Constructing and Dismantling the New Man Utopia: The Cinematic Reflection of Albanian Communist and Post-communist Ontology

By Ridvan Peshkopia, Arben Imami, Lars Kristensen

In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, as Albanian communism grew increasingly paranoid, inefficient and isolated from the rest of the world, the state propaganda machine began to disseminate the regime’s vague notion of the Socialist New Man, or simply, the New Man. Since the concept was never theoretically elaborated by any of the theorists or ideologists of Albanian communism, it was viewed more as a collection of propagandistic clichés of the form of “the New Man is the ultimate goal of the Party [of Labor]” and “the constructing of the New Man is the Party’s monumental masterpiece” rather than any set of descriptive cues as to what that concept of the New Man actually represented. That policy was within the logic of a communist regime and of Marxist theory itself which, after failing to explain and predict the social future, turned to transforming social reality and the human condition in a way that it would fit the theory.

This leads to the question: what was the relationship of the New Man utopia with Albanian communist cinema? Moreover, has the post-socialist cinema inherited any feature from that tradition? Answering such questions helps to understand artistic, cultural and political developments that go beyond cinema. We argue that the Albanian communist cinema organically embraced the New Man utopia during the upbeat years of Albanian national-communism, reflecting thus not only the regime’s preference but also society’s enthusiasm and hope during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. As this enthusiasm and hope began to fade by the end of the 1970s and early 1980s, the Albanian cinema either turned to a schematic representation of the heroism of the past, mainly the partisan guerrilla war against Italians and Germans during the Second World War; or to the antiheroes of the day. With those heroes and antiheroes, the New Man either disappeared or took ambiguous traits to allow room for interpretation of whether it still was the socialist New Man or simply an antihero born of late socialist desperation and post-socialist depression. The social depression that plagued Albanian socialist society from the end of the 1970s to late 1980s, and continued after the collapse of communism in the early to the current days explains the lingering antiheroic characters in Albanian post-socialist cinema.

The Albanian communist regime was aware of the power of cinema to impact the construction of social reality and employed it as a means to draw the physical and moral image of the New Man. We develop our argument by focusing on the role of the Albanian communist cinema in shaping the utopian image of the New Man. Departing from some raw cues of Enver Hoxha, the Albanian communist dictator from the communist takeover in 1944 to his death in 1985, Albanian filmmakers moved slowly from Soviet stereotypes to homegrown characters combining the Albanian-style communist concept of man with folkloric characters. At the end of the 1980s—the last years of the communist regime and its cinema—Albanian filmmakers offered films where proletarian wisdom and moral superiority were not necessarily enshrined in commissars and Communist Party’s secretaries, but in young, idealist city professionals who engaged to address social problems in ways not previously seen on the cinema screen. The jury might be still out whether or not those (anti)heroes undermine the typical New Man concept, especially bearing in mind that in certain cases those characters resembled the typical antihero borrowed from the Western European cinema. By then, the typical enthusiasm that characterized the earlier version of the New Man was nowhere in sight in Albanian society, and the regime who survived Hoxha for almost six years had to settle for more down-to-earth, real-life characters rather than the upbeat New Man-like characters of the 1950s through the early 1980s. By the same token, Albanian cinema began to lose all those antiheroic characters that counterbalanced and gave meaning to the very existence of the schematic New Man. Stories included character templates like kulaks, leftovers from the overthrown classes, foreign enemies, homegrown enemies inspired by bourgeois ideology and lifestyle, or sometimes simply bourgeois concepts in the heads of “our” people. This last acted as an ominous reminder of the perpetual risk of proletarians being infected by bourgeois ideology—a clear warning that nobody was immune to the regime’s wrath against its potential contenders. That trend opened the way to a wide range of fatalistic characters of the post-socialist Albanian cinema as testimony to society’s eroding confidence, paralleled by an artistic trend that had lost contact with the country’s social developments.

As for the concept of the New Man as a utopian constellation, in order to dissect the configurations in Albanian cinema we need to draw on ideas of utopia in politics as well as in cinema. Our definition of the New Man follows earlier conceptual configuration by Peshkopia (2008: 76) and in the latter part of this essay we will investigate a match between New Man-like characters in the Albanian communist cinema and its theoretical conceptualization. However, first we shall deal with utopia and its meaning within socialist ideology.

Utopia: In Search of a Workable Definition
It is difficult to blame the layman for believing that utopia is an impossible state. The temptation of such a simplistic and erroneous definition can be found even in the work of philosophers and social scholars. Thomas More (1516 [1967]) forged the word from u-topos (no place, in ancient Greek), but also from eu-topia (good place, in ancient Greek). The original name version of the utopia island was Nusquama (nowhere, in Latin), but More constructed the double neologism utopia by reducing ouk (not) to u and topos (place), and added the location suffix, ia. In the end, however, More concludes that the island must be called Eutopia, though the pronunciation is the same for both words (Vieira 2010: 4-5). Therefore, by definition, utopia is simultaneously a good and an impossible place. This definition suggests a difference between utopia as a place and utopianism as a political activity to move society to that certain place.

