Albania, the Paris Commune, and the February Revolution
by Alan Woods
The events in Albania deserve the closest attention by thinking workers and youth everywhere. Here, for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the movement towards capitalist restoration has led to a revolutionary uprising of the masses. Moreover, this uprising has succeeded, at least in the areas controlled by the insurgents in the South, in smashing the old state apparatus. The sole power in these areas is the armed people, organised around the revolutionary Committees of Salvation. This is a development of colossal importance. Even if - as is possible - the Albanian revolution is shipwrecked by a combination of the lack of leadership, the intrigues of imperialism and the betrayals of those who speak in the name of the people and surrender at each pace to the reaction, it will stand as a shining example to the workers of the world of how the working people were able, in the most unfavourable conditions, to rise up against their oppressors and defeat them.
There are many parallels between the Albanian revolution and the Paris Commune. The insurrection in Paris occurred as a result of a whole series of unbearable contradictions which had matured over a long period. France, like Albania, was in the hands of a gang of brigands, who looted the country to enrich themselves. The situation arose out of the disastrous Franco-Prussian War, when the ruling clique in effect was more concerned to fight the working class of Paris than the Prussian army. The contradictions came to a head when the government, in a clear act of provocation, tried to seize the artillery of the Paris National Guard, which was met by a spontaneous uprising. In the words of Marx, the workers of Paris "stormed heaven". The collapse of the pyramid schemes in Albania, like the incident of the seizure of the artillery in Paris, was only an accidental phenomenon - the spark that ignited an explosion, but not the real cause. This must be sought in the accumulated discontent that had been building up in society over decades - the privations of the masses, the bankruptcy of the middle classes, the hatred of a corrupt and inefficient government of crooks, adventurers and swindlers. Although the concrete circumstances were different, the essence of the situation remains the same.
The Commune was a glorious episode in the history of the world working class. Here for the first time, the popular masses with the workers at their head, overthrew the old state and at least began the task of transforming society. With no clearly defined plan of action, leadership or organisation, the masses displayed an astonishing degree of courage, initiative and creativity. Yet in the last analysis the lack of leadership and a clear programme led to a terrible defeat. Marx and Engels followed the developments in France very closely and based themselves upon the experience to work out their theory of the "dictatorship of the proletariat". But Marx and Engels also tried to draw a balance sheet of the Commune, also pointing out its errors and deficiencies. These can almost all be traced to the failings of the leadership.
As in Albania, the movement of the working people of Paris was initially confused, with no clear programme or perspectives. "The Commune," wrote Lenin, "sprang up spontaneously. No one consciously prepared for it in an organised way. The unsuccessful war with Germany, the privations suffered during the siege, the unemployment among the proletariat and the ruin among the lower middle classes; the indignation of the masses against the upper classes and against authorities who had displayed utter incompetence, the vague unrest among the working class, which was discontented with its lot and was striving for a different social system; the reactionary composition of the National Assembly, which roused apprehensions as to the fate of the republic - all this and many other factors combined to drive the population of Paris to revolution on March 18, which unexpectedly placed power in the hands of the National Guard, in the hands of the working class and the petty bourgeoisie which had sided with it ." (Lenin, In Memory of the Commune)
The spontaneous character of the movement is a common feature of the Commune, the February Revolution of 1917 and the Albanian revolution. Some people have commented on the confused nature of the movement in Albania. Such comments show only the most crass ignorance of what a revolution is. A revolution, by its very essence stirs society up to the depths, arousing even the most backward and "apolitical" layers into direct action. To demand of the masses a perfect understanding of what is required is to demand the impossible. This kind of conception is worthy of a pedant and a snob but never a revolutionary. The masses always learn from life, not from books. Of course, it is the duty of a revolutionary tendency to prepare in advance, to train and educate cadres. But these cadres must be capable of finding a road to the masses. People who stand on the sidelines lecturing the masses will never find this road. Such people imagine themselves to be clever "Marxists" but are incapable of recognising a revolution when they see one. They remain utterly divorced from the real movement of the masses and incapable of understanding it. What a difference with Marx and Engels who, without for a moment idealising the Commune or closing their eyes to its confusions, shortcomings and mistakes, nevertheless from the first moment understood its true nature and significance!
A certain confusion is the inevitable feature of the first stages of a revolution when the broad masses of "politically untutored" workers, peasants and petit-bourgeois erupt onto the political stage. It is absolutely inevitable, especially where the subjective factor - a mass revolutionary party with a courageous and far-sighted leadership - is absent. This was the case with the Paris Commune. "At first this movement was extremely indefinite and confused." (Lenin, ibid.) Like the Communards, the Albanian rebels showed tremendous courage in "storming heaven", but also like the Communards they lacked a decisive and far-sighted leadership with a clear perspective and a plan of action. Certain things flow from this fact. While saluting the heroism of the Communards, Karl Marx pointed out their mistakes. In particular he criticised them for not immediately marching on Versailles, the centre of the reaction. This mistake allowed the counter-revolutionary forces to re-group and counter-attack, with fatal consequences. The second error was the lack of a clear anti-capitalist programme, summed up in the failure to nationalise the bank of France, which left the key levers of economic power in the hands of the enemies of the revolution.
We see similar failings in the present situation in Albania. The revolutionary uprising of the Albanian masses caught both the ruling clique in Tirana and the imperialists off balance. By its impressive sweep and élan, the movement carried all before it in the first days and weeks. But this movement had both the strengths and weaknesses of a spontaneous popular insurrection. After the victorious uprising in Vlore last March, the rebels showed great initiative in sending armed detachments in cars to neighbouring towns attempting to rouse them to revolt. This was absolutely correct. Once the gauntlet has been thrown down there is no room to compromise. The revolution cannot stand still. Either the fight is carried to every part of the country, and ultimately beyond its borders, or it will be lost. At that time, there was every possibility of a quick and relatively painless victory, on condition that the revolutionary committees were united under a common leadership with a single plan of action. As we have explained in earlier documents, the Berisha clique was suspended in mid-air. The army had collapsed, and decisive sections had gone over to the rebels - not just soldiers, but a large number of officers also - a fact that underlines the extremely weak and unstable basis of the new capitalist régime, despite the fact that the bulk of the economy had been privatised. The new property relations had not been consolidated by a decisive change in social relations or the state, which, in the words of Lenin, can ultimately reduced to "armed bodies of men". At the first serious test, the state crumbled. Not just in the South, but also in the North and in Tirana, where the masses came out onto the streets and the soldiers circulated in lorries brandishing weapons and shouting "Vlore! Vlore!"
Had the rebels pressed on to Tirana at that time, the revolution could have triumphed swiftly and relatively painlessly. But in a revolution, hesitation is fatal. To stand still means to go back. Failure to take the capital gave Berisha a breathing space to regroup and counterattack, especially in the North, and begin to recreate the state around the remnants of the old repressive apparatus in the Shik. In just the same way, the failure of the Commune to march on Versailles enabled the French reactionaries to recover and drown the Commune in blood.
The insurrectionary movement of the masses succeeded in destroying the old Berisha state, at least in the South. What replaced the old state apparatus? Not "anarchy" and "mob rule" as the Western media have consistently been bellowing, but the elements of a new revolutionary order. Revolutionary committees were formed spontaneously in the heat of action to co-ordinate and direct the struggle. As in Russia in 1905 and 1917, these new organs of power were not formed at the behest of any political party. they were natural expression of the desire of the masses to give organisation, coherence and form to their revolution. The bourgeois media - naturally enough - have striven to conceal this fact from Western public opinion. They have maintained a stubborn and criminal silence about the committees, because they need to present a malicious caricature of the revolution, in order to provide a cover and an excuse for military intervention, blackening the name of the Albanian people, whom they present as criminals and Mafiosi.
