved the backing down of the country so economic measures, achieved through diplomatic machinations, were brought into the mix.

At almost the same time the erstwhile ally against Fascism, Yugoslavia, with Tito at the head, made territorial claims against Albanian arguing that such a small and economically weak country wasn’t viable, going against any ideas in Marxism-Leninism of national independence. The refusal of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), still a revolutionary Party at that time, to accept this blatant attempt at a ‘Greater’ Yugoslavia led to the country being expelled from the Cominform (Communist Information Bureau, the successor to the Comintern – the Communist International) in 1948 and the inexorable move of that country away from Socialism and into the waiting and willing arms of capitalism and imperialism.

Due to Albania’s stance against this first wave of post-WWII revisionism, that of Tito in Yugoslavia, the country had a firm friend in Stalin and the Soviet Union. This meant aid coming from the severely war damaged revolutionary ally but the ‘easy’ years were few as Hoxha would have been very suspicious of the way the CPSU was going after Khrushchev’s ‘secret’ speech at the 20th Congress in 1956.

However, in the 17 years or so of receiving Soviet aid Albania was able to use the opportunities offered to educate and train their own specialists and experts to be able to start the building of the infrastructure needed for the independent development of a socialist state. Although this all came to an abrupt end in the early part of 1961 the Albanian leadership would not have been entirely surprised.

Since Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956 the Party of Labour of Albania (PLA) had been continually critical, in private, following the norm of disagreements within the International Communist Movement, but came out in a very public manner in 1960, first at the Bucharest Conference of the World Communist and Workers’ Parties in June and more especially at the meeting in Moscow of the 81 Communist and Workers’ Parties in November of that year.

It was at this meeting, in the capital of the world’s first Socialist state that Hoxha tore into the sham Marxist justification that the Soviet Revisionists had been peddling since 1956. Already before this meeting statements made by the Soviet party were becoming more personal and unprincipled, treating the Albanian Party and people as insignificant in the scheme of things solely dependent upon land mass and population. This arrogance of the larger and more established party was challenged at every opportunity, with Hoxha taking the principled stand at all times. But such a stand would have, and did have, its consequences.

It’s no wonder that, in July 1978, the Albania Party would have feelings of anger, frustration, and a sense of betrayal (almost of deja vu) when they had to face the same sort of disruption to their economic and social plans with the unilateral withdrawal of Chinese experts. It must be remembered that in a society where development is in a planned manner (normally a series of Five-year Plans) such foreign aid would have been factored into any plan and its abrupt withdrawal would have a knock-on effect on other projects.

But the situation with the break with China was different to that 17 years earlier with the Soviet Union. The internal debate about the way forward for the International Communist Movement was an internal affair for many years (I tend to think, in hindsight, too many years). Matters only came out in the formal, public arena in the early sixties. Up to 1978 ALL the differences and disagreements that the PLA had with the CPC were kept within contacts on a Party to Party basis. The only time that many people in Communist Parties throughout the world would have been aware of the extent or the seriousness of the dispute between the two parties was on the publication of this letter. This situation, I believe, accounts for the litany of disagreements that followed the statement of the effects and possible consequences of the ending of Chinese aid.

The PLA, and I agree with their assessment on this matter, did everything that was expected of a fraternal Party and yet, this time very much out of the blue, the Chinese experts were pulled out with instructions to take any blue prints and paperwork with them – or to destroy such material if that was easier.

It’s also important to make reference to the fact that it wasn’t just economic aid that was withdrawn. Albania wanted to have an independent military policy, not depending upon others to ‘defend’ them from any revisionist or imperialist aggression in the future (taking into account the events of July 1978 such an approach was shown to be crucial). But in the very act of withdrawing military aid the Chinese made public where they were aiding Albania and thereby betraying any secrets that the country might have had in this field.

What was even more telling is that China did to Albania exactly what the Soviets had done to them (the Chinese) in 1960, that is, withdrawing technicians involved in friendship projects. Being a bigger country China was more able to deal with such an abrupt interruption in major infrastructure projects. The effects were much greater in Albania in 1978 as at that time projects which were vital for the future development of the country were effected, notably the hydro-electric projects which revolved around Lake Koman in the north-east of the country.

That might seem like I’ve spent a lot of time going over the history of PLA/CPC relations but without an understanding of what happened before the serious (and, ultimately, irretrievable) break in 1978 there’s no understanding of why the PLA wrote what it did, and the reasons for their arguments.

What constitutes the eleven separate clauses of the second section of the letter is a list of occasions where relationships between the two parties were strained, to say the least. This is supporting an argument, if you like the basic thesis of the letter, that what the CPC did in July 1978 wasn’t a radical change in direction, just the confirmation of what had been developing over a period of 15/16 years, ever since the revisionism of the CPSU was out in the open and other Communist and Workers’ Parties throughout the world were aligning themselves on one side of the polemic or the other.

