Coups in the Kremlin
What the History of Russia’s Power Struggles Says About Putin’s Future
The conflict between little Albania and the Soviet Union is today at the center of the Soviet-Chinese rift. This first became apparent at the Bucharest Congress of June 1960, when of all the heads of Communist Parties of Eastern Europe only Enver Hoxha was absent. However, the clash between the two countries had been proceeding undercover for a long time. To understand its roots, let us first turn to Albanian-Jugoslav relations.
Contrary to what has recently been published in some American newspapers, the Albanian Communist Party was founded and organized in November 1941 by the Jugoslav Communist Party. It was brought under the control of the latter during the war, and there it remained until the Tito-Cominform break in 1948. When the Albanian Communist Party was freed from the Jugoslav grip, it began attacking Tito and the Jugoslav leaders as "deviationists" and "traitors." This continued up to Khrushchev's visit to Belgrade in June 1955. The Soviet leader's efforts to reëstablish friendly relations with Jugoslavia acutely disturbed the Albanian Communists. They feared that this might lead to a restoration of Jugoslav control in Albania, endangering not only their positions but perhaps also their lives. They moderated their attacks, but were cautious in expressing satisfaction at the reconciliation.
Then in February 1956 came Khrushchev's de-Stalinization speech. It was a great blow to the Albanian Communists, for it had been through Stalin's action that they had won independence from Jugoslavia and it was through Stalinist methods that they ruled the country. Soon they began to feel Khrushchev's pressure. In April-May 1956, according to Hoxha's later testimony, the Soviet leadership, through important persons like M. A. Suslov, principal theoretician of the Soviet Communist Party, and P. Pospelov, a member of its Central Committee, tried to persuade the Albanians to rehabilitate Koci Xoxe, who had been executed in 1949 as a Titoist. But Xoxe's case was not the same as that of the Hungarian Rajik or the Bulgarian Kostov. Xoxe, Hoxha's powerful rival, had in reality been a man of the Jugoslavs. To rehabilitate him would mean opening the door to Jugoslavia again and would involve the Albanian leaders in a degree of self- criticism which would jeopardize their positions. Tirana refused to rehabilitate Xoxe, and in May 1956 Hoxha accused him of having prepared "the political and physical extermination" of the leaders. "The accusation against Xoxe and his partisans," he concluded, "was well founded and the verdict of our Party and government totally just."
The Hungarian revolt of October 1956 brought bitter exchanges between Tito and Hoxha. Hoxha made no secret of the fact that he considered the Jugoslav leader responsible for Albania's domestic difficulties, as well as for those of the satellite countries. In an article in Pravda (November 8, 1956), he guardedly accused the Jugoslavs of being at the root of the Hungarian revolt. A few days later Tito, knowing well who at the Kremlin stood behind that article, attacked Hoxha personally in his now famous speech at Pula, describing him contemptuously as a person who "knows only how to say 'Marxism-Leninism' and not a word more." He struck at what he called "obdurate Stalinist elements" in various Communist Parties, and, in a pointed allusion to the Albanian régime, added that these elements believed that "people of the Stalinist cast would be found in the Soviet Union to assist them to maintain themselves on the back of the people."
To make matters worse for the Albanians, Khrushchev let them know what he had replied to Tito on November 9, 1956. As reported by Hoxha only last fall, the Soviet leader agreed with Tito that "now no particular importance should be given to the question whether the Jugoslav Embassy in Budapest acted rightly or not in giving asylum to Imre Nagy and his companions." He also expressed gratification that Tito agreed with him that Janos Kadar was the most suitable person to be the First Secretary of the Hungarian Communist Party. This letter convinced the Albanian rulers that Khrushchev was on Tito's side.