The campaign of calumnies in the West has had a certain effect in confusing the image of the revolutionary movement in the minds of most workers. This is precisely what was intended. True, to the degree that the leadership of the committees has acted in an indecisive and vacillating fashion, all kinds of backward and even criminal elements can take advantage of the situation to cause disorder and mayhem, although most of the disorder is deliberately provoked by reactionary terrorist groups acting on orders from Tirana. All this tends to obscure the central issue and obscure the class nature of the movement. The backward nature of the Albanian economy, compounded by the economic devastation caused by the movement in the direction of capitalism , means that the proletariat is weaker than in the rest of Europe. The majority of the population are poor peasants, or, more correctly, rural proletarians. Many are unemployed. But the situation in Paris in 1871 was not very different. The working class was a minority. Almost without exception they worked in very small workshops. There were many artisans. And there was a large "lumpen" population. "In 1870 more than three-fifths of the French were still engaged on the land. Of about 10,000,000 electors no less than 5,383,000 were engaged in agriculture, 3,552,000 being owners of their land. Only 3,102,000 were employed in industry, and of these 1,393,000, or nearly one-halt, owned their workshops, generally employing no subordinate labour." (F. Jellinek, The Paris Commune of 1871, p. 42.)
Under such conditions, it was inevitable that any revolution could only succeed to the extent that it involved, not just the working class, but the mass of poor peasants, semi-proletarians and all exploited layers of society. This is what Lenin meant when he spoke of a "people's revolution":
"In Europe, in 1871, the proletariat did not constitute the majority of the people in any country on the Continent. A 'people's' revolution, one actually sweeping the majority into its stream, could be such only if it embraced both the proletariat and the peasants. These two classes then constituted the 'people'. These two classes are united by the fact that the 'bureaucratic-military state machine' oppresses, crushes, exploits them. To smash this machine, to break it up, is truly in the interest of the 'people', of their majority, of the workers and most of the peasants, is 'the precondition' for a free alliance of the poor peasant and the proletarians, whereas without such an alliance democracy is unstable and socialist transformation is impossible.
"As is well known, the Paris Commune was actually working its way toward such an alliance, although it did not reach its goal owing to a number of circumstances, internal and external." (Lenin, The State and Revolution, pp. 44-5.)
The Albanian revolution is a genuine people's revolution, in the sense that Lenin used the expression. Whatever the specific correlation of class forces of the Albanian revolution, one thing is indisputable: it has drawn behind it all the decisive sections of the exploited masses of town and country - something that could not even be said for the Paris Commune, as Lenin points out. The fact that it has not yet evolved a specifically proletarian programme in the economic sphere is not surprising. Although the Commune passed a series of reforms (not all of which were put into effect) in the interests of working people - the abolition of night work for bakers, ban on employers' fines, and so on - it did not carry out the expropriation of the bankers and capitalists. Indeed, its failure to nationalise the Bank of France was one of the chief criticisms levelled by Marx, who pointed out that this one measure would have been a greater blow against the Versaillese than a hundred hostages.
It is easy to form an excessively idealised picture of revolutions after the event. To be wise after the event is the cheapest form of knowledge. It is also quite useless, because, by over-simplifying and thus distorting the truth, it makes it impossible to learn anything from history. The outcome of the Russian revolution was by no means a foregone conclusion, any more than the Paris Commune. The victory of the soviets in October did not fall from the skies but was only made possible by the correct policy, strategy and tactics of the Bolshevik Party under the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky. The revolutionary committees in Russia (the soviets) were not born perfect, but contained all sorts of confused and contradictory elements. All the main political parties were represented, including the bourgeois Cadets. The leadership was originally in the hands of the reformist Menshevik and SR parties, reflecting the first confused stirrings of class consciousness. The leaders of these parties had no intention of taking power, but left power in the hands of the Provisional Government - a coalition of moderate socialists and bourgeois, similar to the so-called "government of national reconciliation" in Tirana. In this way arose the abortion of "dual power". The masses had moved to take power but were frustrated and blocked by the reformist leaders who lulled them with speeches about "national reconciliation" while behind the scenes the reactionary forces were re-grouping and preparing a counter-stroke.
Having overthrown the existing order, the committees have not yet come to view themselves as alternative organs of power. This was precisely the situation that existed after the February revolution in Russia in 1917. The workers and peasants had the power in their hands but did not know that they had the power. Objectively, there was no reason why the Albanian masses should not have taken power in March any more than the Russian workers and soldiers after February. The central problem was the absence of what we call the subjective factor - the revolutionary party and the leadership, as Lenin explained at the time:
"Why don't they take power? Steklov says: for this reason and that. This is nonsense. The fact is that the proletariat is not organised and class conscious enough. This must be admitted: material strength is in the hands of the proletariat but the bourgeoisie turned out to be more prepared and class conscious. This is a monstrous fact, and it should be frankly and openly admitted and the people should be told that they didn't take power because they were unorganised and not class conscious enough." (Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 36, p.437.)
The setting up of revolutionary committees is, to be sure, an enormous step forward, but in and of itself does not resolve the question of power. There is never anything miraculous about organisational forms. Under the leadership of the reformist Mensheviks and SRs, the soviets actually served as a prop for the Provisional Government, which in turn was acting as a "democratic" cover for the counter-revolution. They could even be characterised as counter-revolutionary soviets at that stage. In fact, at a certain stage Lenin was contemplating abandoning the slogan "all power to the soviets". Only by tearing away the masses from these leaders could the soviets be transformed into genuine organs of working class power. This task was accomplished by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky over a period of nine months of patient and tireless work around the central slogan "All power to the soviets". Without the subjective factor of revolutionary leadership, the soviets would have been liquidated by the bourgeois state, as happened in Germany one year later.
The consciousness of the masses is not an abstract question. The workers learn more in one day of a revolution than in twenty years of "normal existence". Setting out from elementary demands reflecting the people's most pressing needs ("return our money"), the movement rapidly came up against the state. The masses learned rapidly from experience in the school of broken heads. But once the masses stand up and say "No more!" no amount of police truncheons will suffice to keep them down. At a certain critical moment, they lose their fear. Instead of fleeing from the riot police, some courageous or desperate individual decides to call on the others to stand and fight, and the others heed the call. From that moment, everything changes. The police swiftly grasp the fact that the masses no longer fear them, and are themselves gripped with fear. From unarmed clashes with police, the masses graduate to the use of sticks, stone - anything to hand - and then revolvers captured from the police. Finally, they confront the ultimate bastion of state power, the army barracks, and find to their astonishment that the gates are open. The mystique of state power crumbles at a touch, when people realise that the soldier is also a man who can think and feel like other men.
Frederick the Great once said: "We are lost when these bayonets start to think." That is what happened in Albania. The determined offensive of the masses led to the going-over of the army, not only soldiers but also officers. Here we have, unfolding before our eyes, the whole process of a revolution. By its very nature it is an elemental movement of the masses who do not have the benefit of political learning and theory, but have an immense advantage too. Maybe they do not yet know what they want - but they know better than anyone else what they do not want. And they are not entirely disarmed, either. They are armed with their class instinct, with their indignation, with their anger and determination to put an end to a situation that has become intolerable to them. Once they reach this point, here can be no going back.
The process whereby the masses learn is reflected in the words of Albert Shyti, one of the natural leaders that is always thrown up in such situations:
"[Albania] What is your purpose with this committee?
"[Shyti] We had two aims. Or rather, we started with one, and they became two. The first was the removal from political life or the death of Sali Berisha, because he drenched Vlore in blood, and he will bear political responsibility for this blood. The second aim was the 100 percent refund of the people's money. There was nothing else. After the people's blood was shed, the demand for the money fell into second place. This was because it was a matter of blood. We cannot forgive the blood of the young men who were killed here in Vlore. The Salvation Committee has not stood up either for power or for jobs. We are representatives of the people, a group of people from all classes of society that have put ourselves forward to represent the people's demands, first for a refund of their money, and now for Berisha's removal."