In a sense their emphasis was on what had happened in the past, of those matters that had caused concern to the Albanian Party and how they led to the 1978 present. For that reason I don’t think we should see their omission to comment on what had happened in the previous two years, in China, since the death of the Chairman, to be other than an issue that was not pertinent to the argument at the time.

1.

To me there are two points in this first section. The first point is that the CPSU, through the statements of Khrushchev, was adopting the ‘mother party’ principal which meant that all other parties, whether in power or otherwise, should bow down to the decisions and dictates of Moscow. This issue had long existed in the international movement, especially before the end of World War Two, when the only Socialist country in the world was the Soviet Union. There was definitely a reason to have respect for a proletariat that was actively working to build socialism, after all they were in the process of having a hands on approach to building socialism, in other countries it was still a theoretical concept.

But even the Communist movement is not immune to prima donas who want to be big fish in little ponds and don’t understand their (insignificant) position in the greater movement. And that’s not just a thing of the past – we’ve had a number of examples where such an approach has led to disaster in a number of countries since the ‘fall of Communism’ in the 1990s. We can also get an historic idea of this problem from the necessity that caused Lenin to publish ‘Left Wing Communism – an Infantile Disorder’ in 1920.

However, after the success of the Albanians in their War of Liberation at the end of 1944 and the declaration of the Peoples’ Republic of China by Mao in October 1949 the unique nature of the Soviet Union was no longer tenable. Stalin didn’t push this line in the eight years he was alive after the Great Patriotic War, it was only with the victory of revisionism in the CPSU that Khrushchev considered he had the ‘right’ to assert this dominance. He had got away with denouncing Stalin – and all he stood for – at the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956 and became emboldened in his approach. (In his arrogance Khrushchev denigrated Albania by making statements such as ‘the mice in the Soviet Union eat more grain that the population of Albania need to survive’. This was an early demonstration of the Great Power Chauvinism of the Soviet Revisionists.)

Secondly, there was the reluctance of the CPC to openly, and firmly, confront the revisionists in the two major public fora in 1960, first at Bucharest and then in Moscow. The CPC rejected the ‘rehabilitation’ of Tito and the Yugoslav revisionists – something which the Albanians were vehemently against due to the reasons already stated above – but their approach was considered lacking in enthusiasm, to say the least, by the Albanians.

The CPC didn’t even seem to be willing to defend itself. Although he was getting a lot of stick from Albania Khrushchev knew that if he directed his venom against such a small (but vociferous) member of the community of Socialist nations he would be considered by many to be a bully. He, therefore, directed his attacks against the country which comprised a quarter of the world’s population at the time, the People’s Republic of China. Why was Chou En-lai reluctant to engage in ‘polemics’ at that time? Why did he want to keep matters quiet? What was wrong with having a principled debate? Remember that this is now more than seven years after the death of Stalin and 4 years since the vicious attack on Marxism-Leninism in Khrushchev’s so-called ‘secret speech’.

It was only when I was going through the issues of Peking Reviews of the first years of the 1960s that I was reminded of how long after the crucial Moscow Meeting, in November of 1960, that the Chinese Party still seemed to hold out hope that the Soviet Party could be diverted off its road of downright betrayal of Marxist-Leninist principles.

Some might argue that the Chinese were just working through the established processes between Communist Parties and they were looking for a way to avoid a clear split in the international movement.

I cannot agree with this procrastination. How much more proof did the movement need in the early 1960s that the Soviet Union was no longer following the road of Lenin and Stalin? It was not only that all the achievements of the Soviet workers and peasants in the building of their economy (through the collectivisation of agriculture and the vast increase in the industrial potential of the country) – as well as the defeat of Nazism – had been trashed in Khrushchev’s speech at the 20th Congress in 1956. He also undermined the leading role the Soviet Union had established in the world as an example to the rising national liberation movements. This was to cause confusion in those movements and allow for imperialism to crush revolutionary movements (a tragic example being Lumumba in the Congo), their confidence growing as they saw a divided Communist movement. China might have wanted to keep matters ‘quiet’ but capitalism and imperialism knew exactly what was going on. So from who were the Chinese wanting to keep the disagreements secret?

2

Events of June 1962, when the Albanians had unsuccessful and acrimonious meetings with both Liu Shao-chi and Teng Hsiao-ping, in hindsight seem to have a greater importance looking back from the present than they even did at the time (or even in 1978 when the letter under discussion was published in ‘Albania Today’). The Chinese Party seemed to be obsessed with establishing an alliance against US imperialism with anyone – notwithstanding that revolutionary principles would be discarded in the process.

