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Romanian anarchists on anti-corruption protests: It’s elites vs elites

Romania has been seeing some of the largest demonstrations in its recent history over a law being proposed by the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD) which decriminalises some forms of political corruption. In this in-depth analysis, Romanian anarchist-communist group Ravna examines some of the forces vying for political power which underlie much of the fuss. 

Here we will try to put forward some ideas from an anarchist communist perspective, as far as can be done, about the recent protests against decisions by the ruling party which act as an attack on the “rule of law,” as well as the post-revolutionary path of Romania and “progress” made in the last 27 years.

In short, we believe we that we are witnessing an internal war for power between representatives of the political class and institutions of State power, and this is not of particular interest for the working class and its emancipation. As we see it the main actors in these numerous protests have been representatives of the middle class, and provide force for the agenda of President Klaus Johannis and his National Liberal Party (NLA), some of the member institutions such as intelligence, the National Anti-corruption Directorate, etc. on the one hand and the Social Democratic Party, political class in general on the other hand.

We do not deny that among the protesters there are many including representatives of the working class and dispossessed people who were not among the winners of transition. The explanation for this lies in poisons being spread by the media and a generally pro-capitalist discourse dominating Romanian society over the last 27 years. The lack of credible alternatives to support the cause of the working class cannot be ignored as a factor contributing to this situation. Much positioning and many actions have certainly been contradictory at the moment.

The “young beautiful” middle class

The middle class is made up of segments of the population who have an above-average standard of living, who hope to achieve a similar level of existence to their Western peers, and generally subscribe to the progress of civilisation represented by the image of Western capitalist colonial culture. Although many of them remain subject to wage slavery, some still possess the ability to accumulate substantial capital while others do not, their class betrayal is manifested by their aspirations to join the ranks of the bourgeoisie, with matching views of where their interests lie. Their consciousness is confined to that class of “budding bourgeois” — a bourgeois currently subject to a lower status.

Another important feature of the middle class is the contempt expressed for the broadest sections of the working class and the poor, which we associate with “communism” (state capitalism), material deprivation, and and an obsession over why it is so difficult to break into the ranks of the bourgeoisie. From among this class, the most active part consists of a segment of urban youth, educated in a Western spirit, often exhibited by personal associations with multinational firms present in Romania, as well as NGOs where the pay is above average.

PSD — Penalty

PSD is a political party that does not differ in content from other parties which claim the European tradition of social democracy (a reformist and capitalist tradition, but another discussion). We can hardly say that they vary in any profound way from other parties past or present. The party prefers not to discuss its neoliberalism, that is it more concerned with the interests of capital (domestic or foreign) than with labour, but instead presents itself as a political party which was the working-class traditional base and represented the most deprived parts of Romanian society.

Heir of the National Salvation Front (descendant of the former single party during the pre-revolutionary era), PSD in turn facilitated the process of primitive accumulation, starting with the overthrow of the former regime and the transition to a capitalist market economy. During PSD’s early reign there were more privatisations, they have opened new markets for investment, many redundancies have been made, they carried out social spending cuts. In this respect it is difficult to establish clear differences from other parties that have been in government. They follow the main line of all of the post-revolutionary governments, one that focuses on the interests of capital while completely ignoring the phenomenon of precarity within the working class.

Explanations for the PSD’s popularity among the working class are multiple. One is of course the lack of a concrete alternative that could provide at least an illusion that it centres discourse on the interests of the base of society. Another reason is that PSD admittedly has extremely well-organised party structures in poor urban and rural areas.

There are some differences however, even if they are buried deep. This can be best seen in public discourse discussing the actions of the former Technocrat government in contrast to that of PSD (at least for most of the campaign).

[Editor’s note: the Ponta (PSD coalition) government lasted until 2015, when it collapsed over corruption scandals. The Technocrat Cioloș Cabinet took over in November of that year, and was replaced by the elected Grindeanu PSD coalition in January 2017]

The Technocrats were headed by a well-paid European bureaucrat, and they, besides the Opposition which had argued against Ponta raising the minimum wage in 2015, initially submitted to Romania’s working class that it was too expensive to raise wages when they took power [though Cioloș quickly backtracked]. On the other hand PSD had previously proposed increased wages and pensions and other social facilities — a pretty important one being the introduction of free hot meals for students.

Even so PSD’s candidates did not address majority interests, seeking to win votes from some traditional right-wing voters by promising the reduction or elimination of a whole set of taxes. This strategy proved to be successful. As in previous elections PSD picked up votes from across electoral groups, managing to attract uncertain segments of urban, educated, previously inaccessible demographics.

Far from offering some local form of opposition to the regime of neocolonialism dominating the population, the PSD may be perceived by external institutions that de facto govern Romania at uncertain times as more desirable than a rightist (or technocratic) government willing to boldy centre the interests of the capitalist class in their speech.