There is a logic about this which does not necessarily correspond to that of the text-books, but which nevertheless recurs in every revolution. Setting out from their most pressing needs (in 1917, that meant Peace, Bread and Land), the masses learn by experience that the only way in which these demands can be met is by a radical transformation of society. Sooner or later, this means a direct challenge to the existing state power. In 1905 in Russia the central demand was "Down with the Autocracy!" But let us not forget that the 1905 revolution began with a peaceful demonstration headed by a priest, where the workers marched with religious icons in their hands to present a petition to the tsar (the "Little Father"). It is therefore futile to point to the allegedly "low consciousness" of the Albanian masses in what are still the early stages of the revolution. The main fact to be grasped is that the revolution has begun, and that with every day that passes the masses are learning new lessons.
The only problem - and it is an extremely grave one - is that this kind of situation cannot last indefinitely. One side or the other must triumph or perish. There is no third option. That is why the false propaganda about the June election is so misleading. A fierce struggle has broken out, and it is a struggle for power. This cannot be resolved by bits of paper. Every mistake that is made will bear a heavy price in lost lives later on. There is no time for experiments and bad improvisations. The enemy is armed and prepared and will not make friendly allowances for failure. There is no doubt that, had the Paris Commune been permitted to survive for a longer period, the Communards would have learnt by trial and error, corrected their mistakes and gone on to start moving in the direction of socialism. But they were not allowed to survive. The reaction, taking advantage of the mistakes of the leadership, the naïveté and inexperience of the masses, crushed the Commune in blood. At least 30,000 men, women and children were butchered by the Versailles forces. That is the price for the lack of leadership.
As a result of the conspiracy of silence in the media, it is difficult to get a ccmplete picture. However, from the limited amount of information that emerges, it is possible to piece together a more or less clear picture of the committees. Let us take just one recent example - an Interview with Albert Shyti, the 26-year-old chairman of the Vlore Salvation Committee by an unidentified correspondent via telephone from Vlore which appeared in the pro-government daily Albania on the 7th of June under the title "Dead or Alive, We Will Oust Sali Berisha". This interview is interesting inasmuch as it provides us with an insight into the thinking of one of the rebel leaders in Vlore, which shows both the strong and weak sides of the movement as a whole. The Albania journalist begins by asking about the relationship between the revolutionary committee and the local council:
"[Albania] The Salvation Committee has supplanted the local government in Vlore.
"[Shyti] You are wrong. The local government has been working in Vlore for three months. We replaced it only in the first two months or for a month and one half, but the local government is now working at full capacity, including the municipality and the District Council. You know that Medin Xhelili, the chairman of the District Council, meets with the government almost three times a week. The two deputy chairmen that have been installed, one from the Democratic Party [PD] and one from the Socialist Party [PS], meet the government almost twice a week. The local government is now trying to start up the courts, the Procurator's Office, the Investigator's Office, etc.
"[Albania] They have been working for three months?
"[Shyti] You see, there is something you do not know. Almost two and a half months."
From this it is clear that there is a situation of dual power, and not only in Vlore. Two antagonistic and mutually incompatible organ of power exist uneasily side by side. Sooner or later, one must dissolve the other. The old state, for the moment, lacks the strength to dissolve the committees and disarm the people. But the lack of a conscious leadership and a clear plan of action is paralysing the committees and allowing the initiative to pass into the hands of the reaction. The naïveté of leaders like Shyti is shown by the following extract, albeit a naïveté that is very dangerous for the bourgeoisie. Albania asks the most important question of all:
"[Albania] When will the committee be dissolved?
"[Shyti] The committee will be dissolved when the people's money is refunded 100 percent. Then Sali Berisha can talk about dissolving the committees or anything else, because we are not creatures of the president, the parliament, or the political parties. It was a necessity of the times when the committee was created out of the broad masses of the people. They cannot make us scapegoats in order to lift the state of emergency. The state of emergency should be lifted, even though the committees exist.
"[Albania] Do you think that you will receive 100 percent of your money?
"[Shyti] No. I believe only one thing, and that is that I will ask for the money from whatever kind of government is installed, and if it does not reply, it will either have to give way to another government or come here to slay all us people of Vlore, or of the whole of the south, all the people who have lost their money."
What this means is that the rebels are putting demands on the bourgeois that cannot be met. This means a war to the death between two mutually irreconcilable forces.
There are many parallels also between the situation in Albania and that which existed in Russia in 1917. The Russian workers and soldiers overthrew the tsar but were did not immediately take power. This gave rise to a situation of dual power, which Lenin defines as follows:
"What is this dual power? Alongside the Provisional Government, the government of the bourgeoisie, another government has arisen, so far weak and incipient, but undoubtedly a government that actually exists and is growing - the Soviets of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies.
"What is the class composition of this other government? It consists of the proletariat and the peasants (in soldiers' uniforms). What is the political nature of this government? It is a revolutionary dictatorship, i.e., a power directly based on revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the people from below, and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power. It is an entirely different kind of power from the one that generally exists in the parliamentary bourgeois-democratic republics of the usual type still prevailing in the advanced countries of Europe and America. This circumstance is often overlooked, often not given enough thought, yet it is the crux of the matter. This power is of the same type as the Paris Commune of 1871. The fundamental characteristics of this type are: (1) the source of power is not a law previously discussed and enacted by parliament, but the direct initiative of the people from below, in their local areas - direct 'seizure', to use a current expression; (2) the replacement of the police and the army, which are institutions divorced from the people and set against the people, by the direct arming of the whole people; order in the state under such a power is maintained by the armed workers and peasants themselves, by the armed people themselves, (3) officialdom, the bureaucracy, are either similarly replaced by the direct rule of the people themselves or at least placed under special control. officials become not only elective, but are also subject to recall at the people's first demand; they are reduced to the position of simple agents; from a privileged group holding 'jobs' remunerated on a high, bourgeois scale, they become workers of a special 'arm of the service' whose remuneration does not exceed the ordinary pay of a competent worker.
"This, and this alone, constitutes the essence of the Paris Commune as a special type of state." (Lenin, The Dual Power in Collected Works, vol. 24, pp. 38-9.)
While there are differences between the two, what strikes one is how similar the situation in the South of Albania is with the Paris Commune and the situation in Russia after February 1917. At least all the elements are present, albeit in an incomplete, partial and undeveloped form. How could it be otherwise, in the absence of a conscious leadership? Yet without a party, without leadership, without even a trade union, the workers and peasants of Albania have accomplished miracles, and are still learning - not from books, but from life and the struggle, which is far from over. The masses have overthrown the old state in the revolutionary areas, and are striving to establish a new revolutionary democratic order based on the direct participation of the armed people. That is the essential feature of the situation. To those who do not understand this, who constantly harp on about this or that defect or mistake, or, even worse, echo the lies and slanders of the bourgeois press about "chaos" and "madness", to these people, who do not know how to recognise a revolution when they see one, we really have nothing to say.
In Albania, the failure of the committees to press home their initial advantage has given Berisha the possibility of recovering lost ground. With the help of the imperialists and utilising the protective colouring of the SP-led "government of national reconciliation, he is striving to re-constitute the old state. However, confronted by an armed and aroused populace, this is meeting with stubborn resistance at every step. The uneasy relationship between the committees and the elements of the old state is revealed in the next part of the interview:
"[Albania] Reports from Vlore say that the committee has the last word.
"[Shyti] Let me explain something else to you. Since the day it was created to the present, the committee has made only suggestions. It has never made decisions, because it is not a legislative body.
"[Albania] But the local government approves its suggestions?
"[Shyti] Of course."
This is quite an amusing exchange! The revolutionary committee tolerates the existence alongside it of a local town council. Moreover, it does not presume to make any decisions but only offers suggestions to the council. But a suggestion made by the people in arms is of quite a compelling character! The local council "of course" approves all the decisions of the committee. And the following example is cited:
"[Albania] What specific proposals have you made?