The CPC seemed to be oblivious to the changes that had taken place in the Soviet Union which meant that it was becoming a rival to the US not in that it represented and championed a different social system, a different reality for the workers and peasants, but was rapidly becoming another imperialist player in the ever-changing capitalist system.

What were the Chinese proposing then that was in any way fundamentally different from the erroneous and totally unprincipled so-called ‘Theory of the Three Worlds’ that was resurrected just before Chairman Mao’s death in September of 1976? By the 1970s there were a few more players in the ‘first world’, including the Soviet Union (now branded as ‘social-imperialist), but it meant making alliances with any number of fascist regimes in the process.

Maoists throughout the world rejected this ‘theory’ when it was pushed by the Chinese Party in the 1970s. Why wouldn’t they also reject something similar when proposed 14 years earlier? What was wrong with the Albanian stance in the 1960s that was substantially different in the mid-70s? Alliances yes, but they have to be based upon certain principles or, in extreme circumstances (such as 1939 in Europe with the Non Aggression Pact between the Soviet Union and Hitlerite Germany) based upon the best that can be achieved at a particular time, with no illusions and with the understanding that such an agreement is unlikely to last for long.

If nothing else the actors involved in 1962 should start to ring alarm bells. This was just one of the first occasions when Liu showed his true colours and it’s no surprise his principle henchman was also peddling such poison. Teng’s rehabilitation, when Mao was still alive, and the subsequent destruction he was able to reap on Socialism, the Chinese Party and people in the latter years of the 20th century was being signposted many years before.

I agree that it is far too easy to rely on hindsight, my point here is that even in 1962 the Albanians were on the ball when it came to a revisionist development within the Chinese Party – a development that wasn’t stamped upon even during the thought-provoking days of the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution, when many of the ideas of these two ‘capitalist-roaders’ were being challenged in open debate, nationwide.

In the document it suggests that it was only after August 1963, when a test ban treaty was signed between the Soviet Union, the USA and the UK, that China realised it hadn’t succeeded in establishing the close relationship with the Soviet Union that it had wished and hence this was the start of what became known as the ‘International Polemic’. I’m not sure if anyone ever put an exact date on that important period in the history of the World Communist Movement but even if it is that’s still just under three years since the Moscow meeting. Three wasted years, I would suggest, and three years in which the revisionists throughout the world had a freer hand to sow their poison in their respective parties. We cannot forget that whilst all this manoeuvring was going on revisionism was establishing a greater grip on many Communist Parties. The refusal of the CPC to acknowledge the irreversible split with the CPSU helped only revisionism, reaction and imperialism.

3

In the summer of 1964 the Chinese began a dispute over border issues on the Ussuri River in Siberia. Why?

I would add a number of points not stressed by the Albanians in this letter. The first is that one of the first actions of the Bolshevik government when it had gained power after the 1917 October Revolution was to repudiate all and any treaties which it considered to be part of Tsarist expansionism – the disputed area in 1964, as far as my memory is concerned, was one of those places where the new Soviet state gave back land to a then capitalist China. Even if the Chinese still thought they had been hard done by following the Leninist approach to land boundaries why did it take them 15 years after the declaration of the People’s Republic in October 1949 to raise the issue? Why did it have to be such an antagonistic conflict, with ordinary soldiers on both sides being killed or injured? Why did it take place when the issue of ideology was of much greater importance and significance? And, perhaps not understood in the same way then (at least by me), why didn’t the Chinese Party realise that Khrushchev would have been able to tap into the deep nationalistic feeling that permeated all of Soviet (and now Russian) society?

This latter was never mentioned, as far as I know, in the late 1960s but we have seen in recent years how the capitalists in present day Russia have been able to tap into, for their own ends, the feeling of pride that exists within Russia in their victory over the Hitlerite Fascists in the Great Patriotic War. That feeling was as strong in the 1960s as it is now and would have allowed Khrushchev, internally, to have turned the issue into yet another aggressive, foreign state wanting to threaten the integrity of the Soviet Socialist Homeland. This allowed him to divert attention from the real political issues that were being fought out, issues that were clear in 1942 and which led to the victory of the glorious, socialist and revolutionary Red Army.

Such an unnecessary conflict was not in the interests of anyone but the revisionists. If the whole matter was at the instigation of the Soviets why did China respond in such a hostile manner? It’s in Siberia for Christ’s sake! If the Soviet revisionists had planned to tempt the Chinese to react so they could make a meal of it in their propaganda internally then the Chinese did exactly what they shouldn’t have done.

In passing it’s perhaps worth mentioning the later, similar conflict, which the then revisionist Chinese Communist Party instigated against Vietnam in 1979.

4

It was before my time being involved in Marxist-Leninist politics so I wasn’t aware that once Khrushchev was thrown out in October 1964 there were renewed attempts by the CPC to re-establish good relationships with the CPSU under the leadership of Brezhnev. Why did they do that? What did they think had changed with a different leader in position? Hadn’t the revisionists entrenched themselves in all levels of the Party in the more than eleven years since the death of Stalin?