Karl Mannheim (1979: 190) identifies utopia with ideology; he views utopia as a potential ideology, a social order that has yet to be achieved. However, other authors argue that not every ideology is utopian, especially if we take into account that the distinction between potentials and political actions might be biased, and does not allow Mannheim’s definition to distinguish between the state of potentials and political action undertaken to shape human society accordingly. Political science works with models (heuristic, normative, and prophetic), and utopia is a prophetic model (Shklar 1998: 187).[1] Therefore, whereas every utopianism is an unimplemented and not-yet implementable ideology, not every ideology represents an articulated utopianism.[2] Other authors suggest utopia as an aspiration to overcome all difficulties by the imagination of possible alternatives, which Ruyer (1950) famously described as the possible laterals. The concept of not-yet is inherently embedded in every utopian system of thought. It remains very important for the understanding of utopia as the principle of hope, since utopia presents the universe as an open system where nothing is static, and where everything is in a constant process of formation. Not-yet is in fact the driving force behind the idea of there being a possibility for the future (Vieira 2010: 6-8). Gray’s (2008: 28) claim that utopia as a social condition is impossible in any circumstances, real or imagined, leads to a conceptualization of utopia either as absolutely or contingently impossible.

Whereas the practical impossibility of a certain human condition rests logically within the concept of utopia, one should heed the epistemology of impossibility. If one jumps to the hasty conclusion based on the practical impossibility of today and overlooks claims that what looks impossible today might be possible in the future, such a conclusion flies on the face of the already established philosophical concept of falsifiability/verifiability. Therefore, it is crucial that we examine communist Albanian cinema and its functions in creating utopias to learn what might be possible in the future. For our purpose, utopia is a metaphysically impossible state; it is a state where we could not perceive, within a reasonable doubt, any means to measure and empirically test the stated claim. Probing into metaphysics would certainly fall within this impossibility. No one could claim that there is any technology available today that could manage to properly probe into the human nature and navigate between its dichotomies; nor could anyone accurately measure human ontological features and their alleged transformations. Therefore, according to this definition, utopia is any form of human engineering or effort to change human nature, and not simply human behavior. This definition comes as close as possible to Rothbard’s (2006: 380) claim that a utopian project is one that tries to change human nature, and that’s exactly why it is impossible. This definition includes both the absolute impossibility and its cause.

Although there is an ongoing academic debate whether Marx viewed human nature contingent on social relations or whether he implied some universal human traits that transcend social context where people live— Marx’s own confusion in such a matter should be credited as the source of this debate[3]—we will rely on the most commonly held view that Marx considered human nature as dialectic, reflecting the dynamic changes in their social conditions (Stone 1981: 5). Therefore, the Marxist project originally only concerned the transformation of social conditions where people live, by which Marx meant their economic conditions. The socialist science was thus a social Darwinist discipline with the purpose of establishing predictive models regarding when social conditions would lead to socialism, as opposed to French and English utopian socialism which saw the establishment of a socialist order occurring by convincing people of its desirability (Engels 1880 [1970]).[4] However, paradoxically, it was Engels himself who, by introducing the false consciousness concept, opened the way of Marxist human engineering by means of social construction as later applied by the Soviet Union and the rest of the communist world. Upon assuming power after the Bolshevik Revolution the new communist leaders realized that, left on their own, the newly transformed social conditions were not working, at least not in the direction hoped for by the Bolsheviks. Here dogmatic communists showed stunning pragmatism by abandoning their hopes that theory would work for them, and actively engaged in forging ideals for the people to strive towards what would fit the theory. The creation of the New Man was envisioned, and Trotsky became one of its first engineers. According to him, the New Man would be a socially constructed product because “the human species, the coagulated Homo sapiens, will once more enter into a state of radical transformation,” not only at his core, but he also “will become immeasurably stronger, wiser and subtler; his body will become more harmonized, his movements more rhythmic, his voice more musical” (Trotsky 1924 [2005]).

