The analysis of Romanian communism.
An attempt at a conceptual and theoretical innovation


Emanuel COPILAŞ, Geneza leninismului romantic [The Genesis of Romantic Leninism]
Institutul European, Iaşi, 2012


The book written by Emanuel Copilaș – having eight chapters and more than six hundred pages – is a comprehensive attempt to analyze communist Romania’s foreign policy between 1948 and 1989. The analysis is made with the instruments of a political and international relations theorist, who tries to bring together the plenty of factual information provided especially by historians. The book written by Copilaș is therefore not (primarily) a history book, but a political science one. This is important to keep in mind in order to correctly evaluate the hypotheses, methods and contents of the book.

The most valuable aspects of the book are in my view its ability to propose new political concepts (categories), its courage to read Romanian foreign policy through the „perceptive lenses“ of a quite new theory in politics and international relations, as well as its factual „richness“ that stems from an extensive documentation on the political, social and economic conditions of the communist Romania.

Regarding the first aspect, most relevant parts of the book are chapters two and six. In chapter two, the author explains which are the differences between Leninism and Marxism and discusses the varieties of Leninism. A first kind of Leninism is „revolutionary Leninism“, which is associated with the writings and activity of Lenin himself and grosso modo overlaps with what Bolshevism means in communist studies (pp. 52-3). The second type of Leninism, „post-revolutionary Leninism“, refers to what in Soviet history is usually called Stalinism. Even if some prominent researchers such as Robert Tucker or Stephen Cohen consider that Stalinism marked the end of Bolshevism, Copilaș argues that there is continuity between the two: „a lineage exists between them going through Leninism“ (p. 56). This statement has its proof, considers the author, mainly in the fact that the revolutionary stimulus had not totally disappeared before the end of Stalin era, hence the author’s preference for the term of „post-revolutionary Leninism“. Emanuel Copilaș discusses next a couple of concepts, namely „Europeanized Leninism“ vs. „Asianized Leninism“. „Europeanized Leninism“ covers the Nikita Khrushchev’s leadership. It is „Europeanized“ because Khrushchev made some compromise with European values of political negotiation, market competitiveness, „socialist rule of law“ etc (p. 57). „Asianized Leninism“, that covers Mao era, is a riposte to Europeanized Leninism and its alleged „capitulation“ in the face of global capitalism. For Copilaș, Maoism contrary to a quite wide-spread point of view is not a sui-generis ideology but one that has its clear lineage with Leninism (p. 58). Another species of Leninism is the so-called „systemic Leninism“, during the Brezhnev time, when Leninism developed, however weird it may seem, some features generally associated with conservatism: „ideological dogmatism, excessive bureaucratization, bourgeois convenience“ (p. 59) and „toleration if not encouragement of nationalist tendencies“ (p. 60). A last type of Soviet Leninism is the „post-Bolshevik Leninism“ of Gorbachev era, the full version of „Europeanized Leninism“, which has tried to reform Leninism through non-Bolshevik means. This, in the author reading, is equivalent with a contradiction in terms. Or, voluntarily renouncing at „war against bourgeoisie“ is similar to „ideological emasculation“ and recognition of Leninism’ defeat on the global arena (p. 62).

The typology of Soviet Leninism provides the ground for studying post-war Romanian communism. The author considers the period of Gheorgiu˝-Dej leadership as being of the „post-revolutionary Leninist“ kind. Even if this kind of Leninism has got autonomy in relation to the „muscovite metropolis“, its Stalinist principles have practically remained unaltered (p. 282). The era of Ceausescu reign had however characteristics that are not fitting with the typology presented above: „unlike post-revolutionary Leninism [...] romantic Leninism [of Ceausescu era] represents an endemic ideological experiment that has deep roots in the nationalistic past of the country, but is oriented – as any type of Leninism – towards the future not the past“ (p. 283). The hypothesis the author starts with is that the future of „socialist development“ is seen rather through the Romanticism lenses rather the Enlightenment ones. The romantic Leninism gives prominent weight to historical forces of nationalism which are often seen in a spiritual or mystic way. It combines incompatible – from an ideological point of view – values and insights of Romanticism (as well as Fascism and Maoism) and Leninism in order to legitimize itself and mobilize masses. However, the author does not undertake sufficiently, I think, a clear and distinct analysis of these tensions but rather describes the juxtaposition of incompatible values and insights within romantic Leninism. As the author says, „within romantic Leninism, the romanticism becomes a part through exacerbated nationalism and has a weight at least equal to Leninist soil from which romantic Leninism has grown“ (p. 288).

With regard to the second valuable element of the book, it should be emphasized Emanuel Copilaș effort to understand foreign policy of the Romanian communist government on the basis of the four main international relation theories, namely realism, pluralism, Marxism, and social-constructivism. The author’s hypothesis formulated in the first chapter of the book is that social-constructivism is the most appropriate theory for explaining the foreign policy agenda of the Romanian communist leaders. More precisely, Copilaș applies discursive-constructivist model elaborated by Nicholas Onuf to the analysis of Romanian foreign policy after the war. So, he studies the process of Romania „socialization“ within „popular democracies“ between 1945 and 1955 (chapter 3), the processes of de-Stalinization (chapters 4 and 5), the emergence, development and fall of the romantic Leninism of Ceausescu era (chapters 6, 7 and 8). The author’s aim is „not to analyse the social formation of foreign policy during Gheorghiu-Dej and Ceausescu leadership, but its imposition ‘from above’ by Leninist ideology and political practices associated with it, [...] to investigate how ‘from above’ identity was reflected in the thought and actions of communist regime both towards the international environment and domestic politics“ (p. 42). However a terminological clarification is necessary here, one that author should have made in order to fully respect the constructivist „rule“. „Socialization“ is generally considered to be the process by which agents learn (internalize) ideas, values, interests or expectation. For constructivists, this process could be coordinated „from above“, but not „imposed from above“. If it is „imposed from above“, then we find ourselves in a different paradigm to that of constructivism (maybe realism). A central idea of constructivism is that of „endogenous“ process of interests or values formation. For constructivist interests and values are not imposed from above, are not „exogenous“ to a political community, but rather the „unintended“ result of a process of „socialization“, i.e. that of learning and complying with a „social“ rule.

Finally, the third remarkable aspect of the book is its empirical data richness and its historical reconstruction of the events crucial in understanding the foreign policies during Gheorgiu-Dej and Ceausescu. The book cites a number of rare and unpublished sources, such as Open Society Archives. Yet the abundance of factual data the author mentions in order to support his main hypotheses, is not always an advantage. I would even say – paraphrasing a famous statement by Ludwig Wittgenstein – that what can be said in this book, can also be said in fewer words. My opinion is that the author uses sometimes more factual data than is necessary and sufficient to argue its position. This extra factual information creates instead a problem of organizing the content of the book and a problem for the reader following the central argument.

In conclusion, the book by Emanuel Copilaș is a relevant study of the contemporary Romanian foreign policy. The book is valuable in that it proposes new political concepts useful in analyzing Romania communism, it makes use of a novel theoretical framework for systemic explanation of communist Romania’ foreign policy and it also supports its case with rich, novel and important factual information.


Ciprian Niţu
[West University of Timișoara]


CIPRIAN NIȚU este asistent universitar la facultatea de Ştiinţe Politice, Filosofie şi Ştiinţe ale Comunicării a Universităţii de Vest din Timişoara. Este doctorand al Facultăţii de Ştiinţe Politice a Universităţii din Bucureşti. Din 2009 este editor al revistei Political Studies Forum, revistă ce apare sub egida departamentului de Știinţe Politice din cadrul Facultății de Ştiinţe Politice, Filosofie şi Ştiinţe ale Comunicării a Universitatea de Vest din Timișoara.




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