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

Las Guayarminas – Gáldar – Gran Canaria

Monumento a las Guayarminas

Monumento a las Guayarminas

The role of women, and the way they are represented on the lapidars in the Albanian revolution and the construction of Socialism, is one of things that make Albanian Socialist Realism quite unique. It is also a lesson for future artists following the next wave of proletarian revolutions. I have attempted to bring this out in my close reading of the lapidars posted to date and will continue to do so in the future. However, sometimes it’s useful to take a step away from the particular and make a similar analysis of ‘works of art’ created under conditions of capitalism. Such an exercise demonstrates how far art in Albania developed in the few years (46) that Socialism existed in that country. For this counter-analysis I have chosen a statue in the town of Gáldar in Gran Canaria called ‘El Monumento a las Guayarminas’ – The Monument to the ‘Indigenous Princesses’.

El Monumento a las Guayarminas

Before looking at the statue in detail perhaps it will be useful to give a bit of background to the first inhabitants of the seven Canary Islands, a people who are now referred to as the Guanches. That was almost certainly not the name they used to describe themselves, most people calling themselves words in their own languages that more approximate to ‘the chosen’, ‘the humans’ or ‘the people’ rather than anything more specific. All peoples really have been given their names by others, normally their enemies, so those names, which have now stuck, tend to be derogatory in translation. But then people don’t really look to deep into their own origins.

Anyway, it is generally agreed that the first settlers came from North Africa. No one seems to have come up with a rational explanation of why the first ones took the perilous journey of 800 or so kilometres across the Atlantic Ocean from the African mainland – but do so they did and in significant numbers so that by the 6th century BC they had established settlements in Tenerife – at least. It is also generally accepted they are of Berber origin, what remains of the Guanche language bearing similarities with the Berber spoken in parts of North-western Africa. (Although over a period of more than two thousand years they must have gone their own separate ways.)

Everything seems to have gone quite well until the Spanish decided to expand its empire but it doesn’t seem to have been that easy. The Spanish ‘Conquest’ took place throughout the 15th century, they only being fully in control of all the Canary Islands in 1496. In the process, in fine imperialist style, the Guanche culture, way of life and language was totally destroyed, the people being either killed or sold into slavery and their memory being effectively obliterated from history – a strategy the Spanish followed over the next two centuries in what is now known as Central and Latin America.

As an aside it is worth mentioning that, although unplanned by the Spanish, the conquest of the Canary Islands played a vital role in, first, Christopher Columbus’s first voyage of ‘discovery’ of America and the subsequent sacking and robbery of that continent over the next three hundred years. It was in the town that is now known as San Sebastian, in La Gomera, that was the last place of call (to stock up on fresh water) for Columbus’s three tiny ships before they set out to find a short cut to India. Unfortunately for the indigenous people, of what is now known as the Americas, their home was in the way. Most of the thousands of Spanish ships which were to make that voyage in the succeeding centuries used the Canaries as such a staging post.

Like many imperialist nations, to whom genocide was part and parcel of conquest, when it’s too late to do anything about it, they attempt to salve their consciences by making a mock recognition of their past crimes and paying lip service to respecting the culture they had previously, happily, destroyed. It isn’t a coincidence that this plays well in the present era of ‘political correctness’ and the world of tourism – the industry upon which the Canaries will either sink or swim. We should always remember the qualification that we should be aware of, and know how to tell the difference between, those who ‘speak well but mean bad and those who speak bad but mean well’.

And it is in this environment that we have to place the statue of the Monument to Las Guayarminas.

Gáldar is the location of the Cueva Pintada, a natural basalt cave where, some time in the 19th century, archaeologists re-discovered polychromatic wall paintings, pre-Conquest, about which theories of their meaning abound. (I will accept that they are important relics of the past but they are somewhat under-whelming when seen in real life.)

So in 1981, I assume the municipality of Gáldar, commissioned a local sculptor, Borges Linares, to create a public work of art to celebrate, commemorate, the slaughter, rapine, enslavement and virtual ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Guanche people.

It’s here we start to see the separation of capitalist, imperialist, ‘justification’ art from the forward-looking, progressive, proletarian art that I have been writing about in the posts on the Albanian lapidars.

First its location. The statue and its plinth stand on a small, raised traffic island at the entrance to the commercial part of the town. To get a good view of it you have to step up on to the grass from the road and the statue is in no way ‘accessible’. The plinth is about 2 metres high so that even more separates the figures from the viewer.

Now, I’m quite happy about that. This is the type of statue that most people who pass it everyday couldn’t tell you anything about it in detail. However, by placing the statue in this location there’s an implied ‘look don’t touch’ message. This is what can be seen in the UK with those royal equestrian statues and any such representation of past kings or queens. It’s not for the hoi polloi to be able to touch such ‘sacred beings’. For the ‘peasants’ looking up, hopefully in some form of ignorant respect, it is the only way to appreciate such creations.

Then we have the name. The translation tells us this is a monument to three Guanche ‘princesses’. This demonstrates the first of the many banal aspects of this ‘work of art’.

Why princesses? For more than two thousand years a vibrant culture existed on the seven Canary Islands. It appears they were able to feed, clothe and house themselves relatively successfully. There seems to be evidence of a collective element in the storage of the basic food grains, principally barley (from which they made a staple called ‘gofio’). At the same time there was a hierarchy of wealth and power – which seems to have been tolerated in primitive societies as it is in most societies up to the present day – forelock tugging being an innate attribute of most individuals.

In Albanian Socialist Realism it’s the working class men and women who are celebrated and recognised for their contribution to the Liberation of the country from Fascism, the Revolution and the construction of Socialism.

In the sham ‘recognition’ of the Guanche the chosen are the ruling class, about which virtually nothing is known. In Europe there are princesses so there must have been the same in the Guanche culture. The Euro-centric view of society and history is thereby reinforced.

Tall, slim, 'regal' – banal

Tall, slim, ‘regal’ – banal

They are tall, slim, ‘regal’ – banal. They represent and say nothing. They are there, that’s all. Static, without purpose, parasitic, doing nothing. Like the present aristocracy, in countries like Britain, where the ignorant flag-waving monarchists, with their obsession with the Saxe-Coberg and Gotha family – which changed its name to Windsor in 1914 so the British workers and peasants that went to die in the war against Germany wouldn’t know that their monarchy was also German – continue to fawn and kowtow to a rich family of thieves whilst their miserable lives get worse due the effects of ‘austerity’.

