The Meaning of the Albanian Revolution

Written by Alan Woods on March 16, 1997, this is a complete analysis of the events in Albania. Includes a historical background section and a detailed explanation of the meaning of the Albanian revolution and lessons for socialists internationally.

"A revolutionary movement that can offer armed resistance to attempts at restoration, that force the authors of such attempts to call in foreign aid - such a movement cannot be destroyed." Lenin.

The uprising of workers, soldiers, peasants and students in Albania is an inspiration for the working class and youth all over the world. It represents a forceful answer to all those cynics, cowards and sceptics who doubted the revolutionary potential of the working class. After decades of the most terrible oppression - first under Italian fascism, then under German occupation, and then half a century under the world's most vicious Stalinist totalitarian regime - the Albanian workers have shown themselves capable of rising against their oppressors, arms in hand. In this exemplary struggle, we have witnessed the re-emergence of all the classic methods of proletarian revolution - a general strike and an armed insurrection. In scenes which vividly remind us of the 1936 July revolution in Barcelona, men and women, young and old threw themselves into the struggle. Armed only with sticks and knives they assaulted the army barracks and the feared secret police (Shik). It is obvious that rank and file soldiers not only did not resist, but handed their arms over to the people, and in most cases joined them. The same scene was repeated in town after town.

From the very beginning, the mass media - those hired liars of the ruling class - tried to give the impression that the movement in Albania consisted of Mafia mobsters, drug dealers and petty criminals. What a travesty! These very same ladies and gentlemen who like to pontificate about "democracy" and "freedom of speech" lie in their teeth when faced with a real movement of the masses, be it a local strike, or a revolution in Albania.

The hypocrisy of the so-called Western democracies and their press was clearly exposed when they kept a shameful silence concerning the crimes and anti-democratic character of the pro-bourgeois regime of Sali Berisha. Everybody knew that the May 1996 general elections in Albania were rigged, as were the October council elections. Not a word about that in the media. Just compare this tactful silence with their attitude towards the Serbian council elections, when they shouted fraud from the rooftops. 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 electoral fraud. The difference is obvious. While the opposition in Serbia has a pro-capitalist character, the leadership of the Albanian opposition was in the hands of the Socialist Party (the former Communist Party). Precisely because of this conspiracy of silence, the Albanian explosion caught most people by surprise.

To the bourgeois observers, the events in Albania appear as some kind of monstrous aberration. In fact, they have their own logic, rooted in the whole past period. What shocks the bourgeois here, as in every revolution, is the direct intervention of the masses. Society is no longer in the safe hands of politicians, bureaucrats, army chiefs, judges and police officers. This is what they call "chaos" and "anarchy". Such situations are by their very nature quite rare. They only happen when the masses decide that the existing order of things is intolerable, that "things cannot go on like this". This is the equivalent in society of a "critical state" in physics. The old bonds cannot hold society together - routine, tradition, the habit of submission to authority in all its forms, all break down. People are forced to come to terms with reality, to take their lives and destinies into their own hands, that is to say, to rise to the level of conscious and active human beings, not slaves. That is what a revolution is.

The Prussian king Frederick the Great on one occasion, when reviewing his troops, said: "We are lost when these bayonets start to think". The sight of ordinary men and women arming themselves to fight their oppressors fills the bourgeois with dread. These things were not supposed to happen in Europe in the last decade of the 20th century. The fall of Stalinism was supposed to have laid the spectre of revolution to rest for ever. Yet only a few years later, revolution is once again on the agenda.

Trotsky explains the essence of a revolution in the following terms:

"The most indubitable feature of a revolution is the direct interference of the masses in historic events. In ordinary times the state, be it monarchical or democratic, elevates itself above the nation, and history is made by specialists in that line of business - kings, ministers, bureaucrats, parliamentarians, journalists. But at those crucial moments when the old order becomes no longer endurable to the masses, they break over the barriers excluding them from the political arena, sweep aside their traditional representatives, and create by their own interference the initial groundwork for a new regime. Whether this is good or bad we leave to the judgement of moralists. We ourselves will take the facts as they are given by the objective course of development. The history of a revolution is for us first of all a history for the forcible entrance of the masses into the realm of rulership over their own destiny." (Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, p. 17.)

Of course, revolution is always the last resort. It is not something the masses undertake lightly. Long before this, they will explore all other avenues, exhausting what appear to be the lines of least resistance. These may assume different forms - reformism in its different guises, economic struggle, or even - a most peculiar variant - investing their life's savings in crooked pyramid schemes, as in Albania. These are attempts to solve difficult problems on the basis of the existing social order. But when they break down (and here the breakdown came in a most spectacular manner) men and women begin to question the very basis of the existing order. Nothing is left but to fight to transform society from top to bottom. If a revolutionary party and leadership has been created beforehand with sufficient roots in the masses, this struggle can be relatively short and painless, as was the case in Russia in 1917. Without such a leadership it will be more difficult, with more casualties, more social dislocation, and yes, more chaos. But with or without a party, when the critical point is reached the struggle for power is inevitable. To moan about the chaotic elements which this involves, to exaggerate the inevitable distortions, confusion and "excesses" of an oppressed people struggling unaided to throw off the yoke of slavery is worthy only of Pontius Pilates or worse.

Apart from a massive campaign of disinformation in the media, the attitude of workers in other countries was influenced by a general lack of knowledge of this small country of 3.4 million inhabitants on the fringes of Europe so long kept in isolation from the rest of the world. In addition to this, the movement in Albania has a number of peculiarities. As always, the consciousness of the masses is shaped, not only by the current economic and political conjuncture, but by the whole history, traditions and culture of its past. These factors weigh more heavily on the Albanians than most other peoples due to a unique combination of circumstances. While war raged in the ex Yugoslavia, the eyes of the world were diverted from what seemed an obscure corner. But the first lesson of the Albanian events is that there are no more stable regimes, either in the Balkans or anywhere else in the world. What is happening in Albania shows the future of many other countries as in a mirror. In particular, the effects in the rest of the Balkans will be incalculable. A new and explosive page in world history has been turned.

Who are the Albanians?

The Albanian people have an unusual history. Neither Greeks nor Slavs, they constitute an important ethnic and linguistic minority on the Balkans. Albanian constitutes a separate branch of the Indo-European language group, spoken by some five million people in Albania, the former Yugoslavia, Greece, and elsewhere. In fact, they are the descendants of the ancient Illyrians, one of several non-Greek peoples who inhabited the Balkans to the North of Greece long before the historic records began. But while other ancient peoples, like the Thracians and Macedonians disappeared as a result of repeated barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman empire, the Albanians were saved by their mountain fastness, their warlike spirit, and their poverty, all of which served to deter would-be invaders. A very similar combination of circumstances explains the survival of another ancient people and unique linguistic minority, the Basques. There are two distinct dialects, one spoken in the North (Gheg) and one in the south (Tosk). The diferences between North and South (where there is a large Greek minority) has again come to the fore with the attempt by Berisha (a northener by origin) to play off the two regions against each other.

Perfect country for guerrilla war, much of this land is mountainous and forested. Although Albania was nominally part of the Byzantine and later the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, its mountain tribes always remained fiercely independent and central rule was never completely effective. It is impossible to understand the history without grasping the fact that for most of the time the Albanians were a small nation struggling to retain their national identity. Under the Ottoman empire from 1467 to 1912, the Albanian relationship with the Turkish rulers was somewhat different to other Balkan peoples. This fact is explained by the age-old fear of being absorbed by the Greeks and Serbs.

As a result of this they enjoyed a relatively privileged position, with a measure of autonomy denied to their Greek and Slav neighbours. Many became converted to Islam. The Sultan's bodyguard in Constantinople was composed of Albanian warriors. The explanation is that Turkish protection prevented them from being swallowed up by their more powerful neighbours. This is a constantly recurring theme in Albanian foreign policy - the search for a powerful foreign "protector" which could prevent the domination of Albania by Greece and Serbia. However, such "protection" inevitably meant that Albania was constantly at the mercy of one great power or another. Its so-called independence was not worth the paper it was written on.

Albania was the last nation in the Balkans to win its independence from the Ottoman Empire and to establish itself as a nominally independent state, in 1912, as a result of the second Balkan war. However, the victorious Greek and Serb bourgeoisies took big slices of Albanian territory, planting the seeds for new conflicts which have yet to be resolved. Modern Albania dates from 29th July 1913, when the former Albanian provinces of the Turkish Empire were constituted a neutral autonomous principality under a foreign king imposed by the European powers, Prince William of Wied. The London Conference also decided the Albanian borders. The result was only half a state, because almost half the population and its territories were left beyond the frontiers, in Kosovo, in present-day Macedonia, and in the northern part of Greece. The subsequent history has hardly been placid. Following the First World War, the Albanian state lasted only 15 years, in continuous turmoil, until the Italian fascist invasion in 1939.

During the First World War Albania was overrun by seven different armies, and barely escaped partition. Italy's demand for a mandate over Vlore and central Albania (in accordance with the Secret Treaty of London, 1915) was rejected at the Peace Conference, the Italian troops occupying the country were withdrawn, and in December 1920 Albania became a member of the League of Nations, that "thieves' kitchen" as Lenin called it. Just like the UN today, the League talked a lot about peace and humanitarianism, but in fact was dominated by the main imperialist powers who used it as a screen for their own interests. Membership of the League did not save Albania or any of the other small nations whose self determination it was supposed to uphold. Such bodies at best are only capable of settling secondary disputes between the imperialists, but never matters where fundamental interests are at stake.

Albania's frontiers were finally settled by the Conference of Ambassadors on 9th November 1921, after a tug-of-war between Italy and Yugoslavia, and a long drawn out dispute with Greece. Henceforth two considerations governed Albanian policy: the need to obtain foreign loans for economic and administrative development, and the maintenance of independence. These two requirements were mutually exclusive. From 1926 to 1939 the country was virtually an Italian dependency. For this her key position in relation to the Adriatic was responsible. But if she did not lose her independence altogether until 1939, it was due to the importance attached to its maintenance by Yugoslavia and Greece and other, non-Balkan, powers. As with all the other small Balkan nations, self determination did not enter into it.