However, the construction of the New Man only became a Soviet official state policy under Stalin. Stalinism argued that the bourgeoisie had managed to corrupt man and change human consciousness. As such, the communist ambition of constructing the New Man became quintessential utopia. As a modification of its theoretical approach in the Soviet Union, it represented a scientific failure as it was an effort to manipulate facts, meaning human behavior, to conform to theory. In an effort to change human consciousness so it would fit human behavior—therefore conforming Marx’s socioeconomic determinism—the creation of the New Man represented an effort to socially change people by state coercion. Social genocide was at play, especially in the Stalin era—and later picked up by some of the most Stalinist countries in the world such as Albania, Cambodia and North Korea—with entire social categories deemed socially irrecoverable, and thus submitted to hard labor with extermination as the ultimate goal.
Utopia and/in Cinema: A View from Outside In
Many film scholars of different persuasions, from structuralists to cognitivists, have attempted to describe cinema’s dreamlike appearance as intricately linked to utopianism. Early on the film theorist Siegfried Kracauer noted that cinema’s utopia is associated with “an aesthetic of what does not quite fit [in]” (Robnik 2009: 48), by which he meant something that is startlingly different but at the same time reachable through the viewer’s imagination.[5] This way of seeing cinema through the concept of utopia was prevalent in early film theory, since it enabled a model for explaining how editing and projecting formed what appeared to be coherent worlds. Cinema projects a whole without ever actually being a whole and is thus a model of how utopia functions. Moreover, this utopian presence in cinema, this creation of a coherent but impossible place, has always represented a powerful seduction to use cinema for political purposes. As the Bolshevik revolution needed to create certain human behavior, cinema presented a way of demonstrating such a consciousness. It was in the cinema that the fragmented whole of the revolution could be coherently perceived by the masses. Often highlighted in connection with seeing cinema as a tool of political propaganda, Trotsky saw cinema’s ability to entertain the masses as an almost sacrilegious act (Gillespie 2000: 19). According to him,

the passion for the cinema is rooted in the desire for distraction, the desire to see something new and improbable, to laugh and to cry […]. The cinema satisfies these demands in a very direct, visual, picturesque and vital way […]. That is why the audience bears such a grateful love to the cinema, that inexhaustible fount of impressions and emotions (Trotsky 1923 [1994]: 95) (our emphasis).

It is thus not a coincidence that Trotsky sees the New Man as harmonious, rhythmic and musical-like, because this utopian New Man was cut directly from the projections in the halls of cinema. The Socialist New Man was cinematic and had from the outset a utopian characteristic. This is best captured in Andrzej Wajda’s Man of Marble (Człowiek z marmuru 1977), in which the myth about Birkut, the New Man and Stakhanovite worker of the Stalinist period in Poland, is revealed as false.

There are two ways in which utopia can be approached in cinema: the utopianism of the image and the transformation this utopianism can cause in the viewers. Firstly, cinema is entertainment and, as such, it can be argued as already utopian. On equal footing with music or painting, cinema can express what cannot be seen or heard. Secondly, articulating utopias can transform the way we think about the future, and therefore cinema has the didactic power to form the thoughts of the viewer—cinema can spark the viewer’s imagination. In the first approach, cinema is linked to utopianism through entertainment and, in particular, to the genre musicals. In his book Only Entertainment, Richard Dyer (2002: 20) asserts that entertainment provides alternatives and hopes, which “are stuff of utopia, the sense that things could be better, that something other than what is can be imagined and maybe realized,” but, warns Dyer his reader, "entertainment does not […] present models of utopian worlds.” Cinema’s utopianism is thus connected not to political programs but to Trotsky’s leisure time spent at nurturing passions and desires for “something new and improbable.

However, Dyer’s rejection of cinema as a programed or molded utopia can be referred back to Ernest Bloch, for whom the not-yet-consciousness was closer to a transcendental feeling (Siebers 2014: 48). Cinema triggers “motive forces” in the head of the viewer, which can then be verified for falsehood or truth (Engels 1880 [1970]). Thus cinema is not quite the same as an ideological false consciousness, but an imagination that works throughout cognitive perception.

While early cinema has always historically been attached to popular entertainment of vaudeville, circus or the seaside resort, the origin of cinema also has a strong connection to the avant-garde through making the impossible possible. This underlines the idea that cinema is a utopian art form, but an art form that functions more as ideology than entertainment, calling subjects into being and therefore making these subjects “devoted to a cause” (Pavsek 2013: 8). Thus, cinema’s utopianism is in the cinematic experience and beliefs, which are not intrinsic to a particular form or genre. This opens up cinema for being a quasi-religious utopia and, according to Trotsky, similar to a church ritual. These utopian avenues all deal with what and how cinema represents the world. Another cinematic genre that manages to incorporate both elements of avant-garde and entertainment is science fiction (Telotte 2001). The first Soviet science fiction production, Aelita by Iakov Protazanov (1924), is a good example of how the utopia of the New Man and the utopia of the new world can merged in the form of a popular entertainment, constructivist art expression, and how the newly established proletariat aims at instilling morally correct ideological meaning.[6]