The women of Albania fought, they took up arms with the men, they were equal, nay, more than equal to those slavish Nationalist quislings who sat down with the Fascist invaders. In Albania we have the example of the likes of Liri Gero, a brave teenager, a young peasant woman with a long-term perspective, tortured and murdered by the Nazis – as a ‘lesson’ to those who dare to fight for Freedom (the meaning of her name).

The Spanish Conquistadors had such contempt for those peoples whose land they stole that they didn’t keep comprehensive records of the culture they were hell-bent on destroying. The Guanche don’t seem to have been a particularly warring culture and would have to had learnt quickly how to deal with the invaders. They also seemed not to have developed any form of written or pictorial version of their language in which their history could be recorded. If there’s any evidence that women took part in the fighting I have yet to encounter such material. However, even if they did not actually take part in combat they would have kept their society running as smoothly as possible as the men were away, by working in the fields.

As I write that I start to wonder why it took women, from all over the world, so long, when faced with war and invasion where they would have suffered physically if their ‘side’ had lost, didn’t actually take part in the battles. Not all fighting has to depend upon physical strength. In fact those tactics of ‘guerrilla warfare’ developed by Chairman Mao actually favour intelligence and guile rather than brute force. A patriarchal society doesn’t provide all the answers.

It wasn’t until the Paris Commune of 1871 (the 146th anniversary of which was commemorated on March 18th last) that working class women first took a concerted and active part in the struggle for the betterment of their class in opposition to the established state. For their pains they were murdered and buried alive by the ignorant peasant army of Versailles in the last week of May of that year. Fighting a rearguard action the Women Incendiaries, such as Louise Michel, aimed to delay the inevitable and to leave a destroyed Paris to the victors – concerned more with property than human lives.

However, it wasn’t until the first Socialist revolution, led by an ideologically clear and organised Marxist Party (the Bolsheviks who were later to become the Communist Party of the Soviet Union) in the October Revolution in Russia in 1917, that women first started to play a real role in the fight for the liberation of the working class.

This role became even more important and politically relevant during the anti-Fascist and National Liberation Wars after 1939 in those countries where the struggle was led by Communist Parties – especially in the Soviet Union, China, Albania and Vietnam.

But in the 15th century the Guanche hadn’t had the opportunity to learn this lesson and they were virtually annihilated.

Instead of investigating and considering anti-Spanish resistance as the theme of his statue Linares decided on the ‘safe’ option, the option that wouldn’t in anyway rattle the status quo or the establishment. As stated before, the totally banal.

Volcanic islands are, by definition, mountainous and this is represented in the statue with the lower two princesses representing the foothills while the standing, central female representing the highest peak. This also alludes to the idea of royalty being the pinnacle of any society.

Here it seems appropriate to make a comment on the features of the females represented on this statue – and also in the other Canarian representations of the Guanche I’ve encountered. This is important as it indicates how serious the Spanish victors are about the whole of this restitution of history.

Remember that the Guanche are generally accepted to have arrived from North Africa. It might be my eyesight but I can’t see anything North African in the features of these three Guanche ‘princesses’.

The Northern Africa population today display a mixture of Arabic and Negroid features. These people have been mixing for thousands of years. The northern Caucasians would also be in the mix but due to the very nature of their location they would have had a minor impact upon the features of the population. That is now, I would consider it to have been even less in the past, that is, 600 years ago.

So why do these three women, as well as the people in the God-awful videos in the ‘Cueva Pintada’ Museum video presentations, look distinctively Spanish, or, at least Northern European/Caucasian?

This is all part of the ‘revisionist’ version of the past.

Imperialism seems to think that if they create those they have robbed and destroyed in their own image this is an appropriate recompense for their past ‘crimes’. (I put ‘crimes’ in parenthesis as they are not really accepted as such and still take place to this day in many parts of the world.)

There’s a contradiction in present day society. Metropolitan cities are praised yet the homogenisation that results from this is not considered to be an issue. It leads to an idea that we are ‘all the same’ but this doesn’t work when we look at the past. Especially those cultures that have been destroyed by a stronger – or at least more vicious (and often also supported by convenient diseases to which the indigenous population are not immune.) There is also the fact that such Metropolitanism misses the vast proportion of the world’s population and they wouldn’t know it if they saw it. Why is it that big city centralism is celebrated throughout the world but at the same time billions of people are living in abject poverty?

What we have in this statue is realisation of a dead culture which is represented by the images of the culture that killed it – and to which it has never been brought to book. These women have no Northern African features whatsoever, they look more Spanish, European. More like the invaders of 600 years ago. Those same invaders ‘celebrate’ those they destroyed by making a statue that looks more like the murderers than the victims.

'Wonder Woman'

‘Wonder Woman’

If you look at the ‘principal’ princess she looks like something from a video game. She bears no relation to a real person. She’s more like Linda Carter’s version of ‘Wonder Woman’ – but without the ability to fight – even down to the triangle on her headband. Her hair extends halfway down her back but it’s difficult to make out as the three women merge into each other, emphasising their lack of individuality. Also this principal ‘princess’ just stares out ahead of her, she looks catatonic, there’s no animation in her stance.

She also wears a totally impractical dress, full body length, with a slit that starts above her knee, the only indication of anything that approximates something living.

The statue is called the three princesses but the other two females that are part of the structure seem more to be servants than equals.

The one on the right looks out at rights angles to her more prominent sister. What she shares is the vacant, empty look. She is dressed in virtually the same style as the standing woman but one thing that’s emphasised by her stance is the inability of Linares to sculpt hands. Or feet. All these difficult appendages to the human body all merge into a shapeless mess.

What also differentiates the standing ‘princess’ with the others is the lack of a triangle on the forehead. So surely a sign of different social standing.

