There is no doubt that what we are witnessing in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union represents a turning point in world history. Such turning points pose difficult theoretical questions which cannot be answered by the mechanical repetition of old formulas. Marxists must answer the question: what is the real content of the processes taking place and in which direction are they heading?
For the capitalist politicians and their echo in the right-wing of the labour movement, the answer is quite simple. "Communism" and "socialism" have failed everywhere. The tide of history is flowing irresistibly in the direction of the market economy and capitalist "democracy".
The shock-waves produced by the collapse of Stalinism are all the greater because these regimes lasted for so long - longer than anyone could have expected. For decades, the regimes in Russia, China and Eastern Europe seemed to be stable. So much so that some even thought they saw in them a new socio-economic formation ("bureaucratic collectivism", "state capitalism", and so on.)
Only the Marxists who took their starting point from the analysis of Leon Trotsky - now brilliantly confirmed by history - predicted that these bureaucratic regimes would inevitably collapse under the weight of internal contradictions and the movement of the working class.
But Trotsky left open the question of what would happen thereafter. He did not exclude the possibility of capitalist restoration or of a victorious political revolution of the working class which would regenerate society on the basis of a genuine regime of workers' democracy. The result was not a foregone conclusion but the product of a struggle of living forces, conditioned by a whole series of objective and subjective factors.
That these hideous regimes lasted so long has been a major factor in determining the attitude of the masses, whose hatred of the bureaucratic totalitarian regime knows no bounds. In the first stage of the movement, for example in East Germany, there was no hint of a pro-capitalist tendency. The crowds in Leipzig sang the Internationale. But in the absence of a clear alternative, an organisation, a party and a programme, the movement took a different direction. The proximity of West Germany, the most powerful and wealthy capitalist state in Europe, acted as an irresistible magnet in a situation where no alternative was offered. In general, the fact that the crisis of Stalinism has coincided with the continuation of the boom in the West has given a powerful impetus to restorationist tendencies, not least within the bureaucracy itself.
But it would he entirely wrong to present developments in Russia and Eastern Europe in a one-sided manner. Already the thinking representatives of capitalism are having second thoughts about the prospects for capitalist restoration in the East. They understand, as the Marxists have understood, that the collapse of Stalinism in the given historical context contains not only a counter-revolutionary potential, but a revolutionary potential as well. The clearest example of this so far was the magnificent revolution of the Romanian working class last December. Despite all the attempts of the Western media to twist and distort its true significance, here was an example of the working class overthrowing a Stalinist dictatorship in a movement which had many of the classical features of the political revolution, with sections of the workers forming committees and taking up arms against the reaction.
If the workers had possessed an organisation, a party with a Marxist programme and leadership, it would have been entirely possible for the Romanian working class to have carried through a successful political revolution. Such a victory in Romania would have had an explosive effect throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, the overthrow of the Ceausescu dictatorship, in spite of the fact that the workers were unable to the power into their own hands, was just as decisive an event as the overthrow of the Tsar in 1917. It meant that the masses in Romania went far further than in the other countries of Eastern Europe, at least at this stage. It is the decisive entry of the masses onto the arena of struggle, and the consciousness of the workers that they overthrew the hated dictatorship of Ceausescu and the Securitate, which conditions the psychology of all classes and groups in Romanian society and gives the revolution in Romania its peculiar character.
Reading through the articles of the so-called "experts" in the West, one cannot but be struck by the tone of spiteful malice which they adopt when writing about Romania. They are clearly much happier when singing the praises of Havel, Walesa or even Gorbachev. But when it comes to Romania, the smiling mask slips to reveal a snarl of rage and frustration.
The massive electoral victory of the National Salvation Front was greeted with shock and disbelief by the media in the West. The media coverage of the election campaign was a total disgrace. Abandoning all pretence at objectivity, they openly sided with the opposition parties, the National Liberal Party of Campeanu and Ratiu's National Peasant Party. Public Opinion in the West was led to believe that these openly pro-capitalist parties had enormous reserves of support, and would easily win the elections, if only these were not rigged by the Front…
But even the Western observers, including Tory MP Edwina Currie, who went with the clear intention of muckraking, were compelled to admit that the elections had been fair. No serious irregularities were ever proved.