I find it difficult to see what the CPC was hoping to gain. Things had been said and done which had created a situation where it was impossible to go back to a situation pre-20th Congress. And this is not even starting to address the changes that had taken place in many Communist parties throughout the world or even taking into account the events in Hungary in 1956, the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, the so-called ‘Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and the escalation of the war of intervention in Vietnam, all events that had changed the dynamic of the International Communist Movement. With the movement in a state of flux it was not totally capable of making the most of the opportunities presented or being able to deal with the problems that arose as a consequence.

I don’t understand why Chou En-lai was so struck on the idea that the change in leadership would necessarily lead to a change in approach. He doesn’t seem to have shown any understanding of the history of the Communist movement, from its earliest of days, and the constant threat that was revisionism. He also, in his dealings with Albania, seemed to forget that the PLA and its leadership were ‘persona non grata’ in Moscow after Hoxha’s speech at the November 1960 meeting and that there were no diplomatic, let alone fraternal, relationships between the PLA and the CPSU so there was no way that a delegation from the PLA would ever get near to any celebration of the October Revolution (taking place in Moscow on 7th November 1964).

(As an aside here I’m unsure of the relationship that the PLA had with Chou En-lai. He was often the ‘bad guy’ when it came to a conflict between the PLA and the CPC in the 60s and 70s. His presence or involvement in such meetings is not a surprise as his remit was foreign affairs. However, in January 1976, just after his death, Enver Hoxha (as well as many of the top leaders of the PLA) visited the Chinese Embassy in Tirana to express their condolences. There was an official mourning period in Albania and this was all publicised in their foreign language press.

On the other hand when Chairman Mao died in September 1976 the response in Albania was definitely cool. This is despite the fact that there was a major supplement in ‘Albania Today’ on the occasion of Mao’s 80th anniversary in 1973 and articles in the Albanian press praising Mao and Albanian-Chinese friendship as late as 1976. The last mention in ‘Albania Today’ which could be seen as one of fraternal friendship between the two countries and parties was a short article in issue No 1 of 1977 entitled ‘The name and work of Comrade Mao Tse-tung are immortal’, reprinted from Zëri i Popullit of 26th December 1976, on what would have been Chairman Mao’s 83rd anniversary. Despite this there’s definitely a feeling that matters changed between the two parties in the weeks prior to Chairman Mao’s death.)

5

If there’s one area in the letter from the PLA where there is a reference to contemporary events

(that is, in 1978) it’s in the ideas presented in No 5, where, it seems, the Chinese revisionists (already in control of the CPC less than two years after the Chairman’s death) asked that the Albanians repudiate the whole process that was the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution.

There’s no surprise that the request was made. Those in control of the CPC needed to get as many people as possible to forget the Cultural Revolution as it was here that all the ideas and theories that they were starting to peddle in the post-Mao era had been attacked and challenged. Even whilst not agreeing to this demand of the Chinese revisionists the letter makes comments where it suggests that the PLA was not totally in agreement with some of the methods and practices that characterised the Cultural Revolution. However, they were clear that there were reactionary elements within the CPC that had gotten into positions of power and were threatening the very existence of the Chinese construction of Socialism. The PLA had had direct experience of this revisionist trend in the CPC with their meetings with Liu Shao-chi and Teng Hsiao-ping way back in June of 1962 (see above).

I think that the PLA’s arguments here are quite honourable. They had been asked by Chairman Mao to come out in public support for the Cultural Revolution as he (Mao) believed there was a very real threat to the Chinese Revolution. Although there had been ‘cultural revolutions’ (small ones and not to the same extent as in China between 1966 and 1976) in the Soviet Union what was unleashed in China was of a qualitatively – as well as a quantitatively – different nature. It has become one aspect of what defines the uniqueness and progressive nature of Maoism.

However, Hoxha and the PLA had some reservations about the methodology. I don’t think that’s a problem. Revolutions by their very nature are unpredictable. In fact a ‘predictable’ revolution is, by definition, not a revolution. History showed that way back in the 18th century in France. A revolution can devour its own as well as its enemies. The French Revolution was a minor affair when compared to the extent of the Chinese Cultural Revolution in both its extent geographically and the vast numbers of people involved. Mistakes would have been made and there’s nothing wrong in saying so.

We now know, with the publication a year later (in 1979) of Hoxha’s ‘Reflections on China’ that he, privately up to that date, had more serious and deeper differences with the CPC – but that was kept secret, in the way that fraternal parties should discuss differences, until after an irreversible break had taken place between those two parties. And it cannot be denied that the road taken so soon after Mao’s death with the coup within the Chinese Party had already, by July 1978, demonstrated that the revisionists and ‘capitalist-roaders’ had seized power in Peking. We now know clearly where that was to lead.