I have problems with the woman on the left. She’s also much lower but whereas the one on the right is kneeling the one on the left seems to be sitting down, her hidden legs (almost Mermaid like) covering the feet of the most important. She doesn’t stare into nothingness, she looks up, in a way that indicates suffering rather than anything pleasant. Although there are three women this statue owes more to those of images of the Crucifixion of Christ than anything original – or Pre-Conquest.

Waiting for a message

Waiting for a message

This third woman is also different in that she has something that looks like a couple of conch shells on her shoulder, resting them against the thigh of the standing ‘princess’. I don’t know. Perhaps she’s waiting for a message. Or has just received one that is so shocking that it is the reason for her surprised look.

One of the aspects of Albanian lapidars that I have mentioned a number of times – in praise – is that the name of the artist doesn’t appear on the sculpture. I like this indication of a lack of possession but at the same time I believe these Socialist artists should be attributed for their skill, but not on the work itself. The destruction of the archives of the Albanian League of Writers and Artists was a tragic consequence of the 1990s Counter Revolution. Because many of the lapidars were not ‘signed’ now it’s not so easy to learn who the sculptors were.

Discreet signature

Discreet signature

However, in the case of the sculpture in Gáldar we know exactly who was the sculptor as he vandalises his own work by placing his name in the middle of the backs of the three women. He doesn’t chose a discreet location on the plinth, but in a place that is totally inappropriate.

The ideas that separate this sculpture from those of the Albanian lapidars demonstrate, without a shadow of a doubt, the difference between the capitalist and socialist systems.

The bas reliefs and mosaics of the Vlora Palace of Sport

 

Facade of Vlora Palace of Sport

Facade of Vlora Palace of Sport

Although they are being neglected, and sometimes need dedication and determination to view them, there are still a number of artistic works from the Socialist period on many of what would have been public buildings. The most impressive (and becoming one of the most neglected) is the grand mosaic on the facade of the National Historical Museum in Tirana. Another example, which can easily be missed, is the bas-relief on both the north and south sides of the Palace of Sport in the town of Vlora. Even more easily missed are the two interior mosaics on either side of what would have been, in the past, the main entrance to this sports centre.

The Palace of Sport (now the home of the town’s basket ball team, Flamurtari – the same name as the football team whose home ground is in the long-established stadium less than a hundred meters from the hall) is located at the bottom end of Rruga Sadiki Zotaj, the main street running from north to south through the town, at Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square). Although the facade, and the square in front of it, has had some cosmetic work done in recent years the money seems to have run out for any further modernisation of the interior of the main entrance. For this reason, to the casual visitor, the building looks abandoned – like so many public buildings dating from the 1970s and 80s – with graffiti scaring the white paint work and entrance to the court is now at the back of the building.

Flamurtari signifies ‘flag bearer’, not in the personal sense but in the figurative sense. Vlora ‘prides’ itself as being the town where formal independence was declared in 1912, hence the very large monument to the event at the northern end of the main street. So it’s the town that is the standard-bearer. This was emphasised during the time of Socialism but now gets formal acceptance by most of the so-called ‘democratic’ political parties whilst they preside over the very real giving away of that very independence so hard-fought for. For the workers and peasants the day of true independence was achieved on 29th November, 1944, when the Fascists were defeated throughout the country. That celebration is now sidelined and ignored by the bourgeois parties as it would mean a recognition of the role of the Communist Partisans in the National Liberation War.

The Bas Reliefs

Southern Bas Relief

Southern Bas Relief

Of the two the bas-relief in the best condition is the on the southern face of the building, on the right as you look at the main entrance. This is probably solely down to the fact that it looks down upon one of the expensive bars attached to one of the hotels that are mushrooming throughout the country. The bas-relief is high up and as with all such of the Socialist period it tells a story.

Starting from the bottom we have a number of athletes taking part in various sports, both representing sport in general as well as some of the activities that would have taken place in the building. On the extreme left is a male in the act of about to throw a discus. Next are two males wrestling. These images represent those sports that were practised in classical antiquity to date.

Matters are brought up to date with the next images of two females. One is in the act of leaping to throw the ball, clasped in both her hands, into an unseen netball ring. Her opponent is also leaping, her right arm high above her head, in an attempt to prevent the goal.

Next in line is a return to antiquity with a male with his back to us. His right arm is stretched behind him and in his right hand the he holds the shaft of a javelin. He is running forward and the tension can be seen in his body as he is just about to put everything into his throw. Finally, amongst this group, we have another female facing towards the back of the building. She has her arms outstretched, her right leg raised and bent at the knee whilst she stands on her toes on her left. The element of grace in this image indicates that she is a gymnast, following a floor exercise.

There is a suggestion of gender difference here as the males are involved in trials of strength whilst the women are following those sports which in the past were considered more appropriate for females.

This traditional idea is challenged somewhat in the image above the first group. Here we have a group of ten runners, seven male and three female. The fact that the two genders are introduced in the same race seems to indicate that here is represented something akin to the modern-day marathons where gender plays no role in the entry qualifications. It also represents athletics in its purest and most basic, running needing no special equipment – despite what the sports manufacturing companies spend a fortune in promoting.

The three women are at the back of the group and for some reason one of them is actually looking backwards. As they are all running at full pace this is difficult to explain. The only time an athlete would be looking backwards would be at the time of changeover in a relay race but this doesn’t make sense here.

The idea of any gender difference gets blown out of the water in the final panel on the left hand side of this bas-relief. Here we have a group of five standing males (with their left legs forward) and four kneeling females (their right knees on the ground, the foot being bent, whilst the left leg is bent at the knee and the foot firmly place on the ground for stability) all in the act of firing, or about to fire, their weapons. The rifles are pressed against their shoulders, their left hands on the barrel and their right fingers on the trigger.

Rifle Practice

Rifle Practice

The figures are presented in a row, the one behind slightly in front of the one before, the symmetry of their stance being demonstrated by the left legs of the males stepping forward and the left, bent, leg of the females. This all gives an impression of depth on a flat plane.

