From Marxism to the Ideology of Free Society in 1989 Romania – Transition or Rupture?
The turbulent times in which a revolution takes place delegitimize almost any claim to understand in real time what is happening. Only after things have got back on track can a lucid, cold analysis of events be undertaken – in philosophical terms, the history’s power to reveal the truth is recognized –, and this is the case the 1989 Romanian Revolution. In that year, the population taken to the streets was hoping only for an improvement in living conditions or, rather, for a profound change that would, at one time, have led to a better life – here’s an outdated problem. It is certain that those events have led to substantial changes in Romania – among which the most important place seems to be held by the change of ideological-social commitments, at all levels.
The problem that arises, in this context, is that such a change cannot be made, at any level, suddenly. On the contrary, the cultural-philosophical, sociological and psychological determinants change slowly, gradually and are validated at the social level after periods of time of historical scope. However, of course this is true for the deep layers of the collective mind. At the socio-political level, even the idea of revolution – by contrast with that of reform – presupposes an element of rupture.
Thus, the question that animates the present text is the following: was there a break from the old structures of the social mind or do they still persist in contemporary Romania? Marxism, like any other political doctrine, has as its basis a metaphysics and represents, implicitly, a theoretical-philosophical point of view that offers a certain positioning of the individual and the society with respect to all the problems of life. Marxism is, in other words, a philosophy and, as a system of rational ideas, has the potential to structure human consciousness – of course, specifying that, unfortunately, the methods used to achieve this desire were not among the most “humane”. However, putting aside, as far as possible, the atrocities committed between 1944-1989, it is necessary to accept lucidly a reality of that time: Marxism was the state doctrine of Romania, and this was handed over to the citizens by all the existing means – school, artistic works, media, etc. In addition, it was a doctrine imposed from abroad and a stranger to the cultural realities of a traditional society – in certain areas, even with a patriarchal nature – such as the Romanian one. It would be very interesting to consider, in this context, the level to which the Marxist philosophy was successfully inserted into the thinking of the ordinary man – although those designated to do so (i.e. propaganda officials) would have rarely had reasons to go beyond the mere level of non-critical mental reflexes. It is unlikely that the intention was to generate a deep understanding of the doctrine, followed by an acceptance and even mental metabolization of it by most citizens – although the current case of North Korea may be a counter-example. Of course, even in such extreme situations, there can be no certainty that those citizens adhere to the official doctrine of the state, as one cannot predict what their reaction would be if they had the real possibility of choice, at the philosophical and social level.
However, there may be followers of the idea that non-critical mental reflexes are far better imprinted in people’s minds than a system of critically elaborated and evaluated ideas. This may have been the case with the propagation of Marxist ideas into society in pre-December Romania. Mental reflexes can be significantly more easily replaced by the shock of a rupture precisely because they are uncritically accepted, especially since the replacement of deep beliefs can generate hostility from the individual or the community. On the other hand, a well-developed system of ideas and beliefs generally allows for critical approach and has sufficient means to deal with criticism or attacks.
These non-critical mental reflexes, whose list below is not exhaustive, are those related to the question of how to move from Marxism to the ideology of a free society. Thus, the most important could be the following:
- The significant action of the state in society and on the market. If Marxism foresees the existence of a single economic-social agent – the state –, in free societies its role is reduced, grosso modo, to a minimum administration that allows the manifestation of private initiative (or, at least, this would be the tendency). However, the Marxist view of the paternalistic state is opposed to that of the state as an order guardian and a legality supervisor. The same is true of the state as an economic agent – its role is minimized in a free society, while Marxism sees it as the only such agent. A real break from Marxism would be equivalent to the definitive exit from the collective mind of the idea that the state must act exceeding a decent limit in society.
- The State as the sole resource manager – the state as a resource distributor. The idea of concentrating social resources in the hands of the state and channeling them for certain purposes is agreed by Marxists. There are, in today’s Romanian society, many voices (even of young people) who demand that “the state do something”. In a free initiative society, the role of the state is to create a legal framework, and not to act to support any social group. Eventually, the state must support social projects whose immediate utility (especially those related to national culture, cultural identity, education, etc.) cannot be seen by some citizens or some organizations.
- Overvaluation of obligations in relation to rights. As it is known from the works of contemporary specialists in social and political philosophy, the individual joins an organization (association, business, or even the state structure) to have more rights and to minimize the obligations which, by their nature, are (of course, more or less) burdensome. A non-critical Marxist reflex stemming from the sovereign contempt shown to the individual and from the overloading of the so-called “class consciousness” causes the human individual to be, extremely, deprived of the interiority of consciousness and transformed into a “wheel” that has a social function – that is to say, in moral terms, an obligation.
- Too extensive identification of morality and legality. Decreasing the relevance of morality – as a disposition or ability of the individual to live and act by virtue of freely chosen inner imperatives, whose maker and judge is exclusively conscience, with its philosophical-speculative power to see in the other “the fellow human being” – seems absolutely obvious precisely because of the lack of relevance of individuality in Marxism, doubled by the exaggeration of the social significance of the “masses”. This fact leads, as expected in a society in which morality decreases as importance (the conscience of the citizen emptied of individuality was filled by the official ideology, just as in Orwell’s famous 1984), to overestimating the legality, that is to say, the system of exterior constraints imposed by a social authority. The rule of law is not harmful, but in free societies it is expected that the tendency will be given by diminishing the power of the law precisely by increasing the moral relevance assumed at the individual level. This fact leads to the strengthening of the private space, but also to the reduction of the tension between it and the public space.