I do disagree with what is stated in the very last paragraph relating to item 5. This is where the PLA seems to bemoan the fact that there had not been any real analysis of the positive and negative aspects of the Cultural Revolution by the, then, present leadership of the Party. This seems to indicate a certain naiveté on the part of the PLA as for the leadership in control from the end of 1976 to the present day see EVERYTHING as negative in that massive social movement.

However much I consider the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution to be an event of supreme importance in the development of Marxism-Leninism it did, ultimately, fail. It failed for reasons which have to be understood if the same mistakes are not to be repeated. To deny that fact is as destructive of the movement as is the approach of the revisionists who hope it just ‘goes away’.

6

The inclusion of this short section – about the People’s Republic of China being able to take its rightful place at the United Nations Organisation and on the Security Council – seems to be strange and, really, unnecessary when there were more important issues to bring to light.

Here there seems to be a criticism of China’s policy of ‘isolation’, that China could have played a greater role in the promotion of revolution and Socialism if it abandoned its ‘close-door policy’ in relation to other countries.

It was only Albania that had been pushing for the PRC as being ‘the only legitimate representative of China to the United Nations’, which was eventually achieved on 25th October 1971. The only other country that had fought for Chinese interests before was in the early 1950s when the Soviet Union boycotted the Security Council of the UN due to the refusal of the organisation to accept the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate representative of the Chinese people. (This boycott was then used so that the imperialists in the UN could vote for UN sanctioned intervention in Korea.)

7

As stated above one of the reasons there’s such an angry tone to much of this letter was due to the fact that when the Chinese unilaterally withdrew aid, including military aid, they did so in a manner that exposed Albania’s military potential to the gaze of possible enemies of the People’s Republic of Albania. This had a bit of history, Albania being denied heavy armaments, by Chou En-lai, both in 1968 and 1975. Stating that all such weapons would not be enough to counter any threat from either US/UK imperialism or Soviet ‘social-imperialism’ Chou suggested, in its place, Albania forming a military alliance with Yugoslavia and Romania.

This would have riled the Albanians on a number of levels. By making reference to the small size of the country and population Chou was emulating the approach of Khrushchev in the early 1960s. He (Chou) was also suggesting an alliance with one of the countries with which Albania considered a military threat rather than a potential ally. This seems strange when Chou was supposed to be an astute politician (perhaps too much a politician than a Communist) and would have been very much involved in the debates prior to the political schism between China and the Soviet Union in 1963. He would have known that Albania would see such an alliance as a back door way for Tito to achieve his aims of a greater Yugoslavia in the Balkan region. It was also reminiscent of the sort of interference in the internal affairs of Albania that the country had had to endure from the Soviet Union until 1961.

It also displayed a total lack of understanding of the Albanian way of thinking, its attitude towards independence and its long history of fighting against foreign invasion, even before the formation of an Albanian Communist Party.

To look at geopolitics merely through statistics is the way that imperialism has looked at and treated the rest of the world over the last two or three hundred years. That’s why straight lines determine the borders in Africa and the Middle East which take no account of the people living on either side of those lines. This was a politics of ‘spheres of influence’ where different European countries would grab as much of the territory of the colonial peoples as they thought they could control. This was the politics of the Sykes-Picot Agreement (of 16th May, 1916) which divided up those parts of the Ottoman Empire in the Levant between the British and the French after the First World War. Such an ignorant and chauvinistic approach has led to the conflicts, coups, internecine wars and invasions and interventions which have dominated the region for the last seventy years, causing untold suffering on the people on the ground.

This led to the creation of the state of Israel and the internationally sanctioned crime which is the robbing of the Palestinian people of their land, their security but never their dignity – a crime of which the world and all its people should be ashamed to allow go unpunished. Marx said the British workers would never be entirely free if they did not resolve, at the same time, the situation of the oppression of Ireland. In the same way the people’s of the world will never be entirely free if the Palestinians continue to suffer as they have over the best part of a hundred years.

But such an approach to geopolitics is not what should be emanating from a country that considers itself Socialist. Power politics is what Socialism is not about. This is Great Nation Chauvinism, this is the policy which the Chinese accused the Revisionist Soviets of following at the same time as they were attempting to impose a similar policy on Albania. It was when erstwhile Socialist countries played the same game as the imperialists that they started to lose credibility, both at home and abroad. The Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan from 1979 onwards and the Chinese invasion of Vietnam in 1979 are cases in point.

Why would China want to impose its will on small, isolated and surrounded by enemies Albania?