As is almost always the case in Albanian Socialist Realist Art there is an indication that Socialism is something that represents all the people, from whatever part of the country they might come call their homeland, whether they be peasants or workers. The male closest to the viewer is dressed in the jacket and hat that is most associated with the mountains. He also seems to have a brez (a wide cloth belt) around his waist, as seen on the statue of Bajram Curri in the northern town which bears his name. We only really see the heads of the figures behind the first but all the faces are different and they all display different characteristics but it’s not easy to define ethnicity. What can be seen is that two of the others are wearing caps, the last two being bare-headed.

From the images of the women we can get no idea of their background, all of them being dressed in what, at the time, would have been, more or less, the uniform of the militia. This, for women, meant a step away from tradition as although it might be very attractive in its own right such clothing was not entirely practical for modern warfare – although there are images of fighting women in traditional clothing in lapidars such as the Arch of Drashovicë. All four of the women are wearing caps and we can see the long hair of the female closet to the viewer.

Here I don’t think that the rifle shooting is being introduced as a sport as it might be considered nowadays. However there is a link between sport and the armed militia. Physical activity would have been encouraged during Socialism and such Palaces of Sport built in all towns and villages to promote the well-being of the people. After centuries when the vast majority of the population would have been living a subsistence existence the last thing on the minds of the ruling class would have been the promotion of a strong and healthy working class or peasantry – especially one that knows how to use modern weapons. On the other hand a Workers’ State depends upon an armed and trained militia to defend itself against the many attacks made by the defeated capitalists.

(Witness the hysteria in capitalist countries about any weapon in the hands of ordinary people whilst at the same time the state spends billions on weapons which are accessible only to their puppet armed forces in times of conflict – which can just as easily be used against their own population if the workers ever decide to get up off their knees and oppose oppression and exploitation.)

When it comes to nutrition things haven’t changed a jot in the present day. The cheapest foods available in the vast majority of countries tends to be the most unhealthy in the short and long-term. Just consider the proliferation of fast food outlets throughout the world and in present day Albania the cheapest food is the fatty meat and ‘E’ numbers laden sauces that make up sufflaqe, or its local variants.

It has to be remembered that military service was obligatory for all young people in Albania during Socialism and there is no point in having weak and sickly soldiers (of whatever gender) to defend the homeland. The poor health of so many young men after a century and a half of the Industrial Revolution in capitalist Britain showed how badly the working class had fared in that time and was dramatically demonstrated when they were expected to go to the front in the murderous, imperialist war of 1914-19 (euphemistically called the ‘Great War’ by some).

Another aspect that should never be forgotten, and a matter I have constantly stressed when writing about Albanian Socialist Realist Art, is that in these images the women are armed. Armed with modern weapons but also with an ideology that uses that armed force for the benefit of women within the general society. So far, on this blog, when describing the lapidars, when weapons are an integral part of the image, the only one where the women have NOT been armed is on the bas-relief in Bajram Curri, a later piece of art which, in some ways, presaged the future.

Even though armed and provided with more equal rights than in any other country worldwide the Albanian women, just like the men, threw away those conditions in favour of short-term material gains and so-called bourgeois ‘freedoms’. This has led to the present situation where the country has lost any semblance of independence and with an economy that is totally at the whims and mercy of international financial interests and investment.

Although the primary focus of this bas-relief is towards the front of the building, looking from right to left, the firing men and women are directing their anger towards the back of the structure, otherwise they would be shooting their comrades in the back.

All of the images so far have been placed on a background in the shape of a lower case J. I have tried to work out the meaning of this but without success. Working on the basis that all aspects of such a work of art mean something this one has got me beat.

What is relatively clear, however, is the grouping of the flags at the top of the image, above the sporting and military figures. There are an uncountable number of them, at the top of flag poles whose serried ranks again give an impression of depth. However they are fluttering in both directions. This is obviously impossible. As I’ve stated elsewhere Socialist Realism doesn’t mean realistic imagery, it’s allegorical and attempts to tell a story in a new and innovative manner.

Banners above the military

Banners above the military

One interpretation of this image is that it’s a transitional stage to what we see as part of the main image to the left, that they are leaves of a book and, by extension education in general. Sporting expertise without education just provides society with such as the rich, mindless and illiterate footballers in the modern game, unable to string two words together in any known grammatical structure. Being able to kill people without an understanding of the political situation in which this killing takes place only produces mercenary killers and not liberation fighters.

The main subjects of this bas-relief are two athletes, a man and a woman, running flat out, their legs as wide apart as is possible when in a race. They are running on the bottom curve of the ‘J’ and their hands reach as high as the flags. There’s obviously a classical reference here, the only difference being that the two figures are clothed, the man with shorts but bare-chested whilst the female wears shorts and a T-shirt (female public nudity not being an element of Socialist Realism). On their feet it is easy to make out that they are wearing running shoes.

They are runners but not only runners. Within this image there are a number of ideas. We have the fact that they are healthy and fit, capable of strenuous activity that is not connected with work but for pleasure.

The woman is closest to us. She has her left arm fully outstretched behind her and her right arm is fully extended above her head. In that right hand she holds a rifle close to the end of the barrel, the rest of the weapon hidden by her arm and body. Her face is in semi-profile and her long hair flows out behind her by the force and speed of her forward movement.

Allegory of Socialism

Allegory of Socialism

The male is partially hidden by the female. His left arm is fully extended above his head, parallel and just behind the right arm of the woman. His hand grips the handle of a pickaxe just where the shaft meets the metal cross-piece. To all intents and purposes the rifle and the pickaxe are touching. This is in reference to the revolutionary slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania ‘advancing towards Socialism with the pickaxe in one hand and the rifle in the other’. This is interpreted as meaning that work alone will not achieve Socialism unless it is protected by the same level of force of those capitalist and imperialist forces who seek to deny working people the control over their own lives and the wealth of their country.

As if it is not enough to run with a heavy pickaxe held high he is also carrying a large book in his right hand, pressing it against his waist.

The whole combination of elements surrounding these two young people is an attempt to show how the society – at the time of its creation – was going forward towards Socialism. This relief was almost certainly inspired by the statue of the ‘Worker and Kolkhoz Woman’ (1937) by Vera Mukhina, presently situated at the Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy in Moscow.

This bas-relief is in a good condition and it looks like it has very recently been cleaned and repainted. As I’ve already stated it faces down on a fancy cafe attached to a new 4 star hotel. It’s good that this ‘public face’ has been respected – but as so few people actually look up higher than their own eye level I don’t know how many have actually noticed this unique and interesting piece of history.

Unfortunately fate has not been as kind to the mirror image that is in a similar location on the north side of the building. I say a ‘mirror image’ but that’s not quite the case.

Northern bas relief

Northern bas-relief

Most of the elements on the south facade are repeated but with a few minor differences. On the bottom panel where five different sports are represented, new ones have been inserted. From left to right we have; discus throwing, weight lifting, netball, wrestling and a female gymnast. Those which are repeats are the same as on the south side apart from the stance of the gymnast. She is still engaged in a floor exercise but here her left leg is on the ground, her right leg raised high behind her. Her right arm is raised high above her head and her left stretched out behind her with her head bent back.

The weight lifter, a male, looks like he has just achieved success in the jerk technique, his left leg bent and his right out behind his body, providing the balance.

The running group above is also slightly different. It’s still a mixed gender group, bunched up as in the early stages of a distance race but this time there are only seven runners.

At the front are two males running almost together, there being little seen of the runner behind apart from his legs. The runner fourth – as is the one in fifth, sixth and seventh – place is a female, we know this by their long hair, flowing behind them. It’s impossible to make out any of the facial features of the runner in fourth due to deterioration of the image.

Long hair for males wasn’t common in Socialist Albania and the press and governments of the capitalist west made a big issue of this in the 1970s when visiting young people were ‘obliged’ to have a haircut at the border if they wanted to get a visa. Whether this was more of an urban myth, promoted to denigrate Socialism, is more than likely it being almost impossible at that time to arrive at the border and obtain an entry visa – very much like it is at present on seeking entry into the belly of the capitalist beast, the United States of America. Stones and glass houses comes to mind.

Anyway, the length of the hair is still the clue to the gender of any person on any public Albanian art from before 1990 – their being no comparative artistic endeavour produced under capitalist controlled Albania. That’s not a surprise, how can you represent the idea of hope and a future when the measure is the amount of material goods one has and in a system that is prone to economic crisis. The image of a rich man or woman surrounded by all they can possess would be seen more as a parody rather than an aspiration for those without anything.

In the panel that shows both men and women firing rifles the stances are very much the same, the men standing and the women kneeling, but here the number of women has been reduced to three whilst the men stay at five.

However, the ethnic element is still present with the male who is most visible being dressed in a traditional country jacket and hat whilst the other four sport modern caps or go bare-headed.

The arrangement of the flags is the same and the only significant difference between the two main characters of the story is that what they held in their right hand on the south facade they now hold in their left, and vice versa.

Deterioration to north facing bas relief

Deterioration to north facing bas relief

As I’ve stated before his bas-relief is not in as good a condition as the one on the other side of the building and hence is sometimes difficult to read clearly. It’s north facing and doesn’t get the same amount of sunshine and that has led to a proliferation of black mould. Lack of cleaning and maintenance also means that the plaster is starting to come away in places. This deterioration is quite noticeable in the five and a half years between my visits to the Vlora Palace of Sport. It also suffers from looking out over a dusty, dirt car park and probably not noticed by the vast majority of people who might pass by. A little bit of tender loving care wouldn’t go amiss – although I think that’s highly unlikely to happen in the near future.

Of the artist I have no information whatsoever. Normally such works would have been created by local sculptors, especially in the late 1970s early 80s when I estimate this building was constructed. But who I have yet to discover.

The Mosaics

Traditional Sport

Traditional Sport

To appreciate the bas reliefs you only have look up from the street when passing by, close to the ferry port. However, there are a couple of gems that can only be seen by looking through the dirty windows of the unfinished renovation of the main entrance hall to the building, fronting on to the main street.

These are two mosaics which tell the story of the development of sport in Albania from the period in the past when ‘sport’ used the technology available at the time to the late 20th century when sport became much more of an organised activity.

The first mosaic is seen inside the left hand entrance to the building. Here all the individuals are dressed in the everyday clothing of the peasantry up to the end of the 19th century. They are engaged in what we now call sport but would have been more a form of local entertainment in the past, as well as competition between the young men to attract the attention of the nubile women as has been the case in tribal societies throughout the world for millennia – there’s only one woman portrayed on this mosaic but she is there as part of a political statement rather than a participant in competitive activity.

This last statement is not made as a criticism of the imagery on the mosaic. Women were involved in the actual fighting against foreign invaders from very early times. This was especially the case from the late 19th century and the beginning of the 20th. The ‘People’s Heroine’ Shote Galica, who is often depicted in photos as heavily armed as any man, died young (at the age of only 32) and was a virtual legend in her time. She was commemorated during Socialism by the marking of her grave in Fushe-Kruja and a large bust of her in Kukës.

The involvement of women, especially those we now call teenagers, in the struggle for the liberation of their country increased exponentially in the anti-fascist liberation war – the example of Liri Gero and the 68 young women of Fier being a fine example. Many fine young women of Albania fought and died for their liberation – one of the reasons their sacrifice and effort was celebrated during Albania’s Cultural Revolution and on lapidars throughout the country.

The ‘progressives’ in capitalism ‘celebrate’ when women crash through the ‘glass ceiling’ – when most of them do exactly the same as the men in the positions they achieve, that is make capitalism function at the expense of the workers and peasants (just refer to the experience under of Golda Meir, Indira Gandhi or Margaret Thatcher). True ‘female liberation’ occurs when women use their bravery, initiative and ability to wield a weapon to gain their freedom and in so doing aid the liberation of all the oppressed and exploited – as happened in China and Albania.

Back to the image. In the top left hand corner there are two men standing and facing one another. Their elbows rest on a flat surface and their right hands are clasped together. They are arm wrestling. The image I have in mind with this activity (for no other reason than this is how it is normally depicted in cinema) is that they should be sitting but, it seems, in Albania it was carried out standing up. But what more simple a test of strength can you get? One on one, no technology involved, and can be carried out anywhere.