skanderbeuThis leads to our second approach that cinematic utopias can potentially transform the minds of the viewer. This “transformative potential” of projecting utopian worlds emphasizes cinema’s ability to affect the audiences. This is slightly different in relation to the transcendental potential of cinema, as highlighted above, because it is not a feeling or sentiment that is immanent in the film. Cinema could project wishes and desires that are latent in the audiences. Hence cinema is not a divine force directing the utopian from the outside, but rather an approximation of the utopia onscreen and inside the viewer. It is a “motive force” that helps to create a certain consciousness in the viewer or an aesthetics of what does not quite fit in, as Kracauer noted above. Cinema’s utopia is here a feeling residing in the viewer. In the words of Richard Dyer (2002: 20), it “presents […] what utopia would feel like rather than how it would be organized.” What, then, are we to make of socialist realism, the doctrine implemented throughout Soviet Union and communist Eastern Europe? Is socialist realism more socialist utopia than organized realism? Certainly we find linkages between entertainment and socialist realism in that socialist realist film is often viewed as a descent into kitsch and bad taste.[7] The cinema of socialist realism is vulgar and in-your-face, appealing to the lowest possible denominator. Gone is the revolutionary formalism, constructivism and mass heroism and in comes the personified hero or heroine saving the day through bravery, courage and stealth. Often the New Man is singing in the process, which provides a direct connection to music—Bloch’s not-yet consciousness and cinematic musical. That is, the musical as containing choreographed energy, unlimited resources, climatic intensity and collective enjoyment as the everyday life is transcended and stylized into mythical proportions (Stam 1989: 92). Socialist Realism and its New Man are certainly within the paradigm of cinematic utopia, confirming the aesthetics of utopia as “what does not quite fit in” and as the “not yet being.” Socialist realism was real but at the same time its world was removed from the possibility of being real, therefore ascertaining its utopian form.

Tskenderbeuhe New Man in the Albanian Cinema
Let us now observe the role of cinema in both representing and contributing to utopia by focusing on one of the attempts at utopianism of the twentieth century, that is, the communist construction of the New Man in Albanian cinema. Specifically, this section aims at offering a survey of the cinematic representation of the Albanian New Man utopia, an enterprise that became central to the Albanian communist ideology during the almost half century long communist reign from the end of the Second World War to the end of the Cold War. A major goal is to try to disentangle the endogenous cause-and-effect relationship between cinema as both reflection and contributor to the social construction of the New Man. 

Albanian cinematic production began with the Soviet co-production Great Warrior Skanderbeg (Velikii voin Albanii Skanderbeg/Skënderbeu, 1953), directed by the Russian director Sergei Iutkevich, and written by Mikhail Papava. The history-based film with its passionate cast, massive cavalry battles and fortress sieges, panning shots capturing breathtaking landscapes from the camera of Evgenii Andrikanis—which emphasizes the greatness of the epoch—and the colorful costumes of Vasilii Kovrigin earned the film the International Prize at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival while its director won the Special Mention Award. The film brings to the screen the life and deeds of the Albanian medieval Prince George Kastriot-Skanderbeg [Gjergj Kastrioti-Skënderbeu], who led the 25 year-long Albanian resistance against the Ottoman invasion in the Balkans in the fifteenth century.

face to faceThe Great Warrior Skanderbeg’s success represented the culmination of certain historical, political and artistic circumstances. The film combined the maturity of the Soviet cinema and its director with a new crop of young Albanian cineastes and actors, and also took advantage both of a Soviet emphasis on nationalist pride and Albania’s need to foster its own brand of national-communism. But most importantly, the film brought into the Albanian society an already elaborated, even though schematic, model of the hero. It was raw material around which the communist propaganda machine could cocoon its New Man to finally have him emerge fully fledged in the form of Commander Mujo Bermema in Face to Face (Ballë për Ballë, Milkani and Çashku, 1979). While trying to stay true to history while remaining loyal to the Skanderbeg myth, the film takes its hero outside of his time and social status and displays him in the days of the film in the form of a popular hero, depicted as a revolutionary, resembling more a party commissar and popular leader than a medieval prince (Peshkopia, Kristensen and Logoreci 2012).[8] The Great Warrior Skanderbeg’s producers took great pains to reconcile a medieval prince with communism class consciousness.[9]