Not only is that a not very fraternal attitude to take it displays a total ignorance of the psyche of the Albanian people. In many of the historical pamphlets produced by the Foreign Languages Press (and now published on the China pages of the BannedThought website) one thread that runs through them is the inability of the western, imperialist powers too understand the Chinese people. This was due to a mixture of ignorance, arrogance and racism. Such an approach only bred the many hundreds of thousands of men and women who joined the Chinese Communist Party and took part in the National Liberation War. Why then did the Chinese Party think they could approach a fraternal country in a similar manner?

Anyone who had even the slightest knowledge of Albania and its history would not make such a mistake. Skenderbeg, a 15th century aristocratic military leader, has been a symbol of Albanian independence since his death in 1468. Statues commemorating his exploits and those of other independence fighters in later centuries against foreign invaders were erected in Albania even at the time of the Fascist Zog, before he fled the Italian invasion in April 1939. Statues of nationalist from the pre-National Liberation War period were erected after the defeat of the Italian and German Fascists throughout the country. Socialist Realist artists, painters and sculptors, created works of art celebrating the struggles of early independence fighters right up to the end of the 1980s when everything in Albania fell apart. They appeared on countless lapidars (the Albanian monuments) and far outnumbered statues to Marxist-Leninist heroes such a Lenin and Stalin. Even today, when independence is just a word and has no real meaning in the political or economic sphere in capitalist Albania these heroes are remembered on important historical occasions and their monuments cared for whilst other, more recent structures, are allowed to decay.

And it was into this world, when those in the leadership of the PLA and Albanian Government had, almost to a man and women, been active fighters in the National Liberation War against the most powerful enemy the country had ever had to face that the Chinese Party sought to tell them what to do. Is it any surprise they received the reaction they did?

Here the Chinese made a similar mistake in not understanding the feelings of a people – the people not just the leadership – as they had when they allowed the conflict on the Usurri River to get out of hand.

8

The PLA and the Government of Albania weren’t the only ones to be surprised to hear, in the summer of 1971, of the proposed visit of Nixon to Peking. One day you’re on the streets demonstrating against the murderous war that the US was waging against Vietnam, attempting in all ways (short of using nuclear weapons – although that was only avoided by a whisker) to destroy both the country and its valiant people, often alongside revisionist supporters of the Soviet Union where you are arguing of the superiority of the Chinese viewpoint, the next you are having to justify the unjustifiable.

I was in that situation and I’m sure many Marxist-Leninists, Maoists, were as well.

Nixon’s role in much of the world was seen in the context of him being a bent and corrupt President, lying, cheating, agreeing to the burglary of a Democratic Party office, secretly taping conversations with those he met in the Oval Office and, obviously, his continuation of the war in Vietnam. We might also have known of his role when, as Vice-President to Eisenhower between 1953 and 1960, he made regular visits to South Vietnam and was instrumental in supporting the final days of the French war against North Vietnam as well as paving the way for the introduction of US troops in the battle zone after the ignominious defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in May 1954.

Those in the US would have known him also for his anti-communist role in the House Un-American Activities Committee and the witch hunt that took place in many walks of life, from the late 1940s until the mid 1950s, and I know that some members of various Maoist groupings in the US left their different parties in disgust at the very idea that such an individual would be invited to Peking.

Now (in 1971) this staunch anti-communist was being invited to the capital of what many of us believed to be one of the standard bearers of world revolution and national liberation. This was also taking place at the same time that B52 bombers were raining death and destruction upon the people of North Vietnam. Flying so high often the people didn’t know what was happening until dozens of 500 and 750lb bombs landed on their towns and cities. And this bombing didn’t cease after Nixon’s visit.

I think it’s worth quoting here a little from the Letter of the CC of the PLA to the CC of the CPC, sent on 6th August 1971, just after the Albanians had learnt of the proposed visit – via international news agencies.

‘Welcoming Nixon to China, who is known as a frenzied anti-communist, an aggressor and assassin of the peoples, as a representative of blackest US reaction, has many drawbacks and will have negative consequences for the revolutionary movement and our cause.

‘Talks with Nixon provide the revisionists with weapons to negate the entire great struggle and polemics of the Communist Party of China to expose the Soviet renegades as allies and collaborators of US imperialism, and to put on a par China’s stand towards US imperialism and the treacherous line of collusion pursued by the Soviet revisionists towards it. This enables the Khrushchevite revisionists to flaunt their banner of false anti-imperialism even more ostentatiously and to step up their demagogical and deceitful propaganda in order to bring the anti-imperialist forces round to themselves.’

The Albanians saw this visit in many ways as a repudiation of all that had passed between the CPC and the CPSU during the years of the International Polemic and the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution (which was still taking place, although now possibly with less intensity). This allowed the Soviet revisionists a respite. How could they be criticised for their closer relationships with the US imperialists if the Chinese were inviting its highest representative to their capital city?