"[Shyti] The first proposal we made was about Mr. Milto Kordha, the chief of the Vlore Police Commissariat. Because the local government was not operating, we approved him with the help of the people. We put him up in front of the people, and also sounded the common opinions of the political parties that were active in Vlore at that time. We proposed a chairman of the District Council, and our view coincided with that of the councillors of the District Council. We also proposed a chairman for the Municipal Council and a deputy chairman. The secretary was a presidential appointee, and we did not go to the trouble of proposing him. So we always merely make suggestions.
"[Albania] Are you happy with the people you proposed?
"[Shyti] In that the local government itself is satisfied with its officials, we have to be satisfied. It is enough that the earlier management staff has been replaced. There might have been some very good people in that staff, but the people thought they were all incriminated and the staff abandoned the people when they should not have done so. Of course, some of them belonged to Sali Berisha's clique."
This shows the real situation and the real correlation of forces. Even in a revolution it is necessary to ensure that society still functions. It is necessary to enlist the services of any qualified persons who are loyal to the cause of the people. But who these officials are must be democratically determined by the people themselves. The question of the police is closely related to state power. The real power is in the hands of the armed people. But, since the police still exists, the question arises of who controls them. So the committee proposes a given candidate and "puts him up in front of the people." This applies to all functionaries. Those who are too involved with the old régime are not even proposed. The interview continues:
"[Albania] Of what political wing are those in power now?
"[Shyti] The chairman of the District Council belongs to the Social-Democratic Party. One deputy chairman belongs to the PD and the other to the PS. We have established political pluralism in Vlore. The chairman of the Municipal Council belongs to the Democratic Alliance, and the deputy chairman belongs to the National Front.
"[Albania] In your belief, is this pluralism effective?
"[Shyti] I think so, because it has produced fruit at this time. If they start behaving like the previous lot, they will surrender their places to other people who will work for the people.
"[Albania] Can you tell what these fruits are so far?
"[Shyti] Of course, I can remind you of one or two things. Since the District Council has existed, people have found a door to knock at with social problems of all kinds. Since the municipality has been in existence, the people of Vlore have received their pensions and welfare payments. A solution was found for those 2,200 people who were, as they say, on the skids, and were waiting to receive welfare. The central government has left us in the lurch since 5 February, when we took to the streets in protest. All the councillors made all the efforts they could, because the entire financial administration, like the police administration, had abandoned Vlore and escaped to Tirana. Sali Berisha collected all his adherents, all the people who supported him, in Tirana, because that is where he has all his trusties. These are the fruits."(my emphasis)
The fierce spirit of revolutionary democracy burns in every word here. After decades of totalitarian rule, the Albanian people will never again willingly accept the rule of a single party. That explains the insistence upon pluralism, even to the extent of tolerating members of the "Democratic Party", although not of Berisha or anyone connected with his clique. Most have already fled to Tirana in any case, including a large part of the local administration ("the entire financial administration", "the police administration" etc.). New officials are chosen with the approval of the people. But all elected officials are constantly under scrutiny and if they show any sign of acting like those that went before they will be removed and replaced by others "who will work for the people". A careful reading of these lines indicates clearly the parallels with the Paris Commune, which established the principle of the election of all officials with right of recall. Lenin pointed out that this was the essence of the Paris Commune as a new form of state, or, more correctly, semi-state, based on the armed people exercising direct power while simultaneously overcoming the resistance of the former oppressing classes:
'Chaos and anarchy'?
To the bourgeois and its echoes in the labour movement, any mass movement which escapes from their control is by definition "chaos" and "anarchy". In order to blacken the name of revolution and provide an excuse for the intervention of foreign troops, they have unleashed a vicious campaign of slander from the very first day of the Albanian revolution. They paint an image of the Albanian masses as crazy, uncontrollable gunmen under the control of Mafiosi and drug barons. These disgusting slanders, daily churned out by the millionaire press, are accepted by the right-wing labour leaders, who, as always, loyally accept the policies of the bankers and big monopolies at home and imperialism (especially US imperialism) abroad. But on the Albanian question, most of the Lefts have either swallowed this line, or else have nothing to say. Even the piddling sects who fiddle and fuss about the fringes of the Labour Movement have capitulated to this rubbish, like the British sect who recently compared the Albanian revolution to "Mad Max", thus displaying both contempt for the revolutionary Albanian people and their own ignorance. Fortunately, these people represent nobody but themselves. Far more serious is the conduct of the leadership of the Communist Parties, like Rifundazione Comunista in Italy, who, despite their confused opposition to the sending of Italian troops ("it is not the right time"É) have been utterly incapable of combating the avalanche of calumnies which have unfortunately had a effect in dampening the sympathy that originally existed especially in the South of Italy for the movement of the Albanian masses.It is the first duty of every conscious worker to defend the Albanian revolution against the slanders of the ruling class. Those who fail to do this, or worse still repeat the slanders (albeit under the guise of a "learned" pseudo-Marxist analysis) are, in effect, providing a justification for the imperialist intervention. The latter is not at all intended to save the Albanian people from "anarchy", to distribute food and medicine, or to help old ladies to cross the road. All this is just a smoke screen to cover the real aims of Rome and Athens, calculated to crush the revolution and establish a stranglehold over Albania. The "humanitarian" image of the nice, peace-loving Italian army has been shattered by a series of public revelations about the conduct of the Italian "peace" force in Somalia which has rocked Italy in the last few weeks. Italian troops, including officers, have been shown participating in the most appalling tortures of Somali prisoners, including the rape and murder of women. This information was kept hidden from Italian and world public opinion until now. This is the army that is allegedly being sent to "civilise" Albania! Incidentally, the conduct of the Italian army is neither better nor worse than any other imperialist occupying force dispatched to "restore order" to a rebellious colony. But the pictures of the atrocities in Somalia broadcast on Italian television, which is widely watched in Albania, will have raised doubts in the minds of many there concerning the real nature and aims of the Italian forces. Let us recall that the declared aim of the Somali expedition was identical to that now proclaimed in Albania - to put an end to chaos and provide the population with food and humanitarian aid. Except that the "humanitarian aid" was at least in part delivered with bullets, fists and electric shocks.
Answering all the lies about chaos and anarchy, Shyti replies to the question:
"[Albania] What is public order like in Vlore?
"[Shyti] I think that people have felt very safe in recent days. It has been extremely quiet. It has been summery. Cafes close at nine. Those with the courage or who like to enjoy life go out. Those who are scared of Sali Berisha's people or that their coffee might be poisoned--they do not go out. As for people who want to live, they live in freedom."
Asked about their relations with other committees in the South, he answers:
"[Shyti] We co-operate, more on a friendly basis than anything else. We have found a consensus. We share the same views. Dead or alive, we will topple Sali Berisha from his throne on 30 June, if a free ballot does not do this."
Here we have the basis for a genuinely revolutionary programme to overthrow Berisha. All that would be required is to link up all the committees on a local, regional and national scale and launch an all-out offensive to finish the job which was started in February-March. But such a possibility requires the initiative of a bold revolutionary leadership, which is unfortunately lacking. As in Russia in February 1917, the Albanian masses have the power and do not know it. Unlike Russia, there is no party present to explain this fact to them and point the way forward. Albert Shyti who describes himself as an economist and intellectual only entered political life a few months ago as a result of the pyramid scandal and is not a member of any party, and despite his courage and honesty, also displays a certain naïveté, mixed up with a certain revolutionary instinct:
"[Albania] Which party would you like to see win the 29 June elections?
"[Shyti] I would like to see win the political party that works hardest for the people. I am not a member of a party myself. I would like a coalition of parties, or rather I think that in Albania's present position there is no need for a president or anything. There is a need for a figure who will symbolically represent the state, and a group of people must be found who will work for the people.