The weak Albanian bourgeoisie was incapable of resolving a single one of the democratic tasks. A so-called democratic government ran the country under a Council of Regency from 1920-24; a Republic was proclaimed in 1925 after a rebellion led by the exiled Ahmed Bey Zogu, who had been the most prominent figure in Albanian politics after the First World War, and who became its first president. On 1st September 1928, he was proclaimed as Zog I, King of the Albanians, by unanimous vote of a Constituent Assembly. It was supposed to be a constitutional monarchy and an independent state. It was neither. The government was in the hands of King Zog and his immediate clique (the Bektashi Beys). The country was dominated by imperialist powers, mainly Italy, but to some extent also Britain, which had interests in Greece and Cyprus connected with the defence of the Suez Canal route to India. Between 1925 and 1928 military service was instituted and Italian officers took over the training of the army; the gendarmerie was reorganised under British officers, and the population was disarmed. King Zog depended heavily on Italy for loans and finance. The National Bank of Albania was in the hands of Italian capitalists.

Despite the proclamation of King Zog that his aims were "roads, agricultural development, and education of the right kind", in practice, the country remained extremely backward, with a largely illiterate population. From 1925 onwards Italy progressively strengthened her hold on the country. In 1926, Zog, faced with a serious uprising, turned to Mussolini for assistance, which the latter readily afforded - at a price. The Treaty of Tirana, November 1926, sealed a humiliating dependence on Italy, which, in an annexed Note acquired the right to intervene in the external or internal relation of Albania, "whenever the latter so requested". This, in addition to a so-called Treaty of Defensive Alliance prepared the way for the Italian invasion on 7th April 1939, one of the events leading to the second world war.

During the occupation, the Albanian partisans fought heroically in Tito's army. But after the defeat of Nazism, Stalin agreed to allow Tito to incorporate Albania into Yugoslavia. Under a healthy workers' state, this would have been possible, as part of a democratic Socialist Federation of the Balkans. This presupposes a voluntary union of the peoples, to the benefit of all. While pooling their resources in a common plan of production under the democratic control and administration of the working people, each nation and national minority would be guaranteed the fullest degree of autonomy to run its own affairs, linguistic and cultural equality, on the basis of genuinely fraternal relations. But under Stalinism, each national bureaucracy was manoeuvring to boost its own interests at the expense of the rest. Under these circumstances, union with Yugoslavia would have meant the subordination of Albania to the ruling bureaucratic caste in Belgrade.

Luckily for the Albanian Stalinist leaders, the break between Tito and Stalin came just in time. Enver Hoxha rapidly supported Moscow against Belgrade and broke off links with Yugoslavia. In the case of Albania, the theory of socialism in one country assumed extreme forms because the ruling elite in Tirana was obsessed with isolating the country from Serbia and Greece. But the idea of a tiny country with only three million inhabitants building up its own industry in isolation was even more insane than elsewhere. Only Russian (and later Chinese) aid kept them afloat for a time. Albania's deep water ports were used as Russian naval bases until a rift opened up with Moscow. The real cause of this was, of course, the thaw in Soviet-Yugoslav relations after Stalin's death. Albania soon broke with Russia and became a satellite of China, which had the advantage of being even further away, and bitterly hostile to "Yugoslav revisionism". While the Chinese bureaucracy was not generally in a position to compete with Moscow in giving aid to obtain foreign allies, Albania was small and poor enough for even small amounts of aid to go a long way. But when China began to make overtures to Yugoslavia in 1978, Tirana was compelled to break with Beijing and retire into almost complete isolation, with disastrous consequences. Economic ruin and general impoverishment followed.

Bankruptcy of capitalism

In 1990, the Stalinist regime collapsed like a pack of cards. Conditions of general misery produced desperation. In June of 1990 thousands of Albanians entered foreign embassies asking for political asylum. After that, the parliament approved a decree authorising Albanians to travel abroad. In the aftermath, more than 20,000 Albanians left the country with ill-constructed boats, bound for Italy. Another 50,000 crossed the southern border, illegally entering Greece. In 1991 the ex-Stalinists won the country's first elections, changing their label just four months later to the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party, led by Sali Berisha, won the second elections in March 1992. In April that same year the parliament elected him president. He inaugurated his government with, among other acts, a plan for the total privatisation of the ruined economy, supported by outside aid. The European Union, notably Germany and Italy (both with an eye to muscling in on the Balkans) proffered some $500 million in loans, but despite rapid economic growth since 1993 the Albanian economy remained impoverished.

The aid from the EU ended up in the pockets of speculators, crooks, and of course, the ruling Democratic Party, while the badly run-down infrastructure and industry was starved of investment. Wealth for the few, impoverishment for the many - that was the picture in Albania, as well as the other ex-Stalinist states. Albanian roads were full of used Western cars and many houses sported satellite dishes. Despite grandiose plans for developing the country's infrastructure, it has decayed rapidly, while wealth has been concentrated in a few dishonest pockets.

The Western governments supported Berisha because, despite being a former Stalinist, he was a fervent convert to the "free market". As recently as 11th March The Wall Street Journal published an article praising Berisha which scandalised even hardened Western journalists with its mixture of lies and ignorance: "On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal published a leading article breathtaking for its sheer ignorance and ideological invective. It asserted there were 'no credible claims of ballot-box stuffing' at last May's elections, even though the OCSE report referred to them clearly. And it described Mr Berisha as a medical man, 'not a Communist apparatchik', even though he was a secretary of the old Party of Labour [the Stalinist party] for more than 20 years and served as a cardiologist in Enver Hoxha's jealously guarded inner circle." (The Independent, 14/3/97.)

Only a month ago, two senior politicians representing European conservatives, Alois Mock of the European Democratic Union and Klaus Welle of the European Christian Democrats, turned up at the Democratic Party's pre-electoral convention and praised Mr Berisha for keeping the peace in the southern Balkans. A few days later, Pierre Lellouche, an adviser to the French President Jacques Chirac, called him the great hope for "democracy, freedom and prosperity". The President of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, Leni Fischer, even went so far as to praise a much-contested law banning former collaborators with the communist-era secret service in Albania from seeking public office. The law has been widely criticised because it gives the Democratic Party the power to ostracise its opponents without due judicial process.

The international bourgeoisie which now throws up its hands in pious horror at the crimes of Berisha, backed him to the hilt. Bourgeois politicians from all the European governments, not to mention the USA, were queuing up to shower compliments on this great democrat. It also seems that they did not go away empty handed. It has emerged that leading members of the British Conservative Party, enthusiastic backers of Berisha, were rewarded with sumptuous gifts, some of them looted from Albanian museums by "their man in Tirana". As late as 8th March, when the Berisha regime was on the point of collapse, The Economist, incredibly, still had a good word to say for it:

"Since Mr Berisha and his rightwing Democratic Party won power by election in 1992, after half a century of the most dreadful dictatorship in Eastern Europe, progress has been fast if inevitably patchy. Albania's cocoon of isolation was shed. Land was made private, state dinosaurs sold off or killed, small businesses allowed to sprout, and politics and religion freed. From the rockiest bottom, growth, albeit alongside much crookery, was the most rapid of all the ex-communist countries. On the foreign front, Mr Berisha sensibly made sure that, despite large and restless Albanian ethnic minorities in Serbia and Macedonia, Albania proper kept out of the Balkan cockpit. The Americans, especially, backed Albania - and Mr Berisha - as a beacon of stability."

Just a few weeks before the uprising in the South, a popular TV programme in Italy attempted to portray a picture of Albania somewhat like that of the Asian Tigers! In this way the bourgeois commentators deceive themselves and everyone else about the glowing prospects in the "newly developing economies" - and not just Albania. Yet the truth was very different from the glowing picture of economic health painted by The Economist. The real situation was described by an Italian journalist as follows:

"A non-economy made up of an extremely backward agricultural sector, a non existent industrial sector and services sector that has never taken off. In 1991 66% of the population lived on the land, with a very backward agriculture. Between 1991 and '93, the years immediately following the fall of the regime, there was a very deep recession which pushed the population well below subsistence level...

"In the following three years (1993-95) there was vigorous growth, close to 10% per annum; but it must be made clear that these figures should be interpreted with great caution. There is no system for collecting statistics, nor is there a national accounting which can define the structure of the economy...

"The money sent back by emigrants - there are about 500,000 Albanians working abroad - and international aid is what has given the economy a certain push, without however really developing the economy." (Il Sole-24 Ore, 5/3/97.)

Albania is probably the poorest and least developed country in the whole of Europe. 55 per cent of the population works in the agricultural sector. Compare this with Greece (one of the more backward of the capitalist countries of Europe, where only 20% work in agriculture). This figure does not reflect the situation before the collapse of Stalinism, due to the fact that many workers have been forced back to the land to survive. The majority of the population thus consists of poor peasants, or, more accurately, rural proletarians. The industrial proletariat has been decimated, though the extractive industries remain important (oil and chrome) and there are a large number of small businesses that have appeared in the last period, where workers work long hours under bad conditions for a pittance. Utilisation of productivity capacity has fallen to 10%. Which means that whole branches of the old industry are at a standstill, or have closed. Average per capita yearly income is $360. There are 400,000 unemployed in a population of 3.4 million. However, as the bourgeois financial paper Il Sole-24 Ore stated, it is difficult to have reliable figures on the Albanian economy. Apparently there are about 500 new firms that have been opened up by Italian businessmen, that employ about 50.000 workers. So what we see is a general collapse of the economy, while at the same time a minority is getting rich, on the basis of cheap labour.

There has been a limited amount of foreign investment, taking advantage of the pitifully low wages. Italy, Germany and Greece are the main sources of investment, in that order. German capital has taken over the key chrome mines and is partly involved in the infrastructure. Italian and Greek capital is found partly in small businesses (textiles, etc.), partly in the construction sector. Most of the state-owned industries that existed before have been destroyed. The resulting unemployed cannot be absorbed by the small private concerns. Thus, whereas some people have made a lot of money, most have been forced to make ends meet as best they can. The result has been that a layer of the population has been compelled to seek a living in the black economy that has sprung up around drug dealing, smuggling (especially sanctions-busting trade in oil with Serbia during the war in Bosnia) and so on.

Even where growth has taken place it has been at the expense of the working class. The attitude of the foreign capitalists towards the Albanians is one of national - one might almost say racist - superiority. We have an interesting example of the relationship between these Italian gangster capitalists and the local population. One of the industries that have been exported to Albania from Italy is that of shoes and textiles, where women are predominant among the workforce. In Albania thousands of women workers are employed in this sector, where for a six-day week they earn £12 net. Overall the cost of production for Italian capitalists who invest in Albania is half that in Italy. La Stampa newspaper reported back in October (2/10/96) of the conditions in which they work. The article reported one capitalist, from Albaco Shoes, who said:

"It took some effort to get them used to sitting still for seven hours... But now their productivity has reached 80% of that of Italian women workers, at £12 a week net". The same 'entrepreneur' added, "I feel 20 years younger. I am a teacher for these girls, who when I arrived had hairy legs, but now they all wear red lipstick as a symbol of their liberation... When you have tasted an Albanian woman you never turn back." Another capitalist, a certain Mr Cortellino, from the Cofra company from Barletta (Italy) said, "Let's state things clearly, those women throw themselves at you, because the Albanian male, who only eats bread and onions, doesn't satisfy them like the well nourished European. But they are ugly and dirty. I know a colleague who took one of his 300 women workers. He put her on a diet, smoothed her up, dressed her and now he takes her with him everywhere." A few days after these interviews were published these same workers organised a 48 hour strike. Production was brought to a standstill and these Italian bosses suddenly felt less secure. They could feel the hostility of the local population. As a result some of the Italian staff employed at the factory asked to be moved elsewhere.

This single incident alone shows that the process was already developing. It reveals the real attitude of Albanian workers towards these Italian bosses. If we add to this the widespread poverty, and then the loss of savings suffered by a wide layer of families, we can understand the reasons for the explosion.

A government of criminals

The people have had a very bitter lesson of what capitalism means. Even before, Albania was a very poor country. 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. Here again we see the nauseating hypocrisy of the Western media, which tries to present the Albanian people as criminals, drug pushers, smugglers and so on. What they do not explain is how the nascent capitalist class in Albania, with the enthusiastic backing of Western governments and the IMF, have destroyed the country's industrial base, reducing large numbers to beggary. Under such conditions, it is not surprising that people try to survive as best they can. The desperation of the masses was seen in the mass exodus of refugees after 1990, when tens of thousands of poor people risked their lives small boats and dangerous mountain passes to find work and bread for their families. To the degree that such abominations exist, they are entirely the responsibility of the Albanian gangster capitalists and their European and American backers.

Berisha's election slogan - "with me we all win" became transformed in the popular consciousness to "with me we all get fleeced". 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 a large 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. Why did so many people invest in these schemes? Many Albanian families depend on the money they receive from relatives working abroad. Albanians working, usually in terrible conditions as sweated labour in Greece and Italy, scrape together money from their low wages to send to their families. Therefore, the promise of a very high guaranteed rate of interest on savings proved irresistible to many families. This is actually a symptom of desperation, in the same way that poor people in Britain and other countries spend a lot of money on the football pools, gambling and the lottery. In the USA at the time of the Depression the equivalent of pyramid schemes were also in existence and attracted the money of small investors, who were also fleeced in the same way.

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. In December 1996, the pyramid schemes began to collapse. All of the owners of the schemes except Alimucaj are currently in jail. 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 demonstration in the main Albanian cities, going beyond opposition parties, which have resulted in many deaths at the hands of the police, the population finally ran out of patience.

Typically, the IMF, which has always shown itself to be a merciless critic of governments pursuing policies of "financial irresponsibility" (usually in the matter of devoting money to social services and welfare) developed a sudden attack of myopia in relation to the financial scandals in Albania. The following extract is from an article in the Albanian press entitled "IMF an Accomplice of Moneylending".

"It was only in September last year, when the Albanian pyramids had gobbled up all the Albanians savings, amounting to about $1,200 million, that IMF General Director Michel Camdessus wrote to President Berisha to warn him of the catastrophic consequences which had by then become inevitable. The pyramids had absorbed almost three-fourths of the country's money, obliterating any opportunities for serious investment. The IMF hoped that the country to which it had given so much publicity would control the situation, but it perhaps did not predict that Berisha had linked his political future to the moneylenders counters. At any rate, the IMF preferred not to speak out in public, for the sake of the zeal that Berisha and Meksi, the IMF's model pupils, had shown." (Tirana Koha Jone, 29/1/97.)

The complicity of the respectable gentlemen in smart suits from the IMF seems to have gone even further than this. A German commentator, F. Münzel, points out that the IMF, in its anxiety to support Berisha and boost the "free market" in Albania, actually blocked legislation that would have halted the pyramid scandal:

"The success of the Albanian pyramid schemes," he writes, "is usually blamed on the stupidity and/or corruption or downright madness of the Albanians in general and of their government in particular. In other words, these people have only themselves to blame. Really? In 1992, the Albanian parliament passed a banking law, drafted probably by a team of IMF experts at the Albanian central bank, the Banka e Shqipërisë (BS). Under this law, the BS was the supervisor of the commercial banks ('banks' including all enterprises engaged in banking, regardless of whether they called themselves a 'bank' or something else, e.g. a 'foundation'.) Article 28 of the law provided that the BS could impose certain duties on commercial banks in consideration of their 'environment', such as their rates of interest and other duties, in particular, the BS could ask a bank to establish a reserve fund at the BS to guarantee that the bank could satisfy its creditors. In plain English, when a bank paid dangerously high rates of interest, the BS, as supervisor of the commercial banks, was supposed to ask the bank to pay into a fund at the BS to safeguard the depositors. At the end of 1994, a draft law on bankruptcy was discussed in parliament. It included a special article on banks (again meaning all enterprises engaged in banking, regardless of what they called themselves) which provided that banks would have to establish deposit insurance funds supervised by the BS. The IMF team at the BS asked that this clause be scrapped because it was 'at this time inconsistent with Fund staff advice'. (No other reason was given.) Also, the IMF experts advised, normal bankruptcy procedure should not be applied to banks because that would have meant that the creditors of an insolvent bank could ask that bank to stop operations. This was inadvisable, an IMF expert claimed, because 'in Albania, which has so few banks, this is perhaps a matter solely for the bank regulatory authorities' - and that meant the BS.

"The foreign expert who had drafted the insolvency law protested. The protection of depositors should be the core of a banking system in Albania, he said, and he warned - in June, 1995 - , that insufficient protection of depositors might result in 'small creditors' rallies in front of closed banks, waving red flags and posters accusing National Bank officials of conspiracy with Western capital, or the Mafia, to exploit and destroy the people'.

"The IMF experts did not listen. On their advice, the deposit insurance scheme and the full application of insolvency law to banks were scrapped. Supervision by the BS remained the only safeguard of depositors against dishonest banks. And soon, something was done about this, too.

"In February 1996, the Albanian parliament passed a new banking law. It was written in an Albanian so awful that the poor deputies can hardly have understood it; that may have been the reason why they passed it, certainly very much impressed by its arcane technicality. It evidently was a verbatim translation from an English original, so one may safely assume that this, again, was the work of those IMF experts at the BS everybody believed in - just as, at that same time, nearly everybody believed in those pyramids. Under this new Law, the BS remained the supervisor of the commercial banks (and 'foundations', etc.) - but the old rules about the reserves the BS would impose on banks with dangerously high interest rates were scrapped.

"In short: The IMF team at the Albanian Central Bank thwarted pending legislation for the safety of depositors. Moreover, it advised to abolish existing legislation for the safety of depositors - in February 1996, at a time when the danger represented by fraudulent banking enterprises should have been evident to everybody with some banking experience anywhere, let alone in Eastern Europe. It also seems evident that the IMF team at the Albanian Central Bank did not use its influence to make the Central Bank carry out its supervisory duties and stop the pyramids in time - perhaps because the IMF experts believed that Albania needed all the banks it could get, honest or fraudulent. Only in the fall of 1996, when the pyramids had been operating for 2-3 years, the IMF asked President Berisha to act. At that time it was far too late, any sort of soft landing was impossible.

"If the inexperienced Albanians were mad to believe in pyramid schemes, how are we to describe the mental state of those IMF experts? Who is to blame for the damage, and who should pay for it?"

The ruined investors did not doubt where the blame for their personal tragedy lay, and who should pay for it. In desperation, the people took to the streets. But instead of getting a sympathetic response from their elected representatives, they got the kind of reply which one associates with Marie Antoinette ("Let them eat cake"). Berisha informed the IMF that Albanian money is "the cleanest in the world" and that the rate of interest offered by the pyramid companies was guaranteed (one even offered 170 per cent). Better still, after the first bankruptcies were announced Finance Minister, Riouan Bode commented that: "This is capitalism; companies can collapse." When asked would he take any action, he replied that, since the pyramid schemes were "charitable institutions", he had no control over them.

These "charitable institutions" have robbed the Albanian people of at least $2 billion, and made some people fabulously rich in the process. Not only did the President and his party fail to control these pyramid schemes, in which tens of thousands (over 33 per cent of the population, according to some estimates) have lost all their savings. The government is accused not only of negligence in connection with the schemes, but also of profiting from them. One of the biggest companies, Vefa, led by Vebia Alimucaj, helped fund the Democratic Party's campaign in the 1996 general elections. Alimucaj, who is among the richest men in Albania, is also one of the country's representatives to NATO in Brussels.