Ttanahe production of Albanian films by the state controlled New Albania Film Studio [Kinostudio Shqipëria e Re] began few years later, building on themes borrowed from the Soviet tradition as well as other communist Eastern European cinemas. Since most of those themes involved either tales of heroism from the last war or from postwar communist reconstruction—themes, plots and characters already elaborated upon by the rest of the communist Eastern European cinema—they mostly brought to the Albanian public imported cinematic characters that looked as alien as they were exotic. Efforts to pepper their films with national pigments notwithstanding, films such as Her Children (Fëmijët e Saj, Hakani 1957), Tana (Dhamo 1958), and Our Land (Toka Jonë, Hakani 1963) brought imported heroes to the Albanian public from the film traditions of Eastern European countries where Albanian directors studied. Even with well-written scripts, their mainly boilerplate heroes were merely the clichéd characters involved in the typical story of the universal struggle between good and evil that paralleled the struggle between the progressive future and the digressive past, thus evoking the Marxist teleology. This style allowed for earlier Albanian films that involved themes of war to inform on and contribute to the new heroic characters of the Albanian cinema. Films such as Debatik (Hakani 1961) and Triumph over Death (Ngadhënjim mbi Vdekjen, Erebara and Milkani 1967) could revolve more easily around the war hero, yet they could not complete the New Man character which should be the hero of his/her days, whether it is wartime, fighting against foreign enemies, or peacetime, fighting to build a socialist society.

open horizonsThat purpose has been served by films such as The First Years (Vitet e Para, Dhamo 1965) and Light Commissar (Komisari i Dritës, Anagnosti 1966). Both main characters in these films, Stavri Lara and Dritan Shkaba, respectively, are partisans (communist guerrillas returned from the war) who assume duties aiding in the communist reconstruction of the country. They are young and dedicated, come from either the working class or the peasantry, and they both dream of a new world. While the characters vary in personality, their class consciousness and unwavering idealism set standards for the socialist New Man model, standards that later were met and further expanded by only one other character of note in the Albanian socialist cinema, the character Uran in Open Horizons (Horizonte të Hapura, Gjika 1969). In this archetypical case, take (1) Uran’s membership in the Communist Party as a testimony of his class consciousness; (2) his dedication to ideological studying as a clear sign of his awareness that, in a Gramscian way, no one is immune from the ubiquitous bourgeoisie’s ideological influence (this is ultimately expressed in his firm commitment to communist principles); (3) his strong dedication to progress yet without ditching many traditional values of patriarchy, social structure and male domination; (4) his physical might which was preferable but not necessary for his role as political superman; (5) his love for the naval port where he works, often as a substitute for the already restricted public display of any form of sexuality and sexual affection (Bejko 2013: 98); (6) his vigilance against any hostile propaganda and activity against the communist regime and lifestyle; and (7) him actually living in the socialist society as an indispensable feature to have most of the aforementioned conditions in place and affecting the New Man personality, as opposed to being only a war hero. Here the Albanian communist cinema draws some elaborated cues of the Albanian socialist New Man.[10]

silent duelClass consciousness as delineated by birth is a must for the communist New Man. The hero carries the right social genes, so to speak; whether he is Skënder Guri at Silent Duel (Duel i Heshtur, Anagnosti 1967), Telo at Good Man (Njeriu i Mirë, Muçaj and Mitro 1982) or Agron Beshiri at Small Besiege (Rrethimi i Vogël, Kumbaro 1986), the New Man should carry a spotless social genome. He/she should either come from a poor, working class family or should be a descendant of parents who have fought the enemy in wartime and worked hard to reconstruct the country and help establish the socialist society―although most of the times the communist heroes comprise both these features. However, while the rise to the New Man is impossible for the socially degenerate, everyone can fall from that status. In Shadows Left Behind (Hije që Mbeten Pas, Musliu 1985) and Solitude (Vetmi, Pecani 1990) the main character, one that was supposed to be the outlet of the New Man engineering, a former partisan and a man with a strong position in the socialist society, turns out to be either a corrupt official or an egoistic careerist, respectively.

Related to the former, yet somehow separated, is the active studying of communist teachings by the New Man. The New Man is a political man, and keeping up politically becomes a must for his/her dominant role in Albanian society. Only someone who embraces the Albanian communist slogan “Politics above Everything” could be qualified as a New Man. This key feature of the New Man puts it strictly within a certain social setting, that is, an ideologized society. Therefore, the New Man as elaborated by the Albanian communist cinema was an ideological production of an ideological society. Characters like Martin Kreka in Confrontation (Përballimi, Gjika 1976) or Laja in While Setting Foundations (Kur Hidheshin Themelet, Prifti 1978) feed on the ideological setting.

