(en) WNR 28-6-97: Special Report on Albania by Alan Woods part 1

by way of Carlos Moreno (heiko@easynet.co.uk)
Sun, 29 Jun 1997 20:27:35 -0500

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WNR 28-7-97: Special Report by Alan Woods on Albania=20 ************************************************** The full text is available either by e-mail on request at heiko@easynet.co.uk or on the Web site of the Socalist Appeal Journal=20 details are give below


Albania, the Paris Commune, and the February Revolution

by Alan Woods e-mail socappeal@easynet.co.uk http://easyweb.easynet.co.uk/~socappeal/IDOM.html Reproduction is permitted with this identifier =20 ******************************************************** The events in Albania deserve the closest attention by thinking workers and youth everywhere. Here, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin= Wall, the movement towards capitalist restoration has led to a revolutionary= uprising of the masses. Moreover, this uprising has succeeded, at least in the areas controlled by the insurgents in the South, in smashing the old state= apparatus. The sole power in these areas is the armed people, organised around the revolutionary Committees of Salvation. This is a development of colossal importance. Even if - as is possible - the Albanian revolution is= shipwrecked by a combination of the lack of leadership, the intrigues of imperialism and= the betrayals of those who speak in the name of the people and surrender at each pace to the reaction, it will stand as a shining example to the workers of= the world of how the working people were able, in the most unfavourable= conditions, to rise up against their oppressors and defeat them.

There are many parallels between the Albanian revolution and the Paris= Commune. The insurrection in Paris occurred as a result of a whole series of= unbearable contradictions which had matured over a long period. France, like Albania,= was in the hands of a gang of brigands, who looted the country to enrich= themselves. The situation arose out of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, when the= ruling clique in effect was more concerned to fight the working class of Paris than= the Prussian army. The contradictions came to a head when the government, in a= clear act of provocation, tried to seize the artillery of the Paris National= Guard, which was met by a spontaneous uprising. In the words of Marx, the workers= of Paris "stormed heaven". The collapse of the pyramid schemes in Albania, like= the incident of the seizure of the artillery in Paris, was only an accidental phenomenon - the spark that ignited an explosion, but not the real cause.= This must be sought in the accumulated discontent that had been building up in society over decades - the privations of the masses, the bankruptcy of the middle classes, the hatred of a corrupt and inefficient government of= crooks, adventurers and swindlers. Although the concrete circumstances were= different, the essence of the situation remains the same.

The Commune was a glorious episode in the history of the world working= class. Here for the first time, the popular masses with the workers at their head, overthrew the old state and at least began the task of transforming society. With no clearly defined plan of action, leadership or organisation, the= masses displayed an astonishing degree of courage, initiative and creativity. Yet= in the last analysis the lack of leadership and a clear programme led to a= terrible defeat. Marx and Engels followed the developments in France very closely and based themselves upon the experience to work out their theory of the "dictatorship of the proletariat". But Marx and Engels also tried to draw a balance sheet of the Commune, also pointing out its errors and deficiencies. These can almost all be traced to the failings of the leadership.

As in Albania, the movement of the working people of Paris was initially confused, with no clear programme or perspectives. "The Commune," wrote= Lenin, "sprang up spontaneously. No one consciously prepared for it in an organised way. The unsuccessful war with Germany, the privations suffered during the siege, the unemployment among the proletariat and the ruin among the lower middle classes; the indignation of the masses against the upper classes and against authorities who had displayed utter incompetence, the vague unrest= among the working class, which was discontented with its lot and was striving for= a different social system; the reactionary composition of the National= Assembly, which roused apprehensions as to the fate of the republic - all this and= many other factors combined to drive the population of Paris to revolution on= March 18, which unexpectedly placed power in the hands of the National Guard, in= the hands of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie which had sided with it= ." (Lenin, In Memory of the Commune)

The spontaneous character of the movement is a common feature of the= Commune, the February Revolution of 1917 and the Albanian revolution. Some people= have commented on the confused nature of the movement in Albania. Such comments= show only the most crass ignorance of what a revolution is. A revolution, by its= very essence stirs society up to the depths, arousing even the most backward and "apolitical" layers into direct action. To demand of the masses a perfect understanding of what is required is to demand the impossible. This kind of conception is worthy of a pedant and a snob but never a revolutionary. The masses always learn from life, not from books. Of course, it is the duty of= a revolutionary tendency to prepare in advance, to train and educate cadres.= But these cadres must be capable of finding a road to the masses. People who= stand on the sidelines lecturing the masses will never find this road. Such people imagine themselves to be clever "Marxists" but are incapable of recognising= a revolution when they see one. They remain utterly divorced from the real movement of the masses and incapable of understanding it. What a difference= with Marx and Engels who, without for a moment idealising the Commune or closing their eyes to its confusions, shortcomings and mistakes, nevertheless from= the first moment understood its true nature and significance!

