Social Structure under Communist Rule

Albania Table of Contents

Albania's general class structure at the time of the communist takeover in 1944 consisted of peasants and workers, who made up the lower class, and a small upper class. Representing over 80 percent of the total population, most peasants lived at no better than subsistence level. Nonagricultural workers numbered about 30,000 persons, most of whom worked in the mines and in the small handicraft industries. The upper class, whose capital was invested mostly in trade, commerce, and the Italian industrial concessions, comprised professional people and intellectuals, merchants with small and medium-sized enterprises, moneylenders, and well-to-do artisans. Industrialists also belonged to the upper class, although generally they owned very small industries and workshops.

The clergy of the major religious denominations did not form a distinct social group. Members of the higher clergy typically were upper-class intellectuals; income from the fairly extensive church estates and state subsidies provided them with a comfortable, but not luxurious living. The rank-and-file clerics, however, were of peasant origin, and most of their parishes were as impoverished as the peasant households they served.

A new social order was legally instituted in Albania with the adoption of the first communist constitution in March 1946, which created a "state of workers and laboring peasants" and abolished all ranks and privileges based on heredity (such as those enjoyed by tribal chiefs and the beys), position, wealth, or cultural standing. According to the constitution, all citizens were equal, regardless of nationality, race, or religion.

Communist spokesmen listed three principal social classes as prevalent in the early years of the regime: the working class, the laboring peasants, and the so-called exploiting class, that is, the landowners in the agricultural economy and the bourgeoisie in trade. The "exploiting class" was liquidated during the early stages of the regime. The bourgeoisie was destroyed by the nationalization of industry, transport, mines, and banks, as well as by the establishment of a state monopoly on foreign commerce and state control over internal trade. The feudal landlords disappeared with the application of the agrarian reforms of 1945-46. These steps were followed by a program of rapid industrialization, whose result was the creation of a substantial working class. A program of agricultural collectivization had as its stated goal the formation of a homogeneous peasant class. Eventually all individual farmers were collectivized, the artisan collectives were converted to state industrial enterprises, the number of private traders was reduced to a minimum, and members of the clergy who avoided imprisonment or execution were sent to work either in industrial plants or agricultural collectives.

Aside from the workers and peasants, the only group to which the Tiranė authorities continued to give special attention was the intelligentsia. Usually termed a layer or stratum of the new social order, the intelligentsia was considered by the communist regime to be a special social group because of the country's need for professional, technical, and cultural talent. To justify this special attention, ideologists often quoted Lenin to the effect that "the intelligentsia will remain a special stratum until the communist society reaches its highest development."

The communist regime, however, transformed the social composition of the intelligentsia. From 1944 to 1948, this transformation involved purging a number of Western-educated intellectuals, whom the regime deemed potentially dangerous, as well as some high-level communist intellectuals who were suspected of having anti-Yugoslav or pro-Western sentiments. The remaining intellectuals were "reeducated" and employed in training new personnel for work in industry, government service, and the party bureaucracy. As a rule, the subsequent generation of intellectuals, toed the communist party line. A notable exception was Albania's foremost writer, Ismail Kadare, who managed to walk a tightrope between conformity and dissent until his defection to France in 1990.

The theoretical egalitarian social order had little in common with the real class structure that existed in the country until 1991, when the communist party lost its monopoly on power. In fact, there existed different classes and gradations of rank and privilege, beginning with an upper class composed of the party elite, particularly Political Bureau (Politburo) and Central Committee members. In this category were also leaders of the state and mass organizations, and high-ranking officers of the military and internal security forces. Top party officials and their families received special medical care, exclusive housing in a protected compound in Tiranė, free food and liquor, vacation allowances, entertainment subsidies, and many other perquisites. At government expense, they purchased stylish French and Italian clothing, cosmetics, appliances, and vacation homes. An inquiry conducted by Albania's newly formed coalition government in 1991 concluded that "the former party leadership created for itself every opportunity to acquire privileges and enrich itself while the people were deceived by bogus and cynical propaganda about a struggle against privileges, luxury, and inequality."