Chronicle of a revolution

The movement did not arise all at once. A careful examination of the events of the past months reveals a process in which the mass movement, from small beginnings, gradually acquired a mighty and irresistible sweep. Let us briefly recall these events:

Berisha, elected unopposed by parliament to a second-five year term, vowed to quash the violence and accused former communists and foreign spy services of plotting to overthrow him. Parliament has declared a state of emergency.

On January 19th, some 3,000 people, led by opposition politicians, broke through police cordons to demonstrate in Tirana's main Skanderbeg Square. A few days later, around 5,000 people staged violent demonstrations in the southern town of Lushnje, attacking the Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu. The mass protests spread with lightening speed. Thousands of people converged on central Tirana and clashed with riot police. Government and Democratic Party buildings set ablaze in towns and cities across the country. Parliament called in the army to guard government buildings.

On January 30th ten opposition parties from across the political spectrum formed the Forum for Democracy, vowing to hold protests across the country. But their demands were extremely limited, bearing no relation to the real mood of society. They politely asked Berisha to dismiss his government and set up a technocrat government to resolve the crisis. But by this time, a new mood had gripped the mass movement. Lenin used to say that, for the masses, an ounce of practice is worth a ton of theory. Once the masses enter into action, consciousness undergoes rapid changes, the timid demands and negotiating postures of the opposition leaders already seem like a pantomime unfolding in a different stratosphere.

The movement, naturally enough, began in Tirana. But it acquired its most radical expression in the town of Vlore in the south where on February 5th a crowd of 3,000 angry investors marched in the port demanding their money back and clashing with riot police. The following day, the numbers swelled - over 30,000 people took to the streets, besieging the police station. As protests in Vlore entered their fourth day, police in Tirana used batons to prevent the opposition from holding rally. But the real leadership of the movement was no longer in the hands of the opposition movement.

Events in Vlore were fast overtaking all previsions. On the ninth enraged protesters attacked Vlore police station. One person died and 40 were injured in the fighting. The first bloody clashes with the police had an electrifying effect. Once the population loses its fear and is prepared to face death in the fight for what it considers a just cause, then the blows and bullets of the police have the opposite effect to that intended. That is what Marx meant when he said that revolution needs the whip of counterrevolution. In the following days, the protests in Vlore reached fever-pitch. One violent clash after another between riot police and thousands of angry demonstrators left two people dead of heart attacks and up to 100 injured.

On February 11th 30,000 attended the funeral of an anti-government demonstrator in Vlore, shouting their defiance and outrage at the police, who staid discreetly out of sight. The following day a policeman is shot dead in Vlore by an unidentified gunman. The idea of revenge is in the air - revenge against the police, revenge against the government, revenge for all the years of hardship, oppression, lies and humiliation. But this is not the petty revenge of individual terrorism, but something infinitely greater, more powerful, in fact, invincible. For once a whole people stands up and says no with one voice, it is invincible.

Popular uprising

At the beginning of the Great French Revolution in 1789, there was a famous incident when King Louis asked someone if there had been a riot, and the famous answer came: "No Sire. It is a Revolution." Although the media tried to present the events in Albania as merely the actions of a disorganised rabble, a movement of terrorists and criminals led by local Mafia barons and drug dealers, the images on the TV screens told a different story. What is taking place before our eyes is a Revolution.

Report after report shows the participation of the masses, a heroic and spontaneous movement from below, with an impressive sweep encompassing workers and peasants, men and women, young and old. In town after town, village after village, virtually the whole population has been drawn into action. And what action! With no organisation, no proper plan of action, no leadership, with their bare hands, the masses moved to take on the might of the state. Under the circumstances, what is surprising is not that there should be an element of chaos (such elements are present in every revolution and are inevitable, as anyone but a hopeless formalist and pedant would understand) but the unerring instinct of the masses, their colossal power of creativity and inventiveness.

From the epicentre in Vlore, the movement spreads swiftly through the towns and villages of the South. In all the main squares and markets the news spreads of the fighting in Vlore. On February 14th 5,000 protesters skirmished with police in the southern town of Fier, while protests continued in Vlore. Finally, it all exploded on Saturday, 1st March, when the 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, assaulted 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 press: "In Lushnja, two lorries full of riot police were stopped by angry protesters and forced to get off. Forty of them were disarmed..."

Vlore, appropriately enough, was the town where in 1912 Albanian independence from Turkey was proclaimed. Beginning in Vlore, the insurgents began by marching on the barracks, not to attack the soldiers, but to obtain arms, as the necessary precondition to put an end to an intolerable situation. Their instinct did not deceive them. Everywhere the soldiers - and most often the officers also - received them with sympathy, offering only token resistance, or none at all. The attitude between the population and the ordinary soldiers and even police was one of fraternisation. The armed people knew how to distinguish between these workers and peasants in uniform and the hired thugs and murderers of the Shik, to whom no mercy was shown. Even more amazingly, they immediately grasped that most essential law of insurrection, summed up in Danton's famous motto: "Audacity! Audacity! and yet more Audacity!" Either the insurrection would rapidly spread to other towns and villages and engulf the whole country, or it would go down to a bloody defeat. The Vlore insurgents organised 20 or so cars and went, arms in hand, to rouse the population of the neighbouring cities to revolt. The movement spread through the south like wildfire:

"In Sarande ... 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 all-out general strike. Yesterday the protesters burned down the police station." (El País, Madrid, 2/3/97.)

The Barcelona newspaper La Vanguardia (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 no 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'."

An article in The Times (10/3/97) described a failed attempt by the government to reinforce the key garrison at Gjirokaster by sending in special élite troops by helicopter:

"In the abortive raid on Saturday [8/3/97], three helicopters flew south down the Drinos valley, landing at a military airfield at the edge of Gjirokaster. Up to 60 Special Forces troops disembarked, apparently with the aim of hardening the army's hold on the town and using it as a base from which to attack the nearby rebel strongholds of Delvine and Sarande.

"Their arrival at the town's police station provoked hordes of Albanians to pour into the streets around the building, while other groups surrounded the local barracks, location of the arsenal. The situation grew rapidly out of control as it became apparent that President Berisha's men did not have the support of their police, whom they then threatened with automatic weapons."

The same article confirmed that the rebels were armed not only with small arms but also tanks and heavy weapons:

"As well as tanks, mortars and anti-aircraft guns the base had at least 25 field artillery pieces together with extensive ammunition stocks. All are now under the control of the rebels, whose gunboats patrol the coast, and whose militias dominate virtually the whole of southern Albania."

Role of the youth

A very important role in the revolution has been played by the youth. The Western media expresses horror at the sight of young people, even children, brandishing arms. But occasionally we get a glimpse of the real revolutionary fervour of the Albanian youth who have suddenly discovered a voice and a role. One 14-year-old rebel was quoted by The Times' correspondent on 10/3/97 as saying "When you write, do not say that we are rebels. We are the Albanian people." The fear of disturbances in the schools was clear: "Among the measures adopted in the declaration of a state of emergency: "...the schools have been closed, in order to avoid strikes by the youth that have had such a wide impact on Albanian and international public opinion." (Il Manifesto, 4/3/97)

The students have been active in the struggle, as the following eyewitness account reveals:

"All the university students rose to their feet yesterday. The high school students joined them. Their faces were young, but they were all determined to protest. A number of schools have been abandoned, the faculty auditoriums are empty, everything has become silent and desolate in Vlore. Hundreds of students and pupils protested in front of Tirana University yesterday not only for Vlore and the hunger strikers, but for the whole of Albania. Despite clashes with plainclothes civilians, the students were not deterred from marching along the capital's streets in protest. The pure faces of the youths were barbarously bloodied, but they did not abandon the streets. "All with Vlore, everything for Vlore. With this motto the students of several faculties and high schools in the capital have become centres of protests and tension. Yesterday was the third day that the students had boycotted their lessons, and they continue to stick to their decision. 'Let us die or live, but let us not betray Vlore,' the university and high school students shouted in chorus."(Tirana Koha Jone, Report by Roland Zili: "All with Vlore, we will not go to School")

Berisha counterattacks

By this time, the Western governments were seriously alarmed. On February 25th the EU offered Albania money and technical assistance, "provided it sticks to democratic principles and works closely with IMF to improve the economy." The following day, the US ambassador in Tirana urged government to draft a new constitution and call early elections. Prodded on by the Americans, a reluctant Berisha agrees to talk to the opposition. On February 28th the "Democratic" Party and the Socialists hold their first talks since the general election in May 1996. But you can take a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink. No common ground emerged over the nationwide unrest. The Socialist leaders repeated their demand for the formation of technocrat government and early elections. But even while they sit and talk, the situation in Vlore is coming to a dramatic head.

On the night of February 28th a gunbattle erupted in Vlore after townsfolk seize weapons from police armoury, at least three civilians and one secret policeman were killed and 22 people injured. Secret police later reported that five more police were also killed. Protesters later set fire to police headquarters. The bitter conflict between the secret police and the populace is reflected in the press reports:

"Vlore was where the latest violence was triggered last Friday as Shik, the plainclothes security police, fought a gun battle with demonstrators after failing to halt a hunger strike organised by students at the university. At least nine people were killed, three apparently in cold blood by Shik officers and the rest caught in the crossfire or trapped in Shik headquarters as it was torched down and ransacked." (The Daily Telegraph, 5/3/97.)

It is the start of the revolution. The people of Vlore have started a fire that will blaze through every town and village in the country. The very next day, the citizens Lushnje blockaded the road and railway lines in support of the Vlore protesters. In several other areas in the southern region road blocks set up. In Tirana, 5,000 protesters clashed with riot police, overturning police vehicles, forcing the police to withdraw.