A certain confusion is the inevitable feature of the first stages of a revolution when the broad masses of "politically untutored" workers,= peasants and petit-bourgeois erupt onto the political stage. It is absolutely= inevitable, especially where the subjective factor - a mass revolutionary party with a courageous and far-sighted leadership - is absent. This was the case with= the Paris Commune. "At first this movement was extremely indefinite and= confused." (Lenin, ibid.) Like the Communards, the Albanian rebels showed tremendous courage in "storming heaven", but also like the Communards they lacked a decisive and far-sighted leadership with a clear perspective and a plan of action. Certain things flow from this fact. While saluting the heroism of= the Communards, Karl Marx pointed out their mistakes. In particular he= criticised them for not immediately marching on Versailles, the centre of the reaction. This mistake allowed the counter-revolutionary forces to re-group and counter-attack, with fatal consequences. The second error was the lack of a clear anti-capitalist programme, summed up in the failure to nationalise the bank of France, which left the key levers of economic power in the hands of= the enemies of the revolution.

We see similar failings in the present situation in Albania. The= revolutionary uprising of the Albanian masses caught both the ruling clique in Tirana and= the imperialists off balance. By its impressive sweep and =E9lan, the movement= carried all before it in the first days and weeks. But this movement had both the strengths and weaknesses of a spontaneous popular insurrection. After the victorious uprising in Vlore last March, the rebels showed great initiative= in sending armed detachments in cars to neighbouring towns attempting to rouse= them to revolt. This was absolutely correct. Once the gauntlet has been thrown= down there is no room to compromise. The revolution cannot stand still. Either= the fight is carried to every part of the country, and ultimately beyond its borders, or it will be lost. At that time, there was every possibility of a quick and relatively painless victory, on condition that the revolutionary committees were united under a common leadership with a single plan of= action. As we have explained in earlier documents, the Berisha clique was suspended= in mid-air. The army had collapsed, and decisive sections had gone over to the rebels - not just soldiers, but a large number of officers also - a fact= that underlines the extremely weak and unstable basis of the new capitalist= r=E9gime, despite the fact that the bulk of the economy had been privatised. The new property relations had not been consolidated by a decisive change in social relations or the state, which, in the words of Lenin, can ultimately reduced= to "armed bodies of men". At the first serious test, the state crumbled. Not= just in the South, but also in the North and in Tirana, where the masses came out onto the streets and the soldiers circulated in lorries brandishing weapons= and shouting "Vlore! Vlore!"

Had the rebels pressed on to Tirana at that time, the revolution could have triumphed swiftly and relatively painlessly. But in a revolution, hesitation= is fatal. To stand still means to go back. Failure to take the capital gave= Berisha a breathing space to regroup and counterattack, especially in the North, and begin to recreate the state around the remnants of the old repressive= apparatus in the Shik. In just the same way, the failure of the Commune to march on Versailles enabled the French reactionaries to recover and drown the Commune= in blood.

Revolutionary committees

The insurrectionary movement of the masses succeeded in destroying the old Berisha state, at least in the South. What replaced the old state apparatus?= Not "anarchy" and "mob rule" as the Western media have consistently been= bellowing, but the elements of a new revolutionary order. Revolutionary committees were formed spontaneously in the heat of action to co-ordinate and direct the struggle. As in Russia in 1905 and 1917, these new organs of power were not formed at the behest of any political party. they were natural expression of= the desire of the masses to give organisation, coherence and form to their revolution. The bourgeois media - naturally enough - have striven to conceal this fact from Western public opinion. They have maintained a stubborn and criminal silence about the committees, because they need to present a= malicious caricature of the revolution, in order to provide a cover and an excuse for military intervention, blackening the name of the Albanian people, whom they present as criminals and Mafiosi.

