The Ceausescu Era

Source: U.S. Library of Congress

Period from 1965 to 1970

After becoming PCR first secretary in March 1965, Ceausescu's first challenge was consolidating his power. Posing a major threat to his authority were three of his predecessor's closest associates--Chivu Stoica, a veteran party leader; Gheorghe Apostol, first deputy prime minister and a former PCR first secretary; and Alexandru Draghici, minister of interior and head of the powerful state security apparatus.

A temporary compromise was found in a system of collective leadership with Ceausescu acting as head of the party and Stoica becoming president of the State Council and, as such, head of state. Apostol remained first deputy minister, and Draghici kept the position of minister of interior. Ion Gheorghe Maurer, who had served as prime minister under Gheorghiu-Dej, retained that position. At the same time, changes were made in the party statutes to prevent one man from holding dual party and government offices as Gheorghiu-Dej had done.

At the Ninth Party Congress in July 1965, Ceausescu was able to add a number of supporters to an enlarged PCR Central Committee and to change his title to general secretary. At the same time a new body was added to the party hierarchy--the Executive Committee, which stood between the Standing Presidium and the Central Committee. Although Ceausescu was not able to gain full control of the Executive Committee immediately, in time the new body provided him the means to place his supporters in the leading PCR organs and to implement his own policies.

Political observers identified three principal factions within the PCR during the 1965-67 period: Ceausescu and his supporters; the veteran party men led by Stoica, Apostol, and Draghici; and the intellectuals, represented by Maurer. Those people allied with Ceausescu, who was forty-seven years old when he came to power, tended to be men of his own generation and outlook, and whenever possible he engineered their appointment or promotion into important party, government, and military positions.

One of Ceausescu's foremost concerns was what he termed the vitalization of the PCR. To achieve this end, he not only brought younger people into the top party organs but also sought, for a limited time, to broaden the professional skills represented in those bodies through the recruitment of technicians and academicians. At the same time, he allowed increased technical and scientific contacts with Western nations and lifted the ban on works by certain foreign writers and artists, thereby gaining support among intellectuals.

1967 Party Conference

At a special National Conference of the PCR in December 1967-- the first such event in twenty-two years--Ceausescu continued to strengthen his position. Attending the conference were members of the Central Committee and 1,150 delegates from local party organizations. Ceausescu elected to employ the technique of the party conference rather than a special party congress in order to have his proposals approved by a larger body than the Central Committee. At the same time, he wanted to avoid election of a new Central Committee, which a party congress would have required.

Ceausescu proposed a number of reforms in the structure and functioning of the party and government, and he asserted the need to eliminate duplication. He proposed that the Central Committee limit itself to basic decisions of economic policy and that specific matters of implementation be left to the ministries.

Political and ideological activity, Ceausescu proposed, would remain under the control of the Central Committee and would be given greater emphasis and direction through the creation of an ideological commission that would develop an intensified program of political education. A defense council, composed of the party's Standing Presidium and other members, would be established to deal with most military questions, but basic guidance for both the armed forces and the state security apparatus would remain the responsibility of the Central Committee. Major foreign policy questions would be decided by the Standing Presidium.

Ceausescu proposed several reforms in the organization and responsibilities of government organs and called for redrawing the country's administrative subdivisions. He sought to broaden the activities of the GNA and its commissions, and he recommended a larger role for the Council of Ministers in formulating long-term economic plans. In addition, he suggested that the heads of three important mass organizations--the UGSR, the UTC, and the National Union of Agricultural Production Cooperatives--be included in the government and be given ministerial ranking.

The National Conference unanimously adopted Ceausescu's proposals and reversed the party statutes adopted in 1965 that prevented the party leader from simultaneously holding the position of head of state. The official rationale for uniting the highest offices of the party and state was to eliminate duplication of functions and increase efficiency. Stoica was given a position in the party Secretariat and later, in 1969, was named chairman of the Central Auditing Commission.

