The Ceausescu Succession

The Ceausescu Succession

In March 1965 Gheorghiu-Dej died. A triumvirate succeeded him: Ceausescu, the party's first secretary; Chivu Stoica, the state council president; and Ion Gheorghe Maurer, premier. Ceausescu wasted little time consolidating power and eliminating rivals. Alexandru Draghici, his main rival, lost his interior ministry post in 1965 and PMR membership in 1968. After Draghici's removal, Ceausescu began accumulating various party and government positions, including state council president and supreme military commander, so that by the Tenth Party Congress in 1969, Ceausescu controlled the Central Committee and had surrounded himself with loyal subordinates.

Ceausescu, like Gheorghiu-Dej, preached national communism, and he redoubled the Romanianization effort. In 1965 the PMR was renamed the Romanian Communist Party (Partidul Comunist Român--PCR) in conjunction with the leadership's elevation of Romania from the status of a people's democracy to a socialist republic, a distinction ostensibly marking a leap forward along the path toward true communism. The leadership also added a strong statement of national sovereignty to the preamble of the new Constitution. By 1966 Ceausescu had ceased extolling the Soviet Union's "liberation" of Romania and recharacterized the Red Army's wartime action there as "weakening fascism" and "animating" the Romanians to liberate the country from fascist dominance. Romanians heeded the nationalist appeal, but Ceausescu so exaggerated the effort that a cult of personality developed. Propagandists, striving to cast Ceausescu as the embodiment of all ancestral courage and wisdom, even staged meetings between Ceausescu and actors portraying Michael the Brave, Stephen the Great, and other national heroes.

Romania's divergence from Soviet policies widened under Ceausescu. In 1967 Romania recognized the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) and maintained diplomatic relations with Israel after the June 1967 War. In August 1968, Ceausescu visited Prague to lend support to Alexander Dubcek's government. Romania denounced the Soviet Union for ordering the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, and Ceausescu met Tito twice after the invasion to discuss a common defense against a possible Bulgarian-Soviet military action and reassert their insistence on full autonomy, equal national rights, and noninterference. Popular acceptance of Ceausescu's regime peaked during his defiance of the Soviet Union following the invasion of Czechoslovakia; most Romanians believed his actions had averted Soviet re-occupation of their country.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, thanks mostly to ample domestic energy and raw-material production, easily tapped labor reserves, forced savings, Western trade concessions, and large foreign credits, Romania enjoyed perhaps its most prosperous economic years since World War II. Although industrial production had tripled in the decade up to 1965, the inefficiencies of central planning and inadequate worker incentives signalled future problems. In 1969 the regime launched an ephemeral economic reform that promised to increase efficiency and boost incentives by decentralizing economic control, allowing private enterprise greater freedom, and increasing supplies of consumer goods. Ceausescu soon halted decentralization, however, and renewed the effort to develop heavy industry.

During his early years in power, Ceausescu sought to present himself as a reformer and populist champion of the common man. Purge victims began returning home; contacts with the West multiplied; and artists, writers, and scholars found new freedoms. In 1968 Ceausescu openly denounced Gheorghiu-Dej for deviating from party ideals during Stalin's lifetime. After consolidating power, however, Ceausescu regressed. The government again disciplined journalists and demanded the allegiance of writers and artists to socialist realism. As a result of his China visit in 1971, Ceausescu launched his own version of the Cultural Revolution, spawning volumes of sycophantic, pseudohistorical literature and suppressing dissidents.

In the early 1970s, Ceausescu painstakingly concentrated power at the apex of the political pyramid. The arrest, and probable execution, of the Bucharest garrison's commanding officer in 1971, possibly for planning to oust Ceausescu, prompted an overhaul of the military and security forces. After his China trip, Ceausescu removed Premier Maurer and thousands of managers and officials who advocated or implemented the earlier economic reform, and he replaced them with his protégés. In 1972 the government adopted the principle of cadre rotation, making the creation of power bases opposed to Ceausescu impossible. In accordance with the PCR's claim that it had ceased being an organization of a few committed operatives and become a mass party "organically implanted in all cells of life," Ceausescu began blending party and state structures and named individuals to hold dual party and state posts. In 1973 Ceausescu's wife, Elena, became a member of the Politburo, and in 1974 voters "elected" Ceausescu president of the republic.

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