Social Structure under Communist Rule
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
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
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
Data as of April 1992