- State intrusion over a reasonable limit into the private space of the individual. This mental reflex is related to the previous one. Unfortunately, not infrequently solutions to social problems are required from legal bodies, which must impose a certain behavior on individuals. In addition, there seems to be still some satisfaction regarding “public executions” and a strong desire to see the stranger whipped rather than educated socio-morally (socio-moral education requires time and must start from childhood – the purpose being to take all necessary precautions so that as few citizens as possible can only be redressed by recourse to the law – of course, without giving up the idea of individual responsibility, as will be seen below). The famous “tribunals of the people” testify to the risks of current and future Marxist slippages.
- The citizen as a victim of the system, without responsibility and laying blame on others. There is a reflex of Marxist origins that is based on the paternalistic idea of the obligation of the state to protect the individual and even to offer him something, so that he does not decline under his human authenticity. The ideologies of the free society rather support the idea of empowering the individual through socio-moral education and his assuming his socio-temporal course. Marxism, as an ideology, was aimed especially at those “overwhelmed by fate” and wronged by the social system, ignoring the fact that an ingredient of the “consciousness of the popular masses” was also the permanent expectation that the leaders would “take care of the people” in the paternalistic sense.
- The sacrifice of the individual for the public good – demanded especially by the social leaders – at the expense of “enlightened selfishness”. Utilitarian philosophy was probably the chance of Western culture to resist in time, precisely because it fulfills its destiny of shaping the free consciousness of the individual, as Hegel would say. Here is the origin of the idea that the human individual acts out of interest, in order to acquire his own happiness. It would be desirable for social leaders to reach, due to their position, a high level of awareness that would enable them to understand their mission, but most often these are ordinary people who act out of interest. What they can be claimed is that this interest is enlightened – but in no case do they sacrifice themselves for the good of others. Expectations regarding the generosity of leaders are reasonable only insofar as their welfare issues are resolved. Moreover, advancement in free societies is made mainly by the advancement of the powerful ones, which entails social tendencies which even the least favored members of the society benefit from. Eventually, it can be said that each member of the society pushes, according to his powers and resources, to the social machinery, but only because of the enlightened interest, practiced in different degrees, according to the position of each one in the social hierarchy.
- Overemphasizing the idea of interest bearing reserves, at the expense of the idea of profit-making capital (of course, risky). The idea of “saving money for a rainy day” seems to be present above a decent level in society. Saving is an idea of Marxist origin insofar as it is opposed to the idea of using the resources for investments, so that they produce wealth. In general, the Marxist idea of rationalizing resources refers to their conservation and the effort of the citizen to consume as little as possible, in contrast to the opposite idea of finding techniques for increasing the efficiency of the use of resources subordinated to the imperative of increasing individual welfare (in the strictly utilitarian sense).
- The idea of a proper social place, to the detriment of the one related to establishing a social structure and hierarchy through negotiation and social (or market) play. This reflex is the substrate of the reproaches that are brought to those considered “successful”, on the one hand, but also to the claims of some citizens to receive “what is right” especially by “taxing” those who “have too much and still want more”. Also, of a Marxist origin are the claims of those who appreciate that their activity or of others “is no longer respected as it once was”. Respect, hierarchical positioning in society and recognition are, in free societies, results of social play, in which, along with competence, many other social parameters are combined.
- Transforming political (negotiable and compromised) problems into technical issues (experts can solve). The reflex is not necessarily a Marxist one – it belongs to totalitarian societies. The belief that there should be experts or technicians specialized in the problems of the community ignores the democratic idea that the individual has the right to express his social decision. In the case of Marxism, the technician and the expert solve problems imposed by social imperatives, but ignore the individual interests, precisely because the individual is not relevant. In free societies the recourse to experts in social problems and the ignorance of individual imperatives are allowed only in situations of serious crisis and on the very short term. Otherwise, the management belongs to the political factors through the social game, and not by identifying an organization that holds the monopoly over the general interest, as in the case of Marxism.
What could be the effects of the remaining Marxism? The fragility of the individual and his infantilization, the transformation of the private initiative into a wish for illegitimate living, the envy towards those with social success, the invocation of morality to justify ignorance or failure, the idea of action through social enthusiasm, the action guided by a messianic leader (with a socio-managerial role), and the enumeration could continue. Moral-civic education of the citizens in the sense of adopting the values of the free world through the break not from tradition and customs of different places, but through the break from Marxism seems to be a recommendable solution. Whatever the case may be, one can easily observe that, if those presented above are in accordance with reality, then the perpetuation of Marxist mental reflexes after the 1989 Revolution are beyond any doubt.
Note: The “ideology of free society” is a concept with claims to include any political doctrine, left, center or right, which opposes Marxism, accepts individuality as a principle of social philosophy and is not radical in character.
Photo: “Karl Marx and Engels in the printing house of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung”. Painting by E. Capiro. Source: Wikimedia Commons.