Washington’s Missing China Strategy
To Counter Beijing, the Biden Administration Needs to Decide What It Wants
ONE of the most serious threats to world peace today is the pressure of the Soviet Union on Jugoslavia. This will be examined here from the angle of Albania, which although the smallest Balkan state and smallest Soviet satellite, holds a much more important place in the plans of the Kremlin than is generally realized. The reasons for this are two. First, the Soviets aspire to make the Balkans a passageway to the Mediterranean, and in Albania they have already secured a small window opening in that direction. Secondly, they foresee the possible usefulness of Albania as a propaganda weapon in confusing and dividing their opponents.
There is a widespread belief, particularly in the West, that Soviet expansion is simply the result of a Soviet desire to spread Communism. There could be no greater mistake, as we Jugoslavs have particular cause to know. Soviet aims are exclusively imperialist. Besides being expansionist geographically, the Soviet Union is hungry for economic exploitation. Those were the motives which dictated the Soviet attitude toward Jugoslavia during and after the war; and they are the motives which dictate the Soviet attitude in the Albanian question today.
Not merely in Jugoslavia, but among hundreds of millions of people the world over, Communism or Socialism is the expression of the desire to achieve a position of equality--national, political and economic--alongside more developed countries. This is a noble aim, which started in the modern world as far back as Thomas More. It has nothing to do with the Soviet Union's ambitions to extend its dominion as a Great Power.[i]
What, then, is in fact the driving force behind the present Soviet expansionism? Is it different from the Russian expansionism of Tsarist days? The old Russian imperialism, of course, was set in motion by a social order composed of feudalism and capitalism. This was destroyed by the October Revolution. There followed an attempt to develop a Socialist order, which should logically have meant a curtailment of the expansionist drive.
What Moscow has achieved, however, is not a Socialist order but a system of state capitalism. With the inception of the first Five Year Plan for Soviet industrialization, Socialist growth stagnated in the Soviet Union owing to the lack of Socialist democracy. A new bureaucratic ruling caste sprang up, composed of members of the party machine and the chinovnik (state official) system. A great gulf opened between the people and this new caste, whose standard of living, expressed as income, could be as much as 40 times higher than that of the common man. In other words, the worker was now mulcted of surplus value to the advantage of a new ruling caste instead of the old bourgeoisie.
In the foreign field the same structural features of a state capitalist order led inevitably to the resumption of imperialism. In due course, the U.S.S.R. has assumed the old Tsarist imperialist traditions, with the one difference that, just as at home the basis has changed from primitive feudal capitalism to a highly developed system of state capitalism, so the new imperialist expansion which results is proving tougher and much more vigorous. However, as neither forms nor methods have changed essentially, the Balkan nations should study carefully the history of earlier Russian expansion in their part of Europe. Albania is a case in point.
Albania, though small, is a country of considerable wealth. It also has always been, and still remains, a country of great strategic importance, for it dominates the approaches to the Adriatic. The well-protected natural harbor of Valona, with its important island fortress of Saseno jutting deeply into the Ionian Sea, is only 42 miles from Otranto, on the Italian side of the Adriatic. On the land side, too, Albania occupies a key position in the mountainous Balkan peninsula. The Romans, driving into the Balkans, struck through Albania. The Via Appia crossed Italy from Rome to Brindisi; and on the eastern side of the Adriatic, the great Via Egnatia, beginning at Durazzo, penetrated the Balkans, leading through the very heart of the peninsula towards Salonika and Constantinople. By this route, not only Thessaly, Thrace and Macedonia, but also the Danubian plains, lay open to the Roman legions. By the same route the Normans moved from southern Italy under Robert Guiscard in the eleventh century; and after the Fourth Crusade, Albania served Venice as a base for Balkan expansion.
In the modern era, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Albania became a bone of contention among many contestants. When Catherine II of Russia and Joseph II of Austria conferred about their respective spoils from the decaying Ottoman Empire they were able to agree on many points; but the fate of Albania remained among the open questions. After Russia's victory over the Turks she presented to the world, in 1878, the abortive treaty of San Stefano. Clause Six proposed to establish a Greater Bulgaria, plainly a Russian puppet, which would have included a large region of south Albania, extending as far west as Mt. Tomori and as far south as Mt. Grammos. This would have brought Bulgaria--and through Bulgaria, Russia--to within an inch of the Adriatic. But Russia's westward expansion threatened the British "life line" through the Mediterranean. The Congress of Berlin resulted. On the eve of this Congress, Britain was quite prepared to hand Albania over to Italy in order to prevent Russia's emergence, virtually in the heart of the Mediterranean. For Italy since the 'eighties had set herself up as a Great Power and also was staking out a claim to Albania.