"[Albania] From the old caste or new people?
"[Shyti] I am talking about people who want to work, and who want to do something for this country. The new caste might be slightly more moderate, but certainly no less like a Mafia."
In these words we see the instinctive distrust of the rebels for all those "opposition" politicians sitting in Tirana who are prepared to sell the people's birthright for a mess of pottage. They know that the freedom they have conquered has been won by force of arms, and can only be defended by the same means. This is true, but insufficient. In order to overthrow a corrupt political order, it is necessary to organise the working people on a different basis. It is not enough to denounce the existing political formations, and offer no alternative. Such a position is even less tenable when leaders of the committees say that they stand for free elections. What is necessary is for the revolutionaries to organise themselves on a programme which offers a real alternative to the old and the new ruling caste, which is prepared to fight on all fronts - whether on the barricades or at election meetings - to defend the idea of a workers' democracy.
The meaning of the June election
The question remains: How can genuinely democratic elections be held under these circumstances? After a recent meeting with Berisha and Fino in Tirana, Franz Vranitzky, the European Union envoy in Albania, admitted that there were divisions between the two on how to proceed with the elections. Fino apparently hoped to convince the rebel councils to dissolve and accept the authority of the old mayors and city councils. But faced with the implacable refusal of the committees to disarm before Berisha is removed, Fino and the imperialist forces have given up their earlier demands to disarm the population in the insurgent cities, at least for the present. For his part, Berisha is insisting that the elections can take place "only after the rebel committees are disbanded" and weapons collected by the authorities in Tirana. Thus, the central issue remains unresolved. And even if the elections go ahead, they will not resolve it. That central question is who holds the power?
Berisha lost no time in "preparing" for the elections. The Tirana parliament passed an election law that gives an unfair advantage to his party, the DP. This action was so blatant that even the normally tame judges protested. An RFE/RL correspondent reported from Tirana that "Constitutional Court judge Rustem Gjata on 7 June ruled that the current system for allotting 40 legislative seats on the basis of proportional representation is unconstitutional. The law allocates 10 of those to the two largest parties, while the other 30 go to smaller parties. This could have led to scenarios in which small parties with just over 2% of the vote have more seats than the party with the second-largest number of votes. Since this holds the majority in that body following rigged elections in March 1996, this step was really not a problem! This detail shows that the decisive question is not the holding of elections, but who shall convene them? How can the people have the slightest confidence in elections called by the very government that rigged the last ones and that still holds in its hands some of the key levers of power?
Even leaving aside the question of electoral fraud, from a strictly technical point of view, the possibilities of holding a fair election are remote. Mark Smith, spokesman for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe told Gazeta Shqiptare (17 June) that his organisation is well aware that "there will be irregularities." At a meeting in Tirana on 12 June, members of the Central Election Commission (CEC) said there may be serious logistical problems in organising the vote because there is so little time left. On 12 June, Dita Informacion reported that the Albanian authorities have not yet set up all the polling stations, even though the deadline passed on 31 May. Many of the district commissions do not have regular meeting places, either. The Central Election Commission wants computers set up in all 115 districts, but it is unclear whether the Institute for Applied Mathematics will be able to do so in time.
Socialist CEC member Taulant Dedja told an RFE/RL correspondent that most of the District Election Commissions have not yet convened. Meanwhile, the extended deadline for registering candidates expired on 12 June. The printing of ballot papers is scheduled to start in Italy on 15 June. Not all candidate lists from all electoral districts have reached the Central Election Commission in Tirana. And in some communes and municipalities, voters lists have not yet been publicly posted, Koha Jone reported on 18 June. The lists were to have been displayed by 12 June to give voters the opportunity to register if their names did not appear on the lists. Privately, some commentators are already talking of a postponement. US. experts from the National Democratic Institute stated in Tirana on 16th June that there was so much chaos that the vote may have to be postponed "in some areas". Others are more blunt. One US. diplomat (unnamed) was quoted as describing Albania as "a third-world country having a melt-down". Speaking from London, Brian Pridham, who recently quit as OSCE election co-ordinator, told reporters that he resigned because his moral and professional standards would not permit him to continue. He said the OSCE is determined to validate the Albanian elections, despite widespread irregularities.
A day before Berisha's tame parliament approved a crooked electoral law, according to Bobby Misailides, the Athens corespondent of the American Militant : "Fino met with US. secretary of state Madeleine Albright in Washington DC. Albright voiced support for Fino's government and denounced Berisha's 'parliamentary manoeuvres which undermine the efforts toward bringing a solution to the crisis in Albania.' On May 16 however Berisha dissolved parliament and officially proclaimed elections for June 29. Speaking at a poorly attended election rally at the town of Lats which is 60 kilometres from Tirana, he declared that he will 'not make any concessions to the opposition parties on the election law and that is my final answer.' Berisha's election law is a version of the previous law that is favourable to the DP." In other words, Berisha is making use of the levers of power that still remain in his hands to rig the June election, just as he rigged the last one. At the same time, Berisha has continued to organise vigilante gangs that terrorise the population. The May 3 New York Times reported that Agim Shehu, the former head of the national police the government was forced to fire, "has organised a private militia loyal only to Berisha." This is a finished recipe for civil war.
Faced with a critical situation, the reformist leaders present a pathetic spectacle. So little credibility do the elections have that, at first, even the tame opposition parties were considering a boycott. On May 13 Albania's eight opposition parties headed by the SP threatened to boycott the June elections. On May 19 eight parties in the comically misnamed "government of national reconciliation" reiterated their threat to boycott the elections and gave Berisha three days to accept an election law that will be more favourable to them. But this was just so much parliamentary shadow-boxing. One word from the men who hold all the cards (that is, guns) and they soon changed their tune.
The Russians have a proverb: "God is in Heaven, and the Tsar is far away." The leaders of the SP now realise that "God is in Heaven and Washington is far away." The real masters of the situation are the rulers of Europe, whose local representatives are the Italian and Greek soldiers. One phone call from Bonn was enough to help the "opposition" parties desist from all foolish ideas of boycott! Klaus Kinkel, the German Foreign Minister, warned Fino that the scheduled elections should take place and that "under no circumstances should the political parties boycott them." This clearly amounted to an order. Yet the legal excuse for sending in foreign troops was that they had been "invited in" by a sovereign government. This little incident shows that Albanian sovereignty is now not worth the paper it is written on. Franz Vranitzky, the European envoy in Albania also voiced opposition to the threatened boycott. So that was that! After a bit of wrangling, on May 21st Fino's Socialist Party (SP) and Berisha's Democratic Party (DP) announced they had "reached an agreement" to go ahead with the elections. Thus, these great European democrats' "humanitarian aid" is rapidly translated into aid - for Berisha.
Just as the Versaillese reactionaries had to lean on the Prussians for support to smash the Commune, so Berisha is powerless to defeat and disarm the committees without the aid of the foreign interventionists. Even with them, it is by no means certain that he could succeed in confronting the armed people. That is why the Americans, along with Prodi, would prefer to base themselves on Fino and the SP, hoping to split the committees and destroy them by stealth. They would like Berisha to vanish from the scene. Unfortunately for them, he shows no inclination to do them this favour. The continuous provocations are clearly organised by Berisha's men, whose only hope is to engineer an armed clash between the committees and the foreign troops. Since their landing in Albania in mid-April, imperialist forces have continued to spread their detachments around the country from the initial camps they set up in Tirana, Durres, Fier, and Vlore. On May 5,300 Romanian troops, accompanied by Italian and French soldiers, moved into Gjirokaster, in southern Albania. Greek troops were deployed from Tirana to Elbasan.
