Bashkohuni!

Speaking of Albania, there was a sad little item the other day in the Cedar Lounge Revolution‘s continuing series of ‘Left Archive’ posts, viz. Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist), Red Patriot, August 1982 (including Communiqué of the Central Committee of the CPI (M-L) on the Occasion of the Party’s 12th Anniversary).

The Albanian connection is that the CPI(M-L) had been Ireland’s main (only?) Mao-line Communist Party, with an international orientation towards two countries – the People’s Republic of China and Enver Hoxha’s Albania. Nixon’s visit to China in 1971 led the relationship to get a bit strained, with the Albanians accusing their ally of revisionist tendencies. The death of the Great Helmsman in 1976, followed by an official visit to Beijing by the arch-revisionist Tito, led to an outright break (Nixon was bad enough, but this…!). In reaction, Albania declared itself the only Marxist-Leninist state in the world and China, understandably, turned off the aid tap. The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) split in this period, with a pro-Albanian minority forming the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who we met earlier. (Update 3/7/10 Many thanks to running dog in comments, who pointed out that this is wrong in every particular. The Bainsite RCPB(M-L) (Wikipedia) was founded separately from Reg Birch’s CPB(M-L), initially as the CPE(M-L); the RCPB’s current Web site (yes, they’re still going) translates the name of the party into Welsh, which may explain the name change. The CPB(M-L) in fact went with Albania as well. See also running dog‘s second comment, which came in while I was typing this update(!).) The Communist Party of Ireland (Marxist-Leninist), on the other hand, also went with Albania, although not without having to expel a couple of dissident factions.

According to the poster on Cedar Lounge, the 1982 Red Patriot clarifies the self-perception of CPI(M-L) as it entered the 1980s. Or in other words, as it headed towards oblivion. Hoxha died in 1985, and then there was 1991; the Albanian Party of Labour rebadged itself as something innocuous involving the word ‘Socialist’ and lost power for good. A few years later the EU expanded eastwards and the word ‘Albanian’ started to appear in the press, generally accompanied by the word ‘immigrant’. It struck me that Albania under capitalism was causing more anxiety in Western Europe than it ever had under Communism, and I wrote this song:

Blind Boys of Albania

Now Mao Tse Tung was a very great man
And a very great man was he
He fought with his hands and he fought with a gun
And he built a proletarian democracy
Now Mao Tse Tung wrote a little red book
And he published it himself
They’re reading it still all round the world
In English, Dutch, Japanese and Welsh
You say what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you, I say it might just brain you
And if you want to find out what I’m talking about
Take a tip from the Blind Boys of Albania

Lee Harvey Oswald took the rap
On the day John Kennedy died
Jack Ruby shot Lee Oswald down
I don’t think anybody even cried
Harold Wilson fell to the KGB
When he let his standards slip
While Enver Hoxha kept the red flag flying
In the model proletarian dictatorship
You say you’re not a political animal, you don’t see what it could gain you
But you’ll reassess your ideological stance
When I’m down your street with the Blind Boys of Albania

PROLETARE TË TË GJITHE VENDEVE, BASHKOHUNI! BASHKOHUNI!
Workers of all nations, do the bashkohuni dance!
PROLETARE TË TË GJITHE VENDEVE, BASHKOHUNI! BASHKOHUNI!
Because if you don’t bashkohuni soon, you’ll never get a bashkohuni chance

Now Communism’s dead and buried
And capital’s doing just great
We’re friends with everyone around the world
Except for the ones that we love to hate
And poverty’s just a fashion statement
Everybody’s middle-class now
There’s a Lottery winner every day of the week
It could be you, it could be me, although I’m not sure how
So disregard this rant as the product of residual political mania
But check your windows and bolt your doors
Because they’re out there now – the Blind Boys of Albania.

(If you’re wondering about the title, I was at a gig, and I misread someone’s shirt from across the room.)

Here’s a link to me performing it.

