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The New Social Order

The Peasantry

The share of the labor force employed in agriculture decreased to less than 30 percent by 1981, and this decline was accompanied by the destruction of many aspects of the peasant way of life. By 1963 more than 95 percent of all arable land was controlled by the state, either through collective or state farms. As a result, small-scale agriculture was no longer available to support the traditional peasant way of life, and the family was no longer the basic unit of production and consumption. The peasants who remained on the land were forced to participate in large-scale, statemanaged agriculture that paralleled other socialist enterprises. The peasants were permitted to till small "private" plots, which in 1963 accounted for about 8 percent of all arable land. But even cultivation of these plots was subject to state interference (see Farm Organization , ch. 3). Initially some violent protests against collectivization occurred, but on the whole, protest took the form of plummeting yields. This process not only adversely affected living standards for town and country alike, but increased party penetration of the countryside, further reducing peasant autonomy.

Several other factors contributed to the rural exodus and the decline of the peasant class, among them substantial wage differentials between agricultural and nonagricultural sectors. In 1965 peasant incomes were only half the national average. Although the state tried to remedy the situation by establishing minimum incomes in the 1970s, remuneration for agricultural laborers remained well below that for industrial workers. In 1979 the average agricultural worker's income was still only 66 percent of the industrial worker's, and during the 1980s it rose to only 73 percent. A persistent and wide disparity also existed between rural and urban standards of living. In the mid-1970s, the majority of rural households were without gas, not even half had electricity, and more than one-third were without running water. Even in the 1980s, washing machines, refrigerators, and televisions were still luxury items, and peasant expenditures for them and other nonbasic items and for cultural activities remained conspicuously below those of industrial workers. In addition, rural citizens received lower pensions and child allowances and had much more limited educational opportunity.

Despite Ceausescu's nationalistic glorification of peasant folklore and values, in the mid-1980s the Romanian peasant remained very much a second-class citizen. Adults perceived their lowly status and encouraged their children to leave the land. Young people were inclined to do so and showed a decided preference for occupations that would take them out of the village. The regime was unable to prevent this development because it lacked the investment capital to both provide amenities to the countryside and to continue its industrialization program. Consequently the quality of the agricultural work force deteriorated to the point of inadequacy. As the young, educated, and ambitious abandoned the fields for the factories, the laborers left behind were older and, increasingly, female. Although they constituted only 14 percent of the national labor force in 1979, women made up 63 percent of agricultural labor. The average age of adult male farmers rose to 43.2 years in 1977. Furthermore, the men who remained on the land were generally the least capable and were unable to meet even the minimum requirements of industrial work.

Many of these peasants were apathetic and, according to Ceausescu, willing to spend their time drinking and gambling in local pubs instead of working on the cooperative farms. A 1981 survey showed that some 34 percent of all agricultural cooperative members had avoided doing any work whatsoever for the cooperative during that entire year. Consequently the regime had to mobilize soldiers, urban workers, college, high-school, and even elementaryschool students to work in the fields at planting and harvest time.

Ironically the systematization program, which placed plants and factories throughout the countryside to equalize living standards, actually made the situation worse. Even as demands were made for the peasantry to increase agricultural output, commuting from village to factory became a fairly widespread practice, drawing the best labor from an already deteriorated supply. As a result, many peasant families were transformed into extended households whose members participated in both farming and industrial work. In such families, at least one member commuted to a factory and worked for wages, whereas others worked on the cooperative farm to secure the privilege of cultivating a private plot. The factory wage raised the family's standard of living, and the plot provided fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products that the family could consume or sell for extra cash. Even when members of the family had permanently migrated to nearby cities, these mutually advantageous economic ties were maintained, somewhat ameliorating economic conditions in the countryside.

Some observers argued that this rural-urban nexus boosted support for the regime in the countryside and contributed to political stability throughout the 1970s, when commuting workers constituted some 30 percent of the urban work force (50 percent in some cities). Although commuters provided labor without aggravating the urban housing shortage, having a large number of peasants in the factories had certain disadvantages. The poorly educated and relatively unskilled peasant workers could not be fully integrated into urban industrial society. Most were deeply religious, and their lives centered not on work but on Orthodox rituals and family. Commuters were often absent because of village celebrations or the need to tend the household plot.

Peasant commuting also brought an increased awareness of the differences between rural and urban living conditions--particularly during the 1980s, when the overall standard of living sank to nearly unbearable levels. Rural areas were the most harshly affected, and despite the regime's efforts to restrict migration to cities, the process continued, albeit at a slower rate. In the late 1980s, the disappearance of the peasantry as a distinct class appeared virtually inevitable.

Data as of July 1989

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