Just below the Politburo and the Central Committee were the vast party and government bureaucracies, professional people and intellectuals, and managers of state industrial and agricultural enterprises. The top party elite was distinct from the lower party and state functionaries in terms of privileges, influence, authority, and responsibility. The group of lower party and state officials were bound together by the economic privileges and prestige that went with their positions and membership in, or sympathy for, the Albanian Party of Labor, as the communist party was called from 1948 to 1991. These officials all benefited from their association with the regime and enjoyed educational and economic advantages denied the rest of the population. Below this group were the rank-and-file party members, whose leadership role was constitutionally guaranteed. Aside from the prestige they enjoyed as party members, however, their privileges and economic benefits did not differ much from those of the next lower class in the social structure, the workers.

Constituting an estimated 47 percent of the total population in 1985, the working class (which, according to the official classification, included rural dwellers employed by state farms) was created after the communist seizure of power and composed almost wholly of peasants. Although under constant pressure to increase productivity, exceed production norms, and perform "volunteer" labor, workers were entitled to an annual two-week paid vacation. State-subsidized rest houses for this purpose were established at various locations across the country.

The regime's policy of complete agricultural collectivization deprived peasants of their landholdings, except for tiny personal plots, and required them to work on collective farms. Despite government attempts to equalize the wages of peasants and workers, peasant income remained approximately at subsistence level. One or two members of a peasant family would often engage in rural nonagricultural occupations, such as mining or forestry, that offered superior wages and benefits.

Soon after adoption of the constitution of 1946, new laws were implemented regulating marriage and divorce. Marriages had to be contracted before an official of the local People's Council. After 1967, religious wedding ceremonies were forbidden. The minimum age for marriage was set at sixteen for women and eighteen for men. Because marriage was now supposed to be based on the full equality of both spouses, the concept of the father as head of the family, recognized by precommunist civil law and considered essential to Albanian family life, was officially deprived of legitimacy. A husband and wife now had the legal right to choose their own residence and professions. However, marriage to foreigners was prohibited except with the permission of the government.

The new divorce laws were designed to facilitate proceedings. The separation of spouses was made grounds for divorce, and in such cases a court could grant a divorce without considering related facts or the causes of the separation. Either spouse could ask for a divorce on the basis of incompatibility of character, continued misunderstandings, irreconcilable hostility, or for any other reason that disrupted marital relations to the point where cohabitation had become intolerable. Certain crimes committed by the spouse, especially so-called crimes against the state and crimes involving moral turpitude, were also recognized as grounds for divorce. In divorce cases, custody of children was granted to the parent "with better moral and political conditions for the children's proper education."

About 27,400 marriages were contracted in 1987, about 8.9 per 1,000 inhabitants. There were more than 2,500 divorces in the same year, or about 0.8 per 1,000 inhabitants.

Article 41 of the 1976 constitution guaranteed women equal rights with men "in work, pay, holidays, social security, education, in all sociopolitical activity, as well as in the family." About 33 percent of the party's active members in 1988 were women, as well as over 40 percent of those elected to the people's councils. Nearly one-half of the country's students were women. Statistics showed that women accounted for 47 percent of the work force.

Despite progress during the communist regime, significant inequalities remained. In 1990 only one full member of the ruling Politburo was a woman. In agriculture the predominantly female work force generally had male supervisors. Women were underrepresented in certain professions, particularly engineering. Furthermore, until 1991, abortions were illegal and women were encouraged to have "as many children as possible," in addition to working outside the home. Some traditional practices, such as the presentation of dowries and arranged marriages, reportedly were condoned by the authorities.

Throughout its existence, the communist regime persisted in its campaign against the patriarchal family system. In the mountainous north, where vestiges of traditional tribal structures were particularly prevalent, the local patriarchs were detained and the property of their clans was appropriated. Patriarchalism, according to party propaganda, was the most dangerous internal challenge to Albanian society.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress