Jeremy Corbyn’s conquest of the Labor leadership position and the advancement of Bernie Sanders in the Democrats’ race to the White House show that there can be still life in the atrophied bodies of the once-called social-democracies of the West. What’s interesting politically about these outsiders from the Left is their capacity to embody grass-root new social movement while using the remnants of organized trade-unionism and rank and file party members. But what are the odds that something similar might happen to the Albanian mainstream parties?
The current Albanian political system conforms to a 2+1 model, where the self-declared centre-left Socialist Party (PS) and center-right Democratic Party (PD) have been taking turns governing with the help of the minor Socialist Movement for Integration (LSI). The main parties sprang from the decomposition of the old Stalinist regime, while LSI has emerged from a split within PS in 2003, obviously not based on ideological cleavages or class-based representation of interests, but in a power struggle in terms of patronal and regional affiliation. On the other hand, it should be stressed that the three parties share a wide ideological common ground based on the necessity of pushing further the neoliberal restructuration of the economy, unconditional EU integration and a US-oriented foreign policy. Nonetheless, despite the ideological common ground, the parties tend to represent not so much social classes or strata as such, but remnants of the class structuration of the previous socialist-bureaucratic social formation, especially the peasants, the working class, the déclassé and the technical intelligentsia, where the PS and LSI tends to represent more ex-technical intelligentsia and a part of the peasants, while the PD has more appeal to the former working class and the déclassé. This deformation of political representation has led to an ideological class struggle based on the memory or fictional representation of the past rather than on the social forces that have emerged in the last two decades. So it is a commonplace for PS and PD to the same goals in terms of economic and social neoliberal reforms, but arguing bitterly on historical legacy of the struggle in World War Two, or the fate of social classes during state socialism.
In order to argue for the odds of a political resurrection of mainstream parties in Albania, we need to distinguish between core and peripheral societies in the capitalist world-economy. According to Immanuel Wallerstein the core countries, due to the appropriation of global surpluses and an economy based on intensive use organic composition of capital, both material and immaterial, are characterized by the numerical and/or the political domination of the middle classes and the success of socialist reformism in terms of welfare for the working class. This has meant, especially during the twentieth century, that capitalism, representative democracy, workers’ rights and partial participation have found a temporary common ground. This organizational and cultural inertia from the past can partly account for the reemergence of the new social movements in UK and US.
What is the social picture in a country like Albania, whose peripheral position is expressed in a deindustrialized economy, high unemployment, unqualified or semi-qualified working force in precarious conditions, a myriad of self-employment or family-based small enterprises, etc? One of the social effects is an overlapping of ghettoization and tribalization of the poor, who in the retreat of the social functions of a bankrupt state have built informal nets of social solidarity, although an anachronistic one. The plebeization of the overwhelming majority of the population has led to an ideological condition of indifference towards “big ideas” and a resignation that the predatory capitalism is unavoidable and the sole escape from it is either individual adventurism in crime or emigration. At the same time, we are witnessing the strengthening of forms of mythical identification such as ethno-nationalism, regionalism, religious political identification, strong-man and superpower fetishism, etc. – all forms that exclude genuine collective organization in terms of socio-economical belonging.
The quasi-absence of any independent and serious class organization, even in terms of reformist trade-unionism, has meant that the main parties have been immune from the popular impulse from within. In a country where there are no real trade unions (the Prime Minister Rama notorious invitation to foreign investors has been: “Come to Albania because we have no unions.”), what chances might a Jeremy Corbyn have to defeat the party establishment by gaining the support of the workers’ organizations? In ideological conditions, where even the signifier of the worker has been erased from public discourse, who can mobilize a grass-root movement calling the nameless?
On the other hand, the formal existence of primaries (where only registered party members are eligible to vote) in the elections of party leaders might open the way for a potential subversive candidate. In the absence of a genuine social organization inside or outside the mainstream parties, one may hope for a kind of popular uprising from the naïve believers in the rank and file members of these parties. But also this dim hope cannot go further owing to the cynicization of the rank and file, whose sole function is to be the transmission belt and the hopeful beneficiaries of a patronal system of micro-privilege distribution in terms of jobs in the public administration or private companies closely-knit to the governing parties.
What about the famous Entryism? Even this seems impossible due to the patronal depolitization of the mainstream parties. What are the odds of organizing the rank and file where any local party organization is atrophied and whose sole members are those in the waiting lists of being employed in the public administration? Even if there are discontents among the rank and file, this is expressed in the formal channels of the party bureaucracy, where one faction struggles for hegemony with others in terms of reproducing the patronal system.
On the other hand, in an ideological condition where ideas are looked upon as empty talk, if not “totalizing antechambers of future dystopic totalitarianisms”, the echo that big ideas might have inside the mainstream parties is mostly wishful thinking.
Nevertheless, to emphasize Marx, people don’t raise questions if the social possibilities of finding answers to them do not already exist in latent forms. So the necessity of a new anti-establishment political party or movement is gaining more and more ground in the general population, whose echo can be spotted even in the mainstream media. Of course, until now the hegemony in this new terrain still goes to the kind of middle-class new professionals of the NGO sector, who dream about a kind of abstract honest party which should gather all good-willing people to fight corruption, clientelism and promote genuine liberal democracy. Their cultural hegemony of this group, however, is fading away owing to their historical impotence to build anything other than Beautiful Souls’ lamentations. New forms of political conceptualization are emerging, especially among young people, students whose daily lives and perspectives look more and more like those of working people, especially the precarious ones. In today’s Albania, proletarianized and politicized students are a new socio-political phenomenon, which differs from the past revolutionary intelligentsias of the XIX century Russian type or the second part of the XX century in the West. Being obliged to work in order to afford studying and with a very dim prospect of being employed in the profession they belong to, students can play the part of “vanishing mediators” in catalyzing a broad social and political movement of the poor, which would comprise the different facets of the exploited, dominated and disenfranchised.
Article originally published in Serbo-Croatian in Bilten: a Regional Portal.