The result of the election was a slap in the face for all these pundits. The Economist, 26 May 1990, published a surly article with the title "Back to Front". But all the chagrin of the bourgeois could not conceal that fact that their chosen candidates had suffered a shattering defeat. The NSF won 66% of the vote and two-thirds of the seats. Iliescu's personal vote was still higher - a massive 85%. The humiliation of the opposition was total: Campeanu got 11% and his party, the Liberals, only 6%. Ratiu saw the Peasant's Party pushed into fifth place, behind the Hungarian Party and the Greens. The peasants voted solidly for the Front. Naturally the defeated politicians called "foul". But with a victory of this magnitude, not even their Western admirers dared to take this up.
The election result could come as no surprise to anyone with first-hand experience of the situation in Romania. The fundamental reason is the fact that the Romanian workers made a revolution and their consciousness is determined by this fact. The overwhelming majority of workers are suspicious of capitalism and hostile to privatisation. They do not want their factories to be sold off to capitalists, whether foreign or Romanian.
It is undeniable that, while all the parties (the Front included) accept the idea of a market economy, Ratiu and Campeanu made the central theme of their electoral campaign the speedy introduction of capitalism. They accused the leaders of the Front, as "Communists", of being insincere and half-hearted about privatisation. There can be no doubt that the vote against Ratiu and Campeanu was a vote against capitalism.
Of course, there were other factors. Both men had lived out the years of the Ceausescu dictatorship in comfortable foreign exile in France and Britain. Ratiu's case was particularly glaring. The sight of this elderly millionaire with his dinner jacket and outsized bow-tie, summed up the class basis of the opposition. Silviu Brucan, one of the Front's leaders. commented acidly that "Mr. Ratiu speaks exquisite English. I only wish his Romanian was as good."
Before the War the National Peasants Party was a major force in Romanian politics. It had a majority in 1928-38. But many older people remember what life was like under capitalism.
Romania was an extremely backward agricultural economy with very little industry. The majority of the population were poor peasants subjected to brutal exploitation by the landowners, who dominated the state. Romania was dominated by foreign imperialism, first France, then Germany. Nor was it a democracy, but was run by a series of particularly corrupt monarchist regimes, and later by the German puppet, Antonescu. Behind the coat-tails of the National Peasant Party the sinister fascist "Iron Guards" carried out brutal pogroms against the Jews, some of whom were hung from meat-hooks in the central Bucharest abattoir with placards inscribed "Kosher meat".
The Western media lavishes praise on the "democrat" Ratiu but is silent about the anti-semitic element which still characterises the National Peasant Party. As in the rest of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, forty years of Stalinism has had the effect of a monstrous brake on consciousness. Nowhere does this have a more baneful effect than on the national question. Anti-semitism has again raised its murderous head in Russia, Hungary, Poland, East Germany and Romania. The Peasants Party deliberately tried to exploit the Jewish origin of some of the Front's leaders like Petre Roman and Silviu Brucan.
As in all revolutions, the whole of society has been politicised. The general mood in the period leading up to the election was reminiscent of scenes from the Portuguese revolution in the period 1974-75. Heated discussions break out on street corners. One man starts talking and a group gathers round to join in. Frustrated factory managers complain that since the revolution workers no longer want to work. At the slightest pretext, work stops and political discussions begin.
It is also a highly polarised situation. As in other East European countries, the majority of students and intellectuals support capitalism in varying degrees. On the extreme right there is a fanaticism which breeds a psychology not too far removed from fascism. In a conversation with a representative of the Spanish Students' Union, the leader of the Romanian Students' League, Marian Munteanu, confessed that he preferred fascists to Communists or Socialists.