In implementing Ceausescu's recommendations, certain positions in the party and state organizations were fused. For example, judet and city party first secretaries became chairmen of the corresponding people's councils, and secretaries of local party units and labor union representatives became involved in the councils of industrial enterprises.

Immediately following the National Conference, the GNA convened to elect Ceausescu president of the State Council. Apostol was demoted from his position as a first deputy prime minister to his previously held post of UGSR chairman. Draghici was removed from the party Secretariat and given a position as a deputy prime minister under Maurer, who was reappointed prime minister. With the successful demotion of his chief rivals, Ceausescu emerged at the close of 1967 as the undisputed leader of both the party and the state.

Rehabilitation and De-Stalinization

With his power base firmly established, Ceausescu proceeded to dissociate his regime from the Gheorghiu-Dej era. In April 1968, at a plenary session of the Central Committee, the Gheorghiu-Dej regime was indicted for abuses of power, and the victims of his political purges were officially rehabilitated. Because of his close association with Gheorghiu-Dej and his position as head of the interior ministry during the period of the purges Draghici was relieved of all his positions. Apostol and Stoica were censured but were allowed to remain in their posts, although their standing in the party was considerably weakened.

During the 1968-70 period, Ceausescu pursued a cautious policy of de-Stalinization in domestic affairs while maintaining Romania's independent stance in international relations. The domestic relaxation was short-lived, however, and in April 1968, Ceausescu cautioned intellectuals and artists not to overstep the bounds established by the party.

Tenth Party Congress

The Tenth Party Congress of August 1969 reelected Ceausescu PCR general secretary, enlarged the Central Committee from 121 to 165 members, purged some of Ceausescu's potential opponents, and further revised the party statutes. The statute revisions provided for electing the Central Committee by secret ballot and transferred responsibility for electing the general secretary from the Central Committee to the party congress. It was also decided that the party congress would be convened every five--rather than four--years so that it could discuss and adopt a five-year economic plan for the country.

Nearly half of the older members of the Central Committee were replaced by younger men who supported Ceausescu. Two members of the old guard, Apostol and Stoica, were conspicuously not reelected, and immediately after the congress, Apostol lost his position as UGSR chairman after being charged with "serious breaches of Communist morality."

Eleventh Party Congress

The Eleventh Party Congress in November 1974 adopted the party program (a massive document establishing the framework for party activity for the following quarter century), the directives for the Sixth Five-Year Plan (1976-80), and the guidelines for the economy from 1974 through 1990. The congress failed, however, to complete all the items on its agenda, leaving such unfinished business as party statute revisions to the Central Committee for finalization.

The report of the Central Committee surveyed the party's achievements, examined "the problems of international political life" and cooperation with other countries, and defined the national goal as the building of a "multilaterally developed socialist society." The foreign policy objectives set forth in the report included the establishment of a "new world order," disarmament, and a "new type of unity" in the international communist movement.

The draft directives of the 1976-80 plan projected continued rapid development of "the technical and material basis of the national economy, and of the whole of society." The directives earmarked some one-third of the gross national product for investment, the highest rate in the communist world, and predicted an annual rate of industrial growth of between 9 and 10 percent for the period up to 1990.

The congress considered a proposal to appoint Ceausescu PCR general secretary for life. Ceausescu rejected the proposal in a brief speech, possibly because of the objections of Western communist delegates in attendance and the potential damage the appointment would cause to his international image.

The congress elected a new Central Committee, which was expanded to 205 members and 156 alternate members, and removed 43 members elected at the Tenth Congress, including former Prime Minister Maurer. Numerous party and government officials were assigned new positions. The Central Committee elected a twentyeight -member Polexco, which selected the membership of the Permanent Bureau (created in March to replace the Presidium). Far from the broadly based committee initially projected, the Permanent Bureau comprised only Ceausescu and a handful of persons who owed their rise entirely to him. Thus Ceausescu's personal rule was further strengthened and institutionalized.