Meanwhile, the talks between government and opposition leaders drag on. President Berisha says government will resign, the ruling Democratic Party will form a successor cabinet after consultations with opposition parties. The Socialist leaders again demand the formation of a "technocratic" cabinet and early elections. And so the thing grinds endlessly on. But the future of Albania is not being decided here but on the streets, to where the power has now passed. While the politicians talk, the masses are taking their destinies into their own hands.

On March 2nd protesters in Vlore demand that Berisha dissolve the parliament and hold immediate elections, and moreover he must not stand for re-election. In the Adriatic town of Sarande, the people sack police headquarters, seizing weapons, while police flee and troops desert army barracks. Insurgents seize an army tank in Sarande and set up defence line at entrance to the town, vowing to fight to the finish with regular army troops.

"Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad." This saying of the ancient Greeks seems to fit this case perfectly. The imperialists, starting with the USA, were horrified. Their secret services had been warning them for a long time that Berisha's policies were leading Albania into dangerous waters, but, enchanted by his fervent defence of the "market economy" they turned a blind eye to all warnings. But now, they are suddenly alarmed. What if the flames in Albania should spread to the rest of the Balkans? Hurriedly, they tried to persuade Berisha to change course, cease the repression, talk to the opposition, make concessions. But Berisha, like King Louis before him, had other ideas. The government resigned, but President Berisha did not. On February 15th President Berisha admitted he made "mistakes" in handling of the pyramid investment scheme scandal, but also blamed investors and insisted the state would not compensate them. Thus, insult is added to injury. Berisha threw oil on the flames that would soon engulf him.

The attitude of the government further enraged the people and spurred the movement to new heights. Thousands joined rallies across Albania demanding not just reimbursement but the resignation of the government. Police in Tirana used truncheons and fired live rounds in the air to disperse hundreds of angry protesters. But nothing could stop the movement now.

"Nobody has control over the President any more. Some say he has gone crazy; others assert he always was. Rusty old tanks rumble down the rutted country tracks that pass for major roads on a mission to break up anti-government roadblocks and intimidated Kalashnikov-toting rebels into giving up their weapons.

"A media blackout is imposed on the country, radio stations are pulled off the air, a handful of journalists are beaten up, an independent newspaper is firebombed and a favourite cafe for opposition figures and intellectuals is trashed by unidentified thugs...

"For two years, Albania has been a powder keg of corruption, organised crime, political repression and financial con-tricks. Somehow the outside world failed to see the disaster coming and insisted that the country was developing as a haven of peace and democracy...

"In the chaotic aftermath of Albania's emancipation from communism in 1991-92, the United States was instrumental in promoting the virulent anti-communist Mr Berisha to the position he now commands" (The Independent, 5/3/97)

In Tirana, Berisha rants and rages, accusing former communists, terrorists and unspecified foreign spy services of plotting his overthrow. This reference to malign foreign influences is an ill-disguised attempt to whip up chauvinist feelings against the "enemy" - Serbs and Greeks, especially the latter, since there is a large Greek minority in southern Albania, which is indeed fighting arm in arm with its Albanian brothers and sisters. Ironically, the chauvinist right wing in Greece is also trying to whip up anti-Albanian feeling alleging (falsely) that the Greek minority in southern Albania is in danger.

"The parliament in Tirana yesterday unanimously passed a law establishing a state of emergency, allowing security forces to open fire to disperse crowds, restricting political activity and banning public gatherings of more than four people...

"In Tirana, Mr Berisha has acted swiftly to put down outbursts of popular anger, banning all marches, rallies and sporting events and imprisoning hundreds, perhaps thousands of potential agitators." (The Independent, 3/3/97.)

Taking its cue from the President, Parliament declared an immediate state of emergency nationwide to crush insurrection. A ten-article law banned public gatherings of more than four people, restricted political activity, gave the security forces power to open fire to disperse crowds, imposed draconian controls on the media. Just for good measure, the Democrats organised gangs of hoodlums to destroy opposition newspaper offices, as The Independent (4/3/97) reported:

"The offices of Albania's most popular newspaper, Koha Jone, were left smouldering after a group of men burst in overnight and set fire to the building and lobbed Molotov cocktails in all directions."

This is the way to defend Democracy! But first of all, it is necessary for the "democratic" parliament (from which the opposition is absent) to give a resounding vote of confidence to the Leader.

Like a man defying the law of gravity, on March 3rd, while all the south of Albania is rising in arms, President Berisha is elected unopposed by parliament for a second five-year term. Drunk with the illusion of power, confusing shadows with substance, this pantomime of a parliament orders armed insurgents in the south to surrender their weapons by 1300 GMT or face being shot without warning. Here is the stuff of leadership - the smart crack of the whip! The whole top-heavy apparatus of state repression is pushed lumbering into action. On March 4th, army troops begin enforcing emergency rule. State television shows foreign TV footage of tanks on the road near Gjirokaster near the border with Greece. No talk now of concessions! Berisha contemptuously rejects the opposition calls for coalition government. The gauntlet to Authority has been thrown down. Authority must pick it up!

The problem is - what authority? In the last analysis, the state is armed bodies of men. What armed bodies can the President rely on? No sooner is the order given to Albanian soldiers to fire on their fellow citizens than the problems begin. The army is itself full of dissension. Many soldiers and officers have themselves lost money on the "pyramids", or have seen their families lose, or are sympathetic to those who have lost. At any rate, they have no wish to shoot or bomb civilians, or risk their lives on behalf of a government of thieves and scoundrels. Two air force pilots defect to Italy with their MiG planes and say they took the step rather than obey orders to fire on civilians.

Foreign Minister Shehu defends emergency measures, saying they have pulled the country from the brink of civil war. But he also tells an Italian newspaper that the south is "completely out of control," thereby contradicting himself in the same breath. The authorities say that "red rebels" remain in control of Vlore and the coastal town of Sarande. Stung by the series of humiliating setbacks, Berisha summarily dismissed his army chief of staff General Sheme Kosova, who is said to have shown insufficient zeal in putting down the revolt, and to have failed to ensure security at military posts stormed and stripped of their arms by insurgents. This is a tacit admission that the soldiers and officers handed over their weapons without a fight.

He replaced him by Major General Adem Kopani, the President's personal military adviser and member of the secret police, Shik. The fact of the matter is that these were now the only ones the President can rely on. The tanks he sends south to crush the rebellion were manned, not by soldiers but by Shik members who he hoped would carry out orders. However, faced with the people in arms, the secret policemen turn out to be not so heroic as when beating unarmed demonstrators or interrogating suspects. The government's armoured columns came to a halt outside the rebel territory and did not dare to enter.

The US, which understood the position better than its erstwhile henchman in Tirana "strongly regretted" the imposition of state of emergency and Berisha's re-election. But NATO chief Javier Solana very prudently ruled out military intervention. Nevertheless, the threat of imperialist intervention remains real.

Insurrection and state

"In Europe, in 1871, there was not a single country on the Continent in which the proletariat constituted the majority of the people. A 'people's' revolution, one that actually swept the majority into its stream, could be such only if it embraced both the proletariat and the peasantry. 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 - this is truly in the interest of the 'people', of the majority of them, of the workers and most of the peasants, this is 'the preliminary condition' for a free alliance between the poorest peasants and the proletarians, whereas without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible." (Lenin, State and Revolution.)

In the long period of capitalist upswing following the Second World War, the idea of socialist revolution has receded in the consciousness of the European working class. But the example of Albania shows that what Lenin wrote was absolutely correct. The only way in which the workers and poor peasants of Albania could win their democratic rights was by overthrowing the state. This proved to be far easier than anyone would have thought possible. In a question of days, the army simply melted away. Once the mass of people stand up and say no, that is the end of it. No force on earth can withstand the might of the working class when it moves to change society. On paper, the Albanian government had a powerful apparatus of repression at its disposal but in practice it was left powerless. Just like Hungary in October 1956, the only base that the regime had was the secret police. The army deserted and went over to the people, not just the ordinary soldiers, but officers also.

One report from Il Sole-24 Ore (8/3/97) gives us an insight into how the army in the South just dissolved in the face of the unarmed masses (a classical revolutionary situation). Near the port of Vlore there is a military base, Pasha Limani, with a huge arms depot. As the report says, its commander, Major Astrit, who has now gone over to the rebels, walks among the mortar missiles, cartridges, machine guns, hand grenades. He checks what is left after the raid and comments: "A massive crowd surrounded the garrison, maybe 10,000 people; the guard made up of 50 soldiers abandoned its positions and I opened the doors." Astrit is now one of the organisers of the Vlore defence lines.

In Il Sole-24 Ore'(9/3/97) we read: "On the now famous Vjosa bridge, stronghold of the rebels 20 kilometres from Vlore, army tanks appeared yesterday. For a few hours the rumour was that regular army forces had taken the outpost. In Vlore no one knew anything about this army manoeuvre and some said that they had been across the bridge and had not noticed any changes over the previous few days. In the end the latest version of events is revealed. The tanks had in fact appeared across the bridge and then they had stopped while the soldiers waved from the tank turrets to the insurgents on the other side a few hundred metres away. All this lasted a few minutes, until the tanks turned round and went back to their positions on Koshovitza hill."

According to Il Sole-24 Ore (4/3/97):

"At Delvina, in the direction of Sarande, apparently there was an intervention of the Air Force and Migs apparently bombed the rebels. According to a Greek TV report, in Styari, 10 kilometres from Sarande, the other centre of Albanian revolt, the army were faced with fierce resistance: four dead an two wounded is the balance sheet of the "battle", the first since the declaration of the state of emergency. After the confrontation the army unexplainedly retreated.

"However from Sarande, over the phone, the rebels say they have captured three tanks and 50 soldiers. The people were called into the square to decide how to organise the barricades and surveillance in preparation for the next attack."

The Corriere della Sera, (6/3/97) reported:

"In Vlore everyone is armed: from the age of 15 upwards everyone has a machine gun... Government troops dare not approach Vlore..." and it adds:

"The resistance in Vlore has been organised said one eye-witness. A defence committee has been formed made up of ex-army officers purged during the last few years by Berisha. They are the ones that give the orders and prepare the defence of the city. Confirming, as if we needed confirmation, that it is an organised insurrection led by elements linked to the old regime...

