Consolidation of Power and Initial Reforms

Consolidation of Power and Initial Reforms

A tiny collection of militant communists moved quickly after World War II to subdue all potential political enemies in Albania, break the country's landowners and minuscule middle class, and isolate Albania from the noncommunist world. By early 1945, the communists had liquidated, discredited, or driven into exile most of the country's interwar elite. The internal affairs minister, Koci Xoxe, a pro-Yugoslav erstwhile tinsmith, presided over the trial and the execution of thousands of opposition politicians, clan chiefs, and members of former Albanian governments who were condemned as "war criminals." Thousands of their family members were imprisoned for years in work camps and jails and later exiled for decades to miserable state farms built on reclaimed marshlands. The communists' consolidation of control also produced a shift in political power in Albania from the northern Gegs to the southern Tosks. Most communist leaders were middle-class Tosks, and the party drew most of its recruits from Tosk-inhabited areas, while the Gegs, with their centuries-old tradition of opposing authority, distrusted the new Albanian rulers and their alien Marxist doctrines.

In December 1945, Albanians elected a new People's Assembly, but only candidates from the Democratic Front (previously the National Liberation Movement then the National Liberation Front), the renamed NLM, appeared on the electoral lists, and the communists used propaganda and terror tactics to gag the opposition. Official ballot tallies showed that 92 percent of the electorate voted and that 93 percent of the voters chose the Democratic Front ticket. The assembly convened in January 1946, annulled the monarchy, and transformed Albania into a "people's republic." After months of angry debate, the assembly adopted a constitution that mirrored the Yugoslav and Soviet constitutions. Then in the spring, the assembly members chose a new government. Hoxha, the Albanian Communist Party's first secretary, became prime minister, foreign minister, defense minister, and the army's commander in chief. Xoxe remained both internal affairs minister and the party's organizational secretary. In late 1945 and early 1946, Xoxe and other party hard-liners purged moderates who had pressed for close contacts with the West, a modicum of political pluralism, and a delay in the introduction of strict communist economic measures until Albania's economy had more time to develop. Hoxha remained in control despite the fact that he had once advocated restoring relations with Italy and even allowing Albanians to study in Italy.

The communists also undertook economic measures to expand their power. In December 1944, the provisional government adopted laws allowing the state to regulate foreign and domestic trade, commercial enterprises, and the few industries the country possessed. The laws sanctioned confiscation of property belonging to political exiles and "enemies of the people." The state also expropriated all German- and Italian-owned property, nationalized transportation enterprises, and canceled all concessions granted by previous Albanian governments to foreign companies.

The government took major steps to introduce a Stalinist-style centrally planned economy in 1946. It nationalized all industries, transformed foreign trade into a government monopoly, brought almost all domestic trade under state control, and banned land sales and transfers. Planners at the newly founded Economic Planning Commission emphasized industrial development, and in 1947 the government introduced the Soviet cost-accounting system.

In August 1945, the provisional government adopted the first sweeping agricultural reforms in Albania's history. The country's 100 largest landowners, who controlled close to a third of Albania's arable land, had frustrated all agricultural reform proposals before the war. The communists' reforms were aimed at squeezing large landowners out of business, winning peasant support, and increasing farm output to avert famine. The government annulled outstanding agricultural debts, granted peasants access to inexpensive water for irrigation, and nationalized forest and pastureland. Under the Agrarian Reform Law, which redistributed about half of Albania's arable land, the government confiscated property belonging to absentee landlords and people not dependent on agriculture for a living. The few peasants with agricultural machinery were permitted to keep up to forty hectares of land; the landholdings of religious institutions and peasants without agricultural machinery were limited to twenty hectares; and landless peasants and peasants with tiny landholdings were given up to five hectares, although they had to pay nominal compensation. Thus tiny farmsteads replaced large private estates across Albania. By mid-1946 Albanian peasants were cultivating more land and producing higher corn and wheat yields than ever before.


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