Nowhere has the hypocrisy of the Western media been more clearly seen than in the coverage of the events which followed the election. The impression was given that the students (and others) who came into conflict with the regime were a group of peaceful and sincere democrats, whereas the miners were variously described as "rent-a-mob miners", "dirty-faced runts" (The Observer), "burly proletarians, miners and others of the sort". (The Independent)
Particularly disgusting was the Italian "Communist" newspaper, L'Unita, which characterised the miners as "fascist groups" who had allegedly organised a "pogrom against intellectuals". The "liberal" British Guardian was more subtle when it talked of "peasants and factory workers, the millions kept in total ignorance by decades of dictatorship". This "educated" formula serves as a fig-leaf to cover a deep-seated contempt for the Romanian workers and peasants. The very people who fought, and in many cases died, to overthrow the monstrous Ceausescu dictatorship are now slandered by these cultivated ladies and gentlemen sitting in the comfort of their Guardian offices, as ignorant brutes who, in effect, do not deserve the blessings of Western "democracy".
It is quite true that, mixed up with the counter-revolutionary pro-capitalist elements, there were layers of honest youth who wanted to fight the bureaucracy. But Marxists have to separate the essential from the non-essential, the accidental from the necessary, and clearly identify the reactionary and progressive sides to every social phenomenon.
There is absolutely no doubt that the main thrust of the movement around University Square was in favour of capitalist restoration. The leaders, such as Munteanu, made no secret of their reactionary political views. When the student-controlled radio station, Radio FUN, run by a liberal, broadcast an interview with myself which criticised capitalism for half an hour, it was Munteanu who led the assault on the station in which a gang of right-wing hoodlums beat up and ejected the staff - whom they falsely described as "Communists" - and closed the radio. This incident was, to my knowledge, never reported in the Western press. So much for "free speech" - and not only in Romania!
The election results were a clear indication that the open advocates of capitalist counter-revolution had been decisively rejected by the people. What was the reaction of these self-styled "democrats"? Dissident poet Doina Cornea told The Independent, 22 May 1990: "There was no civil society here. How could it be otherwise? I have come to the conclusion that universal suffrage - at least when you are moving from a dark night into daylight - is not fair. There are a few people who have maintained moral values and who see that we are threatened with another night. The rest don't see it."
So there we have it. Behind the facade of "democratic ideals" we have the intellectual's elitist contempt for the "ignorant masses". And behind this, in turn, not too far beneath the surface, lies the yearning for a comfortable life and well-paid job, paid for by the labour of these same masses. The election results were a death-blow to the hopes of the openly pro-capitalist elements who backed the protest in University Square. After the elections the students were completely isolated. The demonstration was maintained, but numbers dwindled to a couple of hundred. Predictably, the Front decided to send the police in to break it up. This was the signal for a new offensive movement of the students, which went far beyond the scope of any kind of demonstration.
Labour MP George Galloway was present in Bucharest at the time and witnessed the events: "I watched the crowd of what the minister (William Waldegrave) described as student demonstrators invade the Interior Ministry which is the Romanian equivalent of the Home Office. They stormed that building and set it ablaze. I followed them as they moved on to the central police station which is their equivalent of Scotland Yard. They smashed a police truck through the station's locked doors. I saw them invade the central police station and set it ablaze. They freed prisoners and they looted artefacts in the police station. They even broke into an armoury and had begun to liberate weapons before the police opened fire." And he adds: "If that was not the beginnings of an attempted coup, I do not know what was." (Hansard, House of Commons debate, 28 July 1990)
The accusation that the protectors were involved in some kind of a coup attempt has been generally dismissed in the West as government propaganda. But it is well known, at least in Romania, that a few days before the elections, the meeting in University Square was addressed by an army colonel who said that many army officers were on the side of the students. It is clear that many of the junior officers, in particular, are discontented at their prospects for promotion. Many of these would support a quick transition in the direction of capitalism, and, under certain conditions, might back a coup d'etat. One of the main factors which forced Iliescu to appeal to the workers was the fact that he could not trust the army. Indeed, the army was conspicuously slow to react. The police were worse than useless, which is probably due to the fact that they are terrified of being accused of repressive acts after the role they played in the dictatorship, and the revenge the people took on the Securitate. On the other hand, they do not possess the sophisticated range of anti-riot weaponry that is in the hands of the "democratic" police forces in the West. It would be a matter of using firearms directly, which they were afraid to do, for fear of the consequences. Hence, the only force which stood between the government and the insurgents was the working class.