"Sarande... is completely in the hands of the insurgents... They have 10-15,000 armed men... They have even taken control of 6 warships that control territorial waters...

"Land battle at Stiari: the army was forced to retreat after a 40 minute conflict..." And a hundred other examples.

Whereas in normal periods, the masses learn only very slowly, in a revolution, the moods of the masses undergo lightening changes. The whole situation can be transformed in 24 hours or less. This can be seen clearly in Albania. For example, if the offer of elections made by Berisha had been made right at the beginning, there would have been no uprising, and the reformist opposition leaders would have had a sufficient margin to show off their parliamentary capabilities, at least for a while. But in the space of one week the entire balance of forces was transformed. Once they had arms in their hands, the masses were able to test their strength against the apparent might of the state apparatus, and saw with incredulity how it crumbled at a touch. They learned by experience the truth of the old French revolutionary verse:

"They only seem so mighty in our eyes
Because we kneel before them. Let us rise!"

Of course, it is easy to point out the deficiencies of the movement, the lack of a clear programme, the disorganisation and so on. But how could it be otherwise in the absence of a party and a leadership? Maybe the masses do not know exactly what they want. But they know exactly what they do not want, and that is enough to be getting on with. The movement began - let us recall - by demonstrations of ruined "investors" asking for reimbursement, that is to say petitioning the government. The Russian revolution began in a similar way in January 1905, with a peaceful demonstration with a priest at its head, carrying holy icons and images of the tsar, the "little father" asking for their wrongs to be addressed. Only after the massacre of the ninth of January did the movement become transformed into a revolution.

What strikes one about the Albanian events is not at all the backwardness of the masses, but on the contrary, their extremely revolutionary nature, drawing the most advanced conclusions in a very short space of time. In just a few days they went from petitions to armed uprising, from the demand for reimbursement to "down with the government". They showed tremendous determination from the beginning, and also a mature grasp of politics when they rejected Berisha's offer of an "amnesty".

In the moment of truth, the Albanian state was left suspended in mid-air. Berisha imagined he was moving real forces, when in practice he was moving phantom armies which melted away at the first real sign of resistance. Realising that he could not order his forces to attack, Berisha resorted to subterfuge and bluff, giving the rebels an ultimatum of 48 hours (a "truce") in which they should hand over their weapons, in which case there would be an amnesty "for all those who have not committed crimes. He then offered to form a government of national unity, but did not mention new elections. The rebels replied with a defiant silence, but moved up their artillery into defensive positions.

If the insurgents had accepted the offer of an "amnesty" they would have walked straight into a trap. "...It will be the Shik that will do the 'dirty work', if and when the army goes into Vlore. Its task will be to search house to house and drive out the leaders of the revolt..." (Il Sole-24 Ore, 4/3/97.) This is just another way of saying that the Shik would have perpetrated a massacre once the rebels laid down their arms. By standing firm, the insurgents saved the revolution and prepared the way for victory.

The consciousness of the masses grows with the movement itself. That is why Berisha's belated offers of compromise had the opposite effect to that intended. Far from stopping the revolution, it spurred the insurgents on. Nor did the attempts of the Socialist leaders to patch up a deal have any effect. The newly formed government of national unity had only been in existence for 24 hours when fighting broke out in the capital itself and the rebellion spread to the North, supposedly a stronghold of Berisha. According to Repubblica (10/3/97) a speaker in Sarande announced: "In the beginning we wanted our money back; now we want much more. We want power." If a conscious leadership existed, it would be a simple matter to unite the movement on the basis of elected committees of workers, peasants, soldiers and youth. The assumption of power could be realised painlessly, without civil war. However, just to destroy the old state is not enough. It is necessary for the working class to develop its own revolutionary organs of power, not just to overcome the resistance of the counterrevolution, but also to set about transforming society along socialist lines.

The conquest of democratic rights can only lead to a lasting improvement if it goes on to the expropriation of the landlords, bankers and capitalists and the creation of a genuine regime of workers' democracy. The problem is that, in a revolution, where the balance of forces can change from hour to hour, there is little time for the masses spontaneously to arrive at all the necessary conclusions. The forces of the counterrevolution - including imperialism - have at their disposal formidable forces for defeating the revolution. Long before the masses are able to learn the lessons through trial and error, the opposing side will have recovered from its present state of shock and disorientation, and set in motion the mechanisms aimed at the destruction of the revolution. The spontaneous character of the Albanian revolution therefore has both a positive and a negative side. In such a situation errors are paid for at a very high price. All now depends on the ability of the advanced elements of the workers and youth to draw the necessary conclusions and carry the struggle onto a new level before it is too late.

Revolutionary committees

The media presents the situation in Albania as "chaos". Of course. For the ruling class, revolution is "chaos" by definition. The masses seek to put an end to an existing "order" which has become intolerable. In the struggle for power, an element of chaos is inevitable. But in the course of the struggle the masses discover the need to get organised. The soviets - broad-based elected committees to direct the struggle - were the expression of this need. In Albania, committees have already begun to appear in the rebel areas, to co-ordinate and direct the struggle, to organise supplies and impose some kind of order.

The Daily Telegraph (5/3/97) reported:

"In Sarande, residents said they were setting up their own local government in defiance of the Berisha regime. 'We are going to organise the structures of the cities ourselves and we will become an example for all Albania,' a rebel speaker told a 3,000 strong rally.

One of the peculiarities of the Albanian revolution is that, with relatively small communities, it is possible to call together the whole population in the central square to participate in direct democracy, in a striking parallel with the ancient Greek city states. This is a far call from the portrayal of the revolution in the Western media as "chaos" and "anarchy." Nor does it square with the slander of a "movement of drug barons and the Mafia". Since when did the Mafia lead popular insurrections and organise mass meetings to decide on the conduct of affairs?

In another note we read the following: "In the three towns controlled by the rebels they have organised full blooded 'people's' armies with a hierarchy. There is talk of thousands of men. There is army training. Speedboats control the coastline."

The article reports that in Vlore the rebels have organised themselves in a Defence Committee. A certain "Committee for the salvation of Vlore". Its leader "Berti" explains that the Committee is made up 31 individuals representing 17 political formations, among which there are even the "dissidents" of the Democratic Party of Berisha. Berti said: "This is the committee of the honest people, which has been joined by the strike committee that co-ordinated the protests during the last few weeks."(Il Sole-24 ore, 8/3/97.)

With the formation of Defence Committees in the south, we see the first attempts to put the insurrection on an organised footing. The exact nature of these committees is not clear from the limited information. From the above extract, it seems that at least in some areas they are composed of the representatives of the political parties, even some dissident members of the Democratic Party. This should not surprise us. The democratic spirit which prevails in every revolution would encourage the idea that everyone should be allowed a say, with the exception of the most reactionary elements identified with the ruling clique. It should be remembered that in 1917 the bourgeois Cadet Party was represented in the soviets and even got a reasonable number of votes in the early stages.

We must take into consideration not just the absence of the subjective factor, but also a number of objective elements. The massive destruction of industry over the last six years will have reduced the specific weight of the proletariat. In any case, Albania was always a predominantly peasant society. Nevertheless, we have no doubt that the workers in the cities in the south will have played the leading role in the movement, together with the most energetic layer of the youth. The press has reported the existence of strike committees, which, to judge from the above, have apparently been dissolved into the general Defence Committees. If this is the case (we lack first hand information) it would be a step back. It is better to have elected delegates from workplaces and army barracks rather than committees based on party affiliation alone, which is restrictive by its very nature and not representative of the broad masses, above all in a revolutionary situation.

What will be the future role of these Committees? It is well known that nature abhors a vacuum. In the absence of a genuine revolutionary party, other elements will inevitably come to the fore, old Stalinist leaders purged in recent years, army officers, some with sincere revolutionary intentions, others with Bonapartist ambitions, all kinds of adventurers and local careerists and even more undesirable elements. A revolution by its very nature stirs up society to the depths. Alongside the workers and peasants there are also lumpenproletarians and even the "dark forces" which exist on the margins of every society, criminal elements who inevitably seek to take advantage of the situation in their own interests. The revolution must keep these elements under firm control if it is to succeed. But to imagine that they will not put in an appearance in the early stages is utopian stupidity. The Western media exaggerates precisely this element to blacken the image of the revolution. But so long as the masses are participating actively, the criminal element will be kept firmly in their place. Already the Defence Committees in the south are taking measures, correctly, to introduce order, taking weapons off children and so on. The Financial Times (12/3/97) reports:

"Rebels in southern Albania meanwhile formed a committee for the first time grouping all rebel forces. They rejected the moves in Tirana to form a coalition government, demanding instead that the president resign and that rebel representatives be included in negotiations to set up a new government...

"Rebels in the south, who have seized control of a third of the country, have rejected offers of an amnesty and have refused to lay down their weapons. The fragmented opposition parties in Tirana admit they have little control over the rebels...

"Mr Genc Pollo, adviser to the president, accused defecting army officers of having more allegiance to the old Communist party that ruled Albania for 47 years. Diplomats pointed out that conscripts were poorly paid and that many had also lost their savings when fraudulent pyramid investment schemes collapsed in January, triggering the mass revolt in the south.

"The rebel leader in Gjirokaster is a retired general, Mr Agim Gozhita, who has organised a defence committee to take weapons from everyone under the age of 18 and stop looting of shops and hospitals."

This Agim Gozhita is an ex-army general, purged by Berisha only six months ago. He is at the head of a "Salvation Committee" made up of military, civilians and local authority leaders. His deputy is the mayor of the town, who is also a member of Berisha's Democratic Party! The general has ordered that no assaults should be carried out on army barracks. From this report the "confusion" of the movement is evident. There would be reason to believe that the purged ex-Stalinists are making a come-back in the South for lack of an alternative. These elements are obviously preferable for the bourgeois than the workers! The fact that the strike committee has dissolved into a wider "Salvation Committee" would prove the point that the workers are leaderless, and that someone is slowly beginning to step in.