At this juncture, collaboration was apparently established between the Tirana leadership and the Stalinists in the Kremlin, for on February 13, 1957, in the Plenum of the Central Committee of the Albanian Communist Party, Hoxha took up the defense of Stalin in the most laudatory terms-a unique instance in the Soviet bloc. Having admitted certain errors-the cult of personality and "violations of Soviet law"-he added: "In spite of all these mistakes, Stalin remains a great Marxist-Leninist. Stalin was never mistaken in such questions as the protection of the interests of the working class and of Marxist-Leninist theory, the fight against imperialism and other enemies of socialism. He was and remains an exemplary figure. Stalin's tragedy was that when he made these serious mistakes he thought that they were necessary for protection of the revolution." Hoxha's apologia was not directed against Tito alone; it was more an answer to Khrushchev.
The Albanian leader's speech in defense of Stalin not only involved his country in the struggle for power in the Kremlin but also injected an ideological content into the conflict with Khrushchev and Tito; and with time this was to be intensified.
It is not known whether the Albanians were the first to approach the Red Chinese, or vice versa. In any case, Jugoslav "revisionism" brought them into the open hand in hand. Since May 1958, the press of the two countries has never stopped denouncing Jugoslav revisionism, linking it often to the principle of peaceful coexistence. In the course of the strife, the ties between Tirana and Peking grew closer; the staff of the Chinese Embassy in Tirana was enlarged; frequent visits were exchanged; the Albanian press stopped reproducing articles of Pravda, and replaced them with those of Jenmin Jih Pao, the Communist Chinese organ.
The reason given for Hoxha's absence from the Bucharest Congress of 1960 was Khrushchev's decision to force the Parties of the Soviet bloc to accept his policy of peaceful coexistence. The Chinese were on hand, however, and held their own in opposition to the Soviet Premier. Since that time, the Tirana-Moscow rift has become steadily wider. Hoxha did not attend the General Assembly of the United Nations in the fall of 1960, where Khrushchev was escorted by the First Secretaries of the Communist Parties of Eastern Europe. Like Khrushchev, they all virtually ostracized Premier Mehmet Shehu, head of the Albanian delegation; on the other hand, Khrushchev had two talks with Tito. The conflict culminated in the meeting of the 81 Communist Parties in November 1960 in Moscow, when Hoxha, according to reports, denounced Khrushchev as "a traitor to the Communist idea, a weakling and a revisionist," and the Soviet leader retorted that Hoxha was going to pay for the offense. Thus the personal element in the antagonism was reinforced.
In the Communist world, conflicts have to take an ideological form even when the real motives may be the interests of individuals or groups or the power politics of countries. The February 1961 Congress of the Albanian Communist Party reflected this fact clearly.
Although he inclined toward the Chinese viewpoint, Hoxha made efforts in his address-a good example of Communist double-talk-to show that he abided by the Moscow Resolution of November 1960, which was a compromise solution. The Marxist-Leninists did not deny the possibility of the peaceful road to socialism, he said; they simply did not understand it at all as a negation of class struggle. He then attacked Jugoslav revisionism.
P. Pospelov, the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, was the chief of the Soviet delegation. Taking the Moscow Resolution of November 1960 as a clear Marxist-Leninist program of action of the international Communist movement, he advocated the principle of peaceful coexistence among states with different social systems, stressing that life itself had demonstrated that this "Leninist principle" was the only just and reasonable principle in international relations. He then came to the point: "Now the question is posed thus-either peaceful coexistence or the most destructive war. There is no other way." The war against revisionism, he said, remained an actual and important task of the Communist Party, but he called also for a tireless war on the other dangers-dogmatism and sectarianism.
Li Hsien-nien, a member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of China, who headed the Chinese delegation, praised Albania as the vanguard of the war against the enemies of socialism and a strong support for the preservation of Marxist-Leninist purity. He said that the Albanian Communist Party, basing itself on the principle of close connection between the universal truth of Marxism-Leninism and its own practice in the country, had applied and developed Marxism-Leninism in a creative manner. Red China, he continued, regarded the successes of the Albanian Party and people as her own. He then added: "As long as imperialism exists, there exists also the foundation for aggressive wars. The danger is not yet over, and imperialism, with the United States at the head, may give rise to a new world war. . ." He acknowledged the superiority of the Soviet Communist Party, but he also declared that the Communist Parties of all countries are independent and equal, although responsible to the interests of the international proletariat. This unequivocal ideological support of the Albanian leadership on the part of Red China was accompanied by substantial material aid-a considerable quantity of wheat and a credit of 112.5 million new rubles-at a time when China itself was in great economic need.