Twelfth Party Congress

The Twelfth Party Congress in November 1979 was attended by 2,656 delegates representing approximately 3 million party members and by delegations from 98 countries. None of the more senior officials from the other East European and Soviet parties was present. Ceausescu presented a lengthy report detailing the economic shortcomings and mistakes of the previous five years, particularly those in the agricultural sector. He stressed the necessity for greater efficiency and for additional austerity measures, especially energy conservation. Announcing that offshore oil had been found in the Black Sea, Ceausescu proclaimed the goal of energy self-sufficiency within ten years.

On internal party matters, Ceausescu stressed the need for greater discipline and pointed out shortcomings in ideological, political, and cultural activities. To detect potential adversaries, party members' records were to be examined by the Party and State Cadres Commission, headed by Elena Ceausescu.

The Twelfth Congress witnessed an unprecedented attack on Ceausescu's personal leadership by a former high-ranking party official, Constantin Pirvulescu, who openly opposed Ceausescu's reelection as general secretary, accusing him of putting personal and family interests above those of the party and the country. He accused the congress of neglecting the country's real problems in its preoccupation with Ceausescu's glorification. Observers noted that this unprecedented attack came from a man who could not be accused of pro-Soviet sentiments, because he had been a staunch defender of PCR autonomy. Nor could he, at the age of eighty-four, be accused of personal ambition. Pirvulescu's remarks were, according to press reports, evidence of discontent in the party ranks. Pirvulescu was stripped of his delegate credentials, expelled from the congress, and placed under strict surveillance and house arrest.

The congress elected a new Central Committee of 408 members, including 163 alternate members, and a Polexco of 27 full and 18 alternate members. The Polexco Permanent Bureau was expanded from eleven to fifteen members. This steady growth reflected Ceausescu's desire to make the body an institutional gathering of the most powerful people in the government and party.

Thirteenth Party Congress

At the Thirteenth Party Congress of November 1984, Ceausescu's address was devoted mostly to the economy. The report made clear that there would be no substantial effort to increase the standard of living and that forced industrialization would continue unabated. It revealed that the industrial growth rate during the first four years of the decade had been much lower than was projected by the eleventh and twelfth congresses. The report did not mention food shortages and rationing. Ignoring the fact that electricity and fuel supplies to the general population had been cut drastically, Ceausescu blithely predicted that by 1995, Romania would be energy self-sufficient.

A major part of the report was devoted to the question of political-educational activity and the "fashioning of a new man" in order to "elevate the socialist revolutionary awareness of all working people." Observers pointed out that the report featured Ceausescu's Stalinist ideological orthodoxy more prominently than ever before. He called for intensified study of Marxist philosophical writings and urged the party to fight "mysticism" and "obscurantism" (euphemisms for religion), as well as "obsolete" and "foreign" ideological influences.

The congress elected a new Central Committee of 446 members, who in turn selected a commission to propose the composition of a new PCR Polexco of 23 full members and 25 alternate members. Among the new alternate members were Ceausescu's son Nicu, whose political ambitions were undisguised, and Tudor Postelnicu, one of Ceausescu's most trusted security men after the defection of Ion Pacepa in 1978. The size of the Permanent Bureau was reduced to eight members, only five of whom remained from the 1979 Permanent Bureau. All personnel changes after the Thirteenth Congress were designed to increase Ceausescu's power base.

Cult of Personality

The distinctive feature of Romania's political power structure in the 1980s was the cult of personality surrounding Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu. Some observers argued that the phenomenon was the continuation of Romania's historical legacy. Others held that it was Ceausescu's unique political creation.