Among the insurgents there are undoubtedly elements of the old bureaucracy. Many ex-army officers are involved. Berisha had previously purged the "unreliable elements"; these are now taking an active part in the uprising. However it would be wrong to think that the ex-Stalinists of the Socialist Party are leading the rebellion. The leadership of the Socialist Party is playing a disgraceful role. Rexhtep Mejdani, secretary of the Socialist Party, regards himself as a Social Democrat, and is calling for a government of "technocrats" open to all political forces. In fact he represents that layer of the ex-Stalinist bureaucracy that wants a more controlled transition to capitalism with an element of social welfare that they hope (erroneously) would avoid social convulsions. In fact, this would prepare the way for new disasters for the Albanian people. It is a measure of the bankruptcy of the ex-Stalinist leaders that they are incapable of taking power, even when it is handed to them on a plate.

If a genuine revolutionary leadership existed, the Defence Committees could serve as the starting point for the establishment of real soviets. But no such leadership exists. The Berisha regime is obviously finished. But what will take its place? The revolution will triumph, and will have done so without a party. But history is rich in examples of situations where the workers take power only to see it slip through their fingers, as in Germany 1918 and Barcelona 1936-37. If there is no revolutionary party, most likely the Socialist Party leaders will come to power, although they were not behind the insurrection and in practice did all in their power to thwart it. But the same was true of the Social Democratic leaders in Germany in 1918. Even the existence of workers' and soldiers' committees did not prevent the revolution from being undermined by the leadership. Something similar can happen in Albania. The ex-Stalinist leaders of the SP have made it clear that they accept capitalism. This means that they will be prepared to do the dirty work begun by Berisha, preparing a new nightmare for the Albanian people. However, this will only prepare new upheavals in the future. The Albanian workers and youth will come to understand the need for a new revolution, this time with a clear socialist programme based upon workers' democracy and internationalism.

Imperialist threat

The sweep of the insurrection is such that if there had been a proper leadership, it could have already succeeded. But the former Stalinist leaders of the SP are playing an abysmal role. Having capitulated to the "free market" they are now calling for peace and calm. After offering themselves as mediators between Berisha and the revolution - that is between fire and water - they now show themselves willing to throw themselves into the arms of imperialism, actually calling on the European capitalist powers to intervene! 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 have put itself at the head of the movement in order to defeat Berisha, giving it a more organised character, advocating 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.

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. The Dayton Agreement has solved nothing. There is a ferment of discontent in Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia. On the other hand, the Albanian national question is neither less important nor less dangerous than the Serb, Croat, Macedonian, Bosnian or Slovene variants. But during these last seven years full of democratic movements and wars in the troubled region of the Balkans, it has often been forgotten.

"Any evidence of rising tensions and radicalising demands in Kosovo is extremely dangerous. The chain reaction would mean that Albanians in Macedonia, still a very unstable and delicate state, would automatically ask for more rights. The feelings for the national cause in Albania itself would also grow. After laying firmly shut, the first pages of the Albanian dossier have been turned. The imperative is to keep the whole file out of the flames." (War Report, number 41, May 1996.)

The example of an armed insurrection just across the border in Albania must have a powerful effect on the consciousness of the people of Kosovo and Macedonia, especially among Kosovo's desperate youth. This is an extremely alarming development for the imperialists who have been trying to keep the lid on the Balkans for the last five years, with only a relative degree of success. The imperialists are terrified because they know that revolutions are no respecters of frontiers. However, the experience of the last years in Bosnia shows that the main imperialist powers are not very enthusiastic about intervening with ground troops. It is a question of "After you! No, after you!" Washington would prefer to pass the hot potato to France and Britain, who, in turn, would prefer to toss it to the Italians and Greeks, who have a direct interest in the area. But the latter are hardly more enthusiastic about the prospect. Those with a little knowledge of history are aware that it is only in the last half century or so that the central government in Tirana has succeeded in establishing its control over all the villages. Now that the population is armed, who is going to disarm them?

The Italian bourgeoisie, which in the past had Albania as a colony and still have ambitions to use it as a foothold to get onto the Balkans, has been toying with the idea of intervention (for "humanitarian" reasons, naturally) but is terrified of the consequences. The revolution in Albania is too close for comfort. Given the deep social crisis in southern Italy, it is quite likely that the example of Albania will give ideas to the workers of the South. The Italian ruling class is afraid that they might face a similar situation in the future, as the following report which we recently received from Italy shows:

"There is an underlying sympathy among the workers towards the "rebels" in spite of the bourgeois propaganda, which tries to portray them as "criminal gangs", etc. We have heard comments such as "Something similar is going to happen here if the situation doesn't change, particularly in the South". Recently there was a TU demonstration against unemployment organised in Naples, where the police charged the demonstrators."

Any attempt to stage a military intervention in Albania will meet with the resistance of the Italian working class. This is not 1939! The entire situation in Albania means that intervention would mean a prolonged guerrilla war in a country well suited to it both from the terrain and the traditions and temperament of the people. There would be many casualties. This in itself could provoke a revolutionary situation in Italy.

The same applies to Greece. There have been persistent reports in the Western press that sections of the Greek ruling class is preparing for an armed intervention in Albania:

"According to one source yesterday, the Athens government is also drawing up plans for an intervention if the Greek minority in the rebel-held south of Albania comes under serious threat from Mr Berisha's tanks." (The Daily Telegraph, 5/3/97.)

However, it will not be easy for Athens to intervene, either. The Greek working class is sympathetic to the Albanian revolution, despite the avalanche of anti-Albanian propaganda. For the first time ever, there have been joint rallies of Greek and Albanian workers in Athens. It will not be easy for the Greek ruling class to invade Albania, although a section would clearly like to do so. Their propaganda about the Greek minority in the south of Albania does not cut any ice, because the Albanian Greeks have been in the vanguard of the uprising, something Berisha has tried (also unsuccessfully) to exploit.

"The revolt has spread to the South, in the area where the population is made up mainly of ethnic Greeks. In a telephone conversation, the chairman of "Omonia", the organisation of the Greek minority, Giorgos Lampavitiadis, did not hide his preoccupation. "We are facing a civil war. There is no government here. There is no police, no army. The agents of the secret police have escaped to the North". In the meantime, one after another, whole villages and towns have fallen into the hands of the armed demonstrators... the people are not intimidated even by the ultimatums of the Albanian president, and declare they are prepared to march on Tirana... In the town of Gjirokaster the demonstrators have taken over a naval base. By evening two warships were moving round the port shooting into the air with machine guns." (Il Manifesto, 4/3/97.)

The Times (3/3/97) was even more explicit about the role of the Albanian Greeks in the uprising:

"In the south, members of Albania's Greek minority, which is significant in Vlore, are in the forefront of opposition militancy, and some government officials believe that ethnic Greeks are involved in a political underground that has supplied stolen weapons to demonstrators."

As always, a revolution cuts across the poison of chauvinism and national hatreds. This is the way to eradicate the nightmare of ethnic conflict on the Balkans once and for all, on a revolutionary, internationalist and class basis. 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.

As we write these lines, reports are coming in that Berisha has fled the country, and that the SP leaders are holding discussions on an Italian warship, and are calling for the intervention of "friendly European powers" to restore order. Whether these reports are true or not, it is clear that Berisha is finished. If he does not leave the country, he may end up like Mussolini. on the end of a rope. For their part, the imperialists are looking to the SP leaders to pull the hot chestnuts out of the fire for them. No doubt the latter would be willing to oblige, but is by no means clear that they are in a position to do so. Let us recall that in Hungary in 1956, the "reformist" government of Imre Nagy was in reality suspended in mid-air. It had the power in name only, while real power was in the streets.

Can the ex-Stalinist leaders control the movement? An interesting article appeared in Corriere della Sera (6/3/97) under the headline 'The liberal professor that leads the ex-communists: Government of all the parties'. In it we read:

"Sali Berisha had been a Communist all his life. The leader of the ex-Communist opposition has never had a party card of the regime in his pocket and only joined the party a year ago...

"The Socialist leader is now a respected man in the Western embassies, considered a serious person with whom dialogue is possible. And inside the party there are now many who support his moderate and social democratic positions. Although these have to live side by side with, in a difficult compromise, with layers more linked to the past.

"Mejdani admits that he has no direct influence over the rebels, and admits that the situation is out of the control both of the government and the opposition...The organised structures of our party in the South were destroyed, and during the weeks previous to the revolt nearly all the local secretaries were arrested. We are no longer in a position to co-ordinate our forces..."

A recent report in the Financial Times (12/3/97) makes the same point still more clearly, quoting the words of an opposition leader:

"'We political parties are making blah, blah, blah but we are not really representative of the rebels,' said Mr Perikly Teta, a former defence minister and leading member of the opposition Democratic Alliance..."

Faced with imminent overthrow, the leading clique handed the government over to the SP. However, the first act of the new interim government was to call for foreign military intervention and ask for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council. The Independent (14/3/97) commented ironically: "It may yet go down as one of the shortest-lived governments in history. Yesterday at noon, Bashkim Fino was sworn in as Albania's new prime minister at the head of an emergency all-party administration; but even before his team of ministers had officially taken office, their authority had disintegrated into dust."

Despite the cowardly 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. The main thrust of all the Western propaganda is the spectre of "chaos" reinforced by the television images of panicky German and Italian citizens clambering aboard military helicopters, in scenes which even bourgeois commentators liken to the evacuation of Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war (a fateful analogy!) Apparently the German helicopters were fired on by unidentified gunmen? Who were they? Which forces would have an interest in provoking an incident which could serve as an excuse for foreign intervention? In law, if one can find a motive for a crime, this can form an important element in the case for the prosecution. The answer is clear. Only the desperate representatives of a dying regime who feel the noose tightening around their necks can have such an interest.