What, then, compelled Khrushchev to make a frontal attack on the leaders of the Albanian Communist Party at the 22nd Congress in Moscow? Did he hope that an open offensive would succeed where internal and external pressures had failed?
It appears that in 1960 the Soviet Party was earnestly concerned about the situation in Albania. The Albanian leaders, tied more and more closely to China, were growing more and more aggressive. There have been reports that the Soviet Ambassador In Tirana, Ivanov, endeavored to create a pro-Soviet faction, or at least a pro-Soviet current in the Albanian Communist Party, which could exercise pressure on Hoxha and Shehu. The leaders of this movement were Koço Tashko, president of the Auditing Commission of the Party and a former envoy to U.S.S.R., and Liri Belishova, an old Communist and a member of the Central Committee of the Party. In September 1960 they were dismissed from their responsible positions and arrested. Their fate is not known; Belishova was mentioned as an enemy of the Party in Hoxha's speech of November 8, 1961, but Tashko's name has been completely ignored. The fact that the Congress of the Albanian Communist Party was twice postponed (it finally took place in February 1961) was almost certainly due to domestic troubles. If it is true that Rear Admiral Temo Sejko and his companions, executed in May 1961, were also involved in the movement- Tirana's accusation that he was conspiring with Greece, Jugoslavia and the American Sixth Fleet to overthrow the régime is unconvincing-the Soviet attempt must have utterly failed. In any event, in January 1961 a new Soviet Ambassador, J. V. Shikin, arrived at Tirana, welcomed only by the Chief of Protocol of the Foreign Ministry, and four months later the Soviet submarines left their base on the island of Sazan (Saseno), opposite Vlorë. Then came pressure from outside. The Soviet Union stopped abruptly all material and technical help to Albania and withdrew its experts and advisers. The satellites followed suit. Albania was ignored in the press of the Soviet bloc, and Khrushchev, in an interview, pointedly refrained from mentioning Albania as an ally, despite its continued membership in the Warsaw Pact.
Obviously, in attacking the Albanian leadership, Khrushchev had more in mind than the expulsion of Albania from the Communist bloc. He wanted also to strike at its ally China and other potential dissidents. But how could he expect China to recant? Although it was in economic straits and needed Soviet assistance, China was also a great power and could not allow itself to be humiliated. Chou En-lai, quickly and firmly, contested Khrushchev's right to make a one-sided public denunciation of a member of the Communist bloc. He also insisted on the observance of the principle of consultation arid complete equality among members, thus questioning Moscow's leadership of the international Communist movement.
The Albanians, too, were swift to pass to the counter-offensive. Explaining why they had not been invited to the 22nd Congress in Moscow, Hoxha declared that the Albanian Party's words "would bring into the open the truth about Albanian-Soviet relations, would unmask his [Khrushchev's] anti- Marxist viewpoints and actions, would reject all his slanders and entirely unfounded accusations." It is possible that the Soviet Premier's personal hatred for Hoxha and Shehu was a factor in his miscalculation.
It is puzzling to see insignificant little Albania challenging the mighty Soviet Union. What is the secret of its strength? Is the régime capable of continued resistance?
The two strong men in Albania today are Hoxha and Shehu. Hoxha, who is in his mid-fifties, stems from a petty bourgeois family of southern Albania. He did graduate work in the natural sciences and later law in France and Belgium, but completed neither course. He is intelligent, pleasant in company, and good at telling stories, to which a slight stutter adds a certain charm. Molotov once described him to Stalin as "quite cultured, but you feel Western influence in his upbringing." Although flexible, he does not lack courage, which he showed early in the wartime resistance movement. Until then, he was unknown abroad and in Albania was a second-rank leader in Korçë's Communist group. It was the Party that built him up and popularized his name.
