The Post-Stalin Era
After Stalin died in March 1953, Gheorghiu-Dej forged a "New Course" for Romania's economy. He slowed industrialization, increased consumer-goods production, closed Romania's largest labor camps, abandoned the Danube-Black Sea Canal project, halted rationing, and hiked workers' wages. Romania and the Soviet Union also dissolved the Sovroms.
Soon after Stalin's death, Gheorghiu-Dej also set Romania on its so-called "independent" course within the East bloc. Gheorghiu-Dej identified with Stalinism, and the more liberal Soviet regime threatened to undermine his authority. In an effort to reinforce his position, Gheorghiu-Dej pledged cooperation with any state, regardless of political-economic system, as long as it recognized international equality and did not interfere in other nations' domestic affairs. This policy led to a tightening of Romania's bonds with China, which also advocated national self-determination.
In 1954 Gheorghiu-Dej resigned as the party's general secretary but retained the premiership; a four-member collective secretariat, including Ceausescu, controlled the party for a year before Gheorghiu-Dej again took up the reins. Despite its new policy of international cooperation, Romania joined the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact) in 1955, which entailed subordinating and integrating a portion of its military into the Soviet military machine. Romania later refused to allow Warsaw Pact maneuvers on its soil and limited its participation in military maneuvers elsewhere within the alliance.
In 1956 the Soviet premier, Nikita Khrushchev, denounced Stalin in a secret speech before the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. Gheorghiu-Dej and the PMR leadership were fully braced to weather de-Stalinization. Gheorghiu-Dej made Pauker, Luca, and Georgescu scapegoats for the Romanian communists' past excesses and claimed that the Romanian party had purged its Stalinist elements even before Stalin had died.
In October 1956, Poland's communist leaders refused to succumb to Soviet military threats to intervene in domestic political affairs and install a more obedient politburo. A few weeks later, the communist party in Hungary virtually disintegrated during a popular revolution. Poland's defiance and Hungary's popular uprising inspired Romanian students and workers to demonstrate in university and industrial towns calling for liberty, better living conditions, and an end to Soviet domination. Fearing the Hungarian uprising might incite his nation's own Hungarian population to revolt, Gheorghiu-Dej advocated swift Soviet intervention, and the Soviet Union reinforced its military presence in Romania, particularly along the Hungarian border. Although Romania's unrest proved fragmentary and controllable, Hungary's was not, so in November Moscow mounted a bloody invasion of Hungary.
After the Revolution of 1956, Gheorghiu-Dej worked closely with Hungary's new leader, János Kádár. Although Romania initially took in Imre Nagy, the exiled former Hungarian premier, it returned him to Budapest for trial and execution. In turn, Kádár renounced Hungary's claims to Transylvania and denounced Hungarians there who had supported the revolution as chauvinists, nationalists, and irredentists. In Transylvania, for their part, the Romanian authorities merged Hungarian and Romanian universities at Cluj and consolidated middle schools. Romania's government also took measures to allay domestic discontent by reducing investments in heavy industry, boosting output of consumer goods, decentralizing economic management, hiking wages and incentives, and instituting elements of worker management. The authorities eliminated compulsory deliveries for private farmers but reaccelerated the collectivization program in the mid-1950s, albeit less brutally than earlier. The government declared collectivization complete in 1962, when collective and state farms controlled 77 percent of the arable land.
Despite Gheorghiu-Dej's claim that he had purged the Romanian party of Stalinists, he remained susceptible to attack for his obvious complicity in the party's activities from 1944 to 1953. At a plenary PMR meeting in March 1956, Miron Constantinescu and Iosif Chisinevschi, both Politburo members and deputy premiers, criticized Gheorghiu-Dej. Constantinescu, who advocated a Khrushchev-style liberalization, posed a particular threat to Gheorghiu-Dej because he enjoyed good connections with the Moscow leadership. The PMR purged Constantinescu and Chisinevschi in 1957, denouncing both as Stalinists and charging them with complicity with Pauker. Afterwards, Gheorghiu-Dej faced no serious challenge to his leadership. Ceausescu replaced Constantinescu as head of PMR cadres.
|Country Studies main page | Romania Country Studies main page|