The campaign of calumnies in the West has had a certain effect in confusing= the image of the revolutionary movement in the minds of most workers. This is precisely what was intended. True, to the degree that the leadership of the committees has acted in an indecisive and vacillating fashion, all kinds of backward and even criminal elements can take advantage of the situation to= cause disorder and mayhem, although most of the disorder is deliberately provoked= by reactionary terrorist groups acting on orders from Tirana. All this tends to obscure the central issue and obscure the class nature of the movement. The backward nature of the Albanian economy, compounded by the economic= devastation caused by the movement in the direction of capitalism , means that the proletariat is weaker than in the rest of Europe. The majority of the= population are poor peasants, or, more correctly, rural proletarians. Many are= unemployed. But the situation in Paris in 1871 was not very different. The working class= was a minority. Almost without exception they worked in very small workshops.= There were many artisans. And there was a large "lumpen" population. "In 1870 more than three-fifths of the French were still engaged on the land. Of about 10,000,000 electors no less than 5,383,000 were engaged in agriculture, 3,552,000 being owners of their land. Only 3,102,000 were employed in= industry, and of these 1,393,000, or nearly one-halt, owned their workshops, generally employing no subordinate labour." (F. Jellinek, The Paris Commune of 1871,= p. 42.)

Under such conditions, it was inevitable that any revolution could only= succeed to the extent that it involved, not just the working class, but the mass of= poor peasants, semi-proletarians and all exploited layers of society. This is= what Lenin meant when he spoke of a "people's revolution":

"In Europe, in 1871, the proletariat did not constitute the majority of the people in any country on the Continent. A 'people's' revolution, one= actually sweeping the majority into its stream, could be such only if it embraced= both the proletariat and the peasants. These two classes then constituted the 'people'. These two classes are united by the fact that the 'bureaucratic-military state machine' oppresses, crushes, exploits them. To smash this machine, to break it up, is truly in the interest of the= 'people', of their majority, of the workers and most of the peasants, is 'the= precondition' for a free alliance of the poor peasant and the proletarians, whereas= without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible.

"As is well known, the Paris Commune was actually working its way toward= such an alliance, although it did not reach its goal owing to a number of= circumstances, internal and external." (Lenin, The State and Revolution, pp. 44-5.)

The Albanian revolution is a genuine people's revolution, in the sense that Lenin used the expression. Whatever the specific correlation of class forces= of the Albanian revolution, one thing is indisputable: it has drawn behind it= all the decisive sections of the exploited masses of town and country -= something that could not even be said for the Paris Commune, as Lenin points out. The= fact that it has not yet evolved a specifically proletarian programme in the= economic sphere is not surprising. Although the Commune passed a series of reforms= (not all of which were put into effect) in the interests of working people - the abolition of night work for bakers, ban on employers' fines, and so on - it= did not carry out the expropriation of the bankers and capitalists. Indeed, its failure to nationalise the Bank of France was one of the chief criticisms levelled by Marx, who pointed out that this one measure would have been a greater blow against the Versaillese than a hundred hostages.=20

It is easy to form an excessively idealised picture of revolutions after the event. To be wise after the event is the cheapest form of knowledge. It is= also quite useless, because, by over-simplifying and thus distorting the truth,= it makes it impossible to learn anything from history. The outcome of the= Russian revolution was by no means a foregone conclusion, any more than the Paris Commune. The victory of the soviets in October did not fall from the skies= but was only made possible by the correct policy, strategy and tactics of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The revolutionary committees in Russia (the soviets) were not born perfect, but contained all sorts of confused and contradictory elements. All the main political parties were represented, including the bourgeois Cadets. The leadership was= originally in the hands of the reformist Menshevik and SR parties, reflecting the first confused stirrings of class consciousness. The leaders of these parties had= no intention of taking power, but left power in the hands of the Provisional Government - a coalition of moderate socialists and bourgeois, similar to= the so-called "government of national reconciliation" in Tirana. In this way= arose the abortion of "dual power". The masses had moved to take power but were frustrated and blocked by the reformist leaders who lulled them with= speeches about "national reconciliation" while behind the scenes the reactionary= forces were re-grouping and preparing a counter-stroke.

