Stalinism for all seasons: a political history of Romanian communism

TitleStalinism for all seasons: a political history of Romanian communism
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsIacob, Bogdan
Author(s) of reviewed materialTismăneanu, Vladimir

XVI, Series: Societies and Cultures in East-Central Europe, 11. 16 pgs. of plates. Bibliography, Index, Appendix.

PublisherBerkeley/London/Los Angeles: University of California Press
ISSNISBN 0520237471
Review year


Full Text

Tismăneanu’s book is an excellent survey of the transformations undergone by the Romanian Communist Party (RCP) during its history, before and after coming into power. Both for the international and Romanian public (the volume was translated in Romanian with some modifications in 2005), the study is important for two reasons. First, it brings forth novel research based upon access to archives that were inaccessible previously. Second, it contains an extensive historiographical sections on the main themes and topics related to the history of communism in Romania. The latter is very important particularly in the Romanian context, for too often domestically produced materials appear with hardly any mention of the main foreign books published on the problems of communism in Romania. Moreover, the extensive historiographical insertions also open the way to a comparative analysis of the phenomenon in the context of the development of communist regimes in former Eastern Europe. Thus, a deeper understanding of terms such as “Stalinism”, “revisionism”, “de-Stalinization”, “national-communism”, etc., is offered to the Romanian students interested on expanding their research interests beyond the scope of the history of their domestic communist experience.

The volume contains a broad survey of the origins, early days and pre-coming-into-power dynamics within the RCP’s leadership and its ideology. This way, the reader can trace back all the way and thereby comprehend the power struggles (reasons, factions, influences, typologies) within the party during its reign, while also being able to connect them with the ideological shifts that characterized the RCP’s activity, both before and during state socialism. Tismăneanu constructs an encompassing genealogy of Romanian communism. There is, however, a problem of unevenness in his book: the inter-war period, the Second World War aftermath, and the Dej era are greatly favoured over the days of the Ceauşescu “administration.” Because of the briefness of analysis of these twenty-four years of communist rule, the historical, personnel, and ideological lineages become unclear, leaving space for a harmful overemphasis on the personality cult (which began only in 1974/5) and on the theme of dynastic communism (which could at earliest be identified around 1977).

The last point leads to another aspect of the book that needs to be discussed, namely that of the lack of historical legitimacy by the RCP and its consequences. Tismăneanu sees this ‘political disability’ of the RCP as the main explanation for the permanent and omnipresent obsession of the party leadership with writing its own history. Accordingly, he counter-poses his genealogy with the alternative, formerly official line on party history. This method leads both to an understanding of paths taken by the RCP to legitimize itself and its history, within the national context, and to a clarification of roles of events and people in the maze of various party-engineered historiographical manipulations. To take this argument further, Tismăneanu notices that in writing and justifying its own history, the RCP gradually aggrandizes various national political developments, with an emphasis upon the already scarce and shaky leftist one. The preponderance of right-wing attitudes among the traditional Romanian elites and the lack of an established record of left-wing movements are seen by the author to be at the root of the lack of a revisionist wave in the history of Romanian communism.

The notion of revisionism lies at the core of Tismăneanu’s concept of “national Stalinism.” In his opinion, the absence of the former led to the perpetuation of the latter throughout the entire communist period in Romania. By adding into the mix the nationalistic lure, systematically pursued from 1963 onwards, the regime closed off or marginalized any attempt of reform from within. The opposite of this path was, in the author’s opinion, “national-communism,” which had as its defining features its critical attitude toward the Soviet model and its capacity to reform itself, ultimately leading towards political pluralism. However, the assessment of the interplay between Marxism-Leninism and “indigenization” (Verdery) during the post-1960 RCP’s history requires a more detailed periodization of it, that can point out the differences in party line and activity at different moment in time (e.g., 1965, 1969, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1979,1983, 1988).

In spite of such reservations, Stalinism for all season remains an excellent account and analysis of the RCP’s history and of the communist period itself. The book brings forth an extensive array of themes and concepts, thus succeeding in putting together most of the scholarship and academic debates on the topic under examination. It offers a comparative and theoretically informed analysis of Romanian communism in the context of the history of state socialism in former Eastern Europe as well as the dynamics and complexities of Marxist-Leninist thought. In this new volume, Tismăneanu succeeds in synthesizing his previus scholarship and innovating on the theory and history of communist regimes.