Part One: the Albanian Society of Britain
Little is known of the Albania Society set up by the Communist Party of Great Britain in the1940’s. It ceased to be active once the Albanians began to criticise Soviet revisionism. That is an area of unexplored archives. From the memoirs of one prominent activist, Bill Bland had been consistent in the defence of the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania over more than three decades and the building of friendship, we can sketch out later friendship and solidarity with that beacon of socialism.*
Bill Bland (1916-2001), then a Communist Party member, played a key role in re-establishing the Albanian Society of Britain which had the aim of disseminating information about the history, culture, language of that country in Britain. In 1957 he managed to get hold of the old secretary who supplied a list of members, there were only two members left in it one of whom was Ivor Kenna, another character from the UK’s anti-revisionist fringe. Three years later he become secretary of the society, a post which he held almost continuously for 30 years until July 1990 when he resigned because of the restoration of capitalism in Albania. This society which gradually prospered over the years and grew to several hundred members, published a journal, ‘Albanian Life’. Bland edited the Society’s quarterly journal from his home in Ilford, Essex.
Albanian Life, #32 (1985, #2), 52 pages. Memorial issue following the death of Enver Hoxha.
When the Albanian party had come out fairly early against Soviet revisionism, Bland recalls that “I wrote to them congratulating the Party on the correction of its line on Soviet revisionism, and it’s from there the Central Committee invited me to visit Albania for the first time, in 1960.” On his first of many visits, Bland did the filming for the film ‘The Land of Eagles’ shown at the Edinburgh Film Festival.
Bill learnt the Albanian language which facilitated the translation of varying kinds of literary work which would otherwise have been unknown to the English reading world
“When I first became the secretary of the Albania Society back in the early sixties. My knowledge of languages is basically a visual one. I can translate the written stuff but if someone speaks to me I can’t understand what they are saying.”
He spoke and wrote in defence of the developments in that Balkan nation out of an ideological alignment to the Marxist-Leninist regime. Bland was, in addition, instrumental in the foundation of the MLOB which in 1975 was renamed the Communist League. An example of his political defense can be found here two articles by Bill Bland
Among the work Bill Bland wrote were an introduction to the country, Albania: World Bibliographical Series, Oxford 1988 and co-authored the self-published exploration, A Tangled Web: A History of Anglo-American Relations with Albania 1912-1955, Ilford 1986
Bill recalls the turmoil of the mid 1960s when he was in the leadership of the Marxist Leninist Organisation of Britain published a report which was anti-Mao Tse Tung.
“all the Maoists in the [Albania] Society who had previously been active and supportive began to demand that Bland go on the grounds that my organisation, to which I belonged, had published a report which was anti-Mao Tse Tung and therefore anti-Albanian, and therefore I shouldn’t any longer be allowed to be secretary of the Albanian Society. Instead they organised a faction within the society to get rid of Bland, and at the next AGM they organised a miniature cultural revolution in the society.
The chairman at that time was a Maoist called Berger, she wrote articles on wine, her husband was a leading member of the friendship society with China. They organised this sort of cultural revolution at the AGM whereby a lot of people who had never been members of the society before appeared and demanded the right to vote, and Berger as chairman ruled that they had the right to vote because we were a democratic society and therefore anyone who walked in off the street to vote should be allowed to vote. This was the masses speaking you see. Unfortunately they hadn’t got quite enough people to outvote the other members, and our members didn’t agree with this particular line that it was reasonable grounds for sacking me, and so they lost the vote and I got re-elected as secretary and the Maoists walked out.
They then formed another New Albanian Society which rapidly split into four or five other groups all of which rapidly disappeared”
In 1968 the Albanians recognised the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) run by Reg Birch, and the associated New Albania Society. The policy of the Party of Labour of Albania was for sole recognition so relations with the Bland-led Albanian Society were ended by the Albanians. “We carried on exactly as we had done, sending our literature to them regularly over the next six or seven years, until 1978, the Albanian Party changed its line and came out attacking Mao Tse Tung as being revisionist”
“Albania is a socialist country, we accept that, we don’t agree with their line on this particular point, but none the less we stand for solidarity and support for the Albanian Party of Labour and the Albanian regime, therefore we would continue to support Albania, whatever their attitude to us might be.”
Shortly after publishing the pamphlet Albania: The Most Successful Country in Europe New Albania Society (Dec. 1976), Birch broke off relations with Albania, dissolved the New Albania Society without even consulting its membership. “There were just notices in the post saying ‘as from today the society is dissolved’, full stop.”
Contact was re-established after ten years with the Albanians through the expert on folk music, Bert Loyd who made regular trips to Albania to record folk music, not in his capacity as president of the Albania Society but in a personal capacity. He raised the point that “it was rather ridiculous to have no Albania friendship society because there was no one except for ourselves”
Bland was invited to Paris to speak to the ambassador there, which led eventually to the invitation for a delegation from the Society to go to Albania. There was no mention of what had happened over the previous ten years, no self-criticism although as Bland explained, this was a “matter for the Albanians and not for us really” .
The Bland-led organisation retained the friendship franchise even though the political recognition went to the Communist Party of England (Marxist-Leninist) transformed into the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) when it denounced its Maoist past and embraced Albanian criticism of Mao and China as its own in the late 1970s .
* Quotes taken from an interview by JP and the obituary that appeared in William B. Bland – Obituary – Revolutionary Democracy and the 1976 MEMORANDUM of the Communist League – Following the Expulsion of Mike Baker & the split in the then Marxist-Leninist Organisation Britain.