Following Ceausescu's rise to power in 1965, Romanians had enjoyed a short-lived liberalization, as the new leader sought to achieve genuine popularity. By 1971, however, the regime had reasserted its Stalinist legacy in socioeconomic and cultural matters. Thereafter ideological orthodoxy retained a tight hold on all intellectual life, and meaningful reforms failed to materialize. After assuming the newly established position of president of the republic, Ceausescu was increasingly portrayed by the Romanian media as a creative communist theoretician and political leader whose "thought" was the source of all national accomplishments. His tenure as president was known as the "golden era of Ceausescu." The media embellished all references to him with such fomulaic appellations as "guarantor of the nation's progress and independence" and "visionary architect of the nation's future." In 1989, Ceausescu functioned as the head of state, the PCR, and the armed forces; chairman of the Supreme Council for Economic and Social Development, president of the National Council of Working People, and chairman of the Socialist Democracy and Unity Front.

In the 1980s, the personality cult was extended to other members of the Ceausescu family. Ceausescu's wife, Elena, held a position of prominence in political life far exceeding protocol requirements. As first deputy prime minister, she took part in official negotiations with foreign governments and communist parties. She chaired both the National Council on Science and Technology and the National Council for Science and Education. Her most influential position, however, was that of chief of the Party and State Cadres Commission, which enabled her to effect organizational and personnel changes in the party apparatus and the government. By the mid-1980s, Elena Ceausescu's national prominence had grown to the point that her birthday was celebrated as a national holiday, as was her husband's. With allies throughout the Central Committee and the powerful secret police, Elena Ceausescu had emerged as one of the foremost contenders to succeed her husband, who in 1989 was reported to be in failing health. Their son, Nicu, was a candidate member of the Polexco, and two of Ceausescu's brothers held key positions in the army and the secret police. In 1989, some twenty-seven of Ceausescu's close relatives held top party and state positions.

Emergence of an Organized Opposition

Postwar Romania had less labor unrest and fewer overt acts of antigovernment defiance than any other East European country. During the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the Gheorghiu-Dej regime feared the unrest might spill over into Romania. But even though there was student unrest and tension among the Hungarian population of Transylvania, the regime was not seriously threatened. The gradual deterioration of the economy as well as poor and dangerous working conditions led to significant unrest during the late 1970s, however. In 1977 a prolonged strike by coal miners in the Jiu Valley climaxed in the miners holding the prime minister captive in a mine shaft for two days. As a result of this incident, the Securitate still maintained constant surveillance over the region more than a decade later. Despite further deterioration of the economy, the severe food shortages, and energy and fuel restrictions during the 1980s, only limited signs of unrest were observed, thanks to the strict surveillance and repressive measures of the internal security forces. But in November 1987, a massive protest occurred in the city of Brasov. Some 30,000 workers staged a violent protest against harsh living conditions and the prospect of another winter of food and energy shortages. The spontaneous demonstration began at a tractor and truck plant and spread into the streets. Joined by onlookers, the workers chanting anti-Ceausescu slogans marched on the city hall and ransacked the mayor's office. The protest was broken up by militia and the Securitate, and a number of workers were arrested. Though it was crushed, the Brasov protest represented a rallying point for the possible emergence of an organized opposition.

In March 1989, a letter addressed to Ceausescu criticizing his dictatorial policy reached the West. Written by a group of retired senior communist officials, it accused Ceausescu of violating international human rights agreements, including the 1975 Helsinki Final Act (Helsinki Accords); ignoring the constitutional rights of citizens; mismanaging the economy; and alienating Romania's allies. The signatories called for a halt to the systematization program of destroying rural villages and forcibly relocating peasant families. The letter was signed by former General Secretary Gheorghe Apostol; former Politburo member and Deputy Prime Minister Alexandru Birladeanu; Constantin Pirvulescu, a co-founder of the PCR; Corneliu Manescu, a former Romanian foreign minister and onetime president of the United Nations (UN) General Assembly; and Grigore Raceanu, a veteran party member. Many analysts considered the letter the most serious challenge to Ceausescu's rule to date. The regime relocated and isolated all signatories and reportedly subjected them to other repressive measures. The United States expressed official concern for their safety, and several other Western governments subsequently limited their relations with Romania

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