The CPB (ML) & the New Albania Society
For most of the Seventies the Communist Party of Britain (ML) held the stewardship for friendship and solidarity with the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania. There were many strands to the relationship.
There were the set piece visits to Albania as guests at trade union and Party congresses, and the calendar of activity reflected important celebrations in Albanian revolutionary history as the CPB (ML) held public meetings and carried reports on Albania in the pages of The Worker that, typically were one-sided celebratory view of the Albanian experience.
There were three visits to Albania in 1969: Jim Farrell and another CPB (ML) industrial comrade were guest of the Albanian trade unions in the May; Ted Roycraft, CPB (ML) Secretariat member, led a six member delegation (that included Danny Ryan of Bristol CPB (ML) in the October; and in November, Chairman Birch was in Tirana for the 25th Anniversary celebrations of the founding of Socialist Albania.
During that visit, during a conversation with Enver Hoxha, the Albanian party leader was quoted as praising The Worker as providing “thoughtful and helpful analysis and commentary on the struggle of the working class in Britain.”
Such visits were taken as physical demonstrations of fraternal links, they provided the opportunity for exchange of views and first hand observations of a socialist country.
“A tour of Albania is in many ways a miniature of China. Everywhere there are Chinese machinery, equipment and technical experts. This is real international Marxist‐Leninist cooperation and solidarity. Mao’s name is greatly revered by all. His pictures and quotations are found in every factory along with pictures of Enver Hoxha and other giants of history.“ The Worker June 1969 quoted in https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.hightide/high-tide.pdf
The Worker October 1969 CPB(ML) DELEGATION TO ALBANIA
SIX MEMBERS of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) are at present in Albania at the invitation of the Central Committee of the Albanian Party of Labour.
All members of the delegation are workers and they will also be meeting representatives of the Albanian Trade Unions.
Their visit coincides with preparations all over the country for the celebration of the 25thAnniversary of the liberation of Albania from fascist occupation. The Albanian Working people are not only successfully fulfilling plan targets but have undertaken special pledges of endeavour in all fields to meet with a balance sheet of great socialist achievements the nation-wide celebrations of this Anniversary on November 29th.
Not only on the industrial front have workers surpassed the estimated level of production in the metallurgical and chemical enterprises and the supply of building materials but they have also achieved great success & in the food industries and have nearly completed the electrification of the countryside a whole year ahead of schedule.
The Worker December 1970 GREETINGS TO ALBANIA
Greetings on the 26th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of Albania. The Secretariat of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist- Leninist) sends its warmest fraternal greetings to the Party of Labour of Albania in celebration or 26 years of socialist advance.
We hail the steadfast and determined struggle of the Albanian Party under the brilliant leadership of Comrade Enver Hoxha which has kept the banner or socialism flying high despite every kind or provocation by imperialism and Soviet revisionism. Surrounded by US and Russian imperialist bases, threatened by nuclear missiles, the people and Party have refused to be intimidated, refused to compromise, refused to deviate from the hard revolutionary road.
Today on the eve of the 26th anniversary of the founding of the socialist state the Albanian workers and peasants, under the banner of Marxism-Leninism, have scored tremendous victories in industry and agriculture.
Not material incentives but socialist emulation, not dependence on experts but the initiative and self-reliance or thousands or workers have led to the transformation of a backward, semi-colonial economy into a modern balanced socialist economy. All branches or industry and agriculture are booming and targets of the 4th Plan have already been fulfilled and over-fulfilled.
Most important or all have been the tremendous strides taken in the formation of the new socialist man and woman. We who live in the midst of capitalism’s decadence salute the creation of a new society and a new morality not based on the exploitation of workers but on their liberation. Every socialist victory in Albania encourages us as we start on the long and arduous road to smash British imperialism.
Long live the People’s Republic or Albania!
Long live the revolutionary friendship of the Albanian and British working class!
