Country Listing

Romania Table of Contents


The Ruling Elite

Before the Soviet imposition of a communist regime in 1945, party membership had been negligible, but immediately thereafter membership soared, reaching 250,000 by the end of that year. Most of the new members were from the working class or peasantry, or claimed to be, and by virtue of their social origins were considered politically reliable. Most joined the party for opportunistic reasons rather than out of new-found loyalty to the communist cause. These workers and peasants, although relatively uneducated, were hastily inducted into the nomenklatura-- lists of key party and state positions matched with politically reliable candidates. They were immediately eligible for some of the most powerful positions the party had to offer, and they soon had cause to develop a sense of loyalty to the political establishment and its communist principles.

After the first decade of communist rule, the PCR membership included about 5 percent of the population over twenty years of age. Most of the members were over forty years old. The social composition of the party in 1955 revealed the favored position of the working class; though workers accounted for only 20 percent of the general population, they represented 43 percent of the membership. Peasants, the majority of the population, were underrepresented at only 34 percent--still a remarkable figure when compared with their political position in the ancien régime. The intelligentsia, although overrepresented with 23 percent of the membership for their 9 percent of the population, had less influence than before the war.

By the mid-1950s, a new political elite had emerged--the apparatchiks. Most were increasingly dogmatic functionaries, primarily of peasant origin, who had from the beginning occupied the key posts of the nomenklatura. As such, they had served as the driving force behind the massive social and economic transformation of the country and had risen to positions of relative comfort and security. By the late 1950s, however, the old guard was beginning to lose key positions to a growing class of better educated and more competent technocrats. It was a more liberal climate in which technical skills were better appreciated, and important appointments were based more on qualifications than on political loyalty. For a while the apparatchiks successfully resisted this trend, but as a result of the demand for technical competence, many were demoted to less important positions or removed to the provinces. The rapid growth of higher education provided an ever-increasing number of young technocrats to replace the apparatchiks. After Ceausescu consolidated his power, however, the period of political liberalization came to an end. By 1974, with the anti-intellectual campaign well under way, the apparatchiks were again firmly entrenched.

The social composition of the PCR in the 1980s affirmed that the battle against the intellectuals had been won. In 1987, 80 percent of the 3.6 million PCR members were of working-class or peasant origins. Approximately 10,000 of these members constituted the central nomenklatura--the true political elite. This elite, especially its core--the Political Executive Committee--was empowered to steer societal development in the direction it deemed necessary and became the sole arbiter of the nation's social values (see Romanian Communist Party , ch. 4).

That poorly educated bureaucrats dominated the party and government had severe consequences for society. The low standard of living and cultural repression of the 1980s were directly attributable to the attitudes and values of this ruling elite, who were anti-intellectual, antitechnocratic, hostile to change, and increasingly xenophobic and isolationist. More specifically, these prejudices were the attitudes and values of President Ceausescu, who presided over probably the smallest ruling elite in Romanian history. Ceausescu surrounded himself with apparatchiks who unabashedly contributed to his personality cult, and he installed members of his immediate and extended family in the most powerful party and government positions.

The political elite enjoyed a lifestyle much different from that of most citizens. Members of this group lived in palatial homes expropriated from the previous elite, were cared for by servants, protected by bodyguards, and whisked to work in limousines. They had exclusive access to special shops and commissaries that offered a wide variety of food and luxury items. Ceausescu lived in regal splendor. His residence in suburban Bucharest was protected by guards and traffic blockades. Several castles and palaces were renovated for his personal use and were no longer open to public visitation. He and his entourage travelled in a fleet of luxury cars, for which all traffic was stopped.

The conspicuous perquisites enjoyed by Ceausescu and his circle created resentment among the population, which was suffering from economic and cultural atrophy as well as political repression. Dissidents of various backgrounds called for the abolition of special privileges for the ruling elite, and by the late 1980s disaffection was evident at all levels of society.

In the past, nationalism had played an important role in the legitimacy of the ruling elite and in mobilizing support for its plans for the country. By the late 1980s, however, nationalistic fervor was waning. The Soviet Union appeared much less threatening, and more than a few Romanians were drawn to Mikhail Gorbachev's political and economic reforms. Ceausescu's periodic mobilization campaigns during the 1970s and 1980s had damaged relations between the ruling elite and the rest of society to the point that more and more citizens were reluctant to rally around the PCR and were less accepting of its close-fisted political control and economic policies. Average citizens were weary of sacrificing to build a socialist utopia for posterity and would have preferred a higher living standard in their own lifetimes.

Data as of July 1989

Country Listing

Romania Table of Contents