At every step the spokesmen of imperialism have been manoeuvring with Berisha to marginalise the committees and push through undemocratic elections which they will then present to the world as fair and legitimate. On the 9th of June, RFE/RL Newsline reported that: "Franz Vranitzky, a mediator for the Operation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, paid a one-day visit to the Albanian capital on 8 June. He met with President Sali Berisha, Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, and OSCE field personnel. Vranitzky told a press conference that preparations for the elections topped his agenda, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. It nonetheless remains unclear in which regions OSCE monitors will be finally deployed. Fino said on 8 June that they might be limited to Tirana if the security situation outside the capital does not improve. Vranitzky noted the OSCE will not deal directly with local rebel chiefs in the south." (RFE/RL Newsline, No.48, Part II, 9 June 1997)
What is the attitude of the committees to the elections? We do not have accurate information, but the fact that there are different opinions is shown by the convening of a meeting in Vlore on May 16th, where the rebel councils discussed whether to boycott the elections scheduled for June 29 and to continue their fight until the ousting of Berisha. Also significant is the fact that, although invited to participate, many opposition parties stayed away, and no representatives from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) attended this meeting. Clearly, many of the rebels understand that the elections are merely a manoeuvre and a diversion. But there is no unanimity among them. The attitude of at least some of the rebels to the elections was conveyed by Albert Shyti in his interview with Albania:
"[Albania] But how do you think Berisha can be removed?
"[Shyti] By a free vote of the people. His removal is 120 million percent certain, if the ballot is a free one.
"[Albania] What happens if the ballot is free and Sali Berisha wins?
"[Shyti] If the ballot is free and people vote for Sali Berisha, the PD will remain, but he must go at all costs. Other people from the PD will remain, but not Sali Berisha.
"[Albania] How free do you think the ballot will be in Vlore?
"[Shyti] I can give you a guarantee for Vlore. If anybody tries any rigging, they will leave their bones here. The voting will be free here in Vlore, because the people are free. I cannot vouch for other districts, but I am sure of this in the south."
Here again we see the same mixture of revolutionary instinct, confusion and naïveté. The only way to ensure genuinely free and democratic elections would be to overthrow Berisha. Only in this way could the conditions be created for the convening of a revolutionary Constituent Assembly through which the Albanian people could freely determine their future. It is not enough that a free vote can be guaranteed in the South, since the result will apply to the whole country. Berisha has already revealed his intentions by passing a rigged election law. The imperialists have revealed theirs by insisting that the elections proceed on this basis. How can such elections reflect the real aspirations of the Albanian people? Marx criticised the leaders of the Paris Commune for wasting too much time in electioneering when they should have concentrated all their energies on defeating the reaction in Versailles. The leaders of the committees seem to be making a similar mistake, except that at least the elections to the Commune were genuine, whereas these elections are merely a trick and a fraud.
Nothing will be solved by the elections. Not even the question that started it all - the ruination of hundreds of thousands of people in the pyramid swindle. In an unguarded moment, the SP leader Fatos Nano seemed to promise that the victims of this gigantic fraud would be reimbursed, but then rapidly back-tracked, denying that he ever made such a promise, and only committing himself to try to find the lost money and give back as much as possible. Since this money has long ago left Albania for Swiss bank accounts, such a promise is worthless. The above quotation from the Vlore committee leader is full of conditional clauses: "if the elections are fair" and so on. But the fact remains that the committees will not disarm until Berisha goes.
Imperialists fall out
The existence of a regime of dual power means, by definition, that the bourgeois elements are no longer capable of ruling society, but the working class is not yet able to take power. This is precisely how Engels characterised the situation in France at the time of the Commune. Lenin and Trotsky described the post-February situation in Russia in similar terms. Since an immediate armed solution is ruled out, the reaction is compelled to tack and manoeuvre in order to gain time to strengthen its position and wear down the masses. This is where the idea of an election comes in. The Western media is busy selling the idea of the June election as the only way to solve the problems of Albania. But in a situation where the entire country is divided into two hostile armed camps, such an idea is patently absurd. The election - if it goes ahead, which is not at all clear - will solve nothing but will open up a new period of turbulence. A fatal role here is being played by the leaders of the so-called Socialist Party, who are acting openly as the collaborators of imperialism. Fino, the new prime minister, took the initiative of calling in Italian and Greek forces "to help restore order" while entering a coalition government together with the hated Berisha.
Conscious of his weakness, Berisha handed the government (but not power) over to Fino and the SP. He has even gone to the lengths of putting a Socialist in charge - at least on paper - of the dreaded secret police, the Shik. However, all this is part of a cynical game of bluff. Berisha was forced to send former SHIK chief Bashkim Gazidede and his family to the Albanian embassy in Ankara to protect him from possible revenge attacks. This action was a further sign of the weakening of the regime, but does not at all signify that Berisha intends to step down meekly, or hand over power to the Socialists. On the contrary. There is no question that, no matter who is formally "in command", the gangsters of the Shik will continue to obey their old master. As usual, the reformist leaders will enjoy only the external trappings of power. Real power remains in the hands of the Berisha clique, which has no intention of relinquishing it. Despite all the nice words, Berisha is actively rebuilding his base. Using the Socialist leaders as a front, he is conspiring with the imperialists to crush the committees and disarm the people. If he succeeds, he can later ditch the SP and move to establish an open dictatorship. By lending a helping hand to this monster, the SP leaders are preparing a noose for their own neck and disaster for the Albanian people.
The June 29th election is only one element in this strategy. It must be evident even to the most obtuse that under present conditions a really fair and democratic election is ruled out. While their master in Tirana exudes sweetness and light, Berisha's forces are systematically organising terrorist acts calculated to create an atmosphere of fear and confusion, to justify the frequent patrols of Italian armoured cars through the streets, and ultimately, to engineer a provocation leading to a clash between the foreign troops and the committees. There is absolutely nothing accidental about all this. Berisha has managed to hold on to power, taking advantage of the lack of a clear programme and perspective on the part of the committees. But he lacks the strength to defeat the committees in an open show of force. He needs the support of the foreign interventionists, who have been sent to Albania to "restore order" - that is, to liquidate the revolution.
The weakness of Berisha is shown by recent reports of desertions in the elite presidential guard. Some 130 soldiers of this unit most of whom reportedly come from Mirdita in northern Albania. have deserted in recent days according to a report in Dita Informacion on 18 June. The desertions apparently came as a reaction to the shoot-out at a Democratic Party rally in Elbasan on 12 June, in which eight people were wounded. The presidential guard was recently involved in various violent incidents, including an attack by guardsmen on the military hospital in Tirana and a shoot-out with gunmen in Cerrik in which five guard members died and 12 were wounded. Evidently, these hired thugs are prepared to be heroic when beating up unarmed demonstrators and journalists, but not when their own skins are at stake. A serious offensive by the united committees would cut through these scoundrels like a knife through butter.
Given the unfavourable balance of forces, the imperialists are compelled to proceed warily. Apart from the fact that they also have no clear plan for achieving their ends, there are deep divisions among them. The interests of the Italian and Greek bourgeois in Albania are in open conflict. The Greek ruling class is enraged at the fact that Italy is asserting control over the whole of Albania. The demand by Athens to deploy its forces deeper into southern Albania, especially in regions bordering Greece and the Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, has been met by fierce opposition from Rome. Italian general Luciano Forlani, who heads the intervention force, denied the request from the Greek social democratic government of Premier Konstantinos Simitis to deploy its troops from Elbasan to Pogradec. With such a move, Greek troops would effectively take control of one of the main roads leading to Skopje, the capital of Macedonia, where the situation becomes more unstable with every day that passes.
On the other hand, there are differences of opinion in the Western camp as to the best method for "restoring order". The Americans, who previously backed Berisha, have now drawn the conclusion that it would be better if he were to disappear. They would prefer to base themselves on the SP leaders, who lose no opportunity to demonstrate their fervent allegiance to private property, the market and "Western democracy" - that is, imperialism. This policy makes a certain amount of sense - though it is by no means sure to succeed - since the committees have made it clear that they will never lay down their arms while Berisha remains in Tirana. However, there is no agreement on this policy, either.
