A Cultural Revolution poster depicting Mao and Hoxha
On December 10, 1961, the Stalinist government of Albania confirmed that the Soviet Union had severed diplomatic relations, closing its embassy and withdrawing all military, technical and economic assistance, purportedly over Albania’s “dogmatism.”
Khrushchev’s move had little to do with Albania per se and still less with political differences. What had been a longstanding feud between two Stalinist regimes in the Balkans—Enver Hoxha’s Albania and Marshal Josip Tito’s Yugoslavia—was seized on by the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China in a far more significant struggle over the conflicting aims of the rival national bureaucracies of the two Stalinist giants.
These conflicts centered on competition for influence over Third World nationalist movements, which both Moscow and Beijing hoped to manipulate for concessions from the imperialist powers, the USSR’s cutting off of trade and economic aide during and after Mao’s disastrous crash industrialization program called the Great Leap Forward in the late 1950s, and the USSR’s cultivation of military and economic ties with China’s chief rival, India.
As relations between the USSR and Mao’s China deteriorated, the Chinese donned the mantle of the defenders of Stalinist orthodoxy and the legacy of Stalin himself. On this basis, the Chinese, joined by the Albanians, sharply criticized the rapprochement that Khrushchev had engineered with Yugoslavia after Stalin’s death.
In retaliation, Moscow focused its denunciations on Albania. Matters came to a head at the 22nd Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in October 1961, when Khrushchev openly attacked Hoxha and Chinese Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai openly rebuked Khrushchev in response. Zhou then left the Congress early, but not before laying a wreath at the Stalin-Lenin Mausoleum in Red Square bearing the inscription, “Dedicated to the great Marxist, Comrade Stalin.” Within days, Khrushchev ordered Stalin’s body removed.