Arm Wrestling

Arm Wrestling

As with the majority of the men on this mosaic they are dressed (starting from the top) in a qeleshe (felt skull-cap), xhaqeta (waistcoat), tirq or brekusha (trousers, sometimes tight, sometimes loose), brez (cloth belt), corape (long socks) and opinga (the shoes that have a ball of sheep skin at the toe to keep the water out – this might be more familiar to those who have seen pictures or the reality of Greek ceremonial soldiers) and in all cases here the balls have been dyed red.

Below them, on the left hand side, is a group of men all huddled together in what looks like a rugby scrum. It can’t be a contact game as they are all wearing loose clothing and that’s definitely a disadvantage if you are going to be chased (and a felt qeleshe is certainly nothing like a modern rugby protective cap). But, so far, I’ve been unable to come across a credible explanation of what they are doing.

Next to them is another conundrum. Here we have a young boy with a rope. If you look carefully you can see there’s a loop in the end of the rope that he holds in his left hand. This is reminiscent of a lasso, but that doesn’t make sense (at least to me) in a society where the principal domestic animals were sheep and goats – not much challenge, surely, in lassoing a sheep? It doesn’t appear to be a skipping rope as if the artist wanted to depict skipping surely s/he would have shown the boy actually jumping in some way. (Here I’m suggesting the artist might have been a woman, however, from what I’ve learnt so far about Albanian Socialist Realist art (of whatever kind) there seems to have been a dearth of women artists. Yes, the role of women was to be celebrated but by works created by men.)

This young boy is dressed slightly different from the men so far described. Most Albanian Socialist Realist works represent people from different parts of the country and this boy is wearing a fustanella, the skirt like attire worn by males (again familiar to those who have seen Greek state ceremonies) and more common in the south of the country.

Whatever the sport it was something that was still common during the period of Socialism. Inside the entrance at the back of the building is a statue of a young woman, this time, swinging the rope above her head.

Female Athlete with rope

Female Athlete with rope

Two central figures dominate the mosaic. One is a male who is on the point of loosing an arrow from his bow. Although the bow and arrow was the precursor of the gun this weapon doesn’t appear that often in the imagery of the late 1960s to the mid 80s. Yes there are a lot of them shown on the murals in the Skenderbeg Museum in Kruja and might appear as the accoutrements of war in other images, but rarely as a truly aggressive weapon of war. And the Kruja murals are a relatively late addition to the pantheon of Socialist Realist Art and appeared at a time when the politics in the country were starting to undergo major changes.

(If we go to the National Historical Museum, there is only one bow and three arrows on display, indicating it wasn’t that common a weapon of war. The rest of the fighting relics are heavy axes, spears or halberds or pole-axes. Warfare in those times wasn’t in any way sophisticated, you won the battle if you were able to bludgeon to death more of them than there were of you.

For me the cheapest weapon of choice in a mountainous country is the sling shot or the hand-held catapult. Simple to make, as cheap as the surrounding materials, i.e., free, and deadly as any modern rifle in the hands of an expert. David slew Goliath with a pebble and in the early days of the armed struggle of the Communist Party of Peru in the 1980s a sling shot took its toll on the enemy. Or just drop a stone from a great height, images of such activity being common throughout the art galleries of the country. Any guerrilla army uses whatever is to hand to defeat the enemy, the enemy’s technology often being its weakness more than its strength in unfamiliar circumstances.)

He is also dressed in the traditional clothing of the time but with a very loose and long flowing sleeve. Now I’m no expert in archery but I would have thought flowing sleeves are not the type of clothing to be wearing in a war like situation. And if you are going to choose the bow and arrow as your weapon of choice it would seem to make sense to protect the very vulnerable fleshy part of the forearm. The British archers who were so crucial to the victory over the French at Agincourt in 1415 knew this and had leather arm guards.

I don’t think I’m nitpicking on this issue. Socialist Realist Art is not real representation of an event or situation but at the same time it can’t go so far from reality as to cause a suspension of disbelief. As I suggested in the post about the bas-relief in Bajram Curri the greater the period of time between a revolution and its depiction the greater will be the disparity between the image and the accepted reading of the event shown.

The debate about what is truth in history will go on for many more years than I will be around and ultimately depends upon the perception of the victor. If the victor historically is ‘defeated’ many years later then we are into a different ball game. The ‘re-writing’ of history has been going on for a long time and takes place today. However, in a Socialist society which is attempting to write a history for the working people it is incumbent upon artists to get the ‘facts’ correct. After all, however little they might be receiving in recompense compared to their contemporaries in capitalist societies they live a better lifestyle than the vast majority of the working people.

This is not necessarily wrong if they are doing their job because the task they have been given is an important and crucial one. If they are opportunist and just seek an ‘easy life’ they are no better than those artists in history who produced works of art, of whatever quality, for a patron who ‘paid the piper and called the tune’.

It is for this reason that what we can call ‘intellectuals’ have a responsibility over and above that of the vast majority of those in a Socialist society. They are privileged in a way no other section of society is or can be. For that reason they have to be held to account in a way that is different from the majority of people. With rights come obligations. Intellectuals have never understood this and this is why they will always have supporters in the capitalist/imperialist countries. Not because they believe in artistic freedom, just the opposite. They just use this myth of ‘freedom’ to challenge any attempt to undermine their control of the world’s wealth and peoples.

This is a call for intellectuals in any future society to know their place, to take pride in the privileged position they hold and to stay faithful to the people who have put them in that position.

Armed Resistance

Armed Resistance

The woman is shown with a rifle to her shoulder and she is in the act of firing in the opposite direction to the male, that is towards the right edge of the panel. This is not a modern weapon but something that would have been around during the middle to the end of the 19th century, having a much longer barrel than later weapons. We don’t see much of her face but we are shown her right eye open as she sites her target. Her head is covered in a scarf and she is wearing a white, long-sleeved dress which reaches down to her ankles. Over this she has a purple, sleeveless waistcoat. Around her waist is a belt with a large golden buckle. Over all this there is a long either woollen or sheepskin open jacket, which extends down to her knees. On her feet she has leather shoes with the toe curled upwards. These are a version of the opinga, with the curve upwards at the toe but it was only the men who wore the shoes with the woollen ball attached.

Both these characters stand on a stylised platform representing the hills and mountains of Albania. As in many paintings and lapidars this places the scene firmly in the Albanian context and has been a trope used since the very early days of Albanian Socialist Realism.