January 1970 CPB (ML) Delegation Report of visit to Albania https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/uk.secondwave/cpb-albania.pdf
|The Worker, mid-June 1972||WORKERS’CONGRESS|
The Worker November 1971 CPB (ML) DELEGATION TO ALBANIA
The Worker, in what was to become an annual feature, carried a report that:
At the Invitation of the Albanian Party of Labour Reg Birch, Chairman of the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and another member of the Central Committee have gone lo Tirana to take part in the celebration of the Party of Labour’s 30th Anniversary and the convening of the Sixth Party Congress. They take with them the comradely greetings of the CPB (ML) and the fraternal good wishes of British workers.
See: 6TH CONGRESS OF THE PARTY LABOUR OF ALBANIA https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/worker-uk/12-71.pdf
The Worker No.21 November 1st 1973 A VISIT TO ALBANIA
Bellman Books, the public face of the CPB (ML) , organisational hub and meeting venue, provided an important outlet for English-language material from Albania.
The bookshop were subscription agents for Albanian English-Language magazine e.g. New Albania (‘beautifully illustrated bi-monthly magazine of socialist developments In Albania), and sold publications not stocked in mainstream book sellers
e.g. “ HISTORY OF THE PARTY OF LABOUR OF Albania . One volume edition in hard covers obtained nowhere else 70P (postage extra)”, and political propaganda such as the “Report on the Activity of the Central Committee of the Party of Labour of Albania, submitted to the Vlth Congress by Enver Hoxha”, along with material on the culture and social developments in the small Balkan nation.
Radio Tirana’s English language broadcasts were advertised in The Worker as a…..RADIO STATION FOR WORKERS IN BRITAIN The Worker SEPTEMBER 1969
NEW ALBANIAN SOCIETY
In March 1969, the newspaper of the CPB ML carried this article announcing the NEW ALBANIA SOCIETY, the officially recognised friendship and solidarity organisation in Britain, and advertised two meetings with talks from “recent visitors” to Albania. That contact with the country had a rarity as the country was regarded as one of the most “backward” under-developed countries of Europe, diplomatically isolated and closed off, inaccessible, a secretive, culturally different society regard like North Korea is presented in the popular media today.
‘The Worker’ April 1969 reported the first public meeting of the New Albanian Society on March 15 1969. Dorothy Birch, a teacher who visited Albania in the summer of 1968, “gave an interesting account of the country and its socialist development” accompanied by “interesting slides of many aspects of the country.” Chairman of the society was Professor Cyril Offord, F.R.S. (London University), its secretary Joanna Seymour of Westbourne Grove, London W 11.
Programmes of events were drawn up: typically as on June 13 1969: an illustrated talk on Albanian folk music at 155 Fortess Road. The British premiere of the film, ‘Triumph over Death’ was shown at Conway Hall on Friday October 31st 1969. The Society was to be a regular feature of Party life until the late 1970s. Regular meetings and talks at Bellman Bookshop, showing films under the auspices of the friendship organisation, New Albania Society e.g. JAN. 21st 1972 MEETING ON Albania AND Film SHOW
FIRST SHOWING IN BRITAIN
The premiere of the Albanian feature film: “TRIUMPH OVER DEATH”
Based on a true incident in the heroic liberation struggle of the Albanian people against Fascism.
Conway Hall, Rod Lion Square. WC1.
7.00 p.m; Friday October, 31st. 1969
A visitor to the country and leading CPB (ML) member, William Ash published Pickaxe and Rifle: The Story of the Albanian People in 1974.
Reports on the economic and social developments in Albania accentuated the positive and masked the low base from which the country was developing. The reportage was strong on solidarity and friendship, less so as an accurate portrayal of the country’s state e.g. ALBANIA: where people’s needs have priority (The Worker No.2 January 25th 1973) so when they state that rent for homes is only 3 per cent of an average worker’s wage, there are no statistical facts to indicate what level that income is, and how it might compare to other European countries.
One of the features of Albania today that never received a mention: the ubiquitous concrete mushrooms that populate modern Albania, built as part of a defensive strategy that saw huge investment in construction to defend the country against invasion. The UK legacy of WW2 pillboxes pales into insignificance.
The extent to which the political promotion of Albania distorted the actual reality of a developing nation was most evident in the 1976 pamphlet published by the CPB (ML) dominated New Albania Society entitled, Albania: The Most Successful Country in Europe .
The Worker September 1970 Albanian Handicrafts on Display
There will be an Albanian stand, displaying examples of their handicrafts, at the 18th International Handicraft Exhibition which opens on August 28th and continues till September 12th. These products of Peoples’ Albania which all the friends of Albania will want to see will be shown on stand 030.
Exhibition Hall Olympia
FILMS – PHOTOGRAPHS – MUSIC From PEOPLES ALBANIA
The only Socialist country in Europe, which has just celebrated 25 years of tremendous achievements in industry, agriculture, the arts and, most important of all, social relations in a true workers’ democracy.
Albania is our window onto the exciting world of socialism, where workers under the leadership of the Party of Labour, inspired by the great Marxist-Leninist, Enver Hoxha, are blazing the trail British workers will want to take.
From the 14th September till the first week in October
Every evening from 6 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m.
Feature Film – “Triumph Over Death”
Tues. 15th Sept., Fri. 25th Sept., 7.30 p.m. 3/6.
I 55 Fortess Road, Tufnell Park Tube Station, London NW5.
Organised by the Bellman Bookshop.
The Worker, July 1970 ALBANIA ABOLISHES INCOME TAX
From November 8th this year the Peoples Republic of Albania has decided to abolish the system of taxation, including insurance.
There will be no deductions from any workers’ pay packet!
Any British wage or salary earner who looks angrily at the difference between the figure at the beginning of his pay slip and the much smaller figure at the end, will be envious.
The Albanians are able to do this because of the steady increase in the national income, and the success of the workers in surpassing the targets of the fourth 5 year plan. This is an example of socialist planning in a country led by a Marxist Leninist party.
The Worker May 1971
The Worker, Nov 16th. 1972 (No17) ONE BIG CONSTRUCTION SITE
(Written by a young worker who spent his holiday in the People’s Republic of Albania)
To know about a socialist country from books and pictures is one thing, but actually to see socialism first hand is quite another experience.
Especially when that country, twenty–eight years ago, was the most backward in Europe, ruined economically by the war and retarded by age-old religious and superstitious beliefs .Today however, this tiny country, The People’s Republic of Albania, is forging ahead in the construction of socialism and rapidly rising the welfare of its people.
The tone of the country is set when you reach the border, having left Yugoslavia; the cultivated trees, the flower beds, and the new customs house being built. For it is the amount of building being done that strikes the visitor most. Factories, irrigation, canals, houses, railways and, something most important for the future of Albanian industry, a huge metallurgical works. These are some of the projects well under way. In 1969 the volume of construction work had increased seventy-nine times over that of 1938.
Agriculture is making speedy Progress also, with many new crops being cultivated. Even in the rugged mountains, areas are being cleared and olive and fruit trees planted. A most impressive sight is the formerly barren hillsides now terraced and ready for planting.
But to admire only the economic and technological progress is to see only half of the Albanian picture. With a socialist base, they have created a platform from which it is possible to fight against many of the ills that beset capitalist society, such as pollution, delinquency, alcohol and drug addiction, and crime. (Many crimes, from petty theft to murder, are virtually unknown,)
Albania is above all a healthy country, a country of the future, and most important of all a country for the workers. There are no wealthy business men living in big villas, rich property speculators or corrupt bureaucrats tying the system up in knots with red tape. With a Marxist-Leninist party as its vanguard, the working class is taking the lead and forging for itself a new type of society.
ALBANIA’S NATIONAL DAY Meeting Friday November 24th 1972
7.30 pm Central College Theatre, 16,Gordon St . W.C.1 off Euston Square.
The shift in international allegiance of Britain’s most prominent Maoists, the CPB (ML), occurred over a very short period of time. In 1976, the pending changes were signalled in Birch’s speech to the 7th Congress of the Party of Albania, he concluded,
“The test of a revolutionary working class in Europe today is in its understanding of the greatness and historic contribution to Marxism‐Leninism to revolution and socialism of the Albanian people. Just as in October 1917 and for all the years of the Bolshevik Revolution, the test of class understanding of Marxism was the attitude to the Bolshevik Revolution now the test is the attitude to Albania. Albania is not alone, nor are the workers of Europe ever without a champion and friend while there is Albania.”
New Albania Society, Albania, the most successful country in Europe (1976)
That Reg Birch had singled out the attitude towards Albania as the litmus test of marxist understanding was a clear sign of agreement with the PLA analysis of the international situation. The Worker of November 29th 1976 devoted half of its space to coverage of the PLA Congress, reproducing excerpts from Enver Hoxha’s criticism of the concept of’ three worlds’ . In an allusion to the foreign policy analysis of China, the 1976 Congress document says: “For our party there is but one world. The divisive force is class. The division in Britain: working class – capitalist class, the expropriated and the expropriator, the exploited and the exploiter.” This attacked the three‐world line before it was profitable or popular to do so. That support was made even more explicit with the front page Worker article. “A Single World Divided By Class” with its opening line:
All over the world the two class forces, the capitalist class and the working class, confront each other with their radically different: ways of life and thought: profits, exploitation and war on the one hand, production geared to people’s needs, freedom and peace on the other.
The Worker Jan.24th 1977
The CPB (ML) was not simply tailing behind the Albanian position, the 1976 Congress of the organisation had contained criticism that matched that of the Albanian party, and that agreement cemented the CPB (ML) alignment to Albania in her strained relations with China. The ’76 Congress document observed:
“The division of the world into 1, 2, 3 is artificial and mechanistic, and there are special dangers inherent within the so‐called developing countries and within the liberation struggles today; no true liberation can be achieved within this one world without the strongest development of marxist forces.”
Initial solidarity with Albania in its criticism of the “Three Worlds Theory” led to a re-assessment of China’s general political orientation, with The Worker describing “China’s Capitalist Chaos” by February 1979.
Throughout 1978, The CPB (ML) organised public meetings in support of Albania. At a meeting in Conway Hall (London) in October, Enver Hoxha was praised for leading the attack “against the anti‐communist theory of three worlds.”
The Worker No.35 October 12th 1978 p20.
The meeting, “Albania – beacon of Marxism‐Leninism”, promoted the view that, “the Albanians had been able to foresee, expose and survive the treachery of former allies in the struggle for socialism – first of all Yugoslavia at the end of the war, then Russia in the 1960s and now China.”
The Worker No.36 October 19th 1978 p4
The CPB (ML) stated at ‘Congress 1979’ had argued
“The line of ‘three worlds’ which never warranted the title of a theory, stands naked for what always was, a weak apology for China’s bid to attain the status of a world imperialist power.”….”Our Party was the first in the world to oppose it.”
However the relationship with Tirana waned. Reg Birch stated explicitly the deeply held belief within the CPB (ML) leadership in his 1978 May Day address at Conway Hall, London:
“You will not solve the problems of Britain by theories extracted from Peking or anywhere else. They will be solved solely by the will, the power of the British working class, its clarity and the guidance it receives from this party.”
The Worker May 11th 1978
The pride in, what Reg always referred to as the oldest working class in the world, degenerated into a very chauvinist stance that was impervious to learning from other organisation.
Throughout 1979 another shift had taken place in the perception of the party. The identification with , and its relationship with Albania cooled as there were noticeably less frequent reports about Albania in contrast to 1978 and there was no special reference to Albania in that year’s May Day edition of The Worker. The principal reason, expressed in fellow Party member, Will Podmore’s sympathetic biography of Reg Birch, was the conflicting attitude to organising in the working class in Britain.
Podmore notes that the 1979 Congress document “depicted the development in Britain of the two contending classes and the way that the working class had developed trade unions in order to survive. It appraised the organisational strengths and political weaknesses of our trade unions. It also upheld the class’s right, and duty, to work in our trade unions, and opposed suggestions from, sadly, the Party of Labor of Albania, that workers should walk away from their own organisations and form Red unions.”
Podmore, Will (2004) Reg Birch: engineer, trade unionist, communist. London: Bellman Books:166
Even though Reg Birch retired from the General Council of the TUC that year, neither him nor the CPB (ML) were going to idly accept such “slanders” directed against British trade unionists. The dominant line that had informed the CPB (ML)’s international allegiance reasserted itself:
“We can’t turn to a united international communist movement for aid, which is no great handicap really. We have to rely on our own resources in any case.”
The Worker December 21st 1978
The CPB (ML) reaffirmed its self‐reliance and its sturdy independence baulked at being little more than a political section of the Albanian friendship society; there were others who did accept the guidance from Tirana.
The CPB ML’s initial pro‐Albanian turn was echoed by the Communist Party of England (Marxist‐Leninist), once the most zealous proponents of “Mao Tse‐Tung Thought”, the organisation sought to prove it was critical of Maoism and the most vociferous opponent of Chinese “social imperialism”. Praise was now heaped upon Enver Hoxha and the Party of Labour of Albania, as “the foremost Party in the International Marxist‐ Leninist Communist Movement.” It joined in the condemnation of the “anti‐Marxist” Mao in support of the Albanian positions. The adoption of Tirana’s perspective led the Internationalists in Canada, Ireland and Britain to conclude that:
Mao Tsetung, whilst being a revolutionary democrat who led the Chinese people in tremendous advances in their struggle against imperialism and feudalism, was never a Marxist‐Leninist…”Mao Tsetung Thought” was a profoundly anti‐Marxist and revisionist trend” which denied the hegemonic; role of the proletariat in the revolutionary struggle, which substituted eclectics for dialectics, which promoted conciliation of the proletariat with the bourgeoisie and denied the basic character of our epoch.
Workers Weekly March 17, 1979
The CPE (ML) re-launched as the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) in 1979, relationship with the Party of Labor of Albania followed in the wake of the conversion of Hardial Bains, leader of the CPC (ML). The cooperation and unity of the two parties was strengthened with the visit in May 1980, a delegation of the RCPB (ML) at the invitation of the Party of Labor of Albania.
Workers Weekly March 21,1981
The relevant adjustments had been made: the previous April, The Marxist‐Leninist Journal carried an issue length article, ‘Mao Zedong Thought: a profoundly anti‐Marxist theory’.
The Marxist‐Leninist Journal Vol. 1 No.3 April 1980
A month earlier, the RCPB (ML) had taken part in the Internationalist Rally held in Montreal on March 30th which celebrated the Tenth Anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of Canada (Marxist Leninist). May 1981 saw another delegation visit Albania; the previous month, on April 26th 1981 saw the founding of the Trade Union Revolutionary Opposition. The RCPB (ML) follow the “Albanian line” and set up organisations (consisting of a few party members) that purported to be revolutionary trade union opposition, whereas Reg and the Party he founded and shaped “held to the line of working in the trade unions, despite pressure from the Albanian leadership.”
Podmore, Will (2004) Reg Birch: engineer, trade unionist, communist. London: Bellman Books :167
Even though the political recognition went to 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, it was the Bland-led organisation that retained the friendship franchise.
“After the open break of the PLA with China, the Communist League approached the CPB (ML) suggesting discussions aimed at a unitary party as the CPB (ML) had denounced China and aligned themselves with Albania. In this letter to Reg Birch & the CC, the offer was made to dissolve the Communist League & enter the CPBML as individuals if they wanted to ensure there was ‘no factionalism’. The CPB (ML) did arrange meetings for a period to ‘assess ‘but after a very brief period denied admission. No reason was offered.”
Again, when the RCPB (ML) supported Albania in the late 1970s, it replaced the CPBML as Tirana’s recognised party:
“The Communist League also approached the RCPB (ML) but consistent with the general attitude of the Bains organisations ‐ an olympian indifference and rude silence greeted the approach. They did however then do something remarkable. They approached the Albanian Society and tried to ‘take it over”. This was unsuccessful as the open and non‐sectarian approach of the Albanian Society had been its feature and strength. The membership enjoyed the poetry and the discussion on art, and resisted the attempts to label these as ‘distracting bourgeois diversions’.”
Account by Hari Kumar for Alliance ML cited in High Tide
Archive pdf copies of The Worker , the newspaper of the Communist Party of Britain (M-L), can be found at https://www.marxists.org/history/erol/periodicals/worker-uk/index.html