A review of the communist Albanian cinema reveals its last major push toward promoting the socialist New Man as an ideological revolutionary was during the period between the two major political purges within the Party of Labor, 1973-1975 and 1981-1983. During that period, films such as Grooves (Brazdat, Dhamo 1973), Confrontation (Përballimi, Gjika 1976), The Call (Thirrja, Hoshafi 1976), We Came from War (Ne Vinim nga Lufta, Pecani 1979) brought to screens the social conflict towards which the communist regime continued to drag not only Albanian society but also its New Man, the expected hero of that regime who was destined to win wars, both real and ideological. All those efforts culminated with the ultimate winner, Admiral Mujo Bermema in Face to Face, the ultimate Super-New Man who leads both the ideological and the international war and who, differently from other New Man characters, actually commands a real army.[11]

autumn rainsBy the mid-1980s, the cinematic expression of the New Man morphed to a new pattern that ignored most of the previous schematic traits to become what we call here the scientific New Man. Contrary to previous films where the revolutionary enthusiasm, proletarian wit and life experience prevailed over scientific reasoning (Stars Over Drin/Yje Mbi Drin, Zhabjaku 1978), in films such as Autumn Rains (Shirat e Vjeshtës, Pecani 1984), First Sailing (Lundrimi i Parë, Hakani 1984), I Look You in the Eyes (Të Shoh në Sy, Shanaj 1986), The Circle of Memory (Rrethi i Kujtesës, Musliu 1987), Reconstruction (Rikonstruksioni, Kasaj 1988), People in Stream (Njerëz në Rrymë, Gjika 1989), or Time’s Weight (Pesha e Kohës, Ljarja 1988), knowledge and righteousness belonged to young professionals who tried to utilize scientific knowledge in resolving development problems. Those efforts reflected the ideological state of late Albanian communism: decimated by internal power struggle and demoralized by dismaying economic outcomes, the Albanian communist leaders employed a scientific twist of their ideology by emphasizing what was, according to them, the scientific character of Marxism and its discovery of the laws of social development, thus reinvesting in their regimes’ righteousness through scientific claims.[12] This approach tended to create hope that Albania’s problems were technological rather than political, and that they could be resolved through science and technology. Hence the aspired New Man would be a scientific, apolitical individual. While earlier films heralded the emergence of the scientific New Man but maintained his position in the class struggle in Comrades (Shokët, Çashku 1982), films of later years tolerated some political imperfections of the scientific New Man as long as the character recited some communist clichés supporting the regime and stayed away from active politics in When Life’s Gates Open (Kur Happen Dyert e Jetës, Ljarja 1986). Under such a model, the New Man character is mostly young while his/her opponents are mostly aged, a generational conflict which also reflected a power struggle within the Party of Labor and, indeed, Albanian society as a whole at the time. Since the scientific New Man emerged only in the very last stage of the Albanian communist regime’s life span, it represented the final version of the New Man and an effort to reform that earlier concept, but was as ill-fated as the original model, the regime that created it and its very ideology.     

The Hero and the New Man
The above empirical account brings about the need to inquire upon the relationship between the New Man and the communist hero. This inquiry is needed because, even though the New Man and the communist hero might share some similar traits, the latter belonged more to the socialist reality while, as we have argued, the former was a product of the socialist utopia. The seven features of the New Man belong to the communist hero as well, but they often differ in both measure and epochal terms. First, a New Man is a mature production of the communist era; war heroism might be a necessary precondition for the future New Man, but unless the hero appropriates class consciousness, he might remain a raw patriot still in need of becoming a full-fledged New Man. With the exception of Hoxha’s very few associates during the time of war—Visar Shundo (a historical reference to Vasil Shanto) in The Militant (Militanti, Milkani 1984); Kujtim Stefi (a historical reference to Qemal Stafa) in Autumn’s Promise (Qortimet e Vjeshtës, Dhamo 1981); Kujtim (Qemal Stafa) and Kreshnik (Vasil Shanto) in The Decision (Vendimi, Dhamo 1984); Kanan Tafili (a historical reference to Kajo Karafili) in War’s Paths (Shtigje të Luftës, Milkani 1974); the five historical references to the Vig’s Heroes in Red Faith (Besa e Kuqe, Milkani 1982); and Gramoz (a historical reference to Vojo Kushi) in Guerrilla Unit (Njësiti Gueril, Hakani 1969); as well as a large number of fictional communist and partisan heroes[13]—most of the war heroes other than the historical characters only display features of the future New Man. They do not serve as its finite model as long as they have not lived the socialist life, since they have not been submitted to the intense ideologization and politicization needed for the molding of the New Man. By the same token, some of those characters morph from unconscious poor people to enthusiastic communists: Nebi Surreli in Narrow Streets Looking for Sun Rays (Rrugicat që Kërkonin Diell, Kumbaro and Ljarja 1975); and Vlash in Freedom Woods (Pylli i Lirisë, Erebara 1976); yet they lack the finishing that would come with living the socialist life.