The top right of the panel has two males involved in a sword fight. The one on the left has his back to us and is wearing a black xhaqeta (waistcoat) whilst his opponent’s is white – so this could have been the way they delineated the teams – and we see the right side of his face in profile. The other we see his body front on whilst the left side of his face is in profile. There’s no real sense of aggression in this image as the swords, which are crossed at waist height, both point downwards as if parrying an attack. The swordsman on the left has his left hand resting on the top edge of his scabbard, which is worn at his waist and which has a slight curve at the end. This seems to be a bit strange in any contest as a scabbard would only be a hindrance in competition. His opponent, on the other hand, has his left arm extended behind his back (which anyone familiar with present day competition fencing would recognise) aiding in his balance when either attacking or defending. Although it’s not possible to see the end of the swords they look as if they are straight, without any curved ends.

Below the fencers there are two scenes. On the left two males are wrestling against each other, only being able to see the face of the one on the left as the wrestler on the right has his head down, seemingly straining to get an advantage over his opponent.

The other, and last, individual on this panel is of a single male grasping a huge rock to his chest. This is obviously a weightlifting contest, there being an awful lot of rocks in Albania and the only criteria needed in such a competition was to select one that was heavy, no world records being attempted and therefore no strict measurements being needed. This competitor is only the second on this panel to be wearing a fustenella and he is also the only one to be sporting a bushy, black moustache – a sign of his physical age.

Weight Lifter

Weight Lifter

For reasons I don’t understand some (though not all) of the figures, as well as their instruments, are surrounded by a translucent lilac halo. This seems to have little use as the figures and their sports equipment are clearly delineated from the background, which is a light, reddish-brown throughout, and the fact it is not used all the time is even more of a mystery.

At the top and bottom edge of the panel there are geometric, pyramidal, designs in red, white and black, a pattern which is repeated three times along the length of the mosaic. There are no such designs on either edge, the action scenes going to the end on both sides. The whole mosaic has a red wooden border around the four sides.

It might be pertinent to point out (again) that, apart from the woman with a gun – which is an important statement in its own right – women are not shown as taking part in sporting activities, although there must have been sports or games in which peasant women would have taken part on a regular basis. This just goes to show that it’s a bit of minefield when we wish to represent those things of the past in the present – what you leave out being as important as what is included.

Although the location was a building site (in suspension) when I visited, in the summer of 2016, the mosaic looks in a reasonably good condition, a little dusty, perhaps, but not showing any real signs of damage – either intentional or accidental. I wasn’t able to ascertain what the plans were in completing the renovation of this area but it is hoped that when it is eventually finished and people pass on the way to the basketball games they will be able to appreciate a little of their cultural past (although a local person I spoke to, who had visited the Sports Palace during the period of Socialism, couldn’t remember these mosaics).

I’m not exactly sure of the date of this mosaic but there is a clue (possibly) to the artist as in the very bottom, right hand corner (just below the right foot of the weight lifter) are the letters ‘LNSH’. Who that represents I have yet to discover. If that is the artist it would date the mosaics more towards the late 1980s as it was in the final period of Albanian Socialist Art that attribution, either names or initials, started to appear on the works.

Modern Sport

Modern Sport

The panel representing modern sport is of exactly the same size of that depicting traditional sport and can be found on the right hand side of the main entrance hall. (I didn’t measure the panels but a rough estimate would be that they are about 2.5 metres high by 8 metres long.)

This modern panel contains much more movement as well as being more colourful, the athletes wearing clothing appropriate to their sport rather than what was the normal, everyday clothing which is seen in the representation of the traditional sports.

In the top left hand corner there’s a group of seven young women taking part in a medium to long distance run – they’re all bunched up which wouldn’t be the case in a sprint. They are in various colours, both in their shorts and vests. This is a very much more modern representation of women who have come a long way in a short number of years. Pre-liberation the role of women in Albania was very different from what it became under Socialism. After 1944 women were involved in all aspects of society and it should be remembered that there was only one woman depicted in the ‘traditional’ panel so the inclusion of this large group tells the story of how things had changed in a matter of very few years.

Of the seven we see four of the faces in profile, one in semi-profile, one just the hair and one who seems to be looking out at the viewer, smiling. In fact there’s no impression of real effort on the faces of any of the young women. They are running for pleasure not for the victory. This is especially the case of the one in yellow vest who we see in full face. She seems to be saying ‘this is fun, join in’. Whilst all of them have their arms and hands moving in rhythm to their legs she seems to be waving at the viewer, the palm of her hand facing outwards.

The happy runner

The happy runner

And amongst all the colours there’s no sign of the ubiquitous number plate which has become obligatory in individualistic sports, where the winning is all and the participation of those non-competitive are considered a nuisance.

Neither are they running in specialist footwear but simple, light shoes. This has become an industry in its own right, causing all kinds of problems for parents whose children wouldn’t even consider running around a proper track but need this ‘specialist’ footwear just to go to school.

Here we get the representation that sport is something that should be encouraged but not something that becomes the be all and end all. I’ll accept that this was distorted under revisionism where sport was another battlefield in the so-called ‘Cold War’, but that’s not what it should be in a Socialist society.

Following the same pattern as in the previous panel, there is action on two different levels.

Below the female runners we have a couple of males playing football. One of them, on the left, is in a red strip, with a red shirt, shorts and socks, whilst the other is in a blue shirt with white shorts and yellow socks. They compete over a football, both their right feet almost in contact. It’s clearly seen that they are wearing football boots.

To their right is a swimmer just about to leave the starting block in a race. He’s wearing a yellow skull-cap and green swimming trunks and both his arms are thrown back just at the second before he leaps off the block. There’s a bluish-green representation of the water in the pool just where he’s about to jump.

To the right of him is a female netball player, at full stretch as she leaps off the ground attempting a goal, the ball firmly grasped in both hands. She’s wearing a red vest and green shorts.

As in the previous mosaic the central figures take up (almost) the whole height of the panel. Here again it is a young man (on the right) and young women (on the left), but in an image that is full of meaning.