The theory of an attempted coup is rooted in the very circumstances of the rising. After the NSF's overwhelming victory at the polls, the student leaders could have been under no illusions that their actions would now spark off another December - the original strategy behind the University Square protest. The mass of the workers and peasants would not come to their aid. It was clear that the students, by themselves, could not hope to take power - yet that was the only possible explanation of the attack on strategic targets like the central police station and the television station. The only forces which might have tipped the balance would have been the military. A bold action which initially succeeded in occupying key points in the capital might have given sufficient heart to the dissident officers to join in. The Telegraph, 18 June 1990, admitted that "the arrival of the miners and Mr. Iliescu's announcement of a new National Guard, were prompted by fears about the army's reliability…It is clear that General Victor Stanculescu, the Defence Minister, resisted demands for troops to quell last Wednesday's anti-government riots." The Guardian, 18 June 1990, published the remarks of a dissident in Timisoara, boasting that "soldiers from the Group for the Democratisation of the Army (set up by discontented officers) have come and said they are on our side…We are not afraid of the miners." But if the leaders of the movement were counting on this scenario, they were doomed to be disappointed. The army initially waited on the sidelines - and then came down on the side of the government.
It was the decisive action of the workers - not just the miners but the workers of Bucharest - which quickly put paid to the plans of the bourgeois counter-revolution.
George Galloway reported the slogans he heard from the "golani", or "tramps" as the opposition demonstrators are known: "Out with the Spanish yid, Roman" (Petre Roman's mother is Jewish) and "Iliescu was a whore-master presiding over a brothel of reds and yids". "For the nationalists and anti-semites in the crowd, the terms "communist" and "Jewish" were entirely synonymous."
From the opposite of the political spectrum, the theory of an attempted coup found unexpected backing from Conor Cruise O'Brien who wrote in The Times, 22 July 1990: "This was no protest, but a student-led attempt at a putsch against the recently elected government of Romania…The great difference between the two sets of mob violence is that the first was directed against the elected government, while the second was initiated by the elected government in its own defence."
Iliescu seems to have panicked after the attack on the police headquarters on the afternoon of June 13. The pathetic showing of the police and the disturbing signs of unreliability in the tops of the army forced him to make a radio appeal to the workers of Bucharest to "defend the government and democracy". The response was immediate. The factory sirens blew and the workers of the capital poured onto the streets with improvised weapons, reminiscent of the scene in Barcelona in 1936.
An hour later the rioters attacked the TV station, which is a strategic point every bit as important as the telephone exchange was in Barcelona in May 1937. The army was still hanging back, presumably waiting to see how things would go. It was the workers of Bucharest who retook the TV studios and kicked out the students. The army only turned up later, when it was all over.
The miners from the Jiu valley turned up at dawn on the morning of 14 June after a television appeal by Iliescu. These miners have been variously described as "privileged elements" and even a "praetorian guard". It is true that their wages, as in many countries, are higher than other workers. But their working conditions and safety are appalling, and despite their nominally "high" wages, they did not escape the general poverty which was the lot of the entire Romanian people under Stalinist rule. Far from being a pampered "praetorian guard" of the regime, the miners led the way in the fight against the Ceausescu dictatorship with the heroic strike of 1977.
The action of the miners has aroused heated controversy not only in the West, but in Romania also. It is true that excesses were committed. Violence was exercised at times in an indiscriminate fashion. Innocent people, caught up in the action, were beaten, and so on. Such scenes provoked sharp disagreements even in the factories of Bucharest, with part of the workers criticising the miners, and part defending them. The criticism that the miners went "too far" has some truth in it. But once again, it is a question of separating the essential from the non-essential. Did some of the miners use excessive violence in putting down the counter-revolutionary movement of the students? Probably. Does this fact mean that we should support the students against the miners? Absolutely not.