The Congress of Berlin ended, as we know, without handing over Albania to Italy. Nevertheless, after Italy had experienced momentary setbacks in Abyssinia, at the close of the nineteenth century, her eyes again turned seriously in the same direction. Her aspirations toward Albania clashed with those of Austria-Hungary, however, and the Triple Alliance was continuously rent with disagreements over this question. As a result, Tsarist Russia and Italy came somewhat closer together. Also, the Germanic Drang nach Osten through the Sandzhak and down the Vardar valley had begun, and this cut across both the Russian expansion westward and the Italian aspirations eastward. A plan was discussed to link the Adriatic and the Danube by a railway, to run east and north from the Albanian port of San Giovanni di Medua; and at one time the Banca d'Italia actually was ready to advance 48,000,000 lire for this project.
However, 1912 set Russia and Italy again at loggerheads. Russia sponsored negotiations between Serbia and Bulgaria for a joint war against Turkey and agreed to support the division of Albania by these two countries in the event that they were victorious. At the same time Greece appeared as another aspirant for part of south Albania. As a countermove, Austria-Hungary proposed an "independent" Albania, under a German princeling. Reluctantly Italy agreed.
One of the very few voices raised against all this bargaining with Albania's future came from the progressives of Serbia, who vigorously condemned proposals which ran counter to the centuries-long libertarian traditions of the Jugoslav peoples. "Much as the concern of the Austrian property-owners for the right of the Balkan peoples to self-determination is a pitiless mockery of the nationality principle," wrote the leader of the Serbian workers' movement at that time, "the Serbian bourgeoisie by proclaiming its own policy of conquest has for the first time stripped from the face of the Serbian nation the veil of an oppressed people fighting for liberation. . . . For this reason, social democracy, as the only resolute adversary of these policies of conquest, which are the root cause of all these ills, cannot let pass without comment this moment in which our property-owners have reached out for the lands and freedom of other people, and in which men who once were heralds of national liberation have now unfurled the banner of national oppression, and the interests of capital have swallowed up the interests of the people."[ii]
However, much heavier stakes were soon to be played in the game of Balkan power politics. Though Tsarist Russia purportedly had entered the world war to protect the little "brother nation" of Serbia, she readily joined the other Great Powers--by the secret Treaty of London in 1915--in purchasing Italy's participation by promising her not merely parts of Jugoslav lands but control of Albania. The provisions of the London Treaty concerning Albania (Italian annexation of strategic Valona, Italian protection for the "independence" of the rest of Albania, etc.) opened the way for Italian imperialism in the Balkans.
In the critical days preceding the Second World War, Albania served Italy not only as a gate of entry to the Balkans but also as a springboard for the projected Italian drive into the Middle East. On April 7, 1939, Count Ciano proclaimed King Victor Emmanuel "King of Italy and Albania and Emperor of Abyssinia." Eighteen months later Italian armies deployed from Albania, first against Greece and later against Jugoslavia, striking from the west at the same time that the Germans struck from the northeast and east from their bases in Rumania and Bulgaria.
Today it would be a mistake--and a dangerous one--to view Russian moves in the Balkans as merely a revival of Tsarist aims and methods. For there are certain important differences between the old military-feudal imperialism of Tsarist Russia and the new expansionism of the Soviet Union. The old Russian Empire did at least set itself aims which were relatively limited, e.g. it made specific demands in Manchuria in the Far East, in Persia in the Middle East and to control the Dardanelles in the Balkans. The new Russian expansionism, however, has no limits. In fact, the aim of the all-embracing state capitalism of the Soviet Union is total world domination.
Specifically, then, Soviet domination of Albania does not constitute an end in itself. Moscow is not interested in using that country merely to help attain the old Tsarist goals in the Balkans, of which the chief seems to have been the protection of the Russian passage to the Mediterranean through the Dardanelles. In Soviet plans today, Albania is intended to be a springboard for the complete penetration of the Balkans in a general strategy of expansion toward the Mediterranean and beyond. To the realization of such plans there is in the Balkans one important obstacle--independent Jugoslavia.
Although there is no direct land contact between the Soviet Union and Albania, the southern tongue of Jugoslavia which separates Bulgaria from Albania is only about 125 miles wide at the narrowest point. If contact were established across this neck Greece would be cut off from Jugoslavia; all sea lines between Jugoslavia and the Mediterranean would be severed; and Trieste, at the head of the Adriatic, would be blocked. In short, Russia would be able to strike from Albania by sea and by air against vital points throughout the Mediterranean.