Like (I suspect) many Leftists growing up during the Cold War(s), I used to take an intelligent interest in federal Yugoslavia, alongside a guilty fascination with Hoxha’s Albania – a weird cultish autarchy, self-proclaimed as the model dictatorship of the proletariat. In the 1970s the stories were legion – the restriction on visitors from the West to a handful a year, in a good year; the barber at the airport who would give any man who got there a compulsory crop if his hair was over his collar (and this was the 1970s, remember); the officials who angrily expelled James Cameron from the country for describing Albania as ‘isolated’ (why, Albania was allied to the biggest socialist nation in the world!). I remember a friend at school telling me he’d read in Keesing’s that the Albanian government had abolished private property; he thought that, as a self-professed Communist, I’d be pleased. (I’m glad to say I wasn’t.) A few years later, the same friend’s father was a tour guide on a trip to the Balkans which included a visit to Albania. (He taught himself Albanian for the purpose, and said it was a very unremarkable language – kind of watered-down Turkish with Slavic elements.) He persuaded the officials at the border, with some difficulty, to let him take a couple of copies of the one daily paper out with him. I was particularly struck by the fact that the masthead of this paper – which foreigners were discouraged from taking out of Albania, and which was in any case printed in a language spoken by almost nobody outside the country – carried a slogan recognisable as “Workers of all nations, unite!” (With hindsight, restricting the dissemination of the paper would make sense if the government had wanted to avoid inflaming the Kosovars – but that just makes it all the odder, as Hoxha’s government loathed federal Yugoslavia and would have greatly preferred the Kosovars inflamed.)

What the example of Albania brings home – and what I tried to bring out in that song – is a contrast between two understandings of Marxism, or rather of what Marxism gives you. Analytically, Marxism works. As a tool for understanding capitalism, Marxism is still unparallelled: it tells you how the world (under capitalism) tends to run and, to a large extent, what’s likely to happen next in any given situation. But there’s a stronger, almost magical version of this claim. In the Earthsea books, magic consists of calling things by their true name: if you say ‘fire’ in the Old Tongue, then there is fire. When you first discover Marxism, there’s a similar sense that at last you’re seeing the world as it really is – and that seeing the world as it is will give you the power to change it. (After all, how could you ever change the world if you didn’t see it as it really is?) This is the reason for those references to conspiracy theory in the second verse of the song: in the 1970s, being somebody who knew about Albania felt just as mysterious, just as lonely and frankly just as exalted as being somebody who knew about Kennedy. Either way you felt like an adept.

But there’s a real danger to this way of thinking, especially if you’re enterprising enough to make contact with fellow believers. If you, or your group, can see the world as it really is, why would you want to have anything to do with people who can’t – except to point them towards the way out of their illusory state in the hope that they’ll follow you? The logic of treating Marxism as perfected, revealed truth points towards isolation, as a way to maintain the purity you’ve achieved. (This goes for any body of ideas treated as perfected, revealed truth; in the nineteenth century Matthew Arnold saw something similar in high culture, and his advice for the beleaguered minority who got it as he did was to “keep apart, keep apart and preserve one’s soul alive”.) Given the overriding importance of cleaving to your beliefs, the choice between purity in isolation and pragmatic co-operation is no choice at all: the stakes are just too high. Thus the CPI(M-L) announces that

the CPI(M-L) has been able to overcome both the adverse effects of Maoism and the concerted attempts by revisionist cliques amongst the former leaders of the CPI(M-L) to subvert and liquidate our Party over the last three years or so, and turn CPI(M-L) into yet another revisionist Party, to wipe out once again the essential Marxist-Leninist headquarters of the Irish working class.

and denounces

the promotion of revisionist lines to conciliate and collaborate with the revisionists, social-democrats and opportunists, and in general, with the labour aristocracy controlling the trade unions, under the hoax that this was ‘repudiating the main error of CPI(M-L)’s past under the Maoist influence, ‘left sectarianism’

But, you might ask, on what grounds could the CPI(M-L) possibly badge itself as the Marxist-Leninist headquarters of the Irish working class? A bizarre claim, surely, particularly in the light of the accompanying turn away from trade union work.

The existence of the genuine Communist Party of the working class, based on Marxism-Leninism and proletarian internationalism, is the most crucial subjective factor in developing the conditions for revolution and ensuring that this revolution, when it comes, is carried through to a successful conclusion, and is not aborted or sold out half way.

The greatest achievement of the party to date is… building the party. The task facing the party in the current period is… building the party.

The word ‘subjective’ is doing a lot of work here. Returning to the analytical Marxist perspective I referred to above, you could argue that under capitalism the working class is objectively strong – everything depends on it, after all – but subjectively weak, in that it’s generally unable to act on its own account or formulate its own goals. Things look different when you take the revealed-truth approach to Marxism (or to Mao Zedong Thought, for that matter, although for the CPI(M-L) in 1981 that was rather a sensitive subject (“Our Party denounced the origins of Chinese revisionism in the anti-Marxist theory of ‘Mao Zedong Thought’ in September 1979”)). The CPI(M-L) might have been objectively weak – it certainly couldn’t bring many workplaces out – but subjectively it was as strong as you like: the Marxist-Leninist headquarters of the Irish working class, ready and waiting for the Irish working class to notice.

