Case Studies

The Erosion of Private Property in Albania, 1943-1961

Dr. Çelo Hoxha, Head of the Institute of Studies on Crimes and Consequences of Communism in Albania, 22. December 2023

This article delves into the erosion of private property in Albania by communists during their takeover of the country and the early years of their four-and-a-half decades long totalitarian dictatorship (1943-1961).

The Albanian communist leaders were well aware that the population was resistant to the idea of communism and its underlying principles. They had publicly assured the people that once in power, private property and individual enterprises  would remain untouched, the organization of labor would remain unchanged, and there would be no radical alterations to social life.

However, when they seized power on November 28, 1944, they showed little regard for their public promises, which had been made freely and repeatedly. The initial laws they enacted aimed at overturning the economic system, and within a decade and a half private property was completely abolished, free business initiatives disappeared, work relationships underwent profound transformations, and social life experienced radical changes.

In this transformation, the hypocrisy of the communists became evident. After gaining power, they displayed arrogance rather than adhering to their promises. They trampled on their own constitution as brutally as they violated private property, individual initiatives, and more.

Albanian leader Enver Hoxha alongside Communist Partisan troops. PHOTO: Wikipedia Commons.

The First Phase of the Assault on Private Property (1943 – 1944)

The first phase of this assault on private property occurred between September 9, 1943, and November 28, 1944. Moscow, which had been under attack by Nazi Germany since June 22, 1941 directed the Comintern (the Communist International, an organisation of worldwide communist parties which included Albania) to take concrete steps to support the Soviet Union. The goal was to undermine the enemy's rear and demoralize its forces. The directives in individual telegrams to communist party leaders were specific and had a military tone. They called for the immediate organization of partisan units and urgent partisan attacks on the enemy's rear.

In Albania, while there were sympathizers of communism, there was no communist party until it was created under the directives of the Comintern and with the support of Yugoslav communists on November 8, 1941. Partisan units were formed a year later.

Under the influence of ideology imported from Moscow and leadership from the Yugoslav Communist Party, the Albanian Communist Party (ACP) remained foreign to the Albanian population. As a result, partisan units were scarce, isolated in rural areas with limited resources, and survived through pillaging and recruiting criminals.

Recruitment of criminals was carried out under the guidance of the highest leadership of the ACP.

The first serious partisan formation (a brigade) was established with logistical support from British missions in Albania on August 15, 1943. On September 9, 1943, the General National Liberation Council (one of the names behind which the ACP operated) approved a regulation for securing support for partisan forces. This regulation marked the beginning of the communists' war against property.

In principle, the regulation provided three ways to secure supplies for partisan forces: aid, requisition, and sequestration. In practice, only one method was used: force.

The regulation called for the National Liberation Councils, in close cooperation with partisan army commands, to prepare the population for sacrifices in support of the partisan war. In other words, the population was threatened into compliance with the partisan army. The regulation allowed National Liberation Councils, upon the request of partisan commands, to requisition property from citizens. Requisition meant the taking of goods with a promise of payment after the war, although there is no evidence that requisitions were ever paid.

Sequestration was aimed at "enemies of the people." The determination of who was an enemy of the people and who was not was made by the National Liberation Councils. The concept of "enemy of the people" was used against all opponents of communism, real or potential.

The regulation had no legal authority, even if it was followed. To understand the communists' relationship with property and the regulation (law), consider the following example: On November 8, 1943, Enver Hoxha, political secretary of the ACP and political commissioner of the partisan army, wrote to another communist that his people had asked Ibrahim Biçaku to give them some corn. Biçaku was one of the wealthiest individuals in Albania. He had refused to supply it, and they took it by force. To grasp the extent of the abuse, one must consider that Hoxha was the most powerful Albanian in the ACP hierarchy. In the ACP, only the two representatives of the Yugoslav Communist Party and Tito, the leader of the Yugoslav Communist Party, held more power than him.