One of the specialities of Tsarist foreign policy was to accuse prospective victims of committing the very crimes which were being prepared against them. Today the Soviet Union avails itself of Tsarist experience and improves upon it. Thus when it launched the attack on Jugoslavia through the Cominform resolution of June 28, 1948, it made out that Albania was to be the victim of precisely the sort of domination and exploitation from Jugoslavia which, in truth, the Soviet Union intended itself to impose on Jugoslavia. In order to condition world public opinion, Moscow gave the signal to the pro-Soviet elements in Albania, led by Mehmet Shehu, a "grey eminence" behind Prime Minister Enver Hoxha, to seize power and eliminate all independent-minded members of the Albanian Communist Party. Then when the time came Hoxha and Shehu accused Jugoslavia of having hampered Albania's efforts at freedom during the war and of having exploited her economically afterwards.
Much space would be required to give even in outline the real story of Jugoslav-Albanian relations. On the Jugoslav attitude toward Albania during the war I shall give two quotations only, the first from Moscow, the other from Enver Hoxha himself. "The military-political successes of the Albanian people," wrote the Moscow Izvestia on January 11, 1948, "would have been impossible without the decisive aid given them by the National Liberation Army of Jugoslavia, and without the defeat of the main Hitlerite forces in the Balkans by units of the heroic Soviet Army." Prime Minister Enver Hoxha, in a letter to Josip-Broz Tito, of September 23, 1944, said: "The correct and clear line of the heroic Communist Party of Jugoslavia served us not merely as a beacon of anti-Fascism, lighting up our hard and arduous road, but at the same time provided us with a firm support in the work we had only just begun."
So much for the war years. On the economic side I shall simply compare Soviet economic relations with the satellite nations and Jugoslavia's economic relations with Albania.
It was no small surprise for the East European countries, Jugoslavia included, when they found after the war that the Soviet Union put its economic dealings with them on a purely capitalistic basis, that is to say, regulating them by prices on the world market. This meant that those countries where the means of production were less developed--in other words, where the productivity of labor was smaller--were to be exploited by the more developed countries which traded with them. This general form of exploitation was supplemented by special forms suited to particular conditions in particular countries.
The most characteristic of these special methods of extortion has been for the Soviets to export capital to a given country and then to extract profit from it by means of joint stock companies. Soviet propaganda made out these joint stock companies to be a "new type of economic partnership, in principle essentially different from capitalist forms." But in actual experience the East European countries, including both Jugoslavia and Albania, found that instead they were instruments of savage economic exploitation, reminiscent of capitalist methods of accumulation. An old-fashioned capitalist who decided to invest in an economically backward country would normally introduce there the basic means of production--machines for the factories, and so forth. The Soviet method is to take over "enemy" industrial property, for example in Rumania, and count this as the Soviet capital contribution to the new joint stock companies. These companies are exempted even from the local nationalization laws. As a result, the property "rights" of foreign capital by which the Rumanian and other East European proletariat were formerly exploited have merely changed hands and become the property of the Soviet Union. The exploitative function has not been abated.
Again, the Soviet Union has refused to permit these mixed companies to pay ground rent. For example, when Russian delegates were negotiating a mixed Soviet-Jugoslav shipbuilding company, they refused to agree that the ground rent of the site on which the shipyards were to be built was to be part of the Jugoslav capital participation. Jugoslavia was strong enough to resist such exploitation. Rumania and other nations were not.
By way of comparison, let us examine Albanian-Jugoslav economic relations. Though Jugoslavia was herself economically underdeveloped, she still was more developed than Albania and therefore could have exploited that country if world prices had been made the basis of trade, as they were in Soviet dealings with the East European countries. Instead, Jugoslavia bought from Albania at prices ruling on the Albanian home market, and sold to her at domestic Jugoslav prices, that is to say, she refused to take advantage of the wide difference in the two countries' economic development. As Albania lacked trading facilities, Jugoslavia undertook to sell her copper for her on the world market. The world price at the time was 22,000 Albanian leks per ton, but the price of copper in Albania, owing to the primitive methods of extraction used there and the poor quality of Albanian ore, was 81,688 leks per ton. The gap between the two prices was paid to Albania out of special credits which Jugoslavia granted in 1947 and again in 1948.