A Marxist must set out from a class point of view. The movement of the "golani" was definitely a counter-revolutionary movement aimed at the establishment of capitalism in Romania, by provoking a coup d'etat against the NSF government. The miners were fighting to defeat the restorationist elements, and in this any Marxist would have been duty-bound to support them.
The miners settled accounts with the counter-revolutionaries using their own plebeian and heavy-handed methods. Some of the human consequences of this can be regretted, but not the central fact that an attempt at capitalist counter-revolution was defeated by the movement of the workers themselves.
After the fighting there have been accusations that agents of the Securitate had infiltrated the miners. It is difficult to verify this one way or the other. In general, since the revolution, Romanian society is awash with rumours, above all concerning the real or imaginary activities of the former secret police. Suitably dolled up by Western journalists, the most extravagant claims can make good reading over a bowl of cornflakes. The whole thrust of the disgraceful media coverage in the West has been to blacken the name of the miners by all means possible, fair or foul. And none is more certain to do so than the invocation of the name of the "Securitate". However, it is not entirely ruled out.
The fundamental thing is to draw a clear line of distinction between revolution and counter-revolution. That the students represented a bourgeois counter-revolutionary movement is clear. But on the other side of the barricades, there were two clearly defined tendencies, both opposed to the students, but for entirely different and even opposite reasons. On the one hand, there were the workers who were fighting against capitalist restoration and at this stage to defend the NSF government which they identify with the gains of the revolution. On the other hand, there is the old privileged bureaucracy which, hiding behind the banner of the Front, seeks to preserve and defend its power, income and prestige. At that moment in time, the interests of both sides coincided in the immediate struggle to defeat the threat of bourgeois counter-revolution. But this unity cannot last. That is why Iliescu, after politely thanking the miners for saving the government, lost no time in ordering them out of the capital and back to the mines.
The thoroughness of the defeat of the students struck terror into the hearts of the entire pro-capitalist opposition. Their headquarters were ransacked, their papers closed, and thousands arrested. While their offices were soon reopened and their papers on sale again, their nerves had been shattered. Long queues outside foreign embassies tell their own story. At least for the present, despite the odd demonstration of students, the perspective for the pro-bourgeois opposition is bleak in Romania. In the short run, the Front feels itself in complete control. It has taken advantage of the situation to tighten its grip on power. The opposition is cowed. The workers, for the time being, are prepared to give the Front a vote of confidence.
The Western Press cannot understand the reason why the workers and peasants of Romania support the Front. They put it down to "ignorance". But the support for Iliescu which was graphically demonstrated in the election result is no accident. First, the workers (and peasants) identify the Front with the revolution. They see attacks on Iliescu as attacks on the revolution itself, and this they are not prepared to tolerate. Secondly, unlike Poland and other countries in Eastern Europe, the masses have made substantial gains since the revolution. Life is still hard, with widespread shortages and queues, but compared to the Ceausescu period, things are immeasurably better.
There is more light and more heating. Workers will tell you about last winter when the temperature inside the houses was ten degrees, and five degrees in the factories. There was no meat, eggs or butter other than a paltry ration. The Observer, 29 April 1990, commented: "At ICTB Bucharest's biggest clothing factory, the 12,000 women who, according to one worker, once 'looked like corpses after 16 hours work a day' have undergone a happy transformation. They work a five day week, are negotiating pay rises and twelve months maternity leave instead of three."
This picture is pretty general, not only in the towns but in the villages. The Front played its hand astutely by giving small plots of land (in reality vegetable gardens) to each peasant family. It also removed a series of oppressive laws. Where before a peasant had to pay a fine when a bear killed a lamb, they are now allowed to slaughter a pig whenever they like. To the peasant, such changes appear as nothing short of miraculous.
While it is true that in many country areas the old bureaucratic-Securitate regime remains unchanged, and there were probably some cases of coercion, the fact that the peasants voted for the Front, and rejected the party which claimed to speak in their name, cannot be explained by this. The fact is that the majority of peasants, while welcoming the concession of a small plot of land, do not want to own the land themselves. This fact, more than any other, illustrates the extremely narrow base which the pro-capitalist opposition possesses in Romania at this moment in time.