Having overthrown the existing order, the committees have not yet come to= view themselves as alternative organs of power. This was precisely the situation= that existed after the February revolution in Russia in 1917. The workers and peasants had the power in their hands but did not know that they had the= power. Objectively, there was no reason why the Albanian masses should not have= taken power in March any more than the Russian workers and soldiers after= February. The central problem was the absence of what we call the subjective factor -= the revolutionary party and the leadership, as Lenin explained at the time:

"Why don't they take power? Steklov says: for this reason and that. This is nonsense. The fact is that the proletariat is not organised and class= conscious enough. This must be admitted: material strength is in the hands of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie turned out to be more prepared and class conscious. This is a monstrous fact, and it should be frankly and openly admitted and the people should be told that they didn't take power because= they were unorganised and not class conscious enough." (Lenin, Collected Works,= vol. 36, p.437.)

The setting up of revolutionary committees is, to be sure, an enormous step forward, but in and of itself does not resolve the question of power. There= is never anything miraculous about organisational forms. Under the leadership= of the reformist Mensheviks and SRs, the soviets actually served as a prop for= the Provisional Government, which in turn was acting as a "democratic" cover for= the counter-revolution. They could even be characterised as= counter-revolutionary soviets at that stage. In fact, at a certain stage Lenin was contemplating abandoning the slogan "all power to the soviets". Only by tearing away the masses from these leaders could the soviets be transformed into genuine= organs of working class power. This task was accomplished by the Bolshevik Party= under Lenin and Trotsky over a period of nine months of patient and tireless work around the central slogan "All power to the soviets". Without the subjective factor of revolutionary leadership, the soviets would have been liquidated= by the bourgeois state, as happened in Germany one year later.

The consciousness of the masses is not an abstract question. The workers= learn more in one day of a revolution than in twenty years of "normal existence". Setting out from elementary demands reflecting the people's most pressing= needs ("return our money"), the movement rapidly came up against the state. The= masses learned rapidly from experience in the school of broken heads. But once the masses stand up and say "No more!" no amount of police truncheons will= suffice to keep them down. At a certain critical moment, they lose their fear.= Instead of fleeing from the riot police, some courageous or desperate individual= decides to call on the others to stand and fight, and the others heed the call. From that moment, everything changes. The police swiftly grasp the fact that the masses no longer fear them, and are themselves gripped with fear. From= unarmed clashes with police, the masses graduate to the use of sticks, stone -= anything to hand - and then revolvers captured from the police. Finally, they= confront the ultimate bastion of state power, the army barracks, and find to their astonishment that the gates are open. The mystique of state power crumbles= at a touch, when people realise that the soldier is also a man who can think and= feel like other men.

Frederick the Great once said: "We are lost when these bayonets start to= think." That is what happened in Albania. The determined offensive of the masses led= to the going-over of the army, not only soldiers but also officers. Here we= have, unfolding before our eyes, the whole process of a revolution. By its very= nature it is an elemental movement of the masses who do not have the benefit of political learning and theory, but have an immense advantage too. Maybe they= do not yet know what they want - but they know better than anyone else what= they do not want. And they are not entirely disarmed, either. They are armed with= their class instinct, with their indignation, with their anger and determination= to put an end to a situation that has become intolerable to them. Once they= reach this point, here can be no going back.

The process whereby the masses learn is reflected in the words of Albert= Shyti, one of the natural leaders that is always thrown up in such situations:

"[Albania] What is your purpose with this committee?

"[Shyti] We had two aims. Or rather, we started with one, and they became= two. The first was the removal from political life or the death of Sali Berisha, because he drenched Vlore in blood, and he will bear political= responsibility for this blood. The second aim was the 100 percent refund of the people's= money. There was nothing else. After the people's blood was shed, the demand for= the money fell into second place. This was because it was a matter of blood. We cannot forgive the blood of the young men who were killed here in Vlore. The Salvation Committee has not stood up either for power or for jobs. We are representatives of the people, a group of people from all classes of society that have put ourselves forward to represent the people's demands, first for= a refund of their money, and now for Berisha's removal."