Shehu, who is five years younger than Hoxha, comes from a religious family background; his father was a sheikh. Educated in military schools in Albania and Italy, he left for Spain while still an officer in the Albanian army. There he became commander of one of the battalions of the international Garibaldi Brigade. Upon his return to Albania in 1942, he joined the Communist underground and became known as the bravest and most feared guerrilla leader. In 1945-46 he attended the "Voroshilov Military Academy" in Moscow and soon after was appointed Chief of Staff of the Albanian army. Dismissed from that position in February 1948, reportedly because of his opposition to a demand by Tito for the stationing of two Jugoslav divisions on Albanian territory, he came under Xoxe's eye. Shehu, who favors radical solutions, is a capable but ruthless person.
Between Hoxha and Shehu there was a sharp rivalry in the early 1950s, but common danger forced them to patch up their differences and join forces. By gradual purges in the Party and army, facilitated by the developing conflict with the Soviet Union, they succeeded in acquiring a strong grip over both.
The territory of Albania has been coveted by its neighbors for so long that the Albanian people have grown suspicious of all of them,, The present régime has often exploited this popular feeling in order to strengthen its position. For example, in the spring of 1960, when Sophocles Venizelos wrote in the Athens papers that Khrushchev was going to speak to Hoxha about improving conditions of the Greek minority in southern Albania, he gave Hoxha another reason for not attending the Bucharest Conference that year. Before World War II this Greek minority amounted to approximately 35,000 and Greece has always used it as a reason to claim the southern part of Albania, which it calls Northern Epirus.
Albania's geographic isolation from the Soviet bloc, which in the past was a drawback, has now become an advantage. As none of the satellite countries borders on Albania, the U.S.S.R. is at a disadvantage in undertaking direct or indirect action against it. But Albania's greatest strength, of course, lies in her alliance with China, since the Soviet Union has to take into account China's reaction to any contemplated step.
On the other hand, the Tirana régime is confronted with serious dangers. Albania has never been a self-sufficient country, and for years was sustained by the economic aid of the Soviet Union and its satellites. True, China has come to its assistance but, so far, not on the scale to which it had become accustomed. There are unfinished projects which the Chinese cannot complete because of lack of specialized personnel. Unemployment is likely to ensue. Moreover, Albania's trade was almost entirely with the Soviet bloc; now it must look for new markets. Some may be found in Italy, with which a trade agreement for approximately $8,000,000 was signed December 6, 1961, about two months after Khrushchev's attack on the Albanian leadership.
For the moment there appears to be no fear of a direct attack by neighbors. Much as Tito detests the Albanian leaders, it is doubtful that he could be induced by Khrushchev to invade Albania, under any pretext-even a "war of liberation." However, Jugoslavia might find a more subtle way of overthrowing Hoxha's régime: by infiltrating Albanian bands formed in Jugoslavia. The Jugoslav autonomous region of Kosmet (Kosovo and Metohija), bordering on Albania, is preponderantly inhabited by Albanians. The Secretary of the Communist Party in that region has been for many years Dusan Mugosa, a Jugoslav who was one of the founders of the Albanian Communist Party and the military boss of the Albanian Communist guerrilla bands during the whole period of the war. He has been continuously gathering intelligence on the situation in Albania and has not lost touch with Albanian fugitives in Jugoslavia. As a collaborator he can call on General Panajot Plaku, a former Under-Secretary of Defense, who fled Albania in 1956.
Yet if the plan to infiltrate Albania were carried out, it might have serious consequences. Albania, if not yet expelled from the Warsaw Treaty, would certainly appeal to the other members to respect their obligations, thus putting the treaty to a test. What would Red China's reaction be? Would it send military support to Albania? Would it appeal to the world Communist movement?
To expect that a way out of the Albanian impasse might be found by an understanding between the Soviet Union and China for a "reformed leadership" (according to Khrushchev's wishes) is unrealistic. In fact, the main defect of the Moscow Resolution of 81 Communist Parties is that it is not so much a compromise as only the semblance of a compromise. A general Sino-Soviet compromise on Albania would presuppose a closeness of views between the two powers; but what we witness today is a deepening of the split.