Stalinizarea României. Republica Populară Română: 1948-1950 Transformări Instituţionale

TitleStalinizarea României. Republica Populară Română: 1948-1950 Transformări Instituţionale
Publication TypePublication review
AuthorsIacob, Bogdan
Author(s) of reviewed materialGura, Nicoleta Ionescu

Title translated:
The Stalinization of Romania. The Popular Republic of Romania: 1948-1950 Institutional Transformation

PublisherBucharest: Editura ALL
ISSNISBN 973-571-595-3
Review year


Full Text

The book by Nicoleta Ionescu Gura is the product of research done under the umbrella of the Council for the Investigation of the Securitate Archives (CNSAS). This is a study of the Romanian communists’ first years in power, describing the various policies and personnel dynamics that came along with the establishment of the “people’s democracy” by the Romanian Workers’ Party. In her analysis, Ionescu-Gura relies mainly on archival information from key ministers involved in the institutionalization of the communist regime in Romania and from the Central Committee of the Romanian Communist Party.

Stalinizarea Romaniei is divided into four parts: “Sistemul politic al regimului ‘democrat-popular’” (the political system of the people’s democracy); “Activitatea politică a partidului unic” (the political activity of the monolithic party); “Noile mecanisme instituţionale ale regimului ‘democrat-popular’” (the new institutional mechanisms of the people’s democracy); “Începutul colectivizării agriculturii în România” (The beginning of collectivization in Romania).

In the first part, Ionescu-Gura deals with the situation of the Romanian Social Democratic Party in the context of the increasing pressure from the communists to form a unified party to represent the toilers of Romania. After discussing the aspects of the unification of the RWP and PSD, she looks into the activity of the Popular Democratic Front (FDP) during the March 1948 elections and its attitude toward the remaining opposition parties. The author proceeds further by analysing the Constitution of the Popular Republic of Romania (RPR) and the main bodies of state power (Marea Adunare Nationala, the Council of Ministers, central and local administration of the new regime).

In the second part the book overviews the dynamics within the Romanian Workers’ Party, from the waves of purges of the first half of decade of the communist rule to the establishment of the party apparatus, of the nomenklatura, and of hierarchy of power within this monolithic organization (the role of the Central Committee, of the Secretary’s Office and of the later created Organzational Bureau).

In the third part, Nicoleta Ionescu-Gura surveys four major areas of communist breakthrough: the judicial and educational system, Church-State relations, and the regime’s politics of culture. Here she emphasizes the fundamentally coercive nature of early Romanian Stalinism and the creation of carbon-copy institutions in accordance with the Soviet model. There is an extensive discussion of the attitude of the RWP toward the Orthodox Church, the Greco-Catholic hierarchy and toward the Vatican. She also addresses the transformation of the Romanian Academy into the center of the academic and research system, as it was envisaged by the new regime.

The fourth part of the book is an interesting view from below of the effects of the first phase of the collectivization campaign initiated by the RWP. It extensively deals with the decree no.83 from 1949 that pronounced the necessity of eliminating the mosierime (landowners) as a class and which was later broadened in its application in order to encompass all private property in agriculture, becoming a model in the attack against chiaburi (the Romanian equivalent for kulaks). This last part of the volume also contains an analysis of the GAS system (the state-owned farms).

Nicoleta Ionescu-Gura’s book is highly informative, offering many archive-based insights related to the various topics she deals with. Her massive research offers the readers plenty of data on both the communist leaders’ and administration’s attitudes and opinions on their struggle for power and on their policies. She also attempts to grant some voice to the people affected by the “communist revolution” as she uses reports of the party and secret police apparatus, alongside with excerpts from the memoirs of some of the most important non-communist actors caught in these times of sweeping changes.
However, the book’s presentation of this material suffers because of its over reliance on a totalitarian model. The communist party in Romania, like any other of the former Eastern European countries, until 1957 mainly followed mobilizational and coercive practices that caused a radical upheaval within Romanian society. Nevertheless, this transformative period cannot be equaled with the fundamentally inclusionary one beginning with 1960. Quite early during its existence, the communist regime in Romania turned highly eclectic, combining Soviet influences with national(istic) ones, self-dependence with intra-bloc activity. Moreover, the societal turbulences in the aftermath of the Second World War cannot be claimed to have solely originated in the activity of the Romanian communists. The political upheavals of the 1930s and early 1940s combined with the effects of the war took their tool on Romanian society and its social, political, economic, cultural hierarchies and elites.

Another problem is the fact that the book hardly mentions the political struggles within the RWP. It considers it to be a monolith of unitary action and line, which was not the case even in its early period. The factional experience of the Romanian communist party is fundamental for understanding its evolution. The author only briefly mentions some figures (e.g., Constantinescu, Patrascanu, Pauker) but she does not dwell upon the context of their activity under circumstances of negotiations with the Moscow center, domestic power strife and political wavering. There is no connection made between the waves and purges, the elimination of central party figures, the gradual acquiring of supremacy by the Dej faction, and the arrangements within the apparatus that were to be found by 1960s. However, I have to specify the fact that the author along with other researchers affiliated to the CNSAS and coordinated by Florin Dobre have published a massive encyclopedic volume containing the names and biographies of most of the members of the CC of RCP for the entire span of the communist period: Membrii CC ai PCR. Dicţionar, Florica Dobre (coord.), Liviu Marius Bejenaru, Clara Cosmineanu-Mareş, Monica Grigore, Alina Ilinca, Oana Ionel, Nicoleta Ionescu Gură, Elisabeta Neagoe-Pleşa, Liviu Pleşa published at the Editura Enciclopedică, Bucharest in 2004. Related to this issue is the fact that the book suffers from its hardly convincing comparative approach. It frequently relies on Jean François-Soulet’s comparative history of communist states, but this seems to be the only book taken into account. The notion of “Stalinization”, or the conceptually neighboring “Stalinism” and “Sovietization” are never explained.

Moreover, in terms of the analysis of the communist take-over and policies of collectivisation, ideologisation, purges, or legitimation there is no mention of studies dealing with neighbouring countries, or of similar cases from the socialist bloc. In particular, the clarification of what from the Soviet model and of the Stalinist program of society/state transformation can be found or was altered in the Romanian case is crucial in any attempt to offer answers to the puzzles of the communist historical experience in Romania. The book’s emphasis on the destructiveness and malfeasance of the communist regime gives it a rather uneven and unilateral aspect. Many nuances of the history of the RCP and its rule are lost sight of. The author obscures the interplay of continuity and change in the party’s ideological line, of its personnel, and in its general attitude toward the population. The longevity of all communist regimes and leaders in the former socialist bloc has always been the main challenge to any explanation of their existence and activity. Power politics, coercion, destruction explain matters up to a certain point. But if research takes on only these presuppositions, while excluding the reproductive and creative facets of the regime and of its ideology, the challenge of explaining over 40 years of national history remains only partially met with a reply.