Albania in Revolution

First analysis of the Albanian revolution writen by Alan Woods on March 7, 1997, for the Spanish Marxist paper El Militante. The failure of the pyramid schemes is just the accident which started the revolution of the Albanian workers, peasants and youth against the corrupt pro-capitalist regime of Berisha.

The uprising of workers, soldiers, peasants and students in Albania is an inspiration for the working class and the youth all over the world. It represents a forceful answer to all those cynicists, cowards and sceptics who doubted about the revolutionary potential of the working class.

After decades of the most terrible oppression - first under Italian fascism, then under German occupation, and after half a century under the world's most vicious Stalinist totalitarian regime - after all this horrors, the Albanian workers have been able to rise against their oppressors. In this exemplary struggle, we have witnessed all the classic methods of proletarian revolution - general strike and armed insurrection.

In scenes which vividly remind us of the 1936 July revolution in Barcelona, men and women, young and old participated in the struggle. Armed only with sticks and knives they assaulted the Army barracks and the feared secret police (Shik). It is more than obvious that rank and file soldiers did not resist, but rather surrendered their arms to the people. The same scene was repeated itself in town after town.

La Vanguardia (Barcelona, 7/3/97) reports: "According to information received from the city on the phone, the rebels had assaulted the city barracks, whose officers did not offer any resistance and joined them with arms. Former officers of the Albanian Army had joined the rebels. An officer with the rank of colonel, who vowed not to surrender any arms until president Berisha resigns, declared that: 'in the south of Albania, the Army has gone over to the side of the people'".

From the very beginning, the mass media—liars paid by the ruling class—have tried to give the impression that the movement in Albania consisted of Mafia mobsters, drug dealers and petty criminals. What a shame! These very same ladies and gentlemen who fill their mouths with high sounding words like "democracy" and "freedom of speech" lie when faced with a real movement of the masses, be it a strike in Spain or a revolution in Albania.

The hypocrisy of the so-called Western democracy and its press was clearly exposed when they kept a shameful silence over the crimes and antidemocratic character of the pro bourgeois regime of Sali Berisha. Everybody knew that the May 1996 general elections were rigged, as well as the October council elections. Not a word about that in the media. We have to compare this accomplice silence with their attitude towards the Serbian council elections, where they shouted on top of their voices. They openly supported the opposition in Serbia but said nothing about the opposition in Albania brutally repressed by the police of the "democrat" Berisha when they tried to protest against election fraud. The difference is obvious. While the opposition in Serbia has a pro-capitalist character, the leadership of the Albanian opposition is in the hands of the Socialist Party (former Communist Party). Precisely because of this conspiracy of silence the Albanian explosion caught most people by surprise.

The Western governments supported Berisha because, despite being a former Stalinist (he used to be the doctor of the old dictator Enver Hoxha) he was a convinced convert to the "free market". Now the people have had a very bitter lesson of what capitalism means. Even before, Albania was a very poor country. The attempt of the Albanian communists to try and build an economy isolated from the rest of the world ("socialism in one country") had very bad results in this small nation of three million inhabitants and very few resources. Only the support from China keep it above water for a while. But the problems of the past are nothing compared to the economic disaster as a result of the attempt to restore capitalism.

In a five year period, most of industry has been destroyed. There are 400,000 unemployed according to official figures, but in reality the situation is much worse. Impoverishment is total. Berisha's election slogan—"with me we all win" has become in the popular consciousness "with me we all get ruined". The anger of the population is aimed at the new class of millionaires and the government of crooks and thieves. The most graphic expression of the situation was the domination of the economy by the so called "pyramid schemes". In an act of desperation an important number of humble people invested their limited savings in what happened to be a monstrous fraud. It is clear that the government and Berisha's party were deeply involved in this swindle.

Popular uprising

The spark which ignited the fire was the bankruptcy of the financial companies which were promising interest rates up to 100 per cent a month to people investing their savings. Tens of thousands of Albanians sold all their belongings, including their homes, in order to put their money in the accounts of these fraudsters. They have lost everything. The people responsible for this fraud all belong to the clique around President Berisha. After a month of protests and mass demonstrations in the main Albanian cities, going beyond opposition parties, which have caused resulted in many deaths at the hands of the police, the population has run out of patience.

