Romania Table of Contents

The End of the Ancien Régime

Before World War II, Romania was overwhelmingly agrarian. In the late 1940s, roughly 75 percent of the population was engaged in agriculture. It was a poor and backward peasant agriculture; inferior yields were eked from plots of land that grew ever smaller as the rural population increased. Although a fair amount of industrial activity was nurtured by state contracts and foreign investments, industrial development was slow and failed to create alternative employment opportunities for the overpopulated and impoverished countryside. The bourgeoisie was weakly developed. Atop the low social pyramid stood a disproportionately powerful social elite, a remnant of the nobility that had once owned most of the land in the Old Kingdom. Although reforms between 1917 and 1921 had stripped them of all but 15 percent of the arable land, this aristocracy remained a puissant voice in political affairs.

After World War II, Romania's social structure was drastically altered by the imposition of a political system that envisioned a classless, egalitarian society. Marxist-Leninist doctrine holds that the establishment of a socialist state, in which the working class possesses the means of production and distribution of goods and political power, will ensure the eventual development of communism. In this utopia there will be no class conflict and no exploitation of man by fellow man. There will be an abundance of wealth to be shared equally by all. The path to communism requires the ascendancy of the working class and the elimination of the ruling classes and the bourgeoisie. In Romania the latter was accomplished relatively easily, but the former was more problematic, as most of the population were peasants and not workers.

Following the Soviet imposition of a communist government in 1945, the first order of business was to eliminate opposition to the consolidation of power in the name of the working class. The dislocation from the war assisted the new government in this objective, as many of the ruling elite, whether from the landowning nobility or the bourgeoisie, had either emigrated or been killed in the war. Many of the survivors left with the retreating German forces as the Red Army approached. Most Jews, who before the war had constituted a large segment of the communal and financial elite, either died in fascist Romania or fled the country in the next few years.

Consequently, a few measures taken in the early days of communist rule easily eradicated the upper crust from the ancien régime. Land reforms in 1945 eliminated all large properties and thus deprived the aristocracy of their economic base and their final vestiges of power. The currency reform of 1947, which essentially confiscated all money for the state, was particularly ruinous for members of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie who had not fled with their fortunes. In addition, the state gradually expropriated commercial and industrial properties, so that by 1950, 90 percent of all industrial output was directly controlled by the state and by 1953 only 14 percent of the shops remained privately owned.

Although potential opposition from the more economically and socially advanced members of society was all but eliminated almost immediately, the task of creating an industrial working class in whose name the communists claimed power had hardly begun. In 1950 less than 25 percent of the population lived in urban areas or worked in industry. But conditions in the countryside were ripe for social change in the very direction the regime required. The ravages of war and subsequent Soviet occupation had left the peasantry on the brink of famine. Much of their livestock and capital had been destroyed. Their misery was further compounded by a severe drought in 1945 and 1946, followed by a famine that killed thousands. More important for the goals of the regime, many of the peasants were becoming detached from the land and were willing to take the factory jobs that would result from the party's ambitious industrialization program.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress