Wishing rebellion red

Albania’s unfolding crisis has generated a lot of excited speculation. Some on the left have become particularly animated, imagining that we are witnessing a ‘red uprising’ daily on our TV screens. This desire has been reflected in the letters page of the Weekly Worker (March 20).

Comrade Phil Sharpe of the Trotskyist Unity Group likened the current meltdown in Albania to Romania five years ago, “where the miners’ protests against attacks on their living conditions led to a dual power situation”. For Phil, the revolt “represents a real basis to oppose capitalist restoration”.

If anything, comrade John Stone from the Liaison Committee of Militants for a Revolutionary Communist International gets even more carried away. Rather floridly, he classifies the armed rebellion in southern Albania as a “subversion against the anti-communists: a spontaneous anti-anti-communist revolution”. For comrade Stone, the Albanians are

“using the classical proletarian insurrection methods: strikes, mass demonstrations, disarming the police and the army, assaulting barracks and creating local councils and militias” (my emphasis).

Frankly, the views expressed above are mere wishful thinking, masquerading as political theory. To be more exact, comrades Sharpe and Stone are indulging in a typically Trotskyist worship of spontaneity. Comrade Stone may talk about “proletarian” methods - but he is clearly only thinking sociologically, not politically. Even though our Trotskyist comrades may find it hard to swallow, transfixed as they are by the vicarious and graphic images that spring forth from their TV screens, the ‘Salvation Committees’ which have sprung up across the south, and which might start creeping northwards one day, are not motivated or inspired by any proletarian programme. This is the key strategic point for communists, not the throwing of Molotov cocktails or the firing of machine gun rounds into the air.

Recent developments in Albania demonstrate the non-proletarian nature of the uprising. The demands of the Salvation Committees have becoming narrower and narrower, not more ambitious and bolder. The rebels’ aim is limited purely to the removal of president Berisha from office, and the hope they might be “given a voice” in running the country. Proletarian revolution is not on the agenda, comrades, as much as you would like it to be.

It has to be said that Socialist Worker’s analysis of the situation in Albania is a lot more level-headed and sober, when compared to the feverish tone of comrades Stone and Sharpe. In a discussion on spontaneous insurrections, it observes:

“When a mass of people take to the streets for the first time, they have no way of distinguishing honest and able leaders who seek to develop an understanding of how to reshape society, from corrupt or unstable demagogues, who trade off old prejudices ... That is also why sometimes groups on the fringe can begin to gain a hearing for racist or nationalist slogans that misdirect people’s anger in a dangerous direction” (March 22).

While the Albanian rebels are clearly not motivated by any sort of racist - or even particularly nationalist - ideology, it is undeniable nevertheless that all manner of backward and reactionary ideas will find fertile soil to grow in. The history of all the spontaneous revolts in this region point in this direction. In reality, even though the current disturbances in Albania have some of the formal aspects of a revolutionary situation, they have more of the characteristics of a societal meltdown - which is not necessarily to the betterment of the working class or the good of socialism.

Comrade Stone’s desperate seeking for a ‘red uprising’ leads him to accept official/government statements on face value, which is clearly a mistake. Thus, the comrade writes:

“It is the first European mass, armed, general mobilisation which is officially being labelled as led by red terrorists, the far left and communists ... The rebels are using red flags and are under attack for being far left” (my emphasis).

But, comrade, it does not mean that they are “far left” - does it? Given the particular, concrete history of that region - and Albania especially - it is only to be expected that government propaganda would label opposition as “reds” and “communists”. The truth is somewhat different however.

Comrade Sharpe’s analogy with Romania is yet another exercise in Trotskyist myth-making - and one which bourgeois opinion in general is quite happy to collude with. The ‘anti-Ceaușescu uprising’ had more of a character of a military coup than a spontaneous mass workers’ insurrection. It was planned in advance by the military, and almost certainly given the thumbs up by Gorbachev, with the express aim of ‘surgically’ removing Ceaușescu from the regime - while preserving the actual regime itself. This is more or less what happened, with prominent figures from the old regime still in power today. Therefore, there was no possibility of proletarian revolution - not that there was an embryonic revolution which reached a natural “limit” and could therefore go no further, as comrade Sharpe seems to believe.

We need to realise that spontaneous insurrections and protests, which are of course inevitable, do not provide the answer: there is no magical short cut to proletarian revolution and socialism. To achieve socialism, revolutionary consciousness and organisation is a necessity, not an add-on extra or luxury. This should be ABC for revolutionaries who call themselves Leninists or communists. Unfortunately, comrade Stone of the LCMRCI fails to realise this. Instead, he wants to believe that the events in Albania are the “first signal that spontaneous insurrections could be the answer to many years of market experiments”.

Some people appear destined never to learn. During 1989-91, the comrade Stones of the day were also telling us that the spontaneous revolts in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe “could be the answer” to many years of ‘official communist’ repression.

As we know, it is easy to be wise after the event. But to be wise as the event happens, let alone before, is something else altogether. To those grounded in years of Trotskyist dogma, the truth is a constantly unsettling and disturbing beast.

Eddie Ford