"As elsewhere in Eastern Europe," one commentator boldly claimed, "the opposition parties will win many votes simply because of their anti-communism." (Independent on Sunday, 29 April 1990) This confident prediction seemed to be borne out by the size of the University Square demonstration which for several weeks before the election took over the centre of Bucharest. As explained, this demonstration, mainly of students and intellectuals, was organised by a number of obscure groups and committees, apparently originating in Timisoara, where the revolution began on 17 December. A lot of play was made of this fact by people who styled themselves the "December 17 Committee". The fact that the revolution was won by the intervention of the working class in Bucharest on December 22 was played down by these people. They complained bitterly that "their" revolution was "hijacked". There is even a theory that the revolution of December 22 was a "coup" by a section of the bureaucracy, which had organised the National Salvation Front in advance with the idea of removing Ceausescu from the top, but were taken by surprise by the revolution.
That sections of the bureaucracy were toying with the idea of a coup is highly likely. The crazy rule of the Ceausescu clan was putting the whole bureaucratic regime in danger. In Russia also, sections of the tsars' court played with the idea of a "palace revolution", as Trotsky explains, in order to forestall a revolution from below. But the whole thing came to nothing, and the would-be conspirators were overwhelmed by the February revolution, just as Iliescu and Roman were overwhelmed by the December uprising. Of course, given the absence of a revolutionary alternative, they quickly stepped into the vacuum. But the "theory" that the Romanian revolution was "only a coup d'etat" is merely a reflection of the contempt in which the counter-revolutionary intellectuals hold the workers. Similarly they explain away the election results in terms of the workers' alleged "stupidity". At bottom, these expressions of arrogant disregard of the masses expresses only the impotence of the intellectual.
Of course, the students played an important role in December, but the movement of the students represented only the opening shots of the revolution. They acted courageously as a catalyst. But by themselves they were powerless to determine the outcome. It was the decisive movement of the proletariat which settled the fate of the old regime. As one worker expressed it to me in an angry comment on the exaggerated claims of the students in University Square: "Where would Timisoara have been if it had not been for Bucharest?"
The resentment and frustration of the students flows from the feeling that somehow the revolution has slipped out of their hands. There is a widespread sensation among a layer of society that, despite all the deaths and sacrifices, "nothing has changed". And indeed, there is an element of truth in this assertion. Despite the Herculean efforts of the masses, the old state machine remains intact. The old officials and functionaries are still in their offices. Even the majority of Securitate agents are still at liberty - they have merely changed their jobs and now function under the control of the army. The old "communist" nomenclature still retains its key jobs, big salaries and privileges. Many of them hold leading positions in the Front.
To that extent, the frustration of the students is understandable. It would he wrong to think that all the people in University Square were conscious counter-revolutionaries. Mixed up with them were young people who in a confused way want to fight the bureaucracy. But, once they were identified with the open advocates of a return to capitalism they opened up an abyss between themselves and the big majority of the working class.
The tactics of the demonstrators in University Square could not have been more calculated to infuriate the workers. Their main demands were that the election should be postponed and that no ex-leader of the "communist" party (i.e. Iliescu) should be allowed to stand for election. After 40 years of totalitarian rule, the Romanian people were in no mood to listen to the demand for calling off the elections and surrender the right to express their opinions for the first time in their lives! The campaign against Iliescu also backfired for reasons already referred to.
At first sight, the dismay of the bourgeois at the Front's victory seems hard to understand. After all, the NSF's programme also stands for capitalism, albeit with a "gradual transition", hedged around with conditions to "protect the workers", and leaving certain key sectors, such as transport and defence industries, in state hands.
Very soon after the elections, the NSF government appointed a "Minister for Privatisation", one Adrian Severin, who advocates a rapid devaluation and a convertible Lei in 18 months, the privatisation of small and medium enterprises, and the break-up of big state-owned industries, even at the cost of inflation and unemployment.
But the suspicious attitude of the bourgeois towards the NSF is not an accident. They understand that in politics, what is important is not only what is said, but also who says it and for what purpose. That a section of the NSF leaders wants to go back to capitalism is beyond doubt. But the NSF, unlike the National Liberals and the National Peasant Party, is forced to lean on the working class. And the attitude of the Romanian workers towards privatisation is clear to everyone.
This is what the bourgeois most fear. Their fears are shared by a section of the NSF leadership. Iliescu himself has always been very cautious in his pronouncements on privatisation, stressing the need to proceed slowly to avoid social tension.
In all the countries of Eastern Europe, the move towards capitalism will inevitably provoke social convulsions. Nowhere is that clearer than in Romania. Despite the enormous popularity of the Front, workers are by no means uncritical, nor have they given the government a blank cheque.
At the moment, the regime has a certain room for manoeuvre. Its crushing electoral victory gives it a certain stability. The opposition has been reduced to a shambles.
The economy is in a bad way after decades of bureaucratic mismanagement and corruption. It is estimated that the Ceausescu family sent up to eight billion dollars to Swiss banks, while subjecting the population to near starvation. They also spent countless millions on the notorious "House of the People", Ceausescu's palace which boasts the second biggest chandelier in Europe with 984 light-bulbs, at a time when each Romanian home was limited to a single 40-watt bulb. This money alone would have been sufficient to modernise key sectors of the economy and ensure a decent living standard for all Romanians.
Instead, the infrastructure has been left to decay. Roads, railways, airports, communications, hospitals, are more reminiscent of a third-world country than a European economy. It is calculated that at least two billion dollars a year would be needed to modernise the economy.
Ceausescu's mad idea of squeezing the population to pay off all Romania's foreign debts was one of the causes of the regime's downfall. It was crazy, but it did mean that Romania's eleven billion foreign debt was actually paid off, though at the price of inhuman suffering. In fact, some three billion dollars are actually owed to Romania and the country has a certain amount of foreign currency reserves. Part of this was used to buy food in the run-up to the election.
Provided the harvest is a good one, the supply of food should improve in the next few months. Severin's idea is obviously to push through a programme of privatisation while the going is good. But the revolution has aroused people's expectations. In recent months there have been a rash of strikes of dockers, miners, transport and metalworkers, who have won concessions. These are now threatened by the programme of privatisation. The period ahead will clearly be a stormy one.
After the initial euphoria, doubts are beginning to creep into the pages of the bourgeois press about the prospects for privatisation in Eastern Europe in general. In its issue of 14 April 1990, The Economist carried an editorial which warned that: "The political risks are formidable. Privatisation will necessarily involve a huge redistribution of wealth. If wrongly handled, it will produce accusations of corruption, resentment against the new owners and suspicions that the nation is being sold off on the cheap to foreigners. All this could give capitalism a bad name just when East Europeans need it most."
The same issue carries a feature on privatisation in Eastern Europe which points out that: "Everywhere in Eastern Europe, privatisation will be a leap in the dark, a change so sweeping that some of its social, economic and political side effects are as yet impossible to discern…East Germany is a special case: privatisation there will advance as German unification does. Neither Romania nor Bulgaria has gone far enough in political transformation to begin talking about the ownership of industry. Romania is furthest behind: it has been hard to own a private cow there let alone a private company."
Whether Romania is "behind" or ahead of the rest of Eastern Europe depends on your class point of view. But the fact is that The Economist, which has been beating the drum for privatisation in Eastern Europe, is now having serious misgivings about the likely results. Only East Germany appears to be regarded with much optimism, and is correctly described as a "special case", an exception to the rule. In all the others, the authors of this article, and not only they, see trouble ahead.
The first steps in the direction of capitalism in Poland have had catastrophic results. True, the queues have disappeared and the shops are now full of goods. But real wages fell by a third in the first three months of 1990: 60% of the average family budget now goes on food. Prices have rocketed: electricity and fuel have gone up by between 400% and 600%, while wages are held below the rate of inflation. The average monthly wage is only enough to buy 100-150 loaves of bread. At the same time, the new rich display their new Volvos and Mercedes and eat at restaurants where a dinner costs the equivalent of the monthly wage of several university professors. And on top of everything, there is the threat of mass unemployment and recession by the year's end.