It all exploded on Saturday, March 1, when then police tried to oust 42 students on hunger strike from the University in the port city of Vlore in the south of the country. They were prevented from doing so by thousands of demonstrators who dispersed the police some of whom were killed. They burnt down the headquarters of the secret police, some prisons and police stations and distributed arms found there amongst the demonstrators. From Saturday onwards a general strike was declared in the city and in most of the south of the country. As an example of the revolutionary mood we can quote the bourgeois press:

"In Lushnja, two lorries full of riot police were stopped by angry protesters and forced to get off. Forty of them were disarmed.

"...In Saranda... some 3,000 demonstrators went round the city without any opposition brandishing sticks. During the march they burned shops and banks, destroyed six abandoned police cars, assaulted the prison liberating some one hundred prisoners and seized control of the arms. Four hundred Kalashnikov assault rifles are now in the hands of the protesters.

... In Himarar ... hundreds of people took the streets and burned the Council House and the police station. In Gjirokaster there is an indefinite general strike. Yesterday the protesters burned down the police station." (El Pais, Madrid, 2/3/97)

Imperialist threat

The sweep of the insurrection is such that if there had been a proper leadership, it could have already succeed. But the former Stalinist leaders of the SP are playing a dreadful role. Having capitulated to the "free market" they are now calling for peace and calm, offering themselves as mediators between Berisha and the revolution! It is quite clear that they are as afraid of the revolution as of the regime itself. A serious leadership would not give pacifist sermons to the masses, but would put itself at the head of the movement in order to defeat Berisha, giving it a more organised character, urging the creation of elected committees of workers, peasants and soldiers which would take power in their own hands, beginning the socialist transformation of society. But given the situation in Albania this would not be enough. Without an internationalist policy, the Albanian revolution would be quickly suffocated by intervention of foreign powers, specially Greece, which has always had territorial ambitions over the south of Albania, and is now organising a force of 20,000 soldiers at the border.

All the imperialist countries, starting with the US, look with fear at the situation in Albania. They know that the situation in the rest of the Balkans is very unstable. An internationalist call to the workers and peasants of Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and above all Greece, would have a powerful effect, shaking the whole of the capitalist system in the region. Washington is specially worried about the effects of the Albanian revolution in the neighbouring regions of Kosovo and Macedonia, both with important Albanian populations.

Undoubtedly, the imperialists have pressurised Berisha into making concessions in order to put an end to the uprising as soon as possible. But Berisha knows that any concession on his part could mean his political end, if not his physical end. His first reaction was to send the tanks to the south. But first of all he hasn't got any soldiers to drive the tanks, which are actually driven by the secret police. But they don't dare enter the rebellious area where they would be easily smashed. On the contrary, the rebels are advancing taking town after town.

Now Berisha offers "concessions" - an "amnesty" to all those who haven't committed any crimes (!) and the possibility of a change of government, but without mentioning the possibility of elections. This is too little too late. The people are armed and will not be satisfied with anything short of the overthrow of the current regime. The whole situation has been transformed in the course of one week. This is the essence of a revolution.

Despite the cowardly and limp policies of the SP leaders, the real power rests with the armed people who, like the French communards, have "stormed heaven". It is not ruled out that even without a leadership they could take power. But the problem would be what would happen afterwards. Geopolitical considerations make it impossible for imperialism to just wait and see in the event of the success of a proletarian revolution in Albania. They would probably use the Greek and may be also the Italian armies in order to crush it ("restore law and order"). The avalanche of propaganda accusing the insurgents of being criminals and Mafiosi, the Greek propaganda about the need to defend the Greek minority in the south of Albania (Epiros) is part of an attempt to psychologically prepare public opinion for a possible military intervention.

But even a military intervention would not be the end of the story. Albania is a classic country for guerrilla warfare. The Albanian people have been fighting foreign occupation for centuries and will not accept submission without a fierce struggle. A guerrilla war in Albania would be bloody and long lasting. It would have enormous consequences for the whole of the area, starting with Greece and Italy.

We are witnessing a profound change in the world situation. What is happening today in Albania could happen tomorrow in Russia. We have to be prepared for new sharp turns and sudden changes in the situation. What is clear is that all workers and youth in Spain have to defend the Albanian revolution.

  • Down with the procapitalist government of Berisha!
  • For workers' democracy in Albania
  • For a Socialist Federation of the Balkans
  • Defend the Albanian Revolution
  • Imperialist hands out of Albania

Alan Woods
Madrid, March 7, 1997