The Italian prime minister Prodi is a typical right reformist politician, and therefore is irresistibly drawn to American imperialism. He loyally echoes Washington's views. But the Italian foreign minister Dini is another matter. This former banker, despite being a member of a "centre-left" government, is in reality a direct agent of Italian finance capital, and stands much closer to the Christian Democrats than the PDS. It is clear that he has been involved in intrigues with the Italian Right, who have from the beginning decided to back Berisha. At the very least, Dini has turned a blind eye to the machinations of the reactionary bureaucracy of the Italian foreign ministry, of which he is nominally the head.
Bobby Misailides reports that "On May 22 Tirana's daily Independent published the transcript of taped telephone discussions between Italian ambassador Paolo Foresti and Democratic Party chairman Tristan Sehou. In the conversations, Foresti expressed open support for Berisha. Fino then called on Rome to recall its ambassador back to Italy, a demand also raised by Italy's opposition Communist Refoundation Party in a discussion in the Italian parliament. Foresti claimed that the tapes were fabricated by 'extremist groups from Greece and Serbia that want Italy to withdraw it's efforts to bring Albania into Europe.' Greek foreign minister Theodoros Pangalos responded that 'there are certain people in Greece' who desire the annexation of southern Albania to Greece. But 'these are not serious views,' he stated. 'These views are expressed by a limited circle of people in a moderate and up to a point a justified manner'."
Thus, the conflicts between the imperialist powers bring to light the intrigues in which they are involved. The revelations about the Italian ambassador prove conclusively that powerful circles in Rome have drawn the conclusion that it is necessary to back Berisha as the only reliable bulwark against revolution in Albania. They do not believe that the SP will be able to carry out the necessary repression aimed at disarming the people and dissolving the committees. Moreover, they see that the removal of Berisha would be a risky business, which, at the very least would open up a new period of dangerous instability. They calculate that Berisha will "win" (i.e. rig) the elections, and, thus fortified, will have the necessary strength to crush the committees, with the backing of the Italian troops if necessary. Unfortunately for them, the intrigues of Foresti were discovered (with a little help from Athens) and the ambassador was dismissed. However, the apparently opposing policies of Washington-Prodi and Dini-Foresti are only the left and right boots of imperialism. the ultimate aim is identical - the disarming of the people and the liquidation of the Albanian revolution. Speaking in Rome, Vranitzky stated, "We must move toward the elections and the formation of a new government." The new authorities, he said, will then attempt to restore order. That is the crucial point. The rest is just so much froth.
The provocations organised by Berisha and the Shik, aimed at bringing the committees into open conflict with the foreign troops assume an increasingly determined and desperate character. Reporting on the First of May in Vlore, Bobby Misailides writes:
"Thousands of working people gathered at the Square of the Flag in Vlore, Albania, on May Day to demand the ousting of President Sali Berisha. The protest was organised by the Committee for the Salvation of the People to press for the president's resignation and warn imperialist forces occupying Albania not to reinforce Berisha's ongoing hold on power", and he adds that:
"Three days later, the Italian garrison in Vlore was fired on, in the first direct assault on the imperialist troops in Albania. No one was injured in that incident." (my emphasis)
At 2 a.m. on May 4, three men fired on the Italian San Marco military camp in Vlore. Lt. Colonel Giovanni Bernardi of the Italian army called the attackers "criminals." Reuters quoted Bernardi saying, "The men on duty fired back into the air in the general proximity of the criminals without trying to kill themÉ No one was injured and there was no damage." RFE/RL Newsline on June 12th reported that "an Albanian freighter carrying 700 people fired at an Italian Coast Guard ship near Durres on 11 June. The Italians returned fire and forced the ship to return to port. Albanians on the ship denied that any of them had fired on the Italians. Also on 11 June, five Albanians were robbed and killed near the Greek border by an armed gang after they returned from Greece. In nearby Gjirokaster, the Greek consulate close temporarily after it was fired on". (RFE/RL Newsline, No.51, Part II, 12 June 1997, my emphasis)
It is impossible to say in every case whether such actions are the responsibility of common criminals, simple accidents, or the result of deliberate provocation. Probably it is the combination of all these things. But attacks on foreign troops and embassies are far more likely to be the work of provocateurs. Either way, it is clear that there is no lack of inflammable material in the situation. At any time there can be an outbreak of hostilities between the committees and the intervention forces. That carry the situation onto an entirely different plane. That is what Berisha wants, because he has really no other solution. It is also the aim of certain elements of the Italian ruling class, although not Prodi. The more far-sighted circles in Rome understand that an open conflict with the committees is a highly risky proposition.
Under the pretext of helping to organise "free elections", the Italian-led force is now planning to extend its mandate for another three months and increase the troops. According to a report in the Greek daily paper, Eleftherotipia (May 6th 1997), Italy is planning to increase its contingent from 3,000 men to 2,000, to be deployed largely in the insurgent southern part of the country. But even with these reinforcements, Italy does not have nearly enough troops in Albania to fight the armed people. At present there are only number only 6,500 foreign troops in Albania. It would require a vast escalation of the numbers involved, leading to a prolonged and bloody guerrilla war which would have far-reaching effects in Italy and the whole of Europe. That is why Prodi would prefer to rely on the SP leaders and elections - if he can get away with it. But in a situation like this, the outcome does not always depend on the logical calculations of the ruling class.
Campaign of terror
Despite all the talk of elections, everything points in the direction of a violent settling of accounts. The so-called election campaign has been characterised by violent clashes, provocations and terrorist acts, of which the following are just a few samples.
On May 18, eleven people were killed by Berisha's gangs in the towns of Tepelene, Memalie, and Gjirokaster in southern Albania, according to a report by Bobbie Misailides in Athens on June the ninth: "In Tepelene, the armed thugs carried out an assault in the centre of the town at the time when representatives of the Committees of Salvation were meeting. The thugs abducted Gioleka Malai, the leader of the rebel committee in Tepelene, along with a police officer. Armed guards organised by the committee together with police officers loyal to Tirana's national reconciliation government of Prime Minister Bashkim Fino successfully confronted the gang and forced them to release Gioleka and the police officer. Firing indiscriminately, the thugs killed four people including a young woman and her five-year- old son; five people were wounded. In Gjirokaster a bridge was blown apart, cutting the town off from the rest of the country. The above attacks followed a series of bomb explosions the week before in the city of Vlore, the centre of the revolt Albania. Thousands of working people there took to the streets in protest, chanting 'Hang Berisha'."
The same corespondent reports: "On May 22, working people in Cerrik protested the decision of the town's mayor to appoint a new chief of police who is loyal to Berisha. The previous day in that small city 50 kilometres south of Tirana, the country's capital, armed rebels prevented Berisha from holding an election rally there. Unable to stop the protests by using the outnumbered cops, Berisha sent to Cerrik a heavily armed police unit from Tirana on May 23. Working people successfully defended themselves. In the armed clashes that ensued, five cops were killed and many others wounded. The police were forced to flee back to Tirana. Prime Minister Bashkim Fino of the opposition Socialist Party (SP) warned that 'criminal acts will be severely dealt with no matter which side commits them.' The armed rebels continue to guard the streets and have set up barricades in all of the town's entrances expecting another cop assault."