No wonder The Economist grumbles that: "Inevitably, objections will be raised by what one Polish official calls 'the people who carry communism in their hearts'. Those who are accustomed to thinking of state property as theirs already, especially the workers whose privileges will he curtailed by privatisation, will not like watching it purchased by those who 'don't deserve it'." (The Economist, 14 April 1990)
Thus it turns out that the attitude of the Romanian masses towards capitalism is not such a peculiar thing as Western propaganda would have US to believe. Far from being 'a lesser breed without the law', the Romanian workers have much the same standpoint as their brothers and sisters in the rest of Eastern Europe, or, for that matter, in the rest of the world.
Insofar as there is a difference, it is due to the feet not that the Romanian workers drag behind their counterparts in Poland, East Germany and Czechoslovakia, but precisely because they went much further. In other countries, the ruling bureaucratic caste made concessions just in time to head off the movement of the masses. In Romania, because of the peculiar nature of the regime, Ceausescu clung onto power and provoked a revolution. The same possibility was implicit in the situation in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, or even Hungary where it was revealed that sections of the bureaucracy were contemplating a coup. If they had not moved to reform from the top (under pressure from Moscow, terrified of the prospect of political revolution in Eastern Europe), the workers would have moved from below, as in Romania.
There is no question of the capitalist counter-revolution succeeding in a peaceful "cold" way in any of these countries. The struggle between revolution and counter-revolution may well be complicated and protracted, because of the weakness of the subjective factor. But in Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia, the next period will sec titanic upheavals which will once again put the question of revolution back on the agenda. When the workers see what capitalism means in practice, a violent reaction will set in: this is precisely what The Economist means when it warns of the possibly dire consequences of this "leap in the dark".
Indeed, it is not at all certain that countries like Romania will ever enjoy the dubious privilege of even a temporary return to capitalism. While Severin and, it seems, Petre Roman, advocate a rapid move in the direction of capitalism and reject the "timid approach", others, probably including Iliescu, are not too sure. There are colossal difficulties in the way. Already, Dan Pascariu, the deputy chairman of the Romanian Bank for Foreign Trade, warns: "The whole Eastern Europe region is in turmoil and the [foreign] bankers are nervous." (The Independent, 5 dune, 1990) His fears were confirmed by Tom Butler, general manager of one of the two foreign banks which actually operate in Romania: "Romania at this stage is not that bankable" was his laconic reply.
Just as in Britain, the big majority of workers who vote Labour have never read the party programme, so in Romania the big majority of workers who voted for Iliescu almost certainly do not know that the Front's programme includes the idea of a market economy. When told that the Front also supports capitalism, most workers respond with total disbelief: After all, that was the programme of Ratiu and Campeanu - how could Iliescu be the same as them?
Any attempt to push through the kind of programme advocated by Severin will provoke exactly the kind of social turmoil Iliescu has been trying to avoid. After an initial honeymoon period, which could last a few months, there will be new struggles, strikes and demonstrations - and this time, not of the students.
The NSF itself is not a homogenous organisation. Originally formed as an organisation of dissident bureaucrats, it has since proclaimed itself a political party and in the election campaign was joined by a large number of workers. Under pressure from the working class, it is doubtful whether the NSF leadership will hold together. Neither capitalism nor Stalinism can guarantee the future of the workers of Eastern Europe. The present confused and contradictory situation, the inevitable consequences of decades of Stalinist misrule, will become clarified to the degree that the masses learn from experience the right road to take. In particular, the attempt to introduce capitalism represents a colossal blind alley. As The Economist anticipates, it will inevitably cause a massive recoil in one country after another.
At present, the ideologues of capitalism are crowing about the alleged demise of "socialism". But what we are witnessing, after a long delay, is the demise, not of socialism, but of Stalinism. The real ideas of socialism, workers' democracy and internationalism, will be rediscovered by the workers of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, when life itself demonstrates that capitalism offers no way out for them. The inevitable ending of the present long boom in world capitalism will, in its turn, prepare new social upheavals in Western Europe, Japan, and the USA, which will make the revolution in Eastern Europe look like a tea-party.