death of a horseTherefore, the New Man and the communist hero cross paths only if they live in the socialist society, but this does not mean that they are necessarily the same concept. When dramatic economic hardship curbed down the communist ethos, especially by the 1980s, the disentangling of the New Man and the communist hero became more visible. In the comedy City Lady (Zonja nga Qyteti, Milkani 1976), the character Sala, now Party secretary, does not need to be heroic in order to bring to the screen most of the New Man features. His “heroism” of working in the rain to save the dam is incomparable to that of Gramoz jumping on the fascist tank and trying to throw a hand grenade inside it. Gjergji Morava in I Look You in the Eyes (Të Shoh në Sy, Shanaj 1986) displays no heroism at all, but the viewer gets a strong feeling that, with him, the New Man is clearly unfolding on the screen. Performing a surgical intervention in a snow-isolated mountain village may sound like heroism of a different kind, yet the soft-spoken young physician Bardhi in When Gates of Life Open resembles none of the epic communist heroes of the past. In other cases, such as Silvi in To Not Stay Silent (Të Mos Heshtësh, Pecani 1985), Jona in Love Your Name (Duaje Emrin Tënd, Muçaj and Mitro 1984), or Agron Shkaba in Shadows Left Behind (Hije që Mbeten Pas, Musliu 1985), the character sacrifices his/her love in order to safeguard his/her New Man principles.

Therefore, the New Man is a transcendent hero, above and beyond the hero, indeed a better hero, a hero for all times, all seasons. The New Man becomes the incarnation of the communist teleology: he/she represents the end of human history, the ultimate outlet of human consciousness morphology. The New Man is at peace with the future and only partially at peace with the present, yet he remains a class warrior against the past and its reflection upon the present. The New Man in the Albanian society and cinema began as an ideological import from the Soviet Union and survived conflict politics between Albania and the Soviet Union from 1961 until the collapse of communism, but was associated with the communist ideology in both countries until they very end. As such, the New Man carried Marx’s concept of social conflict in his/her entire being, and the intensity of such a conflict reflected the intensity of the conflict of their time and, beyond it, the moral fortitude of their society.

Concluding Notes and the New Man Ontology
This review leads us to the question: was the communist New Man politically engineered or was it born? If it was “the monumental creation of the Party [of Labor],” as it was claimed by its ideologists, then the process implies consciousness transformation as the individual morphs from the “Old Man” to the New Man. However, if we heed the seven suggested features of the New Man as well as the Marxist structuralist ontology which assigns human consciousness according to the individual’s social class, it becomes clear that communism invented the definition of the New Man, but not the New Man itself. Albanian communist cinema suggests just that: consciousness change seldom happens in the Albanian films of the socialist period, as it could have served as a valve to ensure only a one-way social mobility. Thus, while Marxists claim that one’s consciousness reflects one’s social class, consciousness might suggest a two-way social mobility. Engels’ “false consciousness” fiction and Gramsci’s theory of bourgeois cultural dominance made sure that only proletarians could fall prey to bourgeois consciousness, but members of the latter could never acquire proletarian consciousness. However, while the morally, though not politically, stained past of those individuals does not prevent members of bourgeoisie from being reintegrated in the socialist society, the Albanian cinema remained loyal to its New Man principles. Those film plots imply that such characters do not serve as New Man models. Indeed, to an extent, the New Man enshrined the peak of communist puritanism, the destiny of mankind, while the process through which it would be achieved remained plagued with the very contradictions of the Marxist philosophy. The New Man disappeared from the Albanian cinematic screen just as Albanian socialism was rapidly collapsing during the year 1990.

Albanian communist cinema was at the forefront of the efforts to create the New Man utopia. Unlike the regime, which never defined the New Man concept, the Albanian cinema did much to visually develop definitional cues about what was supposed to be the New Man. From this perspective, we might reasonably put cinema on the causal side of its relationship with the New Man utopia, rather than simply reflecting its emergence in the Albanian communist society. The cinema’s ability to visualize concepts and events, and its simplified representations of the world, helped spread the political criteria and technology to create and maintain the New Man. However, the Albanian cinema failed to clearly display the process, raising questions whether the process ever occurred. That post-socialist Albanians appeared differently to the rest of Europeans when they escaped their country in the early 1990s, as in Lamerica (Amelio 1994), Sweet Vessel (La Nave Dolce, Vinari 2012) and The Vessel (Anija/La Nave, Sejko 2012), is a theme that the Albanian and international cinema have intensively elaborated upon. However, while it is difficult to consider the wild crowds of desperate Albanians invading commercial boats in order to reach Italy as composed of New Men, one question remains: what were they? What made those people at that point in history so different from the rest of Europe, East or West?

Responding to this question will take research on its own. All that we know now is the structuralist view, that social structures impact people’s worldviews. However, whether such change goes toward a prescribed direction remains an issue of other scholarly disciplines. Yet it is clear that the New Man experiment failed miserably along with the communist regimes that promoted such social engineering. The sudden disappearance of the New Man from the Albanian cinema and life even before the collapse of the regime that promoted it might suggest that the New Man was never achieved. This leaves open the issue of the artistic and social value of the Albanian cinema dedicated to the New Man promotion. This would be yet another topic for further research. 


1] Confounding the normative model with the prophetic model leads to Mannheim’s definition.

2] After Mannheim, Marxists, both the critics school and the postmodernists, show no interest in defining utopia, instead focusing on its functions and the needs it fills, inquiring for this purpose utopia in fiction, science fiction, urban planning and politics, among others (Bauman 1976; Sargent 2010; Jameson 2005). Such an approach takes a full-fledged trait with Levitas (1990).

3] While most scholars argue that Marx relied on a social level of analysis, Geras (1983) argues that, while the social relations are held to “determine” the nature of people, Marx has referred to a human nature which is more than what is conditioned by the circumstances of one’s life. For instance, in his Capital (Marx 1867 [1952], note 2, p. 301), criticizing Jeremy Bentham, Marx stated the need to analyze both “human nature in general, and […] human nature as modified in each historical epoch.” Here Marx outlined his own confusion over the appropriate level of analysis needed to define human nature.

4] In their efforts, Marx and Engels saw Darwin’s understanding of biology as essential to an objective understanding of socialism, and vice versa.

5] Not quite the same as Engels’ false consciousness, but more toward a cognitive perception that operates on “motive forces” in the imagines of viewers (Engels 1880 [1970])

6] See in particular Ian Christie (1994).

7]The exception to this view is Boris Groys, who views socialist realism as a direct consequence of the revolutionary art movement. According to Groys (1992: 41), the avant-garde moment was unable to abandon its own foundation on previous traditions and thus, it became “a prisoner of the very tradition it wanted to overthrow.” Gal Kirn (2015) strongly argues against this view, saying that Groys “blends the differentiation between state and politics, between the politics of aesthetics (the avant-garde) and genre (socialist realism).”

8] Politically, The Great Warrior Skanderbeg was motivated by the international geopolitical configurations of its time. Throughout the film, the Ottomans were referred to as Turks, even though such ethnopolitical entity did not emerge until the second half of the nineteenth century. However, only one year before the film was released in 1952, Turkey joined NATO, thus creating a perceived security problem to the Soviet Union and its communist satellites in Eastern Europe. Depicting Turks as enemies transcended historical facts and became part of the communist propaganda of the time.  Also, in the film, Skanderbeg emphasizes the need for alliances with Hungary and Poland, two communist countries allied with the communist Albania, but the film also highlights the reluctance of Serbia’s King Branković to join the Hungarians and Poles against the Ottoman invasion, rather preferring an alliance with the Ottomans—a clear reference to the very recent developments during production of the film, with Yugoslavia being expelled from the Cominform in 1948 due to disagreements between Belgrade and Moscow over the Greek Civil War. In that political dispute, Albania broke with Yugoslavia to join Stalin’s camp.

9] For a more balanced and independent account of the historical Skanderbeg, see Schmitt (2009).

10] Those New Man features only synthesize an earlier definition of the New Man by Peshkopia (2008: 76). According to him, “Socialism boasts the new man as its major achievement. The socialist new man is a disciplined political machine who is a state-designed, state-modeled, and state-built individual. His essence is political and so is the essence of the socialist society; its creed is ‘politics above everything’. As a pre-designed social element, the new man is programmed to follow a living and working pattern engineered by the Communist Party’s ideology. His versatility in socialism is confined to some very operational daily tasks that would enable him to contribute in building socialism; his participation in the popular defense corps to be ready against any imminent imperialist attack against the revolution; his state obligation to keep sharp the revolutionary vigilance, that is, keeping an eye on his families, friends, and neighbors and report them if they don’t look very amicable to  the regime; and his duty of educating his children according to Marxist principles and making them respected citizens of the revolution. He is taught that his versatility in Communism would be unlimited since the evaporation of classes would put him in the position of performing different tasks in often unrelated professions. In few words, the official new man is supposed to be an enslaved hard worker-soldier, a snitch, a liar, and, certainly, a faithful dreamer of the communist utopia.”

11] Indeed, this is the only high ranking soldier who takes such a role in Albanian communist cinema. Enver Hoxha’s distrust of the army limited the cinematic expansion of the New Man toward the men in uniform. 

12] Such an approach was further strengthened by the decision of all the communist hierarchs to keep their children away from active politics and focus them on scientific and technological education.

13] Here we can mention Vaso at Brothers and Friends (Vëllezër dhe Shokë, Anagnosti 1980); Sulo at The Ambush(Prita, Fagu 1968).

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Ridvan Peshkopia, Arben Imami, Lars Kristensen © 2016

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Updated: 20 Mar 16