The CPC didn’t even deign to reply to this letter from the PLA.

What also angered the PLA was that they had not been consulted, or even informed, of this visit and had to read about it in the international media. Considering the stance that both the parties had taken in the struggle against revisionism in all its forms the PLA saw this as a betrayal of the fraternal relationship they thought they had with the CPC.

To add insult to injury the CPC found excuses not to send delegates to the 6th Congress of the PLA that was due to take place at the end of 1971. Now the periodic Congresses are the high point in the life of any Communist Party. For a Party in power it’s an opportunity to review past successes, analyse any mistakes and to look forward to the future. For a Party in power it was also an opportunity to demonstrate the connections it had in the world. For the Chinese not to send a delegation was a public statement that the close relationship that had existed for the previous eight years was no more. From that time the two parties grew more and more apart.

9

The ‘Three World’s Theory’ was a strange one. When it first came out I can’t remember anyone saying anything more positive than ‘what’s this mean?’ or ‘where did this come from?’. It purportedly came from Mao but it lacks the clarity of thinking and clear direction that is characteristic of most of his published work. It’s even more strange when we remember that the first and perhaps the only time it was propounded in a major public forum was on 10th April 1974 at a Special Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly when Teng Hsiao-ping ended his presentation by saying that China was part of the Third World.

All the points made in the letter of the CC of the PLA are valid. The ‘theory’ is a dog’s breakfast. It doesn’t make any sense other than to make the point that China is on the same side as any country, whatever its political system, as long as it’s against the countries that China doesn’t like. This isn’t a Maoist theory – however hard the revisionists want to tie it to him. This was just another tactic of those in the leadership who had been ‘rehabilitated’ after spending the best part of ten years in the political wilderness, or prison.

This theory is more of one of the first shots that the revisionists, who were gaining in strength within the CPC, were able to fire in the coup they were planning – to take place soon after the death of Chairman Mao.

Like so many of the declarations and decisions of the CPC in the 1970s the aim of the dissemination of this ‘theory’ was primarily to cause confusion in what was becoming an increasingly divided and split revolutionary Marxist-Leninist movement throughout the world.

10

Although it was not obvious generally that the relationship between the PLA and the CPC was becoming strained the way that the letter puts events in their chronological order makes it clear that the gap between them was getting greater, the pace increasing after Nixon’s visit to China in 1971.

Throughout this document there are many references to letters and requests from the PLA continually being ignored by the CPC. This wasn’t even the case at the height of the International Polemic. At that time each side published, in full, documents from the other. The Soviet revisionists at least sought justification of their erroneous ideas, if the CPC considered it was correct why didn’t it make a similar effort to ‘correct’ the PLA?

This aloofness of the Chinese only serves to give credence to the points that the Albanians make. In this section the letter states that the Chinese accused the PLA of criticising and attacking the CPC and Chairman Mao on the occasion of the PLA’s 7th Congress in 1976. As the letter says, there’s no reference whatsoever to that happening in any of the documents made public and published soon after the Congress. Furthermore, as I have stated above there was a regular flow of positive articles and references to China and the friendship between the two countries up till the end of 1976. The majority of articles printed in English language publications (and here I’m really referring to ‘Albania Today’ and ‘New Albania’) were mainly translations of work that had appeared in various Albanian language publications, so there doesn’t seem to be any proof that the Albanians were doing anything other than try to maintain the impression that all was well between the two Parties and countries.

This meant that no delegation from a previously fraternal Party was invited to Peking but the world and its dog was. Only a cursory glance at the copies of Peking Review of the period 1974-76 will demonstrate that for the last couple of years of his life so much of Chairman Mao’s time was taken up by greeting so-called ‘dignitaries’ who had been invited to visit Peking . As is stated in the Albanian letter all kinds of ‘kings’, despots, thieves, cut-throats and murderers were welcomed into the Chairman’s presence. Among those were ‘leaders’ who were hated by their people due to their political institutions, economic and social policies which left poor people poorer each year and almost always under a constant threat of violence if they dared to challenge the ruling group. The only rationale for all of these visits was that they were of ‘the third world’, the same world which China also inhabited.

Although some of them could be grouped as ‘progressives’ in that they were leaders of countries which had recently freed themselves from colonial oppression the majority were representatives of capitalism at best or outright reaction and fascism at worse. American Presidents continued to visit Peking and even Nixon made another, official, visit after he’d been disgraced and forced to resign. The Chinese seemed to be embracing Islam at the time as there were a number of visitors from those countries dominated ‘Islamic Republics’. Dictators such as Mobuto were welcomed and for some bizarre reason Imelda Marcos from the Philippines was invited twice. In a move that would have been especially difficult for the Albanians to stomach was the invitation of a high level delegation from Yugoslavia.