Another strategy employed by PSD is to court the nationalist, conservative and traditionalist-oriented — i.e the explicitly reactionary parts of the population and a politically unaware working class riven by divisions and hierarchies imposed and reproduced inside it. Thus it is not surprising that PSD positions itself with crypto-fascist initiatives Such as the Coalition for Family and PSD party leader Liviu Dragnea comes out in in favor of conservative family notions which would ban same-sex marriages. In short, PSD is a party which strongly appeals to nationalist and conservative tropes, while the traditional conservative party (the NLA) does not currently appeal to the institutions and bodies which have facilitated neocolonialism, NATO etc.

Liviu Dragnea

Johannis: Anti-Corruption and the rule of law

Central to the ideological discourse of anti-corruption is the road Romania has taken to today’s capitalist market economy and the Western conceptualising of what must be. The generally accepted premise of development involves the destruction of Romania’s industrial infrastructure, a cheapened labour force which is skilled and educated, keeping the country’s wages at “attractive levels” for foreign investment, little or no taxing of profits which are made here and then exported to Western countries. What is being described here here is the kind of colonial capitalism which exists now. But through this ideological lens corruption is perceived as a major obstacle to the achievement of a Western-style capitalism and hence must be cut out.

That same period also marks the establishment of the nucleus of our previously-mentioned middle class invested with the multinationals, which have increased since 2004 in parallel with growing poverty for the general population and an end to rising employment (of new service-sector jobs, once the West had profited from the wave of cheap labour).

Ideologically middle-class people associate the brutality of the transitional period (its primitive accumulation of capital – ie. robbery) and the broad corruption of the ’90s by the capitalist political economy with regimes from the time. Although the PSD was not in government between 1996 and 2000, it nonetheless remains the main scapegoat, being associated with the previous regime and thus considered a hindrance to capitalist development.

This explains their association of PSD with communism and anti-communist speech, understood though a sense of aversion to anything that might hinder capitalist accumulation. This leads the middle class to reject the PSD’s “delimited” electoral coalition and talk of material precariousness in the face of the vicissitudes of capital, which they argue amounts to a rejection of European values and the (capitalist) rule of law, of the Western culture which they consider their main source of wealth. PSD is then through “electoral charity” seeking to hide their corruption and hatred of those European democratic values, making it guilty of infringing the welfare of these segments inside (one because alleged corruption and incompetence prevent the accumulation process, and two that dedicating funds for social spending and necessary infrastructure do not achieve the capital accumulation process).

President Johannis of the Opposition NLA on the other hand is considered the quintessence of the highest values of Western culture and civilisation. German mayor of Sibiu, former tutor and teacher par excellence, owner of six houses, he is regarded as the total opposite of the president of the PSD and its mostly poorer electorate. By contrast, as the face of PSD Dragnea is regarded as a provincial character. Balkan, corrupt, despotic and uncivilised. Johannis is the defender of Romania’s European course, the guarantor of the rule of law, anti-corruption, pro a strategic partnership with the US fascist empire. Johannis is the enemy of everything that might stand in the way of the capitalist accumulation process and imperialist interests.

But far be it from us of course to argue Dragnea offers some sort of working class struggle for emancipation. Dragnea is, like the whole political class, representing the interests of the bourgeoisie.

Ground view of the “wall of light” used by protesters throughout the protests. Pic: Gabinho/CC

Working class

Unlike most of the irrelevant and naive Left in Romania, we argue that for the working class, these anti-corruption protesters show no interest in the meaning of emancipation from capitalist exploitation and domination of the State.

The pretext of the anti-corruption fight is, fundamentally a struggle for power between different bourgeois camps within the country. Whichever camps best represent the interests of capital and the bourgeoisie will win out, since capitalist governments are nothing but business management for the modes of production — committees of the bourgeoisie.

We affirm the emancipation of the working class can only be achieved by the working class itself. The working class must develop its own consciousness and then organise for the conditions they are in – whether at work or in communities – to end the domination of the ruling class and force it from the stage of history.

The so-called rule of law is not only the political expression of the existing social order, an order based on suffering, tragedies, poverty, exploitation, crushing the spirit felt by millions of people in the country and billions of people globally. Capitalism for the working class is the most corrupt system in daily existence. It engages in blackmail by exploiting wage labour and slavery against its victims. The historic role of the State is the perpetuation of class society and the reproduction of capitalism, to enable one class to live off the labour of another, to at any price to satisfy the interests of elites. In this political oppression, the State too must leave the stage.

However we cannot fail to notice how the struggle between the representatives of the political class with institutions of State power and the privileged middle class is biased in favour of the latter. Protesters did not hesitate to assert some sympathy and even preference for undemocratic institutions which are completely devoid of transparency, which can not be directly held accountable.

Somehow this can send us towards the interpretation that for many protesters this is an expression of contempt for the popular vote, prone as it is to political parties taking “populist” measures (social spending, wage increases). Countless voices have called these days an annulment of the vote by the poor, who constitute the bulk of PSD voters.

From an ideological perspective we might ask ourselves if behind this statement of the middle class one could not see a historical tendency towards fascism and authoritarianism from this class, a tendency that expresses itself by a profound contempt for people representing a class they see as inferior (the working class and poor people) and to which they always turn their heads whenever they consider their privileges are in danger and they feel the need to strike.

This article is edited from a machine translation. Any errors, let us know!

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