And again: "On May 22 Berisha was able to hold a poorly attended election rally in a closed gymnasium in Elbasan, a city close to Cerrik. Two days earlier he also visited Fier, which is 34 kilometres north of Vlore, the centre of the working-class revolt. On his way to Fier, while passing through the town of Lushnje, Berisha and his entourage were greeted with stones and rifle shots by rebels. In Vlore, the local rebel council has been organising defence guards, strikes, and demonstrations warning the president not to try to step foot in the city. As part of stepping up his terrorist assaults, Berisha has deployed two battalions of his presidential guard in the area with tanks and other modern weaponry. One of these units is now stationed in Fier. On May 21, a special commando unit from this battalion was beat back by armed rebels in Tepelene and chased back to Fier. Berisha's commandos had been deployed to aid a vigilante gang that abducted Gioleka Malai, leader of the Committee for the Salvation of the People in Tepelene. Armed workers defeated the thugs and forced them to free Malai. In a similar situation, working people in the town of Premete beat back two efforts by police units with tanks to take over the town. The cops were sent there by the Ministry of Public Order in Tirana. These police units are now stationed in the nearby city of Korce."
Eight people were wounded during a shoot-out at a campaign rally of President Sali Berisha in Elbasan on 12 June, according to RFE/RL Newsline (No. 52, Part II, 13 June 1997).
"Most media accounts say the guards overreacted to anti-Berisha taunts from hecklers and that armed men then fired on the guards. At least three guardsmen were among those injured. "Indipendent" reported that some people also fired at the podium where Berisha was speaking. According to some media reports, armed men later ran Berisha and his motorcade out of town. Public television and "Rilindja Demokratike" charged that "terrorists" from the Socialist Party provoked the incidents. The pro-Berisha daily "Albania" warned that the Democrats will not recognise the election results in the rebel-held areas if "the Socialists continue their terror [campaign] with their [rebel] committees."
According to another RFE/RL report, at least eight people died and many more were injured in continued violence on 13-14 June. In Vlora, gunmen attacked local Democratic Party leader Argent Grabova on 14 June and killed one of his relatives. Grabova had appeared with Berisha at a rally in Fier the previous day. Rilindja Demokratike blamed the Socialists for the incident. On 13 June near Shkoder, unidentified assailants killed Betim Muja, a high-ranking official of the Interior Ministry, Gazeta Shqiptare reported. Muja was police chief in Shkoder from 1992-1994. Journalists attributed some of the other recent violence in Kruja, Burrel, and Lezha to traditional vendettas. And in Tirana, some 300 women held a demonstration against violence on 15 June in central Skanderbeg Square, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.
On 16th June, a gang of 30 unidentified assassin attempted to murder Rexhep Mejdani on his way to speak at a public rally in Puke. His car was hit by five bullets, and hand grenades were thrown, although he emerged unhurt. The meeting was cancelled. Nikolle Lesi, the publisher of the independent daily Koha Jone, said that President Sali Berisha's bodyguard recently sprayed Lesi's car with machine gun fire and nearly attacked his home. Lesi threatened "blood revenge" if he or any of his family is hurt.
On 17 June, according to Koha Jone, unidentified assailants shot at a police cordon and several private cars leaving Berat after Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano held a rally there. The attackers reportedly fired Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons, killing one civilian and one policeman and injuring seven others. The circumstances of the incident remain unclear. Koha Jone pointed out that the police forces belonged to a contingent that had guarded Nano during the demonstration. But Rilindja Demokratike charged "Nano's gangs" with having attacked the police. Albania carried the headline: "Nano causes blood-bath in Berat."
Albania is, in fact, on the brink of civil war. On 16th June, it was reported that the Vlore Salvation Committee had declared that, if Sali Berisha tried to come there, he would be "shot at with all available arms". For his part, Berisha has extended the curfew by one hour to 10:00 p.m. and decreed that no curfew will be in effect on election day. The opposition, however, wants it abolished completely. Naturally. How can one speak of a serious election campaign when the population is kept under curfew till 10 at night, opposition leaders face assassination, and the electoral law is so blatantly rigged in favour of the ruling party that even the Albanian Constitutional Court ruled it unconstitutional?
For a socialist programme!
As with the Commune, the Albanian revolution needs time to learn. It is also proceeding by trial and error. The first stages of the revolution are inevitably accompanied by all kinds of illusions. There are even illusions in the ability of the imperialist troops to guarantee free elections. But such illusions will be swept aside by events. The main problem, as in the Paris Commune, but unlike the Russian revolution, is the lack of a genuinely conscious revolutionary leadership. In the committees there are all kinds of elements (as there were in the Commune) including pro-bourgeois elements, former Stalinists and accidental elements of all kinds. But the very point of departure of the committees as organs of struggle against the bourgeois government of Berisha, and the speculative scandal of the pyramids, as the clearest expression of what the freedom of the "market" really means, will undoubtedly lend at the very least an incipient anti-capitalist colouring to the movement. The rest will be determined by the march of events and experience.
In the immediate period, the military aspect was to the fore (as it was also with the Commune, to an even greater extent). but to the degree that the present situation becomes drawn-out in time, the economic questions inevitably come to the fore. The committees must ensure that people have food to eat. That these questions are beginning to occupy the attention of the committees is evident from the following observation of Albert Shyti:
"There is now talk about food problems and price controls, because prices have rocketed. The government does not send us any food because it thinks that Sali Berisha is going to reduce us to dust. But he does not know that the people of Laberia can live on gruel."
Maybe they can, but, as Trotsky once said, the masses can only sacrifice their today for their tomorrow up to a certain point. The committees will find that, above and beyond the demand for the overthrow of Berisha (which unites them all) there is a need to offer the masses a vision of the future which is superior both to the horrors of capitalism and to the totalitarian system that preceded it. That can only be a regime of workers' democracy. The National Front for the Salvation of the People, the coalition of 28 rebel councils, has made it clear that its affiliates will not disband "until Berisha's dictatorship falls, a new government is elected and has a chance to present its program, and legal guarantees are provided that the government will return 100 percent of the funds" Albanians lost after the collapse of the pyramid schemes. But there is no chance of any of this happening unless and until the committees overthrow the Berisha clique and take power.
The revolutionary struggle to overthrow Berisha must signify the beginning of a total reconstruction of society from the bottom up. Once the Albanian revolution has succeeded in overthrowing Berisha, it will immediately be confronted with the problem of rebuilding a shattered and ruined economy. It will be faced with a harsh choice: whether to hand over Albania to the control of the speculators and crooks who were responsible for this disaster and to accept the domination of Albania by Italian, German and Greek millionaires, or to expropriate the capitalists and establish a democratic plan of production in the interests of the people of Albania.
But a socialist revolution in Albania cannot hope to survive on its own. An international perspective is essential. A socialist revolution in Albania would send shock waves through the Balkans. Already in neighbouring Macedonia a pyramid scandal similar to the one in Albania has brought the people onto the streets. On May 15, 30,000 people demonstrated in Skopje, the capital of the Republic of Macedonia demanding that the government compensate them for the money that they lost in a pyramid scheme that collapsed in February - the sixth fraudulent investment scheme to do so. The protest a few days earlier, on May 10, some 5,000 rallied in Bitolj, the country's second largest city, shouting "We want our money! We'll get it with weapons if we have to!" As we have pointed out consistently since 1992, Macedonia remains the most sensitive point in the Balkans, a fact which is not lost on the imperialists. The US has had troops stationed there for the last five years. On May 15, UN secretary general Kofi Annan recommended that the mandate of the UN force in Macedonia be extended another six months, until Nov. 30, 1997, commenting that "Recent developments in Albania have demonstrated that stability in the Balkan region remains extremely fragile".
No matter who wins the elections (and it is by no means certain that they will not be cancelled or postponed), the most pressing problems of the Albanian people will not be resolved. New convulsions are being prepared. The conflict cannot be resolved by fake elections, governments of "national unity" (that is, the "unity" between horse and rider) or any other such deceit. Either the greatest of all victories or the bitterest of defeats. That is the real alternative before the Albanian people. The workers and peasants have shown the most tremendous courage, resourcefulness and initiative. All now depends on the ability of the most revolutionary elements of the workers and youth to draw all the necessary conclusions. Armed with a genuine socialist revolutionary and internationalist programme, they would be indestructible.
London, June 23rd 1997.