In total there were at least 47 of these delegations in the last two years of Chairman Mao’s life and, as stated before, would have had the effect of separating him from the real events and developments that would have been taking place in the Chinese Party and Government. This number of visitors would have almost certainly had been greater if it were not for the fact that a number of high level members of the Party were also to die in that period, making Mao and other leaders unavailable to receive visitors on those occasions.

Chairman Mao was getting old and by forcing him into this role of meet and greet was taking him away from any real involvement in the policies of the country and keeping him away from the scheming that had to be going on behind the scenes – there’s no other way to explain the speed and success of the revisionist coup that was carried out so soon after his death. He had said that there would be a need for many more Cultural Revolutions but he was not to be around to initiate another.

11

The PLA had long-established the rule that they would not publicly make statements about the leadership in other Marxist-Leninist parties – until the situation had developed such as it had by the time of the meetings in Bucharest and Moscow in 1960. Likewise they refused (in the couple of years after the death of Chairman Mao) to condemn some of the leadership that had been replaced or imprisoned in the coup that took place at the end of 1976.

However, there’s a telling quote from this letter which quite clearly expresses the view of the PLA in relation to the Chinese leadership as was in 1978.

‘The present Chinese leadership has wanted our Party to support its illegal and non-Marxist-Leninist activity to seize state power in China. Our Party has not fulfilled and will never fulfil this desire of the Chinese leadership. The Party of Labour of Albania never tramples on the Marxist-Leninist principles, and has never been, nor will it ever be anybody’s tool.’ page 17, column 2.

Within a short period of a year or so, with the publication of Hoxha’s ‘Reflections on China’, the world was to get a better idea of how he had seen the situation within and the relationship with China. Probably more than any other document this led to what became, in some parts of the world, such a vicious and acrimonious split in the international Marxist-Leninist movement

Conclusion

The letter shows how the PLA saw the situation in, and with, China in 1978. There are few of these criticisms that I do not share. When we look back at the almost 40 years since the publication of that letter and take into account what has happened during that time we can see that, in many ways, the letter was prescient in that what it suggested would happen, when a Party leaves the road of Marxism-Leninism, has indeed happened in that erstwhile Socialist country.

As I’ve stated above the acrimony that developed in the late 70s – where I think some were treating Mao as some perfect being who did no wrong (something I’m sure Mao himself would have thought ludicrous and laughable) – was unnecessary, destructive and caused irreparable damage to the International Communist Movement at the time. It also hasn’t left us so many years later with any conclusions which could be of any use to future revolutionary movements.

I accept and argue that the Great Socialist Cultural Revolution – and the necessity for countless such revolutions before Communism can be achieved – is one of the greatest contributions that Mao made to Marxist-Leninist theory. However, it failed. It failed not least because one of the greatest proponents of the reactionary theories that would have led to the re-introduction of capitalism in China, Teng Hsiao-ping, was allowed back into the higher echelons of the Party whilst Mao was still alive. Who promoted such a rehabilitation I do not know, nor the why.

What is certain, however, was that the Party invited the viper back into its inner sanctum. Carrying out exactly the same tactics for which he was imprisoned and disgraced in 1966 Teng was able to create a situation where the revisionists were able to gain control of the Party in a coup within a matter of weeks of Mao being placed in his mausoleum. This was the case even though he underwent widespread public criticism, particularly by those in the Chinese leadership that became to be known as the ‘Gang of Four’ (Jiang Qing, Zhang Chun-qiao, Yao Wen-yuan, and Wang Hong-wen) following the Tangshan earthquake of July 28th 1976.

Within a few short years all the political advances that had been achieved since the declaration of the People’s Republic in October 1949 became a thing of the past, sacrificed on the altar of getting rich is glorious. Some fought against this but not enough.

In the years following the letter Albania carried on, now very much alone in the world. As time drew on matters became more difficult and increased the opportunities for those with the desire to foment discontent. When Enver Hoxha died on 11th April 1985 the line of the Party softened and the PLA was unable to provide the leadership it had provided for 45 years during the construction of socialism.

Emboldened by events in other parts of Eastern Europe (and with China continuing down its capitalist road) the reactionaries were successful in their counter-revolution in 1990.

Socialist revolutions are hard to foment, harder still to ensure success, even harder to maintain.

If the world is to see a new wave of revolutions in the 21st century, when the necessity for such is even greater than it was in the 20th we have to make sure that we understand past mistakes as fully as possible. Lenin learnt from the 1871 Paris Commune and published his ideas, criticisms and suggestions on how not to make the same mistakes in ‘The State and Revolution’ (first published in August 1917, only a couple of months before the October Revolution).

The material we have to study to understand is vast and to do the investigation justice and to be practical we have, perhaps, to be selective. The letter of the CC of the PLA to the CC of the CPC is one of those that should be on that list.

28th April, 2017