The Albanian-Jugoslav joint stock companies which were set up to develop the productive capacity of Albania provide another instance of the considerate treatment given this small and underdeveloped country by Jugoslavia, so different from the Soviet Union's treatment of its satellites. Thus during the two years in which the companies were in existence (1947-1948), Jugoslavia drew no profit whatsoever from them--although entitled to by treaty--and moreover paid ground rent on the company properties. Though in economic difficulties herself in the hard postwar years, Jugoslavia went further, and in 1947 granted a credit in goods amounting to 2 billion leks (approximately $40,000,000) to help Albania get on her feet.
This benevolent policy led Abdul Kelezi, Deputy Minister of Finance, to say in the Albanian Parliament on July 17, 1947: "The present invaluable aid given by the Jugoslav people to the value of 2 billion leks represents 56.73 percent of our budget. . . . The brotherly Jugoslav people are today aiding us without any self-interest, with the sole aim of raising our economy and ensuring our people a better life, since the road of both our nations is the glorious road to Socialism."[iii]
After the change in relations between Jugoslavia and Albania, following the Cominform resolution of 1948, the opinion was expressed even in quarters most friendly to Albania that Jugoslavia had been too idealistic, indeed almost naïve, in dealings with her neighbor. That was a superficial view. We consider that our relations with Albania in those years constitute the very first example in the chequered history of the war-ravaged Balkans of real equality of treatment between two Balkan nations. We like to think, too, that its importance transcends the Balkans, showing how a developed country can coöperate with one less developed without exploitation.
A final word on the bearing of the Albanian problem on what is the most important factor of all in the international situation today, that is, the effort to maintain peace. The Soviet Union has compromised itself seriously, especially during the past three years, by acting as an aggressive Power. In 1948 the U.S.S.R. openly revealed aggressive intentions toward a Socialist country, Jugoslavia, and experienced a shattering defeat. Last year Korea provided another indication of the road which the Moscow rulers have taken in the international field.
Since the people of the world today are extremely sensitive regarding everything which involves peace or war, and have shown themselves ready to resist aggression from any quarter whatsoever, the Soviet Union has made frantic efforts to hide its aggressive intentions and is busily organizing peace congresses and peace petitions. At the same time, the Soviet propaganda machine charges that Jugoslavia nourishes aggressive intentions toward the neighboring Soviet satellites, and especially toward Albania. Strangely--and significantly, I fear--these Soviet charges against Jugoslavia regarding Albania are now being echoed in certain sections of the Italian press which otherwise are quite remote from the Cominform.
Another duty of the Soviet propaganda machine is, while accusing Jugoslavia of having designs on Albania, to reëxcite the old appetites of other nations to take a bite into that country. The men in the Kremlin hope that in the resulting confusion and dissension they may be able to swallow everything and everybody concerned. In this connection it is significant that with an air of mysterious innocence the Soviet Government has failed to conclude with Albania one of those pacts of friendship and mutual aid which it has given all its other satellites. Why has it omitted the weakest of them all? Why, too, has Enver Hoxha's Communist Party failed so far to qualify for membership in the Cominform? The exiled Albanian feudalists and their patrons in Italy may know the answer, or may be duped into thinking they know it. But in the long run these Soviet projects will turn out to have been highly myopic. To defeat them it is only necessary that thinking persons everywhere realize that any move which might endanger Albania, no matter what its form, would provide the Soviet Government with a golden opportunity to justify a new wave of aggressions on a broad front.
Meanwhile it can be stated categorically that Jugoslavia, heavily engaged as she is in a struggle both to preserve her own independence and to safeguard peace in this part of Europe, stands firmly by the principle of equality among nations, and especially equality between big and small nations. It is her fixed and determined policy that every nation--and specifically one of the smallest, Albania--has the right to its own free and independent national existence and its own way of life.
[i] One slogan of Soviet expansionism which recalls the Pan-Slavism of Tsarist days has been, especially in the immediate postwar period, "the Brotherhood of the Slavs." Congresses were held and an All-Slav organization was set up. The concept of "the Brotherhood of the Slavs" served until the brother Slavs had been enslaved, since which nothing has been heard of the All-Slav organization. Its chief organizer, the Russian General Gondurov, is at present touring Europe, speaking enthusiastically at peace congresses.
[ii] Dimitrije Tucovich, "Serbia and Albania." Belgrade, 1914.
[iii] Another credit of 700,000,000 leks' worth of equipment and food was granted by Jugoslavia for the Albanian army. In addition, Jugoslavia made direct gifts to Albania. In 1946, 20,000 tons of maize and wheat were given as famine relief, and when Albania was hit by disastrous floods in October 1946, 57,000,000 dinars were collected in Jugoslavia and dispatched as first aid to the victims.