There is a logic about this which does not necessarily correspond to that of= the text-books, but which nevertheless recurs in every revolution. Setting out= from their most pressing needs (in 1917, that meant Peace, Bread and Land), the masses learn by experience that the only way in which these demands can be= met is by a radical transformation of society. Sooner or later, this means a= direct challenge to the existing state power. In 1905 in Russia the central demand= was "Down with the Autocracy!" But let us not forget that the 1905 revolution= began with a peaceful demonstration headed by a priest, where the workers marched= with religious icons in their hands to present a petition to the tsar (the= "Little Father"). It is therefore futile to point to the allegedly "low= consciousness" of the Albanian masses in what are still the early stages of the revolution.= The main fact to be grasped is that the revolution has begun, and that with= every day that passes the masses are learning new lessons.=20

The only problem - and it is an extremely grave one - is that this kind of situation cannot last indefinitely. One side or the other must triumph or perish. There is no third option. That is why the false propaganda about the June election is so misleading. A fierce struggle has broken out, and it is= a struggle for power. This cannot be resolved by bits of paper. Every mistake= that is made will bear a heavy price in lost lives later on. There is no time for experiments and bad improvisations. The enemy is armed and prepared and will= not make friendly allowances for failure. There is no doubt that, had the Paris Commune been permitted to survive for a longer period, the Communards would= have learnt by trial and error, corrected their mistakes and gone on to start= moving in the direction of socialism. But they were not allowed to survive. The reaction, taking advantage of the mistakes of the leadership, the na=EFvet= =E9 and inexperience of the masses, crushed the Commune in blood. At least 30,000= men, women and children were butchered by the Versailles forces. That is the= price for the lack of leadership.

As a result of the conspiracy of silence in the media, it is difficult to= get a ccmplete picture. However, from the limited amount of information that= emerges, it is possible to piece together a more or less clear picture of the= committees. Let us take just one recent example - an Interview with Albert Shyti, the 26-year-old chairman of the Vlore Salvation Committee by an unidentified correspondent via telephone from Vlore which appeared in the pro-government daily Albania on the 7th of June under the title "Dead or Alive, We Will= Oust Sali Berisha". This interview is interesting inasmuch as it provides us with= an insight into the thinking of one of the rebel leaders in Vlore, which shows= both the strong and weak sides of the movement as a whole. The Albania journalist begins by asking about the relationship between the revolutionary committee= and the local council:

"[Albania] The Salvation Committee has supplanted the local government in= Vlore.

"[Shyti] You are wrong. The local government has been working in Vlore for= three months. We replaced it only in the first two months or for a month and one= half, but the local government is now working at full capacity, including the municipality and the District Council. You know that Medin Xhelili, the= chairman of the District Council, meets with the government almost three times a= week. The two deputy chairmen that have been installed, one from the Democratic= Party [PD] and one from the Socialist Party [PS], meet the government almost twice= a week. The local government is now trying to start up the courts, the Procurator's Office, the Investigator's Office, etc.=20

"[Albania] They have been working for three months?

"[Shyti] You see, there is something you do not know. Almost two and a half months."

>From this it is clear that there is a situation of dual power, and not only=
in Vlore. Two antagonistic and mutually incompatible organ of power exist= uneasily side by side. Sooner or later, one must dissolve the other. The old state,= for the moment, lacks the strength to dissolve the committees and disarm the= people. But the lack of a conscious leadership and a clear plan of action is= paralysing the committees and allowing the initiative to pass into the hands of the reaction. The na=EFvet=E9 of leaders like Shyti is shown by the following= extract, albeit a na=EFvet=E9 that is very dangerous for the bourgeoisie. Albania= asks the most important question of all:

"[Albania] When will the committee be dissolved?

"[Shyti] The committee will be dissolved when the people's money is refunded= 100 percent. Then Sali Berisha can talk about dissolving the committees or= anything else, because we are not creatures of the president, the parliament, or the political parties. It was a necessity of the times when the committee was created out of the broad masses of the people. They cannot make us= scapegoats in order to lift the state of emergency. The state of emergency should be= lifted, even though the committees exist.

"[Albania] Do you think that you will receive 100 percent of your money?

"[Shyti] No. I believe only one thing, and that is that I will ask for the= money from whatever kind of government is installed, and if it does not reply, it= will either have to give way to another government or come here to slay all us= people of Vlore, or of the whole of the south, all the people who have lost their money."

What this means is that the rebels are putting demands on the bourgeois that cannot be met. This means a war to the death between two mutually= irreconcilable forces.

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