The Pickaxe and Rifle

The Pickaxe and Rifle

They both face out directly towards the viewer and both are dressed in a red vest and white shorts. They appear as if they are slowing approaching us along a red running track. But these are not ordinary athletes. On her right shoulder a rifle hangs from a strap. We can see the top of the barrel just to the left of her head and the dark, wooden butt peaks out behind her thigh. She grips the strap with her right hand, at chest height.

Her left arm is fully extended and clasps the hand of her male comrade. He is slightly taller than her so is right arm is slightly bent at the elbow. His left arm is also fully extended above his head and he grips a pickaxe handle, at the top of the shaft just before the metal cross-piece. Here, as on the bas reliefs on the exterior of the building, we have the visual expression of the slogan of the Party of Labour of Albania; ‘With a pickaxe in one hand and a rifle in the other, marching forward towards Socialism’. Their clasped hands providing a physical connection between the two parts of the slogan.

Behind their raised arms flutter a group of red flags. The poles of these flags can be seen either side of the male’s head, framed by his upraised arms. These do not carry the symbols of the black double-headed eagle or the gold star of the national flag of the Albanian People’s Republic so these red flags simply represent the Communist movement in general.

Their stance is mirrored in that their right foot is forward and the left close behind, partly hidden. It is here that the first signs of damage, on either of the mosaics, appears. The tiles around the male’s ankle have fallen away and it appears that a somewhat amateurish repair has been made, basically filling the area with plaster. But there is also evidence that this area has had problems in the past as there’s a sizeable area to the right of his feet where the tiles have been replaced but in such a manner that the repair is evident.

Immediately to the right of the two central figures is a male handball player. He mirrors the female netball player on the other side. He is also dressed in a red vest and green shorts, is leaping off the group and is just about to hit the handball with his right hand. The mirror image includes the arching of their backs as they attempt to put as much effort as possible into scoring their goal.

The next image, that takes up the top, right hand corner of the panel contains two parts, one of which is slightly disturbing. The right hand side of this depiction, on the very edge of the panel, is a male and a female, both in the uniform of the People’s Army, including the red stars on their caps, in the act of firing their rifles out of the panel. They have their rifles up to their shoulders and both are kneeling. Behind them, and standing up as she fires, is another female soldier/militia woman firing her rifle. Long, dark brown hair spills out under her cap, which also displays a red star. This little detail says quite a lot as in many parts of the country these small representations of Communism have been vandalised

So far so good. In a Socialist country, constantly being threatened from outside (and by inside renegades and traitors) it’s quite rational that fire arms practice should appear on a panel which is devoted to sport.

Another aspect of defence is that a healthy and fit militia force is much more effective than the sickly individuals that make up so much a proportion of the young population in many capitalist countries in the present day. It’s somewhat ironic that a hundred years after the First World War (where so many conscripts were basically unfit to fight) the health levels of the young people in a country like Britain are at as bad a level as they were following the century of capitalism using, or more accurately abusing, people’s bodies for profit. A hundred years ago it was by exploiting young people in the factories, mills and mines of Britain, now it’s in feeding them cheap, fatty, over-sugered so-called ‘fast’ and convenience foods – and blaming them for their condition.

Being hit by a rifle butt

Being hit by a rifle butt

The disturbing portion of this image is to the left of the rifleman and women. Here we have a militia man hitting, seemingly at full force, another militia man in the face with the butt of his rifle. The militia man doing the hitting wears a cap with a red star (and it’s also possible to see the bayonet fixed, if you look closely enough) but the reaction of the man being hit is real, this is not play acting. I can accept that hand to hand combat is part of military training but this seems to be an extreme manner in which to represent this sort of training. Your aim is to kill or disable the enemy, not your own side.

Finally, in the bottom right hand corner, matters return to the ideal of sport rather than training.

In the same location as in the panel on traditional sport there are two men wrestling. Now no longer encumbered by clothing and constraints of the culture of yore they are shown more akin to the wrestlers of classical times. They wear shorts, one is in red, one in blue, and they are head to head in an exact sense as we only see the tops of their heads, the muscles of their bodies straining to get the better of the other.

The last figure is that of a young female gymnast. She is dressed in a pink leotard and is in the act of performing a routine with a ring. Her left hand is outstretched above her head, her right hand grips the ring whilst her left leg is bent high as she stands on tiptoe with her right – all elements giving the impression of movement and grace.

This panel is the same as the first in that the top and bottom of the action is decorated with similar geometric designs and the whole thing is encased in a red, wooden frame.

As I started to look in a detailed manner at the two mosaics I started to think that the images were so different that more than one artist was involved. Then I realised that the same letters, NLSH, can just be made out on the very bottom frieze, between the feet of the footballer on the extreme left, in an area where there has been some slight damage. This made me think that it’s possible the letters don’t refer to an individual but to a collective, the letters SH being the abbreviation of Shqipëri (Albania). So the letters could stand for an artistic grouping – but that’s just speculation

Access to the mosaics isn’t easy. I was able to convince someone in the office (accessed from the entrance at the back of the building) to allow me to see the traditional panel. We went across the basket ball court and then through a temporary barrier to come to an area that is part building site, rubble and debris strewn around.

There is, however, a substantial barrier between the two mosaics at present. Originally all the glass doors at the front of the building would have gained entrance to a common foyer. The stairs up to the main sports hall are located between the two mosaics and the foyer would have served as such places do throughout the world, as a meeting place either before or after the performance.

With the most recent ‘renovation’ this common area has been broken up and a substantial dividing wall now exists between the mosaics. I had to go back early the following morning to meet up with the key holder of the right hand section as this is now the location of the local weightlifting (peshëngritje) club, the mats and weights in the area in front of the Socialist work of art. They could use the image of the weight lifter in the traditional panel as a logo, to give their club a distinctive image but I doubt if anyone has ever thought of that.

Location

The erstwhile Palace of Sport is found set back from the road at the bottom end of Rruga Sadiki Zotaj at Sheshi Pavarësia (Independence Square). This is close to the roundabout that takes you right to the docks and ferry port and straight on to the hotels and beaches (coming from Fier).

GPS

N 40.454991

E 19.487818

DMS

40°27’18.0″N

19°29’16.1″E