Having said that, the CPI(M-L) wasn’t entirely ridiculous, or entirely wrong. From the point of view of a dedicated Stalinist, the realisation that Mao’s China was no friend to the cause really wouldn’t entail dumping the cause itself. By their own lights the party majority made the right call, and I salute their dogged persistence. More to the point, the problem of class collaboration, or more broadly of working with social democrats and opportunists, is a real one. Go too far one way and you end up with the CPI(M-L), celebrating every break with a larger group, or with groups like the Red Army Fraction, for whom the entire West European working class was an aristocracy of labour which true revolutionaries could only oppose. Go too far the other way and you end up trampling on your old comrades and becoming a Baron.

I think the point here is about subjectivity – and not the jealously-guarded subjectivity of the party or the true believer, but the subjectivity of the class. This is the problematic of class composition which the Autonomists engaged with. Tronti:

Capitalist society has its laws of development: they have been formulated by economists, applied by governments and endured by the workers. But who will discover the laws of development of the working class? Capital has its history and its historians to write it. But who will write the history of the working class? … We ourselves have put capitalist development first, workers’ struggles second. This is wrong. We need to reverse the problem, change its sign, begin from first principles: and the first principle is the struggle of the working class.

The point, in other words, is not to nurture correct ideas but to contribute to the process whereby the class can start to develop its own ideas, which will be corrected in struggle. Debord was consistently furious at the suggestion that he was involved with something called “situationism”: to be a situationist was to be actively engaged in the construction of situations which would go beyond the point of no return, not to be a believer in some ideology. (And it’s true that we don’t usually talk about violinism or physicism, or rapism for that matter.) Similarly, perhaps, being a Marxist means something more than being a believer in Marxism. Or, perhaps, not so much something more as something quite different.

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7 Comments

  1. splinteredsunrise
    Posted 26 June 2010 at 18:24 | Permalink | Reply

    The connections of the CPI(M-L) are even more interesting than that. Their founder was an itinerant Indian academic, who eventually settled in Canada. The group over there, the CPC(M-L), still exists and is fairly active, while providing the hub for their minuscule international tendency. They’ve flirted a bit with the Koreans, but haven’t secured a franchise.

    Cornelius Cardew was in this group of course. The Irish group consisted to a large extent of British expats at TCD, although they remained quite strong in the TCD student body for a long time. I vaguely remember in the 1980s their general secretary jacked it all in to run a motorcycle shop.

    Plenty of ex-Maoists around, if you know where to look. Roy Greenslade springs to mind.

  2. Posted 29 June 2010 at 15:32 | Permalink | Reply

    Nicely put. And I liked ‘The Blind Boys of Albania’.

    By sheer coincidence, I just yesterday came across an interesting, well-researched, punchy blog written by a bloke who actually thinks, and among the things he thinks is that Hoxha more or less got it right: The Red Phoenix. It’s the official publication of the American Party of Labor, which I charitably assume consists of more than the aforementioned bloke. (There are quite a few posts that read like straight cribs from Soviet textbooks.)

  3. Posted 29 June 2010 at 18:48 | Permalink | Reply

    Moving the cursor on the map,I reckon there’s at least four of them.

  4. running dog
    Posted 2 July 2010 at 15:44 | Permalink | Reply

    “The Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) split in this period, with a pro-Albanian minority forming the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), who we met earlier”
    Wrong, the RCPB (M-L) never had anything to do with the CPB (M-L) (which in fact was and remained pro-Albanian, they had previously been the CPE (M-L)and were a Bainsite grouping like the CPI (M-L). Hope that clarifies things.

  5. Posted 2 July 2010 at 18:08 | Permalink | Reply

    Hardial Bains, what would the Left have done without him?

    Thanks for that – I’d simply assumed the RCPB(M-L) must have been a split from the CPB(ditto). Did Britain even have a China-line CP after the split with Albania?

  6. running dog
    Posted 3 July 2010 at 10:11 | Permalink | Reply

    “Did Britain even have a China-line CP after the split with Albania?”
    The Revolutionary Communist League, which published a newspaper called Class Struggle and a theoretical journal called October, continued at least until the early 1990s around a broadly pro-Chinese but not uncritical position. They were best known for publishing a pamphlet summarising their positions which took the form of a parody of Paul Foot’s Why You Should Be A Socialist. Their closest political links were with the Norwegian anti-revisionist movement I would say, although they had party to party links with ZANU PF in the 1970s

  7. splinteredsunrise
    Posted 4 July 2010 at 17:24 | Permalink | Reply

    I’ve met the Norwegian AKP, now dissolved into the Raudt movement, who are quite nice people and relatively sane. Their leadership display a sense of humour, which goes a long way if you’re an antirevisionist group.

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