In the last few days, it is clear that the regime has crumbled. Tirana is awash with arms. Lorries full of soldiers have broken the curfew, circulating the streets with arms in their hands shouting the slogan "Vlore! Vlore!" The North, which was supposed to be loyal to Berisha, has also risen and armed itself. But still the regime refuses to lay down and die. The monster is mortally wounded, but still breathes. The hundreds of secret policemen with blood on their hands understand that the triumph of the insurrection means the likelihood of summary trials and executions. The tradition of the blood feud is very old in Albania. But more important than tradition is the burning desire in the hearts of the people for justice - and vengeance. Vengeance for the dead, for the beatings, for the robbery, for the humiliation, for the slavery, and not only in the recent past. The criminals shudder with fear, but also rouse themselves for a last desperate act of self-defence, which necessarily implies going over to the offensive, to halt the revolution in its tracks, to sabotage it by all means at their disposal.

Suddenly, Tirana is in a state of anarchy. The gaols are opened and emptied of their prisoners. Who has opened them? The rebels? This is a possibility. The people assume that most, if not all. of the prisoners are victims, like themselves, of an unjust regime. Throw open the doors! Let us have freedom! Yes, it is quite possible. But it is not the only possibility. Faced with the possibility of instant extinction, the leaders of the Shik still have a few tricks up their sleeve. The West fears anarchy? Then let them have it in good measure! This will also frighten a large number of Albanian citizens and convince them of the need for Law and Order. it is a simple matter for a few plain-clothes policemen to incite a crowd of poverty-stricken citizens to plunder the shops, start fires and cause mayhem. That some of this should occur anyway is not surprising. But the scale of it suggests that other hidden forces are at work. In the same way in October 1917, the tsarist Okhrana encouraged backward layers of the populace to raid the liquor stores and wine-cellars of the aristocracy in order that the revolution should drown in vodka and chaos.

The attacks on fleeing refugees at the airport are clearly the work of provocateurs, as is a large part of the mayhem inside Tirana. At the same time, agents of Shik in plain clothes (they no longer dare to wear uniform) have taken the centre of Tirana with tanks and armoured cars. Berisha has disappeared from the scene, and nobody really knows whether he has left the country or not. The government is apparently offering three times the average monthly wage to anyone willing to help it to disarm the rebels. But, considering the risk to life and limb, this cannot really be seen as good value for money. They try to rally what is left of their supporters and even attempt to organise pro-government demonstrations. But all this is really just for show. Their only real hope is foreign intervention, which they seek to provoke by staging different incidents, all obligingly reported by the Western press as proof of "anarchy".

In a sinister development, Berisha has warned of the break-up of Albania, and is deliberately trying to play on the division between North and South. His hints about "foreign interference" is clearly directed against the Greek minority in the South, which has played an active role in the insurrection. Berisha wants to create the impression that behind the uprising is the invisible hand of Athens, thus playing on the ancient suspicions of Albanians in relation to their powerful southern neighbour. This is nonsense, of course. The Greek bourgeoisie does not mind fishing in troubled waters to increase its status of a great power on the Balkans, but it is terrified of the spectre of revolution and an armed people. However, unless the Albanian revolution acquires a conscious programme on class lines, the danger exists that a rift could open up between North and South, deliberately encouraged by the reactionary Berisha clique. The bloody provocations of the Shik will be used to foment all kinds of divisions, which might, if unchecked, cause a nightmare scenario. While the imperialists would not exactly welcome this, it would, from their standpoint, be infinitely preferable to the victory of a workers' revolution. The resulting chaos and bloodshed (deliberately instigated by the counterrevolutionaries) would then be utilised in the Western media to prepare public opinion for a military intervention - for strictly "humanitarian" purposes, you understand.

While the Shik provokes the maximum chaos in Tirana, the insurgent forces in the south have put together a unified National Committee for Salvation and Democracy, composed of representatives from Vlore, Sarande, Tepelene, Delvine, Berat and Kucove, that is, all the main towns in the rebel-held areas. It demands the immediate and unconditional resignation of Berisha, a coalition government and elections in the near future. These are demands which can be supported by any democrat. But they fall far short of a coherent programme to solve the burning problems of the Albanian people. Only a democratic socialist programme can do that. That means the radical reconstruction of society, the expropriation of the crooked Mafia capitalists and bankers, the creation of a genuine workers' democracy based on Lenin's four points:

1) Free and democratic elections

2) Right of recall of all officials in the state

3) No more privileges! No official to receive a higher wage than a skilled worker.

4) Disbandment of Shik and all repressive bodies. No standing army but the armed people!

On a programme of this sort, a start can be made in rebuilding Albania under the democratic control and administration of the working people. To this must be added an internationalist programme to appeal for the support of the oppressed peoples of the rest of the Balkans, raising the central slogan of the Socialist Federation of the Balkans. This is the only way to defeat the threat of intervention and win the militant support and solidarity of the workers of Greece, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Once power is in the hands of the workers and peasants, it will be possible to work out an amicable settlement to all the old problems that have for so long sown hatred between the peoples and prevented them from living happily together.

This is the only viable programme for the success of the Albanian revolution. All else is just a mirage. Armed with such a programme, victory is ultimately assured. But here we must strike a note of warning. In the absence of a clear class, revolutionary and internationalist programme, a nightmare can ensue. The masses have given their all. They have shown the whole world that nothing is impossible, once the working class and the other exploited people unite to fight for their emancipation. No matter what happens, this was a glorious example which will never be forgotten. But, in and of itself, heroism and the will to fight for freedom is not enough to guarantee success. Without a clear programme, all that has been won can easily be lost again. The enemies of the people, having been defeated by force of arms, will resort to subterfuge and craft to regain power. They will do what they always do. They will push forward reformist politicians who enjoy the trust of the people. They will open the doors of the prison and release Fatos Nanos, a victim of the old regime, in the hope that this will satisfy the masses. In just the same way in 1956 they set up Imre Nagy as prime minister of Hungary, when the masses had already seized the power.

If the SP leaders were real socialists, of course, there would be no problem. One word would suffice to bring about a peaceful transformation of society. But all the declarations of the SP leaders indicate that they have capitulated to capitalism. On this road lies nothing but disaster for the people. Within a space of time, there would be new crises and convulsions, even bigger than what we have seen to date. Moreover, if the Socialists do not carry out a thorough purge of the state, there will be continuous conspiracies and provocations organised by the supporters of the old regime and the enemies of democracy. True democracy can only be achieved one way - by the working people taking power into their own hands. Unless this happens, the danger of chaos which the bourgeois press constantly harps upon may become a reality. Albania is indeed threatened with terrible chaos - as a result of the crimes of capitalism and imperialism. In order to prevent this from happening, it is necessary to carry the revolution through to the end. No half-way solutions will do.

Geopolitical considerations make it impossible for imperialism to remain with arms folded. At present, they are terrified by the idea of intervening against a whole people in arms. They have no alternative but simply to wait and see what happens. But this cannot last. Fear of the repercussions in Kosovo and Macedonia, and the general impact of the revolution, will force them to act. They would probably use the Greek and may be also the Italian armies in order to crush it ("restore law and order", and of course "humanitarian aid"). 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 how precisely this is going to be done is not at all clear.

The declarations of NATO and all the imperialist governments make it obvious that the prospect of intervention in Albania scares them stiff. The disarray in their ranks creates some amusing situations. NATO spokespersons have stated that, for the time being, there is no point in intervening. In an obviously nervous and confused meeting of EU foreign ministers, the idea was mooted of sending a "small police force" (!). The rebels who have just overturned the Albanian army, navy and airforce, and who possess ample supplies of kalashnikovs, bazookas and anti-aircraft guns, will no doubt be trembling in their shoes at such a prospect! The British foreign minister Malcolm Rifkind, however, thought that even this proposal was too much. He suggested that the intervention be limited to sending "military advisers" to instruct the Tirana government on how to disarm the population. But then, the British have always been noted for their sense of humour.

In practice, they are impotent, and they know it. But this situation can change. They will probably wait a while in the hope that the SP leaders will be able to contain the situation. But in the end, they will be forced to go in. However, even 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.

It is necessary for every thinking worker to meditate on the significance of the events in Albania. We must cut through the fog of lying propaganda and disinformation and distinguish between the essential and secondary features of the situation. We are witnessing a profound change in the world situation. At the same time as the revolution was unfolding in Albania, thousands of miles away another rebel army was advancing to overthrow the hated government of Mobutu in Zaire. Neither foreign mercenaries nor the intrigues of French imperialism can stop them. In Latin America, we have seen in the last month or so revolutionary movements in Ecuador and Colombia. In Russia, too, the unbearable conditions brought about by the movement towards capitalism are creating an explosive situation. That is what frightens the imperialists more than anything else.

The Albanian events show what inexhaustible reserves of energy and revolutionary potential exist within the masses. But they also reveal the limitations of a purely spontaneous movement without a conscious leadership. The task of building such a leadership cannot be postponed until the masses are already moving into action. It must be prepared patiently for years and even decades beforehand. Once the revolution begins, every opportunity that is lost is gone forever, and the situation changes with lightening speed from one day to another, or even from one hour to another. It is the tragedy of the Albanian revolution that, at the decisive moment, no such leadership exists. The movement may pay a terrible price for this missing factor. But at least for the present, the sweep of the revolution carries all before it. What a marvellous confirmation of the ideas of Marxism!

In previous documents, we pointed out that, as a result of the unbearable contradictions caused by the movement towards capitalism, there could be a Paris Commune scenario in Russia. Many doubted that this was possible. Now it is shown to be correct. 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 internationally have to defend the Albanian revolution. It marks a new revolutionary reawakening in Europe. The Albanian workers and peasants have written the first chapter. Who will write the last?

London, 16th March 1997.

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