Requisition and sequestration have historically been, and continue to be, legal concepts that define specific actions in relation to property carried out by entities with legal authority. In the absence of legal authority, the partisan requisition and sequestration amounted to unlawful expropriation of citizens' property.

The Second Phase of the Assault on Private Property (1944 – 1946)

With the communist takeover of institutions, property confiscation was executed in the name of the state. Despite the institutional façade, the new regime could not conceal the fundamentally predatory nature of its actions. The initial laws that were passed targeted the possessions that a common thief would covet in a supermarket: liquid cash, precious metals, and consumer goods.

Within a month, the communist regime enacted laws for the requisition of currency in circulation by traders, laws for placing industries, commercial enterprises, foreign trade, precious metals, laws for the confiscation of private property belonging to political refugees, Italian and German citizens, and more.

The communists did not tax, they took everything. Through the law on the extraordinary taxation of war profits (January 13, 1945), the regime collected approximately 92% of the total profits estimated to have been earned by traders during the period of April 7, 1939, to November 28, 1944.

The regime's economic laws aimed to weaken the economic positions of traders, industrialists, landowners, and property owners of all kinds to the maximum extent. Allowing these capital assets to remain in private hands was seen as a potential source of financing for activities against the new political establishment.

As the institutions fell under communist control, the actions of the communists pushed them further into criminal territory. Historically, thieves sought to improve their economic status but did not intend to destroy the existing economic system. In contrast to their criminal counterparts, the communists went beyond that limit.

The Third Phase of the Assault on Private Property (1946 – 1961)

The eradication of private property in industry and commerce followed a linear, gradual process: the law would be passed, specialists of the "state" would take control, and the end of private property was just a matter of days.

In agriculture, this same process occurred in two phases and took 15 years. The first phase entailed expropriation of large and medium landowners, and the second phase focused on anyone who owned land.

The expropriation of land in the first phase was termed agrarian reform, while the second phase was called collectivization.

Collectivization commenced on April 20, 1946. Three years later, the regime was dissatisfied with the pace of cooperative establishment. To invigorate the process, the regime turned to the issue of kulaks. Kulaks were legal landowners who possessed land according to the agrarian reform law of 1945. However, the regime needed justifications to instill fear in peasants and compel them to join cooperatives through intimidation tactics.

The regime's propaganda identified kulaks as hostile entities against the communist regime, and the security apparatus mercilessly targeted them, employing all means—execution, imprisonment, internment, and, in every case, property confiscation. According to official propaganda, kulaks were staunch opponents of collectivization, the modernization of agriculture, the well-being of peasants—essentially, they were against everything. In reality, the fight against kulaks served to convey a message to the broader peasant population, and it did not disappoint; within a decade, all peasants handed over their land to the regime.

In February 1961, the Labour Party of Albania (LPA, former ACP) declared the successful completion of collectivization. The full realization of collectivization meant that all peasants were dispossessed and fell under complete state control. In other words, collectivization represented collective surrender to the regime.

At the Fourth Congress of the LPA (February 1961), the top leaders of the communist regime declared that in Albania, there were now only two types of property: state property and cooperative property. Private property had disappeared as an economic practice and as a linguistic instrument of public speech.

The Albanian constitution continued to assert until 1976 that private property and private initiatives were guaranteed. However, after the total dispossession of the population, there was no one left with the courage to point out this irony.

Dr. Çelo Hoxha has been an employee of the Institute for the Study of the Crimes and Consequences of Communism in Albania (ISKK) since its establishment (2010). He has worked as a journalist and columnist for several newspapers, the crimes of communism have been a constant concern in his articles. He studied at the master's and doctoral level at the Institute of History, Academy of Albanological Studies, Tirana. His master's and doctoral theses were themed from the period of the communist regime in Albania. He is the author of several studies, many scientific articles, all on the topic of the history of the communist regime, and one of the leaders and authors of the 12 volume project, "Encyclopedia of Victims of Communist Terror", published by ISKK. His book "Crimes of the Communists during the War, 1941-45" (2014) has been one of the most debated study books in the post-communist period in Albania.


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