In 1939 the Italian Army invaded Albania, ousted the monarchy, and established a puppet regime. Hoxha was fired from his teaching position for refusing to join the Albanian Fascist Party. He opened a retail tobacco store in Tirana that also served as a front for his communist activities. In 1940 he became the founder and head of the Albanian Communist Party, also serving as editor of the party's newspaper.
During World War II, Hoxha assembled a guerrilla force of 70,000 men that fought the occupying Italian Army and then the Germans who arrived to assist their ally. In 1944, the Italians withdrew their forces from Albania. Soon thereafter, the communists established a provisional Albanian government in October 1944 with Hoxha as prime minister and defense minister.
The Western Allies recognized this government in 1945, expecting that Albania would later hold free elections. When elections were held and the communists were the only candidates, Great Britain and the United States rescinded their recognition. The country's leaders proclaimed a People's Republic in Albania in January 1946.
Yugoslav communists had assisted their Albanian comrades during the war, and the two states engaged in a monetary and customs union after World War II. Suspicious of his neighbor's desires to make Albania a province of Yugoslavia, however, Hoxha cut all ties with Yugoslavia in 1948. That same year, he renamed the Albanian Communist Party the Workers' Party. He relinquished the premiership to Mehmet Shehu in 1954 but remained in control as head of the party with the title of first secretary.
In 1961 Hoxha cut his nation's ties with the Soviet Union in response to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev's de-Stalinization campaign. At about the same time, the Soviet Union severed relations with the People's Republic of China (PRC). Hoxha then began relying on the PRC for economic support, viewing Mao Zedong as the only true Stalinist remaining in power. Shortly after Mao's death in 1976, relations between China and Albania began to cool as Hoxha criticized the new Chinese leadership. The PRC ended all assistance programs to Albania in 1978.
As Hoxha's health declined in the late 1970s, preparations began for a succession of leadership. In 1980 he appointed Ramiz Alia as the party's first secretary, bypassing longtime Premier Mehmet Shehu. Hoxha tried to persuade Shehu to step aside voluntarily. When this failed, he had the Politburo publicly rebuke Shehu, who allegedly committed suicide in 1981. Hoxha died in Tirana on 11 April 1985, his nation the most cut-off from the outside world in all Europe.
John David Rausch Jr.
Orizio, Riccardo. Talk of the Devil: Encounters with Seven Dictators. Translated by Avril Bardoni. New York: Walker, 2002.